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February 29, 2008

In the Home Stretch

I'm almost at page 100 in my historical epic screenplay I'm writing, so fortunately things are coming along fairly well. After I received the extensive notes from Colleary, and I just couldn't really move forward, because I didn't quite know where the story was.

I decided that it would be best to go back to page 1 and apply his notes, then get through the rewrite up until I was writing the new material. That way I would have a handle on the plot, the characters, and the relationships, all of which were changing.

That plan has worked out. I think the story is in a much better place now, due to the notes, and I'm psyched about how it's shaping up.

I have to be finished this first draft by Monday. I think it'll end up being very long, like maybe 140 pages when all is said and done. I'll probably have to cut it down.

My mom is in town. It's always so nice to have guests from home, makes the distance feel shorter, makes it seem more familiar out here.

Posted by elanyarts on 01:12 AM | Comments (2)

Grudge Map (part 3)

Yes, they finally posted a write up of the game. I have to say, props to Jade Tree on their coverage of these games. Elany Arts could use this level of coverage!

Posted by jason on 01:10 AM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2008

The Godfather - A Film of Paradoxes

A paradox - where two seemingly incompatible truths co-exist to make up a deeper truth - makes a story stronger. A film like the Godfather contains a number of paradoxes, and it's one of the reasons it remains relevant and important and memorable all these years later.

A man’s daughter suffers a great injustice. He exhausts all his legitimate avenues for justice, and finally turns to the underworld mob boss.

But his request offends the boss. Why? Because he asks the Godfather to kill in vengeance? No, that’s not really the reason. It’s because this man, this undertaker by trade, did not have the personal relationship, the close familiar ties, to ask for such a thing. For truly, by the Don’s own words,

“Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And that by chance if an honest man such as yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.”

But because this man comes to the Don offering money, as a pure business proposition, this is disrespectful.

By the end of the scene, the undertaker takes his cue, and kisses the Don’s hand, addressing him as “The Godfather.” Essentially, he joins “the family” and becomes a friend to Vito. Appropriately, his wish will be granted. It’s clear that the Don will wield his power to gain justice, and that those who wronged the daughter will meet their end. But, the Don is quick to add, “We're not murderers, despite of what this undertaker says.”

This seems like such a paradox, that killers could truly say they aren’t murderers. Yet – in the world of the Don – this statement, though apparently false, rings true. In a world where the family matters more than anything else, fighting those who threaten the family is not murder, it is duty.

In The Godfather, the main character, Michael, gives up his innocence and his straight and narrow ways as a sacrifice to the family. Yet in a tragically ironic turnaround, his actions threaten the very survival of that family, ruin all of his intimate relationships, and in the end create a starker, more brutal family than his father ever would have led. The film is structured around such a profound paradox, so it should be no surprise that it’s made up of many other paradoxes.

A tough man, Luca, nervously reciting his greeting to the dawn like a clumsy schoolboy, for instance. Or a squeaky clean war hero who reluctantly accepts power and becomes a more bloodthirsty leader than either his underworld mob father or his hotheaded older brother, eager to lead.

Michael tells his girlfriend, Kay, a story about how the Don got Johnny Fontane (ie Frank Sinatra) out of a bad contract. The Don had a meeting with Fontane’s band leader and “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains - or his signature - would be on the contract.
(then)
That's a true story.

Seeing Kay’s horror at this revelation, Michael is quick to add, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.” Of course, this is true, but not in the way either Michael or Kay could probably have realized. Indeed, Michael would be different than his family, but in a horrific, not a comforting, sense.

Because while the Don might have threatened a band leader with death, by the end of the story Michael would have killed a cop, a casino owner, and a multitude of family bosses. In the case of each of these people, “the family” (that Michael was “not like”) would never have elected to kill. But Michael was different, and he was comfortable with the escalating violence.

Ironically, it was Michael’s status as being outside the mob that probably led him to being more brutal once he accepted his role within it. In this way, he played an intermediary, one who was new to the underworld, who was willing to question its status quo – “You don’t kill cops and you don’t start wars with other families.”

By being new to the scene, he was able to defy these assumptions. If he had taken to the family business from the young age, he likely would have assimilated his father’s own principles, and abided by an older, more restrained creed.

When discussing the situation of Solozzo and his father’s near murder with a group of seasoned mobsters – his brother included – Michael asks the simple question: “Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?”

This naive query is met with laughter and disbelief, the very concept is so foreign to the “old ways of doing things.” But soon, once Michael’s defiance becomes clear – the simple questioning of this old boundary makes it appear antiquated, and a important line is crossed. This is an action which will eventually lead to the gunning down of Michael’s brother, Sonny.

By staying an innocent for so long, Michael eventually brought a whole new perspective on the mob with him, and indeed was responsible for escalating the violence. In the end, his influence on the mob results in a full-fledged mob war, the death of his loved ones, the betrayal of his sister, and the alienation of his wife.

In other words, to save his family, he reluctantly enters their underworld, changes it through his outside influence, and in the end destroys what he sought to save in the first place. Yet at the same time, he doesn’t, because he builds a stronger, more brutal organization, more likely to survive in a harsher new age.

Posted by jason on 01:10 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2008

The Godfather

Yes, I finally crossed another film that caused people to look at me askew and ask, "Wait, you mean you haven't even seen _______??!!!" I don't know how I missed seeing the Godfather for all these years, but I did.

Now the strange thing is, Godfather is one of those films that even if you haven't seen it, it's so culturally influential that you feel like so many lines and scenes are familiar. "He made him an offer he couldn't refuse." "He sleeps with the fishes." "Where is it written that you can't kill a cop?" "Someday, and the day may never come, I'm going to call on your to do me a favor." And that music, that brilliant music. So while watching it, just about the whole time I felt that I had already seen it.

Now add to this that actually I did play Godfather the videogame. And surprisingly enough, that videogame was very true to the story. I knew the whole plot, only now the graphics were much better.

With all that out of the way, I have to say this film is a masterpiece. It makes me proud to be an Italian! (OK, one quarter, but I'll take it.) Such a fantastic study of these principled men who do very evil things, yet have their values which justify it. And, it is really something a tragedy, where this innocent war hero gets pulled back into the family, and becomes worse than his father, worse than the life he was trying to escape.

4 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 02:06 AM | Comments (7)

February 24, 2008

Universal Disappointment

I took the kids to Universal Studios Hollywood yesterday. I've visited Universal in Orlando before (and their second park, Islands of Adventure), and both of those parks were incredible. I just kind of assumed I was in for more of the same.

I made the mistake of telling my kids of my expectations... that we would have "fun" and that there would be "rides." What was I thinking?

I'll tell you right now. If you have anyone in your group who's younger than 13, don't go. And even if you are all older than 13, use whatever discounts you can to get that admission price down. Because a day here is worth $30 at the most.

Let me give you a grand tour of the rides they have at this park.

1) Jurassic Park River Ride.
2) Revenge of the Mummy indoor rollercoaster.

That's it. And both of them are too scary for my kids. What did we do? The backlot tour is cool. And we saw an animal show. That's it. We got into the park at noon and left by 2.30.

I don't get it, I don't understand why people visit this place, and pay so much to get in. And I don't understand how Universal's corporate pride allows them to have such a poor park in their backyard in LA while the parks in Florida are so superior.

I thought they'd have some kind of rides for the kids. Nothing!

Oh well, hopefully you'll find this and be warned. Go to Disneyland. Same price, and you get MUCH more for the money.

Posted by jason on 03:15 PM | Comments (6)

February 23, 2008

Losing my Mojo

I had a personal meeting with my instructor yesterday about my latest screenplay. And I have to say, I continue to be convinced that the man is brilliant. He gave me a number of fantastic notes, that wil really help my story.

But he's also a big time professional, and because of this, his style is to kind of assume everyone in the program is a competent good writer and do away with any of the extraneous compliments.

Now I hate to say this about myself, but I happen to like a certain kind of balance when given constructive criticism. Basically I like to hear 9 overflowingly wonderful accolades for every hit of improvement that I could make. And that's not really an exaggeration.

The ratio of my meeting the other day was not this way. And in all honesty, it couldn't be. There was only time for the stuff that would immediately help. I got those notes in spades.

But since then I was having the hardest time just sitting down and writing again. I had lost my confidence! Such a fragile thing...

One of the wonderful things that has happened here at UCLA is that I've become a part of a close-knit group of writers (we call ourselves the 431, because that's the first writing workshop you take here, and that's where we all met). We help each other, meet regularly to read each other's stuff. And when one of us is going bonkers, we talk each other down from the ledge. Here's some awesome email I got when I sent out my pathetic "whoa is me" message. (And I let them know it was pathetic and whoa is me, too)

Consider!

1) You're writing something I would never dream of writing. If it doesn't have girls or guitars, I don't want it. That means you're all grown up and I'm 14. So, there's something. The reason we love this story is A) it's true and B) we don't know it. Colleary's job is not to stroke your ego. It's to kick your ass and make you a better writer. Get the love from us. Forget the UCLA faculty in that regard. They've seen it all (including people like us stopping in for a few days, picking their brains and then going off to buy houses in Malibu). We'll be thanking them (ALL of them, Doc) in a few years so bask in it. Lean into the harsh wind and know we are all fighting the most honorable of fights. We asked for it. We begged for it. Your sitting with one of the more sought after instructors we have and you've told us his knowledge and notes are awesome. Know that.

We're just students to these people. Numbers. The next batch. We're all 16 year old wise asses to them.

We (the 431) will not give over to the Writer's Lament (It's also the Actor's Lament and the Improviser's Lament, by the way.) We'll put that shit on the page and bend the reader to our demands. Bitch.

2) I am gonna hip us all to the theory of Resistance. Short explanation is anything that stands in the way of your creative flow, anything that you let stop you from rocking is Resistance and every day we have to fight Resistance like we're fighting a mortal enemy. I used to teach the SAT like this:

If you fall asleep, the SAT wins. If you get bored, the SAT wins. If you get distracted, horny, hungry, angry, nervous or scared, the SAT wins. And if the SAT wins, you don't go to college.

Same idea. Lack of praise, fear of finishing, judgment of the work before it's done, these are all the faces of Resistance.

One of my all time top gurus was a little bisexual man named Mick Napier. He was a master improviser, director and actor. He wrote some guidelines for The Perfect Actor. Here's one of them:

MAKE STRONG CHOICES: F$%& your fear. We want to see your power, not your fear. Nobody has time for your fear...

Sometimes I really miss that man. Just sitting with him made you want to go home and make something.

3) http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10009167-fools_gold/

Anyway, get in there. You know in your gut you can. We've all seen you do it. Use whatever means you have to. This is war. You gotta order a pizza for lunch? You gotta blast the Black Sabbath until the neighbors complain? You have to go down to the beach and scream until your horse? Do it. Just punch those letters onto that page.

Draft one, baby. Don't get it right, get it written. Don't worry about good. That's our job. You just get it down on the page.

In short, f$%$ it. Write.

I love the 431.

EG

And here's another.

It's the infantile stages of a biopic draft. It's going to have some bumps the first time through. The further you get through it, the more it will come into focus so you can nail it the next time. If you need some direct feedback on pages, send them away and we'll check them out. Hold on to that confidence, because without it, you'll feel like just a crazy man with a computer. And you're not.


And from another member of the group who is also writing a "true story."


Dear Fellow Writer Of A True Story,

To put it simply: Yes you can write this story and it will be brilliant.

I know exactly where you are. Take comfort in knowing that I am right next to you in this leaky life raft we call a 434. Listen to the goodness and J.J. Wise stuff there. (I may thank them all in a few years, but I don't have to like it!)

Honestly? You and I should start a support group - Biopics Anonymous. I've come to believe that what you're feeling (which is what I'm feeling) is a fundamental part of writing this type of story a - the dread, the flatness of the scenes and character's the first time through. It's a tough high to come down off of, the realizing that this story that's just been sitting there for anyone to pluck has plucked you(what great fortune!) and then you set about committing that story to paper (it already happened right, I mean it's just sitting there, begging to be told, right? It's gonna be awesome!) and it acts like any other story - like a pain in the ass that doesn't want to get into shape and be a good story. Plus, on top of that you're haunted by the fact that these people really lived. That your telling someone's story. Someone with relatives. Someone that people already know and feel they own a piece of! But you know what, if you get it out - even if it's one big glorious hot mess when you finally do (80 pages just the second act!), you can do what one day we'll be paid stupid money to do - rewrite it. And that's when - as we all know - the real writing happens.

Don't think. Don't judge. Just put it down. Even if it's wrong. Even if all the alarms are going off in your head and you know you're going to have to throw it all out. Take solace in the fact that even then - you'll know more about the story and how to write it - you'll know what not to write.Then it gets easier to bring the brilliance in and make it sing.

Just know that I am walking the exact same path, my friend. We will be brilliant in the end. Trust in the 431 and just do it.


And finally.


Jason- I can't add much to the genius advice of the other scribes....but all I have two pieces of advice: "Get to the end and start again." And "It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done." That has saved my sanity on many an occasion. Like someone else said, just churn it out and leave it to us to help you polish it. It is a more than good start, I have faith in you, and you are a very talented writer based on everything I have seen thusfar.
And just remember....the difference between us and all those other schmucks sitting around me at Starbucks, is that we DO IT. We don't just talk about writing, WE WRITE. And then once we do that, we get trusted advice from others on how to make it shine.

And I promise you- we would not lead you astray. If we thought you were writing shit, we would tel you. I hope I can expect the same from y'allz.


I'm just so thankful, in the course of a couple of hours I get a bunch of brilliant, encouraging advice. I can't really underestimate this. I've wasted so much time trapped in disbelief of my own ability, unable to get out. One time, I didn't write a screenplay for a full year and a half after I lost in the early stages of a screenwriting competition.

That is so stupid.

And I was able to put 10 pages in today. I'm back on track.

Up to page 80. And it's going to great in the end. Not easy in the meantime, but great in the end.

Posted by jason on 02:31 AM | Comments (4)

February 20, 2008

Grudge Match (part 2)

Elany arts won. It was a great game that ended with a score of 5-4 in our favor. The game was nonstop action and they had some good players. Their goalie was incredible (and a super nice guy too) and the rest of the team was relentless about trying to steel the ball from us. It was a tough game but we still pulled off a win.

I haven't heard back from Jade Tree yet so I sent a follow up email:

"Well, Elany Arts won. It was a fantastic game with great sportsmanship all around. We enjoyed playing your team. So, do you still have a copy of the record, or should The Look Machine send another?
Collin"

Also I wanted to mention that a lot of the people who came to see the game were pretty nervous / riled up about the email I sent. Apparently EVERYONE who came to see us had read the email by the time the game started. I thought that it was pretty clear that I was joking but I am sorry if I offended anyone or made you think that I would actually try to pick a fight with an entire soccer team.

Posted by collin on 09:34 AM | Comments (5)

Shoot the Piano Player

I've never seen any films from the French New Wave movement, and this film is a prime example of that style. It features these strange jump cuts, lots of voice overs, and asynchronous shots.

I have to admit, I kind of dug it. And finally, a film that didn't feel like it needed to be longer than it's story. Only 84 minutes long, and actually there was a plot and character jammed into that time. Of course, the film is very French, as in... not inspirational and fairly depressing. But it's also funny in places, and the dialogue is engaging.

You feel for the main character, a formerly famed concert pianist now pounding away on the keys at some bar in Paris.

And about those voice overs, they were used rather unconventionally, at least compared to most Hollywood voic eovers. Today, when you see them employed, it's normally as a narrator, as in, they are telling you, the audience, a story. Not these. these were just like hearing the main characters thoughts, no recognition of an audience at all. It was a device which I thought worked very well, made it kind of noveliistc in its ability to give you thoughts.

Tuck that away, maybe it needs a revival.

I liked it, it's worth watching.

2 out of 4 - You should like it.

Posted by jason on 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2008

Grudge Match (part 1)

Many of you probably know about the Elany Arts soccer team. We play in a competitive, indoor league in Delaware. Elany sponsors the team (hence the name) and a bunch of us play. The team is made up of friends. It is a lot of fun, and I have to say, we are not bad.

Many of you also probably remember The Look Machine's quest to find a good record label after we recorded our album. Well, one of the labels we "applied to" was Jade Tree Records. It just so happens that they sponsor a soccer team in our devision. They take their team very seriously. They write up all of the games on their site, and they generally make a big deal of their soccer team. I sent them this email today.

SUBJECT: Jade Tree United to be crushed in grudge match

Dear Jade Tree:

Tonight Jade Tree United will face Elany Arts. "So what makes this game different?" you may ask.

The Elany Arts soccer team has 3 members of DE band, The Look Machine, on the roster. The rest of the team is made up of friends / fans of the band.

The Look Machine was formed in DE over 5 years ago. They have played countless shows (some with other jade tree bands), built a large and dedicated fanbase, enjoyed radioplay on WSTW and other local stations, and most importantly, enjoyed every second of the ride.

When they had an album produced by Boysetsfire, they thought that they would send it to jade tree along with a press kit because they believed that they would be a good fit.

They never heard back and they followed the advice on your website. They didn't call and pester you about it. However, that doesn't mean that they have forgotten and it doesn't mean that for 50 minutes tonight, they won't take great pleasure in beating the daylights out of your soccer team.

Respectfully,

Collin Palkovitz

P.S. A proposal: If you win tonight, The Look Machine accept the silence. If Elany Arts wins tonight, you give the album another listen and let the band know what you think.

Posted by collin on 04:12 PM | Comments (17)

Benny Hinn Lets the Bodies Hit the Floor

This is hilarious...

Posted by jason on 02:14 AM | Comments (6)

Check it out

When you click through to the next page, highlight the text for a special surprise.
Update: Nevermind it wasn't working. So just go ahead and try it yourself on the link below.

It's a fancy trick that works in Safari and Firefox and uses a special CSS property.

If you want to try it yourself, go here.

Actually what I was trying to do might work here.

Posted by jason on 02:03 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2008

And this is why you should wear hightops

...when you play basketball. Ouch, this is painful.

swollenankle.jpg

I've been limping around since Wednesday.

Posted by jason on 09:24 PM | Comments (8)

February 16, 2008

Seven Samurai

I'm embarrassed and ashamed to say I couldn't even finish this film. Even after I knew that Karasawa is a legend, that he inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, that this film is considered a masterpiece. I know I should have appreciated it, but goodness it was three and a half hours long.

I'm not understanding why these older movies were so long. Let me tell you the story of Seven Samurai. It'll sound familiar, because it's been reused a number of times since then.

Weak defenseless farming village is going to be attacked by bandits. They hire a band of samurais to defend them. Samurai defend them.

This is the story! Why do they have to take so long to tell it? I don't know...

I've learned that starting in the 60s and 70s there has been a trend towards compressing movies, jumping right into the story, even if it leaves people slightly confused for a while, at least they are invigorated and excited. I think that I'm so used to this, so these older styles of filmmaking where the setup is so long are really difficult for me to watch.

So yes, I watched the end of this bad boy in fast forward. And yes, I need someone to tell me why this film was great. Because I wasn't able to crack this code.

? out of 4 - I didn't get it.

Posted by jason on 10:23 PM | Comments (4)

Abandoned Creepiness

Wow, the zoo doesn't compare to an abandoned hospital in east LA. I should check this place out.

Posted by jason on 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2008

Terminator

It's strange, having seen a sequel but not the original movie. I do this sometimes, and then it's fun because the earlier films become total backstory for me. I just recently watched the 2nd season of Big Love, an excellent series on HBO. I was often confused. But then I watched Season 1 and there was a very satisfying feeling of learning a ton of secrets.

So yes, I saw Terminator 2, which I thought was an excellent film. Somehow though, I had missed out on the first Terminator. I think this was because somewhere deep inside I suspected it was the same film. Great military leader needs to be born, so robot from the future comes back to kill the mother before she can have him.

And in a lot of ways I was right. For me, Terminator and T2 are kind of like the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Same basic storyline, just better graphics and some added pizzaz. But it doesn't really give you anything extra.

That's not to say I didn't like it, I did. But I think T2 is the superior film, and Terminator doesn't really give you much that T2 didn't already have (and T2 had more cool twists, in my opinion.)

I'm sure I would have felt differently if I had seen this one first. It was a great film. And it handled a very complex subject which required a lot of exposition (often the kiss of boring death) very smoothly. It had a scroll at the beginning, and 2 major sequences where Kyle from the future explained what was going on to clueless people in "the past." It worked, seemed integrated with the story, and explained enough for us to understand what the conflict and story was all about.

While the film doesn't feel too dated, the effects start to strain a bit when Arnold's skin melts away and the evil Robot starts the chase. It looks really herky jerky, and unlike the Exorcist, it just doesn't hold up anymore.

Not that I mind it at all, because I think it's thought-provoking and it "works" in the universe this film sets up, but I can't quite get my head around how John Connor's father is the man who was born later and travelled back to save Sarah. I think it's cool, but how does that work exactly? It's like a hole in the space time continuum or something.

One last thing. There are some very funny parts in this film. And emotionless killing machines are ALWAYS scary. Like sharks, and robots. And Chigra, from No Country for Old Men. Dr. Suber, who teaches my Film Structure class, says that humans are so emotionally wired that things that have or show no emotion terrify us, because we just can't relate to it.

2 out of 4 - You should love this film

Posted by jason on 04:08 AM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2008

The Exorcist

Oh my goodness, this had to be one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen. And it was so well made (after the first 35 minutes at least, which were badly acted and boring), that I feel like I watched a real demon possession and exorcism. It just seemed so authentic and frightening.

I don't really have much more to say except that I'll never watch it again, but it was an excellent film.

And it was child abuse to have a 12 year old actress play the part of the possessed girl.

3 out of 4 - You should love this film (ok, not love, but appreciate it. But honestly, don't watch this unless you can really handle some terror and horror. This is VERY scary. It's traumatic.)

Posted by jason on 03:12 AM | Comments (6)

February 13, 2008

Lawrence of Arabia

What an epic movie. Epic landscapes, epic armies, epic scenes, epic main character. It apparently cost 12 million to make in 1960. It looked like it would cost 150 million to make today.

Oh yeah, and epic running time. It was 227 minutes long. Yes, that's 3 hours and 47 minutes.

I really enjoyed this film. Many of the older films are very black and white in their portrayal of heroes and villains, but this one really showed the mix of character and study in contradictions that made up T.E. Lawrence. His journey and quest and thirst for adventure basically destroyed him in the end. Hollowed him out. And the tragedy in my opinion was that the freedom he was fighting for on behalf of the Arabs never really materialized. He basically gave his life to prop up a monarchy and colonialism.

One piece of advice for anyone who wanted to tackle this beast of a film. Read a synopsis of the first hour before you see it. I don't know if I'm just stupider than the average filmgoer in 1960, but I had a tough time following who was what and what people were doing for a while. I stopped the film to catch myself up, then I was good for the rest. Just a thought.

I'd say watch this film just to see what good old-fashioned epic filmmaking is all about, along with the beautiful portrayal of a hero's descent. And a number of the lines are outstanding, too.

Oh, one last note. I think the music, shots, and acting for Star Wars New Hope were all very heavily influenced by this film. Some of the score sounded like variations off of the Star Wars music and I felt like half of it was shot in Tattoine. And Alec Guiness, ie Ben Kenobi, plays a Arab Prince.

3 out of 4 - You should love this film.

Posted by jason on 03:00 AM | Comments (1)

The Use of Humor in Depressing Films

If I were to ask you to watch a movie about the abuses suffered by patients in a mental ward, or two adult children having to deal with the fallout of their cruel father's mental deterioration, you'd probably pass and say, "When does Meet the Spartans play again?"

Both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOTCN) and Savages (S) utilize humor to make their difficult subject matter palatable, and even enjoyable. Yet the humor serves an even deeper purpose – it makes you sympathize with the characters even more and open your heart to them, it makes you care. Ironically, the end result is then more devastating than if you would have watched a simple humorless documentary that provided the simple cold hard facts on the same subject matter.

That these movies, which could be characterized as downers, use humor should not be a surprise, as laughter and tears are closely connected. Just as our instinct at funerals may be to smile or laugh reveals this connection, the humor in these movies actually deepen the experience of sadness they provide.

The films use humor differently.

In OFOTCN, the wit and humor frequently emanates from the main character and hero, Mac. Whether he is recreating a baseball game, introducing the escaped patients as high powered doctors, or pretending to be a zombie as a result of his electroshock therapy, his humor makes him endearing to the other characters and the audience.

But in Savages, the humor is more situational, and the situations themselves are pathetic. Wendy puts her hand on the dog’s paw during sex, her boyfriend howls like a dog, her brother wrenches his neck and is forced into a ridiculous therapy, she finally gets a grant but it’s from FEMA. That the humor is laughing at them, not with them, is appropriate, as Wendy and Jon are not so much heroes as they are anti-heroes. Neither of them wishes to sacrifice anything for the greater good. They just want to get over their current burden, and the guilt associated with it, and move on.

Mac, on the other hand, makes a journey throughout the film, from antihero to hero, so his humor is a natural outflow of his heroic trait, defiance.

At the beginning of the story, the only attribute of a hero that he truly possesses is defiance. He displays this trait up front with his critique of the mental health diagnosis system:

Now they're telling me
I'm crazy over here...
...'cause I don't sit there
like a goddamn vegetable.
It don't make a bit of sense to me.
If that's what being crazy is...
...then I'm senseless, out of it,
gone down the road, whacko.
But, no more, no less. That's it.

But in his struggles against the antagonistic forces in the film – first against the authority at the mental ward, and then against the passivity of his fellow patients – he discovers within himself a new call. To give up the immediate escape to Canada and make things better for those he would have left behind.

His final act of sacrifice that solidifies his heroic status was set up perfectly by his earlier humor, to make it even more painful to behold. As he is taken back from the final treatment, he again is a zombie, as he was earlier. Only this time we were set up, this is no joke. The lobotomy was real. By using the fun of the earlier scene, in contrast this final sacrifice is even worse to behold.

In the Savages, contrasts are also used to great affect. The only people who smile are in ridiculously overblown commercials for cleaning solutions or nursing homes. These bright and cheery spots are played against a real life grim and snowy and sad. As Jon Savages says:

It’s a HORROR show! And all this
wellness propaganda and landscaping is
just trying to obscure the miserable fact
that people die and death is gaseous and
gruesome and filled with piss and shit
and rot and stink!

The Savages, with it’s brutal unrelenting descent into the death of a father, a death that is gaseous and gruesome, a process which forces both brother and sister to adjust the miserable but comfortable life that neither of them wants to change. If an antagonist is someone who stands in the way of the protoganists’ goals, than the father fits this role superbly.

Of course, in Wendy and Jon’s case, their goals are to prevent change. Wendy will continue to sleep with the married man. Jon will continue in his pattern of a non-intimate life. Neither of them wants to be bothered by anything, let alone their father’s care.

But the father’s death exposes the pettiness of this existence, and forces them to change despite themselves.

In the end, the remarkable achievement of both films is to make engaging, interesting, entertaining stories around utterly depressing and non-entertaining subject matter. And they do this not by satirizing or making light of these situations, but by instead using humor as a way of stringing us along, making us more empathetic, opening us up and causing us to let down our defenses, and then striking our defenseless hearts with the sadness of it all.

Posted by jason on 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2008

When the Magic Shows Up

I'm always amazed at how creativity shows up when you need it. Or rather, when you decide to use it. No matter how much you plan, or outline a story, when you actually start to write it, put it down on paper, it's incredible because these new scenarios, new scenes, new characters, new conversations, and new actions just all of a sudden walk into the room. It's not just limited to screenwriting either, it happens when you write music, or poetry, draw, paint a picture, sculpt.

It's fun, and breathtaking. For instance, in this latest historical epic I'm writing, I spent 3 solid weeks on developing an outline and structuring the story. I thought I had nailed everything down. Then I finally start writing the story (which I much prefer, I'll be honest. Outline work is not fun for me.) and a new breath runs through my outline, showing me these new directions I could take, brand new sequences that are just awesome to create.

I love it. But there's something interesting here. It's not that inspiration hits and then all this fun stuff happens. It's the opposite. I sit down to plow through my outline and then because I'm focused on bringing it to life inspiration hits and things become vivid and new things come to being.

And it always amazes and excites me.

Posted by jason on 03:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2008

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Another great film I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't seen until now. I very much liked it. Of course, it's a downer. But also quite an achievement. (Won academy award for best picture. best director, best screenplay, best actor, best actress. Of course it's good).

What I didn't expect was how entertaining and funny it was. It was 2 hours and 13 minutes long, but that time flew by. If I told you it might be fun to sit down and watch a film about a person committed to a mental institute and how it involved electric shock treatment and daily therapy and a cruel domineering nurse and a lobotomy, I think you'd say hey that's a film you're not really interested in watching. But actually, enough comedy is injected into this story that not only would you enjoy it, but you'd never get bored.

4 out of 4. You should love this movie.

Posted by elanyarts on 04:33 AM | Comments (3)

The Old Los Angeles Zoo

We visited something that many locals don't even know about here in LA. In Griffith Park, they abandoned the old LA Zoo, but didn't destroy it. So there are all these fake caves and cages and passageways that you can still explore. It's really eerie. But really cool. I love stuff like this.

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Posted by jason on 04:16 AM | Comments (2)

February 07, 2008

Wow.

Darby and I just saw a whale, from our house. In the ocean. Cool.

Posted by jason on 03:09 PM | Comments (4)

Exactly

This sums it up perfectly.

Patriots' Season Perfect for Rest of Nation.

Posted by jason on 02:07 PM | Comments (1)

February 06, 2008

One more reason to hate Bank of America

I think that Bank of America is seriously close to evil.

Look what I just found out. I use their billpay service online, where you send a check to someone through their website. I also do this with PNC Bank, and the way it works is like with any other check. The money comes out of your account once that person deposits the check.

Not with Bank of America. They take the money out of your account once they figure the check gets to the person or company you're paying. Where do they put it, you ask? They keep it in one of their accounts. How did I find this out? Because someone had asked me where their check was, and I looked it up and saw it the money had been taken out of my account. So I said, "You deposited it." And they freaked out saying "I think someone stole the check, because I never got it."

So I had to call Bank of America, and find out that they take the money for safekeeping even before the check is deposited. Well, what happens if the person never cashes it?

Good question. And actually one that made a difference with me. I had set up an automatic payment for our health insurance plan, and then realized I'd save money if I paid all the months up front. So I did. But I forgot to cancel the automatic payment plan. The insurance company just returned the checks to me, and I thought, "Oh no big deal, they never deposited them so what's the difference?"

Turns out the difference was Bank of America was taking that money, to the tune of $2000+!

I had to go through and cancel these transactions. I'm telling you. Bank of America is evil.

Posted by jason on 01:53 AM | Comments (8)

Wages of Fear

Earlier today, I was think that I should give a "rating" as I watch these films, just as recommendations for other people who might want to watch them too, and want an opinion.

And I was thinking that since my queue is made up of films that experts say are important, that my rating really shouldn't be "it stunk" to "it was awesome," since none of the films should stink. I was thinking that it should be more along the lines of:

1) Watch it because you should watch it.
2) Watch it because you'll like it.
3) Watch it because you'll love it.
4) Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe you spent so many years of your life without watching this film.

And I might still adopt that, with one addition which I'll call the "Wages of Fear" caveat. I'm going to add a "?," which will be dedicated to "I just don't get what the experts are talking about."

Now mind you, I think I get why this film is significant, and why it's worth knowing. It's tense and full of suspense and danger in spots.

The basic storyline is solid: 4 drifters (from different countries) are stuck in a part of south america where they can't afford the money it would cost to get out (only accessible via air) and they don't have the papers to work. A nearby oil field (owned by Americans, of course), needs some poor fools to transport highly dangerous explosives across a remote desert. The job is far too dangerous for most normal people, but the pay is high and so the drifters take it.

Not a bad setup, and the power of the film is in these painful sequences where at any moment the explosives could go off. And of course different conflicts arise between the 4 as they deal with the stress of the journey. And, the ending is nice and ironic and satisfying.

But it took the film 40 minutes to get to the fact that the oil company needed anyone to drive these explosives across the desert. Yes, 40 minutes of watching aimless drifters hanging out at the local cantina, doing nothing of substance. And they didn't start their journey across the desert until the one hour mark. And really, that's where the story, and any action, begins. This is like the Peter Jackson King Kong disease. Guys, we came for the monkey. Show us the monkey sooner.

The film runs 2 hours and 28 minutes. So yes, they still spent almost 90 minutes on their trek across the desert. About 30 minutes of this is really worth watching. The rest? Two trucks freaking driving across the desert. Engine rumbling, landscape flying by. Yep. About 60 minutes too much of that.

I'm trying not to be too negative, and again, hopefully I took out of this film what I needed to be literate, but to be honest by the time I was watching the film in fastforward. Once anyone is doing that, you know there is a problem.

I doubt anyone is going to watch this film on the basis of this discussion. But if you do, or have, please help me understand where I'm wrong. I'd love to know why this is an important film. Really, it seemed like Speed in the desert and in a foreign language. (And with about 57 minutes too much setup in the beginning.)

By the way, yes I do think this movie should have been 33 minutes long. If they wanted to make this story into a feature film, they just needed to add more real character conflict. It could have greatly benefited from a "Simple Plan" style descent into greed and immorality.

Now that I think about it, I'd like to see what the Coen Brothers could do with this premise. I think it'd be fantastic. (Yes, I know the Coen Brothers didn't make Simple Plan. They were two separate thoughts.)

? out of 4 – I just don't get what the experts are talking about.

Posted by jason on 01:29 AM | Comments (0)

Oh yeah you're gonna be jealous

Because I saw the Hannah Montana 3D concert movie at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood tonight. And it was pretty good actually... That girl has alot of poise and talent and energy. I really hope she doesn't end up like Britney. This much acclaim at 15 does make me worry for her.

PS. I watched it with the family. Not alone. That would be pathetic.
PPS. That I've seen this and not U2's 3D concert really tells you we need to find some babysitters out here.
PPPS. I get a text from Darby during the show, while the Jonas brothers are playing. (yes we were texting. She was 3 seats away.) "am I the only one who thinks they look like they belong in a shire?"

Posted by jason on 01:02 AM | Comments (5)

February 04, 2008

UNBEATABLE

Hmmmm.... for some reason they aren't selling this on Amazon anymore.

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So funny that it says "Unbeatable" and not just "Undefeated." I'm so glad they lost. I like being spared having to hear people talking about the "Best Team Ever."

Posted by jason on 06:18 PM | Comments (3)

The Graduate

While Some Like it Hot was better than I expected it to be, I didn't honestly enjoy The Graduate as much as I thought I would. That's not to say it's not worth watching, it is. It's a great film, and one of the first to accurately chronicle the "generation gap" and the aimless post graduate boredom. And it's very well acted. Dustin Hoffman is excellent in it. And also, you have to respect the general artiness of the film, the way its shot . There's a Point Of View underwater scuba scene alone is worth watching the film for. (you'll know what I'm talking about if you see it.)

But I think it could have used an editor. There is a part right after Dustin Hoffman decides to chase his true love in Berkley where they play Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Faire about 7 different times. And sadly, I think I'm only exaggerating by 2 there. Oh, and I don't know if I'd even call it a comedy. It's more like a very good drama with funny sections. That observation might reveal me as an idiot, but there are long stretches with no laughs.

But overall, it's an excellent film. I know I'm sounding kind of negative here, but that's because I kind of assume these films are going to be awesome, so I'm discussing the things that didn't work for me.

The ending really scores, though. It's another reason I don't think it's a comedy. Because it's not happy. I mean, it seems happy, but in a very clever way, you can tell that it's not.

2 – Watch it because you'll like it.
Remember, I'm grading on a scale here. Since I'm watching only "incredible" movies, a 1 is still very good.

Posted by elanyarts on 01:43 AM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2008

I'm hoping for a tie.

For the first time in a long time, I really don't want either team to win the Super Bowl. I really can't accept either the cheating, running up the score Patriots or the NFC East rival Giants winning this game. In the end, I guess I'd rather see the Patriots lose, just because the way they've conducted themselves this year has been nothing short of shameful. But oh man, being a petty bitter Philadelphia Eagles fan, I will hate watching the Giants win a Super Bowl.

Who am I kidding, the Patriots are going to win regardless.

Posted by jason on 06:20 PM | Comments (7)

February 02, 2008

Some Like it Hot

My film literacy education has begun. I watched Some Like it Hot, very funny comedy starring Marilyn Monroe. Incidently, this is the only movie I've ever seen with her in it. Which is odd, considering how famous she is. But anyway, I'm happy to say she was very good, a very skilled comedic actress

The film is funny. Not funny in an old fashioned "yeah that's kind of humorous for a bunch of old geezers kind of way" but funny as in if it were a movie made today today's young audience would get it and laugh and want to see it again. And Jack Lemmon is (was) a star, the guy is hilarious. I never knew how good he was prior to be a Grumpy Old Man.

Anyway, if you thought that Mrs. Doubtfire / Bosom Buddies / etc were original in their guys dress like girls to get something and hilarity ensues storyline, like I did, you'd be wrong. This film does it masterfully.

One strange thing that you just don't see in comedies today. This movie had no less than 14 people gunned down in cold blood, wounds seeping on the ground, pretty violent scenes. It was like an episode of the Sopranos showing up in the middle of Runaway Bride. Different times, different tastes I guess.

UPDATE:
I also realized that this movie is unique in that there are no character arcs (ie the main character does not change in the course of the film) and there is no single protoganist (both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are equally the main characters.)

UPDATE 2:
I watched it again tonight and realized there is a small character arc, though it's definitely not emphasized. Tony Curtis' character goes from being a womanizer to a man who wants the best for the Marilyn Monroe character.

3 out of 4 - Watch it because you should love it.

Posted by jason on 03:13 AM | Comments (7)

February 01, 2008

I am very angry at Bank of America

Living in California, I had to open a new bank account. All of my previous banks were east coast only. I settled on Bank of America, because they have the most ATMs and bank branches in the area.

But there has been a problem. Every single time I make a deposit with them, they place a "hold" on the funds for at least 10 days. Sometimes more. At first I was told this was because I was a new customer and they had to see if they could trust my account. But now... they still continue doing it.

And the latest one really burns me up. I have a small business, called Artichoke Artisans, and I'll write checks to myself for jobs that ran through it as payment. This business has an account with Commerce Bank in Delaware. So I wrote a check from Commerce to myself, and deposited it on 1/25. In the branch, they said a hold would be placed on it. I said please no, I wanted to be able to use the money to pay rent and other 1st of the month bills. They said, ok, we'll remove the hold.

I get a letter yesterday saying there was a hold. Until 2/11. The reason? "Confidential information leads us to believe the check will not be paid."

WHAT!? I own both accounts. I know there was enough to cover it... Who is the source of this confidential information, and what is it exactly?

I call them, they say sorry, it's confidential, and they don't know it. Only people in risk know it. I ask to talk to the people in risk. They say no customers can talk to the people in risk. I ask them to talk to the people in risk, and then talk to me. They say they're not allowed to talk to the people in risk. What can I do? Verify that the money has cleared from your Commerce Account.

So I do this, and it cleared on 1/28. So that means Bank of America is holding onto my money for 14 days without letting me have access to it. I go into the branch to talk about it, showing them the proof that the money already cleared. They said they can't do anything about it, once Risk puts something on hold, it can't be changed. I ask them if this is a federal law. They say, no it's not. Just Bank of America. But no one can talk to Risk. They tell me Risk doesn't even have phones.

So now all I can do is wait. 10 more days. The money is gone from my Commerce account. Bank of America has it. They just won't let me use it.

How can this be legal?

Posted by jason on 06:04 PM | Comments (8)