Posts in: March, 2008

Photo Blog: Over the Counter

In January, I received a helpful e-mail from my health insurance provider. It informed me that Zyrtec—the allergy medication I’ve taken since I was 15—would now be providing prescription-strength pills over the counter, so if I attempted another prescription refill, they’d have no problem charging me $145 instead of the usual $15.

I don’t usually take my allergy medication in winter, because there aren’t as many outdoor allergens to ruin my life. But allergy season is upon us, and as such I finished my Zyrtec prescription on Sunday and had to take a trip up to Walgreens to find the over-the-counter version. They had a bunch of options: five tablets, 14, 30, or 45. I would have preferred to go big, for maximum value, but the 30- and 45-tablet options were locked in little cabinets. I don’t really like pushing the button and having someone from the pharmacy assist me, because, aside from the other sordid reasons, there’s a girl working in that pharmacy who I unintentionally stalked for about three months about eight years ago.

Now, when I say that, don’t get all in a tizzy thinking I’m some psycho nutbar. Different people have different definitions of “stalking” (apparently). Standing behind a tree in her front yard, chain-smoking and staring at her bedroom window—that’s stalking. Asking a girl on a date multiple times, including prefacing one or two of them with flowery (and, I’ll admit, embarrassing) declarations of love—that’s just a delightful cocktail of persistence and stupidity. No matter how you define it, there’s nothing more humiliating than seeing her. She actually stopped working there for awhile, but now she’s back, and I’m compelled to switch over my prescription pickup location to a slightly farther but much less awkward location. But fuck, it was Sunday, I didn’t want to drive 10 minutes when I could have driven three.

I also didn’t want to risk having to see or speak with her if I could avoid it, so I didn’t push the little assistance button. Even though it was kind of a rip-off, I grabbed two 14-tablet thingies and went home.

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Homicide Revisited

Over the past few months, I’ve been re-watching Homicide: Life on the Street, the classic low-rated show about the humdrum lives of Baltimore homicide detectives. I was primarily inspired to do this when I found myself unable to wait a full week for The Wire‘s final seasons. I had just re-watched the first four seasons in anticipation of its fifth and final season, so what else to do but revisit its spiritual cousin.

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A&E has taken to rerunning CSI: Miami during the noon hour. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing this, but needless to say I’ve just discovered it and set the TiVo to record it. I revel in its sheer stupidity and the over-the-top comedy gold of David Caruso’s satirical performance. (I have to believe he’s playing Horatio Caine with a wink and a smile or else I’d have trouble sleeping at night.) I haven’t enjoyed a show’s pure awfulness since NBC’s short-lived “CSI meets Las Vegas” disaster Medical Investigation.

Still, I have to wonder why the CSI shows are a hit. CSI: Miami is one of the worst shows currently airing, yet it consistently finishes in the top 20. Why do all three shows (and pseudo-spinoffs like Without a Trace and Cold Case) get such consistently good ratings? I could never stomach the original series because of William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger attempting to exude uncomfortable, plasticized sexuality as they solved disgusting crimes. Both came across as kinda scuzzy, and even that would have been fine if the writing acknowledged it and portrayed them as such. Unfortunately, the writing is cartoonishly simplistic in both story and character, leaving a vacuum of entertainment where quality should be.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on any of these shows, I have seen enough of a sampling of each to recognize that they’re uniformly bad, mostly for the same reasons: no character depth, predictable storylines, questionable procedure portrayed as unquestionable, and (my personal favorite) the killers breaking down and spelling out their motives as soon as the police arrest them. I can understand a person possibly doing this out of guilt. It’s called a confession, and you don’t often need expensive lab tests and a high-speed chase involving helicopters to get one. I don’t understand procedurals’ reliance on the Scooby Doo “all right, you got me—here’s why I did it” ending. Killers kill. Unless they’re very guilty or very showy, they aren’t going to rattle off a confession to the arresting officer. Besides that, many of the killers play the roles as over-the-top sociopaths, making it even more unbelievable that guilt drove them to confess (and even more predictable, because you know whodunit as soon as you see the smug sneer).

But nothing—not even binging on the junk food of CSI: Miami for the past week—could prepare me for the unadulterated badness of a CSI: New York episode entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole.” I don’t watch these shows regularly, but a good friend of mine insisted it contained moments of awe-inspiring stupidity. I had to do my critical duty by watching it. After all, it’s my job to keep track of the cultural zeitgeist and explain to people why they’re wrong.

Not much more than a commercial for the game Second Life (a game that only seems to be played on television; I’m friends with an assload of nerds, none of whom have played Second Life for more than 15 minutes), the episode begins with one of the weirdest and most entertaining sequences in television history. We see a sweaty Mac Taylor jogging past a museum at night. Inside the museum, a janitor enters a room littered with mannequins, cranks up some classy tango music, and begins dancing very sensually with one…until the head falls off. When he bends over to grab it, the janitor finds a costumed dead body.

From this body, they discover many forensic red herrings, including a tick swimming in Lyme disease and a piece of bamboo under the victim’s fingernails. They use the comically inaccurate power of Google image searching to, apparently, plug in a photo of the victim, which magically finds them photos of her Second Life avatar. (Google has created some amazing technology, but this is not one of them.) Second Life helpfully provides her real-world information, and it turns out she’s kind of a loser who spends the bulk of her time “living” a Second Life.

So Mac jacks in, and the bulk of the traditional investigation occurs within Second Life itself. This includes such bizarre feats as a hoverboard chase, a “virus” nearly infecting the lab’s computers, and, best of all, the office’s random computer nerd stepping up to a giant wall-screen to battle a bunch of Second Life avatars armed with what looks like a VCR remote from 1983.

They follow some dead-end real-world leads, including questioning a fidgety Second Life player whose pasty skin and irritable behavior suggest Lyme disease (turns out, he’s just a nerd) and a mechanic-in-real-life/shoe-salesman-in-Second Life (not a step up) who “would kill” to have an “online celebrity” like the murder victim wear his digital clothing. Eek?

This leads to the most baffling development in the episode: the apparent motive for the killing (according to the CSIs, who haven’t yet identified a legitimate suspect) was the celebrity status. See, their mythical suspect is a paid assassin who may or may not have killed a judge in the same New Jersey woods where the Lyme tick is found (the bullet matched their current victim), and somehow they discover the next target is a U.S. congressman, so the assassin must be using the celebrity status of “Venus” to get close to the congressman…

…except she just trots over to the apartment anyway, dressed like Venus for no apparent reason, and shoots him dead before he can say two words. So, a paid assassin plays Second Life long enough to familiarize herself with its “celebrities,” then kills one of these celebrities and assumes her virtual identity to get close to a congressman’s avatar—just so she can find out where he’s staying in New York? There’s no easier way to find out that information? There’s nothing else she wanted out of this whole Second Life deal? Then again, her greatest hits include “paid assassin who repeatedly uses the same gun as if nobody would investigate that” and “shooting a judge while he’s on a hunting trip.” Maybe she’s just inept.

As if that wasn’t enough, the episode ends with the Venussassin diving into a laundry chute, staring at Mac as he patrols the hallway, then slamming it shut loud enough for him to hear. Mac pulls open the laundry chute, looks in, and sees the words EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: JERRY BRUCKHEIMER inside.

I watched this entire episode in stunned silence, and when it was all over, I felt compelled question the tens of readers who enjoy this column: if you watch any of the CSI shows or know anybody who does, please, please explain why. Do people watch it out of ironic fascination, or do they think anything what appears on this show is in an honest, truthful, and insightful portrayal of police work? I keep reading things about CSI influencing and confusing juries, destroying cases, yet I can’t imagine anyone with half a brain watching these shows and taking them seriously. Please, enlighten me.

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Found this on a blog, where the author has a weekly tradition of predicting weekend box-office success:

SUPERHERO MOVIE (2960 theaters). Craig Mazin over at Artful Writer wrote and directed this, which means it’s likely to be more consistent and funnier than “Epic Movie”, “Date Movie” and that ilk. Should do pretty well. $19.3 million.

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Bragging Writes

(I promise I will stop titling posts with awful, awful puns.)

All blogs are devotions to narcissism, and mine is no exception. The Stupid Blogger has opened me up to a galaxy of wannabes and hangers-on clinging to the blogs of moderately successful screenwriters, and I’ve noticed that many of these (including Stupid’s) include a little sidebar hawt CSS action documenting their progress on current projects. I elected to do what any screenwriter would do: I stole it because I thought I could make it better.

I noticed all of these blogs, without exception, ape some code they most likely found here, considering the dimensions and margins are exactly the same (the only difference are the colors). Though it’s helpful and I also stole my code from this blog, I decided to modify it to make it look a little classier (at least, I think it’s a little classier—fuck off if you disagree).

Though I don’t wish to remain fully anonymous (once somebody stumbles across this blog, they can unravel my terrible secrets with ease), I do wish to remain as difficult to Google as possible. As such, I’ll be giving each project outdated working titles instead of the actual, current titles. I know from my own dorky reader experience that if I read a script and wanted to know more about the writer, I’d pop their name and/or e-mail address into Google. If that yielded no results, I’d punch in “[Title] screenplay,” just to see if anything popped up. It only did once, but that’s beside the point: it’s possible. I wouldn’t be thrilled if the BigShot Producer or someone from his company Googled “[Dying Proof‘s real title] screenplay” and ended up here, where I’ve written moderately hostile things about him.

That long explanation is my way of saying, “That’s why one script shares its title with a Juliana Hatfield song, and the novel is the title of the fictional town in which it takes place.” The war script is so new, I don’t even have an outdated fake title for it. I try to give my material more attention-grabbing titles by the time my work is worth seeing by people who aren’t me and the sad group of Chosen Ones who read my early drafts and send thoughtful comments such as, “Comma splice!” and “Please stop sending me this shit!”

On a slightly less narcissistic note, I felt like I should probably add progress bars like these since I’ll be rambling about these projects more often.

Edit 3/29/08 — Since this is about adding random, unnecessary shit to my blog, I should add that I’ve finally added functional, threaded comments to Stan Has Issues™—enjoy!

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Character Ark

Yes, I know how to spell. That’s a pun. You’ll see.

I discovered from the blog of stupidity that a screenwriting forum I no longer read (because, honestly, it got too full of people like her) has had somewhat of a debate on character arcs, prompted by a post by this guy. His take is decidedly an argument against arcs. Her take?

But that doesn’t mean authority is always wrong either, because that would be equally short sighted. So I say, if your script calls for character arcs, knock yourself out. And if it doesn’t, knock yourself out with that too.

Way to be Switzerland!

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Meanest Prank of All Time?

About six months after posting the surprisingly famous R. Kelly rant, I received my first confused/misguided request for R. Kelly’s e-mail address, from someone clearly thinking I was R. Kelly, despite the decidedly anti-Kells sentiment I spewed at the time (I’ve since learned the error of my ways and have come to love and respect the man’s tortured genius). This started an echo-chamber effect that has lasted to this day, with commenters from places as distant as Cameroon and as close Louisville posting their desire to contact R. Kelly. Around October of last year, I decided I’d start pranking them all. Nobody responded to my e-mails, in which I pretended to be R. Kelly by affecting poor spelling and an awful attempt at “street” patois, except for one guy. This is his story.

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Walgreens Woman

When I was in high school, I made an unintended friend. I’d known her since third grade, but even back then, I found her overbearing and off-putting. She had a syrupy sweetness that, first of all, seemed like a huge put-on (P.S.: it was!), but mainly, it didn’t blend well with my seething cauldron of rage and disappointment. Yes, I was even bitter and hate-filled back then, before I had to read A Separate Peace and When the Legend Dies. I think it started when my teacher took away a set of plastic nunchaku that had cost me a good amount of money (most likely stolen from my sister). He thought it was a weapon, even though it was hollow plastic that wouldn’t have done any more damage than throwing a carrot stick at somebody. So I had to tell my parents about it, and they had to come to school to redeem them, and also ground me.

I may be getting distracted.

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Stupid Bloggers Need the Most Attention

About a month ago, Ken Levine posted a moronic critique of No Country for Old Men, written by Bob “Back to the Future” Gale. (Some of the nitpicks are reasonable, but the bulk of them are either a side effect of not paying attention or just not understanding what was happening. I don’t understand why people, especially professional writers, found the movie so difficult to follow.) This post isn’t about that.

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Good News, Everyone!

Longtime readers may call my unhealthy obsession with the Beach Boys leading me to a slightly healthier obsession with Dennis Wilson’s long out-of-print LP Pacific Ocean Blue and my complaining that it’s been out of print for almost two decades, despite being much better than a lot of the shit in the Beach Boys’ catalog. Turns out, someone finally agrees with me, and a deluxe, double-CD reissue will come out in June.

I’m both excited about this release and glad I didn’t spend $150 on one of the OOP CDs when I had the chance a year ago.

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