Posts in: April 2011

Why Do I Even Try?

My disdain for Microsoft ebbed somewhat when they tried to stop being the Evil Empire and started using their enormous wealth for charity purposes. Also, Windows 7 was an incredible leap forward—finally, Windows is a usable operating system. More than that, it’s one I—gasp!—prefer to Mac OS X.

Today at work, I got a friendly reminder of why I should never give in fully to the cult of Microsoft. It starts, as these stories often do, with unmitigated administrator access to a computer that’s usually locked down tighter than a virgin Nazi oil drum. I discovered, quite by accident, that if I change the computer’s domain from the work network to the computer alone, I can login with the administrator username and a blank password. Since then, I’ve used it for little more than program updates—which I can’t install under my own username, thanks to all the restrictions—and, occasionally, Windows updates.

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A Case of the Mondays?

Saturday night, I watched Shutter Island, and I was displeased. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of getting the annoyance out of my system before I had the chance to blog it, and now I’ve stopped caring, so I’ll just say this: it has the worst musical score I’ve ever heard in a studio film. Worse than The Princess Bride!

To temper my disappointment, I decided to order used copies of The King of Comedy and Raging Bull—the only two Martin Scorsese films I really like—as part of a bizarre, possibly obsessive-compulsive quest to create the ultimate movie collection. (Please note: the ultimate movie collection is a deeply personal pursuit involving numerous factors. My collection won’t be like yours. There are a lot of rules.) That’s about all I have to say on the subject.

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Script Review: Ceremony by Max Winkler

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

“Now, Henry Winkler—there’s a father. Listen to what he told a close friend. ‘I don’t always keep my cool like the Fonz, but my love for my kids has given me plenty of happy days.'”—The Simpsons, “Saturdays of Thunder”

Ceremony confines its setting to a weekend-long bacchanal, and that decision is where it goes wrong. It’s not the single setting in and of itself. Plenty of films, many of them set at weddings (Robert Altman’s A Wedding leaps to mind, and though I’m generally not a big Altman fan, his film pretty much does everything right that Ceremony does wrong), have utilized this type of single-setting technique in effective ways. From claustrophobia (Das Boot, Lifeboat—which manages to generate claustrophobia on the open goddamn sea) to farce (Death at a Funeral) to all those filmed plays where disparate characters share intense experiences and find out new things about themselves and each other (A Raisin in the Sun and The Big Kahuna among the zillions out there), use of one setting over a short period of time can amp up tension more than just about anything else. In fact, my favorite film of last year, Lebanon, utilizes this technique masterfully.

I wonder if this style of storytelling stems from the days when large family systems had the misfortune of sharing a single, cramped dwelling (those days aren’t as long ago as one might imagine, and in many non-American cultures it’s still quite common). That’s just an idle thought that has little to do with anything.

The problem with Ceremony has less to do with its setting than with the story told within that setting. In every film mentioned above (and plenty more), the story and characters are inextricably linked to the choice of setting. Those stories would not be more compelling if things were expanded. This might sound like a violation of the “show, don’t tell” rule, especially in the case of the filmed plays. The rules say that it’s a movie—you can show anything, so why would you have a character tell a story to his friends instead of showing the story to the audience?

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Critics and pretentious types frequently compare Ernest Hemingway’s writing to the paintings of Paul Cézanne. I don’t know exactly where the comparisons originated, but then again, I don’t particularly care. When Cézanne painted a landscape, he would not gussy it up with impressionistic flourishes like Monet or Renoir. He would paint exactly what he saw, only better. If a tree on a hill blocked the view of a beautiful cathedral, he would move the tree to another hill so he could add the cathedral to the landscape. Same tree, same realistic approach, but moved for obvious aesthetic reasons. In much the same way, Hemingway would alter the generally realistic details of the world around him into prosaic banality (BURN!).

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Guess what? This site and The Parallax Review have been crippled by malware.

You might be wondering how something so insane and retarded could possibly happen on my watch. Well, here’s the thing: my hosting company has a habit of upgrading Plesk (the server-side software that runs the sites) somewhat ineptly. One upgrade left TPR without stats during a crucial month. Another one, it would appear, gave global read-write access to every single file on every single site?

What does that mean? Simply put: malware spiders crawl sites looking for just such examples of stupidity. When they have write access to a file (in this case, all HTML files), they will add code that creates surreptitious links to their malware overlords, which will then load onto your computer and (assuming it’s unprotected) cripple it or spy on you or try to get you to buy a knockoff handbag or something. That’s bad.

Luckily, I’ve flushed out the problem, restored read-only access to the files, and everything seems to be running without a hitch. However, because I did this with my patented combination of speed and laziness, I’m sure I’ll find a half-dozen kinks that need to be worked out.

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Cover Girl: Uncovered

One reader had a very good suggestion that I am trying to follow through on. I’ve mentioned a handful of times that reading scripts has helped me improve as a writer. He asked me if I had a list of scripts that writers should read, and honestly, I don’t. But I should, right? It just makes sense.

So, over the weekend, I spent some time going through all the scripts I’ve covered to compile this list (which, in its current state, is out of hand—I need to pare my choices down), and I discovered I passed on a script called Cover Girl by Gren Wells. This shocked me, because although it’s not without its problems, I have nothing but fond memories of the script. I really enjoyed it—so why did I pass on it? Well: “Without extremely good casting, it’s more likely to end up as a bland, forgettable romantic comedy.”

That’s the problem, right? I read for a company involved in distribution. It’s too late to solve story problems, so I had it repeatedly drilled into my head that if the script won’t make money, I should pass, no matter what. A more optimistic version of myself—not the soulless husk you see before you—would make the argument that a good script trumps everything else. But I’ve seen enough good scripts go bad to know that isn’t true. I’ve also seen enough terrible scripts receive inexplicable praise (Black Swan!) to know that script quality isn’t the only factor at play. It’s probably not even in the top 10.

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I Got No Idols

Because I am, for the most part, emotionally numb, my main objective in seeking out worthwhile art is find something that provokes a real emotional experience. It’s not that I glide through life like a sociopath so much as I, like Homer Simpson, squeeze my emotions into a bitter ball that I then unleash on unsuspecting innocents, like that time I hit the referee with a whiskey bottle. Remember that? When Daddy hit the referee?

The wonderful thing about the vast artistic world is that I can pick my poison. What do I want to feel? There’s a movie, or a book, or a song, or a painting, or another work in another medium that can unlock the feelings I’ve taught myself to repress. That, for me, is the value of art. As someone who purports to be an artist, I can attempt to express myself in hopes that someone will relate to whatever I put out there. I really do try to do that, even if it generally takes the form of pornographic songs. As an appreciator of art, I can allow stranger(s) to evoke in me what I keep hidden. It’s a good system.

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