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Posts in Category: Current Posts

‘The Milkman’ Demo

As those of you who rate enough to be a Facebook friend, I’ve been working on at least one new song (actually, a slew of them) called “The Zimbalist Thing,” an ode to Stephanie Zimbalist that gradually becomes a paranoid rant about my fear of her tough-as-nails FBI agent father. I had hoped to have a demo up today, but I find it excruciatingly difficult to write song lyrics unless they’re pornographic disasters, so I got nothing. The music is done, the melody’s done, and I have one and a half verses and the first line of the chorus. I won’t share anything in such an embryonic state, so deal with it.

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Dual Script Reviews — Conan and Untitled Lucas & Moore Comedy (a.k.a., Flypaper)

It’s been awhile, and I figured I should get back into this since I’ve noticed a half-dozen scripts I’ve read have made their thrilling theatrical (or direct-to-video) releases over the past few months, and I failed to reenact the death of Dennis Nedry by spewing poisonous dilophosaur bile in their general direction.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t really kept up on movies this year. I think, after the end of The Parallax Review, the only new releases I’ve seen have been Source Code, Bridesmaids, and The Tree of Life. Oh, and Super, the movie of the year. After hearing some positive buzz, I did decide to check out Ceremony to see if it amounted to more than its terrible script. I made it through about fifteen minutes before my Z’Dar-esque face flushed with rage and I shut it off in disgust.

Below, I’ll be reviewing scripts for two more movies I’ll probably never see. I may check out Conan solely because the love of my life, Rachel Nichols, is in it. As she knows from the thousands of fan letters I’ve sent, I will watch anything she’s in from P2 to blurry secret recordings of the outside of her house recorded by a crappy cell phone. Not my crappy cell phone. A totally different one that I also own.

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Script to Screen: Drive

[As one might expect from an article called “Script to Screen,” this article is a spoilertastrophe for Drive. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read it.]

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: Drive is a terrible script. I don’t usually pay much attention to news and gossip, but it’s hard to avoid when Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and my beloved Albert Brooks sign on to a script that ranks near the very bottom of the shit heap I’ve read (keep in mind, I read Law-Abiding Citizen, so that’s saying something). “Maybe,” I speculated, “the script has dramatically changed to make it appealing to competent actors.”

It hasn’t, but—get this—I actually liked the movie. They changed the absolute worst thing about the script—a serious, debilitating plot hole—But did I like the movie for what it was, or what it imitated? Because, you see, Drive‘s greatest liability and second-greatest asset (the greatest being the quality of the actors, elevating material far beyond the cheap, B-movie schlock it should have been) is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s self-conscious aping of early Michael Mann. Drive rehashes Thief, both in style and in content (swap out safe-cracking for stunt driving, and it’s basically the same movie), right down to the cursive, hot-pink credits and abuse of low-rent synth-pop.

The thing about Mann, for me, is that he knows how to blend the superficial gloss of contemporary coolness with the grit that permeates…pretty much everything in modern society. The Tangerine Dream score of Thief was not a self-conscious throwback or an attempt to emulate earlier directors. Tangerine Dream was just a few years past its peak popularity, and I’d make the argument that synth-pop evolved naturally from disco by amping up the experimental digital sounds and eliminating actual instruments. Synth-based pop was quickly becoming the Next Big Thing, but Mann heard the darkness and the coldness underneath the peppy veneer and exploited that to create Thief‘s mood. Mann has always used music expertly in his films, but it comes across as both derivative and self-conscious to simply ape choices he made 30 years ago rather than looking at the underlying reasons for those choices and finding a modern equivalent.

That said, the overwhelming majority of Mann’s movies—especially his crime epics—are so fucking good, pilfering his style can only help a bad script. One could argue that makes Drive style over substance, but Refn steals Mann’s style expertly. Ignoring all the self-consciousness (like the dingy, ’80s aesthetic of “Driver”‘s apartment), Refn creates the cinematic equivalent of highway hypnosis through the motion (or lack thereof) of his camera and expert sound design, lulling us into a false sense of calm until the relentlessly—almost comically—violent second half.

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Kevin Spacey Awards Grab Double Feature: Margin Call by J.C. Chandor and Father of Invention by Jonathan D. Krane and Trent Cooper

Well, it’s Monday, and I’m cranky, and the new At the Movies tells me Father of Invention and Margin Call will both be hitting theatres soon. I could do a Script to Screen on either of them, but let’s face it: I’m not going to see either one. Let’s take a look at them now, shall we?

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Script Reviews: A Double Dose of Dumb — Safe and The Raven

Safe by Boaz Yakin

J.J. Abrams didn’t invent the cliché, but he certainly did perfect it. You know how every other episode of Alias opened in medias res, and Syd seemed like she was about to get taken down for good. Smash cut to: Credit Dauphine, 48 hours earlier, and the first half of the episode builds to that moment, while the second half expands on it. Abrams shows frequently overuse this device—he even used it, albeit effectively, in Mission: Impossible III—and their popularity (among creative types, moreso than “the masses”) led to widespread abuse of a flawed narrative device.

Nowhere have I seen it more poorly used than in Safe, an unmitigated disaster brought to you by the same writer as the equally sloppy Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Boaz Yakin, whose name is more entertaining than much of his career output (low blow, sorry), managed to craft an in medias res opening, a “how they got here” flashback, and the resolution to the opening in the space of the first ten pages. You might think, “Wow! Breathless action!” If you read it, you’ll think, “Wow! Where’s the suspense?” Isn’t the basic narrative premise of this type of opening to keep the audience in suspense? At the start, we get to see the metaphorical bomb, which should leave us guessing at every turn. Is that bagboy at the grocery store the guy who’s going to stick him with a paralyzing drug and dump him off at the shady Chinese chemist’s dirty lab?

After a dizzying opening that barely makes sense even after the flashbacks, Safe rewinds a year to show Luke’s (Jason Statham) motivation: for unclear reasons (until later), the Russian mob kills his entire family in front of him and hopes the subsequent guilt and despair will cause him to commit suicide. They’re all surprised when Luke—who, by the way, is a master assassin—decides to take revenge instead of taking his own life.

This should be a great dumb-action-movie twist. You know me: I love dumb action movies. However, I find it personally offensive when a dumb action movie doesn’t know what it is and unsuccessfully sets its aspirations higher than its genre will allow. Such is the case with Safe, which shackles psychopathic loner Luke with adorable Chinese moppet Mei (Catherine Chan), whom he needs to keep safe (get it?) from the Chinese Triad, the Russian Mob, and corrupt New York cops and politicos. Yakin wants us to believe a sort of father-daughter relationship exists between these two characters, and that Luke changes for the better over the course of the script. It uses the line “I didn’t save you—you saved me” without irony.

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A Slight Return

So… How do I square a reintroduction to this blog with my last post? I declared, for instance, that I found two problems with the blog: “[F]irst, the entire foundation of this blog is rooted in the paralyzing anxiety and fear that has driven me to a heady combination of inaction and overthinking; second, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve lost interest to proving anything to anyone, including myself.” Well… Both of these things are still true, so then what reason would I have to return—other than what I wrote later about checking in periodically to give my rapidly diminishing readership recommendations on media to consume, something I’ve never bothered to do?

Then, I wrote:

None of that matters anymore. This was a place for me to feel strong instead of weak, valuable instead of worthless, brilliant instead of ign’ant, articulate instead of a stammering goofball. I controlled this depiction of my life because I had no control over my actual life. For instance, it’s exceptionally easy to remove past evidence of relationships gone awry from my blog. It’s much more difficult to remove their imprint from my actual life, and in the absence of genuine control over my thoughts and feelings, I came here to edit my life into what I wanted it to be.

Is that, then, why I’ve returned? Has my life fallen apart, and now I’m retreating back into quasi-fiction, “creative nonfiction,” where I can gussy up the disaster and make myself the hero? Not exactly… In fact, going forward, I will rarely if ever discuss my personal life. Unlike the Stan Has Issues™ days, I am not anonymous here. In thinking of resurrecting this blog, I did consider trashing this place, salting its earth, and resurrecting it once again with the comfortable anonymity of “Stan McCague.” But venting about difficult romantic relationships, annoying friendships, or obnoxious day job bullshit doesn’t appeal to me, anonymous or otherwise.

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John Lasseter: Greedy Capitalist Pig

The weekend’s release of Planes: Fire & Rescue reminded me of an important factoid: John Lasseter is a greedy capitalist pig who is destroying both Pixar and Disney through his fiendish desire to make as much money as possible. I only read a single review of this film in which I am wholly uninterested, but it brought to mind a couple of big problems I have with both contemporary film criticism and quasi-outsider perceptions of the Hollywood machine.

I don’t mean to slag on the fellow who reviewed this dumb movie. Although he’s not a critic I know by name, I’m sure I’ve read other reviews of his that had no impact on me. This one bothered me, not just for its needless political grandstanding but for the author’s apparent belief that his assertions are inarguably correct, and that such assertions have actual relevance on whether or not Planes: Fire & Rescue is a good movie. (I have a strong suspicion it’s not, so don’t prepare yourself for an argument that I resent a critic for disliking a movie I happen to like.)

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Religion as a Social Construct

I sent the following lengthy message to a gal on an online dating site whom I don’t anticipate hearing from again. Don’t weep for me. Now is not the time for me to be dating, but I like intellectual stimulation, she initiated contact, and her profile gave me something to talk about. It mentioned that she disapproved of “religion as a social construct.” I told her that, although I would say the same thing, this phrase could mean a lot of different things and asked what she meant by it. She answered, and then asked what I meant by it…

As far as I’m concerned, the history of the major religions root back to efforts to regulate/legislate human behavior, at a time when the people cobbling together all the rules and regulations had no real understanding of human behavior. Religious law, and the myths and stories and “histories” surrounding the law, are almost entirely reactive, but in extremely shallow ways. At best, it’s a rudimentary philosophical system combined with collections of fairy tales designed to explain the inexplicable and collections of “histories” designed to revel in the glories of past leaders and use those glories as evidence that their God is the best god.

Obviously that means I agree with you that humanity has evolved beyond the need for religion. Where I think it breaks down, as a social construct, is that it appeals very specifically to difficult but natural human urges—such as sexual desire, greed, or “egoism”—and tells people how to handle it. I just don’t think what they tell them is applicable, given our incredible understanding of psychology and neurology.

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Send Me Down the River

I’d planned to address the topic of the Amazon/Hachette pricing war, but I’m glad I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Amazon sent an e-mail over the weekend, which can be found in its entirety on Readers United. I’d recommend reading it, because this entire post is little more than a reaction to their letter and the situation as a whole.

Prior to this, I’d read a couple of articles/blog posts that left me with more questions than answers. Unfortunately, in both cases, the most illuminating aspect was found in the comments section, where authors and readers alike voiced their opinions on the topic (both for and against Amazon). Of course, loading them now, it appears that access to the comments has been restricted. Fantastic.

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