The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Wednesday, 17 August 2011 14:33

    MeetUp Networking Event

    Written by

    Yeah, we've been gone a bit  but it's only because we were planning some fantastic late summer and Fall events.  This is our first.

     

    MeetUp/Networking Event

    WHERE:  The Fabulous Ritz Restaurant
    880 Newport Center Drive
    Newport Beach, CA 92660-6387
      (949) 720-1800 (map)


    WHEN:  Wednesday August 17, 2011


    TIME: 6:00pm start

    raymond obstfeld MEET: OCSWA board member, Raymond Obstfeld.  
    Raymond is a New York Time Best Selling novelist, and screenwriter.  His last book, a collaboration with Kareem Abdul Jabbar was just made into the film "On The Shoulders of Giants."   

    Raymond's prolific career (60+ books and hundreds of articles and dozens of screenplays) makes him a fascinating and eloquent speaker.  Plus, he's a great teacher with encyclopedic knowledge of film and prose writing.

    jule selbo MEET:  Jule Selbo.
    As a producer/writer Jule has worked for Disney, Dreamworks and many other studios.  Her prolific career so far includes nineteen movies as a writer and a dozen TV episodes as a producer. 

    She is a fantastic writer and teacher who teaches screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension Writers' Program and is Chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department at CalState Fullerton, and Head of the MFA in Screenwriting Program at CSF.  
     

    COST:  
    $10.00 Advanced Registration (you can change quantities at PayPal)  
    $12.00 at the door (credit cards accepted at the door - NO CHECKS please)

    NOTE:  Students with recent I.D.'s can get in for $5.00 at the door. 

    PAID ADMISSION includes one chance to WIN Final Draft 8.0 and other prizes.

    INCLUDES:  Admission includes the Ritz's incredible famous finger food, and a chance to win prizes, including 1-2 copies of Final Draft. 
    Extra tickets for the drawing will be available during the event for a cost of $5.00.  
    Drinks are not included.

    EVENT SCHEDULE:

    6:00-6:30 - Check-in, Networking

    6:30 - 6:45 - Introductions/org business

    7:00 - 8:30 - Speakers Obstfeld and Selbo

    8:30-10:00  - Networking

    Monday, 04 July 2011 01:07

    Suits

    Written by

    suitsCharacters Welcome - that's USA Network's catch-phrase and a good one it is too since they work hard to create memorable characters if not totally believable storylines.  "Suits" is the latest in that pantheon of memorable characters and unbelievable stories.

    When I grow up - or die and am recycled I'd want to come back as Harvey Specter a character so cool (as played by Gabriel Macht) that he can turn down beautiful women and they actually lie to their husbands and confess to sleeping with him even if they didn't.  

    Spector is the city's best closer - defined in this case as someone who can take a client and either charm or push their hand to sign the contract or agreement his firm is trying to win.  Now, this in and of itself would be enough to get most of us through the episodes because Macht's Spector is a charming and whip-smart S.O.B. and he is convincingly written and played.  But the show's creator (Aaron Korsh) has built-in another unique character in the form of Mike Ross (Patrick Adams) who has an eidetic memory - in other words, once he reads something he never forgets it.  Up to this point he's used his powers for evil taking LSATs for slacker law students. Now he has to put his potential to work for goodness and this cutthroat law firm.  Forget why he hasn't become a real attorney to this point  - it doesn't wash and may not matter to most so just shake your head, shrug your shoulders, and move on, citizen

    See, there's also the fact that Ross is not actually a Harvard grad which is requisite to his hiring and he's never actually practiced any law although he claims to have passed the bar although it's not entirely clear under what circumstances.  But like all the people in this show, he's smart and capable and Spector likes him and damnit, that's close enough for hand grenades and horseshoes and for hiring an associate to a high profile law firm and by which your entire career hangs.  Uh...what?

    Yeah, it's a problem in logic and one severe enough that the entire show could fail because of it - unless they fix it, of course, by having Ross found out and legitimized.  Problem is, there's no way a man purported to be like Spector would spend even five seconds thinking about doing meghan markell what he did and the potential repercussions of lying to his boss and pretending Ross is something he isn't.  He's too deliberately abrasive to not understand that his enemies, always looking for an opportunity to bring him down, wouldn't eat this particular morsel with a nice Chianti and fava beans.  Plus, the self-serving Spector has absolutely no reason to do this - it's not like he's under some sort of gun - he's a superstar attorney and his life is good - very good.  

    Naw.  It just doesn't fly.  But that's the magic of USA - story logic isn't as necessary as characters acting badly, actiony, or funnily.gina torres

    With a lot of USA Network fare, I watch the shows and if I like them initially, I imagine that I'll be in love with them forever.  But without fail "Burn Notice" "Monk" (when it was on) "In Plain Sight" and others have gone into unfortunate directions that caused me to stop watching after a season or two.

    "Suits" has definite potential - it's kinda like a modern-day "Mad Men" and Macht plays Spector with a fierceness and confidence that is eminently compelling.  Given the dynamics, I can see the cases being interesting enough and the inter-personal relationships working for a long time.  The firm is cool, the writing is tight, and the endings semi-clever.  Plus there's good eye candy in the form of pretty people living in a world that we don't filled with expensive food, clothing and homes.

    So it's fun.

    But there is this huge, pink elephant in the room in the form of the reasons Spector did what he did and the fact that it was so easy to fake everyone out that even if they clear the air, the smell might still linger in the drapes for years afterward.

    Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane, Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson, and Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt round out the cast.

    "Suits" is on USA Network on Thursdays at 10:00pm

    Sunday, 03 July 2011 11:08

    Necessary Roughness

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    necessary roughnessUSA Network is a true success story using a formula that seems to serve them well - unique characters in semi-comedic situations with some drama bits tossed in to keep things interesting - a true TV salad.

    “Necessary Roughness” uses this same formula to good effect. Like predecessors “Burn Notice,” “Monk,” “Psyche,” and “In Plain Sight,” etc. NR works on many levels as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

    The funny and sexy Callie Thorne plays Danielle (Dani) Santino who is a psychotherapist undergoing a life-changing moment when she discovers that her husband of fiftteen years (Craig Bierko) is cheating on her - again (“Six women in thirteen years isn’t a mistake, it’s a life style”.) She throws him out (the requisite tossing-clothing-out-of-the-bedroom- window scene - that’s how you know she’s serious,) begins a painful divorce and expands her practice through a series of (wink-wink) events that find her in bed with a trainer for a professional football team.

    The New York “Hawks” have a bad-boy, star, wide receiver who is dropping footballs. Their “million-dollar asset” needs a head doctor - actually another one - to figure him out. The first one, a Haw-vaad trained shrink left in miserable defeat, the bad-boy being too much for him to handle. But Dani can do it - she’s spunky, you know - and she’s sexy (”I’m a licensed psychotherapist, not a hooker.) so maybe Terrence King (Mehcad Brooks) known as T. K. (yeah, Terrell Owens comes first to mind) will resonate with her and allow her to pry the top off his brain to probe his dark secrets. See, she’s good - really good. After only one hypnotherapy session, the hunky trainer (Marc Blucas) who she bedded a few weeks after her separation from her husband, has not smoked a cigarette in seven days. Proof enough. Bring Mrs. MILF to the sports complex and hand her the keys to the kingdom.

    Don’t dig too deeply into the whys and wherefors of the premise or the storyline - none of the USA fair has a particular debt to veracity and it’s really not necessary to the enjoyment of this - or any of their series offerings. We know there are sports psychologists who  work with these elite athletes - and, in fact, this show is inspired by the real Donna Dannenfelser, a Long Island housewife-turned-therapist. She is credited with helping the New York Jets improve their game. Wonder if she had anything to do with coach Rex Ryan’s admitting his foot fetish last season? 

    Callie Thorne is terrific (even if her character is a little scattered) and brings a lot of the crazy she exhibited on “Rescue Me” to this series. She has the requisite weight to carry the show and she’s helped along with some interesting but not terribly unique co-cast members including her mother (Concetta Tomei) and kids (son, Patrick Johnson and daughter, Hannah Marks.) Son is doing okay but daughter is rebellious and self-destructive, mom is a nut, blah, blah, blah. 

    The psychotherapy parts feel too touchy-feely to me and not particular real. But, again, how true is “Burn Notice” or “Monk” and I watched them for a few seasons until the weight of all the nonsense created too heavy of a reason not to.

    As a huge fan of "Friday Night Lights" I was expecting more actual football but it was only given a hand wave in the pilot which disappointed me.  But I do like Ms Thorne a great deal - she was some of the best parts of the sometimes insanely good “Rescue Me” and will watch it hoping it grows in all the directions it’s lacking at this point.    

    “Necessary Roughness” plays on USA Networks on Wednesdays at 10:00pm. 

    Saturday, 25 June 2011 08:21

    Falling Skies

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    Maybe it's just me getting older and growing more curmudgeonly.  But as I watched the pilot ep for TNT's new series  "Falling Skies" I kept hearing and seeing the echoes of "V" (both versions) "War of the Worlds" (all versions) "Battlefield L.A."  "Battlestar Galactica" "Walking Dead" and a dozen other humans-on-the-run , post-apocalyptic invasion movies and teleplays.

    Not that this was necessarily a bad thing.  But it's also not a good thing.

    Aliens invade!  No news at 11:00 because we don't have anything resembling infrastructure anymore.  Groups of humans (300 to each group apparently) have to survive against long odds.  The aliens who have suddenly invaded and killed most of the armies of the world want us for: 1) food, 2) slaves, 3) sex/play toys 4) all of the above 5) none of the above.  Anything you pick is correct because after the first two hours of the show you don't know and speculation isn't given a lot of play here.  

    Again, not necessarily a bad thing seeing that this will be a major reveal at some point.

    I can categorize the pilot episode of "Falling Skies" in three basic ways:  there are some bad parts (hundreds of humans making camp fires in the open and the aliens just can't find anyone 2) okay parts (the interactions between the humans) and great parts (bad ass alien video game scenes!)

    Noah Wylie is the lead actor in the series and the former "ER" doc has his work cut out for him.  He's well-liked by everyone except his commanding officer (Will Patton) whose only job seems to be to growl at Wylie and create problems for him.

    As a former history teacher, Wylie's perspective is that the humans can cause so many problems that the aliens will just leave them alone - like other  insurgencies from the past.  Yeah, right.  They're gonna travel ten-thousand light years, bring all sorts of fighters and war craft to this planet, blow 90% of it up, and then suddenly give up and go home like we did in Vietnam or the Russians did in Afghanistan .  Big difference - those places couldn't be nuked from orbit to win the war, Braniac.  This is insanely weak rationale given the death of millions of humans at the hands of the invading aliens but perhaps it's the only way Wylie's character can justify getting up in the morning.  I just wish someone would have said something to him and had him respond that way: "Damnit, Jim, it's the only way I can get up in the morning since the aliens destroyed all the Starbucks!" (Problem with that is you just suspect that there's, in fact, a Starbucks somewhere on the mothership serving the equivalent of a skinny latte.)

    Wylie has three sons, two of which are with him and one who has been kidnapped and fitted with a device that looks like an external, biological spine that enslaves humans to the will of the alien masters.  Of course, it doesn't seem to cause much pain despite that it's drilling into massive nerve clusters in your back - no, it just make you walk zombie-like and, of course, kills you if you take it off.  Otherwise, it's cool - just a benign little symbiote attached to your spinal column.

    Of course, part of what Wylie's character wants to accomplish is to free his middle son from these aliens - a herculean task to be sure given that he's got little else than a AR-15 and a disapproving scowl. 

    The aliens themselves - Skitters and Mechs - are both frightening and familiar.  The mechs (bi-pedal robots?  alien armor?  Roombas on 'roids?) are actually scarier to me than the skitters which are insectoid in nature and have six legs and a head/mouth I've seen in six dozen other alien shows - can't anyone come up with anything different than the farging "Predator" model? 

    One scene where one of Wylie's sons hides from the Mechs, these earth pounding walking death dealers, actually had me paranoid and a bit on edge.  And there are some other scenes like that which will make you shudder. Unfortunately they are few and far between, and too many more scenes that will make you shudder for different and not so good reasons.  

    Colin Cunningham, who plays the leader of a rogue gang that relishes killing aliens, is intriguing in his role even though they give him stupid lines like "you don't go for a head shot - you shoot the legs out first, then you go for a head shot."  Well, duh, Mr. Obvious - you go for anything that you can and if a creature has six big-ass legs then those would be targets, yes.  His character has potential even given some of the scene chewing moments he has to get through to establish him and his story movement going forward ("I think I'll take a break.  Being the leader of a post-apocalyptic gang has been exhausting.")

    There's great eye candy here for both sides of the aisle.  Moon Bloodgood plays a  pediatrician turned battlefield doc and seems like the love interest for Wylie although there was no scene that gave you anything to really base that on.  Plenty of young blond freedom fighters (Jessy Schram, Sarah Carter, Seychelle Gabriel )and hunky doods (Drew Roy, Mpho Koaho)  -  although I was beginning to wonder why the hair dye wasn't fading on most of them given that they've been on the run for months and I doubt there's a salon open anywhere.

    Now, that last sentence is just me being  facetious and snarky but it goes to what I really don't like about "Falling Skies" in general.  Given its great provenance (writer/producer Robert Rodat, Steven Spielberg exec producer) I just expected more.

    This show is too pendantic.  Too monotonous in parts.  Too predictable.  It's just not believable in any way and it's filled with too many recycled scifi concepts and looks - like the ED209-looking Mechs but don't get me started on that stuff.

    I know, as a scifi writer, that you're faced with a huge task when creating a world that no one's seen before. And post-apocalyptic anything is a challenge to do right.  But "Falling Skies" just won't go to places dirtier and grittier which it really needs to do to distinguish itself.

    300 people on the move is a lot of folks to feed, water and everything else (where do all those people poop and what do they wipe with?)  Fights, deaths, rapes, murders - all that stuff has got to happen in a group like this living on the edge of their humanity - and yet everyone is so reasonable and basically well-behaved.  They even have a school for the youngsters that is farcically and  "reasonably" taught - why in the world would they be teaching kids biology when they need fighters?  I'd have shown the rug rats killing things - that's their job now - survival, not higher ed (or at the very least they should be dissecting the alien Skitters, right?  How cool would that be? Alien Autopsy, 'yo.)  

    Imagine how many kids would have been horribly killed by these aliens; the first thing I'm gonna do is arm those little people so they can at least potentially survive an attack.  But instead, there's this "reasonable" setup of 100 fighters guarding 200 civilians and never the twain shall cross or meet.

     In a word, bullshit.

    Coming into this story post-invasion, with all these systems set up already does  the series a disservice.  I'd have started from the day of the invasion and worked forward - or at least flashed back a bit to their recent, previous lives.  Maybe that's coming but it seems if they had intedended that they'd have done it already.

    I just couldn't buy into the whole scenario.  I couldn't "suspend disbelief" as it's called for long enough to really enjoy this show.  Maybe I'll get beyond that in the future - I did stick this on a Season Pass to see if it improves - but given the overall approach to this world, I honestly don't think it will.  

    If you like scifi and have nothing else to watch then "Falling Skies" is a good distraction.  But if it doesn't get more compelling quickly by adding some grittier and more intense moments by the survivors, I'm not sure this series will survive the initial 10-ep "invasion" to our home media centers.

    "Falling Skies" plays on Sundays on TNT. 

    Oh, and not for nothing, TNT, but  "limited commerical interruption" must mean different things to you than it does to everyone else because I had to fast forward through about sixty freaking commercials.

    midnight in parisSummer in the city. Being on vacation in the nation's capital is a nice change from the Orange County scene. Of course the small streets and bad parking of D.C. reminds me of Venice or Santa Monica by the beach, but with a more Euro flair. Focusing on summer movies there are not that many I wanted to see this summer and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was not exactly on that list. Like most movie buffs I'm partial to pre- 1980's Woody Allen but the heat and free time got the best of me so I took the plunge.

    Paris has a special place for most literary minds. It has always had a certain mystique of romantic alley ways, hard baguettes with  tasty cheap wine and cheese. Many of America's most creative minds flocked to this city in the early turn of the century so you can't really question their choice... since there must have been a reason. Of course it was the birthplce of new ideas, where everything goes and social norms were constantly contested in favor of pushing the creative envelope. Woody Allen knows this and uses this same situation to create an interesting story with a small twist. I'm sure that more times than not, many screenwriters have played with the idea of a story that brings back a important historical figure to modern day life. What would they say, do or even create in this new crazy modern times would be an excelent plot engine. But to have a modern, simple man enter the past and be mesmerized by it is another. With Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen does so in a very simple way that actually makes it look very easy when the best of us know how hard it is to pull such a story off.

    So we take GIL, the main character, (much like every other character in his movies, he's a Woody light) He's a successful screenwriter. He makes a good living but has always wanted to move to Paris and give the old college try at writing the great American novel. He lives in a world of admiration of Scott Fitzgerlad, Hemmingway and others of the time who used the Parisien muses to drink, fight and make love through the many days of writers block. Gil is the stereo typical modern california guy, not to intelectually informed but enought to have studios buy his work, not strong enough in character to really take his dreams to the next level and very out of sync with the weaker sex as his fiancee has more control of his manhood than him of his computer keyboard. Top that with the stereo typical medling inlaws (rich and ignorant like all Americans that travel abroad in Allen movies), mix and serve.

    But Gil is missing something. Ines his fiancee is the typical SoCal gal, Fred Segal and Coffee Bean are her homing beacons of interest and culture, and Gil is trying to set himself free from this - but doesn't know it yet. Also he's written his first book but hasn't showed it to anyone. Again another sign he has no faith in himself. He likes walking in the rain, she doesn't. He wants to move to Paris she wishes to put roots in Malibu. Anyway you get the picture.

    One night, frustrated by his wife's strange devotion to an old flame, Gil decides to take a walk and of course gets lost, just as the clock strikes midnight. Then suddenly up pulls a 1920's Peugeot and he's invited by a gentleman and his party to join them. He goes and ends up in an underground Jazz bar. His new friends, to Gils's amazement are SCOTT FITZGERALD and his wife. He can't believe it but goes along with it. They start to bar hop and meet another friends of Fitzgerald... a burly unshaven man in a thick mustache who introduces himslef as HEMINGWAY, who right away asks Gil if he's afraid of dying. Gil is awestruck but tries to soak everything in. That same night he meets COLE PORTER singing for the crowd and hits a bodega where JOSEPHINE BAKER is dancing for a very small group of friends. The night ends with Hemmingway taking Gil to GERTRUDE STEIN'S house to ask if she'll read Gil's book.  It would be full night for anyone... for a Gil it's  shocker!

    He returns and lays next to his fiancee, awestruck by the expirience but can't let go of the dream. Here is were you just loose total sense and either you follow or tune out. Anyone would think he's being pulled a prank by Ryan Seacrest, but Gil is so charmingly naive that one follows his folly.So the next night he urges Ines togo with him. They wait and wait, she gets bored and leaves... he stays... but right after the clock strikes midnight... again the old Peugeot comes rolling along... this time another fellow parisian pops out.. who? T.S. ELLIOT.. and another crazy night ensues.

    The plot then goes as predicted. Gil's inlaws suspect he's up to no good since he's never with them at night and refuses to go out on trips to stay writing. His fiancee gets mad as Gil gets more involved in the Parisien nightlife, that she doesn't believe is happening. He falls for a girl who's PABLO PICASSO'S mistress and begins his journy of self descovery. During the movie we see from TOULOUSE LAUTREC, to MATISSE, GAUGIN and other geniuses of days gone by. I have to say my favorite performance was Adrien Brody's interpretation of SALVADOR DALI, it had me in stitches. Again Woody Allen has a very great wit for dialogue and it's interesting how he can mix serious intelectual banter with off the wall SoCal frankness that creates the best of both worlds and a classic "fish out of the water" situation. When Gertrude Stein asks Gil, who's just arrived, if he thinks the price she paid (500 francs) for one of Matisses's painting is fair, he goes : "500 francs I think it's fair, in fact I'll take six or seven". Also the dialogue works very well coming out of Owen Wilson's mouth.

    In the end Gil comes to the grand conclusion that the best of times is not the past nor the future but the present, that everyone mistaknely thinks is a bore, but in reality they are the times of our lives since we are living and expiriencing things that they happen.

    The conclusion of the movie is a bit rushed and convinient but the journey getting there was so entertaining that one doesn't care. Gil finally finds his way, his writting style and his city of choice with a gal, who actually enjoys walking in the rain.

    Scott Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and Gertrude Stein would probably aprove.

    Monday, 13 June 2011 09:40

    A Swedish Midsummer Sex Comedy

    Written by

    So what has Luke Perry of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame been doing lately?  Apparently running around an island off the coast of Sweden with some occasionally naked  men and women who have gathered to help one of their long-time friends propose to his  much younger girlfriend during the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  The soltice is also when the Swedes apparently used to and still celebrate a right of fertility so that particular time makes a nearly perfect premise for sexual hijinks.

    ASMSC is currently making the rounds at film festivals all over the U.S.  And although I can't say I loved the film, I did like a lot of the parts of it -especially the naughty ones.

    I was a little disappointed in the delivery of the promising premise.  Imagine "Big Chill" updated with attractive, naked people running around and saunaing (is that a word?)  The execution unfortunately fell flat even though it had a good forward-working narrative in the idea that each couple and individual was there with their own agenda.  

    One couple is trying to get pregnant although the husband has     hidden the fact that he is shooting blanks.  Another is already (very) pregnant and the husband is crushing his wife with his over-bearing care.  A non-coupled friend is running away from her loveless relationship with her fiance who may or may not be gay.   Perry plays the a former college roommate of the central character who is going to surprise his GF with a ring and a fully-planned wedding with all their friends present.  Perry is charged with buying said ring.  Why is never fully explained but there's a small surprise about that that I wished was better developed.

    Perry is always compelling in almost any role he undertakes but in this he's so wasted.  But that goes along with the rest of the characters who, as stated, had compelling stories but were under-delivered.

    All of the actors work hard to make these stories work.  Actress Lisa Werlinder is the after-mentioned girlfriend; and although she seems initially light-weight she delivers a solid performance.  Her smoldering good looks make watching her worthwhile.  In fact, all of the   actors and actresses were varying degrees of solid performances and good eye candy.  I could have lived without seeing the men's occasional junk shot but the womens' scenes compensated for it.

    This isn't Woody Allen redoing Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" but then few movies can deliver at the Woodman's early career level.  The movie has compelling actors, a semi-articulate script, and some really funny moments.  It's worth a rental if you want to see how the rest of the world does screwball comedy.

     It's been a good run kid... Famous words, if ever spoken, have never been so true to describe the latest venture of Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain) and his merry crew of cut throats a thieves.

    I came to discover the whole Pirate franchise in one glorious summer day in 2006. I went to the movies and wanted to see what all the hoopla of a new pirate movie that stared Johnny Depp was all about. Based on the Disneyland ride, and having heard the worst from the previous Disney ride movie - The Haunted Mansion - with the hauntingly unfunny Eddie Murphy I was in no way expecting anything out of it. Besides, I thought,  it's a  Wednesday at 5 PM I'll have the whole theater to myself... and oh my God... Once I entered it was packed. Something was going on. Well to make a 2 hour plus movie short - it was a success. Me and the theater laughed at the right cues, the story was fun and with every character working very well through out the film. It was well produced,  fun, big and loud. In short Pirate movies were back!

    The success of the pirate movies when analyzing it comes down to two main things a very rich script, with a good plot engine,  characters that had real believable motivations and actors who played their parts to perfection. Maybe the only weakest link was Kiera Knightly but her beauty kinda evened things out.

    Disney wasn't ignorant to this so Pirates 1, 2 and 3 came out. With of course 3 being the lesser of them, but in all entertaining. So we come to 2011 and mama (Disney) needs a brand new bag... so we got Pirates 4.

    And here's where the trouble comes in. For some reason they spend a good amount of money (200 million, 100 million less than Pirates 3) but it didn't seem as grandiose or funny or inventive as the other three. Many said Pirates 3 had it's holes and some didn't like it at all. But it had great popcorn moments, like the pirates fortress and the maelstrom at the end sequence. But POC on Stranger Tides just didn't do it for me. Yes they had jungles, they had blue oceans, dark looking pirate ships but no real threat. They had mermaids... yeah large fishy girls with spiky teeth and Zombies that were just brutes with large swords, hardly both of them a big menace.

    Johnny Depp is now almost comical in his Jack Sparrow rant and not as amusing as other times but the problem was not Depps girly pirate manerisms, it's that the movie wasn't as intriguing or at larger scope of ambition as the others. Big sea monsters, a Ocean goddess and evil curses are great for fantasy but a race movie to the fountain of youth??? - Yawn. And once you get there the end fizzles like stale cola - double yawn.

    So we know what the pirates do and what they're about but as fans we want a great adventure not Jack sparrow running errands at the mall. We want monsters, crazy stuff that can snatch you from the trees and things that will eat your heart out while you're still alive. This movie compared to the others is just plain silly. I do really think they just made it so 10 years olds can see Jack Sparrow scream and fall in different ways. I know it's hard to make a great script but if you were able to squeeze out three semi decent action movies why didn't you do it on a fourth... Also of all the hot, fun and good actresses out there Penelope Cruz is probably in my top 10 - starting from the bottom of me list of 100. No real acting on her part (latinas in real life always get mad so acting furious is not a stretch for her) and not that she's a bad actress, she's just not cut out for popcorn movies. In spanish dramas she shines, in American comedies she doesn't. Also I was very surprised that a great talent like Ian Mcshane had such a small part in this movie. Small you say ? He was the main villian! I say small in the reference of his threat - He was supposed to be the meanest pirate of them all but the toughest intro we got was that his beard was smoking and his only real threat was a magical sword that can make the ships ropes choke people... ho -hum.

    So I don't know if it was laziness, Bruckheimer's and Disney's greed to get this into production or other unseen reason but it just seemed rushed. I would have placed the writers in a room with all the starbucks they wanted and don't let them out until they got something really fascinating. Maybe even pulled a Steve Jobs ala iPhone and throw to the wall  the On Stranger Tides script with a proclamation "It's not ready yet". What ever it is it's not enough. We have been so bombarded with high marks in entertainment that sometimes we're trapped by our own success. The Pirates franchise is the same case.

    If I was Bruckheimer I would take a breather, let the franchise rest a couple of years and work on a nice script for say 2015 and wow everyone back before people get bored of Jack Sparrow and loose the franchise for ever... or they could do a reboot with a teen Jack Sparrow... oh wait - bad idea!!!

    Monday, 06 June 2011 13:59

    X-MEN FIRST CLASS and the art of the reboot

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    xmen 1st classSummer equals heat (although less and less these days), fun lazy weekend afternoons and movies... Yes folks, summer movies. This is the time us writers see the plethora of super - mega - spectacular movies Hollywood throws at us to sustain their bloated budgets for the year. And every year we earnestly wait to see what our, sometimes envied and more successful brothers of the trade, have typed in their Macs for us to see, enjoy, pick apart or just gasp at the gall they have.

    Studios, ever hungrier to get more and more cash from the dwindling movie audience, are pushing summer blockbusters earlier and earlier. "Thor" was the first salvo and the memorial weekend is the initiating battle.

    Our subject for today is the well-used trend of the "reboot". For those a bit new to the term it means they're re-starting a series or franchise with a frensh new story. Why? Because Hollywood being a bit of a scary-Mary, when it comes to losing money, has been for the last year on a "sure bet" auto pilot when it comes to productions. Also not helping the matter is that the 78% of the movie going public are teens and young adults therefore comic book stories and action movies with loud colors, lots of action and few words are what these young beings digest the most. But anything that has shown previous success will get it's fair shot. But when the public says enought of ROCKY 16, PIRATES 13,  FAST and FURIOUS 9 and many others what is a lowly studio exec to do? The answer :  " Lets feed them the same story but with a new spoon! "   "Brilliant, J.D.!"  (mutters the side kick accountant.)

    And hence the new trend of "rebooting" a franchise. So how do you re-boot a franchise? First you want the story to be relatable to your audience (in this case teens). So do you want a story with a bunch of 40 year olds (acting like they are in their 30's) or do you bring the characters age down a bit? Of course you bring down the age! Then you create a new story with a similar vibe but to fit the new characters wants, anxieties and problems.  It's like making a "diet" hot dog, it looks like the old hot dog but with less fat.

    So we come to our first example,  X MEN : First class. For all those familiar with the X-Men franchise it started nice with Brian Singers version, then X2 did a decent job the it completely dropped the bomb with Bret "partyboy" Ratner's version called X3 and it then was completely humiliated with WOLVERINE. So they needed to rebirth this money maker and thus choosing an "origins" style movie.

    Now I don't envy any writer the job of doing one of these (well maybe the paycheck) since it's very hard to come with something completely original. The writers for X-Men First Class did benefit with two major talents that made this movie swim : James McAvoy and Michael Fastbender, two very good english actors that know how to turn bad cheese into sensible cocktail bites.

    The story starts very much like Singers first version with the origins of Magneto  (they even use a similar scene ) and we see a week conflicted child with strange powers he doesn't know how to use and who is at the mercy of a Nazi doctor who wishes to control it. We also see a young Professor Xavier who meets a very young Raven Darkholme (Mystique) and they become close.

    Now jump 20 years later and both men are using their powers (unknown to those around them) for their own purposes. Xavier to further his studies and Magneto to further his revenge on his and his families captors. Here is a very interesting principal of the opposing forces at work in the story. While these men will soon come together they embody  the powers of good, through Xavier and that of evil in Magneto (although we can say Magneto's purpose is more hate than evil). We see the tendencies of these two major characters take their own paths, come together, disagree and separate in a fashion that will create a balance of sense to future stories.

    The story is well crafted in the sense that these characters can come to meet and work in a believable fashion, which sometimes in superhero movies, the writers make viewers take a leap of faith for some of the characters actions since they think we'll believe it because they're "super" . In X-Men First Class the writers have more respect for us and ease us with some minor exposition but so well crafted that one believes it... and one does because the characters themselves believe it. Again much credit to McAvoy and Fastbender for their very good deliveries of lines that in lesser actors would have been a cheese fest. But I'm also amazed that with the amount of writers this project had, how could they let the story breakdown to a halt when the newly X-members (teens recruited by Xavier, when mutants are still in hiding) have small frat style party?... Again I would expect a little bit more from 7 writers and Singer (who has a "story by" credit ), but again  this is Hollywood and everyone puts their hands in the story pie.

    Now the main counter force you always need is a great villain, in this case a "super villain" whom they weakly cast in Kevin Bacon, yes footloose guy isn't the most menacing guy in the planet but he plays his role well (kudos to Bacon's language training - unless they dubbed it which probably was the case) but again I think that the trick of movie surviving a so-so villain is that the main villain was hiding in plain sight and looking straight at us... and it was brilliant! Like most of these super hero movies many of the opposing band of baddies are just cardboard henchmen for the main bad guy to order and scheme around only that these can do cool stuff. Sadly they are all wasted. January Jones as Frost was a big disappointment. For some reason she showed up to work but if they would have placed a mannequin it would have done the same job.

    As far as an origin story it is nicely done with some very solid action and FX scenes worthy of the other X-Men movies. Being set in the 1960's also gave a certain edge of coolness that helped with these things. One regret is the make up use on a certain blue character that looks out of place on such a big budgeted movie. These are the times CGI can help an actor emote without looking like he has 2 pounds of cake on his face.

    In all I give X-Men First class a solid review. Not excellent but not mediocre either. A good fun at the movies and certainly worthy of this summers praise.

    But beware people, the trend of making every known character young is no where is sight of stopping. We are going to have a young Lone Ranger next year, also a very young Tarzan and maybe a teen Charlie Chan... so what will they think of next?... A young George Washington action movie????

     

    Tuesday, 05 June 2012 11:55

    Ray Bradbury

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    On June 6, 2012, Ray Bradbury, the Universe's writer, was called back to his galaxy.  I had written this a year earlier to almost the day.  I'm pushing it back to the front page in his honor.

    One of the first purchases I made that was on my own impetus and that didn’t involve an adult was to sign up for the Science Fiction Book Club. This was no casual thing since it meant I had to buy four books in two years - a burden that seemed overwhelming to a serious-minded youth but it meant I also got four books for free for signing up which made it worth the stress investment.  The first free book I chose was Ray Bradbury’s “Twice 22" a short story collection that had been in publication for a while but I had never read.  All I knew was it sounded cool.

    Prior to this, I hadn’t really read any adult scifi. I started with comic books, then got deeply into the adventures of the young scientist Tom Swift, then matriculated to some Ace Doubles (novellas two to a book) from the Army-Navy store across the street from my Dad’s grocery.  Bradbury's was the first time I understood that science fiction had other, deeper meanings that I could sense but perhaps not fully comprehend yet.

    Bradbury is often included in some school reading curriculums but there was a time when he was considered "only" a science fiction writer and they were just about the lowest, most common form of writer, barely above slug on the food chain of those who delivered prose. Bradbury was widely recognized as being one of the top story-tellers of the time but he was still considered less a writer than say Truman Capote or other men and women of his generation.ray bradbury

    How times have changed for the better.

    If there was a Heart and Soul Award to be given to science fiction writers Bradbury should get it. His stories are less about rockets and aliens and more about our hidden mindscapes. His worlds weren’t necessary these carefully crafted societies like Asimov's "Foundation" series, or David Niven’s “RingWorld” or the shoot ‘em up of early Heinlein spcae adventures but rather of familiar places in strange times with all-too-human emotions and unexpected results. He was more the “Twilight Zone” than say the “Outer Limits”  and he was so effective at what he did with those pieces that people began to notice and give him awards for illuminating those dank places despite that they were set against a science fiction backdrop.

    In my opinion, Bradbury was always a better short story writer than novelist but how could anyone dismiss such genius as “Farenheit 451?”  I cannot, of course, but he didn’t write many of those. Instead, he turned his prodigious talents more to short form so that's what I tended to focus on. 

    Reading a Bradbury story is like sipping ice tea on a summer dusk when it’s warm and friendly - and then slowly beginning to notice that as it grows darker, it gets colder and those nice tree shapes are starting to look vaguely threatening in the pale light of the rising moon. You start to edge closer to the front door where you can eventually flee because dark thoughts have begun to infect your mind. As they fester you suddenly realize that you’ve been duped into treading into boggy, sickening places where no person has any business going.

    Bradbury’s stories, his elegant prose, romances you like the endless blue of the ocean. You don’t realize how far out you are from shore until suddenly your feet no longer touch sand and there’s an undertow snatching at you, trying to drag you away to black waters. Before you fully understand what’s happening you’ve been pulled under and you can no longer breathe.

    At his pinnacle, Bradbury was both brevity and languorous prose somehow skillfully combined for best effect - like an Egg McMuffin where you get a complete, albeit abbreviated breakfast stacked onto one biscuit - to go.  I still don't see anyone with that unique combination anywhere out there.  Resonant, complex brevity.

    Such simple concepts and such profound results. “The Illustrated Man” where every picture tells a story; “The Martian Chronicles” a collection of stories where mankind’s worst and best are replicated on a far away place in contrast to the previously always-sunny stories about mankind making its way nobly to other planets.

    Bradbury has steadfastedly refused to be pigeonholed as a writer.  Early in  his career he was hired by legendary dirrector John Huston to work on the zen in the art  script for a  "Moby Dick" adaptation. And his novel "Farehheit 451" was directed by no less than François Truffaut.  He's done television as a writer and had his work adapted to the small screen and re-adapted in movies and remakes.  His non-fiction essays in "Zen in the Art of Writing" remains high on the list of must-reads for any serious writer looking to become a professional.   His semi-autibiographical "Dandelion Wine" has nothing to do with science fiction but rather thematically presents a metaphor of packing the deliciious delight of those long summer days of schoolboy freedom into a single bottle of home-brewed wine to be drunk later in memory of that youth lost.

     As good a writer as Mr. Bradbury is, he is an even better public speaker. At 91 (92 in August,) confined to a wheelchair and somewhat ravaged by age and minor strokes, he unfortunately no longer shows up in person to many venues. Those who have heard him speak, however, can never forget him. He is like a parish priest of the bradbury in wheelchairbest stripe - he supports, inspires cajoles and indicts you for your writing sins. He challenges you to write as if your hands were on fire never worrying about your skill level because that will come with experience - a fact he understands in his very DNA.

    He was and is a fearless writer and man who knows that to say “I wish...” is to lose immediately.   As Yoda was probably inspired to say by him "Do or do not.  There is no try."

      A quote of his that I have carried in my wallet for decades best sums up this man’s indomitable spirit:  

    If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

    Ray Bradbury has written eleven novels, 297 short stories, has done sixty-five “Ray Bradbury Theater” episodes and countless other prose works with hundreds, perhaps thousands of awards of every kind and manner.  He is imitated but will never be duplicated. He is as unique an American voice as Mark Twain and he will continue to impact the world long after he’s gone.

    twilight zone Would that there was some way to save his head in a glass jar like the dead presidents in “Futurerama” or to be given a new body so his mind could continue onward to even more flights of fancy. Or even perhaps synthesize his writerly essence into an android like his wonderful and still-heart rending “I Sing The Body Electric” which was adapted into one of my favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes.

    So how exactly do you measure what this genius of a writer has brought to the world? I think it’s by the people he inspired to continue doing what he has loved and preached for over eight decades.

    Bradbury was one of the reasons I became a writer and remains one of the reasons I am true to that ideal no matter how difficult the role of a professional writer, as I've experienced it, can become.   Though I may never come close to his achievements I’m thrilled to be counted in the pantheon.

    I'm sure thousands of men and women would agree  with me that we are still jumping off cliffs and building our wings on the way down because he did it first and perhaps...best.

    This is part of my series of writers who inspired me to become a writer.

    Sunday, 01 May 2011 12:25

    Call Me Fitz

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    call me If I tell you that "Call Me Fitz" is a Canadian television series starring Jason Priestley as Richard "Fitz" Fitzpatrick who is an opportunistic used-car salesman - who then seems to gain a conscience in the form of a morally upstanding new salesman named Larry (Ernie Grunwald) - and whose normally consequence-free life is constantly thwarted by said conscience - you may get a sense of what this wacky comedy is about.  

    But not really...

    I was hooked almost immediately by this strange combination of comedy, moral  lessons, and  just plain-ass wacky moments.  Why is Fitz a modern-day refuge from the Rat Pack (he says "Ring-A-Ding" a lot and never is without his shiny suit.)  Don't know, don't care.  It just really fits him and this character somehow.  How did he get the way he is?  See above.  How does this whole conscience thing work?  Ditto.  I'm not questioning too much here - I am along jason priestlyfor the ride - at least for the first few eps.  That's how much fun it is.

    Fitz is horrible.  He's totally unlikable - they don't even try much to make him likable.  As an example, after crashing a car with a woman inside that he's trying to sell the car to, he then drags her to the driver's side so she'll be blamed for the crash.  When she slips into a coma, still unsigned, he goes to the hospital, lies in bed with her and attempts to administer oral sex to wake her up so she can sign the sales contract. 

    Priestly, a talented comedic actor, is perfect.  His rhythms, his demeanor, his jason priestly as Fitz look - perfect.  He inhabits the body and soul of this character like he was born to it.  This type of show really gives him a chance to show off his prodigious acting skills honed by years of doing "Beverly Hills, 90210."

    The writing is sharp, funny and odd enough to keep you constantly off-balance and wanting more.  Sheri Elwood is the writer and she's very good.  I intend to continue to watch this until it inevitably get canceled - and it will - it's just too bizarre and profane to last.

    You're either going to like it or hate it.  And in case you weren't clear, I like it.  A lot.

    Currently, it's on DirecTV's "The 101" but it was also listed as showing on The Movie Network and Movie Central.

    Sunday, 01 May 2011 11:16

    Anaheim ComicCon 2011

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    The Anaheim ComicCon, now in its 2nd year, has grown nicely.  Last year there was a bit of rawness about the event - a touch of desperation and panic - completely gone this year.  For fans of these events (moi) something like this in your backyard is wonderful.

    ACC is like San Diego in perfect miniature.   This year I went on Saturday (last year Friday and Sunday) and I felt like the energy, the scope and the crowd was just right.  It was dicey moving through the aisles (like all Cons) but there were also places where you could breathe unlike the Big Daddy con in San Diego.

    There was a respectable artists' alley, plenty of booths of comics and memorabilia, lots of people in costume and lots of enthusiastic fans.  The celeb alley was filled with stars of today and yesterday like Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and Adam West (Batman.)  Among these Golden Age gems were fanboy favs Tricia Helfer, Kevin Sorbo and Miracle Laurie.  

    Kevin is always smiling and personable - he's a friend.  It was good to see him and share a few laughs.  And talking to Tricia Helfer in the Green Room/Press Room was a highlight for me.  She is every bit as gorgeous and sexy (and sweet) as she is on screen but looks about ten years younger in person - she said it might have been the HD makeup that they have to cake on everyone these days.  

    I apologize for bugging her while she was taking a break (and her male companion glared at me the entire time) but I didn't see her on the floor and talking to her was beyond my ability to resist.  I would love to interview her for the website someday - hopefully she won't remember the idiot from the Green Room if I ever get that chance.

    I went to the Con with OCSWA board member Victor Phan who is a "Phanboy" of epic proportions.  He had his backpack filled with comics and graphic novels he wanted signed by artists (don't ask how he had them catalogued and ready to go - if I told you he'd come off as too much of a geek.)  Victor is also a talented artist (and screenwriter, producer, teacher and martial artist) and he was able to grab some good deals on artist supplies from Blick which supplied the gift bags and had a nice-sized booth on the floor.

    You can tell an event is expanding when the Green Room gets larger and better supplied.  Although coffee was in short supply as usual, this year the Green Room was three times larger and the food considerably better.  Last year it was on the floor of the convention center; this year in a suite.  This speaks not only to the fact that they couldn't spare the floor space this year because of more exhibitors, but that the quality and level of stars in attendance has been ratcheted up.

    Most people I talked to in the morning, both attendees and exhibitors, felt the attendance was a bit light.  But by afternoon they had all changed their tune as people poured in to the Con to geek out for a few hours.  Honestly, I almost these days prefer this show to the San Diego one because it is soooo crowded in S.D. - this show, as mentioned, had the right weight to it and I'm almost afraid to wish them luck going forward because of the potential for this venue becoming like the big one.  

    There's a Facebook page for this show put on by WizardWorld and they keep you up-to-date on everything Con all year 'round.  

    Many thanks again to Jerry Milani of WizardWorld for providing excellent press interfaces for us.  He is the hardest working man in ComicCons.

    The Con runs one more day - today.  I highly recommend the trip to Anaheim to attend.  LINK

     

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