Black Swan – mini review

Saw Black Swan tonight. It was everything I wanted it to be… almost. Intense, dark, sexy, twisted. I enjoyed it, but in the end I was a little bit “that’s it?”.

Black SwanWhy?

Story. Again. Sure, all the parts are there, but the whole wasn’t greater than their sum. I’m not sure the characters did anything they didn’t need to do to move the simple core of the story forward. The universe, and the lives of the characters, didn’t seem to be any bigger than the frame of the film.

Was I guessing at what was real and what was not? Yup. But did the truth turn out to be anything utterly unexpected, anything other than either the simple A or B the trope sets up? Not really.

Glad I saw it. I’d rather see films like this than unimaginative remakes that take no chances. That’s why I like Aronofsky.

But ooh, so close! Missed it by that much!

Paranormal Activity 2 – the sequel

Paranormal Activity sequel promises to out-boo its predecessor – will it succeed?

Paranormal Activity 2 the sequelIf you read my exhaustive review of Paranormal Activity, you know I was a big fan of (99% of) the film.

Paranormal Activity is the movie The Blair Witch Project wanted to be and Cloverfield didn’t even try to be. Discuss amongst yourselves the relative success or failure of The Last Broadcast, REC or its American remake Quarantine.

But we all also know that more often than not, sequels tend to disappoint (unless the audience’s requirements are low – Hello, Twilight). Continue reading Paranormal Activity 2 – the sequel

kickass superhero movie adds to the unsuperhero genre

New Kickass superhero movie expands sub-genre of regular-guy superheroes

Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so.

Lion’s Gate’s KICKASS is the latest entry to the burgeoning unsuperhero genre that I wrote about a few months back. What’s an ‘unsuperhero’? It’s a guy (or gal – er, woman) who takes on the mantle of superheroic responsibilities, with no actual superheroic powers.

It’s a sub-genre with a history, from early comers like John Ritter’s Hero at Large: Continue reading kickass superhero movie adds to the unsuperhero genre

Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief – A lesson in storytelling?

(aka: Percy Jackson: The Story Thief)

Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” – a review about mismanaging story

*** NOTE: Spoilers galore. ***

I am not one of those “the movie is never as good as the book” guys. Ever read Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the source material for Blade Runner)? You couldn’t help but make a better movie than book, as the book is laughably bad. And Blade Runner is one of my all time favorite films.

And I’m not in love with Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as a book. It’s engaging enough, and full of big ideas, but somewhat lacking in story structure.

So why am I so struck by the failure of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief the movie?

I think, the more I ruminate on it, it’s because the mistakes seem so rooted in fundamental story issues, and seem to favor the weaknesses of the book over its strengths.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE BOOK *** spoilers *** Continue reading Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief – A lesson in storytelling?

on defining “high concept”

high concept movie
Every so often I see a conversation about “high concept” films or screenplays that goes something like this:

“That was a high concept film.”

“High concept? It was a bunch of explosions and giant robots! What’s so high concept about that?

“That’s poster-child high concept. By definition.”

“No, high concept means a concept with high aspirations… concepts with a higher calling.”

“High concept” does sound like it’d be more applicable to The Seventh Seal than to 2012. And those who lament Hollywood’s penchant for 90 minute action-figure commercials based on video games from the ’70’s might resent the apparent hijacking of the term to mean its exact opposite, somehow projecting value on the valueless by virtue of its semantic favoritism. But it is what it is… the term is firmly embedded in the lexicon of the industry, and now means precisely the opposite of what it sounds like it means.

So I dug up some old notes I’d written a few years ago, and thought I ‘d repost it here, to sort of bubble it back up to the top of the conversation. A few of the links are no longer any good, but you’ll get the point. Continue reading on defining “high concept”

Positive feedback on the Faeries script feels so good

Although our screenplay “Faeries” didn’t win at Shriekfest, we still got to see the judge’s notes… those kind folks who put so much time into reading all those screenplays. We’re feeling pretty good about what they had to say…

A lively, unusual slasher movie that delivers plenty of gore, and introduces a new set of monsters that could be worth a franchise.

I could see this as a movie… so many are hard to see actually made. This could be a fun little romp. 9 out of 10!

Clear and atmospheric writing that flows easily down the page. I enjoyed it. Definitely above average writers.

Thanks, amazing readers at Shriekfest! We appreciate your time, attention and obvious good taste!

scion – short film

Earlier this year I was a screener for the Santa Cruz Film Festival. I had to watch a truckload of crap… most of it was crap, frankly. Being a screener (or a screenplay reader) is a real eye opener, really… because most of it is crap. But I found a few gems, and I thought I’d get around to sharing them with you. Not all of them made it into the fest (not for lack of quality or vision, more for programming reasons) but I still think you should know about these films.

Scion_artSCION
Written and Directed by Michael Rosetti

Deep in an abandoned factory lives Scion; lonely and crippled, he hobbles along, trying to create a companion.  When a mysterious man stumbles into the factory Scion eagerly follows him and the two develop an odd relationship, ultimately changing Scion’s insulated existence forever. Creation and destruction are bound together in a story of the search for meaning and existence.

I was stunned by Scion. At only 12 minutes long, and with only a single line of dialogue, Scion is a beautiful movie with delicate performances. Shot on 35mm by Greg Mitnick, Scion’s urban grunge post-apocalyptic setting is filmed with the light and composition of a Vermeer.

In fact, my recommendation to the programming committee went something like this: Continue reading scion – short film

the hollywood blacklist redux

trum
Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted screenwriter of "Spartacus" and "Exodus"

Recently, somewhere in Hollywood, somebody got taken for a ride (no surprise).

They got so upset about it that they decided to start an organization dedicated to bringing film industry scammers to justice; hanging them out to dry where everyone could see them and be warned about them by listing their names, and businesses, and misdeeds.

Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Posting the names of known scammers could be helpful, I suppose, if they’ve been found guilty of a crime. But what makes a scam? Sometimes, indie filmmakers are just dumb (would naive be nicer?) and don’t do their due diligence on people who just don’t have the resources or expertise to do what they promise to do. Or sometimes well meaning producers just aren’t able to finish their project, so that “credit and copy” never make it to all those folks who volunteered their time. That’s not a scam.

Now in this case, it indeed looks like a scam. The guy is allegedly pitching himself as representing companies he’s not associated with (though he was once). And he is allegedly representing that he has connections that he apparently does not. But as near as I can tell, the guy has NOT been charged with or convicted of any crime.

Nevertheless, the site invites people to post their own stories about being scammed, and has posted claims from victims alleging that the scammer “apparently own a company called Central Films (Central Film Company) and has an office at the Lot studios in West Hollywood, California”. This claim isn’t true — Central Film Company was also a victim of this scammer and has severed all ties with him — but it’s getting repeated elsewhere and Central Film Company has now had to defend itself against this on numerous websites. In this case the site is apparently hurting innocent victims in its fervor to play scam cop.

That alone should be enough to bug me. But here’s what bugs me.

The site is called The Hollywood Blacklist.

What the hell? Are you old enough to know that the “hollywood blacklist” was a dark and evil period in the history of the U.S.? No? Let me educate you, son.

Once upon a long time ago, Hollywood (and the U.S. Government) went through a rabbit hole of paranoia and wound up in a witch hunt called The Hollywood Blacklist. It was an institutionalized unAmerican effort hinged on fear, racism and nationalism that destroyed careers, lives and relationships.

From Wikipedia:

“The Hollywood blacklist—more precisely the entertainment industry blacklist, into which it expanded—was the mid-twentieth-century list of screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals who were denied employment in the field because of their political beliefs or associations, real or suspected. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and/or refusal to assist federal investigations into Communist Party activities…”

I’m happy to say that by and large we’ve thankfully left this black mark of American history in the past (efforts of delusionals like Michele Bachmann notwithstanding).

So the idea of anyone resurrecting this term, from WITHIN THE INDUSTRY in particular, for a new site that seeks to “warn” people about the “misdeeds” or “omissions” or very possibly “innocent failures” of others within the industry based even in part on unverified or uncorroborated hearsay really irks me.

Now look. I get it. The Hollywood film industry is infamous for being filled with nefarious characters prepared to steal your script (unscrupulous producers), steal your money (unscrupulous distributors), steal your virginity (unscrupulous agents) or steal your soul (unscrupulous culture).

And the indie filmmaking community has perhaps more than its fair share of scammers, looking to trade on the hopes and dreams of every small timer with a handicam who thinks if he can just find the right person to fund, produce or distribute his unique vision he’ll be the next Spielberg/Coppola/Coen.

So we ought to watch out for each other, sure. But we also have to watch out for ourselves. You have to be vigilant. You have to be smart. You have to educate yourself.

In the end, although this whole thing seems well intentioned, I’m not certain I like the unverifiable nature of the site, or the apparent visceral vengeance that seems to drive it. That seems like an irresponsible place to be coming from when doing this kind of thinig.

If they don’t start taking more care in what they do, I hope they at least change the name. That’s a period in Hollywood and U.S. history that I for one don’t need to have revisited.

pocahauntus

A few years ago I ended up talking with Veronica Craven about her upcoming slate of horror films. We chatted about me writing a zombie flick for her but that project didn’t come together (at least not with me).

pocahauntus-facepocahauntus-wardrobefullShe did, however, have a project going into production called “Pocahauntus” — a cheezy B horror flick shot on a dime. It aimed for fun straight-to-DVD fare and as far as I know it hit it. And come on, “Pocahauntus“? Somebody had to make a film called “Pocahauntus“.

I ended up doing a few character dev sketches for the film. Never saw it. But it’s on NetFlix. And here’s a few clips from YouTube.

"Away We Go" gains instant indie cred via hand drawn title font

Away We Go is just the latest in a long line of “indie” films to leverage the oh-so-cool “hand drawn title” font, lending it serious street cred and instant indie validation before anyone even sees the film.

juno

Recently popularized by 2007’s JUNO, the quirky hand-made title font brought visions of diary entries and emo-teen angst-filled journal poems, setting appropriate audience expectations by screaming “We’re an honest unassuming micro-brew movie!”

nickandnorah

Leveraged again in 2008’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the wacky font inferred the hand written liner notes of a home-made mix tape. Plus, it promises that the movie is probably intimate, personal and low-fidelity-artsy, reminding us of the days of cassette mix tapes and Bic-penned song lists rather than CD’s and laser printered liners.

awaywegoSo then does 2009’s Away We Go not only give us a title font designed in the margins of a high-school English quiz, but an entire poster cartooned/rotoscoped like a modern-day Yellow Submarine (1968) or 1971’s The Point… or more contemporarily, hearkening right back to 2007 and JUNO’s opening title sequence — or the JUNO Soundtrack cover (See below). How quirkily indie-filmishly self-referential and hip. (Do the kids say “hip” any more? Or am I just fixated on “hip” because mine hurts?)

juno2

Yes, the same design firm (Shadowplay Studio) did the titles for both JUNO and Nick and Norah (not sure yet about Away We Go, but I’m guessin’). Anyway, sure they do fine work and all. But how long will it be before looking just like JUNO has people saying “What, again?” instead of “Ooh! Again!”.

Got more examples? Please share.

NOTE: In all fairness and in the interest of full-disclosure, I really enjoyed JUNO, plan to see Nick and Norah (love me some Michael Cera – Superbad rocks) and think Away We Go has two of my favorite funny people in it. But come on. This Title design trend is going to become as stereotypically “indie” as the wacky Grampa character addicted to porn.