Monday, January 31, 2005

Screenwriting: A Lost Art

The Girl and I enjoy scary movies. At one point in time, you used to be able to see a movie that was actually suspenseful. Session 9 is one film that comes to mind. But, it seems recently that when a movie touts itself to be some sort of horror/thriller/suspense movie, it invariably turns out to be a dumb/contrived/shitty movie.

The problem, however, doesn't seem to be that these are bad ideas. Most of these sort of movies actually start out pretty good. They have a good setup, they develop ideas in a decent manner, and then comes the resolution, which is the part that blows. They get to a certain point in the story and don't know how to end it. It's like they go, "Well, shit, how 'bout we...fuck, have it rain frogs or something?" Bad endings kill movies (witness Unbreakable), and they seem to love to kill 'em.

Let's take three recent examples. In White Noise, you have a man who learns how to communicate with his dead wife, and she begins to tell him about people who are going to die. In The Forgotten, you have a grieving mother who fights to remember her dead son, while all evidence of his existence slowly disappears. In Hide and Seek, you have a man who moves his daughter to upstate New York after his wife commits suicide, only to have the daughter create a homicidal imaginary friend. Now, these are all good setups, and I'm sure there are good movies in there somewhere. What we end up with are movies that have us screaming, "Oh, come the fuck on!" during the resolution. The Forgotten would have been much better if they had made Julianne Moore's character actually be dillusional, instead of coming up with the real reason for her son's disappearance. While watching White Noise, once I figured out where the movie was going, I concocted an ending in my head that seemed to logically and formulaically follow the storyline. I was surprised when the movie didn't actually end this way, but, unfortunately, the ending I came up with was better. And Hide and Seek had a plot so similar to another movie (who's name I won't reveal to protect the ending) that I'm surprised it wasn't called Secret Window 2 (WHOOPS!!).

Is screenwriting actually a lost art? Have writers actually lost the ability to make a decent film? No, I don't think so. I think it's got a lot to do with the people who actually watch the movies. Ya see, the filmgoing public, in general, is too stupid to wrap their heads around some ideas. It's confusing and disturbing for people to imagine that a little girl would be so troubled that she would act out the homicidal impulses of her imaginary friend; it's much safer to just have dad have a psychotic break and do it for her. People go to the movies to be entertained, not to think. It's much easier and more profitable to just throw some shit up on the screen that people might enjoy, than it is to come up with something thought-provoking or maybe a little scary. Now, maybe I'm coming off as a little snobbish, like I've got everything figured out, or that I'm some sort of movie genius ("Where's your screenplay, asshole?"). But there are movies that have me scratching my head in bafflement from time to time (watch Polanski's Chinatown, and see how many IQ points you lose trying to figure that out). But that's what I want: movies that make me think, so that I have something to discuss with other people when they talk about the film, rather than just say, "Wow, that was gay."

So, Screenwriters of America: stop bitching out your stories. Go for the hard ending, the one that might hurt some feelings. It may piss 95% of filmgoers off, but it sure would make me happy.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ma Bell Slowly Rising From The Ashes

Ma Bell used to inspire fear. Now, it doesn't exist. "Ma Bell", of course, refers to AT&T, once the biggest company in the U.S. That AT&T once controlled all the telephone lines in America. Up until 1984, if you had a phone in your house, you had AT&T service (there were, of course, exceptions to this: growing up, we had GTE, which was an independent company, and my family still had it until it was swallowed by Verizon). So, what happened in 1984?

Well, the federal government decided that one company controlling all telephone lines was a monopoly (it actually decided this in 1974, but took ten years to make it happen; that's the government for ya!). So, Ma Bell's regional phone line system was split up amongst seven new spinoff companies, the Baby Bells: Ameritech, NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, Pacific Telesys, Southwest Bell, and US West. See, no more monopoly, because all of these little companies now own the phone lines. "But, I've never heard of any of these companies." Well, that's because they no longer exist. Telecommunications is a huge business, and has become one of the most important businesses in the 21 years since Ma Bell's bust up. With the advent of fiber optic cable, it is now possible to receive phone, cable, and broadband internet service, all over your phone line. "What's that got to do with these companies, though?" Well, it's hard to make money if a company is only providing these extremely costly services to five or six states worth of subscribers (with a population of 900,000, how much revenue do you think the state of Montana generates for a phone company?). So, one company buys another company to gain control of their share of the phone network. Now, 21 years after the death of Ma Bell, there are only four Baby Bells: SBC, Verizon, Qwest, and BellSouth, all but one with weird new names. Of the three independent, non-Bell companies that existed after the breakup, only one, Cincinnati Bell, hasn't merged with a Baby Bell.

"That's a fascinating history lesson, moron, but how's this at all relevant?" Because it's all happening again. Last week, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both floated stories about SBC buying its former parent, AT&T. While this merger is only rumored, it would create the largest telecom company in the world, and open the gates for something really scary: the resurrection of Ma Bell, with all kinds of new WMDs. Imagine a company that is: second only to Verizon in phone customers; one of America's leading providers of satellite TV service; first in long distance service; first in cell phone subscribers; first in high-speed internet; first in business networking; and has controlling shares in cable television giant Liberty Media, which in turn has controlling shares in News Corp. and Time Warner. Then, imagine a future merger with any other communications company, such as Comcast, DirectTV, or, worst of all, the largest Baby Bell, Verizon. Ma Bell controlled our phones; this will control our lives.

The funny thing about all of this is that the government will allow it to happen, even though they broke it up in the past. Why? Because it's not very high on their priority list. They'd rather make sure that people in a country thousands of miles away Rock The Vote, rather than make sure their own citizens don't take it in the ass on phone service. Maybe it's trivial in The Grand Scheme of Things, but I pay $40 for the pleasure of just having a phone in my house; I'll be fucking ecstatic when I have to pay $100 for that privilege. That's what happens when the telecom companies begin eating their competition: they can charge you whatever the fuck they want, because, you're gonna switch to who? Oh, yeah, that company that doesn't exist any more. Competition is a good thing: it keeps the rates down. But, it's going in the other direction now. "Mother" is back in business, and that's not good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"I Can Destroy Small Countries With MY Cellphone"

I recently read an article in Fortune about how Nokia is lamenting the fact that Korean companies like LG and Samsung are kicking their ass in the cellphone market, much the way that Nokia kicked Motorola's ass in the '90s. They are hoping new, hipper offerings, like the Nokia 7280 pictured above, will turn the tide back in their favor. Well, I know I'm sold. I've always wanted to own a phone that looks like one of those cheapass Kodak cameras our parents had in the '70s (flashcube not included). It also features no keypad; it has co-opted the iPod's wheel control to do your dialing. And you thought dial phones were dead.

Mentioning the death of the dial phone brings up something else: the somewhat ridiculous notion of actually having a cellphone. Imagine back to when you were a kid, five, six years old. Someone comes up to you and tells you that, in the future, you'll be able to carry a phone with you and make call from wherever you like. You'd probably think this was a pretty queer idea, because who would want to carry a phone around with them? Fast forward 20 years: other than the actual phone, how has this concept changed? Let's say that phone technology had not advanced into the microtechnology or cordless age. Would you carry around a tabletop phone with a corded handset? Probably not, because you'd be carrying around a fucking phone.

Here's the thing that gets me: Cellular phones have been around for 50+ years, yet our parents and grandparents didn't own cellphones when we were younger. Mind you, the technology wasn't as good, and the service was spotty at best. But, the fact remains that if they wanted to carry around a phone, they could have. Maybe they realized, moreso than subsequent generations, the ridiculous notion of carrying around a phone.

Let's think of it another way: if your cordless home phone had a two hundred mile range, would you carry it around with you? I doubt it (I did this once by mistake, and I felt pretty fucking silly when I realized it was in my coat pocket). Yet, you see people at Blockbuster or the supermarket or in their cars talking on these little things the size of a matchstick. Here's the deal: people don't carry cellphones because they need to carry a phone; they carry them because they're small and fun to play with. The fact that it's actually a phone doesn't even enter the equation. Think back to the last time you made or received an urgent call on a cellphone: a call that couldn't have waited or been relayed to an answering machine. I'm betting for a lot of people this is seldom to never. Most calls are of the "Hey, wassup?" or "Well, they got Mean Girls, or..." variety. Can't that kind of nonsense wait until you get home, and not out in public, looking like a moron? I think most people just have cellphones so they can annoy other people by constantly fucking around with the thing. Of course, I may be way off base and totally wrong on all of this, but this is why I started a blog: so I can be a wacko asshole without being put in an institution. Because, honestly, what is insanity, other than a severe difference of opinion with the majority? Think about it.

The Oscar Race

Well, now that the Oscar noms have been announced, I could sit here and tell you who has the best chance of winning, and how so and so was brilliant in this and that. But I'd only be guessing. You see, I haven't actually seen any of the nominated movies in the major categories (actually, I have seen Collateral and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I'm an expert on those two). In fact, of all the movies nominated for an Oscar this year, I've seen a whopping seven out of 30 (and I think I, Robot was unduly snubbed by the Academy). Bad taste on my part? No, because everything that got nominated just doesn't look enjoyable. Why would I see a movie just because "Jamie Foxx IS Ray", according to the ads? So, I ain't pickin' shit, because it would pretty much be me throwing at names at a dartboard. Actually, scratch that: I will pick the winners. I predict Sideways will win everything. This is the best movie out of all the other movies I have not seen; head and shoulders above the rest.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Handicapping The Oscars

So, the Oscar noms are tomorrow, and because I like doing things like this, of course I'll be picking winners. But, unfortunately, from what I've seen in theatres this years, the Oscars will probably be canceled, as I haven't seen a really decent movie this year (at least not Oscar-worthy).

So, what will get nominated? There'll be nominations for The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Ray. I'm sure Jamie Foxx will get at least one nom, as will Leonardo D, probably Tom Hanks. The great Chinese film Hero will probably be up for Best Forei...oh, wait, it was already nominated for that, TWO FUCKING YEARS AGO. (Way to get those foreign movies to this country in a timely fashion, Miramax.) The one I don't know about is Sideways. Critics are hailing this as the best movie ever, yet I don't believe any non-critic has actually seen it. Since Oscar voters are notorious for not knowing anything about movies, except the "For Your Consideration" screeners that studios send them, we'll see if anyone actually knows this movie exists.

But, this is all speculation. Check back tomorrow, and I'll pick some winners out of a whole shitload of movies I haven't seen. AWESOME!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Who Likes Vintage Adidas?

I do! As someone who can't own enough pairs of Sambas, I got quite a kick out of seeing Adidas Zissous in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Ugly shoes, but a funny product placement, nonetheless. Oh, what did I think of the movie, you ask? Well, it's like all Wes Anderson movies: you're either all the way on board, or not at all. I enjoyed it, even though it's probably his second worst movie (Bottle Rocket is first). Roger Ebert said it has "terminal whimsy". Oh, it sure is whimsical. And funny. And odder than shit (what's with the random gun battles strewn throughout?). But, it's essentially plotless. And a lot of the things that were suppose to come across as emotional don't come across at all (I should note that of the eight people that were in the theatre when I saw this, five of them walked out early, and I was the only one laughing at any given point, but not in a creepy, Max Cady way, as a friend of mine alluded). If you don't like W.A., or haven't seen any of his movies, don't see this one, because you'll hate his other movies by association; this is like the AP course in Wes Anderson movies. Fans will enjoy this just because you know what you're getting. Slightly disappointing, but still enjoyable.

"Astros Ass Raped" Redux

It's not $22 million, but, were I the Astros, my anus would be a little sore from this "Rogering":

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Waiting To Have My Ass Kicked (But In A Good Way)

Don't know about you, but I'm pretty fucking geared up for Rob Rodriguez' Sin City, his film adaption of Frank Miller's comic series. If you haven't seen the trailer, you're gay, but to remedy that, go here:

BTW, if you're a movie poster collector, this has a shitload of cool teaser posters, too.

Astros Ass Raped by Rocket

"Ya know, Ah've had a good career, won six Cy Youngs, and Ah'm gettin' up there in years, so Ah'm thinkin' of retirin'. But if Ah had an opportunity to play for a club in mah home state, Ah might consider playin' for another year. Heck, Ah'd even take a paycut..."

Paycut, my ass, you prick:

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hottie In The Hizzy!!

When did Nicolette Sheridan become the hottest thing in Hollywood since Bea Arthur? It seems I can't open a copy of Us or watch The Insider without seeing a story on this hot, young starlet. Well, I got news for ya, folks: she ain't hot and she ain't young.

First off, she was borderline cute near 20 years ago on Knots Landing. But, well, that was 20 years ago, and she looks like she's aged in dog years. "OOOOOh, she's an older woman, so she's ugly, you chauvinist asshole." No, she's ugly because she's ugly.

Of the other regular female cast members on Desperate Housewives, Nicolette is third oldest at 41, behind Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman (Teri is a year younger, and Eva, well, I'm older than she is). She isn't even in the same league as the other 40+ women on the show. They're attractive. As for Nicolette...Remember that Bea Arthur reference I made earlier? That's the league she's in.

So, please, Access, People, Insider, Us, ET, Star, CJ: if you want to highlight a show by showing off its hot stars, show off some actually hot stars; DH has plenty of them. Let's just send Nicolette back to the locker room with the towels. And for God's sake, keep her away from Terrell Owens.

Leaving South Beloit (And Never Going Back)

A big deal was made in these parts a few months back about the razing of the "Magic Waters" Toll Plaza in Cherry Valley, IL. Governor Rod Blagojevich claimed that removing this toll would not only relieve traffic congestion, but would promote interstate commerce, as now people didn't have to pay the toll to use US20. Knowing that the IL Tollway is a legalized form of carjacking, I knew that this was a scam. And it was (I should note that it is free to drive anywhere in WI). The South Beloit Toll, the one I use most frequently, was raised .10 to 50 cents. And that's fine: I'll make up for the cost of a toll I never used; I'm sure they felt I owed them. It's a compromise I was willing to live with. I understand the need to tax the shit out of the citizenry (I do, afterall, live in "Tax"sconsin, and was once forced to help pay for a new stadium for the worst team in baseball).

It was much to my chagrin when I pulled into the S.B. Toll the other day, 50 cents in hand in the "Exact Change Only" lane, to find that the toll was now $1.00. Scrambling to find change, I paid the toll and cursed the tollway for the rest of the day, and into the next (I was tempted to throw a dollar bill into the basket and crash through the gate; with these new prices, I'm sure they can afford a new 2x4). Being royally pissed, I did a little research and found out that the entire toll system had been raised. It now costs $10 for me to drive to and from Chicago. TEN FUCKING U.S. DOLLARS. Just for the pleasure of driving on the IL Tollway (I should also mention that this is nothing: the tolls on the Ass Rape Highway, also known as IS88, are so embarrassing high, I refuse to print them here, but refer here: The Illinois Tollway).

So, what is to be gained from the toll hike? Well, it's obvious to me: to keep anyone from entering or exiting the State of IL, or from even thinking about going anywhere near Chicago. An extremely effective plan as is, but, in my eyes, not drastic enough. Maybe raising the tolls to $10/toll would be more appropriate. Paying $100 for a round trip to Chicago would dissuade almost everyone (erecting brickwalls at regular intervals across the tollway would be along the same vein, but a little extreme; it's also a poor revenue stream). Not only would this keep ugly foreigners out of the state, it would promote interstate commerce as thousands of acres of WI vacation property would be put up for sale, its IL owners no longer being able to travel there. It would also be a good way to prop up IL's slumping premiere air carrier, UAL, as commuter flights in and out of Chicago would be cheaper than attempting to drive there (although I'm sure out-of-state fares would need to be raised by at least $1 million). This is a plan I promote 100%, as it has reached maximum effectiveness already with me: I will no longer be traveling into the State of IL. I realize most of my friends and family live there, but, I'm a law abider, and if your governor wants to stop interstate travel, who am I to interfere? It was nice seeing all of you whenever that last was; feel free to email pictures of yourselves as you age, and I'll do the same. I'll be sure to let the world on the other side to the Iron, South Beloit know how you're doing. Goddamn, it was a good run, boys.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Video Pick of the Week (and A Personal Attack on Its Director)

This week's Video Pick is M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, not because I think you should see it, but because it's the worst movie ever made by a genius. "But," you say, "that movie blew dog dick. So, how is this guy a genius?" You're right: it did. But, that doesn't hide the fact that M (as I'll refer to him, so I don't have to type that last name) is one of the best directors working. He quite possibly is the Next Spielberg. He has the ability to do what no other director in Hollywood can do, which is create atmosphere out of nothing. He doesn't need to resort to loud noises or weird lighting or gross out shit to create a sense of terror. This guy just knows how to shoot a scary movie. Then why is this movie so bad? Chiefly, because M is the shittiest screenwriter in the history of the world.

Ya see, because M wants to be one of these auteur geniuses, like Spielberg, he thinks he needs to write the screenplays, as well as direct the movie. But, while Spielberg may receive an SP credit, he doesn't actually come up with these ideas; he's merely rewriting earlier drafts of the script. M, however, comes up with these dogshit ideas all by hisself, and, unfortunately for us, he's really a terrible writer. "Well, what about The Sixth Sense? That was really good, and he wrote that." You're right, it was really good, and he did write it. But I'll explain it away with a saying I use to describe athletes having career years: anyone can put up MVP numbers; it doesn't mean they're any good or will ever do it again. The Sixth Sense was M's MVP year; kinda hard to top those numbers. Anyone can come up with one good idea, and that was his. Everything else he's written is toilet paper (BTW, Tarantino is slowly getting to be this way. But, seriously, how do you top Pulp Fiction? IT'S PULP FICTION, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!!).

So, M, please, spare the world: stop writing. Go get yourself Robert Towne or Scott Frank or, hell, Carrie Fisher, but, please, I beg you: find someone else to do your writing. You're a great director, but your scripts have only gotten worse as they go (I believe I've called every one of them since Sixth Sense Worst...Screenplay...Ever, and that's really a feat, to be able to top the worst ever every time out the gate). I can't imagine what the next monstrosity you write will be like. Jesus, save us now.

Is It Just Me...

Or do Alterbridge and Velvet Revolver sound (respectively) just like Creed and Guns 'N' Roses with different lead singers? Guys, I understand you got rid of the assholes who broke up the band, but maybe you want to switch your sound up a little. It's also pretty sad when a Scott Weiland-fronted G'N'R puts out a record before the Axl Rose G'N'R.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Is This It?

So, here it is: The First Post. And, of course, it's a non-event.

But, those of you who know me know that my thinking follows no set pattern. I'd like to just kick this bitch off with whatever bit of insanity was on my mind at the moment, but, well, that's kind of in poor taste. I mean, you come to this thing, and Post 1 is about how I love Chinese food. "Who's this asshole think he is, just jumping right in like that?" So, this is the intro; it's all downhill from here. Eventually, there'll be pictures, links, and whatnot, but, for the time being: words, nothing but words.