Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Look Ma, No Gravity!

Video from my Zero-G flight on May 6th:



I'm the one with the water bottle and the green octopus, and yes, I do find out, on the second-to-last parabola, why NASA calls their plane "the Vomit Comet." Hey, I paided mah money, an' I wants th' full experience.

Motion sickness aside, it was amazing. Being truly weightless feels like nothing else in the world-- as it should, I suppose. And I can't wait until I can be in zero-gee for more than thirty seconds at a time.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Post-Film Discussion #1123: The Da Vinci Code

(upon exiting the theatre)
CKL: So, what did you think of the movie?
D: I have two words for it: National. Treasure.
CKL: Hmm. Or perhaps "Inter-National Treasure"!
D: Perhaps. I have two more words: Bull. Shit.

Referring, of course, to the egregious historical inaccuracies and outright fiction perpetrated by author Dan Brown and company.

Being an atheist, I don't really care about or believe the film's central premise: that settling the question of Jesus Christ's divinity with empirical evidence would destroy Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church. (This is the same problem I had with Stigmata, which also posits the existence of long-lost Gospels which have been covered up by The Man.)

The question also seems like something that's more likely to be debated in academia, as demonstrated by the lengthy expository scene wherein Ian McKellen's character lays out all the author-fabricated evidence for this crackpot theory. You call this archaeology?

Anyway. This really should have been Audrey Tautou's movie, since her character, Sophie Neveu, has the most interesting story arc. As D pointed out later, Kevin Smith had already covered pretty much this same territory, religious controversy-wise, with Dogma. Linda Fiorentino's character in that movie was on the same journey as Sophie, but Bethany actually got to be the hero. After the car chase in the first act, I was hoping that Sophie would continue to kick ass, but I guess Tom Hanks has a better agent. And a couple of Oscars.

But if there's a sequel, it should totally be called The Da Vinci Code II: Never Say Neveu Again.

Totally.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On Writing: Film vs. TV

Thinking some more about the Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program, I browsed over to screenwriter John Rogers' blog, Kung Fu Monkey, and re-read his post on Writing: Plot and Story. Therein he articulates what I'd been trying to say before, about why I feel more drawn to screenplays than teleplays:
[I]n film, a plot's something you move your characters through to change them. In TV, generally, your characters inhabit the plot, but don't really change. (this is evolving, but slowly). The goal of TV characters -- and I'm not even going to try to dive into the meta-osity of this -- tends to be to resume the status quo.
I want to write about life-changing experiences. I want to write stories wherein the characters (and, we hope, the audience) learn something. As I was jotting down notes for a screenplay idea yesterday, I wrote myself a note: what is the moral of the story?

I guess I know what I'm going to write now. Thanks, Kung Fu Monkey!

Captioned Photos of the Week

Misty wears the cheese. The cheese does not wear her.

(What do you mean, you don't get it?)

The Fellowship of the Zing

Damn you, Jane Espenson. Damn you and your always-entertaining blog, whence I learned of the Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program. It has stirred my latent dreams of being a professional screenwriter, and will surely consume a good portion of my free time until the June 23rd application deadline.

It's also pointed out just how little mainstream television I actually watch. The fellowship requires applications to submit either an original screenplay or an original teleplay based on a current prime-time TV series. They specifically forbid movie sequels and original TV pilots. I'm sure this is for business reasons, but it does make for two completely different writing exercises.

The only time I've even thought about writing for a TV series was back in 2003, when I imagined what the 9/11 episode of Sports Night might have been, if the show had stayed on the air that long. I'm more drawn to writing screenplays for some reason-- maybe I feel there's greater freedom to play with character and structure, and maybe that's an incorrect impression, but there it is. I wasn't even that excited about writing for Star Trek back when they accepted spec scripts from anyone.

Maybe I'm like Ray Bradbury, who was invited to write for the original Star Trek but declined, saying that he couldn't write for characters that he hadn't created. (I admit that anecdote may be apocryphal, but it's telling.) Maybe I'm just too demanding. Maybe I'm just like my father-- too bold. Maybe you're just like my mother?

Sorry.

Anyway, I discussed this with my lovely wife last night, and we ran down the short list of TV shows we watch, and there wasn't much. Our favorite is Gilmore Girls, but I'm not sure I could write in that particular style. Same for My Name Is Earl. We're about half a season behind on Lost, and I'm not sure a spec script would do the show justice, since it couldn't actually move anything forward.

Let's not even talk about Smallville. I just watched it again for the first time in months ("Fragile", in case you're wondering), and Christ, I feel like I'd need a lobotomy to be able to write such plodding, transparent dialogue.

I guess I'm not the type of obsessive fan who endlessly analyzes his or her favorite series for the smallest detail. Or maybe there just isn't a series on the air right now that connects with me in that way. Or perhaps there is, and I'm just not watching it because I've got too much other stuff to do.

We'll see if I come up with an idea in the next week or so. I want to leave enough time for rewriting, which means pounding out a first draft over Memorial Day weekend. Hooray for deadlines!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Weather Man

D's comment after we watched The Weather Man last night was that it was basically the same story as Our Time is Up, one of the Oscar-nominated shorts from 2005, but not done as well. I mostly agree. The performances were good, and most of the situations were believable, but the film overall was a bit meandering, and lacked any sense of real epiphany or catharsis.

Call me sentimental, but I live for the "What have we learned, Charlie Brown?" moment. I live for the St. Crispin's Day speech, the Agatha Christie denouement, and every other episode of Buffy. I want the time I've invested in my fiction to have a meaningful payoff.

In other news, The Best of Dinosaur Comics: 2003-2005 AD has been living on our nightstand for the past few weeks, and I've been enjoying a few strips every night before bed. AND LOVING IT. Last night I read " being able to transform a compliment about a fact you know into a compliment about yourself is another perk", which, though undoubtedly without legal foundation, was more thought-provoking than most copyright law discussions by EFF or similar activist groups.

This was particularly salient because when I loaded the Weather Man disc into our DVD player, the first thing it auto-played was an obnoxious anti-piracy propaganda film. Bleah.

For more of T-Rex's musings on copyright law, check out these other Dinosaur Comics:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Run, Tommy, Run!

There's one shot in Mission: Impossible III that seems to go on forever. It's Tom Cruise running along a crowded Shanghai street, and the camera tracks him as he runs. And runs. And runs. And runs some more.

The shot probably only lasts ten or fifteen seconds, but it seems to go on forever. Why does the camera linger on this particular tracking shot, with no zooming, cutting, or other changes? I have no idea. It contributes nothing to the story, and actually drains the tension from what should have been a taut, nail-biting suspense sequence.

Perhaps Cruise, who also co-produced the movie, wanted to show off his virile athletic ability. Oh, Tom. Have you never read The House of Mirth, wherein Wharton tells us that "no insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity"? Which reminds me, I should rent that movie-- I was always curious about Gillian Anderson's performance.

Anyway. D and I both thought this sequel had been dumbed down quite a bit from the first two movies, which is a shame; the original Mission: Impossible TV series was all about outsmarting the bad guys and following the various twists and turns of the con, but the film franchise has fallen into an action movie rut. Seriously, if the cast and crew hadn't included so many heavy hitters, I might have mistaken MI3 for a made-for-cable movie, or even (horrors!) a direct-to-video release. Which is not to say that it was bad; it was entertaining enough, but solidly mediocre, with no real surprises and more than a few plot holes.

Favorite inside joke: the end credits give special thanks to the Hanso Foundation, one of the MacGuffins from director J.J. Abram's TV series Lost.

Best part of tonight's movie outing: seeing the new Superman Returns trailer. Bryan Singer is my hero.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Constant Gardener

Let's get the geek joke out of the way: no, it's not a biography of American recreational mathematician Martin Gardner. (Though that could also be a good movie, especially if it focused on his debunking of psychics and other pseudo-scientific nonsense.)

Rachel Weisz's performance in this movie won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and it's well earned. I still can't quite forgive her for some of that Mummy Returns silliness, but I don't suppose I'd pass up a co-starring role with Brendan Fraser, either. And she does some truly heartbreaking work in Gardener.

The movie has some flaws, but is beautifully lit and photographed. There are two scenes in particular, at the beginning of the film, where the lighting changes within a single shot to illuminate a different character or background. They're not typically "spectacular", but they are gorgeous in their own right. It only increases my desire to see City of God, an earlier film by the same director and cinematographer.

Favorite inside joke: the movie production company is named Potboiler Productions.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

My friend Bryan, who lives in the Seattle area, took some film school classes from Christopher Mosio, who worked on Akeelah and the Bee and is credited as 2nd unit director of photography and B camera operator.

D and I saw the movie tonight, and it's very good. I'm man enough to admit that I wept openly when Akeelah spelled "pulchritude" correctly. And yeah, I know that sounds weird, but there's more to it than spelling. Parents, take your kids to see this film, and if they learn nothing else, make sure they learn this: There's more to it than spelling.