Sunday, March 26

Tromeo and Juliet

Little did I know that Tromeo and Juliet is the festering petri dish of more than a few careers. It looks like a mad, mad, flatulent, raunchy, frayed retelling of Shakespeare's love story for all time. With a great extended nude scene. And a nipple piercing on camera. And a happy incestuous ending. Murder and car wrecks, yes, but strangley, no cannibalism.

So I'm out of touch. James Gunn wrote the script for $150 and according to the guy, it was juicier and fouler in early drafts. Gunn has gone on to kick the Man in the nuts with the Scooby Doo projects and the soon-to-be-released Slither. If you have seen Tromeo, you'll see where Gunn got the idea to use a curling iron to exterminate a vampire slug. Besides my retired mother, does anyone use curling irons anymore? As I said, I'm out of touch.

Tromeo, namely Will Keenan, has gone on to a hyphenate career that includes a performance in The Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jane Jenson, who turns in a creditable performance without clothes, has become a musician. Lloyd Kaufman, still producing and directing, is also distributing Jenna Fischer's (The Office, wife of James Gunn) Lollilove, the trailer for which looks hilarious. Lloyd is the oft-cited crazy ass of this post. Keep on rockin' in the free world, L!

1. Really good, talented people also work on crazy-ass movies.
2. Free your mind and the rest will follow. Or, making a movie does you more good than not making one that's a wierd, crazy-ass, brainfart.

Saturday, March 25

"That was awesome, dude," he lied

There's a small and fiercely independent festival in Boston. So small I often miss it. Not this year. It runs through tomorrow night.

What it is: it's about getting films made. It's about encouraging film makers. It's about giving some spotlight to the little, the credit-card funded, the erstwhile next master of gore/horror/broad satire.

What I learned: That if you're going to make crazy-ass movies to showcase you and your abilities, you're going to work with some brilliant people and some crazy ass nut jobs. Here's an example. Today, I went to a frowsy, abbreviated version of Lloyd Kaufman's 'Make Your Own Damn Movie' Seminar. The key topics came as stories and making-of shorts and stand-up riffing on the Axis of Evil formed by corporations and, well, money, which produces, he says, "babyfood" from Hollywood.

Kaufman - this is all news to me - has been making Troma films for 35 years. His new title in postproduction? Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. He wanted freedom, not money, he said in refrain. He got exactly what he wanted. But Oliver Stone, Trey Parker, and James Gunn have worked for him. Tonight I'm going to see the anniversary showing of Tromeo and Juliet. More anon, dear reader.

While Stone, Parker, and Gunn have given up 'freedom,' going to work for the Axis of Evil, they now make movies that millions see. They make movies that wouldn't be possible for a half mil, the figure Kaufman gave as typical of recent Troma budgets. "Independent" is an approach, but also an attitude, politics, and eventually a self-limiting choice. "Doesn't play well with others" becomes "doesn't get to play." No wonder Kaufman's set up his own game his own way. I just don't get all the complaining about studios. They make a damn fine product. Nobody eats babyfood forever.

And that brings me to a program of shorts. Many of these were very solid efforts. Some great filming, editing, or acting. Good storytelling in few. Again I say, "You got your movie made! That was awesome, dude." Because you can probably get another at-bat. But I attended the shorts with TWIL, who loves me, not film. She was not entertained, delighted, fightened, or provoked to thought. She was bored and often confused. "Awesome," I lied.

So raise a light beer to everyone who made an okay movie. Because I'm glad you learned the thousand things you taught yourself. But the product. Dude! I'm totally lying. I'm thinking about the leftover Indian food in my refrigerator. Get back to work, damn it! And when you see my short, tell me the friggin' truth.

Thursday, March 16

Falling in love again, never thought I would

No excuses here for not posting, but after being underemployed, a few appointments feels like a full schedule.

I love a serial killer. Do you?

Or the genre, at least. I've been doing a little research, which shows that this well-mined vein is full of great successes and failures. The obvious high point is Silence of the Lambs. I'm working on a post that extracts some of the story elements that audiences seem to enjoy and will share it after watching some more examples.

Join the fun by suggesting your favorite serial-killer thrillers. Here's the selective filmography I'm using:

  • Silence of the Lambs

  • Se7en

  • Sea of Love

  • Bloodwork

  • Yet to see
  • Murder by Numbers

  • Tightrope

  • Ted Bundy
  • Obviously, serial-killer thriller is a sub-genre of the thriller. Feel free to expand my horizons, keeping in mind that life is short. Don't even tell me you don't have opinions!

    Monday, March 6

    Bobby Moresco, we love your story

    Read this story: The Long March, then the Countdown to Oscar Glory

    Highlights: Bobby takes acting lessons in NYC, stinks, wants like a hungry man wants food a different future than construction, longshoreman, so he goes to L.A. His brother is murdered, so Bobby goes back to NYC, works, and writes a play about his brother's murder. Producer sees the play, Bobby goes back to L.A., works, meets Paul Haggis, then doesn't work, goes sort of broke, and writes Crash with Haggis. No one wants to make it. They make it. Now he's working. He's 54. All this because he didn't want to work construction and his wife didn't make him stop with the crazy writing thing.

    Bobby, we salute you!

    Quick Oscar Takes

    Best remarks about why movies matter without sentimental gushing: George Clooney for best actor in a supporting role. Who is having a better time with his celebrity and making more of it in Hollywood than George Clooney? He's our Frank Sinatra with a conscience.

    Best restrained comments about what movies can do for peace: Paul Haggis, right before they slammed the door on Bobby Moresco's comments about the writing of Crash.

    Best Gag: Ben Stiller in green pajamas. Delivered in very Stiller manner, gambling that longer is funnier.

    Best strategy for doing the job again next year: John Stewart

    BEST PICTURE: "Crash" A great surprise and don't we all love a surprise at the end. Whatever else it means, it endorses spare movie making and strong storytelling. But one thing it doesn't say is that the Academy is uncomfortable with a gay love story. Please.

    DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain" Deserved and predicted. Consider "The Hulk" buried.

    ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote" Justice! There is justice in the system!

    ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line" The choice of Witherspoon is a crowd pleaser, but frankly right down the middle of the definition of "moderate."

    ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: George Clooney, "Syriana" This is the first role in years in which Clooney worked hard and succeeded as an actor. I was pulling for Dillon, but if you subscribe to the conservation of Oscars theory - that the universe knows that it can't grant awards to cast members if it's going to crown the movie best of the year - then, well, Universe to Matt: Sorry. He'll get the heat from nomination anyway. Screw you, Universe.

    ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener" No comment. Great performance in a frayed movie, which I couldn't see past. Heath: I love Michelle. Also, she was great opposite you in the gay cowboy movie. Keep an eye on her or you'll lose her to me.

    ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, "Crash" Deserved: complex, clever, and weighty, even if the movie felt a little too cleverly contrived to maintain the illusion of reality.

    ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, "Brokeback Mountain" I'm profoundly biased on this one. The story is so strong that the biggest challenge of the screenwriting (I'll live to regret saying this) lay in not messing up. These two did a great job. But Dan Futterman started with no story, built it, wrote it, and broke the biopic law (start at subject's death and flash back), and succeeded wildly. I think Capote should have one. Maybe that's just me.

    ORIGINAL SONG: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow" While the best song was Dolly Parton's (didn't she appear in Corpse Bride), the winner in this category serves the story more than either of the others. And it's "hookie" in a way that leaves those of us who only use hip-hop in a sentence to describe what Easter bunnies do singing the refrain as we walk to our cars after the movie.

    Sunday, March 5

    Life itself as antagonist: Spanglish*

    When it comes to comic dramas about marriage, it's hard to think of one with more realistic, adult sensibility than Spanglish. I was inspired by some of the writing in As Good As It Gets, and because I'm outlining a marriage-centered comedy myself, I watched Spanglish again. Like the other script, I found that I loved scenes and Brooks' insight into love and need. He follows characters' crises rather than stamping them into a boilerplate genre structure.

    Here's what's great and strange about Spanglish: no antagonist. John Clasky, superstar chef, fights himself and wins. Review with me: John's brilliantly neurotic wife Deborah? Obstacle, distraction, disappointment: yes. Not an antagonist. His success? His restaurant manager? His sous-chef? Obstacles, yes. What about Flor, the breathtakingly beautiful Mexican house help? No. He falls for her, steps right up to the temptation to break his marriage wide open, totters on the verge, and disappointed, turns back by force of will.

    John fights his heroic battle with daily life - to have time with his family, to keep peace at home, to encourage his kids, to support and forgive his deeply needy wife. No surprise, I should have known, from the man who shaped the Simpson's, where family is a bulwark against the madness of impersonal forces like work, school, money, media, etc. From time to time John Clasky takes great joy in his daily life. In one scene, he forgoes the perfect fried egg sandwich to take a dressing down by Flor. (Throughout, the edgy sense that he's comfortable at home but may be called to account at any moment is palpable.) He takes is medicine, turns a more biting accusation on Flor, and takes up that sandwich.

    I have to say, I'm not sure I like it, but it's damn well done. I mean that it's easier to write and follow a story when the antagonist is clear. But that's not typical; you and me, we're not heroes. But I think Brooks thinks we are: we want to be loved, we want to be good, we want a little joy. And John Clasky takes up Thor's hammer every day and fights for it. Just like us.

    Best line of the movie: "Right now, dear, your low self esteem is just good common sense."

    - Evelyn Wright (Cloris Leachman) to her daughter Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni).

    * John's Critique Rubric: For educational purposes only. It's hard to make a great movie: Respek, bro! Or as the yogi says, Namaste.