Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Take 7-19: Mini Takes

I made time to watch some films - finally!  But I haven't made time to write my "Take" on them, so here's the quickie version (mini take) on some.

  • The Gumball Rally (1976) -- I saw this as a new release years ago, and for some reason, perhaps because of my part-time driving job (see: Action!: Driving), I keep remembering bits and pieces of this movie and decided to watch it again. MINI TAKE: Boring. It's not as funny as I remembered.
  • The Wedding Planner (2001) -- I watched this after our son's wedding. :) I had seen it before, but felt like watching it again. MINI TAKE: Maybe I was tired from the wedding, but it didn't seem as good the second time around.  
  • Mission: Impossible III (2006) -- MINI TAKE: Lots of action. A few flaws, but it still led me to want to see the next one.
  • The Princess Bride (1987) -- I've seen this multiple times, but it had been awhile so it was fun to see it again. MINI TAKE: A classic. Clever writing! William Goldman is a master screenwriter, and I want to study his writing style, so I added several of his screenplays to my Amazon wishlist. 
  • Men in Black 3 (2012) -- I missed this as a new-release so I saw this at the "sticky shoe" (dollar) theater to see it on the big screen before it hit DVD. MINI TAKE: I loved the humor, and quirky characters. Well-written, and well-acted. I'd like to see it again. In fact, I might want to own it, which says a lot. (see post: I actually purchased a DVD)
  • Valentine's Day (2010) -- I had high hopes for this film with such a star-studded cast, but alas... MINI TAKE: This was one ensemble piece that did not work. Not enough time to develop any of the inter-twining stories, or to let any star shine.
  • The Italian Job (2003) -- A friend bought a Mini-Cooper and admitted she wanted one ever since seeing The Italian Job. I saw the older version a "hundred years ago" and can't remember much of anything except wandering the movie theater out of boredom (maybe I was too young to follow the plot). Curious about the newer version and what prompted the purchase of the car, I had to see the film. MINI TAKE: Wow! I was on the edge of my seat, and felt like a nervous wreck by the end. It takes a strong story and good writing to make the audience root for thieves! Maybe I should give the older version (1969) another chance.
  • The Iron Lady (2011) -- I added this to our DVD queue after watching the Academy Awards. (I know... it's taken me awhile to get to it.) Meryl Streep is amazing, and I wanted to see how she portrayed Margaret Thatcher. MINI TAKE: The story jumps between three time periods... Margaret as a young woman entering the political arena, Margaret at the peak of her career, and Margaret as an elderly widow. Sometimes the jumps between time periods were confusing, and annoying. The film left me feeling depressed. Seeing her aged, and mentally feeble at times, was sad after witnessing the vitality of her prime. And seeing the footage of political unrest and riots disturbed me, especially as the poor (used to being on the dole) revolted against responsibility. It was like watching a preview of what will come in the United States. Disturbing. I keep thinking about it, so it deserves high marks for that.
  • Tower Heist (2011) -- After watching The Iron Lady, I was in the mood for something light, and this one fit the bill. MINI TAKE:  Fun cast and some funny moments, I enjoyed the light-hearted film.  
  • Christmas Oranges (2012) -- I attended the screening for this film. It will release as a DVD November 6, and is now available for pre-order through Amazon: click here.) MINI TAKE: Well-written, quality film, with wonderful soundtrack, cinematography, and acting. It will make a great addition to Christmas DVD collections.
  • Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012) -- Kurt and I took our two oldest grandchildren (ages 4 and 2 1/2) to see this at a "cheap" theater near them. We had the theater to ourselves, and after the little ones polished off their snacks of popcorn and fruit punch they climbed onto our laps to watch the remainder of the movie. Greatly enhanced the viewing experience to snuggle grandchildren and kiss the tops of their heads. MINI TAKE:  As with many sequels, it was not as good as the first (but better than the second). I still enjoyed the story and funny moments... aaaannnddd... the grandkids were enthralled, watching the entire film without getting bored. That's a big plus.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Block" Buster: What NOT to do.

I can't help it. When I think of writer's block, I think of this scene from Funny Farm (1988)Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase) leaves his successful sports journalist job to pursue his dream of writing a novel. He and his wife leave the city and move to a quirky community in New England. After getting settled into their home, he sits down to write and smiles as a little bird chirps outside. Ah. This is the quaint writer's life... but when writer's block kicks in immediately after typing the title of his novel, he is no longer amused.

Most writers can relate to this, but it is NOT the best way to break through a block:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Comic Relief: The Great Muppet Caper

Prior to this scene, Miss Piggy, pretending to be successful and wealthy, gives a random address to Kermit to pick her up for a date. Now she must get into that residence to keep up the pretense. The unruffled calm of this couple while a pig breaks into their home is hilarious.

Clip: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Action!: Catching up.

I haven't had a chance to post about what I've been up to the last several weeks, so I will catch up here.
  • Helped with casting for a Lifetime channel movie, and met the screenwriter. Very friendly, and seemed willing to talk with me about my projects.   
  • I was an extra for a theme park commercial (which will air, locally, in the spring).
  • And an extra for a short film about religious freedom, which will air soon.
  • Then I was selected for a photo shoot to be used in a training program. (It was fun to experience being in still photos, rather than video.)
  • I attended the screening of Christmas Oranges. I was an extra in that film (see post: Extra again.) and was pleased to see that I didn't hit the cutting room floor entirely.  
  • I am nearly finished retyping my second screenplay into my screenwriting software. I planned to edit and rewrite as I typed but decided to type it as is...in its first draft. I think it's important to see the difference between the first draft and completed work. (A good way to measure progress.) It's painful, at times, typing it as is. I see so many areas I want to change, and think, "Good grief, that scene needs major work." But I take comfort that first drafts are always "poo."  I'm anxious to begin the actual re-write.
  • I've made time to watch movies! I know, I know. Don't faint. DVDs arrive in the mail and aren't condemned to sit on the counter for a month. Miraculous! I don't have time to write a full "Take" on each one of them, but I'm preparing a post with MINI TAKEs. Tune in next Tuesday for that. Some of the films I've watched the last couple months:
There. See? I'm taking action toward my goals. It seems like I've done a lot of "extra" work, and some of my friends get confused, thinking that acting is my goal. But I do little acting gigs to earn some cash. I tell people, "Acting supports my writing habit."

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Block" Buster: Dump the doubts.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” 
~William Shakespeare

Friday, October 19, 2012

Comic Relief: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

This is one of my favorite scenes in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). In this clip, highly successful con artist, Lawrence (Michael Caine), wants to discourage a woman from marrying him, so he enlists a small-time swindler, Freddy (Steve Martin), to pose as a simpleton brother in need of his care. "Ruprecht" will be part of the package if she insists on marriage.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Block" Buster: Take notes.

"They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies... the medium doesn't matter, so long as it inspires you. When you're stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet." ~Aaron Koblin, Creative Director of the Data Arts Team at Google

I jot notes (see post: Notes to Self), but I need to improve on reviewing those captured little nuggets. They don't do much good sitting undisturbed inside my binders. Good advice, "...go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook." That could work like magic, zapping through creative blocks.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Comic Relief: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock NYWTS

That's right... Alfred Hitchcock. Not the typical name associated with comedy, but some of his quotes make me chuckle:
  • The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.

  • Disney has the best casting. If he doesn't like an actor he just tears him up.

  • I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.

  • Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing. It didn't change people's habits. It just kept them inside the house.

  • When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, "It's in the script." If he says, "But what's my motivation?," I say, "Your salary."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Take 6: Mother of Pearl

What's that? You've not heard of a movie titled Mother of Pearl?Although a search on IMDB will reveal three little-known films with the same title, the Mother of Pearl I refer to is not a movie...yet!

It's a debut novel written by my friend (and high school pal) Kellie Coates Gilbert. Released in early September, it has already gone to second printing. My infrequent Tuesday posts are typically my "take" on films or screenplays, but I wanted to give my "take" on the book Mother of Pearl, from a screenwriter's perspective.

As anxious as I was to read her novel, when the book finally arrived at my doorstep, I hesitated to read it. What if it stunk? What if I couldn't bring myself to finish it? What would I say to her? The last time I tried to read a novel written by someone I knew, it did not turn out well. (I mention the experience in a previous post, titled Happy July Fourth!)  

Because of the difference in writing style, it's often annoying for me, as a screenwriter, to read a novel. I know other screenwriters who suffer with the same dilemma. We want action and dialogue and very little description. We grow impatient with too much fluff bogging down the story, and don't enjoy wading through all the verbiage to get to the key points.
Even before I began writing screenplays I read novels by skimming over all the description "blah de blah de blah, get on with the story!" But I was more tolerant then; now I'm quite critical.

I read Mother of Pearl from a screenwriter's point of view. Was the story bogged down in too much description? No! I was happy to read a novel that flowed without the weight of flowery fluff. Kellie did a fantastic job of moving the story with just enough description to give visual images and help me connect to the characters, but not so much to trigger, "Blah de blah de blah...." Refreshing!

Here's the pitch on the back of the book: Barrie Graeber has two great kids, a loving husband, and a respected job as the high school counselor in her close-knit community. Without warning, everything unravels when her teenage daughter, Pearl, is betrayed and lashes out.

Nothing prepares this mother for the helplessness that follows when her attempts to steer her daughter back on course fail, and Pearl shuts her out... or when Barrie discovers the unthinkable about her nemesis, the football coach. 

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving Mother of Pearl brings us into the heart of a mother bound by an incredible burden, who ultimately finds she must recognize her own vulnerability and learn to trust in something much bigger.

What worked:
  • The main character, Barrie, has flaws.  In other words, she is human.  She is quick to judge by appearance, and feels self-conscious about her own appearance at times, but she's also incredibly brave and stands for what she feels is right. Other characters are also deep and interesting, some of which I hope show up as main characters in future novels, (especially Jackie).  
  • Barrie struggles with faith in God, and even though some of her friends and family want to help her find faith, they do not force it upon her. I am a religious and spiritual person, but I was grateful the author treated the reader with the same respect. She showed the faith without shoving it down the throat.
  • The story has depth, with undercurrents. Barrie faces such a nightmare regarding her daughter, but there are other issues swishing around her too... her own overly-critical mother, the small town everyone-knows-your-business atmosphere, the winning-football-team-at-all-costs mindset, which includes the let's-sweep-it-under-the-rug solutions.
What didn't work:
  • Actually, the above quoted pitch on the back of the book does not work. It led me to think the story was about a mother dealing with a rebellious daughter, but it's so much more than that. That blurb doesn't give a clear understanding that the reader will be caught up in a heart-wrenching story with a hard-hitting topic that often gets ignored even after it hits the headlines.
The story is timely and intense. Each chapter ending made me want to continue to the next. And from a screenwriter's perspective, the novel would translate well onto the big screen.

Congratulations, Kellie, I hope you are enjoying your whirlwind book tour, but hurry home and write some more!

(Check out Kellie's website and blog to follow her adventures as she lives her dream: kelliecoatesgilbert.com)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Motivation: If today were the last day of my life...

This past Friday marked a year since the passing of Steve Jobs. This is from his Stanford University commencement address, June 12, 2005:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
When I consider that it could be the last day of my life, I feel a surge of motivation, and a glimpse of what I am meant to do.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Comic Relief: Funny surprise scenes.

Sometimes humor comes from a simple understatement, like a scene in Quigley Down Under (1990), where Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck), responds to an ad for a sharp shooter, is beaten to a pulp and left for dead in the Australian desert, along with an outcast woman named Crazy Cora.

Don't worry, on a new job it's quite common
for things not to go well at first.

I love when a film surprises me with a twist or something unexpected, especially if it's funny. For instance, in The Emperor's New Groove (2000), when Yzma drinks a vial of potion. I was expecting the typical Disney formula where the evil person grows larger and more menacing, but no, Yzma turns into a kitten.

(squeaky voice)
Looking for this?
(clutching her throat)
Is that my voice?
Is that my voice? Oh well.

As I reflect on films I've seen this year, I think my favorite comedic surprise for 2012 was in The Avengers. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) thinks himself above those of earth. He is a demigod and demands "You will kneel before me." As he wreaked havoc, I wondered if it would take something nuclear to defeat him. But it only took The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me!
I am a god, you dull creature,
and I shall not be bullied by... 

(The Hulk grabs him like a rag doll... bam, bam, bam...
swings him back and forth bashing him into the floor.)

Puny god.

(Loki weakly moans from the crater in the floor.)

What are your favorite funny surprise scenes?

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Block" Buster: Don't wait for the mood.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.”~ Pearl S. Buck

It's so easy to slip into the habit of waiting for the right mood before writing or creating (or any task, actually). I find that when I wait for the mood, it rarely arrives; but if I move forward--take action--the mood usually comes running like a child to an ice cream truck.