February 28, 2004

project greenlight 3 (update #6)

Kza (wearing Night Owl outfit): Martin, you're crazy. You wouldn't send out that script. That's...monstrous.

Martin (as Ozymandias): Kent, I'm not a Republic Serial villain. I sent it out twenty-four hours ago.

So what I'm trying to say, is that we are officially entered in Project Greenlight 3. God help us.

(Poor Martin; he has no idea what that first part is about.)

Now we have to review three other competing scripts, and on March 25, we find out the results. I'd like to make the first cut, but after that, whatever happens, happens.

Posted by kza at 08:58 PM | Comments (3)

City of God (2003, Fernando Meirelles) 30

All those surprise Oscar nominations for this? Really?

It's been called amoral by its detractors, and while they probably have a point, it's hard to get too outraged over a film that doesn't put anything over; not the story, not the characters, not the direction, not the cinematography. Oh, it's not bad; sure, there's energy; but all the split-screens, freeze-frames, and 360º camera movements feel oh-so-nineties to me. Did Meirelles not trust the material? Is it all just a two-hour calling card? Did they just make up shit as they went along?

It's a shame, too, because there was potential here. There are a number of interesting threads (the massacre at the whorehouse, Li'l Ze's voodoo amulet: "You mustn't fornicate while wearing it") that are dropped. When something truly interesting happens -- Rocket is set up to be the personal photographer of the sociopathic Li'l Ze -- the movie is pretty much over. Fine, Meirelles; you don't want to write that movie, maybe I will.

Ultimately, Meirelles is so enamored of his stylistic affectations, that the story becomes a series of anecdotes, a series of shrugs, really, and his actors are reduced from characters to just bodies in front of the camera. He makes Guy Ritchie look like Wes Anderson.

Posted by kza at 08:15 PM | Comments (4)

February 25, 2004

The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock) 60

(first viewing in about 12 years.)

Not a whole lot to say about this classic, except that I'm shocked, shocked to realize I never noticed the obvious and profound influence it had on Night of the Living Dead, on both a macro and micro level. As a zombie movie aficionado, I'm quite embarrassed. And it's not like it's subtle, either: Look, there's the dead body in the empty farmhouse; there's the radio report from the outside world; now there's the heroine, mute and slightly crazed by the attacks, gripping the mantel as if to hold on to reality; and there's the yokel, whose philosophy is "just shoot 'em all". I feel like the last to know and the first to cry.

And of course, there's the hero boarding up the house from an unnatural attack, the staple image that nearly every zombie movie is built upon. (It's become such a cliché, that when a lesser zombie movie like Resident Evil comes along, I have to give it some credit when it avoids using it.) It's an image of apocolypse, seen from a peculiarly specific vantage point, which is probably why Hitch ditched the original ending, a drive through a devastated Bodega Bay. (The devastation on the characters' faces is enough.) For me, this image, almost an archetype, of the Boarded-Up House is one of the great inventions of the cinema, and it sure as heck looks like The Birds was there first. (I would've thought it was The Last Man On Earth, the first "I Am Legend" movie, but that came out a year later.)

While The Birds is no doubt an historically important movie, let's face it: it's a bit slow. I understand the reasons behind the careful buildup, but unfortunately, these characters aren't really worth the effort. The Tippi Hedren--Rod Taylor--Jessica Tandy conflict is a real yawner, especially since Hedren's character is a bit vague. What happens is that a drama slowly morphs into a horror film, yet there are no strong links binding the two genres to each other. (Unlike, say, Cat People, which is both a horror movie about lycanthropes and a drama about a disintegrating marriage, but it's impossible to separate one from the other.) While there does seem to be a connection between the repressed feelings of the characters and the bird attacks, it remains in the airy realm of symbolism, never touching down onto concrete reality.

Posted by kza at 10:15 AM | Comments (5)

February 24, 2004

project greenlight 3 (update #5)

Probably the last PG3 update for awhile. We had a reading on Sunday (happy birthday to me!) and it went well; lots of good (and surprising) feedback. For example, there's a short prologue in the current draft that I was dead-set against, but most of the readers felt it set the tone on the right note, so it looks like that's staying in for the time being. Blind readings are always a trip. You never know what people are going to pick up on and what's going to fly right past them. Also, two of the readers were Todd and Brendan, friends of mine who are entering the concurrent Director Contest. C'mon guys; Seattle's gonna need some representation in PG3.

Cuz, honestly, I don't think it's gonna be us. I'm very happy with what we've done so far (in two weeks, no less), and I'm incredibly excited by what we're going to be doing (in terms of future projects and a Yellow rewrite), but I don't think this draft is strong enough. It's afflicted by a malady common to scripts by beginning screenwriters, the Passive Protagonist Syndrome; too much happening to him and not enough doing by him. If I'm allowed to place blame on something other than myself, I blame the incredibly short window we had for outlining the piece. There were tiny cracks in the original outline that weren't visible until they became huge fissures that we had to spackle over at the last minute.

But, hey, that's two weeks for you. The fact that we wrote a story that a group of people found pleasing in such a short time (a record for me) is an achievement in itself. And even more heartening, the solutions to the Syndrome above can be easily found in what we've already written. The second draft will kick ass!

But it's not the second draft that will be entered in the contest. I'm curious what people will think of it. My wife expects the peer group (the people who judge the first round) to be made of idiots who'll hate the Limbo-esque ending, the one thing that works like gangbusters. But we'll see.

Hopefully, Martin will share his thoughts on the process in the comments section. Martin?

Posted by kza at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

February 18, 2004

project greenlight 3 (update #4)

Turns out the last post was a lie. There were still a few bugs to work out, but I think it's done. Now comes the tough part: putting all the scenes together, reading it through, and hope it's not completely fucked. There will always be little details to add, little details to subtract, and general tightening, but it should hold together, in a general sense. But if it doesn't...ugh.

I have to say, right now my brain feels like a sponge that's been totally wrung dry. There's a definite emptiness inside me, and I feel a bit down. That's probably a good sign, actually; that's probably just symbolic of this massive act of creation we just pulled off. But I still feel awfully bleah.

Maybe I should go watch a movie.

Posted by kza at 02:19 PM

February 17, 2004

project greenlight 3 (update #3)

I just sent Martin the last of the first draft scenes. This means we now have, after one week, a complete draft. I'm sure it's a little ugly (we haven't put the whole thing together yet), but that's what the next four days are for. I'm totally amazed by what we were able to achieve in such a short time, and I hope we get a chance to amaze other people with the final result.

Now, if we can just figure out a little something I like to call "The Great Clock Controversy of 2004"...

Posted by kza at 11:53 AM | Comments (7)

February 14, 2004

project greenlight 3 (update #2)

So that's what a blog looks like when you don't update it for awhile. Kinda like dead fish in an aquarium.

So, the script for PG3 is progressing nicely. My good friend and blog hoster Martin is co-writing with it me. It's called Yellow, and the original spark was to do a tribute to Dario Argento: a stylish slasher-type movie that I could (maybe) whip together real quick. (Hence all the Argento stuff lately.) But then Martin threw his massive intellect and talent into the mix, and it's developed into (I think) something more than just a slasher-type movie. If he gives the okay, I might even put the script up for people to look at if they like.

(Also: bonus points if you understand immediately why it's called Yellow.)

We've been writing scenes and emailing them back and forth and making comments and revisions at a whirlwind pace. I haven't worked this hard since college. Hell, maybe not even then. But it's looking better than I could ever have imagined it.

Soon (maybe): Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebre.

Posted by kza at 02:49 PM | Comments (7)

February 06, 2004

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970, Dario Argento) 57

(Third viewing, never seen in a theater.)

Sorry, Steve, but this movie still seems to slide off my brain like butter on teflon. I suspect it's because it's the talkiest of Argento's early works (I've seen Cat O'Nine Tails but I don't remember much about it, and I've never seen Four Flies On Grey Velvet). (Another aside: Man, I love giallo titles.) There are lots of interrogative scenes, going through the plot inch by inch, and no pretty Christmas colors to hold me. It's funny; it seems like the normal journey of a film director would be to start with wild, irrational, incoherent, indulgent films, and then slowly harden his/her style, using their craft to create films that are slick and efficient, but Argento (at least through the 70s), went the opposite route.

However, a lot of Argento stylistic trademarks begin here, as well: the protagonist as foreigner in a strange land; the half-remembered clue to the killer's identity; the use of art, as a backdrop, as a clue, as a weapon; and the use of gender as a smoke-screen. What seems to be missing is the free roaming camera that gives his best work an oneiric quality.

(Hey, Vittorio Storaro, winner of 3 Academy Awards for cinematography: How did Argento convince you to do a shot where we can clearly see the cameraman reflected in the glass?)

Another thing I noticed (or at least, finally paid attention to) this time around was the obvious Hitchcock influence. There's the scene where are hero loses his yellow-jacketed assailant in a crowd full of similarly-attired men (which I'm sure Hitchcock used, but I can't think where -- was it The Man Who Knew Too Much?). Then there's a climactic guy-hanging-by-fingertips scene (which we've scene Hitchcock use countless times), made more amusing by the fact that the guy holding on to dear life looks a lot like Anthony Perkins, c. The Black Hole. Finally, the coda at the end is just like that in Psycho, with a psychiatrist explaining (uncovincingly, but I'd say unconvincing rationalizations are a genre trope) the killer's dementia. Hilariously, though, this bit is delivered in a TV studio, to be broadcast into millions of Italian homes. That's right, folks, the killer in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage gave birth to the 21st Century.

Posted by kza at 12:46 PM | Comments (3)

February 05, 2004

Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento) 88

(Correction: Fourth viewing, never seen in a theater)

This is where Argento comes into his own, yet it's also where he drops the pretense of giving a damn about story, instead focusing on colored lights, tracking shots, wild wallpaper, and of course, horrible, painful deaths. What little plot there is could fill an hour on TV; here, though, it's extended to 98 minutes. Naturally, there's some dry spells, especially for about 25 minutes after the first set-piece. Yes, this portion sets up the "Woman Held Captive By Conspiracy" plot, but clearly, Argento isn't interested. (If you like that kind of story--and I'll admit, I do--try either the classic Rosemary's Baby or the Mary Steenburgen vehicle Dead of Winter.) The film also features the World's Phoniest Bat, which makes the flying bug in Phantasm look like the Facehugger.

But there's a reason this film is beloved by horror buffs, and the reasons are squashed into the back 30 minutes. There's the attack on the blind man (a great sequence starring two Greek-style buildings), Sara's journey into the attic (culminating in one of the great sick jokes of horror cinema), and of course, the end, a masterful use of tracking camera, sound (those voices!), and editing. It's one of the tensest and scariest climaxes in horror history, and makes the tedious parts worth sitting through.

Posted by kza at 11:19 AM | Comments (6)

February 04, 2004

project greenlight 3

Hey loyal readers (all, uh, three of you):

I had every intention of posting a new entry every day this week. In fact, that's still possible. But there's a good chance I'll be silent for the next couple weeks.

See, this little ol' thing called Project Greenlight 3 has reared its ugly head, and although I managed to resist temptation the first two times, I've finally succumbed. Unfortunately for me, the screenplay deadline is Feb. 28, leaving me less than 24 days to write a script from nothing.

Now, I'm not a total newbie when it comes to screenwriting. I've been screenwriting with serious intent (is that a crime?) for about four years now. In 2002, one of my scripts, Saint Callistus, won second place in the Underexposed Screenwriting Contest, and put a thousand smackeroos in my pocket. (Okay, so maybe that's when I got serious about it.)

Since then, I've had a number of scripts in development ("in development" here meaning "notes and half completed .fdr files"). So you'd think, when PG3 came around, I'd have a script at least partially ready to freshen up and send in. Well, the new owners of PG3 (Bravo) have decided that the screenplay must be either a horror or thriller piece. Of course, I don't have anything like that ready, which is ironic, since horror is my favorite genre.

So now I'm going to try and create something decent in the next 24 days. I don't know if it's feasible, really; it usually takes me 4-6 months to produce a draft. But (supposedly) Soderbergh wrote sex, lies, and videotape in a week, and that Dawson's Creek guy wrote Scream in 3 days, so who knows? (Of course, they never tell you how shitty those initial drafts were.)

24 days. It'll kinda be like that Kiefer Sutherland show, only with fewer bear traps and mountain lions.

Wish me luck. Or at least wish me something.

Posted by kza at 08:23 PM | Comments (4)

February 03, 2004

The Station Agent (2003, Thomas McCarthy) 60

Peter Dinklage has chaRAZma. I already knew this, though, before seeing his performance in the lead role of The Station Agent. I saw Dinklage for the first time on The Daily Show, of all things, and it was clear from his brief interview that this shy, modest guy was a major talent. Then I saw him in Elf, and his one hilarious scene proved it. (Admittedly, it isn't much of a scene, but it's the deadpan earnestness of his character that puts it over the top.)

So I guess I had some high expectations for The Station Agent, and they were more or less met. Dinklage, as expected, is great, playing an ordinary man whom no one will treat as ordinary. He gets to show off his range (in a subdued kind of way), and holds the film together -- a necessary feat, as he's in nearly every scene.

But it's not an exciting film. Not that it's supposed to be, of course; it's a quiet indie, about the developing friendship between three people. It's the kind of movie that when a certain character smiles, it's a triumph. But there's a kind of crowd-pleasing quirkiness/cuteness at work here that seeps in like a water stain, damaging (but not wrecking) the interesting character study it's setting up. Here I'm thinking: Patricia Clarkson's first and second encounter with Dinklage; the coffee truck that just happens to be parked in front of the Dinklage's new residence (seems like an awful place to attract customers); the residence itself, an old train station that looks rotted yet is still all ready for someone to move in. It's like McCarthy didn't trust these characters to be interesting in and of themselves.

That's a shame, because Dinklage, Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale are excellent, needing only a couch to bring these people to life. I especially want to highlight Cannavale as coffee vendor Joe, playing a very real "type" (call it the loquacious stoner frat boy) that could have been broad and annoying, but Cannavale does it with gentleness and humor.

So, good, but ultimately underwhelming. Hopefully, Peter Dinklage will go on to bigger and better things now. (If he wasn't a dwarf, he'd no doubt put Colin Farrell Inc. out of business). To borrow a phrase from Mike D'Angelo's review, pituitary discrimination must stop.

Posted by kza at 11:31 PM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2004

Tokyo Godfathers (2004, Satoshi Kon) 60

I've never seen any other version of this oft-filmed story (about three outcasts who try to return a baby to her mother), but I'm not in any hurry after seeing this anime. Not that it's bad, but I have trouble imagining any version that doesn't succumb to sentimentality; and this version has homeless people as its protagonists as opposed to cowboys. Maybe I'm just a little wary of babies.

Kon is no Miyazaki, but perhaps that's the point. The opening minutes are jarring: we find our protagonists at Christmas concert for the homeless, sitting amidst a sea of identical, weary faces, that look like flat, cardboard cut-outs. Our heroes seem to be the only ones with life (even compared to child singers regaling them with carols), but they too move with the traditional anime stutter, thumbing its nose at the relative smoothness we expect from Miyazaki. There's a grittiness, a griminess on display here, something I associate with, say, Bakshi, not anime.

Once the godfathers move out into the winter Tokyo landscape, the true strength of the film is on display. The Tokyo here is incredibly detailed: looming apartment buildings, power-line cluttered skies, alleys filled with white trash bags. While most movies focus on their characters to the exclusion of the world around them, the Kon's Tokyo feels completely alive and lived-in, like we could crane up into one of those apartments and witness another drama altogether. The city becomes another character, and it joins other works (namely, Jacque Tati's Playtime and Grand Theft Auto III) that express the awesomeness (in the traditional sense of the word) of the archetypal Big City.

I could be generous and forgive the many coincidences as the work of the city-character; but I won't. The story is determined within an inch of its life, working overtime to make sure every loose end is tied up. Each character has some deep and profound connection to the baby (It's the daughter I lost! It's the daughter I can't have! It's my little kitty!) and each character arc is carefully traversed, like a man looking for where he dropped his keys. It feels like a Hollywood movie from the 80s, like, I don't know, Beverly Hills Cop, where the filmmakers try to please everyone by jumping from comedy to drama to action and back again. It slowly but surely saps the grit out of the opening minutes, and while I think I understand the purpose (to restore hope in the world of the characters, where hope is a rare commodity), I think it goes too far.

Posted by kza at 02:50 PM