Thursday, January 31, 2008

Look Ma, no...

Here's a thought - what would happen if you ran the Oscars without writers?

Ask the celebrities to stand up, read the nominees' names, watch the clips, and announce the winner. Oops, announce "to whom the Oscar goes." (They don't announce the "winner" anymore, dontcha know?)

It's just a thought.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Silver lining, part 3

United Hollywood, an unofficial site founded by a group of WGA strike captains, is running its first (go figure) annual short film contest - looking for, and I quote, videos on how to get the Moguls to make a fair deal.

This is one of the entries.

Please, moguls, let these people back to work! Please?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The silver lining, part 2

The Writers' Strike stinks. On multiple levels - that the conglomerates are being so mule-headed. That negotiations seem to be so troubled. That so much of the media is ridiculously biased toward the gigantuan (my word) corporations - granted, that's who owns them, but can't they even pretend to have some impartial reporting?

And, purely as an entersumer (again, my word), that there is NOTHING TO WATCH.

On the other hand, there is a silver lining, albeit a small one, and that is that, lucky for us, writers can't seem to help themselves from writing. And creators can't seem to help themselves from creating.

So we get the Why We Write series (on which I've posted before) and the Speechless series - in which actors, writers and directors unite to create mini-films about the world without writers.

Some are better than others, but isn't that true across the board? See all the mini-films on brightcove (hi-def) or on youtube.

The bully in the fruit bowl

Did you ever notice that sometimes some of the fruit in that bowl of fruit in your kitchen inexplicably goes super rotten, super fast?

First off, if you actually have a bowl of fruit in your kitchen - kudos to you. It's one of those healthy life-style things I do, and then I don't do, and then I do again... you know how it goes.
These days, I'm more likely to have a bowl of fruit than not... but I digress.

Back to my point - turns out, see, that not all fruit plays nicely together in the sandbox, or, in this case, the bowl.

Some fruit emits this gas, ethylene (don't ask my any more than that, that's all I know - I don't know why, and I don't know what it is, all I know is - some fruit just emits the stuff); and other fruit, which doesn't emit this gas, is sensitive to it. Basically, some fruit just likes to bully some of your other fruit.

And the sensitive fruit doesn't really put up a fight, it just surrenders - so your apples get mushy and mealy, your potatoes go soft - all in all, things just get ugly. If, however, you turn your single bowl of fruit into two... well then, all is right with the world. Or at least with your healthy little part of it that you're keeping on your kitchen counter. And isn't that nice?

The list (courtesy Real Simple)
The bullies
The sensitive
Honeydew melonsCucumbers
MangoesGreen beans
NectarinesLettuce and other greens


Monday, January 28, 2008

All roads lead back to Veronica

Okay, so after the "24" marathon came the Veronica Mars marathon... by the way, when it comes to first seasons, VM really takes the cake. Wow! (This is a slight digression from my point, but I'm sure you're used to that by now.) It is true that the second and third seasons aren't as good, especially since they didn't even bother to really have a finale for the third. But I gotta tell you, Veronica's character goes down in the annals as one of the best.

Anyway, back to my you-see-a-name-and-then-you-see-it-everywhere point... a) did you hear the principal call out "John Enbom" right before he called Wallace Fennel's name during Veronica's graduation in the season finale of Season 2? (and he was also mentioned as one of the 09'ers at the very beginning of the very first episode?) Well, here is that point (I always do get there), John Enbom was writer extraordinaire for the show and b) did you know that Mr. Enbom has now moved on to produce "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (which is not as good as it could be but definitely better than it should be).

Then there's John Kretchmer, whose name popped up under "directed by" on many a VM episode. Well, he's moved on to direct episodes of October Road, which is, sadly, just as same-old-same-old as you think it would be. Though, in the dearth of fresh television left behind in the wake of the writers' strike, I admit I have been watching. Which once again paid off in that "really? he did?" kind of way last week when I saw that the episode was directed by David Paymer, an actor who was great as a mob boss in "Line of Fire" (remember that one? It didn't last long, but Paymer was me-ee-an!) and who shows up periodically on TV (Ghost Whisperer, Brothers & Sisters, Entourage...).

But meanwhile, the small world I'm really waiting for? Rob Thomas' next TV effort - supposedly called "Party Down" and supposedly about actors in LA who accidentally start a catering company instead. And listed on the writer roster, John Enbom (if you've been paying attention, this name will ring a bell), Dan Etheridge (also from VM), and - yup - here we go round the may pole - Paul Rudd. You know, Paul Rudd? From Clueless?

But don't get me started.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Will every Q have its A?

Why don't you have to dial 1 before the area code on cell phones?

Why do we still say "dial the phone"? And why don't cell phones have dial tones? (maybe because they don't have dials? Which leads me back to... well, you know...)

Why aren't sweetbreads called organs from baby animals, instead of something that sort of makes you want to consider eating them?

Why is it the whole 9 yards, and not 10 or 8 yards?

Why does radio have stations and TV have channels?

Why can't you TiVo the music channels on TV?

Why don't "dearth" and "hearth" rhyme?

Why does no one seem to be able to design cool looking computers and stuff except one, single, solitary company in Cupertino?

Why do we say "pre-heat" the oven, when we're really just heating it?

Note: For more of the same, don't miss David Pogue's great list of "imponderables" - and the many answers it inspired.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who did what?

The headline in today's New York Times: "Surprising Few, Italy’s Government Collapses"

And the picture that went with it:

I know what you're thinking.

Toto, I don't think we're in... Los Angeles?

The following is based on a true story. Everything you read happened exactly that way.

During "Ugly Betty" earlier tonight, ABC7 in Los Angeles displayed a weather alert that there was a tornado warning until 9:45pm.

Below this alert was the following crawler:

"A tornado warning has been issued for the following counties: Los Angeles County until 9:45pm. At 8:36pm National Weather Service Doppler Radar indicated a severe thunderstorm with rotation capable of producing a tornado. The cell was located 5 miles south of Malibu moving North Northeast at 25mph. It should affect Malibu and Pacific Palisades before 9:00pm. If in mobile homes or vehicles evacuate them and get inside a substantial shelter. If no shelter is available lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands. Stay tuned to ABC7 for the latest weather information from eyewitness news."

So where to start? That there's a tornado watch in LA? That's just weird. But not funny. Except maybe in an Inconvenient Truth, eerie "uh oh, now we've done it" kind of way. And what about the news that the cell was located south of Malibu? The "cell"? What does that even mean? Tornadoes are the latest terrorist tactic? Quick, call CTU! Don't worry, Jack Bauer is on the case!

And if Jack doesn't save you, well then, "Get in the nearest ditch and cover your head with your hands"? Now that's funny. Especially when the next instruction is "Stay tuned to ABC7." Stay tuned? In the ditch? With what, the tin foil cap I'm wearing for protection?

Oh, and by the way, ABC, how many viewers do you think you have watching in their vehicles?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Have you ever wondered...

Why "above par" means good and "below par" means poor, when the goal is to shoot under par on the golf course?

Turns out, "above par" and "below par" have nothing, I mean nada, zero, zilch, to do with golf...nope, friends (we are friends by now, aren't we?), these confusing phrases are financial in their provenance.

Par is the face-value of a financial instrument (stock certificate, bond, etc.) . If such instrument trades or is valued "above par," well, it's worth more than it says it is - you know, on its face. And if someone is performing above par, well, then he's, you know, exceeding expectations. And "below par" is, yup, the opposite.

So now you know.

It all starts with The Cutting Edge

You know that thing - where you learn a new word, and all of a sudden it's everywhere? In the newspaper the next day, in the book you started to read a month ago and only just remembered you hadn't finished? Well, this isn't really like that, but it sort of is...

I was watching The Cutting Edge on TV about a week ago (admittedly for the 27th time, give or take), late, late at night and I watched all the way through the closing credits. I mean ALL the way through, past the cast, and the makeup, and the costumers... and all of a sudden I sat up, alert, ears quivering, eyes wide, "camera operator.... Jon Cassar. Jon Cassar?"

Weeks of "24" series marathon-watching with my erstwhile roommate and friend (erstwhile being her word choice, mind you) paid off in an instant. "Isn't Jon Cassar a producer on 24?" I asked myself. Quick - to the internet! Lo and behold, yes... he is. But before that, friends, he worked on The Cutting Edge, a mighty fine entry on his resume, IMHO (that would be "in my humble opinion" in text or im slang if you're having trouble keeping up).

Now, to add further to the luster of The Cutting Edge (not for me, but for those uninitiated few out there), let's also take a moment to consider that its screenwriter, Tony Gilroy, went on to write, or co-write, Dolores Claiborne, all three of the Bourne trilogy movies, and, most recently, Michael Clayton (also his directing debut, fyi).

This, though, was just the beginning of that thing, the now-that-I-know-the-name-I-see-it-everywhere thing? Stay tuned folks, because it's just starting to get interesting...

Oh, and by the way? Paul Michael Glaser (you remember him, don't you? He was Starsky. Or maybe he was Hutch... anyway, he was one of them) directed The Cutting Edge. Yeah. He did.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Loaves for fishes?

This you probably do know about me - I'm a bit of a geek. As such, I subscribe to a variety of daily, geeky nuggets... from pointers to youtube videos of old Sesame Street segments set to the music of Phillip Glass (I kid you not - check it out here - it's pretty cool), to a link to a site that somehow makes the process of choosing for whom you're going to vote seem awfully similar to making hot dogs.

In one of my WOTD (word of the day) emails today, I read this. It's not the word so much - it's the etymology.

Narthex (n). Of all church architectural terms, this one is perhaps the most mysterious in origin: it denotes a portico at the Western end of a church, but it comes from a Greek word meaning "giant fennel." Etymologists speculate about how it got from one meaning to the other, but none of the stories seem very convincing.

Come on. Giant fennel? You can't make that up.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rube Goldberg was Dutch?

You may not know this, but I was born in Holland. It's just one of the odd things you wouldn't expect to be true of me. But there you have's both true and odd.

So I feel an odd (what else?) sort of pride in this site my dad sent to me - it's the product page of the Dutch department store, HEMA, which was founded over 80 years ago, according to this picture. Once you get to the page, just watch.

(Note - the page is in Dutch, which I can't read. And you can't buy anything on it. Then again, the page is in Dutch, so what do I know?)

(Second note - I have no idea whether or not Rube Goldberg was Dutch. I doubt it.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Let me tell you a story

Funny thing I was reading the other day - about a pair of twins, separated at birth and adopted, who later in life fell in love and got married. Now, the writer who mentioned this says she was stopped by the "separated at birth" part, thinking the twins had been conjoined and surgically separated (not the case).

I was struck by the thought that this, this is where Nip/Tuck episodes are born. Can't you see it now? All you need are a few more layers of surreal irony.

Twin girls, born 25 years ago, separated at birth. One raised in New York City, attending private school, going to summer camp, living the life of privilege. She grows up, goes to college and moves to the west coast, where she tries her hand at acting. The other girl ends up in the Midwest on a struggling farm, the youngest in a family of strapping boys. She spends her days doing chores and watching her father drink himself to an early grave as the farm slowly fails. Shortly after her 18th birthday, the girl from Nebraska runs away from home, undergoes a sex-change operation and moves to Los Angeles, where she takes a job working for a small but successful stunt company. While on the set of a soda commercial, the now "he" meets and falls in love with the perfect girl. Who just happens to be her long-lost sister.

Seriously, is this not tailor-made for Fox TV?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

These are great, but when the love doesn't last...

15 favorite movie declarations of love... which might just precede (or succeed) 10 favorite rejection and break-up lines (I was aiming for 15, but I got busy):

  1. Martin Tweed - who is, in American Dreamz the Simon Cowell we all think Simon Cowell should be - responds to his girlfriend's announcement that she's leaving him with "you make me feel like being a better person and I'm not a better person. I'm me." Exactly.

  2. Don't you love it when you get to turn the tables? Elle does it with relish in Legally Blonde: "If I'm going to have my own law firm by the time I'm 30, I need a boyfriend who's not such a complete bonehead."

  3. Michael Douglas sure has a way with a line. Remember this from Romancing the Stone? "What did you do, wake up this morning and say, 'Today, I'm going to ruin a man's life?' "

  4. This list wouldn't be complete without at least one reference to The Cutting Edge: "Then one night, you get drunk, and I'm supposed to roll over and thank my lucky stars? Sorry, I don't downshift that fast!"

  5. You gotta love it when you can't put yourself down enough. In My Best Friend's Wedding, Julia Roberts' character says "I'm pond scum. Well, lower actually. I'm like the fungus that feeds on pond scum." Not good enough for Dermot Mulroney, who comes back with "Lower. The pus that infects the mucus that cruds up the fungus that feeds on the pond scum." Ouch.

  6. It's not easy breaking up with a Hall of Famer Major League Big Time Pitcher, who happens to look a lot like Kevin Costner, but Kelly Preston gives it her best shot in For Love of the Game: "I need a regular guy. Not the guy in the Old Spice commercials."

  7. In Philadelphia Story, Tracy Lord happily reminds her ex-husband, "I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon."

  8. Ready to tell someone it's, um, time to depart? Take a cue from Holly Golightly: "It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I'll give you two."

  9. May no man ever say to me what Robert Redford says to Babs in The Way We Were, "You think you're easy? Compared to what, the Hundred Years' War?"

  10. Come on, this one's obvious. Has anyone said it better than Rhett to Scarlett? "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Friday, January 11, 2008

And then you've got one like this

I saw Atonement the other night, another movie adapted from a book. You may know how I feel about the movie they're calling I am Legend (if you don't, suffice it to say - not good). The adaptation of Atonement, however, is, to quote Goldilocks, "just right."
The movie is beautiful, set in the British country-side that is pastoral and genteel in the way only grand houses of that era can be. It is populated by beautiful people who dress for dinner, who speak with clipped accents, who hide unspeakable behavior beneath the cloak of their clothes and their syllables and their rituals.
There is meat to this movie. A story that rivets you. Performances that mesmerize you. Moments that stay with you. This is due in large part to the director's request that the screenwriter, Christopher Hampton, rewrite his original adaptation. His first iteration apparently unwound the story into a straight line, abandoning Ian McEwan's kaleidoscopic perspective that defines the novel.
Content is about context.
Someone once told me the following story - a man gets on the subway with his three small children and sits down. His kids, meantime, run riot through the car, swinging on the poles, shouting, racing from one end to the other, bumping into passengers. The woman sitting next to the man steams silently, wondering what on earth is wrong with him? Why can't he control his kids? How can he just sit there? Suddenly, the man turns to her, his shoulders sagging, looking unbearably weary. "I know I should say something to them, make them sit and be quiet. But we just left the hospital where their mom died today from cancer. I just can't bring myself to scold them."
Content is about context.
Ian McEwan's reciprocating narrative makes that point so eloquently in his book, and Hampton and Joe Wright, the director, illuminate that message beautifully on-screen. The book was tailor-made for Hollywood, from the love story that is at its heart, to its nearly surgical dissection of people - their motives, their actions, their reactions - to its two endings. There is the sensible ending, and there is the ending that Hollywood demands. Even then, the point is clear - Hollywood demands what the audience wants. And the audience wants wrongs to be righted. Atonement to be made.
Content is about context.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

If you didn't catch it there, catch it here

I first read about Why We Write on Nikki Fink's blog, which, if you have even a passing interest in the entertainment industry, is a must read. I don't care if you hate blogs, if you don't have time to pee, if you know it all, if you already read the trades, I don't even care if you don't know how to read - read her (and, okay, I do care if you don't know how to read, but that's material for another day - or post). Anyway, back to my point - Why We Write:

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent - and not so prominent - TV and Film writers… and by people like you: writers and those who hope someday to call themselves writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.

I haven't read all the essays, but the ones I have read... well, let me put it this way: at the same time I wanted to write about them, I also wanted to put down my pen (fold up my laptop?) in defeat, because, man, those guys can WRITE.

I read Damon Lindelof's today (Co-Creator and Executive Producer of Lost) - seriously, the Dual Plume Protocol? And can you email someone in space? That's a damn good question.

I remember when my imagination ran that way, like an unstoppable train careening down the tracks, passing possibility, whizzing by plausibility, only slowing down when glimpses of the improbable were just ahead.

Like Greg Berlanti (Executive Producer of Dirty Sexy Money and Brothers and Sisters) said in his great essay - the worst was when he stopped writing. I concur - the worst was when life seemed to conspire to sit on my imagination and flatten it into a whoopee cushion with no whoop left, while I "got a job." Without getting maudlin (after all, who wants to read a maudlin blog?), let's just say, life is better when you're writing. For sure, my life is better when I'm writing.

So, although these writers are mind-bogglingly intimidating, they are also quite inspiring. So... thanks.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Oops - did they really?

As I was writing up my non-review of "I am Legend," I stumbled upon, in that way of happy accidents for which there is no better place than the wonderful world wide web (why stop at three ws?), a site showing the series of remarkable print ads for Blackglama fur.

I remember these ads vividly from my childhood. And they worked, at least on me. I thought a Blackglama was the epitome of glamour.
But what stopped me in my tracks was the caption on this one - how could they? Or worse, do you think they really didn't know any better?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Legend, I am Not

Sorry. Really, I am. I love a good Will Smith movie as much as, no, probably more than, the next guy. And I'll go so far as to say that he was the best thing in this movie. He was good. Fun to watch in that Will Smith wise-ass way of his, and also good in a not-being-a-wise-ass way.
But this is not about damning with faint praise.
This is about the book.
Yeah. You heard me. The BOOK.
Here's the thing - if they had made the movie and called it something else, I may have really enjoyed it. I don't know. As my mom says - woulda, coulda, shoulda. They didn't and so here we are.
To be honest - this is not really a review of the movie itself, so if you're hoping for that, check out the Rotten Tomatoes page on the movie. This is a review of how the movie was, or was not, an adaptation of the book.
They could not have more missed the point of the book if they had dropped it on the floor behind them and then run a marathon in the other direction.

"I Am Legend." Indeed. And in the mythology that informs our world, the vampire is legend. The vampire lexicon is legendary. The immortality and the oxymoronic vulnerability. The susceptibility to garlic (or related allium compounds), to silver, to the cross. The blood-thirst. The genesis. All this comprises the vampiric legend.
Richard Matheson, author, takes this legend and turns it on its head. In a grand twist on the "last man standing" idiom, he spins the tale of Robert Neville, the last human fighting to survive in a world now run, and run over, by vampires.

(was that enough warning to stop reading?)

And when, ultimately, Neville realizes that he will not survive, he understands that he has become legend. The very fact (or myth) of him, the human, is the legend that will, from his demise on, inform the vampire's world. With apologies, or thanks, to Blackglama, the novella asks What becomes a legend most? Matheson takes on this challenge, and subverts it. Robert Neville isn't a legend because he saves the human race - he is a legend because he was the human race.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie. It's just that it seems to me that if you're going to adapt a book to the screen, you have some responsibility to the source material. And trust me, it's not like Matheson hid the climax of this story. Could it get any clearer...

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain.
A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.