Monday, July 30, 2007

Still One More Reason to Love Slate V

I've listened to Emily Bazelon the Slate Political Gabfest, and always thought she added something insightful to topics like Supreme Court rulings and parenting (which are not as different as you may think).

There is a bit of a shock now I know what she looks like (which is not how she sounds at all). Still it is good see her stretch into the role of video reporter instead of merely a name on an article or a voice on a podcast. Now all she needs to learn is to shut her office door before filming.

Yet Another Reason Why Slate V is Such a Good Website

Slate V has single-handedly made me want to watch commercials instead of throwing empty beer bottles at my television.

Is that really a good thing?

What I'll Be Doing on the Flight Home

My job is one that requires me to be on airplanes a lot.

Airplanes can be exciting, but after a certain point, they become like bus trips, only shorter and without the crazies.

I usually watch movies on my laptop when I'm on the plane, but this week I'm going to try the Simply Scripts One Week Challenge in one airplane trip.

The rules are simple - they give you a genre (in this case, Thriller) and a setting (in this case, an old house boat) and give you a week to submit a 15-page or less script.

Who knows what will happen next? Maybe I will come up with a sequel to Haunted Boat.

More PURE AWESOMENESS from the San Diego Comic Convention

How Fast is the Flash?

The Flash is so fast he can be here...

Then here...

Then leaves you in the dust...

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be Chewbacca. So I have this special affinity with this kid who seems to contain more happiness than can possibly fit inside his little frame.

Why I Don’t Publish Comics for a Living

There is an old joke that permeates a wide variety of professions. “How do you get a millionaire comic book creator? Give ‘em two million seed money!” I’ve also heard the joke made in reference to folk musicians, screenwriters, and Elvis impersonators.

I daydream about being a comic book publisher. However, because I do not have warehouses full of money to flush down the toilet, it will never happen. But still the daydreams still persist.

When I read Arrows of Desire, there was a section of the book where they included Michael Powell’s idea for a television anthology series where he paired different directors with different screenwriters. That section of the book started the ol’ brain churning, thinking of comic book projects I would like to coordinate/publish.

Excluding original projects (I’m saving those for another blog post), here is a list of liscenced property projects that I, as a publisher, would fund.

One Saliva Bubble – This unfilmed David Lynch/Mark Frost script could be adapted by either Jim Woodring (of Jim Woodring comics), Nicholas Gurewitch (of the Perry Bible Fellowship) or a collaboration of the two.

Ronnie Rocket – Another unfilmed David Lynch script (originally going to be his follow up to The Elephant Man), this time adapted by Duncan Fegredo. Imagine the colors.

Greed – One of the most lamentable lost films of all time. Eric von Stroheim made a ten hour film adaptation from McTeague, which was then taken from him, edited down to two hours without his permission, and then intentionally burned. So no one, except a few studio heads, every got to see the finished product before it was taken away. The complete screenplay and production notes are available, so it would be easy (and pretty nifty) to hire Jason Lutes to adapt the whole shebang into an 1,000 page comic book?

Brave New World – The classic Aldus Huxley novel should be adapted manga style by Paul Pope. Can you imagine the first chapter, describing how in the future babies are made in factories, would look like as a 100-page Paul Pope visual extravaganza? Now think of the entire book done that way.

Yes, in one blog post, I have successfully reduced your two million dollars to half of what it once was.

Why I Love the San Diego Comic Convention

The San Diego Comic Convention just ended. I have not been to the San Diego Comic Convention ever since I got married. Sometimes I miss it, but I like being married a whole lot more, so it all works out in the end.

You see, my wife doesn't like the full-on non-stop sensory overload of the event. “We can still go to San Diego,” she often tells me. “But you go have to go the convention part alone while I lounge on the beach by the Hotel Coronado, writing my next book.” For whatever reason, I haven't been able to muster up the bank account to fund a trip like this.

But, thanks to the power of the internet, I vicariously visit the convention every year. And I can get the taste of that makes the event special. What I like about it is that it creates this little bubble where misfits are suddenly cool.

Take this couple for example.

If they showed up at the company Christmas party in these outfits, do you think Dr. Strange would get that promotion? No way! But thanks to the power of the San Diego Comic Convention, Dr. Strange is so cool, innocent bystanders are thiiiis close to tackling him and wrestling his awesomeness away from him.

Rock on, Dr. Strange! You make me happy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Talk about a creative challenge...

I just got this in my Inbox. For those of you who don't know, Mesquite, TX is the subject of many a joke in these parts. I'm thinking of writing a play with these restrictions just to see if I can do it. I will call it, "Le Péquenaud de Mélancolie" which is French for "The Melancholy Redneck."

Submission of Original Scripts

Mesquite Community Theatre is looking for a few good plays! While we will continue to produce high-quality theatre from the current wide pool of outstanding dramas and comedies, we would like to expand our repertoire, as well as our community's interest, by soliciting new, original works. It is our desire to then present these original works as staged readings, and possibly consider them for inclusion in upcoming seasons.

To be considered, submissions must be completed, full-length written scripts that have NOT been performed in front of a paying audience. If the work has had a previous staged reading, it is still eligible. Any type of script, comedy or drama, musical, youth play, etc., may be submitted. When submitting, please include the following:

  • Short synopsis of your play, including plot and character requirements.
  • This should include actors needed, ages and descriptions.
  • Basic concept for staging, set and costume requirements/suggestions.
  • Estimated length of performance.
  • Complete contact information: name, address, email, phone numbers and a brief resume/bio.

Please keep in mind that while MCT strives to keep offensive, controversial material to a minimum for the consideration of our audience, we will not refuse material that may contain questionable subject matter, since it is also our goal to present current, interesting material as well.

This is an open call, so there is no deadline. We will accept scripts at any time. Please send your material to Mesquite Community Theatre, ATTN: Artistic Committee, P.O. Box 870431, Mesquite, TX 75149. If you have any questions, you may contact us at, or call 972-216-8126. We are truly excited and anxious about this new venture! We hope you are, too!! Let's hear from you, playwrights!!! We mean YOU!!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

THIS is why you should read Amazon customer reviews of Transformers toys

Click the image for more detail.

Because The World Needs More Blogs

I've started a new blog called WTF DVDs. Five times a week, I will post an image of a strange and frightening DVD, make some snarky comment about the concept behind the DVD, and hope enough people click the Amazon and Google Ad links so I can retire a millionaire.

So I finished the last Potter book and felt the need to ramble about it

I’m one of those reluctant fans, motivated to read more out of my interest in pop culture than actual love of the Potter books. Actually, I first picked up the series out of intense peer pressure. At the time, I was at a business that employed a lot of working mothers – all of whom were under the impression that talking about Harry Potter for half the business day made them better parents - better parents who “had to send their kids away to Nana’s for the weekend” every time a new Potter book hit the stands.

So, you might see my anti-Potter bias going into the series.

My main complaint about the series as a whole is not much a complaint about the books themselves but more on the weight popular culture has given to them. My complaint is this – THEY ARE CHILDREN’S BOOKS. I don’t care if they are over 600 pages, they are still kid’s books and are not challenging and interesting the way good literature is supposed to be. And this is coming from a guy who will go on for hours about the artistic merit of comic books.

My not-so-secret belief is that the books are successful because people can read them in an afternoon. Can you normally plow through a 500+ page monster that weighs 8 pounds in a few hours? Of course not, which is why the Potter books are so special. (This is also my not-secret-belief behind the popularity of manga – where else can you read a 3,000 page book in less than an hour?)

Anyway, I have problems with the series as a whole – the pacing, the themes, the utter lack of sense, but I will go through the series book by book and discuss some high-level issues I have. And, no, I will not post any spoilers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
This one is most obviously a children’s book. If I were eight, I would love it. As an adult, I think of it as episodic and not very exciting. The magic presented (like the Mirror of Erised) is often a painfully easy and obvious metaphor, and the obstacles Harry has to go through to get the stone seem too much like they came out of a Fun Time Activity Pack.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This one actually made me angry in several places, because of the most annoying character, ever, Dobby. Every time he appears on the page, I want to throw the book across the room. If you are going to write a book where the theme is tolerance and redemption through races, it might help if you didn’t rely so heavily on old, awkward, painful racial stereotypes. Yes, I know all the bankers are goblins, but they are hook-nosed and greedy. Yes, I know the slaves are elves, but do you have to make them diminutive and dark-skinned, and base so much comic relief around how they are stupid?

And, if you are going to develop a storyline about how Wizards and Muggles should live in peace, why would you portray the only Muggle family – the Dursleys – as Roald Dahl caricatures of wickedness and evil?

This was also when I realized that there is not going to be any rhyme or reason to the books. The book is written like an Agatha Christie mystery, filled with clues and investigations and postulations. But the climax of the book just comes out of nowhere, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is excused because - come on – it is magic!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Having had my will broken by the previous book, and having given up trying to find out the ending of the book really put me in a state of mind where I could just enjoy the story, and, you know what? It worked!

This is my favorite book of the series. I think here is where Rowling truly finds her voice and knocks it out of the park. The characters really come to life and the story is a lot of fun. At this point, I really enjoyed the climax of “The Harry Potter Trilogy” and had some hope for the rest of the series.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Aaaand we go from the best book in the series to the worst book in the series. Having successfully mastered the art of writing really great children’s fiction, Rowling challenges herself by trying to write a more “adult” novel. The result is an awkward, adolescent book that is as misshapen and pimply as the main character’s peers.

Rowling’s pacing is really awful throughout, with overblown passages of nothing followed by too brief bits of action.

This is where the entire “school year as a dramatic arc” approach to these stories really hampers their progress and development. In every book, the story grinds to a halt right in the middle so all the characters can have a Christmas Holiday. Rather than letting the action flow from one event to another, the action is forced into a structure that does not support it.

Once again, climax of the book comes out of nowhere and can’t be predicted.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This book is the “Christmas Holiday” of the series. Rowling has always said the series was going to be seven books long. I think it would have worked better as a five book series, with all the first two books combined into a single book, the third book remaining untouched as the second book, and the fourth through seventh books reduced to three books.

If Reader’s Digest condensed books get a hold of the Potter series, I think this book will suffer the most.

In all honesty, I can’t remember very much about this book. It was a lot of talking without saying much culminating in an ending that seemed oddly rushed.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
They say, “show, don’t tell” in writer’s classes, but the Potter series suffers when it “tells” one thing and “shows” something else. The series is supposed to be about whether Wizards should rule over Muggles. So you have a lot of rhetoric about how Muggles people, too, and we should all be equal and hold hands and love each other, but when you see scenes with Potter and the Dursleys, you can really see Voldemort’s point.

This is where I liken the Harry Potter books to the DaVinci Code. What I didn’t like about the DaVinci code was the fact that it told you that all these characters were geniuses (as much as a Harvard professor in “symbology” and forensic pathologist can be), but then the rest of the book consisted of all the characters acting about as smart as a box of rocks. Go through and count the “I don’t understands” and the “Let me explains” in the book and you will see my point. There were several parts of the book where I could pat myself on the back for being smarter than a Harvard Symbologist, just like there were several parts of the Potter series where I could pat myself for being less of a snob than the protagonist.

That little rant has nothing to do with the book, really, but by this point, I really wanted the series just to be over and done with.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Once again, my main problems with this book are pacing and theme. There is a portion in the middle that just slogs along. It is almost if Harry Potter has writer’s block – he spends literally pages wondering what he is going to do next.

Having said all of that, I was pretty amazed how Rowling could pull it out of the fire at the last minute. Dobby shows up and, to my surprise, is not annoying! Most of the characters, or more importantly, the caricatures, are given a bit of redemption and behavior that does not match what their two-dimensional previous appearances might suggest.

What I did not was that there were not one, but two chapters of pure exposition at the end of the book. Most of the books end with Dumbledore explaining everything, but I prefer my books with exposition at the beginning, not the end. It is like the opera Sigfried - Sigfried escapes a troll, kills a dragon, and walks through a wall of fire, wakes up the sleeping woman only to get... a lecture. I am glad I am not Sigfried, because I would have just walked off.

Parting Thoughts
Harry is one of the most inert heroes in children’s literature – he doesn’t really take a proactive role until the Order of the Phoenix book. Most of the action happens around him and to him instead of him struggling and working hard to get from point A to point B. It was difficult to relate to him because I was not born famous and pure-hearted. I would consider the series as a waste of time except for a whole lot of fun and charm in the book in the form of the two real heroes of the series, Hermonie and Neville.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for giving us those characters in particular. They were worth the time and effort put into reading your books.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Inspiration is only a click away!

Patton Oswalt has a comedy routine about how, when he feels overwhelmed by the demands put on him by the entertainment industry, he looks no further than Death Bed: The Bed That East People.

He has a point, because this week, two PBS Documentary DVDs are coming out that have convinced me that I am in the wrong business.

They are both released under the “The Pursuit of Excellence” banner, which leads us to ponder the very meaning of the word “excellence.”

First off, we have The Pursuit of Excellence: Ferrets, where we learn that pursuing excellence makes you like a weasel. We also learn that advertising mock-ups of the DVD box force perspective that makes it look like the words “The Pursuit of Excellence” are not aligned with the bottom of the box.

Then we have the video that makes me want to be a filmmaker because I COULD DO BETTER.

I am referring to, of course, The Pursuit of Excellence: Synchronized Swimming! The exclamation point is mine, but, seriously, how can you type that without screaming punctuation?

Here we see some woman with her hair in a Native American dream catcher, rising out of the water to the adoration of her cheering fans. Unfortunately, she must have synchronized with the wrong tidal flow because she is not facing her audience at all. Instead she faces the vast, open ocean, desperately looking for something excellent to synchronize with.

Does she merit her own PBS documentary about how excellently she synchronized with her swimming ability? Apparently so.

I'm in the wrong business.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Genuinely Surprised Someone Hasn't Used This for a Music Video Yet

So, I was watching this Jenny Lewis video, and thought about all the cultural detritus out there that has not been recycled and re-presented to the public. Normally, I don't care for this sort of thing, but Jenny Lewis riffing on Hee Hawseems like such a good fit, I have decided to let this video into my heart:

But watching it made me realize that one of the greatest, ripest, most tantalizing music videos of this sort has YET TO BE MADE. I am, of course, referring to the Lonely Goatherd sequence in the Sound of Music.

Why hasn't someone (*cough cough* Spike Jonze? *cough cough* Gwen Stefani? *cough cough* Basement Jaxx?) made a music video where the kids put on a nice little marionette show set to an ultra-aggressive contemporary song of some sort. Seriously, don't you all want to see the pixilated image of some lonely goat giving you an obscene hand gesture? That is worth at least three MTV Video Awards right there.

The music video concept is gold. Someone out there should do it. That way, I'll feel smug for posting it on my blog even though the idea is pretty obvious.

Believe it or not, I found this while doing research for a screenplay. (That's a good excuse, at least.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

1977 New Jersey vs. 2006 New Jersey or I Like Social Mobility, Even if Thugs Take Advantage of It

I watched Saturday Night Fever for the first time recently, and it reminded me why I don’t like the films of Kevin Smith.

(Note: It doesn’t take much for me to dog the films of Kevin Smith. This crazy tear I am prone to can easily be attributed to petty jealousy, because I was managing a video store at a time when former video store managers were storming the gates of Hollywood. This unholy trinity of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Andrew Kevin Walker (who, technically, was a floor manager of the NYC Tower Records, not a video store manager; however envy ignores the nuances of classification) taunted me because not only did I see right through their shtick, I thought I could do it better given the chance. It also doesn’t help that I have a friend who refers to me in passing as “the guy who lived the movie ‘Clerks’ for three years.”)

I approached Saturday Night Fever for the same reason anyone does nowadays – to ridicule the silly fashions of the time and have a good laugh at the high camp of it all. I was surprised to discover, as anyone who has actually seen the movie is likely to tell you, that it is neither silly nor campy, but is instead a testament to the great American Dream of improving yourself and actually achieving something with your life.

I’m surprised movies like this are not part of an Amway indoctrination ceremony, because the message is pretty clear cut - better yourself by rising above your conditions. Cultivate relationships that will help you achieve your goals and ignore or destroy relationships that will bring you down, because no matter how much you enjoy palling around with your buddies, they will eventually become obstacles to success.

And because this movie is set in New Jersey in the 1970s, the buddies in question are presented as barely human, chest-thumping, knuckle-dragging beasts. I was only four when Saturday Night Fever was in theaters, but it shocks me (more than anything in “cutting edge” Kevin Smith movies ever did) how casually misogynistic and cruel John Travolta and his pals are. Was this the world, the America, I was born into? Apparently, so.

We like patting ourselves on the back for our permissiveness and openness, but I think now we are much more prudish than we were 30 years ago, because there is NO WAY a movie like this would be made now. Seriously, what kind of movie begs for sympathy for a gang rapist who laments, in the middle of sexual congress, “Why does she have to cry when it is my turn?” And yet, there it is, right at the moment when John Travolta has a spiritual awakening – an epiphany, if you will – and decides that there may be something better for him in the world than watching his buddies serially mount an increasingly lamentable girl.

John Travolta’s response to the girl afterwards is, of course, to tell her it was her own damn fault for getting gang raped and that she is, of course, stupid. (Ayn Rand probably did an uncredited rewrite of the screenplay.)

(I am also pretty sure that, at this point in the film, rape counselors everywhere checked their watches and sighed, “Did I say five years of therapy? I meant ten years.”)

Needless to say, New Jersey does not come off as a nice place. But it does seem like an oppressive land of entrapment, a place where the only hope is escape and only the strong can achieve it.

Normally, I do not care for movies like this, and I can honestly say I did not like any of the people portrayed on screen. And yet, despite my better instincts, I found the story and situation compelling. Like Hellen Keller saying “wah-wah” for the first time, John Travolta’s moment when it all clicks and connects and he realizes that the world is indeed bigger than a New Jersey hellhole is truly moving. I loathed this guy for so long, and yet, found myself genuinely happy for him at this point. I chalk this up towards my love for the American Dream and the belief that even the most scummy of cretins deserves the opportunity to pull himself up by his boot straps, even if they have tassels and/or fringe on them.

The film ends with this sincere hope that his upward mobility will eventually lead to professional satisfaction, inner peace, and a vocabulary of more than 15 different grunts. Did this one, great moment of clarify effectively justify the 105 previous minutes of drudgery and sadism? I’m not sure. However, it does maintain a tonal sense of consistency with what went on before. After all that the audience has suffered, a “happy ending” would ring false. But a “hopeful ending,” sure, I can get behind that. I can even applaud it a little and admit that, by the end, it won me over with its rough charm.

Which brings me to Kevin Smith… specifically Clerks II, which I saw about the same time and which offended me in a completely unintentional way. No, I was not bothered by the parade of racial slurs, demonizations of ambitious women, and wanton acts of bestiality.

Instead, I was troubled by the conclusion of the movie when the characters decide that minimum wage, dead-end jobs in the wastelands of suburban Jersey are the only true source of happiness. It offended me as much as a 50s era Soviet film entitled “The Happy Factory Workers” or an antebellum-era film called “Everyone Loves Cotton Pickin’” would. If America’s Corporate Overlords needed a pitchman to create compelling propaganda for an underclass, they need to look no further than Kevin Smith who will calmly chant, “You have no money, no power, and no voice in the government, but you know what? You’re cooler than anyone else. You’ve seen Star Wars 7,234 times and that makes you a better person than someone who makes six figures and actually owns a house. Now flip those burgers and be proud!”

While the characters in Smith’s films are not so out-and-out loathsome as the ones in Saturday Night Fever, ultimately their redemption comes not from moving on to something bigger and better, but in successfully maintaining and embracing the drudgery of the status quo. When Randall breaks down and rhapsodizes about how his only reason for living was standing behind a counter and goofing on the customers, I shuddered.

Wouldn’t it be great to just act like a teenager until well into your 40s? Wouldn’t it be cool to live in your parent’s basement until you’re well past 50? Wouldn’t it be great to eek out a living churning out a series of mediocre films instead of challenging yourself artistically and creatively with each new project?

Apparently so.

I Guess Bob Fosse was Truly Ahead of His Time

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hey - Its Me on the Simpsons!

In compliance with the Federal Internet Blogger Owner-o-city Act for Pretending You Are Cool USD #9321123356.0092, I am now posting a picture of myself as a Simpsons character. (Hint: I am the incredibly buff one with the donut T-shirt.)

If you own a blog, you will have to go to and make your own Avatar. That way you will be just like the owner of every blog I read.