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New Past Time: Reading Screenplays May 7, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Study.
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I’ve developed a new hobby: reading screenplays.  I never realised how much fun and how educational it be.

I read a few when I did screenwriting last year, but I kind of considered it a necessary learning experience and didn’t read as many as I should have.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the university library looking for a book that was conveniently ‘misplaced’.  It was listed as available but was nowhere to be found.  Typical.

Anyway, I was huffing and puffing from all the running around looking for it and desperately needed a break.  So I rested against a shelf of books and randomly decided to pluck one out.  As it turned out, I was at the screenplay section, and the one I picked was ‘The Contest’ episode of Seinfeld, possibly one of the greatest half hours in sitcom history.

I found myself laughing out loud as I read it, gaining a new appreciation for Larry David’s (and Jerry Seinfeld’s) genius, and the genius of the actors to be able to pull off those lines.  It was quite astonishing, really, putting anything I have ever written to complete and utter shame.

I used to think screenplays were just for the lines, but reading a good screenplay is a very enjoyable exercise in itself.  And a lot quicker than reading a book too.

I’ve grabbed a few more screenplays to read at home, just for fun.  I just got through the screenplay of one of my favourite films, Fargo, which has a phenomenal screenplay, a well-deserved Oscar winner.  The way the Coens write dialogue is just ridiculous.

I’m looking forward to doing more, when I have the time.  I do also have plenty of books I still need to read as well, not to mention a whole heap of writing to do.

Which screenplay should I read next?

Movie Review: The Rite (2011) March 16, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal, Reviews.
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I am a huge fan of horror films, and few intrigue me more than those with ‘possession’ and ‘exorcism’ angles.  So of course I was eager to see The Rite, which was apparently aiming to be this generation’s The Exorcist.  It stars Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Colin O’Donoghue (great screen presence), and tells the story of the young son of a mortuary owner (O’Donoghue) who almost drops out of seminary school and is instead whisked to Rome to participate in ‘exorcism’ class, and ends up learning from an unorthodox expert (Hopkins).

I didn’t have to see the film to know that critics were probably going to savage it — few horror films these days, especially those dealing with the supernatural, are likely to pass through unscathed.  However, I thought the previews looked pretty promising, so I was kind of hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I’ll get straight to the point.  The Rite started off extremely well, almost too well for its own good.  It was atmospheric, intriguing, chilling and rather eye-opening.  It also asked some interesting questions about religion, faith and psychiatric illness, without coming off feeling contrived.  There were some fantastically effective scenes and sequences that made me recoil in horror.  It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by true events, though I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

However, at some point, around halfway through the film, The Rite takes a massive wrong turn.  I can almost pinpoint the exact scene where things start going downhill.  The point of view begins to switch awkwardly all over the place, and all subtlely flies out the window.  Instead of keeping you guessing, everything is spelled out and shoved down your throat, and genuine chills are replaced by cheap scares and special effects.  What began as potentially a new classic spiralled into just another uninspiring supernatural horror flick.

Sigh…

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first half.

2.75 stars out of 5

Next Year’s Best Picture Oscar Frontrunner March 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Misc.
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Trailer courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

I would so pay to see this film.

Post Oscars Film Blitz March 6, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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I was supposed to review these films one by one, but I really couldn’t be bothered.  So I decided to lump them into a ‘post Oscars’ film blitz, as all of these films were a part of the Oscars.  Kind of.

Here we go…

Rabbit Hole (2010)

I’m not usually into depressing films, but I was in a good mood and thought, why the heck not?  And seriously, they don’t get much more depressing than Rabbit Hole (I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, might add it to the list later).

For those who don’t know what it’s about, let’s just say it’s about profound grief and loss, and how to deal with it and move on.  It stars Nicole Kidman in her Oscar-nominated performance, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest and Sandra Oh.

It’s an extremely powerful film, I’ll admit that, and it has some surprisingly amusing sequences, but on the whole, Rabbit Hole is a pretty rough 91 minutes to sit through.  I don’t know what else to say without giving away too much.

As for the performances, I know Kidman got all the kudos, but it beats me how after so many years she still can’t pin down that American accent!  In all honesty, I preferred Eckhart.  I found his scenes more engaging and wondered how Kidman got the nomination and he didn’t.

3.5 stars out of 5

Inside Job (2010)

I rushed out to see Inside Job after it won the Oscar for Best Documentary.  It’s essentially a film that attempts to explain how the Global Financial Crisis (ie the one we’re still recovering from) happened, and tries to apportion the blame to the various parties involved.

Ultimately, despite learning a great deal about the history of the financial markets, the financial instruments, and the GFC itself, I was a little disappointed.  Props for making this film because I know a lot of people (myself included) would like to know just what the heck happened, and how it happened.  However, I did find it somewhat dry in parts and a little too preachy, especially towards the end.  Just listen to director Charles Ferguson’s acceptance speech at the Oscars and you’ll get what I mean.

I am by no means trying to defend the greed and the corruption that plagued the system and led to the collapse, but I think it would have been good to see more of the human side of the crisis.  Rather than simply painting them as the ‘bad guys’ in all of this, I wanted to see what was going through the minds of these bankers and executives as they raked in the money without regard for the consequences — and I wanted to see how the crisis affected the lives of people on all levels of income and wealth.

It was an interesting film and an important one, but apart from a lot of anger and frustration, I didn’t get the deeper emotional connection and understanding I was expecting.

3.5 stars out of 5

No Strings Attached (2011)

This film was obviously not nominated for an Oscar, but the star, Natalie Portman, did win a Best Actress Oscar for another film (Black Swan), so I guess that’s my Oscar connection to justify this film being in the post.

I remember before the Oscars there were people saying that No Strings Attached is potentially so bad that it might derail Natalie’s Oscar chances.  Well, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.  And besides, No Strings Attached was not that bad anyway.  It was just average, which is not horrible considering that most rom-coms these days are.

Portman’s Emma and Ashton Kutcher’s Adam met when they were teenagers at some camp, and kept bumping into each other over the years.  Then Adam’s dad, played by Kevin Kline, does something despicable and sends Adam into a bender and eventually Emma’s house.  Yada, yada, yada, you know what happens, but they decide to have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship.  And yada, yada, yada, you know what happens in the end.

The film started off promisingly enough.  Director Ivan Reitman (pretty mixed bag as a director) infuses the story with quirky humour and likable characters (essential for a good rom-com).  There are some genuinely amusing moments and one-liners littered throughout, though mostly at the beginning.  Kutcher is kind of always the same — with that cheery, but mopey/dopey looking dude-face, while Portman gets to show her less serious side (with shades of her Saturday Night Live performances?).  The chemistry is there, which I must admit surprised me.

As usual, the rom-com shifts from comedy to romance as it strolls along to the predictable finale, and that’s where No Strings Attached fails to bring something fresh to the table.  And for what is really a sweet film at heart, it is inexplicably and unnecessarily dirty — I blame that on all the Judd Apatow films in recent years.

3 stars out of 5

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

The Oscar connections are getting more tenuous.  Love and Other Drugs features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the latter of which…hosted the Oscars this year!

Anyway, this is one of those films that I liked more than I should have.  It was marketed as a laugh-out-loud, silly rom-com about two promiscuous people, but that’s really only half true — because the second half, which is completely different to the first, is kind of a depressing ‘disease romance’ (I just made that up).  To me, both halves were pretty good, even though that does make for a fairly uneven film.

What I liked about the first half was the insight into the pharmaceutical industry and in particular medical reps who try and sell drugs to doctors.  And the start of the Viagra craze is always a fascinating thing to relive.  I think the film handled that part very well.  As for the second half, while the laughs died out quickly, I did find myself unexpectedly moved by the story and the emotions of the characters.

So yeah, I enjoyed it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Burlesque (2010)

Mmm…Cher once won an Oscar, and let’s face it, Christina Aguilera never will.  And it won a Golden Globe (a pre-cursor to the Oscars) for Best Original Song.  Oh, and Cher got a Razzie (the opposite of the Oscars) nomination for it this year!

Using the typical ‘small town girl in big city’ template, Burlesque follows Christina as she finds herself working in a burlesque bar (called ‘Burlesque’) where she’s just waiting to be discovered.  Cher is the owner, Kristen Bell is the rival, Eric Dane is the tempter, and Cam Gigandet is the potential love interest.  Fill in the blanks yourself and toss in a bunch of musical song and dance numbers from Christina and Cher, and that’s the movie in a nutshell.

Is it horrible?  No.  I actually expected a lot less, though I would have preferred it if they just went along for the ride and not taken themselves so seriously (because the unintended effect is quite comical).  At the end of the day, Burlesque is a Christina vehicle, and it certainly shows off her spectacular voice and not-too-shabby acting abilities.  It’s campy, musical and melodramatic, just as you would expect it to be.  And while it’s certainly nothing special, it is better than the Britney equivalent (Crossroads).

2.5 stars out of 5

Bookstores dropping like Melissa Leo F-bombs March 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary.
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There’s nothing quite like browsing a good bookstore.  I can spend hours wandering up and down the isles, checking out the commercial bestsellers, the award winners and books with covers that simply appeal to me.  I love it.

When it comes to buying books, however, that’s another story.

Books in Australian stores are, for the most part, notoriously expensive.  There are plenty of reasons why that is the case (amongst them the GST, the population size, publishing houses, etc), but what matters is that Australians aren’t buying books from book stores.  Why would they, when they can get the same books for sometimes half, or even a third of the price online?  And now, with free worldwide shipping offered by some companies such as the Book Depository (and I believe Amazon has followed), Australian booksellers simply can’t compete.

I too have been guilty of purchasing cheaper books — either online or I stock up when I am overseas.  I browse Australian book stores to see what’s on offer, and then I take my business elsewhere.  As someone who hopes to one day crack the Australian book industry, I’m not exactly doing my part to support it.  But on the other side of the coin, why pay more when you can pay less?

As many commentators have said before me, there are no easy answers.  But the reality is that Australian booksellers are dropping (or will be dropping) like Melissa Leo f-bombs during Oscar acceptance speeches.

RedGroup Retail, the conglomerate that owns both the Borders and Angus & Robertson chains in Australia (two of the ‘Big Three’ — the other being Dymocks (there’s also a big Kinokuniya in Sydney)), has been in administration since February, and the latest reports claim that plenty of underachieving stores (out of the 26 Borders and 167 A&R stores) will be closed down in the coming weeks.  Don’t think they have much choice, considering they owe more than $160 million to both secured and unsecured creditors.  Unfortunately, that also means lots of staff will be out of jobs.

With more and more e-books flooding the market, are commercial bookselleser no longer necessary anyway?  Will Aussies head back to the stores if the prices are more competitive?  And how can they possibly make book prices cheaper?  The Government and booksellers around the world need to take a good hard look at the way the industry is currently structured and get their thinking caps on.

In the meantime, I’ll hold off buying more books online and wait for local sales.  Such is the life of a poor student.

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