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The Joy of Writing Workshops July 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Study.
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The subject of rewatchable movies has been going haywire on this blog lately.  Speaking of which, today I rewatched a DVD a good friend of mine lent me — Todd Solondz’s 2001 film Storytelling.

The first time I saw it I thought it was pretty good, but personally I preferred Solondz’s other films, such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, two utterly hilarious and disturbing films.  Storytelling, while equally disturbing as those two films, wasn’t quite as funny, though in some ways it was even darker.

Anyway, Storytelling is split into two parts, ‘Fiction’ (starring Selma Blair as a student in a fiction writing class) and ‘Nonfiction’ (starring Paul Giamatti as a documentary maker making a film about John Goodman’s family).  It’s the type of daring, politically incorrect, perverse, oftentimes cringeworthy film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you are nonetheless compelled to keep watching.  Fans of Solondz’s work will know what I mean.

To cut a long story short, the reason why my friend wanted me to watch Storytelling again was because of one of the first scenes in Fiction, where Blair and her boyfriend (who suffers from cerebral palsy) attend a writing workshop.  Having gone through dozens of such workshops in the last 18 months, I can certainly say that Solondz hit the nail on the head with this one.  I for one can definitely appreciate what the students are going through.  Check it out below.

Becoming a ruthless killer…of words May 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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It’s getting down to the business end of things.  The due date for my novel project is just around the corner and I have buckled down for the home stretch!

The novel itself will not be complete (the project only requires a certain number of words) but what I submit will have to be high quality, polished stuff.  And so I have essentially stopped drafting new chapters and am solely focused on reshaping and reworking the existing ones.

On top of that, I have to start trimming the words down to a manageable size.  I’m about 10,000 words over what I should have, and it’s going to be brutal.

Yesterday I commenced what I thought was a murderous rampage through my draft manuscript.  I deleted whole chunks, moved others, rephrased and slashed words and sentences here and there.  I thought I was on a roll.  But when I checked the word count at the end of the day, I had only cut a few hundred words!  It may have had something to do with me adding a little too much new material.

The good news is that I can simply cut entire chapters for the submission.  Find the ones that aren’t working yet and just take them right out.  Get back to them later.

The best advice I received from all the  workshopping I’ve done recently is that for comedic writing (which is what I am striving for here), the best way to go about it is to gather a whole bunch of stuff, find out what works and what doesn’t, and just keep the best bits.

For some reason I was under the assumption that brilliant comedic writers struck gold every time — and some of them probably do — but there’s bound to be certain passages that don’t work and some that work better than others.  The key is finding out which ones.  I find reading the writing out loud really helps — in identifying the strengths and weaknesses, separating the interesting from the boring, and assisting with the rhythm and comedic timing of the jokes and punchlines.

Oh well, better get back to it.  Time is running out.

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body (2009) December 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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Talk about a letdown.

You have Diablo Cody, the creator of cult favourite Juno, which just won her the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (and also the award-winning TV show The United States of Tara).  You have Amanda Seyfried, the up-and-coming star of Mean Girls and Mamma Mia!.  You have director Karyn Kusama, who was at the helm for Æon Flux (I know), but also the critically acclaimed Girl Fight.  And of course, there’s Megan Fox, who is widely regarded as the most desirable woman on the freaking planet.

On paper, Jennifer’s Body looks like a sure winner.  But somehow, the film received a lukewarm reception and totally bombed out.  It will go straight to DVD in Australia early next year.

After seeing it, I can kinda understand why.

As per usual, I’m not revealing the any more of the plot than necessary.  Just know it is set in a high school and is a horror comedy about two teenage girls.  One good thing is that the previews are somewhat misleading and don’t give away too much.

In a way, I can see where the movie was coming from.  At its heart, Jennifer’s Body is a very dark black comedy which pays tribute to the old school horror movies (and has a certain 80s feel to it).  There are parts that are genuinely funny if you appreciate dark humour (I certainly do), and there are a couple of scenes which may give you a fright, or at least make you cringe in disgust.

However, watching it, I got the distinct feeling that Cody deliberately set out to make a ‘cult’ movie – and that just doesn’t work.  Movies are given the distinguished ‘cult’ status by the fans.  When you try too hard to make a film quirky and wacky, it just gets weird – but without the accompanying unintended laughs.  There were so many WTF moments in Jennifer’s Body, but they weren’t necessarily good WTF moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a skilled screenwriter who writes witty, crisp dialogue and creates great characters, but it feels all too polished and packaged.

It’s a difficult film to rate because it has some great elements to it.  It’s sexy, hip and stylish and knows how to manipulate the audience, especially teenage boys (whom they probably thought would flock to see Fox and Seyfried get it on).  The performances are solid, especially Seyfried, who manages to pull off an ‘average’ teenage girl convincingly.  And Megan Fox surprised me with her acting ability.  Yes, she was playing a skanky, bitchy slut of a girl so it might not have been a stretch for her (think Eminem in 8 Mile), but she was actually very good.

On the other hand, Jennifer’s Body just wasn’t that enjoyable.  There are solid moments but it’s not particularly scary nor particularly funny.  It was a little all over the place (though this was probably intentional).  It’s unfortunate because I think they had something going here with the premise and the concept, but the pieces just didn’t fit together for some reason.

2.5 stars out of 5!

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