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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?

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DVD Review: A Serious Man (2009) May 5, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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I am admittedly biased when it comes to films by the Coen brothers.  After all, they are the creators of one of my favourite films of all time, Fargo, and plenty of classics such as The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men.

Their latest project, the black comedy A Serious Man, has received little commercial fanfare despite being widely acclaimed by critics as well as receiving multiple award nominations (including Best Picture at the Oscars).  I wouldn’t say A Serious Man ranks right up there as the Coen brothers’ best work, but I think it is certainly one of their better films, one that will almost certainly achieve cult status (if it hasn’t already).

A Serious Man tells the story of an ordinary, rather spineless Jewish man in the 1960s who is struggling with everything that is happening in his life, from his health to his family to his job as a physics professor.  It is supposed to be loosely based on the book of Job from the Old Testament.

Don’t let that rather dry description put you off this film.  To be honest, there isn’t all that much of a ‘story’.  A Serious Man is really more like a series of interconnected events that keep happening around the central character Larry Gopnik (played by the brilliant, but largely unknown actor Michael Stuhlbarg).

But somehow, the Coen brothers manage to make A Serious Man compelling and compulsive.  I couldn’t stop watching as one thing after another hits poor Larry, seemingly at random.  You simply don’t know what to expect.

I love the Coen brothers’ brand of humour — that insanely dark, quirky, random humour that pops out of nowhere and is equally hilarious and disturbing.  In A Serious Man, the laughs are somewhat sporadic, but they are always brilliant and strangely insightful.  My favourite sequences involve Larry and a Korean student named Clive (as well as Clive’s father), who is trying to reverse an F grade that would cause him to lose his scholarship.

As much as I enjoyed A Serious Man, I can understand if others hate it.  The Coen brothers often make such polarising films and it’s never possible to please everyone.  Parts of the film are slow, and on the surface at least, it sometimes feels like the narrative has no direction.  There is a very odd prologue set in the early 20th century at the beginning that has seemingly no connection to the rest of the film.  And if you thought the ending in No Country for Old Men was messy and unsatisfying, wait till you see this one.

Having said all that, I enjoyed every minute of A Single Man.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Character and Characterization March 13, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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The heck d'ya mean? Character and characterization are different things?

So I’m catching up with my readings and I stumble across a few articles about “character” and “characterization”, which has me thinking about my stagnant fantasy novel and this new project I have in the works.

In both the planning and writing phases, I’ve been doing a lot of “characterization” – you know, what the character looks like, how old they are, their personality and habits, their qualities and follies.  But I haven’t given enough thought to the “character” of these…um..characters.

I’ve always had trouble getting into the heads of my characters.  I am quick to create them, but rarely do I put myself in their shoes, find out what motivates them, what frightens them – what they are truly about.  According to this McKee article I read:

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices of a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.

Yes, he’s right!  And then I realised that I actually have numerous high pressure situations where my characters have an opportunity to show what they are really about under the surface, but I never explored it.  Not properly, anyway.  No wonder I feel like things aren’t working despite what I feel is a good plot.

Another thing I’ve been wondering is whether I’ve been creating too many characters – so many that I don’t have time to give them the time or chance to get to know them.  Should I keep them and give them more “screen time”?  Or should I get rid of them completely?  It’s a difficult balance, and it’s something I have to work out by myself.

So three lessons from all of this.  One, “characterization” is easy, developing “character” is hard.  I need to start imagining myself in the bodies of my characters and get inside their psyche.  Two, true character is revealed through the choices people make.  I need to rewrite some of my scenes to bring that out.  Three, superfluous characters need to be canned, key characters with a purpose need to be explored.

Now I will go take a nap.

[PS: apparently, Aristotle considered the importance of both plot and character, and concluded that story is primary, character secondary.  Can’t both be equally important?]

The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time February 14, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews.
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There are some films that, for one reason or another, have an extremely high ‘rewatchability quotient’ (as I like to call it).

You know, one of those movies that you happen to come across one night on TV when you have nothing better to do, and you end up watching till the end (even when there’s something else on that you haven’t seen before) – and you still found it enjoyable and not a waste of time.

Or if you have it on DVD, you might whip it out every now and then and put it on for whatever reason, and then find yourself sitting there two hours later, still captivated despite having seen it 10 times already.  The freakiest thing is that some of these movies actually get better the more times you watch it.

Following an agonising culling process, I have finally come up with my top 20 most rewatchable movies of all time.

Let’s count them down.

(click on ‘more…’ to continue)

(more…)

Top 5 films of 2008! January 23, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews.
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I was just doing an online poll (www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/) of the top 5 movies of 2008.  The site provides a long list of films released in Australia in 2008 (which means some more recent films may not have made it – eg ALL of the best picture nominees for this year’s Oscars), from which users would first pick a shortlist.  And from that shortlist, the top 5 would be selected.

I was surprised.  2008 will always be remembered as the year Obama became president and the world economy went to hell.  But it also had some very decent films.  Very memorable ones.

So without further delay, here’s the 5 films I ended up with, in no particular order (drumroll please):

  • There Will Be Blood
  • Taken
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Burn After Reading*

* I had picked Lust, Caution first, but switched at the last minute.  I suppose Lust, Caution was the better film, but I enjoyed Burn After Reading more, so there.

The results were totally unexpected.  There Will Be Blood was a classic, so that was a no-brainer.  I don’t usually rate action films that highly, but Taken was the best action film I had seen in a really long time.  I surprised myself by having 2 superhero movies in the list, but these (The Dark Knight and Iron Man) are undoubtedly 2 of the best superhero movies ever made.  Burn After Reading is the type of movie people either loved or hated, and I think to some extent it depends on the mood you’re in at the time of viewing.  I was in one of those moods, I guess, so I found it absolutely hilarious (though I may not get the same result on a second viewing).  Plus I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers and Fargo is one of my favourites of all-time, so there was also a little natural bias.

I should say that this is really more a list of my 5 favourite films of 2008 rather than necessarily the 5 best films.  Nevertheless…

What were your top 5?

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