Monday, June 29, 2009

Oh, Michael Bay. Damn you.

The Beefcake and I jaunted up to The Arclight Saturday night, braving the bazillions of cars and the Transformers display with the gas-guzzling trucks and all the people lined up to give $200 million to Michael Bay, and we confidently stepped up to the ticket counter and ordered our tickets for The Hurt Locker.

And wouldn't you know it? They were sold out.

So we went over to Amoeba and I bought a copy of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie then we went home and watched a marathon of Lockup on MSNBC.

Scott the Reader had a good point. This movie made a shitton of money. Imagine how much it would have made if it had gotten good reviews.

So the big question is, why does a movie that even its fans admit isn't particularly good make so much money?

How is it that Terminator Salvation, which had every bit the explosion quantity and robot destruction of Transformers, didn't do nearly so well?

I'll tell you how. Fun. After reading the plot and the reviews of Transformers, I can tell the story makes no sense. But where McG was all serious and sad, Michael Bay just really loves to blow shit up. He may not be the world's greatest story teller, but his love of cgi violence is evident with every shot in his films, and I do respect him for that at least. And when people think of Transformers they think of toys and a cartoon, and that makes them think of fun.

What bothers me is how many people think it's completely okay for an action movie to have a shit plot. I talked to a girl the other day who said she rolled her eyes a bit and shook her head at some of the more ridiculous plot points, but since she went in with low expectations she ended up thinking it was okay.

Ooooh what an endorsement. Let's throw another $250 million at Michael Bay and see just how mediocre we can get.

Just because a film has explosions in it, does not mean the story gets to suck. Imagine if Bay insisted on a solid story, how incredible would he be? He had the clout and the financing to elevate action films to a whole new level. He could be a truly great director, one who finally makes people realize that action films can be art films too. Explosions can have subtext.

But why should he? We're willing to give money to a movie we know isn't very good just because it has explosions. Why should he bother making a great film?

Friday, June 26, 2009

I guess I'll talk about it too

I guess everybody's writing about death today.

I'm too young to have really known much about Farah Fawcett, and I wasn't allowed to watch TV when I was a kid so I never saw Charlie's Angels. Charlie's Angels to me is Drew, Lucy and Cameron. But I know enough to know that boys everywhere started their journey through puberty because of her.

And Ed McMahon I'm way too young for. I didn't really watch Johnny Carson because I wasn't allowed to stay up past 9. Actually I did stay up past 9 but it was usually to read. Because I'm a dork. And I wasn't allowed to watch TV. But I appreciate how much Ed McMahon entertained Americans for years. I may have even caught a few episodes of Star Search.

But Michael Jackson, that's the one that blows people away. His influence spans generations. When I came around BAD was the album you had to have and I loved every song on it. I had Dangerous too, when that came out. I don't know what happened with the kids. Only two people know what happened in each case. Kids lie, and adults do some fucked up shit, so there's no way to be sure.

It's weird to invite kids to your place and sleep with them, but when you look at a man who became globally famous at 5 years old, it's not really surprising that he'd be weird. His emotional growth was stunted at 5, so I get why he wants to hand with kids. He probably feels like he can relate to them more than adults. But did he touch them? I don't know. Maybe.

What I do know is he was a genius. I didn't think about this much when I was a kid because he was already a genius by the time I knew who he was. Yesterday I told somebody "Smooth Criminal" was the best video and I was met with shock at omitting "Thriller." Don't get me wrong, "Thriller" is terrific. But it was already out when I learned to pay attention. I wasn't blown away by its newness because it wasn't new. So from a pure story standpoint, I enjoyed "Smooth Criminal" more. But it's pretty amazing the effort the man put into making his videos tell stories through dance.

Regardless of what kind of man is was off stage, you could tell he loved performing, and he was damn good at it. If he didn't touch those kids, it's a tragedy that he spent his last twelve years avoiding the one thing he loved most. If he did touch them, well I guess karma got him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A donkey, a Dane and a Snuffleupagus walk into a bar...

A couple of years ago I posted this scene between Eeyore, Snuffleupagus and Hamlet and it some pretty good reviews. A couple of weeks ago something the Beefcake said made me remember it. Since most of you didn't know me back when I wrote this, I thought for the first time ever, since I have nothing to write about today, I'd go with a repost. So here you go.



SNUFFLEUPAGUS, a brown mammoth, sits at the bar, sipping beer through his snout. EEYORE, the donkey with the pinned-on tail and lopsided bow in his mane, stumbles up to the bar stool. Snuffy pulls the stool out so Eeyore can climb up to sit down.

Hey, Snuff.

Hey, Eeyore.

Eeyore eyes the bartender. He nods, then pours out a rum and Coke and slides it across the bar to the donkey.

So Big Bird's letting you out of the fence again, I guess.

No. I drugged his birdseed.


Yeah. He was singing some stupid song about multiples of five, counted himself right off to sleep.

Think he'll be mad?

I don't care. I can take Big Bird.

You always say that but you never do it.

Yeah? Well I don't see you taking out Tigger any time soon, either.

I've got a plan.

Sure you do.

HAMLET, Prince of Denmark, walks up and sits next to them, signalling the bartender for a glass of wine.

Hey, Hamlet.

Hey, Eeyore.

Hey, Hamlet.

Hey, Snuffy. Bid Bird letting you out again?

Drugged his food.

Smart. Poison is smart.

I could probably poison Pooh Bear, but I don't think I could get Tigger to eat anything I make.

No, you'd probably have to push Tigger off a cliff.

I bet Rabbit would help you.

Yeah. Probably. There'd be a lot of fallout, though. Piglet would go off the deep end.

Piglet you could probably poison. Or stab.


Eeyore takes a swig of his drink. Snuffy snorts up the rest of his beer. Hamlet sips on his wine.

I want to die.

Don't we all?

Not me. I just want to kill.

I could go for some of that too.

Snuffy checks the clock above the bar.

So Bid Bird's probably waking up soon. I'd better get back.

I thought you didn't care?

I don't. But I don't want to blow my edge. Oscar and I are trying to work out our assasination plot. We need all the advantages we can get.

I'll do it.

Kill Bid Bird?

Yeah. I'll kill Bid Bird if somebody takes out my uncle.

I'll do it if somebody offs that damn Tiger. Ta ta forever, you annoying piece of crap.

Good. We have a plan. Meet back here tomorrow, hash out the details?

Sure. I'll be done with my duel by then. Gotta fight Ophelia's brother.

How come?

I killed his dad.

Oh. Bummer. Well good luck.

Watch out for poison.

Good advice. See ya.

Snuffy rolls off his stool and walks out of the bar. Hamlet looks around at the other patrons laughing, playing pool, flirting.

God, I hate these people.

Yeah. They should just die.

They both sip silently on their drinks.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Down with Optimus Prime!

Today Bill Martell posted a suggestion that we all skip Transformers this weekend. I'm with Bill.

One of the beautiful things about the summer movie season thus far is that remakes and sequels haven't done nearly as well as original material. The surprise breakout hit has been Up. The Hangover has killed it for two weekends now. But Terminator 4, despite statements to the contrary from executives, has underperformed domestically. Star Trek did well, but Star Trek did well because somebody actually put some thought into it.

Don't get me wrong. I saw Terminator in the theater. I learned my lesson.

Let's keep the trend of the past few weeks going. Ignore the sequels. GI Joe looks like shit. Final Destination is - shock of shocks - more of the same shit every other Final Destination movie has. And Transformers comes from a man who has made a shitload of money playing to the lowest common denominator.

Not that I don't enjoy a good popcorn movie every now and then. I have a fondness for Armageddon, but it is important to put our money where our mouths are. We the aspiring screenwriters complain a lot about how nobody wants to buy our awesome new screenplay, but why would they? It's so much safer to put money into a known product.

Bill mentioned a new film by Katheryn Bigelow (Point Break) called Hurt Locker, starring Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and Evangeline Lilly, David Morse and a bunch of other people. It's opening in limited release this weekend, and one of those cities is Los Angeles.

I want to support Kathryn Bigelow any way I can because I can count on one hand the number of successful women directors that don't make romantic comedies or feminist dramas. Actually I can pretty much count on one finger. So I love her and I would absolutely love to work with her some day, and that's why I'll take my money to her project this weekend instead of Transformers.

I also saw The Hangover last weekend. I laughed.

So what I'm trying to say is, Bill's right. Let your money talk for you this weekend. If you're going to the movies, see something good.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oregon Trail is the shit, yo

It's been a much busier day than I anticipated. I had absolutely no time to play Oregon Trail.

You played Oregon Trail, right? RIGHT?

I ask because at a fancy Hollywood party Saturday night I brought up Oregon Trail and nobody knew what the hell I was talking about.

It was mostly people from Cartoon Network, too, so it's not like I was at a party full of people who never touched a computer before. These people live inside computers.

So I guess "fancy" Hollywood party is not entirely accurate. Just Hollywood party, then. And actually it was a Glendale party. But there was a sundae bar so it was still awesome.

At any rate, nobody knew about Oregon Trail so I started polling people and this one guy played it. Then this other really drunk guy claimed to have played it but I think he was lying because he said it sucked and NOBODY who ever played it would say that. Also he was an asshole in general. The Beefcake kept waiting for me to give the signal to beat the guy up, but I did not know he was waiting for such a signal so I didn't give it. We need to work on our signaling because he totally forgot our "I want to leave now please" signal.

This whole conversation reignited my love for Oregon Trail, although it is very difficult to find the game in its original form. I found a website where you can play it online but it's blocked at work. The only one I could buy is version 5, which I got for $6 from some Amazon dealer.

I played the online version. Still awesome.

In the game you and four of your closest friends or family members hop in a covered wagon with your purchased supplies and head west on the trail. You ford rivers, you get typhoid, a thief comes in the night and steals a wagon axle, you hunt buffalo but can only carry 100 pounds back to the wagon so you leave most of it rotting in the sun, setting off a war between Indians and whites that will last until the whites finally wipe out all brown skinned men who are then replaced in larger numbers by their Mexican cousins.

If somebody in your wagon dies you get to write whatever you want on their tombstone and then you see this tombstone from then on when you play the game.

The real fun in the game is when somebody in your wagon has cholera and you can see the fort 40 miles ahead and you only have like 3 pounds of food left. You wouldn't think a game that simple would get so heated, but it does.

So this brings me to my question. Am I delusional? I thought everybody played Oregon Trail, but I learned at this party that apparently people didn't care to learn about the trials of our pioneers. Did you play Oregon Trail? What computer games do you remember fondly? And if you're too old, tell us about the time you rolled a hoop downhill with a stick.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Son of a bitch.

It's busy time again. Graduation is Friday and final exams are this week and school starts again with a whole new schedule on Wednesday of next week so I'm swamped with work. I have to grade papers, write an exam for my sophomores, and plan lessons for next year even though I'm still not sure what I'm teaching because the schedule is screwed up.

And as an added bonus, someone broke into my classroom Thursday evening and stole a DVD player, an LCD projector, and a photo scanner. The photo scanner was the only one in the school besides the one the cops use, so in a few months when we need to scan student baby pictures and team sports photos, I guess we're shit out of luck.

I didn't actually realize the scanner was missing until just now when someone asked if they could use it. So that's why I'm posting about this now and not Friday, when I was just too depressed to talk about it.

I know it was a small girl because she broke in through the window and left behind her Jesus necklace charm that broke off, and I'm guessing she had a boy or someone bigger with her because anyone small enough to get through the window is too small to carry out that enormous scanner. They used my gym bag to carry it all out, a gym bag that had been sitting on the floor holding board games. They must have thought they hit the jackpot.

Anyway, so now I have no DVD player, no LCD projector which I use to teach the yearbook staff how to design pages on the computer, and no scanner. As if my upcoming year of 43 person classes and twice the course load weren't enough pressure.

So thanks, assholes who stole my electronics. I hope you get run over by a truck.

For the time being I'm bringing in my own DVD player on days when I need it, but when the school year starts I'm really going to miss that projector and the scanner. I'm thinking of sending around a flier asking teachers if anyone has a scanner they don't use or want to replace that they could donate to us. If that doesn't work I guess I'll have to use Donors Choose again. I was really hoping to use them to get a color printer, but this is a bigger priority.

Anyway, that brings me to a point I've been thinking about for a while now. Integrity.

Now don't get me wrong, I've done some shitty things in my life. I've broken laws, I've been less than truthful on occasion, I've done things I'm not proud of. But I've always tried to make sure that my mistakes only affected me.

I have a coworker who is late at least once a week. It's usually ten minutes or so, but one week she was two hours late three times. Other teachers have to cover for her each time this happens. In addition to being late all the time, she refuses to ever cover for anyone else and she has no respect for other teachers, but boy does she have excuses. This woman did not get fired when the pink slips came around. No, she gets to stay here while good teachers loose their jobs.

I told her this the other day. I'd finally had enough when she tore a sign off my door because she thought it was directed to her. I had finally had enough and I told her so.

I made her cry. I do not feel bad about this.

Anyway, during the conversation she said the following words "Why do you hold yourself to such high standards?"

Can you believe that?

Know what my high standards are? I show up on time. I do my job. I don't inconvenience anyone else.

My mom always taught me there is honor in all work and each job deserves my complete dedication. I started out by working at Boston Market and I took that job seriously too. My boss actually told me to slow down the first day because he was worried I'd work myself to death.

I can cut a roasted chicken into four pieces in under thirty seconds.

Anyhow, I guess I'm sort of disgusted with how many people are just in it for themselves. Those kids who broke into my room were only thinking about the MAYBE $200 they could get for the items in my room. In the meantime, I have to figure out how to teach in an already difficult situation without the few supplies I had, supplies I spent a lot of work trying to get in the first place, supplies that brand new would add up to almost $1,000. That's money we don't have.

And the really sick part is, these were most likely students who broke in. They stole from themselves. I mean, they stole my gym bag which alone would have pissed me off because that was a good gym bag, but aside from that everything they took belonged to the school. In their effort to make a few bucks they robbed their fellow students of educational tools.

This just adds stress to my life that I don't need. I'm already freaked out by next semester and the extra work I'm going to have. Now I have to figure out how the hell we're going to get baby pictures from the senior class without a scanner, or how I'm going to teach 20 yearbook students and 20 newspaper students how to do layout without an LCD projector. These 40 students will be in the same classroom, by the way. I'm teaching both classes at the same time.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to grade 12 more Poe essays before the ulcer sets in.

[Edited: Okay I decided to give up and buy one myself. I can't afford the LCD projector, but I found a scanner/color printer for cheap at So I bought it. At least that's one less thing to stress about.]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thoughts on the script: Zombieland

Gentle reader Tavis said people are probably wondering what I think of the screenplay for Zombieland. I guess it's because I love zombies so much and I talk about them all the time. The odd thing about that is I hadn't seen that many zombie movies until I thought up the plot for Not Dead Yet.

It was only after I thought up a zombie story that I learned anything about zombies, but once I did I researched obsessively and that's how I discovered how much fun zombies are. You can stab them in the throat repeatedly and you can set them on fire and they just keep on coming.

So at first people did keep asking me if I read Zombieland and I would get out the screenplay and then get distracted and forget I was supposed to read it. But a couple of months ago I finally got to it.


I imagine they've changed quite a bit since the spec went around because Patrick Swayze is nowhere in the cast list. I'm wondering if they replaced his character with Bill Murray.

Let me explain. Zombieland is clever. Like really clever. Maybe too clever. It wanders back and forth between being action and comedy, which I love for my own selfish reasons. My script is a lot of action and hardly any horror, and this script is a lot of action and not really any horror. But where Zombieland replaced the horror with comedy, I replaced it with a storyline so depressing you might not want to go outside for a while.

The story follows this guy in a post zombie-apocalyptic world who is kind of a wimp but hooks up with this badass redneck type. They get into some hijinks with a vicious mother/daughter conman team and end up at Zombie Patrick Swayze's house where they make like eight hundred thousand references to Dirty Dancing and Roadhouse. You can kind of tell at that point that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were just enjoying themselves immensely by imagining all the fun they could have if they broke into Patrick Swayze's house found his zombie corpse wandering around.

That's really what this screenplay is - loads of fun. I laughed, I shouted, I pumped my fist. It's just a terrific combination of badass mixed with dry humor. And I loved the way it ended. This is a limp off into the sunset kind of story. It just sort of stops, which I actually adore. I'm not overly fond of movies that tie up all the ends in a neat little bow.

There's this one scene where the two guys have to break into a grocery store to get a Twinkie - let me tell you, the great Twinkie quest is just awesome - and it's just one big zombie free for all. There are a zillion zombies all over the place and only two guys with guns just shooting the shit out of everything. It's pretty much my version of heaven.

It's an imperfect script, of course. The Patrick Swayze thing is a little too cutesy for its own good and it's a little insulting to the man. I found myself wondering how they ever thought he would do it. Maybe they didn't. Maybe that's why they got Bill Murray.

My only worry is that it doesn't make my screenplay quite as original. I wrote the first draft before I ever heard of Zombieland, but now my screenplay may look a little derivative. At the time, I thought I was very clever with this zombie script that was more action than horror, and I thought my only competition was World War Z. But now, here's a post-apocalyptic zombie comedy action movie with some really cool action scenes and a movie star. I don't have a movie star.

But I do have a flame thrower, and that's something they ain't got.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Competition shows I like

There are two reality competition shows I watch without fail: The Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance. Now, with The Biggest Loser there's a debatable issue regarding the safety. They claim to be worried about contestant health, but anybody who watched this season had to know that Helen ain't healthy. She's straight up anorexic. Nobody at 150 odd pounds should be losing more than one pound a week.

Nonetheless, I admire the message behind the show. No matter how fat you've become, with a healthy diet and regular exercise you can lose weight. What they're not telling you is that you're more likely to keep it off when you lose it slowly. But at least they're putting out a positive influence for obese Americans everywhere.

And I also admit I love to watch it because I am completely obsessed with nutrition. That's why I've also taken and interest in I Want to Save Your Life on the WE channel, which any overweight person should watch.

But I digress. The point here is So You Think You Can Dance. I used to think it was a Dancing With the Stars or an American Idol clone, but then a couple of years ago a friend showed me this one dance on a ping pong table and I was like HOLY CRAP! Is that what they do? Those people really can dance. And even though the viewers get to vote to narrow down the choices, final say in the cuts goes to the judges, as it should.

What I really love about the show is that the goal is to find great dancers. Some of the judges can get testy, but there is no Simon Cowell whose mission is to humiliate as many people as possible. Even the rotten dancers earn some measure of respect from the panel.

Nigel Lithgow, the executive producer, leads the way with complete class. After almost every routine he turns to where the choreographer sits in the audience and makes a point of complimenting their work.

Imagine that. An executive producer giving credit to the creator of the routine and not just to the performers.

It makes me wish there was a Nigel in the writing world who made sure to always give credit to the hard workers who wrote the material.

They can keep Mary though. She's probably swell, but I don't think I can handle all that screaming.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inner monologue

ME: Okay, Emily. Time to write some pages.

EMILY: Okay. Let's just put on these headphones so I don't hear the special ed math teacher's lesson and can listen to inspirational tunes like "Toxic" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" as I make up some story goodness.

ME: Okay. Also try to put some ABBA in there. I'm in the mood to listen to "Rock Me."

EMILY: That's a good one. Rock me, show me that trick now roll me, show me that kick now you can do magic, baby! And I can't-

ME: Emily.

EMILY: -get enough of it! Rock me!


EMILY: What?


EMILY: Oh, right. Okay just let me get some water. Oooh look! John Rogers posted something new today! Let's check that out!

ME: Later.

EMILY: Why are you such a bitch?


EMILY: Fine.

ME: Fine.

EMILY: These pages suck. I should delete them and start over.

ME: No.

EMILY: Why not?

ME: It's your first draft. It's going to suck and you can't stop that.

EMILY: But there's still like 15 pages where nobody kicks anybody's ass or blows anything up!

ME: That's okay. When you're done you can go back and blow up that church if it will help.

EMILY: Oooh I should do that now!


EMILY: Why not? That sounds like way more fun than all this stupid dialogue.

ME: You know you can't just have two hours of explosions.

EMILY: Oh my god that sounds awesome. Screw this. I'm gonna start a screenplay about an explosion that spreads through town. Let's see.... Fade in. Exterior, small town in America, night. Shit explodes.

ME: Stop it.

EMILY: You never want me to have any fun.

ME: I want you to sell a screenplay and make a ton of money so you can buy a house.

EMILY: You make that sound so boring.

ME: I'm not boring.

EMILY: Yes you are.

ME: No I'm n- Hey stop stalling. Write your dialogue.

EMILY: Fine.

ME: Fine.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Action heroines

Last night while channel surfing I stopped on Aliens. Don't you just love Aliens?

It got me thinking, which is a hobby I picked up. Remember that flap about how Warner Brothers (it was WB, wasn't it?) wasn't going to make anymore films with female action leads because nobody watched them? Well the facts in the case were correct but the reasoning was wrong. Nobody watched those movies because they weren't good, not because they starred women.

You could learn a lot about it by watching Terminators 1 and 2 and then Alien and Aliens. Their heroins have very similar arcs.

In Terminator and Alien, both Ripley and Sarah Connor are not prepared for the danger. Ripley's pretty tough, but not nearly tough enough to take on an alien and poor Sarah is just trying to be a regular old '80s chick. Then a monster invades both of their worlds, and through the help of an attractive man they run. And eventually the attractive man becomes a sacrifice to the monster and the women must learn to fend for themselves.

So a female heroine can work if she has to learn to fight to protect herself. But what happens if she's already a badass?

In Terminator 2 and Aliens, experience has made the woman a big old badass. She's not emotionally cut off, she's terrified of what she's seen and this terror gives her strength because becoming strong is the only way she's been able to overcome her fear. And then she gets a kid to take care of so we remember that she is, in the end, a woman.

Now look at a movie like Ultraviolet or Aeon Flux or any one of those shitty female lead action movies. They have this cold-hearted heroin who starts the story already cutoff from the world, unable to be hurt emotionally or physically. There's no vulnerability. This badass persona is foreign to us so we reject it. Sure, most of those movies toss in a kid or a love interest in danger, but it never feels real because our heroin is so full of anger at what was done to her or just trying to make a buck.

Look at Catwoman. Her motivation is rage. If a woman's enraged, we like it to be because someone hurt her child or put someone she loved in danger. But Catwoman is angry because people tried to kill her and she wants revenge. Blech.

Think about the most iconic scene in Aliens. Are you thinking about it? It's the end, right? That scene where Ripley gets in the machine thingee and yells "Get away from her, you bitch!" She's protecting someone else. Someone who is completely discounted in the third movie which really fucking pisses me off but whatever.

Why does Sarah Connor bust into Myles Dyson's house and put his family in danger? She wants to save the world. You feel the weight of that on her shoulders every step of that story. Of course if she actually does save the world she will create a time paradox, but whatever.

Anyway, this isn't totally a woman thing, either. One of the reasons we love John McClane so much is because he gets completely fucked up in the process of trying to save all those people. He's worried about his wife, but he's also physically vulnerable, as is demonstrated when his feet get all mangled on the broken glass.

So I guess my conclusion after doing all this thinking is that your heroin can be a badass all she wants, but she needs a reason outside herself. She needs to have someone to protect and love, someone who drives her to hurt herself in order to get the job done. And maybe guys can learn a lesson from that, too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Simpsons

Today's lesson plan is satire. Friday I did a lesson on parody using Onion articles and some scenes from Hot Fuzz, and I referenced Craig Mazin quite a bit as I explained why Superhero Movie is a shitty parody. There's one kid who said she liked the movie, but she needs to understand that no, she doesn't. She never did and she needs to know why.

So for today I had to find a true satire. I tried Family Guy, but that show's just too disjointed. It relies on people to get a lot of jokes they're not going to get, and many episodes are so loaded with silliness that it's hard to get the point of it all. But I still need an example that's short and easy.

I've been meaning to use The Simpsons in class for a while now. A lot of kids are familiar with their "Raven" and often kids will bring up their Hamlet or their Odyssey or their Lord of the Flies. After all, whatever it is, Simpsons did it.

Right now box sets are $12 so Saturday I hopped over to Best Buy and picked up season 4 because season 4 is undoubtedly better than all the rest. Kamp Krusty, Mr. Plow, Monorail, Whacking Day, that Valentine's Day one where Ralph gets that valentine that says "I choo choo choose you!" I looked at all the seasons. This one had far more episodes that made me giddy to think about than all the others.

It was a pretty tough weekend because I had to work on my lesson plan. The Beefcake and I stayed planted right in front of the TV trying to determine which episode provides the best example of satire. I went with "Homer's Triple Bypass" because it has no allusions or silly asides. It's a straight story that satirizes America's eating habits and health care system.

In watching all these episodes it was sort of mindblowing to think of how much The Simpsons has seeped into our culture. At Trader Joe's yesterday the cashier asked me what I was up to this weekend, because they do that over there, and I told him I was watching season 4 of The Simpsons. He asked which episodes and we discussed them a little. It's a common language. When I say "Mr. Plow" you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen a single episode of The Simpsons that's like not being aware of cell phones.

People my age love that show. My students love that show. Debate whether or not it's jumped the shark all you like, but how many TV shows appeal to two generations of people at the same time? Maybe even three, because I'm pretty sure my stepdad watches it.

Can you imagine what it's like to be Matt Groening? To have created this little baby cartoon as a palate cleanser for some funny lady's sketch show, a cartoon that has now lasted decades and is known by every American with a television? People say "D'oh!" on a regular basis now. They invented words over there.

It's just amazing. I guess the reason it's been so successful despite the fact that it's funny, IS that it's a satire of the American family. We can all relate to the show because these are our parents and those kids are us. And then one day we become the parents and those are our kids. And maybe one day we become grandpa. We're all there, exaggerated and yellow, but doing extreme versions of all the things we regularly do.

I have a small bladder. That episode where Grandpa's kidney burst open as they past bathroom after bathroom and the giant toilet on the side of the road, I can relate to that. My mom refused to stop for bathroom breaks when we were kids, which I think is part of the reason I go to the bathroom so often people think I'm a cokehead. The Simpsons writers just pay attention to the things we do. It makes good TV.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Campfire pretension

Wednesday night, while I slowly sank in my queen sized air mattress inside tent city's greatest mansion in front of the school where I teach, I finally decided to give up sleep and listen to the conversation the loud obese guy was having with the quiet obese guy. I'm pretty sure actually trying to hear this conversation is what finally knocked me out, but before I dropped off to my full two hours of sleep I heard something interesting.

Quiet Guy: Let's talk movies. Star Trek was a good film.
Quiet Guy: Oh but it was good for all the wrong reasons. Mumble mumble mumble and that's why people went to see it.
Loud Guy: Oh....
Quiet Guy: If there's a movie I like to talk about it's Ikiru. I mean, mumble mumble Kurusawa films mumble mumble.
Loud Guy: Oh yeah. okay.
Quiet Guy: And there's this film called Cinema Paradiso....

(This is where I said to myself, "Okay buddy, we all now know you went to film school. Congratulations.")

Loud Guy: Oh really?
Quiet Guy: Oh yeah. And mumble mumble Harold and Maude.
Loud Guy. yeah....
Quiet Guy: Did you see A Beautiful Mind? That movie was really controversial because of the racist mumble mumble. You know, my professor directed that movie.
Loud Guy: Really?
Quiet Guy: Oh yeah. He....

So this seems to be where I fell asleep, right after I got confirmation of my hypothesis that this guy went to film school.

The whole time they were talking I wanted desperately to leap out of my tent and yell "I love Pitch Black because Vin Diesel is a shiny-eyed badass who kills man-eating aliens who did not know who they were fucking with!" and then jump back into my tent. But I did not want to do this as desperately as I wanted to go to sleep.

Seriously. Nobody starts a conversation over a camp fire explaining why Star Trek is good because it's not good, and then segues into Kurusawa, Cinema Paradiso, and Harold and Maude except a frustrated film school grad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Joel McHale Live at the Wiltern

I'm proud to announce that I have introduced The Beefcake to his fourth greatest love.

His first is Robocop. His second is me. His third is deadlifting lots of weight - he's maxed out at six hundred odd pounds so far. Sometimes I want to just threaten random people with my arms crossed and him standing silently behind me with sunglasses on. I would be so badass.

Anyway his fourth greatest love is The Soup. I think if Joel McHale had a vagina The Beefcake would leave me.

Saturday night we had some way-up-in-the-balcony seats to see Joel live at the Wiltern theater in Koreatown (He made jokes about the safety of our cars, but the joke's on him - we walked). This one comic opened for him whose name I forgot, and then we saw K.P. Anderson, head writer for the show, who was pretty hilarious because he writes so much of the material that makes us laugh on the show every week.

And then came Joel. I admit I was skeptical. He doesn't write the material on the show - how will he do when he has to perform his own stuff?

The answer is, fucking awesome, that's how. The Beefcake may have laughed out one of his intestines.

At first I was nervous because the Soup-inspired material was not really that funny. It was several recycled jokes - Ryan is short, Tyra is self-centered, Bruce Jenner looks weird - but then he started talking about his family.

As soon as the stuff veered away from the predictable and became about his tightwad dad and his bizarro kid, it got so funny I was giggling waaaay past the punchline time.

It's a good lesson about comedy: make that shit personal. In half-hour increments with a blue-screen TV behind you and that one hot dude he keeps shooting, jokes about pop culture are funny, but on a stage in front of loads of people who have nothing to do but sit and watch you pace, you have to have something else going on. Joel had something else going on.

I also appreciate the LA jokes. Joel gave a much-appreciated shoutout to those of us in the cheap seats because he figured everybody on the floor probably got their shit for free from some industry connection. I was all "OMG that's totally me! I totally paid for my tickets! Joel's pointing at me because I'm not in the industry yet! Weeeee!"

Okay and here's a message to people who videotape or record the audio of a comedian's performance: It is just as fucking annoying to sit there with your goddamn camera on and its bright ass screen all up in my face at a comedy show as it is in the fucking movie theater. That said, I'm gonna find one of those recordings so I can listen to that shit again.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Yearbook day

Man I am tired as hell.

Today is yearbook distribution day. I sent out invited to all seniors who preordered books and had them come to my room for a slide show. It was probably a hundred kids packed in there like sardines. And as usual, technical difficulties screwed us up. Six years I've done yearbooks, and six times the distribution has been all screwed up because something horrible went wrong at the last minute.

This time the slide show didn't work because the projector wouldn't recognize the computer it recognized just fine when we tested it yesterday. So we said "fuck it" and handed out books. That actually went pretty well. There are a few mistakes but there are always a few mistakes. It's too early to hear if people like it, but it looks like they do.

For some reason my editor is still trying to make the slide show work, two hours later. More power to that lovable little guy, but I think it's past the point where it matters.

The hardest part is fielding the eight thousand questions and comments from people right while you're in the middle of handing out books. My first time, in the middle of the horrible chaos I had created for myself, while all was going to hell and I was considering suicide as my only out, some dumbass kid decided to point out a typo on a random page. I almost changed my suicide plan to a murder plan.

After work today we all have meetings by department, so I get to write again. Maybe I'll have time to work on some pages from the script. At least I get to bring my yearbook and watch everybody make a fuss about how awesome it looks, unless they decide to point out typos, which they will because they're all English teachers.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Starting almost over

Well now I did it.

I got about 20 pages into my latest script and then I practically started over. I realized that I had an action scene on the first two pages and then nothing for probably 20 more. You can't go 20 minutes in a martial arts film with no martial arts, or at least something with tension. I had 20 minutes of people chatting. I was boring myself with all that talking.

People in screenplays really do need to learn to shut up and do stuff.

After the first night's adventure, Character A is invited to Character B's house to discuss something that will bring Character A and Character C together. Character A is concerned because she's guilty of a crime against Character B, but doesn't know if old B knows it or not.

Character B does not know, and all three characters talk. Then the next day character A and Character C talk some more. And then more talking. And also more talking about talking.

I thought about it and changed it to the following:

Character A learns that a 14-year-old boy she knows has been accused of her crime and is being questioned at Character B's house, so she storms over to save the boy, but has to do it without giving herself up. Once there she runs into Character C in league with Character B. Confrontation. There's less talking because tensions are high so there's no pleasantries or fond remembrances, just shouting and crying and whatnot from various people and I can meet out the exposition buried inside arguments. And Character A goes to the house of her own volition, not because she is requested there. Proactive behavior and all that.

Then I can not only put some interesting conflict inside my talking, but I can get to the action faster. I like this method much, much better.

The problem is, it changes completely most of the pages I already wrote and also makes me question the direction I was taking a subplot. I think I have to totally change the subplot but I don't know how yet. I need to sleep on it.

The lesson I learned from this is that sometimes when your script is boring you, throw a 14-year-old kid under a bus.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Do not buy from Southern California Auto Sales of Fullerton

Since it's Saturday I'm going to break my self-imposed rule. I try hard to make this about only movies or teaching, and I really really try to stay on movies and screenwriting with minimal posts about teaching. But today, I must stray from my mission because when something like this happens you can't ignore the fact that you've got a public forum in which to express your grievances.

In February the Beefcake decided to buy a new car because at the time he drove a piece of shit sedan he had beaten into the ground over years of doing a job that involved driving all over LA and its surrounding areas, a job he has replaced with one close to home. Since he teaches a free workout class in a park every Saturday morning he wanted and SUV in which to load all his workout gadgets, and since we're both fans of the Earth and its accouterments, he decided to buy a hybrid SUV.

Don't give me any lectures about the batteries. I researched. They recycle them now.

There are 4 hybrid SUVs on the market, the most affordable and easy to find being the hybrid Ford Escape. I did some research. I found one with 50,000 miles on it at Southern California Auto Sales, which is based in Santa Ana but has a location in Fullerton on Euclid Street.

Allow me to repeat, in case anyone is interested in buying a car at Southern California Auto Sales in Fullerton, that's where it is. On Euclid Street.

The Beefcake bought the car and we drove away, happy as Larry. He loved it. Leg room, space for his weight lifting gadgets, a quiet little engine. He donated his old car to Goodwill, which was able to get over $2 grand for it. So in one fell swoop he helped out some poor people and got an Earth friendly vehicle.

And he payed the price.

Last week the engine began making a knocking sound. At first we didn't know if anything was wrong because it has a hybrid engine, and does anyone really know what that sounds like when things go bad? So finally Saturday the knocking got worse so he took it to the Ford dealership. Because it's a Ford and there are still no hybrid mechanics in town.

So kids, if you're looking for an up and coming job, we are in need of hybrid mechanics. Every mechanic I talked to was sorry they couldn't help an appalled that the dealer wouldn't.

The Ford mechanic said The Beefcake needs a new engine. A brand new $5,000 engine. For his four-year-old car with 50,000 miles on it that he just bought in February.

Southern California Auto Sales in Fullerton told him he was "110 percent responsible" for the engine and that he should have gotten the extended warranty. They said they changed the oil, but how were they supposed to know it had an engine problem?

He called Ford. They agreed that it's a shitty situation, but they can do nothing.

He's calling the attorney general's office and writing to Ford and doing a few other things, including considering small claims court because a close family member is a corporate attorney, but in the end he may have to fork out $5 grand for a new engine for his three-month old Ford Escape Hybrid.

We were going to buy a house this year. We've been saving and saving and I've been pulling myself out of debt so we could buy a house in time to beat the cutoff for the tax credit. This was enough of a dent in our savings that it has seriously affected our housing search.

Southern California Auto Sales of Fullerton nearly cost me a house.

So if by any chance you ever consider buying your car there, don't. They have no problem selling you a lemon and then telling you to fuck off when you ask them to pay for the damaged goods.

Friday, June 05, 2009

My kids like torture

I put my students in Poe groups and each group had to present a different short story. The Tell-Tale Heart group did a rap video. That was some funny shit.

My sophomores are doing one of my favorite projects - writing stories. I find that having the students write their own stories is the best possible way to get them to remember and understand story elements. I've got three groups writing their stories together this time, which is especially awesome because I get to read the same story from different characters' perspectives. I'm telling you guys, they love being creative. They don't think it's work.

Yesterday as I was explaining how to construct a plot I said "Torture your protagonist." For once I had them all in rapt attention as I explained what was wrong with T4. "You have a character who's a robot but thinks he's human. But he never questions who he is. In a story you have to make your character suffer. You have to make him question what he believes in. Torture him."

Then yesterday something connected. Last time I did this assignment most of my stories were about rape and gang violence and suicide and I thought my entire class was depressed. Then yesterday I connected the fact that I told then to torture the protagonist with the fact that I had really depressing stories.

So today I came back with "I don't mean literally torture your protagonist. I mean make his life more difficult. Harold and Kumar are tortured but it's funny."

And they all nodded and some were like "ooooh" as if they hadn't thought of this before.

So I figured maybe I'll get some fun stories this time around.

The one girl who was really excited about her idea showed me her outline and it was about a boy who gets raped by his mom and then becomes a rapist himself.

So maybe they are depressed.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Kicking my own ass

I've been getting some positive hits lately on Not Dead Yet. People want to read it, and when people read it they like it, and then they send it to more people.

I gotta tell you, I think my query letter must be pretty good. I think I'm going to send out more next week.

Recently someone was kind enough to remind me that when the right person finally reads they're going to ask the next obvious question, "What else you got?"

Um. Well.

You can't ride your entire life off one post-zombie apocalyptic survival story. I think Ben Franklin said that.

I have a lot of crappy stuff I sometimes pretend doesn't exist because it really shouldn't, and I have Fear of Clowns. If someone asked me right now today to produce something, that's in a rough state but far enough along that I could polish that shit up in a couple of weeks if I busted my ass. But I don't want to.

I wrote a vomit draft of that, but in the end I abandoned it because it feels fake. I teach kids who deal with gangs, but I've never experienced the things they've experienced and I've never even been to any of their homes. The day I met the Beefcake I was supposed to go to a graduation party for one of my kids but I skipped it to go to the other party. In hindsight that was definitely the correct decision, but I still feel kind of bad that I haven't spent any time in the community where my kids live.

And this is why I feel like a fraud writing a story about a kid trying to stay out of gangs. The main reason I wanted to write it in the first place was to counter some of the bullshit you see in similar movies, and I found myself writing the same bullshit. So even if I could clean up Fear of Clowns I just don't think I should.

I used to have these terrific writing habits. Every day I wrote for at least an hour and on Sundays I often wrote all day. Then I got a life and started working harder at my job, and well, now I don't write enough. Granted, some of that time has been researching and planning and editing Not Dead Yet, but still. Seventeen pages in like three months is ridiculous.

I have to reestablish a writing pattern so I can finish Burn Side. I think at the very least I need to make sure I've written at least one page before I go to sleep every night, and on Sundays I will set aside two hours to just write.

All it really takes is for me to say I'm going to do it, then not allow any excuses. It's a habit thing, really. While I was implementing my major rewrite of Not Dead Yet I got out of the habit of writing every day and into the habit of editing, and those are two different processes. So I have to accept that NDY is done and rework my brain back to being creative in a different sense.

Because soon somebody is going to come looking for what else I've got, and I need to have something to give them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What I learned from Back to the Future 2

Things may not be so bad at work next semester. The department chair, who is also one of my good friends, came to my rescue and is trying to figure out how to fix my schedule so I'm not teaching so many classes. And my homeroom is changing so that I will be teaching seniors I already know, so that's a blessing. This morning I woke in a panic over my schedule for next year but now I'm feeling much better thanks to the leadership of my awesome coworker. I think I'm going to buy him a cupcake.

This past Saturday the Beefcake and I wandered over to the New Beverly to join a sold-out crowd watching the Back to the Future trilogy. We only stayed for 1 and 2 because 3 started at midnight and I've seen it bunches of times anyway.

They had a replica of the Delorian outside. It was pretty cool. It was also cool watching the film on the big screen with people occasionally shouting out quotes. The Beefcake and I yelled out "BILLY ZANE!!!" every time he appeared on screen. Fun.

On the wall next to the bathroom is a poster for a movie starring Joey Travolta. This is one of several observations I made while waiting in line between movies.

So the first movie is awesome, we all know that. But what I got out of this screening is an awareness of what's wrong with the second movie. Because it's got some real problems, and they're mostly in the first 20 minutes.

So first, a logic issue. Doc Brown makes this huge deal about how Marty can't encounter his future self and when Jen sees her future self she passes out, but when Biff sees himself it's all okay. Until the paradox happens, which is, I guess, why Biff wasn't supposed to encounter his future self. So nevermind. I think.

Okay so the inciting incident of that film occurs when Old Biff goes back in time and gives Young Biff the sports book, an event which occurs over 20 minutes into the movie.

So for 20 minutes we think this is a story about Marty's problem with his future kid. Then he resolves that issue and suddenly that's not the problem anymore, so we wait, and then the real problem shows up. And in the meantime we see an absurd world where people are just really really silly.

Once Biff gave himself the sports book, the story got interesting. Before that moment I was checking the time and thinking "Oh my god this is the worst movie ever! I didn't remember this movie being this bad!" I almost fell asleep. I told the Beefcake I wanted to leave like three times, but for some reason we kept sticking around for the next scene, until Biff changed that past and suddenly the story started.

This is a good lesson for me. I have a tendency to open every story with an action sequence that takes too long. I have fun punching people and firing shotguns and engineering chases and whatnot, and I forget that all this needs to go somewhere, so long about page 15 I finally get to the story. A friend pointed this out to me once and I haven't forgotten it.

So my new story has an action scene right up front, but this time I'm making sure that the opening moment is at least close to the one that sets everything in motion. I've been saying, what is the moment that creates the problem? The inciting incident needs to be in the first 10 minutes.

Otherwise you end up staring at your watch and begging to leave.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My DVD collection

Movies I liked enough to have on DVD, in the order in which they appear on my shelf. You can see I began with kind of an organization by genre thing and then abandoned it after the action movies:

Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded (only because the MTV movie awards skit with Justin Timberlake and Sean William Scott is hilarious, not because I like the movie)
Spiderman 1 and 2
Batman Begins
X Men 2
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
House of Flying Daggers
Once Upon a Time in China
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Troy (Shut up. It's sort of the Iliad. And it has hot naked dudes.)
Pitch Black
Dark Fury (The animated sequel to Pitch Black. Because I fucking love Pitch Black. In fact I'm pretty sure I stole my copy from my ex.)
The Musketeer
In Bruges
A Knight's Tale
Fight Club
Rocky Balboa (An impulse buy I had never seen)
3:10 to Yuma (remake)
Shaun of the Dead
Hot Fuzz
The Princess Bride
Garden State
The Last Kiss (American)
The Legend of Bagger Vance (Fuck off. I like that movie.)
Shattered Glass
Brokeback Mountain
The Darjeeling Limited
The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human (If you have not seen this film, put it in your queue this goddamn minute or you are a communist.)
Bottle Rocket
Little Miss Sunshine
The Simpsons Movie
Sweeny Todd
Moulin Rouge
Big Fish
Paris, Je T'Aime
The Outsiders (mostly for work)
Romeo + Juliet
Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh)
The Joy Luck Club (also for work)
The Maltese Falcon
Cyrano de Bergerac (Gerard Depardieu version)
Shakespeare in Love
Life is Beautiful
Suicide Kings
I Am Legend (only because I wanted the alternate ending, which was not on this goddamn disk)
Office Space
Galaxy Quest
The Emperor's New Groove
The Star Wars Trilogy (Ep IV was stolen, so I replaced it with that disk that included the original version)