Browsing all 182 posts in Movies.

MOVIE REVIEWS: All Six Planet of the Apes Movie in One Day

MOVIE REVIEWS: All Six Planet of the Apes Movie in One Day

I love watching the entirety of a movie franchise in one day. I’ve done Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions, mind you!) in the past. The exercise always gives you fresh insight and appreciation. This Labor Day weekend my buddy and I tackled the Planet of the Apes movies: all five originals, capped with the Burton reimagining.

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MOVIE NEWS: Thoughts on X-Men: First Class Casting

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MOVIE NEWS: Thoughts on X-Men: First Class Casting

I quite like Bryan Singer’s X-Men and I think X2 is the best movie based on a Marvel property ever made. The disappointing (if over-criticized) X-Men 3: The Last Stand (directed by Brett Ratner) was one of the first films to really show the harm done by 20th Century Fox’s policy of setting a release date, then developing a picture. I found things to like about the very flawed X-Men Origins: Wolverine film.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables

I just saw that The Expendables won the weekend for the second week in a row. This seems to be baffling a good many Hollywood types who never would have written a movie starring (virtually only) 30-50 something year-old men, actors who have all had their heydey and have since been relegated to streaming Netflix catalog filler.

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MOVIES: Can’t Get Inception Out of My Head

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MOVIES: Can’t Get Inception Out of My Head

I can’t stop thinking about Inception. (*wa-dump-tish*) As a medium, film is probably in its third act. Videogames and internet are more highly evolved forms waiting only for their renaissance, so when a film enters the zeitgeist as Inception has, it’s worth noting. Spoilers ahoy…

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MOVIE NEWS: Yogi Bear Faux Paws

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MOVIE NEWS: Yogi Bear Faux Paws

A friend of mine has a theory which I am an agreement with: every marketing department or copy division needs a 22 year-old horny male on its staff to filter-out unintended innuendo. (Unintenuendo?) Horrible mistake after the jump.

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I finally saw Inception. Oof, that’s how you make an entertaining movie. I’m not sure when the last time was that I walked-out of the theatre so satisfied. As far as I’m concerned, it ought to be the first serious contender for Best Picture 2010.

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On Screenwriting: In the beginning…

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For months I’ve promised to chronicle my journey through screenwriting and my thoughts regarding the craft on this blog. Here’s the first post: a bunch of autoblogigraphical nonsense, if you like that sort of thing. (Worry not, music blogging will continue simultaneously.)

My short term career goals are to continue to learn new things about the entertainment industry; to meet people that can help me and whom I want to help.

My mid-term goal is to get an agent.

My long-term career goal is to sell some screenplays and / or obtain a staff position writing for television. That’s hard. Thousands of hours with slim chances of a return on the investment. It requires some luck. It’s not pie-in-the-sky though. Every week, it happens to someone. Someones like me, often.

A brief retrospective of my career aspirations:

  • In second grade I wanted be to a scientist and discover the cure for AIDS (seriously)
  • By sixth grade I wanted to be a novelist like Stephen King
  • By seventh grade I wanted to be playwright (At age twelve I wrote a play about a young epileptic boy who has to come to terms with the fact that he can never be an astronaut. I was such a normal kid.)
  • Sophomore year of high school, actor
  • Freshman year of college, radio host
  • Sophomore year of college, professional improvisation comedian / SNL cast member
  • Junior year of college, television director
  • Senior year of college, film writer / director / producer
  • Year Three in Los Angeles, music video / sketch / commercial writer / director / producer
  • Year Four in Los Angeles, film writer / producer
  • Year Five in Los Angeles, professional magazine / blog writer
  • Year Six in Los Angeles, screenwriter (August ’10 will mark six years in LA for me)

Excepting a couple outliers, there are some obvious thru-lines there. Almost everything is creative. Most involve the invention of characters. A lot of them are performance oriented.

I spent the first half of college immersed in the world of improvisational comedy. I believed I’d found my calling. Unlike stage acting or film acting, improvisational comedy is pure philosophy. It felt like an intellectual pursuit to me. I won’t bore you with the details of my tragic fall from the kingdom of Absolunacy. I’ll say that when you’re 20, you think you know everything. One thing I did not know was how to work well with others. I’m still learning.

I was a minor on-campus celebrity at Ball State because of the comedy troupe and my weekly newspaper column. When I quit the troupe my junior year (maybe a couple months before I would have been kicked out) I became immensely depressed. Someone who is now one of my best friends in the world invited me to hold shotgun mic on his student film. I fell in love with filmmaking.

After graduation I moved to LA dreaming of being the next Robert Rodriguez. When you are 22, you think you know everything. There were a couple detours (sketch production, blog writing) but in general my career aim since coming to LA has been a through line, if still a process of elimination.

My excuse for Year One was that I didn’t have a camera. Then I bought $6,000 worth of gear. During Year Three, my friends and I made a lot of comedy shorts. I still think we mined some nuggets of genius. (My finest achievement.) Sometime in Year Three or Four I shot a music video produced by an acquaintance. It didn’t go as I wanted. I tried segueing this blog into video production, too. I felt inadequate.

What I came to realize was 1) painting with light did not come naturally to me and 2) there were way more guys with way more talent who wanted it way more than I did. That my efforts found no audience beyond my friends didn’t help.

That cut me down to writer / producer. My last “real” job helped me eliminate the producer aspect. I don’t have the alpha male gene for it. I’m a collaborator and an inventor, not a schmoozer of agency folks.

What it came down to, for me, is that I’ve written my entire life. I didn’t run around with a photo camera taking pictures. I did dabble in making movies as a little kid, but only for amusement.

No, I spent all day making-up new stories for my Ninja Turtle figures. (NO MIXING OF TOYS. Continuity was king. Splinter could never fight Lion-O.) I loved the essay assignments in school. I took every creative writing course I could. I wrote short stories. Stories where government agents that flew on the backs of baby dragons would execute citizens who took photographs. Stories where right-wing terrorists waged war on mass transit in a Utopian future. Even my student filmmaking in college was, ultimately, just a different expression of my desire not to tell stories, but to create stories.

But I’m also a product of the 80’s and 90’s; my brain was programmed with visual stimuli. Teevee, movies, and video games. I still work on short stories from time to time, but writing for the screen, writing with images, suits me.

I dabbled in music writing, but I can’t hang with the true music aficionados. Amongst my music-loving peers, I often feel like the poseur. I’m comfortable with that now.

So that’s how I got to this point. A little less than a year ago, I “got serious” about screenwriting. Since college I’ve had a gajillion ideas for scripts. Many of them made it to about page seven or seventeen. Last year, I grew-up enough to discipline myself. It’s been immensely rewarding already. Back in December I made it to the final page of a draft for the first time.

The hardest thing is the format and the structure. Poets have no such concerns, really. Magazine writers have some leeway. Novelists are free to tinker with format and structure. Blogging is whatever you want it to be.

But in writing for the screen, the proven structures are religion and the format is law. No one who can help you wants you to be “creative” about the format. Hollywood readers worship the tried-and-true beats. It takes near-meditative mental discipline to teach yourself to love that. For me, forcing myself into the box is a zen exercise. The reward comes from flourishing in a box. You can fill the same box with an infinite number of different things.

Something I learned this year: the first step towards knowledge is to humbly admit there is something you do not understand. It would be a dream to have a writing career. But I write for myself. It makes for the best personal journey, the best stories.

End of Year 2009: Minutiae

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Time for end of the year lists. I HATE that any end of the year list runs before January 1st. I think they should all run January 30th, a month after the year has passed. That said, I want to participate in the ongoing discussion, so here we go.

Monday – Minutiae
Tuesday – LA Live Experience
Wednesday – Favorite Non-LA Recordings
Thursday – Favorite LA-Local Recordings
Friday – LA Bands

Disclaimer: I don’t know enough about anything to claim “best” with much confidence. Most everything on the CGT lists are unranked favorites.


Let’s face it: 2009 kind of sucked. I don’t like the pop route indie music has taken. Everything is too electro, too acoustic, or too disposable. It was uncool to like rock music in 2009, unless your idea of rock music is to stare at shoelaces all night. Maybe, maybe four records this year entered my all-time playlist. I spent most of the year listening to old Ted Leo and Superchunk records.

CGT went on tour with the Henry Clay People, which was a lot of fun. We got famous for taking cheap shots at the Jonas Brothers. On the blog we reviewed fewer records, put-on fewer shows, stopped live reviews on a regular basis, and did some writing for Web In Front, Fuel, and Radio Free Silverlake. CGT was always intended as a destination for my voice as a writer, not as a music blog competing for notoriety, and that’s largely what it was this year.

I most regret not seeking-out new music with the same enthusiasm I have in years past. I got pretty comfortable going to see the same bands I already liked and a part of me feels like I did readers a disservice by not unearthing new stuff.

Favorite Colts Players in 2009

I always list my favorite Colts players for the regular season. It’s never Manning or Reggie Wayne or the stars, but the lunchpail guys who deserve recognition:

  • Melvin Bullit
  • Donald Brown
  • Austin Collie
  • Pierre Garçon
  • Jacob Lacey
  • Clint Sessions
  • Jerraud Powers

Brown puts some power back in the run game. Rookie receiver Austin “The Stormin’ Mormon” Collie and virtual redshirt receiver Garçon have made Marvin Harrison a distant memory. (“Peter Waiter” is a future stud.) I’ve got to love the rookie corners playing most of this entire season better than the injured vets played the last two seasons. Sessions is the new difference maker now that Bobzilla is on the IR. Sanders’ replacement, Melvin Bullitt, is equally valuable.

Favorite Movies in 2009

This year was pretty disappointing. There was no brilliant Marvel property film like Iron Man or X2. I’ve barely seen any Oscar calibre movies yet because so few of them seem interesting. (Up in the Air, Precious, and Brothers are on the eventual to do list.) I’ll happily proclaim 2009 the worst year in movies since 1997.

  • District 9
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Funny People
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • I Love You, Man
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • The Road
  • Star Trek
  • Terminator: Salvation
  • Watchmen
  • Where the Wild Things Are

Star Trek, The Road, District 9, and Inglorious Basterds are the only “great” movies I saw. I thought Where the Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Watchmen were successful and appropriate (but obviously imperfect) adaptations of beloved properties. Funny People and The Terminator sequel were pleasant surprises, and the new Potter flick was surprisingly fresh and engaging.

Biggest Disappointments in 2009

Favorite Music Blogging

Last year I bookmarked all the blogging I liked during the year. This year I forgot to do that. This is a half complete list.

WLFY isn’t actually a new blog, but they are new to me and I love their cranky, elitist writing voice.

Joe Fielder left LA and left Radio Free Silverlake in the hands of a diverse range of scenesters (full disclosure: including yours truly!) RFS’s Let’s Independent! shows used to be the center of the scene (to me, anyway), and the spirit of those shows lives on with the new site. I wish for more online magazines like that one.

Surfing on Steam is an odd choice for CGT’s Blog of the Year. An Aquarium Drunkard and Buzz Bands would be obvious choices based on expertise alone. And in terms of the music SOS covers, I only like so much shoegaze and SOS dislikes / doesn’t care for most all of my favorite bands.

But Scott McDonald’s blog is fiercely consistent, it takes a stance on “what music should be,” is unapologetic, covers everything from local to national / known to unkown, and (perhaps most importantly) is always short and to the point. Every post tells you the who, what, and why you should care in about thirty seconds. That’s “what blogging should be” going into the year 2010 and SOS was most consistently worth my time more than any other site in 2009.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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I never offered my thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

  • The problem with the flick is that it never deals with “the mutant problem”. In the Singer films, and even in Ratner’s X3 (which I liked more than most), there are always politicians, law enforcement, and military looking to get those pesky mutants. In X2, when Pyro blows-up a cop car, it’s a problem. But in Wolverine the mutants just use their powers without pause, and they do so without ever considering the consequences of their actions, to society or to themselves.
  • For the character Wolverine this should have been a film about coming to terms with being a mutant. It wasn’t.
  • I was surprised with how faithful the Team X / Weapon X stuff was to the source material, but what I really missed was the torture and brainwashing aspects of the program. In the first three films we get a lot about how tortured Wolverine must have been when he went through the Weapon X program, but we don’t see too much of that here.
  • The design of Stryker’s lab and the events that actually take place break continuity with the flashback scenes in X2. In X2 we see men in gas masks, Wolverine covered in his own blood screaming, and Wolverine escaping through a sewer tunnel. Where were those scenes? And if I’m making a prequel, before the script is even finished, the first thing I do is get my design team on the task of recreating the old sets. “Well, we can’t start making costumes ’til we have a cast, but we know we have to re-build that lab!” Why couldn’t they get that right?
  • In the film, Team X begins hunting mutants for Stryker’s Weapon X program after Wolverine has left the team. They should have been hunting mutants for the program while Wolverine was on the team, and uncovering the questionable ethics behind Team X should have been what caused Wolverine to leave. The second act should have been Team X bringing Wolverine in, and act three should have been Wolverine assisting in the prison outbreak.
  • My childhood was raped with the portrayal of Deadpool.
  • The inclusion of Gambit was wasteful, though I’ve never liked the character much anyway outside of a romantic foil for Rogue. If Gambit was to ever be included in the X-Men films, it needed to involve the X-Men suspecting him of betraying the team from within. That’s his only interesting story arc.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not horrible. Liev Schreiber is quite good as Sabretooth and Hugh Jackman is always great. I thought including Cyclops and Professor X would be hamfisted, but the cameos worked.

Still, the overwhelming feeling I got from the film was “What a waste”. Fox had on its hands one of the best-handled comic book franchises in film history and the last two entries have been rushed into production with no regard for the fans’ feelings, the casual viewer’s self-respect, the integrity of the source material, or the integrity of their own company. Can’t Marvel get the X-Men rights back already?

Thoughts on Watchmen

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This post assumes you’ve seen the Watchmen movie and read the book, so if you don’t want spoilers, move along.

I’ve had numerous long conversations about the film with friends, in real life and on the internet. Some of these ideas may not exclusively be my own. I don’t claim ownership for the ideas in this post so much as I am saying all the things that I’ve heard or read that I agree with.

First thought: “That was as good of an adaptation, as faithful of an adaptation, as I could reasonably expect.”

Second thought: “They didn’t ruin anything. There was no ‘Daredevil would never throw a criminal into a train!’ kind of moment.”

Third thought: “For all it’s flaws, the film is still a conversation starter on heroism and justice.”

Fourth thought: “Other than the ending, this movie was scarcely altered from the source material with the aim of appeasing convention or appealing to the mainstream. It’s not perfect, but it’s not nerfed.”

I can’t write about Watchmen objectively. As you’ve read a million writers, reviewers, and internet nerds say, the graphic novel is “the Citizen Kane of comics”. You can’t talk about the film without talking about the book any more than you can talk about Branagh’s Hamlet without talking about Shakespeare.

The film’s central flaw is that it is too faithful to the source material.

Zack Snyder and his actors are so beholden to the legend of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal graphic novel that they don’t take ownership of the story or characters. There are great directorial moves and riveting performances, the film is smartly and deftly made, but nobody takes any risks. Even Jackie Earle Haley, who is amazing as Rorschach, is simply embodying Moore and Gibbon’s Rorschach to utter perfection. At times, at its worst, Watchmen reminded me of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho.

That said, Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan were perfectly adapted. Nite Owl II was very close. (Patrick Wilson “got it”. I loved his booming boyscout voice in the suit.)

Most fans love The Comedian in this film but I was actually a little disappointed. I always felt like being a spook / going to Vietnam is what taught Comedian his world view. He needed to be more of a two-bit punk in the flashbacks, though the rape scene was properly horrifying. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was good, but that role had potential to be a huge homerun and instead it was a base hit.

Dr. Manhattan’s clocktower on Mars should have been the most beautiful image in the film and instead it is a hideous CGI stain on the giant screen. If ever there was a case for employing Hollywood’s aging miniature model wizards, that was it. Unfortunate.

Watchmen is character-driven and Ozymandias is the film’s weakest link. It’s clear that Snyder is more comfortable with emotion and action than ideas, and I don’t think he was entirely comfortable with the super-intellectual Adrian Veidt.

In the comics Veidt isn’t a cynical celebrity or Donald Trump analog, he is a total golden boy. His Alexander the Great obsession is not merely centered on Alexander’s Egyptian conquest, but also his Greek heritage. He’s beautiful, intelligent, adored. This man does gymnastics for charity. When one reads Watchmen for the first time it is a reveal that Veidt is the mastermind “villain”.

But in the film you can smell him as the rat from his first scene. The horror of what he’s done for the betterment of mankind isn’t as painful to swallow because well, he wears a shitty suit and dresses in dark colors the whole movie. He’s the “bad guy”? No kidding!

Though I liked replacing Captain Metropolis with Ozymandias in the “meeting” scene, I would have added a short scene in a flashback where we see him fighting crime, maybe during the riots. Ozymandias is the only masked character in the whole film that we never see fighting crime at any point and that is a subtle (but strong) tell to the third act’s events.

All of the changes made were too delicate and calculated, especially the ending. I like the ending. In many ways, I think it is a superior ending, story-wise. But in the graphic novel the first eleven chapters are drawn in perfect 3×3 panel pages with the occasional 1×3 or 2×3 frame. The structure is utterly disciplined. It reflects the psychological confines of the characters and the physical confines of the world of the book. When the “disaster” happens in the twelfth chapter that structure is broken and Gibbons moves to larger, full-page, asymmetrical panels.

An early page in Watchmen.

Chapter 12.

For the entire book violence is skipped around, hidden from us, and mostly hinted at, and then in chapter 12… grotesque, deformed bodies line the streets.

In the film we see grotesque violence throughout, desensitizing us to the eventual horror of Veidt’s actions. And then when the destruction comes, when Veidt obliterates a small portion of the human population for the betterment of the rest, we don’t even see the loss of life! It is at the ending where the violence should be most grotesque and instead the audience is spared with meaningless, blue CGI blobs.

There’s a version of this movie to be made where Rorschach is the central character, taking us through the world and plot of Watchmen, with Ozymandias and Manhattan being the next two most important characters, and where the Sally / Dan stuff being a subplot. It wouldn’t have been as faithful of a film, but it could have been a more powerful one.

All that and I give the film an “-A”.

Zack Snyder is not subtle, but he is admirable in his refusal to compromise. Snyder’s films always have a clear and concise world with clear and concise rules of that world. That is true here. The film was visually stunning. It was the most expensive non-mainstream film I’ve ever seen. It takes comic books and superheroes as a serious, important medium to critique our culture. It has a masked man killing Kennedy, Richard Nixon in the Dr. Strangelove warroom, a lesbian costumed crime fighter kissing the WWII nurse instead of Alfred Eisenstaedt, and there was copius giant, blue, radioactive dick.

My favorite part was from the scene Rorschach is arrested until the end of the prison breakout. I thought the end conversation between Sally, Dan, John, Veidt, and Rorschach; the scene where they decide “what to do now,” was incredibly moving and effective.

I had a blast. I plan on seeing it again this weekend.