Film Essent Archive for April, 2011

Jay-Z, Lyrical Genius?

Off movie topics for a moment and onto music … been in an Eminem phase for the past couple days thanks to Tom Hall rapping the hell out of “Lose Yourself” at the karaoke party at Sarasota (and y’all, Tom Hall can rap the hell out of some Eminem), but I finally got tired of that and migrated over to Jay-Z’s The Black Album, one of my standby albums to listen to when I’m in need of energy or stumped with a writing hurdle.

I was looking up a lyric in 99 Problems, and the first comment in the comment section, written by “lee” on 4/10/11, caught my eye, and then once I read it I had to go back and read it again. It’s pretty brilliantly written, particularly for a comment on a lyrics page. Check out this bit:

And only if you have been in a hole may you be excused for not being aware of Jay-z evolution. Haven’t you heard his new shit? “i make music for the world”. He HAS moved away from his predecessors. What I’m trying to verbalize is that you are inept on both accounts. Jay-z is currently rapping about what he knows; riches, so you’re lacking in current information. Listen to the Blueprint 3; it’s not as good as Reasonable Doubt or the original Blueprint, but it will educate your ass. And 2, he’s FROM the hood baby, if he ever wants to return to that, he’s got shit to draw from. So perhaps a little reflection is in order, i don’t blame you for being misinformed, i pity you.

I have no idea who “lee” is, but hell yeah. He’s got a great writing voice, you can practically hear the words in your head as if they’re being recited as a spoken word piece. They have the rhythm of a lyricist to them.

If you scroll on through the rest of the comments and ignore the occasional dumbass, taken as a whole it’s all a pretty interesting conversation on the social relevance of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems lyrics. Fascinating, even if you’re not Jay-Z fan.

Will the Real Scott Adams Fan Please Stand Up?

Not really sure what to think about this whole scandal around Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams admitting that he used a fake identity as his own biggest fan to defend himself on internet discussion boards.

If you’re not up to speed on the whole mess, Gawker has a pretty good breakdown of it — though I can’t say with certainty that a story that kicks off with “Scott Adams, creator of the great comic strip Dilbert, is sort of a prick.” is setting out to be at all objective. Particularly given their 2007 piece on how Adams, who rose to fame with his comic strips about workplace buffoonery and stupid bosses, was himself a lousy boss.

Fake identities on the internet are nothing new. Last year, the real guys behind the Wise Kaplan and Cranky Kaplan Twitter feeds were unmasked (and if anything, the unmasking just made them all the more interesting), and if you regularly read the comments section of the Hot Blog, Hollywood Elsewhere, The Wrap, Thompson on Hollywood, et al, there are all kinds of folks out there commenting under pseudonyms, or at least under online “personas,” right?

I dunno, to me this just feels less like a “scandal,” and more like a “heh.” Maybe I’m just getting cynical and assuming 99.8% of people are less than completely transparent in one way or another on the internet, whether it’s on message boards, comments sections of blogs, Facebook or Twitter. What do you think? Scandal or not?


The Art of Movie Titles

Just got an email announcing that Homework, the Freddie Highmore/Emma Roberts teenage-angst-slacker drama that Fox Searchlight picked up at Sundance, is getting a title change to The Art of Getting By.

Personally, I think this is a good move on Searchlight’s part. Homework was a bland title that had “working title until we think up something better” written all over it. The Art of Getting By, in any case, is both catchier and more fitting for what the film is really about. I bet they had a lot of brainstorming meetings over bagels and coffee with a white board figuring out something better to call this film. Hey, at least they didn’t go with “Annoying Rich White Kids Get Life Lessons” or something.

Now, if they could just find a way to cut the diabetic coma-inducing sugariness of the script down just a notch (no, I will NOT use the words “twee” or “precious” to describe it, no matter how apropos they may be) … we might be getting somewhere. I felt when I was watching Homework at Sundance that it wanted to be edgier and braver. Terri and Submarine both, for me, dealt with teen issues and angst with more honest and real — and interesting — characters. But at least it’s got a better title now.

John Hughes’s movies often had great titles for what they were. The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. Weird Science. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Some Kind of Wonderful. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Home Alone. (Come to think of it, I like all those movies, even now. Yes, even Home Alone — the first one, not the sequels.)

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet … or would it? I’m kind of with Anne Shirley, who didn’t think a rose would smell as sweet if it was called a skunk cabbage. Would those Hughes films have been the same movies if they’d been titled … Detention? I Can’t Believe They Forgot My Birthday? Wrong Side of the Tracks? Two Geeks and a Hot Babe? Get Me Home for Thanksgiving? Crushing on the Wrong Girl? Playing Hooky? Bad Parents Forget Kid?

SFF Dispatch: Wrapping a Terrific Fest

What a great film festival Sarasota has. Gorgeous city to get to hang out in, enthusiastic audiences, sunshine, beautiful beaches, fabulous parties, and most importantly, a really solid slate of films, curated by Artistic Director Tom Hall and Director of Programming Holly Herrick, who, in addition to having excellent taste in film, are two of the nicest people in the indie film world.
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Say What, Armond?

I kind of love the way some Facebook posts end up generating a pretty interesting comments discussion. Last night, Matt Zoller Seitz posted a link to Armond White’s review of The Conspirator, Robert Redford’s newest directorial effort, which led Glenn Kenny to note that White had lumped in Matt Damon with George Clooney and Sean Penn, thusly:

Now, with The Conspirator, Redford himself seems to believe his own legend; he has joined his knuckle-headed, self-righteous progeny—George Clooney, Sean Penn and Matt Damon—by directing a film that is as dull as it is politically hip.

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SFF Dispatch: Beautiful People and Beaches

After a long day of travel, I finally made it to Sarasota last night for the Sarasota Film Festival — oddly enough, my first time to this particular fest. It’s fun to step outside my comfort zone of the regional fests to which I normally travel and experience a new vibe, but I was also a wee bit nerve-wracked when my itinerary included specifications as to “attire” for the various events I’m slated to attend.
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Arianna Update: Class Act(ion)

Journalist and union organizer Jonathan Tasini, who was also a HuffPo blogger for five years, has filed a class action lawsuit against Arianna Huffington and Huffington post for $105 million — a third of the value of the sale of HuffPo to AOL. Jeff Bercovici, writing for Forbes, has a couple of great pieces up on the lawsuit here and here.

Also, here’s a copy of the filed complaint if you like to read things written in legalese.

The interesting angle in this lawsuit, which may just give them a legal leg to stand on, is that the filing is based on common law, not contract law — which makes the fact that the bloggers agreed to write for free irrelevant to the case (at least, according to the attorneys for the plaintiff — we’ll see what a judge thinks once all the arguments have been heard).

What it boils down to is that the case alleges that Huffington Post built something of value on the backs of unpaid labor, and that the labor that contributed to that has a fair expectation of compensation now that it’s been sold for a ton of money.

In other words, basically what a lot of HuffPo bloggers have been arguing since the sale, but now a class-action suit’s been filed making exactly that allegation.

Tasini, by the way, was previously the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2001 case New York Times Co. vs Tasini, which dealt with newspapers re-using the work of freelancers for inclusion in electronic databases without additional compensation.

The plaintiffs won that case. We’ll see how things go with this one. It’s good to see the HuffPo bloggers have Tasini in their corner, though, and I expect it’s at least a bit of a relief for those who have been frustrated by Arianna’s refusal to offer any compensation to her corps of unpaid labor to at least have the suit filed so they’ll get their day in court.

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Image of the Day: Budapest, 1914

André Kertész

Budapest, 1914

From André Kertész (Editions Hazan)

I love the way the buildings are framed in this shot, and the interplay of light and shadow. What’s the man doing out there, in the dark? Waiting for his wife to give birth, perhaps, or standing outside his house after a fight, cooling his heels. Or perhaps he doesn’t really want to go home, and is standing out there weighing just how long he can hide in shadow before going inside to face whatever awaits him there that keeps him standing there, on the edge of that circle of welcoming light.

… from Liquid Night


Dallas IFF Dispatch: Parties, Programming, and the Future

One thing the Dallas International Film Festival has always known how to do well is hospitality, and this, their fifth year, was certainly no exception. This year, the fest was headquartered downtown at the lovely Hotel Joule. While the hotel for the previous two years, The Palomar, is very nice and is conveniently located right across from Mockingbird Station and the Angelika Theater, it’s also a big night spot for the SMU beautiful people crowd, which could get to be a bit much on Friday and Saturday nights. Also? The crosswalk you take to get across the very busy intersection is very busy, and it’s a right next to the highway off-ramp and seriously potentially deadly.
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Chaos Reigns at What Remains of Moviefone

I’ve been hearing from a couple of insider sources, who I am keeping anonymous for their protection, that things around Moviefone — one of AOL’s most highly trafficked properties — are imploding at light speed.

Among other things, numerous inside sources have told me that when Patricia Chui was fired, her Moviefone colleagues were reading about it on the Internet before she even left the meeting to clear her personal belongings out of her desk.
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Boycott! Boycott! Boycott!

For the writers still there and posting at Moviefone as of today, I am imploring you, people, as one writer to another — as one decent (I hope) human being to another:

I know you, like everyone else, have bills to pay. I know the freelance film writing business is tough as hell, and the idea of voluntarily giving up a paid gig is a very tough sell right now. But you are selling your souls to the devil, you are denigrating your own integrity, and you are betraying every other writer who was canned.

Even worse, you are betraying your editors: Patricia Chui, who was fired for trying to communicate with you fairly and honestly. Peter Hall, Scott Weinberg, and Erik Davis, guys who went to the gauntlet for you, fought for you to the bitter, bloody end, and, in the case of Davis, turned down the job security of a full-time offer from AOL in a shitty, insecure economy because he could not, in good conscience, accept a salary from AOL while his writers lost their contracts. Erik has a wife, and a young daughter. He’s not independently wealthy. But he is a good, honest guy. He gave up his job, in part, to support you.

AOL/HuffPo is currently surrounded by a picket line, virtual or not. Every one of you still writing for HuffPo/AOL/Moviefone, what you are doing here is effectively being scabs and betraying your friends and colleagues for the sake of the pittance that corporate, soul-sucking monster is paying you.

Please, stop giving Arianna Huffington and AOL your writing. Please, show your editors who fought for you the respect they deserve and stop writing. AOL does not deserve any of you. The bean-counting, traffic hungry managers above you do not deserve any of you.

I repeat: There is a picket line around this site. If you are crossing it to work for them, folks, you are a scab.


And if you BOYCOTT AOL/HuffPo, tell all your friends and family and ask them to do the same. Tweet it. Facebook it. Put it on your blog, like Daily Kos, which is also supporting the boycott.



Dallas IFF Dispatch: Murder Songs and Warlords

After a long day of travel, I finally made it to Dallas this afternoon for a couple days at the Dallas International Film Festival, just in time to check into my hotel room (replete with round bed and zebra rug), change into something more appropriate for the warmer Dallas weather (the sun! my eyes!) and hit the ground running with a couple screenings.

First up was Small Town Murder Songs, a Canadian film directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. The film stars vet Swedish actor Peter Stomare (sporting a ‘stache that would be right at home on a 1970s porn set) as Walter, a cop in a small Mennonite town in Ontario. A murdered stripper (the first murder the town’s police force has ever had to deal with) is the catalyst for the story, as Walter almost immediately targets Steve (Stephen Eric McIntyre), the seedy white-trash lover of his ex-mistress Rita (Jill Hennessy, terrific here). Martha Plimpton is quietly powerful in a less showy role as Walter’s current girlfriend (or maybe wife? This isn’t made explicitly clear).
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AOL vs Cinematical: The Final(ish) Chapter

While I was traveling to Dallas all day Wednesday for the Dallas International Film Fest, things continued to implode around Moviefone and what’s left of Cinematical.

Moviefone editor Patricia Chui first sent an email out to freelancers attempting to provide them with some information about what was going down, then had to retract the bit where she said canned freelancers would be able to blog for FREE, and ultimately was fired.

I’m not going to regurgitate everything you already know at this point. Anne Thompson does a good job of breaking it all down over at Thompson on Hollywood if you’re not up to speed.

What I will say is this: The first email Patricia Chui sent, though it certainly generated a lot of backlash, is the single most honest piece of information the Moviefone and Cinematical writers received through all this bullshit since the HuffPo merger. Sure, it pissed off the higher ups and got her unceremoniously fired, but you know what?

She needed to get the hell out of their anyhow, she no doubt knew the axe was coming her way eventually, and Patricia is a decent person who, I suspect, felt badly about the way the writers were being treated and wanted to at least communicate fairly and honestly with them. So Patricia: I’m sorry you got fired. But you’re better off.

That’s all I have to say about it for now, other than this: If Jason Calacanis put the money into starting a new version of Cinematical tomorrow (he’d have to call it something else, because those assholes at AOL would likely not give him the name back even when they kill the brand off entirely), I suspect many of the Cinematical editors who’ve resigned recently and writers who just got canned would join him in a heartbeat to bring back the site its many loyal readers once loved.

And this: Writers, I implore you, do NOT write for Arianna Huffington or AOL, whether you are paid or not. AOL is a destroyer. Its MO is to buy the competition and, ultimately, obliterate it. The sole focus of the higher ups is traffic, and when you aim for a wide scattershot with a web site, your writing inevitably dilutes accordingly to meet a lower watermark.

And this: Readers, I implore you, boycott AOL/HuffPo. Don’t give them traffic by reading their content. Don’t give them traffic by linking to their content. BOYCOTT, BOYCOTT, BOYCOTT.


RIP, Cinematical

I’d just like to take a personal moment here to thank: Karina Longworth, who hired me onto Cinematical when it was fresh and new; Jason Calacanis, who took a chance on me and believed in me; James Rocchi, Erik Davis, and Scott Weinberg, all excellent editors, colleagues, and true friends; and every writer who wrote for Cinematical while I was there, who put their hearts and souls into writing about movies, and who made being a part of the Cinematical Posse such a fun and meaningful time of my life.

RIP, Cinematical.


AOL Cans Freelancers, Goes Old-School

Not that anyone’s going to be shocked by this — it’s been coming at least since the HuffPo merger, but really long before that union was incepted — but AOL’s finally bringing the axe down on a ton of freelancers — while telling most of them they can continue to write — for FREE! — if they want. Well, gosh, I bet they sure do appreciate the hell out of that.

But wait! Some of the freelancers are being offered full-time staff positions, and some AOL folks — like AOL Business and Finance Editor Peter Goodman — are trying their damnedest to put the good old AOL Corporate Spin on the bullshit. Christ, Peter. Even Beavis and Butthead knew that if you paint a turd gold, it’s still just a turd painted gold.

From Goodman’s letter to Business Insider:
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Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon