Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Too Tired to Blog...

I'm too tired to blog.

There's a 21st century phrase for ya. Will it still be used fifty years from now, or will it be an anachronism of the times? The way "I lost it down the sewer", "I roofed it" or "playing saloogie" feels right now. Actually, those aren't anachronisms at all. They're phrases we might have used on a nearly daily basis as kids, but once we reach a certain age, they're never uttered again.

And how do you spell that word? Sallugie? Silloogie? Saloojie? I just spent five minutes futzing around on Google, and I still don't know. Guess I won't have any future screenplay characters reminiscing about things like that or ring-a-leevio, monkey in the middle, doggie doggie diamond [step right out]. Fine. Looking back is usually a sucker's game anyways. What was it Tony Soprano once said?  "Remember when" is the lowest form of conversation.  Yeah, that's the ticket.

But we need to remember, to flip back the corners of our memory books. Once we forget, it means we never learn. Sure, I may half-joke about how I personally never learn and make the same mistakes time and time again. Doesn't mean I shouldn't strain the brain to recall things. As long as I'm not trying to relive them as well. Otherwise, it's Santayana goodbye. Cue dopey Billy Joel song.

Fuck it.  I'm too tired to blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What I Watch, or Why I Stopped Following THE FOLLOWING

There are exceptional TV shows I watch. The series I have to watch the same night come hell or high water.  The bodacious brilliance of BREAKING BAD, the gut-wrenching grit of GAME OF THRONES or the masterful melancholia of MAD MEN.  There are a handful of others, but I wanted to spare the world more absurdist alliteration.  

Then there are great shows I watch, that might not QUITE be on the same tier, but are damn close and totally worthwhile. Maybe I won't watch them the same night, but I will make sure I plow through them the next day. Be it the sly wit of JUSTIFIED or the array of well-defined characters on THE GOOD WIFE, my DVR will always be humming with such series.

Finally, there are shows I watch that are just plain fun.  Brain candy.  It could be a USA Network show, it could be a prime time soap or simply a light comedy. I rarely view them right off the bat. Hell, they may sit in the queue longer than the latest Daily Show or Colbert Report.  But within 3 to 5 days, I will have enjoyed a mental siesta with any and all of them.

But once I make the determination that a show no longer falls under any of those categories (sometimes I realize that after one episode, other times I may wait it out through a few), then it's time for DVR deletion.  Outside of stockpiling episodes of THE SOUP or old films from TCM for a flu-ravaged rainy day, there's no good reason to cling to a show I lack the motivation and desire to bother with anymore. Life is too short to waste yet another hour a week on something that doesn't merit it. Especially as I know far better TV series are often a month or two away.

And if it turns out I was premature in my DVR dumping, then I can always catch up a year or two later thanks to Netflix, Hulu and various other venues for ongoing series.

The latest show to fail my multi-episode sniff THE FOLLOWING.

The pattern of a serial killer (figuratively) drumming his fingers and twirling his imaginary moustache from a jail cell while the FBI run around like headless (or should I say brainless) chickens in pursuit of the somewhat irritating cult members became rote for me after only a few episodes.  The Edgar Allen Poe-connection was contrived from the get-go, and every mention of it made my eyes roll more than John Boehner's at a Presidential love-fest. 

Bacon's burned out agent with a drinking problem is a cliche I really have done without.  Outside of the graphic nature of a few violent scenes, nothing about this series truly feels fresh in any way.  The writing is less clever than your average procedural, and the acting hasn't been much better. Finally, more than anything or anyone else, I've grown tired of "Keifer Bacon".

At least FX Network's THE AMERICANS seems like something new, something different and something unexpected.  THE FOLLOWING has never accomplished any of those things for me.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Life is But a Cinematic Dream...

I'm a movie guy. No surprise. It's not simply evident from the wallpaper of this blog (that's a still of Orson Welles on the run in THE THIRD MAN), or my discussions of my journey to becoming a screenwriter, or even my opinions on the latest Oscar race.  I've lived my life acting as though there was a camera catching every event and every nuance, right down to making faces at my own private phantom cinematographer.  So I've had my own little reality show playing in my head for decades.

Though that may make me sound like I should be booby-hatch-bound, I believe we all recall events in our life with similar cinematic clarity.  Sure, we may not have John Williams accentuating the memories with a tremulous score, and the perspective of our minds' eyes is more likely to be static as opposed to a melange of angles and movements -- but each of us directs our own lifelong home movies.

And when we watch actual films, every once in a while you will be struck by a sequence, a scene or even simply a line of dialogue that hits home.  You instantly connect and relate; it may make you smile in recognition or need to wipe away a tear, but it's powerful as any song or piece of poetry, and it's all done in a matter of seconds.

I neither love nor hate the film AMERICAN BEAUTY.  But the 20+ seconds of dialogue that starts around the 1:55 mark has stayed with me since I first saw it fourteen years ago.

When I hear those words about the beauty in the world, it just devastates me.  For I know I have felt that way at different times in my life, often taking the shape and form of someone that I undoubtedly idealized. It's not the world, it's just that one person. Whether it happens at the age of sixteen, or just the previous night, when the emotional tumblers click into place -- this is the movie moment that gets spliced into my consciousness once again.  

Of course, the sad truth is -- moments such as these are often followed by a one-two kick to the teeth and gut.  We all experience periods of acute regret and sorrow.  Sometimes we're the victims of another person's insensitivity, sometimes there is no one to blame at all.  But when we choose to blame ourselves, this is invariably the movie scene that I feel attaching to my soul like a face-hugger out of ALIEN. But this clip isn't from that's from BOOGIE NIGHTS.

Seriously, has there ever been a more uncomfortable 25 seconds put on film? Simply gut-wrenching and awful all at once. But is there a more perfect illustration of how one feels after making a stomach churning confession only to be rebuffed?  Whether the stakes are a job, a relationship or anything else you may want or need, there is nothing more admirable than taking a chance.  But few things are as upsetting as the potential rejection.  Just ask Scottie (the Phillip Seymour Hoffmann character above, not me). 

But where there is sadness, there is also joy. Now, there have been hundreds of movie scenes revolving around pure happiness.  But few films can brighten up a somber soul like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. It's as powerful as an adrenalin hypodermic to the heart.  And if your heart is ever feeling bruised (metaphorically speaking), a scene like this can work better than any drug or therapy.

It definitely makes ME wish I could tappity-tap-tap my blues away.  One can also go with the "Make 'Em Laugh" number, or the "Good Morning" scene, or the "Fit as a Fiddle" bit...or better still, just watch the whole damn movie!  It's physically and emotionally impossible NOT to be in a good mood after watching this film.  

Come to think of it, I may just do that today...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Remembering a TV Legend: Larry Hagman

I was watching DALLAS last night.  In-between wondering if Elena's cheekbones will eventually rip through her drum tight skin and how I never noticed that odd facial scar above the bridge of Pamela's nose last season, I felt dueling emotions of sadness and joy every time Larry Hagman appeared on screen.  Happiness due to how he elevated every scene with his very presence -- that mischievous smile, that still commanding voice and even those demonically tweaked eyebrows. Sadness knowing that in just a couple weeks, I will see the truly final moments of J.R. Ewing.

When I was a kid, my friends all had fairly early supper times.  Maybe it was an Italian thing, I was never sure.  But typically, everyone would take a break from wiffle ball, playing flipsy games with baseball cards and pretending to be Star Wars characters at five o'clock -- and we would resume our playtime around seven. I usually didn't eat until closer to 6:30, so I'd park myself in front of the television to watch reruns of BATMAN, STAR TREK and...I DREAM OF JEANNIE.

Even as a seven-year-old, I had enough sense to know that I DREAM OF JEANNIE was silly, and not in the same ballpark of quality as shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW or M*A*S*H.  Still, I couldn't get enough of it it -- especially that classic opening theme with the nifty cartoon.  Even today, it's one of my favorite tunes to whistle and bug the ever-loving fuck out of anybody near me.

Larry Hagman played Major Tony Nelson, an astronaut who found a genie bottle upon his return from orbiting the Earth.  When you were a kid in the 70's, you wanted to be three things: a superhero, a dinosaur or an astronaut. Taking the concept of the wish-granting genie (something a child hears all about in numerous stories, and in dirty jokes just a few years later) and making it a blonde bombshell was just the sort of thing that appealed to boys who had Farrah on their walls and kept the fact that they watched the Wonder Woman TV series a secret.  Hormones aside, it was Major Nelson that I dug the most on that show.

In the spring of 1978, DALLAS began airing on CBS, and much like Bill on FREAKS AND GEEKS, I was an addict from episode 1 on.  The intrigue, the back-stabbing, the clear-cut forces of good and evil, Victoria Principal's two bouncy friends -- how could I NOT love DALLAS?  But more than anyone or anything else, it was J.R. Ewing I adored the most.  As a child, I always found the allure of villainy far more fun to watch, from Doyle Lonnegan to Darth Vader to J.R. Ewing. And this was the guy I had spent my afternoons chuckling at on I DREAM OF JEANNIE!  How was this even possible?  But what really blew my mind came about eight months later.

There are few things I ever looked forward to more than the release of the original SUPERMAN movie.  I actually made my mother take me to see it FOUR TIMES in its opening week alone.  So based on the last couple paragraphs, how do you think I reacted when I saw this?

Over the next dozen or more years, I followed DALLAS religiously.  As an adolescent, I probably spent more time learning about the Neilsen rating system than how to talk to girls (brilliant decision on my part).  I clipped articles from supermarket tabloids for scrapbooks and even chose to quote J.R. Ewing in my high school yearbook.

But the series -- which had been on the skids for a few years -- finally ended in a most bizarre fashion (even weirder than the infamous "it was all a dream").  Joel Grey appeared as the Devil, and essentially tried to convince J.R. to kill himself.   The finale ended on the cliffhanger: Did J.R. just blow his brains out?  I kid you not; that was the last scene of the original series.

Over the next twenty years, Hagman would pop up from time to time in small parts in political movies like NIXON and PRIMARY COLORS, a few episodes of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and a season long stint on NIP/TUCK.  Sure, I would smile every time I saw him, but it was never the same.  But when TNT decided to do a reboot of DALLAS featuring some of the major original cast members -- I knew I had to tune in.  Even with less hair and more lines in his face, Hagman stole the show once more.  A TV icon had returned to doing what he did best, and a new generation of viewers would get to witness the work of prime time soap opera legend.

But almost 32 years after the mystery of "Who Shot J.R.?" was solved, Larry Hagman passed away. In 2011 & 2012, I bid farewell to some of my most beloved TV actors: Peter Falk (Lt. Columbo) the previous year...and Jack Klugman (Oscar Madison) a month later.  But I think the death of Larry Hagman hit me the hardest. I'm glad he was working right up to the end, showing so many others how it's done.  I'm sure I'll shed a few tears in a couple weeks, but I'll be smiling as I do so.  

Mischievously, I hope.

Monday, February 4, 2013

400 Days...

400 days ago, I smoked my last cigarette. Sure, every once in a while I'd love to take a long, satisfying pull off a Camel, but I'm glad I stopped.  My lungs thank me, my fingers thank me and my teeth thank me. Not to mention any number of strangers in my immediate proximity when taking public transportation.

400 days...

400 days ago, I was commencing my first day of unemployment since the age of sixteen.  I wasn't too worried, as I had a tidy severance package to fall back upon.  I could concentrate on my writing for a while before redirecting my energies to a full blown job search.

Unfortunately, it turns out the stock photo & footage business has been contracting far more than I had imagined.  And much to my regret, being in such a specialized and niche industry doesn't really translate well to others.  You can't be a butcher for twenty-five years and suddenly become a farmer because they both deal with cows. But I have hope and faith (also my two favorite strippers) that something will turn up.  I've made some financial moves that should keep me afloat for at least...another 400 days.

400 days...

400 days ago, I was waiting to hear back from my friend and future producer in Los Angeles -- to get his feedback for the first fifteen & a half pages of DO NOT DISTURB, a screenplay I had started piecing together in my spare time towards the end of 2011.  

Today, the script is winding its way through La-La Land, and amazingly enough, it's acquiring positive buzz.  Lists of directors have been submitted by a number of agencies, and meetings are continually being set up with the two men who are committed to shepherding this project all the way up to the day it unspools in movie theaters.  I never could have dreamed of the strides that have been made, of the caliber of people who have read it and genuinely want to see it produced.  

Pretty cool doesn't cut it, it's fucking awesome.

And today, I'm a couple pages into my next idea (after considering and subsequently tabling several others that I wrote notes for and then put aside).  I'm approaching this piece much in the same manner I did for DO NOT DISTURB.  I just need to focus the way I did 400 days ago.

400 days...

It's been a long and strange 400 days.  A few moments of exhilaration sprinkled here and there, but far more bleakness and soul-searching solitude than even this prematurely cranky curmudgeon would have liked.  But time marches on and life moves forward. Call me crazy, but be it unfounded or not, I have a weird sense of optimism for the next 400 days.

Yeah, I'm crazy.  It's all so crazy -- that it just might work out after all...