Saturday, September 27, 2008

Irony is No Longer Ironic

“It’s like rain on your wedding day…”

“How can you be nostalgic for something that happened a little while ago.”
- George Carlin

This is more of a cultural studies concept, but it has, tangentially, to do with media.

Earlier, while passing by a local Hot Topic, I came across the following shirt.


Now, my feelings on Juno are well documented. However, my feelings for the movie are nothing compared to this faux faded shirt with a catch phrase from a movie from last year.

This is clearly my fault for actually looking inside a Hot Topic, which is pretty much where my childhood went to fester and die. But this particular store is the nexus of where the ironic t-shirt seems its most strong in our culture.

The ironic t-shirt is something that is not new, and are in fact quite common, especially amongst arrogant “alternative” kids who want to make a statement without actually having to speak or formulate it themselves.

The irony, theoretically anyway, is that others would not expect the shirt-wearer, a hip, edgy, person who likes to self-identify as part of a fringe culture, as a fan of Rainbow Brite, or to call attention to the nostalgia inherent in the shirt. However, something so contemporary as a movie released so recently deconstructs both of these ironic arguments, because, firstly, Juno is supposed to be a “hip” “indie” movie that is devoid of any kind of ironic cache of childishness, and is too recent to be nostalgic. This shirt is faded for no reason other than for the sake of itself, which actually, in and of itself isn’t exactly as much ironic as it is stupid.

This kind of forced irony is something that’s become a little to prevalent, but the real irony lies here: that these supposedly hip looking people would not be buying shirts with these characters on them unless they actually liked them. So the irony is not that they seem to be cool wearing a lame t-shirt, but that they’re lame people pretending to be cool by wearing a lame t-shirt. This, actually, is some kind of meta-irony, where the irony itself is ironic.

Perhaps, in order to further increase the edge, and irony, the t-shirt companies will begin printing faded ironic shirts for things that haven’t even happened yet. I will comb the mall and see t-shirts with Jake Gyllenhaal for The Prince of Persia (Projected for a 2010 release) or the new faded shirt for the latest children’s cartoon show, like The Brave and the Bold:

Once this becomes passé, we will have t-shirts that will make us nostalgic for things that never were, like Superman Lives or a tour t-shirt for Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. And then, after that, ironic t-shirts will be ones that don’t show anything at all on them. And, finally, every t-shirt will be ironic, whether it is intentionally worn as such or not. And then, when all t-shirts are equally ironic, then and only then will people forget about all this nonsense and get on with their lives.

I will not even address the idea of owning an actual hamburger phone yourself:

That is just plain stupid, and nobody has any excuse to do that. Ever.

A french fry phone of the other hand:


Well, that speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Screenwriting 101: Don’t Sweat the Dry Spells

Remember my screenwriting articles?

Well, the problem with any sort of creative work (screenwriting included) is you can’t force yourself to produce, despite how much you might want or need to. Sometimes you just don’t know what to do next, or how to do what you want to do something, and inspiration is being fickly silent.

Do not sweat it. This does not mean you’re a bad writer. This happens to everybody at times, and you can’t expect to produce material constantly or even eternally. Ideally, I’d write a page of a screenplay a day. And that would be a good habit for anyone to keep. But, in truth, it’s more erratic. You might write five pages in one day, ten the next, rewriting cuts that down to maybe 10, and then a few weeks of stubborn refusal to finish.

The invention of the internet makes this much more difficult. You can just sit on your computer and suddenly waste hours. And, of course, none of us are just screenwriting machines: there’s work (especially for those of us who remain unsigned,) school, family and friends and other loved ones. And, of course, there are the worries related to those things on top of that.

Acknowledge those feelings but don’t dwell on them. Here’s what I do when the creative juices stop flowing:

1) Work on another project

I try to keep busy, which possibly means working on other projects. I might revisit an old project that I had not thought about in a while, or start a new one. Given time and distance you can gain a different perspective on the work you’ve been staring in the face for the past few weeks.

The result doesn’t even have to be a screenplay. Right now, for example, I’ve started work on a children’s fantasy novel. And when I start having trouble on that I can move to another project.

The problem with this is you can just end up with a bunch of unfinished projects, so try to return to an old project more often than you start a new one.

2) Get off the computer

Every once in a while, it might be good to do something totally unrelated and fun, but not something that is an “obligation” or a “requirement.” Watch your favorite movie, read something totally unrelated to work or school, or go for a walk in the park. As much as I love wasting time on the internet (as many do,) it’s better for your creative functions sometimes to get away from it for just an hour or two to recalibrate your mind.

3) Skip Ahead and Fill in the Blanks

If all else fails, what I do is just drop wherever I am in the script and write a scene way ahead of what’s going on (a scene I knew was coming and wanted to write,) and then start working my way backwards and forwards to that event. Sometimes its easier to fill in the gap between A-Z instead of trying to figure out what happens after a problematic step.

Writer’s block happens to everybody. Just relax, don’t stress it, and it’ll come to you.

In fact, even after I finished this article, I’ve started reconsidering a page 1 rewrite of a project I finished last year. I might use this space as a free form discussion of that idea. More details, as they develop.

Good luck, and good writing!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gary Oldman: Superstar

If I were to have a villain in a movie, any movie, it would be Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman is a remarkable actor, not just for his ability to play a wide range of characters, but because he can bring genuineness. Despite myself, I sometimes find myself forgetting they’re characters, and also, sympathizing with them at times, which is the hallmark of a great actor. Oldman’s done some great supporting work though (like the rhythm section of a jazz band, he gives the soloists [like Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart] spots to shine in the Dark Knight, or the vaguely menacing yet always affable Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series.)  And yes, he is a great lead in films like Sid and Nancy or Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead.  But his villainous roles are where, in my opinion, he really shines.

Here are my five favorite Gary Oldman villain roles.

5. Ivan Korshunivov (Air Force One)

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Ivan is the one President Harrison Ford wants off his plane. Menacing, cold, calculating, and unlike many of the others on this list, surprisingly macho, Ivan is more of a traditional contemporary movie villain. Also, his Russian accent is quite good, as opposed to the awful drawl Ford adopts in K-19: The Widowmaker.

Moment of Awesome: As mentioned before:

4. Mason Verger (Hannibal)

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First off, look at the makeup job there.

I’ll admit that, like Thomas Harris clearly is, I’m a fan of the Hannibal Lecter character (the way he admonishes him in this film and book, and the later Hannibal Rising, however, is almost bizarrely fawning.) But, if you want to make a sympathetic, or at least a protagonistic, Hannibal, you need an antagonist to oppose him, so Gary Oldman puts on a good old boy accent to play Mason Verger. Like some of the later villains on the countdown, he’s effeminate (openly gay here,) and also menacing and threatening.

Moment of Awesome: If the whole plan to feed a man to giant inbred pigs wasn’t awesome enough, we have such a great intro. The way he emphasizes certain words (“the Ris”) and the way he slurs through the whole story is so mesmerizing and creepily compelling you can’t turn away, even if his face is terrifying.

3. Doctor Smith (Lost in Space)

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When I first saw Lost in Space I didn’t care much for it, but it grew on me after watching it again on cable. There are some awful parts (the black hole of talent that is Matt LeBlanc,) and it tries way too hard to be a franchise film. But Gary Oldman is able to take the mincing creep that is the camp 60s Doctor Smith and turn him into something genuinely menacing. Besides his repeated attempts to kill the Robinson family, Smith’s just so sarcastic and likeable of a character in that he’s very human. That kind of falls apart when they make him the “creepy spider-monster thing” near the end, which I’d argue was some (conscious or not) attempt to enhance the abberance of this rather effeminate man raising a boy on his own (making a character who could possibly be viewed as LGBT markedly nonhuman.)

Moment of Awesome: Reviving the injured Robinson daughter (played by #2 talent vortex Heather Graham) Smith chides Penny (played by a mid-Party of Five Lacey Chabert) as “Precious” to get him his medical supplies. She resists being called Precious but the way he forces the nickname on her is absolutely great in context.

Alternatively, near the end, muttering his catchphrase “We’re doomed!” and being subsequently punched in the face.

2. Dracula (Dracula [Coppola, 1992])

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Here is another example of a role that’s awesome despite the presence of another awful actor and another awful accent (both possessed by Keanu Reeves.) And again, we get the mince, and we get the menace, but Dracula here has two facets, not including the more creature feature makeup-y ones: the revivified young man, and the creepy old man so expertly lampooned on the Simpsons. We also get the same kind of excellent accent as in the previous projects; he has a great talent with using his voice and mimicking accents.

Moment of Awesome: I would count many little parts of Gary Oldman’s performance here. The shadows dancing on the wall independent of his body, the accent, the intonation, all awesome.

But the best moment comes early on, when Harker is almost seduced by some of Dracula’s vampiric minions, he comes out, takes them off him, and to appease them, gives them a baby to rip apart. Harker recoils in terror screaming, and Dracula just smiles and laughs, and raises his hand in a strange little way. I always was intrigued by Dracula's little hand motion.

Also, his dying monologue is pretty cool too.

1. Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element)

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The Fifth Element is one of the great, oft-overlooked, Science Fiction films of the 90s. And part of the reason, besides delving into the kind of epic space opera that George Lucas seemed to forget sometime in the late 80s post Return of the Jedi, is in the villain. As the ruthless merchant of death Zorg, Gary Oldman limps around with a southern accent of a Mason Verger, has the cruel sibilance of Dracula or Doctor Smith, and the coldness of Ivan Korshunivov, all rolled into one plastic-headed package.

Moment of Awesome: In my favorite scene, Zorg enters the plot, threatens his hired guns, and kills them in a very manipulative way. I also like the use of the Kulsehov Effect in this scene: “Empty. The opposite of full.” The best part, however, is the last 30 seconds or so:

It's for roles like these that when I think of bad guys in movies, I generally think of Gary Oldman. He is great in supporting roles, but its in playing real villains that he gets his chance to shine.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Recommended Reading

Concise and (hopefully) witty movie reviews coupled with letter grade.  Link:

11 Word Movie Reviews