Movies from Austin Film Festival

October 30, 2010

I love getting to watch a zillion movies in a week. But I decided not to go out and write a ton of reviews during AFF, because (a) everyone else is doing that, (b) I didn’t really want to spend my time on it, and (c) I like to write spoiler-heavy reviews that look at the plot/structure, and most of the movies playing at AFF haven’t been released yet. So instead I’m just going to do a summary of the movies I went to see at AFF this year and my thoughts on each.

  • Exporting Raymond – This year’s opening night film was a documentary about Phil Rosenthal’s attempt to take Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia. The sitcom is a very new genre over there, and one of Rosenthal’s biggest challenges was convincing the Russians — who like their theatre, film, and television to be very dramatic and over-the-top — that this show — which is about exploiting the realities of life — would be funny. This movie was HILARIOUS. Phil Rosenthal is one of the funniest people on the planet, and watching him through this process was just a stitch.
  • 127 Hours – Danny Boyle’s new film about a canyoneer who gets his hand crushed under a boulder, and is stuck there for — yep, you guessed it — 127 hours before he finally saws off his own arm. A true story, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, I was very curious as to how Danny Boyle would manage to make this interesting. But he did an amazing job, giving the hero someone to talk to (his video camera), and plenty of flashback and dream sequences to keep it moving. Very intense, and very well done.
  • Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky, who created such films as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and most recently The Wrestler, brings us another grim tale about the descent into madness, every bit as poignant as everything of his I’ve seen so far. On the surface, the movie is about a girl who gets cast as the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake, but to describe it like that is like saying Natural Born Killers is about a husband-wife serial killer team. It goes way, way deeper than that, to the point where every moment was an edge-of-your-seat type of moment. There were some things about the script I didn’t like, particularly at the beginning, but by the end I had long forgotten them and was so wrapped up in what was one of the most awesome movie experiences of my life.
  • Brother’s Justice -Dax Shepard mockumentary about his fake attempt to leave the realm of comedy and become a martial arts action hero. Very funny, although during the talkback at the end, when they said that the moments they tried to make funny weren’t, and it was the organic ones that ended up being the funniest, I very much agreed. A lot of comedy is getting too scripted, I think, and this film is no exception. But good, overall. Just what you would expect from Dax.
  • Echotone – The only film I walked out of during the festival. I might have stayed if the volume wasn’t painfully loud, or if the featured musicians weren’t complete crap.  If you’re looking for a masturbatory woe-is-me documentary about how hard it is to be a bad artist in a growing city, go right ahead. Good luck getting through it.
  • I Love You, Phillip Morris – A film that was made years ago, but for whatever reason has been having trouble getting released. Jim Carrey is a con man, compulsive liar, and escape artist who falls in love with Ewan McGregor in prison and continues to be a con man, compulsive liar, and escape artist. Fun movie, beats a dead horse a little longer than necessary, but overall very well done. Of course, outstanding performances by our leads, and plenty of twists to keep us rolling.
  • Company Men – Longtime TV writer/director/producer John Wells makes the jump into film with this story about the executives at a ship manufacturing company that are getting laid off in a tough economy. Great cast, but even though I asked the question afterward, I’m still feel unsatisfied with his choice of heroes. The lowest earner of the three main characters was a six-figure earner, and I personally would have liked to have seen it taken down a notch to get someone in the $60K-$80K range; make it a little more relatable to the masses, maybe.
  • Re-Cut – Horror flick, kind of Blair Witch meets 8mm. About what you would expect. Not terribly imaginative, and the female lead — The Bachelor/Bachelorette‘s Meredith Phillips — was not a very good actress, even though she was playing herself. Decent, though.
  • Rabbit Hole – Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in a film about a family almost torn apart over the loss of their 4.5-year-old son. Probably the best script of any film in the festival, never telling us anything until it comes out completely  naturally in the dialogue. There was one scene in particular where I thought, “ScreenwritingU would be proud.” Very moving, and one I’ll be rooting for come February.

 


Not Another Oscars Post

February 23, 2009

I’m not going to post something about the Oscars.  Every blogger in the world – and especially every writer/screenwriter blogger in the world – will be writing something about the 81st Academy Awards today, but not me, because I’m different.

If I were going to write about the Oscars I would start by saying that Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie, that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but that it seemed like it would make a better mini-series than film.  I would say that Danny Boyle was long overdue for the world’s top Directing accolade, but that this movie was nowhere near as good as his early classics Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.  I would say that Benjamin Button – the only other movie nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay that I actually saw – had a better screenplay, and that my cinematographer friend threw a fit when it won Best Cinematography, and I happen to agree with her – The Dark Knight broke new ground cinematically speaking, and made for a remarkable movie-watching experience I will never in my life forget.  And although I’m not surprised that Slumdog won Best Picture, I did not think it was even one of the best 5 movies of the year.

If I were writing something about the Oscars, I would say that Sean Penn deserved his and Heath Ledger deserved his.  I would say that Robert Downey, Jr. will win an Oscar one of these days, and I will celebrate when he does, and I would say that Brad Pitt deserves one, too, but it may take him longer to get it because he’s so thoroughly underrated as a character actor.  I would say that Benjamin Button deserved its accolades for Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects, but I’d also like to remind people that the makeup in The Dark Knight wasn’t all about the Joker – the revelation of Two Face in that movie was the best film moment of the year for me, and a movie-watching experience I will never in my life forget.

If I were writing about the Oscars, I would probably say that I wish I realized that the Alamo Drafthouse shows all the short films nominated for Oscars every year, and that I will almost certainly go to that event next year, but that they should make it easier for us, the viewers at home, to see all the movies nominated by the time of the awards.  That I wanted to see The Reader, Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, and Doubt, but at some point movie theaters are just too damn expensive, and screw you for pricing me and so many others out of being informed viewers of the Academy Awards.

And I would wonder why the hell Seven Pounds was completely snubbed.

But I’m not writing about the Oscars.  I’m writing about what it is to have a dream and to be recognized for having achieved that dream.  Because really, that’s what it’s all about.  At the end of the day we all have opinions about what was good and what wasn’t, about what deserved to win and what deserved to be nominated, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a very large, very talented group of artists choosing the best, most talented artists in their field, and for the most part, they do a pretty good job.  And, more importantly, it creates a dream in us.  And I’m a big believer in dreams.


Highlights from the Austin Film Festival

October 19, 2008

Things I learned at this year’s Austin Film Festival:

  1. Read Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot’s website, Wordplay, cover-to-cover, as it were.
  2. Just like a film has a three-act-structure, so too does every act and every scene.  Setup, turn, and completion that drives the action forward.
  3. What makes the chase scene interesting is how the hero overcomes the obstacle in his path – what changes along the way?
  4. Get a manager.
  5. Always be working.  Don’t ever stop writing.  If you’re the guy that churns out three or four screenplays a year, your agent loves you.
  6. Screenplays are really boring when read out loud.
  7. I came to this year’s AFF knowing a small handful of people.  Through each of those people, I met two or three more.  The lesson: keep coming, and you’ll double your circle every year.
  8. Danny Boyle is frickin’ amazing.  If you haven’t seen Shallow Grave, go watch it.
  9. Make your movie cool.  Always look for what can be done differently.  How can we write this chase scene in a way that no one’s ever done a chase scene before?
  10. If you want to do a screen adaptation for a project that’s been “in development” forever, find the themes and the genre elements that turn you on in the source material, and write a different script with those in mind.
  11. A screenwriter’s job is to keep rewriting his (or someone else’s) script until everyone involved is okay with it.  If you don’t look at your job from this perspective, you’ll only get pissed off because you keep having to change something that you already knew was really good to begin with.
  12. Don’t be creepy, annoying, or overeager.
  13. They’ll read the first five pages.  If you haven’t captured them by then, they won’t keep reading.
  14. Apparently, Robert McKee sucks.  This was news to me – I love his book.  But a lot of people don’t, and they say it results in formulaic films.

I’m sure there’s more.  Check back for more details.


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