thinglets: DiCaprio's Black Friday House Deal

Casa Leo

Leonardo DiCaprio has listed one of his Malibu Beach properties for $8,999,000. Now I'll admit that had he listed it for $9,000,000 I wouldn't have taken a second look, but, with Black Friday Fever just passed, $1000 dollars off of anything must be a good deal. The house "sits on the bluffs above the Pacific. A stairway leads to the beach cove below. The main house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,374 square feet. The master bathroom has marble fixtures and a steam shower. A separate guesthouse has two one-bedroom suites. There is a four-car garage and a large grassy area, and -- no surprise to DiCaprio followers -- the property is private."

Do you think there's a mail-in rebate available with a six to eight waiting period? I bet the Flypoints are off the hook.

lovehate: Scope, Scale, Setting and The Watchmen

I'm certainly not the only waiting for the Watchmen movie to come out in March '09. There have been plans to make this film for almost two decades and all reports, even with the liberties Zack Snyder has apparently taken with the ending, are that the film is the best anyone could expect from a feature-length Hollywood production. Why is it that the "Hollywood production" is what scares me the most when ever I hear a story is being adapted? Could it be that the same studios responsible for every Eddie Murphy film of the last 15 years, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and the gelding of Vince Vaughan and Will Ferrell have put me off of most major studio efforts?

The reason I'm so eagerly anticipating the Watchmen film is, of course, due to the comic book series and subsequent graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons. The thing that impressed me so much upon first reading the series was the scope and scale the story took. Moore and Gibbons didn't only create a world, but they inhabited it with hyperreal characters and landscapes and I daresay, more than any other comic at that time and since, enveloped readers in it.

Such a method of grand scale doesn't always work, and rarely in comics, especially only given the 12 issue run. I remember reading Frank Herbert's Dune series and really struggling as a teen trying to get through at least half of the first book just to feel like I had a grasp on the setting. I'm not saying the effort was not worth it. And, to be sure, I admired the first five or six of the Dune novels... I didn't really keep up after that. Yet there was an example of grand scale gone wrong when it came to David Lynch's film effort. I enjoyed the film enough when it came out, but realized that even I (after reading four books at the time) was having trouble following some of the history and practices from scene to scene. The friend I went with was completely lost. He told me that after about 45 minutes he pretty much just gave up on the story and settled back to watch it as a psychedelic tryptich. Therein lay the problems and pitfalls of trying to contain scope and scale and setting in a Hollywood production.

Don't get me wrong, Hollywood can present scope, scale and setting through a well-crafted screenplay incredibly effectively. Give me a sweeping crane shot here, an flourishing orchestral score there, a supporting cast of thousands in period costume and weve got the makings of grandiose epic. But the transition of book print to a film print always loses something in translation precisely becuase the film tries to remain faithful. I would suggest the very reason that Stephen King's The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's adapted film were both great is precisely because, just as King concentrated on writing the best novel he could without thinking of how it would end up on film, Kubrick concentrated on making the best film he could make without concerning himself with remaining completely true to text.

I appeciate the desire of Hollywood to start with a product that has been at least successful in one venue or another. Such is the reason that every novel that makes a popular list gets optioned by some producer or studio these days. I'll further concede that the stories presented in a novel must look far more rich when placed side by side with a screenplay. Actors clamor to delve into a well-developed character that verges away from stereotypes and while novels can paint broad two-dimesional stroke when the want to, they do have much more canvas to experiment with. The successful novel will always be a popular catalyst for a film, and, more often, comics are providing that incentive as well because let's face it, some of them have years and decades to explore a character and, quite frankly, they need it. The development in any given character within one comic book issue is miniscule at best. Let's face it, superheroes are often two dimensional at best and the only depth we ascribe to them is buried in the decades long history they encompass.

And so we come back to the Watchmen. Depth of multiple characters, plot and setting in 12 issues was near unheard of in a comic book era that birthed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I understand why Alan Moore has become forever hesitant to watch any of his stories brought to film. In the same way we create imaginary worlds when reading novels, try to conceive of the scope and scale in Moore's mind upon creating the Watchmen world. How much did he conceive of that he couldn't even fit into the books? When we feel things are missing as readers, I can only imagine the process of seeing a film adaption is deathly uninspiring to the orginal writer.

I hope for the success of the film. I hope it inspires millions to go and read the original. I hope that Zack Snyder gets lauded for the attempt even if not the execution. I know that if I can line up at midnight on 03/06/09, the answer to "who watches the Watchmen?" will be me and a horde of fanboys.


lovehate: how it begins

Fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

I can appreciate how television writers and filmmakers hate being stuck to linear plot lines but I think I had just about enough of screenplays that have me sit through a big dramatic scene in the first five minutes only to be subjected to a FTB followed by some new-fangled font chromakey of "24 hours earlier". The technique has been done over and over again. I'm tired of sitting through it, especially when its a show I generally enjoy and want to keep up on the story arc. If a television pilot started with this technique, I would probably give it up ASAP.

Why does the conspiracy theorist in me think that there is one director who makes a living off of this stuff. The producers think... "You know what? We really need one of them time shifty episodes to really mix things up! Call in that guy we worked with for the time shifty episodes on the other 12 series we've done." And the cycle continues.

When one thinks of a movie like Memento, it's easy to see that playing with timelines can be done in a unique way that is not only central to the plot, but also to the theme, characters, and atmosphere of the piece. When it's simply used as a cool plot devicem it's boring, it's meandering, and, more often than not, just plain sucks. I'm craving well told linear stories. When I see reruns of All in the Family and watch 10 minutes of an unbroken scene that takes place in a living room, I don't condemn the pace and crave the music video phrenetic cuts of most of today's action films. I enjoy the teleplay, the acting, the ability to tell a story that takes place in one place at one time.

For years of teaching drama students it would be the biggest challenge to get them to construct a 3 minute scene that took place in a single location. The idea would arise that the scene would be about a bank robbery (because a 14 year old can't do a scene that doesn't have guns or violence) and the planning would start that would (in three minutes mind you) take you from 15 seconds about not having money, to a 10 second decision to rob a bank, to a 30 second exercise about planning the hold up, 20 seconds of the actual bank job, 1 minute of mindless shootout, and the final half minute of one or more crooks getting away. Have we lost our ability to follow a story in (while maybe not real time) something at least close to it?

We have one hour action television shows that tell a story that rambles over days, weeks, or months. Even the show 24, which tries to build the illusion of being in real time suffers implausible plot holes of characters getting from place to place in totally unrealistic timeframes. The film Timecode, by Mike Figgis, tried to solve the impatient audience dilemma by showing four real time stories at once... probably because he knew that audiences were quite unwilling to sit through a single linear story.

Sure, I applaud creators playing around with plot. Not every story can, or should, be linear, but the redundant use of television and film time shift gimmicks has been over done. It's jumped the shark or nuked the fridge, when it really should join Luca Brasi's slumber. To play with time in a television show or film should be done only when the story demands it to be told effectively and not in order to make a boring story more interesting. Can't you imagine a writing team sitting around a table saying "Dude... this script is really not that good, and we shoot tomorrow. What'll we do?" "I know... let's throw the scenes up in the air and let the sheets fall where they may. That will be the new order." And, after all this reassembly, when they put the scenes together in their new found chaos and find the story STILL sucks... "Well, let's at least put the big climax scene at the beginning. That's the best scene anyway and we'll be able to show it twice and save ourselves 3 minutes."

I'm not saying the job of a television writer is easy; after all how many times can find a unique way to explore the stoic Grissom in CSI, or the cranky Dr. House, or the dysfunctional Desperate Housewives, or the high horse riding Jack McCoy? Maybe we need to borrow a page from the Brits. We need to allow show creators to say "I think I've got about enough for a dozen good episodes here, maybe a season at best." We need studios to buy into the fact that a show, once noble when it first started, will more often than not slip down the ratings not when the audience gets tired, but when the writers do. And fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

jump the shark