American Crime

american crime review on if you write it“American Crime” stars Richard Cabral as Hector Tonz, Elvis Nolasco as Carter, Caitlin Gerard as Aubry, Johnny Ortiz as Tony Gutierrez, Benito Martinez as Alonzo Gutierrez, Timothy Hutton as Russ, Felicity Huffman as Barb, W. Earl Brown as Tom and Penelope Ann Miller as Eve. American Crime has a very good cast and it looks good as well.

The title makes me think of mobsters and shotouts on the streets of Chicago in the 1930s. The kind of show where the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys chew on cigars. But that’s not what American Crime is about. The evil gang in the story is the Police Dept that railroads some poor kid and shoots another one down in the street. The only note that rang false here was that they didn’t drill the guy with forty or fifty rounds, they just wounded him. Wow, great special effect.

Like most newer dramas, there are no heroes to be had, just villains in at least fifty shades of gray. Cops and judges who aren’t corrupt, but are outright bastards. Parents who don’t do to a good a job of protecting their kids. Kids who are criminals of one sort or another. The only seemingly innocent people are the strangers played by Extras we see in the background, and I’m none too sure about them.

There’s a murder that connects several stories. This brings in an absentee father and a racist mother who are the dead man’s parents. The dead man’s wife lays in a coma as her parents mainly stand around wringing their hands. On the other side we see the three knuckleheads who are involved in committing the crime and their loved ones. We don’t know what really happened, that’s the mystery here. The Legal System is all about chewing them up and grinding them into dust and has zero interesting in finding out what really happened-all they care about is closing the case-and treating everyone they meet like dirt.

We have one kid who seems to a bit slow in the Special Needs kind of way. But he is shoved through the System with no indication that anyone cares that he’s not firing on all cylinders. He’s our only really sympathetic character, all he did was loan someone a car, which hardly seems like a death penalty offence to me. But he did talk to the Cops, which everyone who have ever watched any cop show every made should know is a huge mistake. Cops are never on your side. And they sure as hell aren’t on anyone’s side in this show.

After the first few episodes I think the best thing that could happen to American Crime’s Modesto would be a nice A-Bomb being dropped on it. It’s downer of a show for sure and if the ratings don’t improve, this experiment in long form drama on network TV might be over before it really gets going.

American Crime airs on ABC.

Watching Movies by Rick Lyman

watching moviesWatching Movies is a collection of interviews featuring famous film personalities watching their favorite movie and talking about why it’s important to them. It’s a simple idea, but the result is often surprising and occasionally shocking. For instance, Kevin Smith’s favorite film is A Man For All Seasons, a movie about Thomas More, while Woody Allen’s favorite is the western Shane. Other surprises include Quentin Tarantino choosing a Roy Rogers film and Michael Bay picking West Side Story. The mind boggles.

Of course, I’m not one to talk; my own favorite film is The Matrix. Movies are one of those things where any choice is the correct choice, but seldom the same choice we ourselves would make. This makes the book a wonder. I’ve seen most of the films discussed and I still found many of them odd choices. Ron Howard picked The Graduate and talked about what a brilliant comedy it was. Uh, really? Sure there are one or two laughs to be had, but I would have put this sour little story of a college age loser more in the drama/tragedy department. I was shocked to discover that none other than Roger Ebert called it the best comedy of the year. Must have been a crappy year for comedy. But that’s the point of the series, to take a deeper look at a film you may have thought you knew, but really didn’t.

There are no bad films here. No one picked Plan 9 From Outer Space or Peter Jackson’s King Kong or Matrix Revolution as the film that changed their lives. But then, almost all the essays talk about The Glory Days of the 1970s and how Jaws and Star Wars sounded the death knell to real cinema by showing that a film can make a gazillion dollars and not be all that great. I tend to think of the 1970s as a movie wasteland filled with terrible movies that was rescued from its deathbed by Jaws and Star Wars.

The fun part of Watching Movies is seeing what movies people choose. John Travolta picked one of my own all time favorite films, Yankee Doodle Dandy staring James Cagney. Brilliant film on all fronts. Wolfgang Petersen picked the classic western High Noon. Brian Grazer picked a slightly different western, Blazing Saddles, which I saw when it came out and had slightly mixed feelings about. I was channel surfing not too long ago and found Blazing Saddles playing, but they bleeped ‘nigger’, which is kind of like bleeping ‘god’ from The Ten Commandments. Political Correctness strikes again.

One thing that was said over and over again, about films as diverse as Cool Hand Luke and A Man For All Seasons and Blazing Saddles, was that you couldn’t make this film today. The reason current movies suck is that there are too many people who want to piss in the pot. Too many lawyers that want the script to be worded a certain way. Too many Studios that want the perfect formula story. Too many writers that are more than happy to bang out scripts that meet these oddball standards. And sadly, too many movie goers that hand over a billion dollars to watch Avatar and its clones. But one person said the movie they loved couldn’t be made today because the Director who made it was dead. I like that.

Watching Movies reminds us that the great films are still around. That we don’t have to watch the latest CGI gorefest. And maybe if enough people continue to stay home and watch Dr Strangelove or The Shining or High Noon or All The Presidents Men, the Studios will start to make great films again. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll just keep looking for the next Avatar.

No one sets out to make bad films. Lucas was giddy as a child when he was promoting The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks, clearly he didn’t see what everyone else on earth saw. The Wachowskis’s gushed about how much money they had spent on the car chase in Matrix Reloaded, as if anyone gave a damn how much the car chase cost.
There are still good movies being made, but as always, very few great ones. The films talked about in Watching Movies are great ones.

Watching Movies: The Biggest Names in Cinema Talk about the Films that Matter Most was a fun read that made me stop and think and once or twice and re-watch one or two films I hadn’t seen in a while.

All You Need Is Kill Script

a few spoilers and such

 

I like reading scripts.  The original stories almost always differ from the final films.    There was a scene with Mr Potter and Clarence cut out of It’s A Wonderful Life and there’s a sequel to The Matrix floating around that actually makes sense.  All You Need Is Kill by D W Harper is the original script for Live Die Repeat or Edge of Tomorrow.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Tom Cruise time loop story that makes no damned sense at all.  Like Tom being a recruiting officer and how he makes that finial time hop at the end.  I still liked the movie, but it’s not a script that benefits from a careful reading.  All You Need Is Kill is a hell of a lot better story, based on the book of the same name written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.  I haven’t read the book, but I’m guessing this script is a bit closer to the novel than the one Tom used.

While they are basically the same story, a solider meets with a freak accident that traps him in a time loop, the execution of that story is a good deal different.  Here our hero is a grunt who was drafted as the earth faces its final battle, much more likely than an all volunteer force inspired to enlist thanks to Tom’s brilliant ad campaign.  The battle rages and our hero is killed over and over again, but there isn’t any Red Herring for him to follow about some Secret Base in the mountains and a Master Mimic.  We are given a bit more backstory about how the Mimics came to earth and how they invaded only after they were provoked.  We also learn a bit more about the blonde killing machine Rita, known as The Full Metal Bitch.  There’s a bit more character development here for a couple of the characters, like the ever yelling Sergeant and a couple of Cage’s bunk mates.

The ending is a bit less optimistic as well.  It’s not all as cut and dry as in the Tom Cruise version.  There are still battles to be fought and there’s no happy ending for Cage and Rita.  But it was good.  I liked it.  The ending left open the possibility of another film, while still wrapping things up nicely for this part of the war.

Of course, reading unproduced scripts is like watching Pilots that aren’t picked up or wondering what Tom Selleck would have been like as Indiana Jones, it’s a mixture of fun and sorrow.   I know no one is ever going to make All You Need Is Kill and Tom will never get to play Indy.  But it is fun to think about.

I found All You Need Is Kill on SimplyScripts.com, and it’s well worth reading.

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iZombie on the CW

izombie_posterEpisode one of iZombie jumps right into the action. We get a brief scene of our hero as a normal woman going about the business of being a doctor, then she goes to a party and is scratched by a zombie, thus becoming one herself. We then flash forward a few months, and no one has noticed that she’s now a zombie. She quits her residency as a surgeon in favor of a job in the morgue, where she can help herself to brains when the need arises. A side effect of her braining eating is that she gets flashes of memory from the person whose brain she has consumed. Useful bit of business that.

iZombie is basically Quincy ME/Bones meets Buffy/Supernatural. It’s basically a normal cop show where the lead detective has some quirk that allows them to solve crimes, the quirk in this case being our hero is an undead monster passing as a human.

In the opening episode we met the zombie’s family, her co-worker who knows her secret, and a cop she helps to solve crimes who thinks she’s psychic. We see that she has some gnarly zombie powers and there are hints of other zombies roaming around that she has yet make contact with.

Our pretty little zombie was turned by being gouged by a zombie. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the human race. If all it takes is a scratch to be turned into a zombie, the apocalypse can’t be too far off. But then, these zombies do seem to be a bit smarter than your average shambler. Our hero does say that she gets dumber if she doesn’t get a regular meal of brains. Does every morgue have a zombie on staff?

I liked the look of iZombie and the acting seems good enough. Since iZombie is based on a comic book, the transitions are all stylized line drawings and look pretty cool. It’s a lot lighter in tone than the BBC’s zombie show In The Flesh, about the undead returning home and trying to blend in. There is even talk of a cure. I can’t help but think of I Am Legend. “I can fix this.” Well, good luck with that.

I liked iZombie. I just hope it gets a chance to develop beyond the first few episodes.

The Graduate —A Comedy???

MV5BMTQ0ODc4MDk4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTEzNzgzNA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_A defining scene in The Graduate is where Mrs Robinson is putting on her hose as Benjamin watches. She has very thin legs and the hose glide over them quickly and easily. She fastens them to a garter belt. It’s a lovely shot. Benjamin looks entranced and he loses track of what he was saying. It’s a great little scene.

I’m reading this fun book about famous film personalities and the films they love called Watching Movies. Ron Howard’s pick was The Graduate. He prattles on about cuts and transitions and how this tool or that was used in the film. Stuff that a director would notice that has little enough interest for anyone else. I was amazed as I read how Ron Howard thought of this as a screwball comedy or a sex comedy and talked about the slapstick gags.

This was an aspect of the film I had completely missed, and watching it again, still can’t see.

I like The Graduate, but outside of one or two bits, there is nothing all that funny about this dopey kid having an affair with his father’s business partner’s wife and then stalking her daughter like a serial killer.

The Graduate is an interesting film. Mrs Robinson starts out as this total Dominant, but then she turns into this passive and weak creature striped of all power. It’s an almost unbelievable transformation. Her weakness is her daughter. And Benjamin, well, it’s a common enough fantasy to have both mother and daughter, isn’t it?

About halfway through the film, the affair with Mrs Robinson ends when Benjamin falls in love with her daughter. Mrs Robinson demands that he never date Elaine and makes several threats of what would happen if he does. This is left hanging. A loop that is never closed. Are Ben and Elaine brother and sister? One or the other the result of another affair twenty years ago? Or does the idea of Ben being with her daughter really disgust Mrs Robinson that much? It is never really made clear, not to my satisfaction anyway.

Also, the second half of the film is basically Ben stalking Elaine until she agrees to run away with him. In the real world, stalking seldom works out so neatly. And of course, we never know what happens with Ben and Elaine. The odds of a happily ever after seem pretty slim.

Watching The Graduate now, I’m at a loss to see why Mrs Robinson wants Benjamin. She could have any delivery boy as easily as she has Ben, was this a bit of revenge aimed at Ben’s parents? If so, we never see that either. Was she just that attracted to the short and whiny twerp with the washboard abs? She seems like a woman who would have more reason for doing something than that.

I like The Graduate, but I don’t think I will ever understand it. Certainly I won’t understand that it is a comedy. There’s a scene where Ben takes Elaine out on their first date and he drags her, almost literally, into a strip club. He ignores her and stares at the stripper, who wanders his way and proceeds to pound Elaine on the head with the tassels on her pasties. Elaine breaks down and cries and Benjamin pushes the stripper away. Hardly an act of heroism, since it was he that put her there in the first place. It’s a scene that could have been funny, but was not funny at all.

All the scenes seem to be random little snippets telling their own small story. None of them are humorous.

The music, mostly variations on Mrs Robinson and Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel, set the tone of the film. Sad and desperate with hints of manic depression. We watch as Ben swings from manic to depressed several times. He’s clearly a bit nuts.

We never really get to know anyone in this film. But it is interesting.

Writing, Blogging

2f1cce16853c8f0b36c80528cff3a977I used to write these long rambling letters to everyone I knew. Pages and pages of random thoughts and poems and photos and whatnot. I banged them out on an old typewriter and I still refer to the ‘Enter’ key as the ‘Return’ key. I was blogging before there were blogs. A pretty lesbian I liked to write to told me I should write a blog. So I did. It was a more personal blog than the ones I write now. Filled with intimate details, rants about the unfairness of it all, and the usual mundane daily business of a diary. I had a handful of regular readers, like most blogs. I read them and they read me and that was pretty much it.

I still have a handful of comments on If You Write It from one or two old blog buddies from back in the day. Most of them have given up on blogging on a regular basis. But a few are still hard at it, telling the story of their life 500 words at a time.

The desire to write is always there. The ability to sit down and put my thoughts down is not. That’s what separates real writers, the ones that get paid to do it, from the rest of us. They sit down and write, no matter what. Then they edit what they write so someone else can read it and edit it further. Bloggers have it easy. We just bang our posts out and let the commas fall where they may.

There was a time I tried publishing my posts on Technorati. One of those sites that used to be important, but not so much anymore. They had Editors, how bizzaire. You submitted a piece and someone looked it over and made suggestions on correcting whatever they found wrong. Since these were blog posts, there was always a lot to find wrong. It’s not like I spend days polishing my thoughts on the last book I read or TV show I watched. So I often got a lot of notes on what needed to be corrected for my 300 word review to make it suitable for the hallowed pages of Technorati. I think I submitted about five posts before I said To Hell With This.

I kind of feel like Llewyn Davis when he meets a jazz singer played by John Goodman.

“What did you say you play? Flameco?”

“Folk songs.”

“Folk Songs? Oh, I thought you said you were a musician.” The jazz great says with a dismissive snort. “I’m a jazz man. People pay to hear me play.”

So being a blogger is like being a folk singer and all the world thinks they’re jazz greats. One or two bloggers get book deals or land a job on a talk show somewhere. Many of these were already writers before they decided to blog about something for a year and then turn it into a book. Most bloggers write for themselves and if someone else stumbles upon them, that’s just a bonus.

I like to read my old blog posts. Some are great, some are not so great. But they are all mine. And that’s something.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Truman-Capote-Reads-From-Breakfast-At-Tiffanys

Spoilers and such-if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, go do so now.  Right now.

 

Like countless authors before and since, Truman Capote didn’t like what Hollywood did to his book.   F. Scot Fitzgerald walked out on The Great Gatsby, Stephen King hated The Shinning, Anne Rice didn’t want Tom Cruise to play Lestat, and Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holiday Golightly, Traveling.   I think she would have been brilliant in the role, just as she was in everything she ever did, but I’m not sure the 1960 edition of Marilyn would have been quite right for the role of 19 year old Holly.

I recently watched Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I loved just about every frame of it.  It was filled with all the great bit players I grew up watching on TV, with Audrey and Mickey Rooney being the only real stars in the piece.  Rooney has a small role as a Japanese photographer complete with Coke-bottle glasses and buck teeth.  This wasn’t the only such portrayal of the time and to be honest, the role of Mr. Yunioshi is nothing more than a cameo, though he does get a couple more lines in the film than he got in the book.  The film was directed by Blake Edwards and had Oscar winning music by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

The novella Breakfast At Tiffany’s and the film differ in many respects, but a good deal of the dialogue from the book does find its way into the movie.   The writing is crisp and clean and our never named narrator moves on the fringes of the whirlwind that is the life of Holly Golightly.  In the film it’s pretty clear that Holly is a prostitute and there is no doubt at all that Paul/Fred is a gigolo.  A favorite scene from the movie sees Holly picking up some money a woman has left on a table for Fred.

“She’s very generous.  Three hundred dollars.  Is that for the Month?  The week? Or the hour?”  Is this Holly comparing her own rates to Fred’s?  Of course, this doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the story.  Why would the rich and powerful men Holly courts want to marry her if everyone knew she was a call girl?  In the book, Fred doesn’t appear to be a gigolo, he talks about writing and mentions how he is forced to get a 9 to 5 job.  A far cry from the life of extravagant luxury lived by Paul in the film. Holly also mentions that she has had a total of 11 lovers, a fairly low number for a prostitute.

The book also features a couple of additional characters, most notable a bartender named Joe Bell.  Fred and Holly spend a bit of time in the bar next door.  Joe shows up in the first scene where Fred hears the latest rumors about Holly and makes occasional appearances throughout the book.

I remember my impressions on finishing my first reading of Breakfast at Tiffany’s many years ago-it’s the story of a girl that everyone falls in love with as soon as they met her.   That’s still my main impression.  How many of us have loved someone and never seen them again?  Stopped now and then to wonder what happened to them.  The movie has that nice tidy happy ending, but the book leaves things a little more open to interpretation.    The narrator goes about his life, the cat finds a home, and we never know what happens to Holly.  Even the rumor of her whereabouts in the opening scene is only a rumor.

I love both the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s and the book Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories.

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

More Fool Me More Fool Me is the story of Stephen Fry’s life, so far. I’ve been a fan of Stephen Fry since the days of Black Adder I and Jeeves & Wooster. He’s a funny fellow with a great deadpan deliver. He’s also a pretty damned good writer. Making History, a time travel book about Hitler, was shockingly good. More Fool Me is what all autobiographies should be. A bit of history, a bit of reflection, and a bit of actual diary from the good old days.

I have been a fan of Stephen Fry for lo these many years, but I knew nothing about Stephan’s private life. So when he opens up More Fool Me by casually mentioning that he is Jewish and Gay and shortly thereafter goes into some detail about his love for cocaine, suffice to say I was a bit surprised by most of what I found here. Not that I have anything against gay Jewish drug addicts, its just that I never thought of those terms in relationship to Stephen Fry.

Stephen is easily the best name dropper I have I ever read. He casually mentions his friendships with Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Emma Thompson, and what appears to be every actor who ever appeared on British television. He also talks about British politicians and has a lovely story about having tea with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. I knew most of the names thanks to countless hours spent watching Britcoms, but even the names that meant nothing to me still featured in fun stories.

Stephen narrates the audio book and I think that is definitely the way to read this book. Stephen has a wonderful delivery and he speaks in such a way that you feel as if he is talking to you. He mentions how this is his intention, that he merely wants to speak to the reader as if they were chatting over drinks at Groucho’s, a club he mentions at every opportunity.

More Fool Me might be subtitled the Cocaine Diaries, as there is rather a lot of talk about darting off to the bathroom and doing seven foot long lines of coke and how, looking back, he is amazed that he lived through those heady days. But live he did. I thoroughly enjoyed More Fool Me.

Violence on TV-Too much or is it just me?

It seems today, that all you see is violence in movies,
and sex on T.V.

-opening of Family Guy

I don’t watch as much Network TV as I used to, but the shows I do like tend to be on the tame side. Big Bang Theory, Heart of Dixie, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, Forever, and Downton Abbey. True, there is a bit violence in these shows, but it’s usually pretty mild and often happens off screen. I’m not against violence, I watch R-Rated movies and Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are two of the best shows of the past hundred years or so-but I don’t watch them on Broadcast TV.

Two shows in particular have pushed the envelope a bit too far for me recently. FOX’s Gotham and CW’s The 100.

Gotham is a blood soaked horror story. Even it’s comic relief moments show people with blood splattered across their face.The tipping point for me was when one of the main characters gouges her own eye out with a spoon. On screen. Then stomps on it. In the same episode people calmly murder each other for a ski mask. Blood packs explode at every turn. Maybe this is supposed to be Monty Python style over the top blood gags, but it doesn’t work for me. In another odd bit of business, young Bruce Wayne is encouraged to bloody a man’s nose.

On to CW’s The 100, the story of Earth after the fall of civilization where we have three or four factions fighting over the control of some tiny part of the planet. Like Gotham it has been violent from the start, but a scene where a man telling bad jokes is blow to bits and bloody remains fall from the sky was pretty much enough of this show for me. The main plotline of this episode was one group of people wanting to kill off hundreds of members of another group by melting them with some kind of acid. Nice.

TV has always been violent, all Westerns were about good guys shooting bad guys and my beloved Star Trek is famous for killing off anyone dumb enough to wear a red shirt. But it was always clear who the good guys were and why they were doing what they did. Shows like Gotham and The 100 doen’t seem to have any good guys and throwing buckets blood into the mix doesn’t make it any better.

The Rewrite

The Rewrite Poster The Rewrite is a nice old fashioned comedy film with a number of actors who were popular about twenty years ago. Nice to see them all again. Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, and Chris Elliott are people I like but haven’t seen in a while. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are two more members of the Older Folks here. There are a number of pretty young people who play students to Hugh’s screenwriting Professor.

In classic Gray’s Anatomy style, our hero sleeps with a student the moment he steps off the plane. He doesn’t see anything wrong this, as he likes to rememeber the good old days when he knew young actresses dumb enough to think sleeping with a screenwriter could get them a part. Everyone he mets recalls his one hit film and tells him how much they liked it. He talks to his agent and begs from work, anything to get him away from teaching. His first class sees him telling his students to come back in a month with a rough draft for him to look over.

He doesn’t like the New England cold. He insults an important woman at his first faculty event. He doesn’t fit in at all. But over time he comes to like the local food and the local people. He even finds that he likes teaching and slightly more mature women.

The funny bit here is that The Rewrite is the kind of movie that our hero says modern Hollywood won’t make anymore. No blood packs exploding all over the place, no excess nudity, no car crashes, and not flogger or pair of handcuffs in sight. Of course, 50 Shades made has made 150 million dollars (so far) and The Rewrite made a couple of million. Worldwide. So maybe there’s a reason Hollywood doesn’t do RomComs any more.

The Rewrite was fun, but not exactly great.