Saturday, January 9, 2010

So This is the New Year

Unlike Ben Gibbard's lyrics, I actually do feel a little different. However, this is not what I will be writing about today. The decade has brought us many great films, and I was afraid to create a list simply because I would forget something. Of course what I should have been doing was write down great films of the decade as they popped in my head then do an elimination game afterwords, but that would have been too simple. Instead, I am going to write them here as what has stuck to me after all of my thinking. Please forgive my use of the word "perfect" in my reviews, but I really can't describe some things any other way. Here are my favorite films of the decade:

10) Garden State
I aspire to make something like this and #9 on my list. The complete honesty that Braff writes in his film is something that not everyone has been able to hit, especially with recent films. In a way, this reminds me of Charlie Kaufman and Ingmar Bergman. These two writers are not afraid to truly create themselves into a film. Andrew Largeman is not a completely lovable character, but he is real. And I have to add, this film has one of the best soundtracks of all time.

9) Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut
The best Sci-fi film of the decade. It wasn't concerned about just creating an interesting concept, but also creating characters that fit what the film is about. Richard Kelly has said that when he was filming Donnie Darko he lost 5 pounds per week because of the connection he created with Donnie. That is true dedication and honesty. Seeing a giant bunny rabbit named Frank should make people laugh, but I get chills every time I see his voice, or the shot of him standing out in front of Donnie's house. There are still some things I'm trying to figure out with this film, but that is part of the beauty of it.

8) Signs
To people who know me, this should not come as a complete surprise. Maybe a little surprised that I didn't choose Unbreakable? Signs is absolutely perfect for me. Shyamalan's beautiful metaphor in this film adds to what's perfect about it on the surface. It's a story about a man who lost his wife and lost his faith, and aliens are trying to take over the planet. SPOILERS Who knew that the thing that would destroy these aliens is water? This is a huge religious reference. We are told time and time again in the Bible that Jesus is in our hearts, and whenever we need him we just turn to him. In the film, these aliens are actually just sins (or evil) trying to enter our lives and destroy the way we live. All we have to do is turn to what the majority of the planet is made of (in the film this is water, but the metaphor is Christ) even though it's the last place we try. The suspense builds up so perfectly in the film that I get at least a little creeped out every time I see it. And, of course, Shyamalan's cinematography and style he uses for the actors is perfect.

7) Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro truly shows his ability to make a great fantasy with this film. Mixing the fantasy world with the history of the Spanish Civil War was perfect. After I saw Hellboy I was a little weary of his style, but later I found out he did almost everything in that film to please the fanboys of the original source. It turns out that del Toro really knows what he's doing. There are moments of wonder and joy, others of evil and hate. Some scenes could have taken a cliche turn, such as her dress getting ruined, but they never take the simple road. Most of it was done to really get us thinking there might be this fantastic world where she can escape from the madness.

6) Punch Drunk Love
PT Anderson is one of the best filmmakers of our time. The story of Barry is a very sad and desperate one. He doesn't know how to control his emotions, or display how he feels to others. This becomes quite difficult when he meets Lena. All he wants is a woman to be with, to share moments with, to know he is not alone. Lena seems to have fallen in love with Barry, even before the first time she met him. What makes this movie incredible is the fact that you can make this into a story about aliens or superheroes. I've heard convincing theories for both, and whether I agree with them or not, it definitely gets me thinking. The cinematography, editing, acting, everything is perfect.

5) Adaptation
Is there really much more that I comment on Adaptation other than say "pure genius?" Charlie Kaufman wants to write a script about The Orchid Thief, and wants to keep it simply about flowers. He gets stuck and isn't quite sure what to do. How about write a script about yourself trying to write a script? Then add in your subconscious that bugs the living hell out of you? And then when you don't know how to end it because it doesn't work out as a film, be anticlimatic and make it like countless other horrible Hollywood adaptations? But the best part about it, this works perfectly. It is perhaps the most original, odd, and funniest scripts ever written. Spike Jonze also does the source material justice. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance for this film as well. I'm just going to stop now, because I could talk about Adaptation for days. I think this is enough? Yeah, moving on...

4) The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky's film about life and death touches me every time. I don't think I can sit through The Fountain once without get a tear in my eye. Tom is a guy who is afraid of death, whether it's in the past, present, or future. Izzy is a woman who is constantly threatened with death. Of course, Izzy is the woman that Tom is in love with. And when I say in love, I don't mean he has a thing for her, but this is his soul mate. He wants to spend every single moment with her, but she doesn't have many moments left. Izzy seems to become more comfortable with the idea of being dead as she gets closer to the end, but Tom isn't ready to accept death. We see him grasping for the cure, whether it's eternal life or a simple cure for Izzy's tumor. Aronofsky is trying to tell his audience that there is something after death. Perhaps he doesn't know what this is, but there is no reason to be afraid. There is something calming and beautiful within this message. This is Aronofsky's best, and most underrated, film.

3) Brick
Not only is Brick the best neo-noir of the decade, but it's also just one of the best neo-noirs. Rian Johnson proves that he truly understands the genre. He subtly throws in sexual references without showing nudity or an actual sex scene, the main character never ceases to amaze us with his brain and his charisma. Johnson also throws in a character who is the main character's subconscious. There's a lot of laughs, a lot of mystery, and I was not bored for a single second.

2) Into the Wild
Chris McCandless is perhaps one of the biggest inspirations for the way I live my life. I will never take it to the extent in which he lived, but I try to do what he did up until his death: find out who he really is aside from what society tells him. The film is very close to the book, and the changes make sense. For example, Chris goes to see Wayne on more than one occasion. They become best friends, almost like brothers. But what would the point be to show this in the film? That part of the story would have overstayed its welcome. Sean Penn's directing was brilliant. There really was no other way to shoot this rather than chronological order from Chris's actual trek across western America. Nothing was shot with a green screen, and everything that is seen Emile Hirsch does it without help. The cinematography of western America fits perfectly with the story. Chris saw the beauty in all things of the wild, and the filmmakers captured it the best they could. Chris McCandless's story is one that everyone needs to hear, so that perhaps everyone can go out and find who they truly are and what makes them happy. Maybe this is the key to a perfect equilibrium?

1) Synecdoche, New York
This should have been the obvious choice for me. Perhaps I'm like Woody Allen in my obsession with death? If you want an in depth look at my thoughts on this film, check out my first blog entry. Caden Cotard is a man who is constantly afraid of dying throughout the film. We see him freaking out about the color of his poop, when he gets knocked in the head he thinks there might be major damage, and time seems to be slipping away. The audience is with Caden the entire time. We go through his pain, and laugh at his faults. That is what Charlie Kaufman does best, make a character that is like himself, then make us laugh at what's wrong with him. There are countless amount of scenes that make always stick with me. For example, when Caden's daughter is dancing naked in front of him, and all he can do is bang on the glass and yell "Olive, it's daddy!" until he is thrown out. Perhaps the most difficult part of the film is trying to figure out who Caden really is, even though there is enough presented to us. Olive asks Caden to apologize for leaving she and her mom for his gay lover Eric. Later on, the woman who starts to play Caden is married to a man named Eric. We slip into his mind so much, that we are not sure exactly what is real and what isn't. Almost like 2001: A Space Odyssey there are moments where we can't tell what's up and what's down. But the film never feels disjointed, and it never makes you feel like it's incomplete. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as Caden Cotard. His slow decay to death is beautifully done. This is the perfect film, and I have yet to find a single flaw in the acting, writing, directing, cinematography, editing, etc. If you have not seen this film yet, stop whatever you're doing and go. I will be happy to discuss it with you once you're done.

I know that this is quite a long list of runner ups, but they have either inspired or entertained me to no end. It was hard to leave each of these off of my top 10 list. Here are my runner ups in alphabetical order:
(500) Days of Summer
Almost Famous
Big Fish
City of God
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Lord of the Rings series
Lost in Translation
Love Actually
The Nines
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Squid and the Whale
Snow Angels

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Script I Wrote for the 48 Hour Film Fest in Columbus, Ohio


A car pulls into the yard in front of an old house that seems
abandoned. LEN PELLATON steps out of his car. He looks like
he hasn’t cleaned himself for days. There is not a smile to
be found on his face. He takes a quick look at his house and
lets out a long sigh.
*Side Note* We don’t see the house when Len takes a look at
Out from the side of the house walks VERONICA. She has a
bright smile on her face, like she is very happy to see Len
come home. She runs up to Len and gives him a quick hug.
*Side note* When she walks around the house we will
intentionally keep the house out of the shot.
Hey, Veronica!

Len is now wearing a business suit and is very happy to see

I’ve missed you today! All I could
think about was having you next to
me while we watch a movie tonight.
What is it going to be?
Veronica answers in a light hearted, sarcastic tone.
The sappy love stories you can’t
get enough of.
Whatever makes you happy.
Veronica puts her arms around him.
How did I meet someone as perfect
as you?
I guess luck.

They both chuckle at the comment. She moves in to kiss him,
and as soon as she should reach him she disappears. When we
look back at Len, he is back to the way we were first
introduced to him and Veronica is no longer around.
Len lightly shuts the door to where it doesn’t fully close.
Throughout the scene we never see the house itself until
Len’s disappointment.

Everything is a mess. Someone has clearly been living there,
but never cleans. The door opens and Len walks in. He walks
over to the kitchen, opens a drawer and pulls out a can of
cat food. He takes a small plate out of the sink, and scoops
out wet cat food onto the plate with a dirty fork. Len wipes
off the fork with his shirt and pulls a piece of pie out of
the refrigerator. He clears a spot on the kitchen table for
the pie and sits down. As Len is about to take a stab at the
pie the fork is yanked out of his hand. He looks up and sees
ROB sitting in front of him.

Why, if it isn’t Len Pellaton. If
you don’t mind me asking, what the
hell is this?
It’s a fork. And in case you can’t
tell, Rob, this is pie.
You know what I mean.
I don’t care.
Rob lays the fork down on the table. He cocks his head. Len
is sitting there unmoved.
It’s your choice.
Len looks at Rob for a few seconds.
It was the closest thing to grab.
So, I wiped it off on my shirt. No
big deal. I took care if it.
The shirt you wore to the factory
The one you sweat in all day?
Give me a break, it’s my sweat.
You need to take care of yourself.
I am.
You’ve chosen whatever is in front
of you, like the fork, rather than
what is better for you.
I told you, I am.
It’s not healthy to be the selfloathing,
disappointed piece of
shit that you are.
I said I am taking care of myself!
The best way I know how! What the
hell else do you want from me?
I can’t tell you that.
While Len says the next dialogue, the camera is focused on
Rob who has a concerned look on his face.
You’re here. You’re talking to me.
You can tell me what you want.

After this dialogue is spoken by Len, we cut over to his

Stop leaving me!

Len picks up the plate with pie on it and throws it at the
wall. It goes right past the place where Rob was sitting.
Rob is no longer there. He has fully disappeared.

How can I expect to do anything
without some kind of guidance?

Len goes barging out of his front door and to the middle of
his yard. He looks out and screams to everything around him.

What do you expect from me? I
chose the fork when I was young!
What do you want?

Veronica sneaks up behind him and puts her arms around his
waste. She gets really close and whispers in his ear.

I want you and only you.

Len turns around towards the house while in her grasp and
holds onto her. He begins to cry while holding onto her.

------ An extra ending in case of better explanation -----
A man and woman are running side by side down the street and
stop when in front of Len’s house. They see Len standing
alone, crying, facing his house.
Should we help?
Let’s finish running. We’ll stop
by later.

The couple continue running down the street, leaving Len
alone to himself.

Finally: A Reason for this Blog

I have realized today that there are three people who follow this blog. I'm not sure when this happened, or how, but I feel bad that nothing has been posted since my writings on Synecdoche, New York. However much I enjoy analyzing films, I feel that it would be interesting to post snippets of my own writing, and hear what other people think. But I will also write what inspires me, and if that is analyzing a film once again then I will do so. The reason for this is because I am stuck within my recent screenplay. It could be writer's block, or it could be that I've lost passion for the story. Either way, I think this will be good for me to do so that I can grow as a writer. See what inspires me, so that one day I can write like the ones who produce the most beautiful pieces of art that go up on the big screen.

To begin: Charlie Kaufman and Haruki Murakami are currently my two favorite writers. At one time I might have said Ingmar Bergman, Quentin Tarantino, or F. Scott Fitzgerald. These guys might make it back on my list some day, but today I am feeling their writings more than anyone else. Kaufman and Murakami use very human characters in situations that might be despicable, yet I still feel for them. Is it due to an eccentric story line that keeps me interested? Or maybe because they are just so human that I can see myself in them? Either way, they hit this level of honesty that I hope to reach within every single thing I write. Currently I am reading Norwegian Wood, and I can't stop thinking about the connections that he has between his lead character Watanabe and the lead character in South of the Border: West of the Sun. I remember reading in Murakami's memoir something along these lines: "I don't particularly like who I am. It's like carrying around extra baggage everywhere I go. But I don't have a choice. I'm always going to be me. And carrying it around, obviously I've grown fond of it." Of course, that is incredibly butchered, but the main point is that there are characteristics of who we are that we want to change, such as being overly shy, but we live with what we have. It seems as if Murakami is stuck in this idea that he had a love when he was young, and somehow let it slip through his fingers. His main character in both stories is a man in his 40s who regrets leaving that one woman in the past, then marrying someone he thought he loved, but nothing close to the one he had. This could either be literal or figurative. Either way, his writing shows regret. And it's this same lonely regret that can be seen in Charlie Kaufman's characters. I'm only 20, going to be 21 in two weeks, and I'm already feeling this desperation of being someone else. Does it just go downhill from here? Or will there be some remarkable turning point? It's Christmas day, and instead of loving the moment I'm missing the past. Nostalgia creeps in like a silent cancer. But I digress. Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York has a lot of personal similarities to Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation. The writing is honest. When someone is lying they tend to tell the story the same way each time. Kaufman and Murakami's characters have minor changes, but in the end they typically have some of the same flawed personas. I hope to one day reach a level of honesty that I can do the same with my characters, but also put them in a world that I believe to be truly beautiful.

Thanks for reading. I'm sure this is probably so personal to me that it will not interest anyone else, but I guess that's what true writers think of each of their works. I will be adding on a screenplay I wrote soon. Let me know what you think if you have the time.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh How We Love To Torture Ourselves

*This post contains spoilers of Synecdoche, New York*

While watching Synecdoche, New York, I found myself puzzled by many scenes of the movie. This is a film in which one can tell that Charlie Kaufman specifically wrote and filmed every tiny bit for a reason. There is one part of the film that I think about more than the others because I can connect with it on a more personal level. Most of us are afraid of death and being alone, but this one is more about how we torture ourselves before death. I am speaking about the trips Caden takes to Germany before Olive dies. Did Caden actually go to Germany at all, or was he simply torturing himself with the thoughts of what could have possibly happened to his beloved daughter Olive?

There are three different times that Caden flies to Germany, and I don't think that he actually got to see his daughter a single time after she moved with her mother. Caden goes to Germany the first time because he sees his daughter's body tattooed in a magazine. He visits Adele's studio to try and visit with Olive, but they will not give him any information. Maria then runs into Caden at a cafe and tells him that he can't see his daughter and that she is the one who tattooed Olive because Olive is her muse. Caden then starts attacking her and she runs away. He runs after her into a back alley where she somehow disappears. This is the first hint that this trip never really happened. Second hint is that this back alley holds the gifts that he sent his daughter through the mail. How could there be a pile of gifts there if each one was sent a year after the other? Clearly this didn't actually happen. Caden breaks down and cries holding onto the box that he bought because he read in Olive's diary that her favorite color was pink.

Now lets back up a bit. A few years before Caden sees his daughter's body tattooed in a magazine he starts reading Olive's diary. The diary describes what it is like to live in Germany. How could this make sense for Olive to forget her diary in America if she wrote it in Germany? Caden keeps reading from her diary throughout the film and she keeps maturing through the years (even one describing that Maria is introducing her to her body). I see this as Caden mentally torturing himself because he won't actually leave to find his daughter and be with her.

The second visit to Germany starts out with Caden on a plane with Madeleine. What surprises me is that I have read people taking this scene literally as well. But Madeleine is on the plane and hits on Caden, but Caden refuses sex with her. After this Caden continues to read in the book and it says since he refused her temptation then she could no longer help him and the book is finished. First of all, why would she actually be on the flight in the first place? She was famous enough to have written all of those books, so one patient dropping her services would not have freed her up that much. I find this to be another scene where Caden is torturing himself. He even refuses to finish the book because he doesn't find himself worthy of fixing himself.

When he arrives in Germany he goes to see his daughter completely naked and dancing behind glass (I don't know what those places are called). He pounds on the glass screaming "Olive! It's Daddy!" The woman completely ignores him and he is dragged out of the building. This thought of his daughter being a naked dancer can be connected with the first thought of seeing his daughter completely naked and tattooed in the magazine. As a father this is the worst fate that he can think of for his daughter, so he continues to torture himself with these thoughts of her showing off her body.

Lastly we have the scene in Germany where he goes back to see his daughter on her death bed. One of the first things Olive talks about was how she and Maria were lovers. This could show the encounter was false because you see Caden fighting for Adele's love with Maria in the beginning, so he imagines it happening with Olive on a more physical level. But Olive tells Caden that Maria told her that Caden wouldn't come see her because he was a homosexual and had a lover named Eric. Caden tells her this isn't true, but she insists that she can't die without forgiving him, but he must admit that he was a homosexual. Caden forces himself to admit that he's a homosexual and he's sorry for abandoning her to have sex with Eric. Olive cries and says she can't forgive him. These are her last words before she dies. This is another moment that shows this could be in Caden's mind and he is torturing himself with these thoughts. He tells himself that no matter what his daughter couldn't forgive him for not trying to find her and be with her. The last thing we see is Maria rushing to Olive and holding her while a petal from the flower tattooed on Olive's arm falls onto the bed. Again, just like at Caden's play, Maria had to be there for an important moment that he wanted to share with just the one that means most to him.

I think with the whole Caden and Olive story we can see that Kaufman is trying to say that we are the most harsh on ourselves. We imagine how terrible everything is without ever getting the true facts. Even if we did get the truth we would tell ourselves it was a lie and resort to more painful thoughts. I know in the past I have thought of the worst possible scenario, yet I was too afraid to see if I was right. Instead I made that the truth and tortured myself with the thoughts. Movies can have many interpretations with each one being just as correct as the last, but this is a subject that I felt passionate about in Synecdoche, New York.