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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

One Reason I Love December

I am on a lot of email lists from which I receive invitations, year-round, to see free preview screenings of various films. But one thing I love about December is that the quantity of such films increases significantly during this month. So what this mans is that I've been able to see a lot of movies lately, and not spend much money! Instead of doing separate reviews of each, I wanted to give you one post about many of them, as well as a few other films I wanted to spread the word about! So, in sequence:

Eastern Promises
I saw this a few weeks ago, and really liked it. This film is not for the faint of heart, with a lot of graphic violence. The new film by David Cronenberg, this film again stars Viggo Mortensen, as did Cronenberg's previous A History of Violence.

To me, this film is much better than History of Violence. I think the acting is better, and the story works and holds together more cohesively. I felt that the former film rambled a bit and was somewhat unfocused in terms of its theme and point. I still liked it, but I didn't love it. Eastern Promises may try to say less, and that may be why it works better, in my book.

On a funny side note, the screening was followed by a Q&A with screenwriter Steven Knight. He also wrote this past year's Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce. I am ashamed to admit that I haven't seen this film, but I have heard wonderful things about it. Why am I ashamed? Because I read the original version of this film for the producers, as well as two subsequent drafts, each by different writers. I had loved the subject, as well as the treatment it received int he initial script, and the company bought the script for development. The two rewrites I read were inferior, in my opinion, to the initial draft I read, and I said so in my coverage. I did not, however, read Knight's version.

I went over to him after the screening and identified myself to him. It was actually kind of fun for me, since essentially he might not have had that specific gig if it weren't for me, since the film might not have been made otherwise!

The Mist
I had originally gone out to see a free preview of Walk Hard, but alas I got there too late and was closed out of the screening. So don't let it be said that you don't have to pay for these free screenings -- you must pay with your time. My friend and I were already at the theater, so we decided to go see something else anyway, and the only film there that was mildly appealing was The Mist.

Wow. I was very disappointed. I expect a lot from Frank Darabont. Shawshank was amazing and classic, and I really liked his screenplay for the upcoming Farenheit 451 (which hopefully I'll discuss in a future post). But this film was a major disappointment, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Highly overwrought and bombastic, overall.

This is not to say it was without its strengths. In fact, there were actually a number of aspects that I really admired here, which made my disappointment with the other parts even more painful. I thought he handled the character interactions excellently, and pulled some amazing performances and intense moments out of the actors. There were some truly dramatic scenes, and painfully so. Much of the thematic subtext is powerful as well. But overall the film just feels heavy-handed, and the whole suffers irreparably from this flaw, in my opinion.

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
This little documentary was produced and directed by friends of mine, and I went to a special screening on Sunday, a week and a half ago. It is a remarkable little film in a small release, and could really use all the support it can get. But be aware that is has received excellent reviews from many major newspapers, so this isn't just a plea on my friends' behalf!

The film is a truly touching story about the triumph of the human spirit. And yes, I am Jewish, but I don't really know any Yiddish, and I don't think you need to know any in order to appreciate the film. In fact, many of the attendees were not Jewish either, and they all seemed to enjoy it immensely.

It is currently playing at the Pioneer Theater in NYC, two Laemmle theaters in Los Angeles, and at the Lev Theater in Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv. Its run has been successfully extended in each city in which it has opened, a testament to the film's quality and popularity.

On another humorous side note, I actually ran into Michael in the lobby (he was going to the next screening), and got to meet Josh as well. It turns out that Josh used to intern for my friends who made the film! Michael was there to meet Josh and see the film as well. It was quite the fun coincidence, and provided the added benefit that Josh recognized me when he saw me on the Fox picket lines this past Friday, during the Mutant Enemy gathering. More on that later as well.

Go and see this film. I really loved it. Like Waitress earlier in the year, this film worked as a true dramedy. (I guess that offers another bit of synergy, since when I saw Nathan Fillion at the Mutant Enemy picket, I thought I would have told him how much I liked his work in Waitress had we had a conversation. We didn't.) The comedic parts were very funny, and the dramatic bits were touching as well. There were parts that were uncomfortable to watch, and others that were quite touching. And nearly every character had some serious depth to them.

All this is even more impressive when you learn that this was writer Diablo Cody's first attempt at writing a screenplay, it was written in just 2 months or so, and was barely changed before it was shot. Diablo and director Jason Reitman were there for a Q&A afterwards. I had previously met and spoken with Reitman following a screening of his excellent Thank You For Smoking, and I briefly greeted him again, as well as mentioning former Scribospherian Warren Leonard to Diablo (he'd interviewed her).

The truth is that Reitman and Cody make a great team. Their sensibilities seem to match very nicely and he did a wonderful job of bringing her script to the screen. And I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing much more from Cody down the road. Hopefully by her second or third film she'll be regularly described solely as a writer; every current news story absolutely has to mention her prior profession. I won't.

* * *

Tonight I'll be going to a screening of The Kite Runner, and am looking forward to it. I haven't read the book, but I've heard amazing things about it. Unfortunately, that means I'll be missing a preview of Sweeney Todd, which I'd also love to see. That is one of the problems of this season -- too much of a good thing. I've missed other screenings as well due to conflicts. Oh well.

And you know I must really not want to see a film if I don't even want to attend a free screening! I got an invite today to a screening of The Great Debaters. I'm sorry, but this film just looks so trite and familiar. Teacher inspiring underdog students to achieve academically. Denzel looking self-important. (Sorry, I like him often, but other times I just find him annoying.) Okay, there is seemingly a bit more of a race issue here. But is that enough to make it stand out? Hey, look, maybe I'm wrong. But I've found that I have a pretty good idea of whether or not I'll enjoy a film before I see it, and this one seem more like a "not" to me.

Lastly, I wanted to mention a few other friends' films, and encourage you to see them. Support indie films!

In addition to Yiddish Theater and What Would Jesus Buy? (which I mentioned in my Holiday Gifts post), I also have two other friends with indie projects out right now. My buddy and writing group partner Brooks Elms is having two screenings of Schooled this coming weekend in L.A. Brooks worked on the script for this film in our writing group, so I had the chance to see the film really develop. The film is a drama that deals with alternative schooling, an interesting and somewhat controversial topic.

The screenings will be at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, near Melrose. There are two screenings, one of which is a benefit and the other of which is the official DVD release party. Details:

At the Silent Movie Theater
611 N Fairfax (south of Melrose) 90036

Saturday, December 15th at 4:30pm
(Benefit Screening for Play Mountain Place)


Monday, December 17th at 7:30pm
(Followed by The Official DVD Release party!!)

Tickets $12 - ($15 at the door. Seating is VERY limited!)

And lastly, my friend Debbie is in a new horror film called Timber Falls. It opened this past weekend in 50 theaters throughout Southern California, including Mann's Chinese and Beverly Center in Los Angeles. Hopefully, if enough people go see it they can expand their release.



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