Sunday, May 20, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Subtle Rules

I was at a party recently, observing fifty or so twenty-somethings interacting with each other. They all had their stories, their dramas. I began thinking. Then writing.

If you keep scraping at the garden, you will never allow anything to grow. People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of our hearts. They always have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that explains why they are the way they are. They have found an old memory that opens a new wound. They keep on relentlessly, again and again, scraping the clay away from their own hearts. In nature we do not see the trees, for instance, getting seriously involved in therapeutic analysis of their own root systems or the whole stony world that they had to avoid on their way to the light. Each tree grows in two directions at once, into the darkness and out to the light with as many branches and roots as it needs to embody its wild roots.

And then I began pondering many a friend’s comment that I "think too much".

Negative introspection damages the soul. It holds many people trapped for years and years, and ironically, it never allows them to change. It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life. You might not see anything stirring for a long time. You might have only the slightest intimations of the secret growth that is happening within you, but these intimations are sufficient. We should be fulfilled and satisfied with them. You cannot dredge the depths of the soul with the meager light and self-analysis. The inner world never revelas itself cheaply.

Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Telling A Movie

There's only thing I hate more in movies than having childhood-crushing concepts to begin with.

Bad writing.

More specifically, writing down to the level of the perceived demographic.

Exhibit A.

So I saw this Twilight movie thing this weekend on DVD. Fans of the "franchise" always vehemently correct me and say, "IT'S BREAKING DAWN, NOT TWILIGHT!" No hun, it's the twilight of your virginity, and the rest of your life is going to be a very dark and lonely place. The whole story is fail, and it embarrasses all girls who are desperately trying to gain a modicum of respect in this world. It's awful that they're already constantly represented as an indecisive, withdrawn from reality, weak and whiny, gender who only chases ego-driven muscular monsters. I doubt most girls even want a bloated, muscle-bound guy; mainly because the drive to look that huge stems from insecurity and goes on to conjure asinine personalities (not always, but it's proven at every high school, college and beyond). In the same vein, most girls don't want sullen, pale, hair-obsessed introverts who smirk from the dark corners of a room and wear tighter pants than the girls themselves. To quote my friend Tina: "When I'm with a guy, I don't want to feel like I could break him." The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

Anyway. After I eye-rolled and groaned for two hours (not in a good way), I discovered a very sad pattern that's been snowballing more and more as studios try to bank and bet the house on that one big summer blockbuster once a year. The writing is getting worse and worse. I'm sure the trend started before I was born in 1982.

"Star Wars: A New Hope" in 1977 is widely considered the first "blockbuster" in movie history. It earned over $775,398,007 worldwide back then, making it the first film to reach the $300 million, $400 million, $500 million, $600 million and $700 million mark. Adjusted for inflation, that's the second highest grossing movie of all time in the United States, behind "Gone with the Wind" in 1939, (and that film was in theaters for almost a decade). Movie-going was different back then with not a lot of competition. So ever since Star Wars fired proton torpedoes into our eyes and obliterated our expectations, studios sat up and took notice just how much money they could make when special effects take a front seat to the entire experience. You can love the Star Wars films as much as you want, but when you mention the name "Star Wars" to anyone around the world, they think about lightsabers, X-wing fighters, Chewbacca's growl, and Darth Vaders helmet and breathing sounds; not the rich plot and weaving saga. So the moral of the story became: Spend a lot of money, get even more back. It was the beginning of the Studio-to-film maker-to-ticket price-to-viewer inflation. The rules changed. You didn't even need a major actor in the movie anymore, as long as the cool special effects held up. From then on, the movie itself made the actor's career, not the other way around. While thespians everywhere shook their heads, stunt doubles filled their pockets with cash.

And then Steven Spielberg flipped the movie industry on its ear again and went full-CG for the action scenes with Jurassic Park, and it kicked the walls down from a film maker's previous restrictions. No longer were you handcuffed to wires and strings and camera tricks and shadows and animatronic costs and glitches and puppeteering. With CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery), finally, anything was possible. Spielberg and Jurassic park reinvented the wheel, sliced bread and fire all at the same time. Try this: Watch a movie prior to Jurassic Park. When you're done, go watch a film made after Jurassic Park. The special effect jump is astronomical. Once again, the studios found a new reason to push special effects to the forefront of the medium while everything took a step - and sometimes two steps - back.

► Dumbing Down The Protagonists

Remember that movie, Quarantine? It was about a reporter that followed a fire station crew on a call to an apartment complex. When a zombie-like epidemic is discovered, they try to escape the building, only to find out the government has quarantined it; barricading the windows, bolting up the doors, and covering the structure with plastic, leaving our survivors inside to fight for themselves. It was a pretty cool, neat little premise. Not wholly original, but at least it was one where you thought, "I guess that could happen under extreme circumstances, sure." So you buy into it and settle in.

Unfortunately, as soon as the zombie shit hits the fan, the whole story loses steam very quickly. And here's why: The bad guys didn't get smarter; The good guys just get dumber. This annoys me to no end, and it happens in just about every horror movie. It might have worked in the 60's and 70's, but nowadays, audiences are simply too refined and smart and clairvoyant to have their thrill nerve triggered by a character who refuses to turn on the lights when they enter a room. And in "Quarantine", our heroes do stupid stuff over and over and over again. For instance, when it becomes clear that people with certain symptoms will end up as raging, raving lunatic, undead, people-eating machines, shoot them. Kill them. Chop off their heads. I don't care if it's only a little girl. I don't care if it's a friend of yours. I don't even care if it's me. Kill them. No excuses. Are you going to find the cure within the next 5 minutes? No, you're not. Kill them. Shotgun to the face. Kill them all, find a room, stock up and wait it out in peace. What's that? The guy who's been complaining the entire time about how the various plans we come up with won't work is showing signs of the virus? Shovel to the throat. Don't care. Very simple. This isn't difficult. You bring with you the people who are fine and kill those who aren't.

The worst part of the movie is when they actually catch a zombie-thing and still don't kill it. Instead, what do they do? Get this: They handcuff it to the stairs. And not just any part of the stairs. The bottom of the stairs in the center of the apartment complex where everyone has to run across and up and down. That's like chaining a demon to the stripper pole in the center of your room. To make it even worse, every time they ran past it and screamed when they were lunged at and attacked, they still never killed it. I could go on and on, but you get my point.

The same mind-numbing things happened in the recent movie, "Splice". The scientist couple were given hundreds of reasons and proof as to why they should kill the damn thing. But they never did, even though at every new stage of its life it caused irreparable damage to one or both of them either physically or mentally. Instead, they kept it around long enough to (spoiler alert) have sex with it, torture it, kill it, watch it turn into a male version, kill one of them and rape and impregnate the other... before eventually killing it anyway. And then having its baby on the off-chance audiences actually want a sequel (hint: no, please).

Hey writers, here's a protip from me to you: If, at any point during your writing, it will make the audience groan and ask, "Why are you doing that, you idiot?", then you're doing something wrong. Scary movies and scenes are always much more effective when even the viewer would do what the character on screen would do to try and get out of the predicament. Because then we're thinking, "Wow, even I'd be screwed. How can you beat this guy??" That's scary. But if the characters decide to run into the woods at night and walk into an abandoned cabin with blood on the walls, all we're thinking is, "Well, the black guy and the tough guy are toast, the hot girl gets brutally murdered second-to-last, and party-minded guy who goes exploring solo will die first. And let me guess, the batteries in the flashlight are dying and there's no cell phone reception. If only there was a clue to let them know they should get out of there. Oh hey, someone's heard of a old myth about this place..."

I just wish writers write UP the intelligence level of the villains, and not take the easy way out and simply dumb down our heroes for the sake of plot progression.

► Keeping The Characters "Static" ◄

Another thing that pisses me off in movies is when characters never really change. The ones where they never learned the lesson or understood the deeper meaning of their adventure or even took a moment to consider the ramifications of their actions. Perhaps the worst offender of this in recent years was the movie "District 9."

Now, I liked this movie. Matter of fact, I have it an 8.3 on my ratings board, putting it above "Avatar" (7.1), "Battle For LA" (8.1) and "Eclipse" (Beiber.Lohan). But my main issue with "District 9" is that the main character, Wikus van der Merwe, is essentially an unbearable prick throughout 99.9% of the movie. Even after becoming part Prawn and being put through the torture, ridicule and experiments that Prawns had to undergo themselves, he still had no sympathy for them. And even at the near-turning point of helping the parent and child Prawn escape, he still sabotages the plan for his own purpose.

Wikus: Half Prawn, Half insufferable douche.

It's at this point when he gets caught by the pirate-Waterworld-gang-whatever and they want to chop off his arm to be able to use the advanced weapons. The problem is, you simply don't care about Wikus enough to give a damn if he dies anymore. In fact, I overheard the people sitting behind my friends and I saying out loud, "Just kill him already." And it was true. It was a popular sentiment, especially since at this point in the movie, they writers introduced you to the truly sympathetic characters: The Prawn family. That's how you wanted to see survive and escape. But we kept following around this selfish, arrogant, stubborn and narrow-minded jerk, and he kept ruining the story for the supporting characters, the Prawn. It was just hard to give a damn if he died or not. He never changed and was a "static" character for virtually the entire film, as good as it was. To be honest with you, I forget if he ends up alive. And I don't care.

The point is, people enjoy it when the characters they follow grow, learn and change, and become what's known as "round" characters. Otherwise the last two hours were a complete waste. Villains are often given a pass on this because the one constant a story needs is conflict, and an antagonist provides this. If the writer wants to be bold he or she can give us a backstory as to how the villain became a bad guy, but it's not always needed. Or, if they're feeling really brave, they can "round" out the bad guy, have him join the good guys, and reveal the "true" villain behind it all (i.e. Magus in Chrono Trigger). That's always fun. But at the very least, the heroes need to grow and change at least a little. Give us a moral. Have some friends die. Make us care about what happens. Think of your favorite movies: Braveheart. Avatar. Star Trek. Star Wars. Dune. The Matrix. They Live. Whatever. In all of those movies, the main character(s) changes and evolves into a bigger role.

► Not Letting The Movie Breathe

Lastly, give the movie time to be an experience. Look, at this point, the teens and young adults demographic is the most pop-culture and tech-savvy groups on the planet. We can spot lame CG effects miles away, we know how Photoshop works, and we've seen all the cliches before. You don't have to bombard us with special effects and explosions just to impress us. Remember Transformers 2? It was basically lame parent jokes, explosions, something about millions of tons of metal humping the camera, more explosions, Megan Fox acting awful in slow motion, another explosion, and Shia LaBeouf yelling a single word. A lot.

And then all of that explodes into one, big, massive, explosive explosiontastic explosionala of an explosion into a hundred explosionillion pieces. Also, massive Decepticon Testicles. And I won't even go into the embarrassments knows as Skids and Mudflaps. The movie was never really a movie. It wasn't bad, per se (I gave it a 5.8 - still above average), but it was hardly great by any means. People will point to the fact that the story was awful or that it had no plot at all, but I retain that it was the pacing - or lack thereof - that killed it. Because if you're going at hyperspeed the entire time and your main focus is explosions and special effects, then you're not giving time for the story to breathe and grow and have it's moments with the audience.

Telling a story is much more than just regurgitating information. You have to use bait to get them interested, hooks to catch their attentions, mysteries to keep them involved, and exploiting moments of drama and surprises to keep them thinking and guessing. And you have to have an ending that make emotional or logical sense as the reward so they come back for the next story (or sequel). You can't just say, "Okay, audience. Here's the two main characters. Now watch this: EXPLOSIONS! Why, you ask? Just because! BOOM!! Look, they're running! MORE SPECIAL EFFECTS!!! Okay, they're crying now, so you should be, too. Now BOOOOM!!! AGAIN!!!! HAHAHA!! Oh, this is so freaking awesome." It doesn't work that way. Say what you will about the show "Lost", but it was so popular for so long and will go down as one of the greatest shows in television history because of how it told it's story, mysteries and all. Even the aforementioned "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was more reliant on story and pacing than special effects. Sure there were incredible monsters and magic and fight scenes, but they were all tied to the pace of the plot and made sense. They were used sparingly; Only when asked for and needed. Can you imagine if Michael Bay directed "Lord of the Rings"? It would look like someone typed a script on a laptop wearing boxing gloves while riding a horse backwards. And then the horse exploded.

Ultimately, that's my main concern in film: How it tells its story. I hope the writers and directors understand that they can take their time. Don't rush a single scene. You can have your huge, sweeping angles than pan around the battlefield with all the fireballs and dragons and crazy magic everywhere, sure. In fact, it better have that. But please don't make that all it is. Give me a reason to cry. To cheer. Give me a reason to hope I see character X in the following films. Don't be afraid to spend 10 minutes developing our group of protagonists with a conversation around a very non-special effect campfire scene. It's okay if there's silence and a few loving glances or angry glares instead of yelling. Let the film breathe.

Also, Anne Hathaway. kthnx.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Black Sheep.

June 17, 2005 

"Neil, could you go out and get us some dinner? We don't really have money to spend on anything except gas right now."

"Yeah, just gimme a sec. Where do you wanna go?"

"I don't know. McDonald's or whatever."


[5 minutes later, I'm walking out my front door towards my car. I see my dad staring at his truck.] 

"What's up, Dad? Somethin' wrong with the truck?"


"Need some help with anything?"

"No, just thinking." 

"Well I'm gettin' us dinner right now. Wanna come with?"

"I'm just thinking about you." 

[smiles] "What about me?"

"You're pretty much the failure in this family."

[stunned] ".....oh...kay."

"Neil, do you know where we're going tomorrow?" 

"Jesse's graduation party."

"Do you know how old she is?" 

"17. 18, maybe."

"That's right. And how old are you?" 

"23. And going to college."

"I don't know what to say about you when our family gets together. I mean Greg, I love talking about Greg. And I can go on about Lindsey. But you... I'm kind of embarassed." 

"I think I'll be something fuckin' amazing, dad."

[There's ten seconds of silence as my father gazes down the street.] 

"Your sister - that little one in there - will probably get her college diploma before you." 

[He looks at me, awaiting a response. I open my car door.] 

"...I'll be back with dinner. For everyone."

[Drives off.]

Friday, May 4, 2012


"You're missing the point," she said. "What you're saying makes sense in theory, but not in practice. You're trying to compare apples and oranges."

"Why do you keep saying that?" I asked in response. "Apples and oranges aren't that different, really. I mean, they're both fruit. Their weight is extremely similar. They both contain acidic elements. They're both roughly spherical. They serve the same social purpose. With the exception of a tangerine, I actually can't think of anything more similar to an orange than an apple. If I was having lunch with a man who was eating an apple and - while I was looking away - he replaced that apple with an orange, I doubt I'd even notice. So how is this a metephor for difference? I could understand if you said, 'That's like comparing apples and uranium,' or, 'That's like comparing apples and baby wolverines,' or, 'That's like comparing apples with the early work of Tchaikovsky,' or, 'That's like comparing apples with hermaphroditic ground sloths.' Those would all be valid examples of profound disparity. But apples and oranges? In every meaningful way, they're virtually identical."

"You're missing the point," she said again, this time for different reasons.

heartspark dollarsign

its interesting seeing peoples lives develop. its hard to notice your own because youre in it every day, so the only changes youre aware of are minor and incremental. like looking at a picture of yourself from five years ago versus seeing your face in the mirror every morning; its the photo that we stare at in awe, not the daily reminder in the bathroom.

its bizarre - to me anyway - to see so many of my friends on facebook with photo albums of their weddings and sometimes even entire folders dedicated for their children. ive noticed 90% of all my high school friends have moved the hell out of southern california (or california entirely) and headed to the midwest or east coast. i dont blame them. average rent here for an apartment is $1600/month. ive always said that socal is a great place to grow up and come back to, but a terrible place to find yourself. from 1-18, theres no better place in the world. amazing weather, entertainment opportunities, the central social hub of the entire world is here. and when youre in your 50s and youre financially and personally established and secure, theres no better place to enjoy life with so many vessels of culture, vacations, and beautiful getaways at your fingertips. but from ages 20-40? despite what you see on television, thats actually the smallest "living-on-your-own" demographic in socal by far. outside of the ridiculously rich families and their spoiled offspring, no one lives on their own from ages 21-35. and if you do happen to find one, you can chalk it up to some type of very lucky or successful connection.

so everyone my age leaves. they find someone, they move out, and they leave and build a foundation somewhere else. arizona, texas, oregon and north carolina seem to be popular according to a quick glance at my facebook. im pretty sure that counts as legitimate scientific research.

back in the day you used to wonder what your friends from high school and college were up to. that was the whole mythical draw to high school reunions; to see them again for the first time, to make up some fantastic lie about what youve been doing, and then smile and try to avoid your ex for a few hours. but now you can see what theyve all been up to. hell, you can see what theyre all thinking and doing at this very moment. right now my friend jaclyn from 8th grade is "going to see the watchmen." cool. so hey remember that time you had a crush on me and asked me to the sadie hawkins dance and i said no because nicole asked me first (even though when she asked i said no to her too)? yeah, sorry about that. but hey enjoy the watchmen. theres about 10 minutes of glowing smurf dong in it.

its just weird. you know everyone but they dont know you. you have a window into everyones life and... they dont care. you can think, "wow, he got fat," or, "she ended up with him!?", or, "i see youre still an alcoholic 14 years later." you can see this and think this and it doesnt affect their outcome or yours. its like a strange, slow, warped picturebook movie of your life and it just goes on and on and on, every day.

i think the strangest part of this is, i dont feel any older than i did twelve years ago. i mean im wiser. i have more knowledge of the world and its inner workings in general. and im more patient. but i dont feel any older. i could wake up tomorrow at 7:15am and head to mr. bricks social studies class and id feel totally fine. i can see and hear and imagine it all like it was this morning. i dont feel 30 (jesus christ). i still have dreams about changing the world and having fun and believing theres a deeper meaning to life and its crazy, insane collection of stories and souls and episodic, heart-breaking events. should someone closing in on mid-life still have that naive, hopeful outlook on life? that theres more to all of this than balancing budgets and 401k plans and stock options? is it unhealthy to feel, deep down, that none of that really matters?

ive yet to find my place in this world. and it may never come.

but im eating cinnamon toast crunch right now.

and i feel pretty okay with that.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Movie Script Ending

This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 6.4
Mind: 7.2
Body: 9.4
Spirit: 7.7
Friends/Family: 1.7
Love: 0.8
Finance: 9.1
Take the Rate My Life Quiz
I don't know why love is such a confusing emotion. The direction is pretty clear and the desitnation is always the same, so why does every journey towards it have to be some tragic adventure? Why is it such an incredibly huge factor while you're growing up? Do we attach impossible standards that reality to could never live up to? And why is it that as soon as we doubt everything we know about love, it always turns around and proves us wrong? When everything's at it's pinnacle, gravity is multiplied tenfold and it craters us into emotional oblivion. And the exact moment we find ourselves tired and exhausted from climbing out and we give up, like an angel, someone's soul floats down and lifts us back into the stars, and nothing in the universe is better. And we fall in love again.

 Are we suckers? Are we simply too gullible, foolish to hope that love is the most important variable in life? That it will conquer all? At what point do we give up in hopes that we'll be saved again? Or is it pompous to believe we're worth of being saved? Who you love is never the true question or answer. It's how you love. And what came of it. And extracting the wisdom from the experience instead of the detrimental. If you open yourself and allow yourself open to be crushed and resurrected by love itself, then you allow love itself to permeate through your very being. If you don't love someone with all of you, then who they are doesn't matter in the least. 

 Because, what's light worth if you've never been consumed by dark?


your ex-lover is dead

VODKA POST: some nights i want to kneel down, firmly plant my right foot into the ground, and push down hard with all my might in hopes that i may rocket into the night sky, see the ground below me slowly begin to lose detail, then slightly start curving around the edges into a large ball, let the clouds overtake me, let the silence surround me, and finally, see the blue sphere that is earth float in front of me. and with the stars around me like an audience and the sun to my left as the spotlight, i could simply will time to stop. then id reach down with my monstrous hands and use my nimble fingers to grab everyone who is in the wrong place... everyone who is with the wrong person... everyone whos not getting what they deserve... or not deserving what they get... and rearrange the world as easy as if they were lego pieces. and i would set everything right. i wish i could be the master of the maligned. i wish my thoughts wouldnt so often consist of suicide and debating the differences between curiosity and consideration. i wish i could remember a dream. i wish i could do what one does to obtain one. but a bullet couldnt put me to sleep tonight. is it a bad thing to let the stories go by? is it a shameful deed to concede to the greater character in us, in the story, in the scene? is there fault in being cryptic and enigmatic to the point of licking the line between genius and delirium? i find no harm in expressing the unexpressable through a series of failed typed thoughts and quotes. hell, im doing it now. everything life is about revolves around love and the occasional lack thereof; so in essence, does it become larger and bigger than love? does a fish ever think about water? how often do you think about gravity, other than those moments your heart hits the ground? when did "less is more" turn to nothing? in other news, this morning i mistook the palmolive bottle for the syrup bottle and completely ruined my eggo waffles.