Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory"

One of the great pleasures of living in Los Angeles is being able to attend screenings of classic films, many shown in 35mm. I haven't taken full advantage of this in recent years, but I going to make an effort to start taking in more classic (and perhaps not so classic) movies that get screened throughout the area.

Last night I went to see Paths of Glory, a brilliant 1957 WWI film directed in glorious black and white by Stanley Kubrick. The motion picture stars Kirk Douglas, who is never better, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris and Richard Anderson. The plot involves a French Army division sent on a suicide mission to take a German position called "Anthill." Douglas is regiment colonel in charge of the troops. Despite his protestations, he leads his depleted ranks into a bloodbath.

Embarrassed by the mission's failure, Douglas' commanding general (Menjou) decides to make an example of the troops and calls for the court martial of three lowly soldiers. All three are fated to die, as their trial is a mockery, despite Douglas doing his best to defend them.

Paths of Glory is an anti-war film that shows the absurdity and treachery of war. The battlefield scenes in the film are horrifying, with men falling from bombs, gunfire and barbed wire.

Every single performance is wonderful, especially Douglas. The cinematography alone is worth the time, but this is a powerful film that stands as one of the greatest of its era and remains one of my favorites.

The New Beverly Cinema, which was showing the film last night, had an excellent 35mm print of the film. The image and sound was near perfect and it truly made the experience of seeing it 1000 times better.

In the past ten years, I've lost some of my passion for film. Maybe it's been something internal, or perhaps it was my dissatisfaction with the industry. Seeing Paths of Glory (and Rear Window and Jaws earlier in the year) on the big screen reminded me why I ever wanted to make movies in the first place. I can feel something churning inside of me.  Could it be another movie?

I love this scene. When Douglas comes close to tears, it's so moving.

Check out Paths of Glory when you get a chance.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Movie Review: "Dope"

Dope is a new coming of age film written and directed by Rick Famuyima. Famuyima co-wrote and directed the film The Wood ,and co-wrote the sensational Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor (definitely check that one out). Dope is one of the most fantastic films I've seen this year. Filled with humor, drama and a real danger, you would be remiss to pass it up if it comes to your neck of the woods.

Shameik Moore (I guess best known for Cartoon Network's sketch show, Incredible Crew) stars as Malcolm, a self proclaimed geek who lives in "the Bottom," a rough neighborhood in LA, where every corner poses a threat to him and his two best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons from Transparent), a lesbian who dresses like a boy, and Jib (Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel). All three love comic books, skateboarding, playing original music in their punk band, getting good grades, and 1990s hip hop. Malcolm fashions his hair like Kid from Kid 'n Play and wears acid washed jeans and colorful shirts. It's an understatement that they stick out in their inner city high school. Most days they slip by unnoticed, but there are times when Malcolm is hassled by punks who steal his Jordan high tops.

Malcolm is destined for greatness and determined to get into Harvard. He just has to get out of his neighborhood.

One afternoon, while trying to avoid a group of thugs in one alley, Malcolm takes a wrong turn and runs into Dom (A$AP Rocky), a charismatic drug dealer. Intrigued by Malcolm's earnestness and high IQ, Dom (not your stereotypical movie dealer; his IQ seems up there with Malcolm's) asks our hero to deliver a message to a beautiful young woman named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). A series of back and forths lead to Malcolm getting an invite to Dom's birthday party at a local club.

Diggy and Jib convince Malcolm to go, and the three best friends wind up at an out of control bash, surrounded by booze and beautiful women. It's the best night ever, until the cops raid a drug deal going on in the back room. Dom has some 30 + keys of MDMA that could send him away for a long time. Desperate, he hides the Molly and a loaded gun in Malcolm's innocent looking backpack.

The next day, Malcolm discovers the drugs and the gun and gets caught in the middle of two drug dealers looking for the merchandise. From there the movie takes off as Malcolm, Diggy and Jib try to figure out how to get rid of the drugs, all while he prepares for the SATs and an interview for Harvard.

Before you rush off thinking this is some high jinks comedy, let me warn you, there is REAL DANGER in Dope, established early by a scene depicting the shooting death of a no name character. Famuyima is not afraid to get you laughing out loud (and Dope is really funny) before jolting you with an act of violence, such as a security guard getting beat up or shotgun blasts tearing apart the chests of drug dealers. And because he has written three wonderful characters, and these characters are so well inhabited by the actors portraying them, you will feel dread as the movie progresses. You will ear for Malcolm, Diggy and Jib, and you really hope that they make it out of the movie okay. Dope reminded me of Spike Lee's early films, ones that mixed humor with deep seriousness, and gave you something to chew on after you left the theater.

Famuyima has made a movie that is essentially a nostalgic 90s hip-hop movie and hid it inside a contemporary setting. Cell phones, iPads and Bit-coin are all central to the plot, but the characters aren't device happy. Famuyima found a way to incorporate modern gadgets into his old school story without making it feel forced or tacked on.

Besides a killer soundtrack full of great rap songs by Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B & Rakim, Dope features outstanding original songs written by Pharrell Williams that are performed by the trio's punk band, Aweeroh. Williams serves as one of the film's executive producers. Forest Whitaker was one of Dope's producers and provides narration throughout the movie.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Keep On Keepin On

The past couple of weeks I've been doing some soul searching about what I want to do next regarding writing. I began one novel, about a teenage girl with CF who loves comics and winds up having to escort a boy on crutches around school as punishment for some stupid behavior. I wrote 30 pages before it got too hard. Not because I didn't know where the story was going. In fact, I have every detail of that story in my head. No, it's getting intimate with their girl's battle with CF that sticks a dagger in my spirit.

I'm sure I'll return to this story when I'm in the right frame of mind, which really bums me out because it's the original story I wanted to do before I wound up writing Legendary.

After I put that one aside I jumped back on to a script I was writing.

The third act. That's all it needs. The third frickin act.

Didn't happen.

So I waited.

Sometimes inspiration comes from nothing, and I found a post-it I wrote five years ago with a title for a book. That's it, just the title. That faded, dusty post-it was speaking to me last week when I discovered it buried on my dresser under a pile of old birthday cards and a lone sock missing it's mate. So I thought I'd give it a try.

Nothing more to say about it. Not making any promises.

I struggle, my friends. I struggle to find a purpose in writing when my son goes through so much. I struggle to see what kind of meaning any of my scribbles can have.

But I'm trying, and I hope you'll stick around to find out what I have in store.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Great Strides update 2015

The final amount that Team Jacob raised this year was over $10,000. A stunning achievement. Furthermore, Sophie and Jacob were both in the top five for teens/kids raising money for the walk.

The Valencia walk raised over $70,000. That's staggering. Valencia is not a large city, yet our community continues to pull in some big bucks to kick CF's ass.

If you're reading this, thank you for your support and prayers. If you donated, don't worry, chill, cheetah, your thank you note is coming. I made a promise and I will stick to it.

I never realize how stressful the walk is until a week or two after it's done. I feel a weight off of my chest. I've become so accustomed to suppressing my fears and sadness over CF. Yeah, that ain't a good thing.

Thanks again.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Super Heroes and a Real Super HERO

Jacob and I went to see the latest Avengers movie yesterday. He thought it was awesome and had a hard time deciding which he liked better than last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy. Before our screening, there were no less than three super hero movie trailers! This wave of comic book movies has no end in sight.

Watching the film, though, I couldn't help but think that Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye don't hold a candle to the guy who was sitting next to me. While the stories of extraordinary humans with mighty powers are fun and a great way to escape, the real hero in my life is Jacob. What he lives through on a daily basis is more than any kid should have to endure. I wager to say that Bruce Banner wouldn't complain so much about his anger issues if he was living with cystic fibrosis.

CF is a pain in his tookus. Besides the obvious traits of the illness, here's some of the stuff he has to put up with. He misses school because his chest hurts or he's coughing too much or his stomach is really bothering him. He has to wake up aat 5:30 AM just to fit in his breathing treatments, take a shower (which helps open the lungs, as well as make his hair look good) and squeeze in a couple bowls of cereal. At night, when he's exhausted because his body is working overtime to keep him healthy and he made it through the school day, he does extensive homework and has a snack before it's time for his nightly breathers and then it's off to bed.

By now, this has become a routine for him, for all of us, and while there are the occasional moan and groans, for the most part he weathers it all really well. I question if I could have handled something like this when I was 13. Doubtful.

This kid, throughout it all, is the funniest, most interesting and loving young man I know. I wish I could say that he learned this all from me or Julie, but I believe that it's just Jacob's nature to be a really great kid. He is an example we all should follow when it comes to handling the curveballs that life throws at you, or in his case smacks you upside the head with the moment you're born. I only wish I could do more for him when it comes to raising money for CF. The best I can do is write.

And so I write because it's what I was born to do, and because I can use words to appeal to you. Please, consider helping us find a cure to this monster called cystic fibrosis. Help us prolong the lives of men and women and children.

One of my favorite scenes in a super hero movie is in Spider-Man 2 (the Tobey Maguire one). There's a brilliant sequence when Spidey has to stop a runaway train with every ounce of strength. He manages to save everyone on board, but collapses. The passengers lift him over their heads and carry Spidey back into a passenger car, where he can rest. When he comes to, even though these strangers have all see him unmasked, they tell Spidey that not worry. They have his back and they'll never reveal what he looks like.

This is our chance to help out my hero and show him that we have his back. We can all lift him up by donating to end cystic fibrosis so that he may someday rest without worry.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Flashback Thursday: Don't Be a Turkey!

Here I am in the 90s, when I worked for Tony Gardner and never wore a belt. I was also a bit , ahem, skinnier back then. ANYWAY, I post this pic and ask if you've considered donating to Great Strides this year.

You haven't? Well, don't be a turkey. Help change the lives of thousands of children, teens and adults living with cystic fibrosis, like this guy...

Jacob thanks you.

Here's the link: Jacob's Donation Page


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My take on "Justified"

One of the finest shows on TV these past six years has been FX's Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard novella entitled Fire in the Hole, the series followed the exploits of a Deputy U.S. Marshal named Raylan Givens, as played by the exceptional Timothy Olyphant. Raylan's primary nemesis was Boyd Crowder, an outlaw from the Kentucky hills who once worked in the coal mines with Raylan. Boyd was played to perfection by Walton Goggins.

While Raylan and Boyd were strutting their stuff week in and week out, the producers of Justified, led by show creator/showrunner Graham Yost, also created a stellar group of women characters who often stole the spotlight from the two peacocks of the series. In particular Joelle Carter as Ava, Natalie Zea as Winona, Erica Tazel as Rachel Brooks, plus guest stars like Mary Steenburgen as Katherine Hale, Kaitlyn Dever as Loretta McReady (she's an up and comer we should all keep our eyes out for) and Emmy winner Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett.

Tonight Justified airs its series finale. I had the opportunity to see it last night night at a special screening and I have to say that it's fantastic. Fans of the show will not be disappointed. If you're a writer wanting to see how great TV writing can be, you can check out each season on Amazon or Hulu Plus.

Yesterday I wrote more about Justified over at Popdose. I hope you'll check it out.

Here's the link: