27 December 2011

A visit from Gregory: An Education Experience.

"Christmas with Gregory" was intended to be conceived, and executed this past November, giving at least two weeks of December address-grabbing to make a decent mailing of the project. Certainly, the project was with the best of intents, with a use of landscape format, and the research and pre-production steps one needs to take with any comics project.

But, like many artists, I have a pesky dayjob that interferes with this proposition. Mainly a retail gig that lacks regular hours, where shifts are frequently switched, and you never know which mornings and evenings you are gonna work week to week. So deadlines on the self-set production schedule get pushed back... and pushed back... and pushed back even more.

So fast forward to December, the race is on to get his mini drawn, lettered, printed and SHIPPED before goddamned Christmas. And by December 19th, it's set. except...

The surface of a standard Office Photocopier is 17" wide while the full size of the original artwork (including that centerfold spread) is 18" wide. First Proofs are cropped artwork, no good, and no time to resize it since I'm at the zero hour AND have a holiday-season store shift starting in ten minutes.


Game sum total: no printed mini comic this year.

Which brings about some lessons learned.

Lesson the First: Format is vital! ALWAYS know the final format of your project: aspect ratio, codec, ppi, frame rate, interlacing, color codes,paper sizes available, and of course, the size of your scanner bed before you even set pencil to paper to brainstorm!

If it's a painting to be framed, know what frame sizes are out there, first! Neglecting to even measure the scanning bed of the Xerox machine I was gonna use ahead of time shot me through the foot at the finish line.

Lesson the Second: If you aren't in an environment conductive to your goals: get out of there! A large part of what killed "Gregory" was the simple inability to predict what times would be available to work on it, due to working for an outfit with highly irregular hours.

It's not the store's fault for interferring with the schedule, it's mine for allowing it to.

Lesson the Third: Be a royal jerk about it!

We live in a culture that neither appreciates or understands the practical aspects of making art, regardless of discipline. Try out the following statements :
"I'm sorry, but I have church/a shift at McDonald's/ a picnic to go to" vs.
"I'm sorry, I have to draw"
Which of those two is somebody gonna debate?

Nobody else gets it. Not your semi-altzemic great aunt who thinks working a register at Michaels puts you "in the biz", not the government with it's comparative disregard for cultural enrichment and miniscule change jar excuse for a grants fund, and ESPECIALLY not any well meaning person or rationale that gently reminds you you "can always do that later."

Hell No.

In such an environment, to really stick to your guns and make it through requires significant force of personality: traits such as selfishness, rudeness, obsession, stubbornness, and even the occasional tantrum... at least where the work is concerned.

Cause otherwise, you're gonna cooperate yourself right the hell out of what's really important.

20 December 2011

A visit from Gregory

Here's my Christmas Card/minicomic for 2011. For reasons I'll detail in a later post, this didn't make it to print this year. (It was fully intended for print, check out the centerfold spread for page three). But in the meantime, Merry Christmas!

20 November 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: The Fighting Temptations

Released by Paramount Pictures
Screenplay by Elizabeth Hurter and
Saladin Peterson.

Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a con man in need to escape some credit card debt who learns his Aunt Sally has just died, leaving him a large sum of money... on the condition that he lead a small time

Let's start with the good: "The Fighting Temptations" delivers solidly on the music, and amazingly (or maybe expectedly enough) the music numbers actually do their job.

In music theater, a songs is expected to further the plot, develop or reveal character, or heighten the mood. In modern film musicals, if a song doesn't further the plot, it's usually cut out. In short, if the story is going to have music, the music has to tell the story.

In her first big number Lilly sings "Fever" at a nightclub, while Darrin watches, this lets the audience know she can sing and is of value to Darrin's choir. The setting is much like the nightclubs where Darrin's mother sang, presumably an intended parallel by Elizabeth Hurter. Also, that "Fever" is a steamy ballad, also serves to set up Lilly as Darrin's love interest.

Later in the film, Darrin has rounded his choir out with prison convicts, who perform the inevitable rap number "Down to da River". In the story context, this impresses the Reverend (since they're rapping about Jesus, yo) and represents a positive swing for Darrin in his quest to build the choir. This action also infuriates Paulina, directly motivating her to make her next antagonistic move.

Even "Loves me Like a Rock", the song performed in honor of a child's haircut ( um... yeah) serves a story purpose in that it's both information for Darrin and exposition for the audience:Monte Carlo is filled with talented singers; they'd just rather work in Barber Shops than in the choir.

So really, as part of a film Genre, "The Fighting Temptations" is as every bit as valid as a musical as Cabaret, West Side Story or Tangled.

It's still a stupid movie though. (up comes unfair comparison).

The end of "Singing in the Rain" concerns talented-but-unknown Kathy Seldon is hidden behind a curtain, dubbing as the singing voice for famous-but-bitchy Lina Lamont at a live performance. Throughout the film, there's been a definite motif of "Somebodies" and "Nobodies", stars and commoners, like Don the movie star and Cosmo the Piano Player. This pattern is even reflected in the otherwise non-sequitor "Broadway Melody" sequence,. What this motif means is pretty much up to the individual critic/viewer, whether it's about class in society, the dynamics of public verses private lives or even just the value of being yourself. Anyway, the motif is consistent throughout the movie, and the whole thing culminates in that moment when the curtain goes up...

And the audience gets a charge of meaning, whether it's political , personal or elsewise. In fact, Singin in the Rain couldn't have ended any other way, and gained the same worldwide resonance it currently has.

The climax of "The Fighting Temptations" the vote to case Paulina out of the group, has no basis or setup in the story and consequently has no meaning whatsoever.
How else could this movie have ended? Darrin starts out the movie by lying a bunch, maybe the big significant climax could be he tells the truth when it really matters? Both Darrin and Paulina manipulate others for selfish reasons. Would an appropriate resolution have to do with selfishness verses altruism? Hell, there was a good three minute speech about booty earlier in the movie, if everybody won the Gospel competition by showing their asses, even that would make more sense.

Thing is "The Fighting Temptations" just doesn't have a point. No overriding theme, moral or observation to be expressed. Which makes the characters flat, without purpose and uninteresting, which in turn fails to engage the audience in any kind of emotional investment which in turn drains the scenarios of tension, peril, suspense or any reason to care. What's left is a plodding collection of sights and sounds that's either a dumb movie that keeps getting interrupted by music numbers, or a concert video with really inane skits between the songs.

Either way it's a waste of time.

13 November 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: The Whole Nine Yards

The Whole Nine Yards
Released in 2000 by Warner Bros.
Written by Michael Kapner

A Dentist named Oz(Matthew Perry), gets a new neighbor who he instantly recognizes as “Jimmy the Tulip” (Bruce Willis) an infamous mob hitman. Oz gets caught up in a vendetta between Jimmy and his former boss, and a scenario where everybody wants to kill everybody else.

“Yards” is an off-target movie, it’s about Oz when it should be about Jimmy, who is an amazing character, seeded by some great cast design.

In “Story” Robert McKee argues that the dimensionality of a character is expressed in the surrounding cast. With Sophie, Jimmy is a cold killer, but with Jill, the hopeful hitperson in-training, he’s a supportive lover. When Jimmy is alone with Oz, he’s at ease, and a friendly guy. In the presence of fellow hitman Frankie, he’s always holding a weapon. Though a simple dichotomy of “hitman with a heart” may feel a little stale, it’s more compelling than “Dentist with no-particularly-contradictory-characteristics-at-all”.

I’m not so sure Jimmy isn’t the main character, as the climax of the film revolves around Jimmy’s decision: whether or not to kill Oz. (SPOLIER: he doesn’t). There’s no real tension. Who’d believe that Bruce Willis would whack Matthew Perry? If the audience is going buy the final dilemma, need to see the situation’s alternative beforehand. If we don’t see Jimmy kill a guy like Oz, we don’t know the consequences of his final decision. There’s a lot of exposition about Jimmy, but little action. Would the climax of “Star Wars” be so tense if we didn’t SEE what happened to planet Aldreaan first?

That said, Michael Kapner’s screenplay is a joy. Most comedy endings are predictable: the guy gets the girl, the innocent kids on death row are acquitted, the objective is obtained and they live happily ever after. But “Yards” employs a clever series of Hitchcockian plot twists and revelations, keeping the audience guessing at the final resolution, and interested in the story (even if the lead characters aren’t interesting) .

“The Whole Nine Yards” is about an everyman thrown in with some deeply weird people. And as such, a successful connection with the audience depends on how they relate to the everyman in question. With Oz, I just… don’t. Maybe it’s because the character is written with the same depth as the wacky hitmen he’s surrounded by , or maybe I just don’t find Matthew Perry all that appealing, lacking in that Cary Grant “It” factor. Perhaps if it was Jeff Daniels taking pratfalls and proving his virtue under fire, I’d have a different reaction. But I’m just not invested in Oz’s progress in all of this mess.

To date, “The Whole Nine Yards” is arguably Jonathan Lynn’s most successful directorial effort, with the highest opening weekend gross of any other of his films. (and this is the guy who still managed to get work after ‘Greedy’). And although I don’t particularly care for it, I certainly appreciate it more than “The Fighting Temptations”.

29 October 2011

28 October 2011

Hip new subculture: Klaxophiles!

Observation: those who complain about the rudeness of others are, quite often, rude themselves.

So to avoid the barbed net of hypocrisy. I will address the following phenomenon...

...which I will term, "Klaxophilia", as a widespread lifestyle choice I've yet to understand. In fact, this post is addressed to Klaxophiles. So as a fellow driver, I have a few questions about your exciting subculture.

1. Are you genuinely more important than everybody else?

Before the industrial revolution, it was a fact of life that some people were just born better than others. Since it seems the primary purpose of a car horn is to put your interest above everybody else's, other drivers, pedestrians or people who happen live on a street, I guess it's because you're nobility.

Naturally, the gentry has places to go and the ugly unwashed peasantry known as everybody else are standing in the way of their betters!

But I'm still unclear as to the specifics, I mean, I have a car horn too. If I sound that, does that ennoble me, or is there a formal ceremony involving the giving of title first that I have to undergo? What the rate of conversion for nobility these days? If I scream in someone's face, does that at least make me a baron?

2. What is the secret horn-code?

There's all sorts of legitimate reasons to sound a horn, to alert other drivers they're driving poorly, chastise drivers for driving too slow, tell pedestrians they're walking too slow, to alert passengers to come out of the house, just to say hi, and on rare occasion, to prevent an auto accident.

I suffer from crippling car-racism. You see, all car horns sound alike to me, kinda like a loud pitch in F sharp . So , could one of you kindly Klaxophiles can direct me to a chart to distinguish between the F-sharp pitch that means " you probably should turn on your headlights" and the F-sharp pitch that means "I'm sorry to alert everybody in the vicinity, but this bicyclist is pedaling too slow"?

Actually, the one part of code I'm really interested in is the F-sharp pitches concerned with avoiding auto collisions, but there's just so many horn sounds nowadays, I hope you can understand how a poor unenlightened car-racist like my self can get confused.

3. Is high-volume communication really the wave of the future?

Yeah, I grew up in a backwards household. I really don't get texting, I'm still not on the bandwagon with skype or video conferencing , either, so it could be that loud noises are the next wave of communication.

Once again, I'm perplexed. Is it still okay to ring somebody's doorbell, or is it more modern to break into their home and pull the fire alarm? Is a handshake still in vouge as a way to greet somebody, or do I have to upgrade to an airhorn? If I get the latest airhorn for greetings, how do I know if it's compatible with the steam whistle I use to reserve tables at restaurants? Do the latest air raid sirens have an app for Angry birds? Cause, honestly, that'd be pretty cool.

Some who aren't familiar with my grave manner and reputation for sincerity might I'm being sarcastic. Which would bring me dangerously close to that hypocrisy net , implying that Klaxophiles aren't a post-modern royal subculture on the cutting edge of communications technology, but really a mob of inconsiderate jerks who put their petty impatiences above the concerns of everybody present. And maybe I'm doing the same thing here by saying "fuck you" to everybody who sounds a vehicle horn, but at least I'm not saying it at 109 decibels.

17 October 2011

Effing around

I find one of Kimon Niccolaides' most valuable endorsements in "The Natural Way to Draw" is that of the Daily Composition: one 15 minute sketch per day of a scene from memory. The text is very specific that the Daily Composition doesn't have to be any good, it just has to be drawn every day.

On the sketchbook page, it just feels right, I really don't know why.

Anyhow, I thought I could devote some of my DC's to experimenting with an all-digital workflow, which I think is a bit of a challenge since all I've got is this cruddy little bamboo tablet, no screen tablets or magic pens here that let me, y'know, see what I'm doing. So far, it feels like a blind contour with really soft charcoal.

30 September 2011

You're only half the story

tvtropes is , as most know, a combination wiki and message board devoted to cataloging and listing every bit, event and cliché that appears in fiction in general. Browsing tv tropes reveals two very valuable things.

1. There are no new ideas.
The exhaustive lists for movies like Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean, show just how many conventions so many movies share (Even Casablanca and The 400 Blows) . There doesn't seem to be any film or work of note that doesn't have an enormous cross-referenced list of "tropes".

2. The author only writes half the story.

The rest of what makes a successful story live is the audience.
The"Wild Mass Guessing" and "Fridge Brilliance", categories of the site prove how freaking insane fans are, like people who think Sofia from Golden Girls was a figment of Rose's Imagination or that any character who changes actors is a Doctor Who Timelord. With shows and franchises with particularily devoted fanbases like the Recent My Little Pony Series (even just for one character) and the Christopher Nolan Batman movies,the debates just get strange.

But with all this dissection going on over lines or pieces of business that were one-off jokes, or simply trying to re-write plot holes as ultra-subtle brilliance, tvtropes proves that the audience is an active participant, not merely the recipient, of the ritual we call storytelling. 'Cause there's no way in hell Batman's a Timelord.

"The more beautifully you shape your work around one clear idea, the more meanings audiences will discover in your film as they take your idea and follow its implications into every aspect of their lives."

-Robert McKee

24 September 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: Trial and Error

Released in 1997 by New Line Cinema, Screenplay by Sara and Gregory Bernstein, directed, of course, by Jonathan Lynn.

"Trial and Error" follows best friends Charles Tuttle (Jeff Daniels), a high-powered lawyer and Richard Reietti (Michael Richards), a struggling actor, and their high-jinks in a small town in Nevada . When Charles is too hung over from his bachelor party (thrown by Richard, of course) to appear in court for a routine continuation, Richard takes his place, but the matter goes to trial. While Richard has to defend a shameless defrauder (Rip Torn), Charles has to cope with his fall from grace, merely being ordinary.

Visually, the exteriors look great. In my post about "Wild Target", I've slammed Gabriel Beristain for setting up bland "sitcom style" look to these movies, but with the stunning snowcapped mountains in the background and exposures such that you can almost feel the desert heat, "Trial and Error" so far has set up the best cinematography in a Jonathan Lynn movie since Beristain's work on "My Cousin Vinny".

"Trial" is a well crafted movie with some very funny scenes , but compared with the other movies in Lynn's catalog, it doesn't really offer anything new. Every funny thing you could do with the legal system had already been done in "My Cousin Vinny". "Trial" is ostensibly about lies and deception (what with carrying on a charade during a trial about fraud), it seems like that ground has been covered, too.

All of Jonathan Lynn's films so far ar farce: the plot hinges on a secret being kept (like hiding the corpses in Clue') or a bald-faced lie being maintained (like how Vinny Gambini claims he's "Jerry Callow"). With little more to offer than some beautiful cinematography and Charlize Theron in a tight top, "Trial and Error" is little more than routine.

My focus with these reviews largely is story and screenwriting, and one thing "Trial and Error" illustrates very clearly is Character Arcs. Many screenwriters and critics believe this is the most important story element , from Michael Corolone's descent into corruption in the film version of "The Godfather", to Chihiro's growth from a whiny brat into a compassionate problem solver in "Spirited Away" .

Don't get them mixed up, now.

Usually, the character does something at the end of the movie that he would (or could) never do in a million years at the beginning.

In "Trial and Error" both Charlie and Richard go through their arcs. At the beginning of the film, Charlie is a lawyer for whom everything, even his pending marriage, is about his career. At the end of the movie, he walks away from the courtroom, dumps his fiancee and runs away with Charlize Theron. Richard starts the film as a goofball who'd rather show off than take responsibility for anything. At the end of the movie, he addresses the court honestly, admits his client is a scumbag and should be put away because it's the right thing to do.

Box Office Mojo says the film opened at #4 with a worldwide total gross around $14, million, considering New Line's modest release policy at the time (even "Austin Powers" didn't get a lot of launch promotion and publicity, that was saved for the sequel in '99 when the property was already classified as "pre-sold"). But that sounds like enough to keep a film directing career going, at least long enough to direct "The Whole Nine Yards".

18 September 2011

Color redux.

This is what happens when you just can't stop noodling around. You'll notice changes from last post. I've tried to approximate flesh tones within the given palettes, cut the variation within the restaurant location (there are definite changes in mood, but I've decided to give more focus to separating the scenes by location)

If you're into color theory and all that cool stuff, you'll notice these are all analogous schemes. No compliments, tetrads, or triads here. Since the scenes of the film are very direct and to the point, I felt the color design should reflect that. Also, since the final product won't time out to more than one minute, I figure dynamic opposition(visually) between the scenes should press a sense of scope the movie wouldn't otherwise have from the time slot.

14 September 2011

Some color scripts.

Here's some color scripts for a short film of mine. Hopefully, without even the details of plot (more on that , later), these sketches should give you a good idea of mood, location and time frame. Feedback, is of course, welcome and encouraged.

10 September 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: Sgt. Bilko

Released 1996 by Universal Pictures, written by Andy Breckman, based off of the Phil Silvers show, created by Nat Hiken.

Sergeant Ernest Bilko is a scheamer who repeatedly leaves his long-running fiance at the alter and runs illegal gambling operations behind his superiors' backs. When his old C.O., Major Thorn(Phil Hartman, perhaps the only good thing to come out of Greedy), arrives to audit progress on development of a "hover tank" (and settle a personal score with the Seargent), Bilko has to find a way to save his own skin and that of his base, Fort Baxter.

The Cast is fantastic! It's billed as a Steve Martin vehicle, but Bilko's really an ensemble piece. Glenne Headly, Daryl Mitchell and Dan freak'n Ackroyd round out the primary cast. Steve Martin's a wonderful physical comedian, but It seems the burden of whoever gets stuck on screen with him while he's doing schtick to bring in truthful reactions to the scene and make it believable! Which everyone (particularily Headly and Mitchell) do in spades.
Even the bit players are brilliant! Nearly everyone of the men in the motorpool get a scene-stealing moment, from Spc. Paparelli in drag (Max Casella) to Major Ebersole (Austin Pendelton...again) fantastically losing a game of poker the entire roster is amazing.

If you wanted to find a fault with the film, the characters are pretty thinly drawn. Bilko, and everybody else are basically Looney Tunes. Every character's pretty much a one-trait gag: the greedy one, the fat one, the mean one, the dumb one etc.
Major Thorn (the mean one) wants revenge on Bilko for sending him to Greenland. He breaks into Bilko's records and finds explicit evidence of every illegal gambling ring and dog race Bilko ever organized. That would be enough for a court martial, but Thorn takes it one step further and frames Ernie for diverting funds, claiming Fort Baxter's "Hover Tank" is a fraud. This claim gives Bilko the solution in the third act, when he and the motorpool successfully fly the tank and save the day.
A reasonable person in this situation would find the real evidence, turn it in, get Bilko booted away, simple. Only a complete caricature of obsession like Thorn would shoot himself in the foot like that, defying all common sense. I could whine about how this makes him a weaker antagonist by lowering his competence and threat level, but I won't.

Having excellent actors play a gang of incredibly broad characters serves a definite purpose: the story's over-the-top, but excellently constructed.

More specifically, it has a point. In "Story" Robert McKee makes mention of "the controlling statement", a brief dictum that sums up what happens and why. As he puts it

" The more beautifully you shape your work around one clear idea, the more meanings audiences will discover in your film as they take your idea and follow it's implications into every aspect of their lives".

Brian McDonald, author of "Invisible Ink", calls this the armature, like the wire skeleton of a clay sculpture, and also make mention, that in motion pictures, this moral (if you will) is often expressed offhand in a line of dialog.

In one of the very first scenes, Sgt. Barbella tells newcomer Laredo-I mean, Holbrook:
"That's the golden rule around here, you don't say nothing unless you're prepared to back it up."

Throughout the film, everything revolves around proving claims. Ernie Bilko tells Rita he loves her, but he has to prove it by being there for her, and (eventually) marrying her.
The biggest laughs come when character's have to justify their lies. Like why Bilko has a horse on a crane, and why Sgt. Henshaw (John Marshall Jones) has a closet full of dresses in a room he claimed was his (*gasp*SPOILER: it isn't).

In the finale, Bilko and his men "prove" the hover-tank works by faking the field demonstration. Thorn knows this is impossible since he personally sabotaged the tank's firing controls before, and accuses Bilko of trickeryh. When the visiting General asks him how he knows the tank can't work, Thorn (in True Daffy Duck fashion) indites himself out of frustration.

Bilko's a solid piece of work, thought out, well constructed, marvelously cast, and as always with Jonathan Lynn's movies, with Tony Lombardo's crisp editing keeping the pace brisk and enjoyable. Some places do drag, like the super-fake CGI on the Hover-Tank (hey, it was 1996!) but the film's got it where it counts.

In ticket sales, Bilko did twice the overall revenue of Greedy, and certainly has had a better track record critically, in television rotation and home video/media sales. A grand improvement, I'd say.

08 September 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: Greedy

Released 1994 by Universal pictures, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.

This movie blows. The script's poorly conceived, and impossible to execute well.

The scenario goes that, at the behest of his corrupt relatives, Danny (Michael J. Fox) has to stop his estranged Uncle Joe McTeague (Kirk Douglas) from willing his fortune to the attractive sexpot, Molly (Olivia d'Abo), who lives with him.
But the story lacks stakes.

Let's talk about Star Wars!

When Princess Leia was taken prisoner by Grand Moff Tarkin, she refused to give up the location for the rebel base? Why? Why didn't she just hand over the info, pay the fine in court and go home? Just as the audience is about to ask this, Tarkin orders his space station to blow up her home planet, Alderaan.

Now let's talk about When Harry Met Sally

Both Harry Burns and Sally Albright want to find a romance so true and long lasting they can give interviews in a tacky livingroom about it, but finding love it tough. Okay, but if it's so rough why doesn't Harry stop dating and start reading books from the beginning for a change? Why doesn't Sally just get a nice pith helmet with a fan on it? Before the audience even asks these questions, Harry tells Sally about "dying one of those New York deaths nobody hears about..."when they drive to the city at the start of the movie.

In his book "On Directing Film" David Mamet said the keys to drama lay in answering three questions : "What does the hero (or protagonist) want?" , "What's stopping him from getting it?" And "What happens if he doesn't get it?" .

If Luke Skywalker doesn't save the Princess, other planets will blow up, like Alderaan. If Harry and Sally don't find love, they will die alone, in worse states they are now. Even in the third act of "The Distinguished Gentleman"(which I slammed for sloppy writing) If Thomas doesn't indite Congressman Dick Dodge, thousands of photogenic little children will die of power-line cancer!

What happens if Danny doesn't get Uncle Joe's money? Nothing. Danny gets supported by his successful girlfriend rather than being able to open his own business, which... doesn't sound that bad. What happens if Uncle Joe just gives all his money to Molly? Nothing. In the very first scene, it's established all of the McTeagues are Upper-Middle Class. Without an inheritance, they all still have careers and equity There's no consequences. Like how poker's only fun with gains and losses riding on the outcome, dramatic narrative is only interesting if there's something at stake. It's basic fiction 101 and a writer-director with two major TV shows and four feature films under his belt should have known better.

I'll concede, though, the casting kicks ass. Austin Pendelton (the stuttering lawyer form "My Cousin Vinny") shows up again in a one-scene wonder. Coleen Camp (Yvette from "Clue") shows up as one of the cluster of relatives. Ed Begley Jr. sells a lot of otherwise lackluster scenes just through reactions (sincere, too, not a "take". One suspects the film should have been about him). And Phil Harris chews up every scene he's in, which is welcome in an otherwise very dull movie. Hell, Jonathan Lynn himself even plays the Butler, Douglas. But none of them have anything to work with.

This material just isn't funny. The setpieces are built from classic hack material and premises. Who likes celebrity impressions? At best a novelty. But the movie's big mid-point climax is Michael J. Fox doing an impersonation of Jimmy Durante, song and all. They had to put Jimmy Durante footage over the opening credits to explain who the guy was. This also kills any opportunity for an decent opening gag. The first thing on the screen is 40 year old re-run. The end routine is a fistfight between Danny and cousin Frank, not slapstick with odd props and silly noises, but... a real fistfight, where someone could break a jawbone. Jeez, man.

Personally, I find Greedy an increadible weak film, poorly structured with little in the way of defined characters. The script gives little in the way for anyone; costumer set designer, editor or the ensemble cast to work from. But, box office mojo says it opened at #2, which in absence of either a production cost or advertising budget implied the movie made money. Even the acknowledged great directors made an awful movie or two, and I'm glad that enough 1994 moviegoers didn't see things the way I do now, and that "Greedy" didn't turn out to be a career-killer for Jonathan Lynn as a director.

06 September 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: Wild Target

First off, broken scanner means no compulsory fan art (I didn't post CFA on The Distinguished Gentleman, either, but that only matters if you're all into consistency and stuff like that. )

Second off, I'm gonna skip ahead and look at a recent release. 2010's Wild Target

Produced by Magic Light Pictures (and friends) distributed in the US by Freestyle Releasing and Honest Engine films, distributed on home video platforms by Fox. It's written by Lucinda Coxon, based off of the film, Cible émouvante written and directed by Pierre Salvadori. Starring the Octopus man from Pirates of the Carribbean, that Girl from the wolfman and Ron Weasley.

The Harry Potter Reference? You're really gonna go with that?

Wild Target is unusual, in that it's been released seven years after The Fighting Temptations, the longest gap between Jonathan Lynn films, (most of which have come out regularly every 2-3 years). Odd, but so unusual as to discredit Lynn as an example as a successful contemporary career filmmaker.

The movie's about Victor Maynard, an assassin who falls in love with his mark, Rose. He winds up protecting her rather than shooting her, a carwasher named Tony tags along during the chase and, in noble light-comedy tradition: "hilarity ensues".

What's striking about Wild Target is David Johnson's cinematography. Most of Lynn's films have the stock "comedy look" about them: high-key lighting, nonobtrusive camera work very much presented like a sitcom without a laugh track.


Weirdly, my main criticism of the film is the same as it was for Nuns on the Run. The antagonists, the evil businessman played by Rupert Everett and rival hitman played by Martin Freeman, aren't credible obstacles or threats . Businessman Ferguson spends so many scenes playing broad and bitchy to be taken seriously and rival assassin Dixon keeps having his on-screen competence undermined by statements about how he's "second best" to Victor.

Now, plot isn't everything. And perhaps the ultimate purpose of story is to make some observation on the human condition or provide instruction for future generations. But a big part of making a living through narrative is entertaining the audience (so they'll pay you money). And applicable rules of dramatic form is one of the the most reliable, and most often proven methods of doing so. So I stand by my opinion, these bad guys are too easy!

SPOLIERS BELOW (just in case you care)
Personally, I enjoyed Wild Target, for many of the reasons I enjoy most of Jonathan Lynn movies, it's funny, but it also makes you think.

The movie deals with Victor's mid-life crisis, and legacy. His mother states it outright when she says that he "is, in many ways, becoming (his) father's son". Victor takes in Tony as an apprentice, refuses to shoot a pretty girl after his mother suggests he should be getting married, installs said pretty girl in his mother's old bedroom and ends the movie with successful procreation with said pretty girl.

In a way, the change in Victor's life is brought about by sentiment. He's shown to be little more than a lonely, cold professional in Act I. He saves Rose at the beginning of act II, borrowing a fair share of trouble, and his father's old gun backfires on Dixon, saving them all(except for Dixon, obviously). It's a gun Victor had never used or attended to (much like his personal life) and only kept "for sentimental reasons".

Box Office Mojo says wild Target had a production budget of 8 Million US dollars, with to-date worldwide grosses of 3 and a half million (again, in US dollars).

With these numbers, and no further projects (announced, in production or otherwise) it's possible this could be Jonathan Lynn's last film, which isn't a bad note to end on. If Wild Target is all about legacy it would be fitting for it to be the finale of a steady 25 year career in film comedies.

17 August 2011

All kinds of crazy.

It's 4:45 am and I'm finishing another portfolio submission for an internship as a story artist. It's weird, because I only found out about this particular opening a week ago.

Anyway, I've been in a pretty volatile state scrambling together trying to find out who the person to address in my cover letter is, putting together new artwork (ability to work digitally preferred), trying like hell to find an way to format the thing into a PDF (preferred submission format).

To submit to a creative position, if you're doing it right, is to bare your soul, so the week's been flashes of ecstasy and despair.

Well, the first order of a submission packet is to GRAB ATTENTION so the portfolio for story artist internship is being submitted with the following cover letter.


So responsible and wise

Here’s my ‘folio for you to view

With your discerning eyes.

I write to you this application

In response to a job posting

Of Talent Development : Story Artist

Placed at the official …um…web host-thing. *

My involvement in Improv proves

(in school and Tater Totz)

my collaboration and support

Upping productivity, lots!

I majored in Sequential Art

(I know that’s not the norm)

But with such study, I am versed

in story: theme and form.

So XXXXX. (or someone else)

You must like what you see

So Call the number on this sheet,

And arrange to meet with me!

Hopefully, they will.

* here is a humorous footnote detailing how difficult it is to rhyme with the full URL

06 August 2011

a short thought.

Here are some kittens for no particular reason

Continuing with the theme of stage Improv informing storytelling, I’d like to talk about how the game “Half-life” (the stage game, not the video game) can be useful as a focusing tool in the early drafts of a scenario, script or storyboard. The stage game goes that the players improvise a 2 minute scene, then play the same scene at 1 minute, 30 seconds, fifteen seconds, 7, 3 and 1, wherein the scene gets wilder and wilder as people fly into position and scream plot points at the top of their lungs. This is useful in visual storytelling, as Scott McCloud pointed out in page 84 of Understanding comics with an ever-shortening scenario from one full page of panels to merely two. Although in the bare minimum of space, narrative clarity can be lost, I find “half life” to be very valuable as a focusing tool, drawing my attention to the essence of the story spine, which beats need to be hammered, and what is truly extraneous.

(Game proper starts at 50 second mark)

Let’s talk improv. In “Half-Life”, players improvise a 2 minute scene, then replay the same scene, halved, and halved again until it’s one second long.. This is useful in visual storytelling, as Scott McCloud pointed out in page 84 of Understanding comics with a scenario progressively trimmed from one full page of panels to merely two. I find “half life” to be valuable in focusing my attention to which beats need to be hammered, and what can be cut.

In “Half-Life”, players improvise a scene, then replay it, until it’s one second long.. This is useful in visual storytelling, as Scott McCloud pointed out in “Understanding Comics”. “Half Life” focuses attention on what’s importand, and what can be cut.

Improvise a scene. Replay it until it’s one second long.. This is useful in storytelling. You focus on what’s vital.

Improvise until the scene’s one second long! Essence of storytelling!

One second long! Essence! Storytelling!



31 July 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: The Distinguished Gentleman

So, a little later than I'd like, here's another review of the Films of Jonathan Lynn, The Distinguished Gentlemen, released in 1992 by Hollywood Pictures. Written by Marty Kaplan and Jonathan Reynolds.

The scenario follows con man Thomas Jefferson Johnson (Eddie Murphy), as he gets himself elected into congress to take advantage of lobbyist donations. He crosses paths with corrupt congressman Dick Dodge (Lane Smith) who displays the dark side of covering one's interests, and, at least as far as the VHS box promises, "hilarity ensues".

I can't admit to being an Eddie Murphy fan or expert, but "Distinguished Gentleman" does give Murphy a great to showcase his range of characters from the peak of his career. As Thomas Johnson the con man, Murphy poses as everything from cranky old Jews to a hyper-competent policeman to a pitch perfect "white announcer voice". Though many of these characters and types have been showcased in other movies (and most likely, the "cop" scene was written in to try to borrow some of Beverly Hills Cop's success), it's nice to see a professional doing what he does best.

I don't particularly like "Distinguished Gentleman" too much, mainly due to the script. After about an hour of watching Thomas romp through Congress, the littlest cancer patient wanders into his office, giving him noble motivation for defeating corrupt Congressman Dodge. What the hell? I know the movie was basically made by Disney, but even this stunt is stupid, saccarine and nonsensical. If Thomas is supposed to have a change of heart, shouldn't it be due to a character or element already well -established and organic to the scenario? Why does this darn bald kid and her magic cancer-causing lines come out of nowhere? It's shoddy writing pandering more to lifetime movie-of-the-week sensibilities than to principles of either drama or narrative logic.

My favorite thing about this movie is Lane Smith

Yeah, he looks older in this movie, but this is too creepy to pass up

He's just so damn intimidating. Unlike the well-meaning DA from "Vinny" Smith's character in "Gentlemen" is a mean-hearted Hollywood bad guy through and through. Though thinly drawn, Congressman Dodge is effective as he's written as basically being a better con man than Thomas (kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean, Barbossa is a better at pirating ship than Captain Sparrow) .

All in all, I'd say this is one of Jonathan Lynn's weaker movies so far. For a guy who built his career on political satire, American Government seems like a logical subject matter. And like "Nuns on the Run" and "My Cousin Vinny" the film's not afraid to show it's research. But the thing's too damn sugary to really be an effective satire, and too damn thin on characterization to draw merit on other fronts. I might watch it again if I didn't have to pay money to do it.

28 July 2011

So comic con San Diego came and went with thunderous noise and many blistered feet. But like always, It was a blast. A mighty blast, complete with....



Rick Baker

Kevin Altieri, staring into your very soul.


The Hernandez Brothers, creators of Love and Rockets.

The Nicole Brothers, Ethan (art) and Malachai (story), creators of Axe Cop.

Extra Bonus: the panel was moderated by Kevin Murphy.

Extra-Extra Bonus: Malachai Nicole showed Baby Man how to do the Baby Man Dance!

Extra-Extra- Extra Bonus: somebody asked to take my picture, complimenting me on my "Hunter S. Thomson" Costume.

... The Hell?