5-star Review: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2

For my 5-star review of part one, click here.

So at the end of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 I kept thinking to myself what an absolutely amazing film it was, complete with jaw-dropping performances, painterly cinematography, and a thoughtful and clever script that belongs with some of the greatest pop-confection screenplays that’s ever been written in the past decade. I marveled in the film’s exquisite direction, its fleshed out characters and how the filmmakers really covered all the bases of the origins and physiology of both the vampires and shapeshifters. I was reminded of the paean tribute to pure love, that love indeed does conquer all and above everything else it is the central source for the energy of life.


Really? Seriously? In fourth grade I wrote a story for English class about Thanksgiving. It featured a turkey that was being hunted down by a farmer with a shotgun. The farmer cornered the turkey in a thicket and prepared to blast the turkey into fucking oblivion when - in a genius move according to my idiotic eight year-old brain - the turkey woke up AND IT WAS ALL JUST A FUCKING DREAM. I even drew a picture in crayon of a turkey with a gun in its face and it was sweating bullets. I was really proud of that shit. Like I’d just written Finnegans Wake or something. A week later I got my story back from my teacher with a big fat fucking ‘C-’ emblazoned across it with a final note from my teacher saying ‘you can do better than that.’ That’s all I kept thinking about after watching a guy who’s supposed to control the elements punch a fucking hole in the Earth down to the magma.

If anything, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 is a devastating magnifying glass into the failure of the global educational system, in its inability to impart rational thought and logic in our prefrontal cortexes. The beauty of any fiction is for us to suspend belief in something really new, but then when a story fails even its own batshit crazy ideas, that’s an entirely new and epic level of stupidity.

Hey, I can run faster than the speed of fucking light, so, I dunno, let me just jump into my Volvo and drive all the fucking way to Seattle to have dinner with Bunk from ‘The Wire.’ Yeah, that makes total sense! Or hey, I just delivered a genetic abomination that pretty much killed me, my father who inexplicably still loves me thinks I’m dead, and the first thing that comes to my mind is let me rip the throat out of a fucking mountain lion who was probably just trying to feed her cubs. Oh and then I’ll have sex with my douchebag husband who knocked me up and pretty much is the reason why I’m walking dead in the first place. Shheeeit - my newborn and my dad can wait until I knock out a few orgasms and yell horrible shit at the wolves who saved my bony ass in the last movie. That’s gratitude for ya, Bella Swan! FUCK YOU.

But here’s the point in my review where I’m man enough to make an admission, which is that in my review of Part 1, I called the Cullens a racist piece of shit family for killing the one black vampire in the universe. I was wrong. Apparently there are other black and minority vampires in the world, easily made apparent by, oh, the motherfucking Amazonian women wearing nothing but feathers and leaves and the Mayan vampires who, despite living for 115 years, have yet to discover a pair of Levis jeans and Gisele Bundchen flip flops. And oh! That vampire MUST be Irish because I dunno, he’s a big pasty white guy with red hair and he wears a knit beret! Yeah! Aye, lassie! Hooray for vampire diversity! FUCK YOU TWILIGHT THIS ISN’T ‘BIRTH OF A NATION.’

Kiss me I’m Irish, if you couldn’t tell.

The Cullens also represent that weird demographic of rich people who decide to have wine, s’mores and monkey sex while the most evil, heinous group of attackers are bearing down to kill a small child. It’s akin to having an Arby’s beef-n-cheddar while the INS raids your home and deports your family. But mm mm - that Arby’s is sure is delicious! And what in the flying fuck took the Volturi so long to get to the Cullen compound? I mean, they run at the speed of light and shit, right? Did they also drive Volvos across the Atlantic Ocean? And why are they all dressed like extras from an unmade made-for-tv version of ‘Phantom of the Opera?’ Wouldn’t they be best served by using their bottomless pits of money to hire a team of attorneys to have the Cullens imprisoned for money laundering, pedophilia AND necrophilia? There isn’t a magical vampire power in the world to defend yourself from the legal team of Bryan “Bulldog” Moore.

I’d like to see you throw a shield up against this rabid asshole, Bella Swan.

'Twilight' also introduced me to a powerful new writing tool, which I'd like to affectionately call 'Have Any Shit Conveniently Come Out of the Fucking Forest to Fill a Plot Hole,' or HASCCOFFFPH for short. Trying to get Alice and Jasper back into the story in a convenient way? Just have them walk out of the fucking forest. Need a Mayan to tie up a convenient battle that never happened? Just have him walk out of a fucking forest. Need a catalyst to see a child and not bother to ask any questions, thereby triggering the weakest motivation for war ever conceived since weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Just have that idiot appear at the edge of the fucking forest. This is such an unequivocal, studio-approved writing convention and I'm all the better for it. Need to resolve a conflict between two warring alien races on Mars? Just have the love child of both warring sides walk out of a fucking forest. BUT IT HAS TO BE A MARTIAN FOREST. We can't afford to be sloppy here.

Conveniently walking out of the fucking theater, I couldn’t help but think that we deserve the ‘Twilight’ film franchise. It’s a product of our collective desire to shuck crap at the lowest common denominator and somehow pass it as a “guilty pleasure.” Twilight isn’t a guilty pleasure, it’s a series of snuff films documenting the live assassination of our sense of dignity. As before, its role as a harbinger of our impending doom makes it one of the most important and critical documents of the decline of human civilization, and it must be treasured and lauded for its sheer ambition to destroy all living life forms. The Twilight franchise is therefore our generation’s Rosetta Stone, a codex necro for a new way of thinking, which is to not think a goddamned thing at all. And for that alone, it belongs in the canon of the most important films ever made. Weird fucking CGI baby and all. Five more golden, sparkly fucking stars.

Sssoo c-cold…

Hot Topic: In Defense of the Professional Critic.

I was watching the Chicago Bears play against the Houston Texans last night when the team came upon a 4th and 1 situation; the ball was on the opponents’ 47-yard line and the crowd was screaming for Bears coach Lovie Smith to go for it on 4th down. Of course coach punted the football, but commentator Al Michaels made an interesting quote from legendary Chicago Bulls commentator Johnny Kerr:

"If a coach starts listening to fans, he winds up sitting next to them."

The Bears went on to lose but that quote kept on ringing in my head. Professional sports, like film, is a public entertainment. They both feature highly trained individuals executing a craft that is watched for enjoyment by large crowds who not only watch, but also critique the work of these individuals play-by-play. I remember once going to a Denver Bronco game and hearing fans heckle a wide receiver who dropped a pass.”You should’ve caught that,” one fan screamed, “my grandma could’ve caught that pass, and she’s dead!” Never mind that the wide receiver was backpedaling at full speed and had a 6’2” cornerback draped all over him, and it was 20 degrees outside and snowing. Having played football myself, I empathized with the player, although I was disappointed that he didn’t make the catch, because hey - I want my team to make all of their catches.

We live in a world that is saturated with access, where the public can critically review any given subject via message boards, forums, and review sites. Restaurants can be made or destroyed by customer reviews on Yelp, books can be vaulted into the stratosphere by Amazon reviews, and movies can be made or trashed on iMDB boards. The common thread to all these sites is that they contain reviews by the public, and not from professional critics. And in this, I’m beginning to see a quandary, because just like how I want my favorite football players to catch all the passes thrown at them, so too does the public place their immediate expectations upon the places they eat, the books and film they consume, and the places they frequent. It is these expectations which affects the quality of their reviews, and it is these immediate expectations that the professional critic tempers, because they’re experts in their medium and their barometer of quality is their own experience, education and informed taste.

It seems more and more commonplace that a lot of the things that the public adores - Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, McDonalds, Caribbean Cruises - are consistently trashed by professional critics. I’ve known for awhile now that just because something is popular, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good. I do try to read and watch what’s popular to get a feel of the zeitgeist, and I’m often shocked how appallingly bad most bestsellers and blockbuster films are. Take Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code as an example. It has to date done over $250 million in sales, spawned a major movie franchise, and was outsold only by J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is, by all estimations, a major, major success. So I decided to read it, and after an hour I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out of my head after reading some of the worst writing I’d ever come across. I’m not a professional literary critic, but you don’t need to be when you come across writing like this:

"A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars."

Voices don’t speak, people do. And frozen people cannot turn their head slowly because, well, they’re frozen. Silhouettes can’t stare. That’s just from the first lines of the book, which progressively went from crap to pure shit as I read it.

Leonardo deserves better.

But the public defenders of dreck like The DaVinci Code or Michael Bay’s Transformers movie franchise will espouse that these exist to purely entertain, and that’s what they see what most professional critics are forgetting when they trash films and books that are staggeringly popular. The “I want to shut my brain off and just enjoy something” mantra is what has driven many a mediocre book or film to stratospheric success, and I’ll be the first to say I too would love to escape in a book or film, and I’d say a majority of professional critics would love to as well. Not all critics want to sit through a two-hour incomprehensible tone poem about the Holocaust by Jean-Luc Godard, and I’d be willing to bet that they’d much rather spend those two hours watching a well-crafted comedy like Bridesmaids or Mean Girls. But the key here is well-crafted. The critic appreciates quality and knows just how hard it is to achieve, much like my empathy for the wide receiver who dropped a pass in a snowstorm. He makes that catch and I know it’s quality work, he drops it and I know it was a hard thing to do. (It’s a different story if he made no effort at all, which is a failure of expectation from a professional athlete and is worthy of criticism).

The public wants immediate expectations met, and the critic wants quality that lives up to expectations. There’s a huge difference. At a restaurant a diner wants something that tastes good and served efficiently without fuss. The critic also wants the same thing, but she also knows the pedigree of the chef, the history of the cuisine and what makes it special, and the proper way a restaurant should be run. Her judgement of the quality of the meal will be placed up against those parameters, and she’ll make a much more insightful and critical choice than someone who just wants a good meal.

But shouldn’t it be enough to just have a good meal? In the short term, yes. But in the long term, absolutely not. Art and dialogue persists through a constant pushing of the medium, and if the public embraces what is simply “good” as opposed to what is exceptional, or what is flawed but a bold new attempt - they will be spinning their wheels. And since the endgame for so much content, food and experience is to make money, producers of such will continue to feed the lowered expectations of the bigger public opinion.

It’s hard to write this and not sound like a pretentious blowhole. I hate a bad review from a critic as much as the next guy, but I also want criticism from people who know that field intimately, are madly passionate about film, and who want to see the medium reach the levels of their taste. Are they a reflection of the greater public opinion? Likely not. But they are there to give the public an opinion - an informed, reasoned opinion - about what they feel is the best or worst representation of that craft. And it’s ultimately up to us to use our judgement whether or not to pursue it.

Critics - and by critics I mean people who are good writers, who have studied their mediums and are passionate about them - are necessary for every field because they act as the filter to separate the bad from the good, and to support what is brave, unconventional and contributing to the medium. And of course critics can get it wrong - many a film has been critically panned and yet later been recognized as a maverick work. But I’d rather a trained critic get it wrong than my neighbor who hasn’t studied cinema for a single minute of his life get it wrong. That’s not to slam by neighbor - I’ll take a recommendation from him any time, but I won’t have him decide what is good or bad for the medium. And that’s what’s happening on the Internet right now. People are overriding the critics, and if writers, chefs, filmmakers and studios keep listening to the people, they’ll proverbially end up in the seats next to them. The barometer of quality should be driven by a balance of both - a critical gaffe can be saved through a supportive public, and a public misconception can be righted by a critical review.

Don’t trust the boxoffice and go see DREDD.

I think of the golden age of cinema - the 50s through the 70s - where films were put through the critical gauntlets of Cahiers Du Cinema and the likes of Pauline Kael, Serge Daney, Manny Farber, Gene Siskel, Andrew Sarris and Andre Bazin, and I can’t help but think that those critics made our medium better. They were critics that wanted to see cinema that not only entertained them, but that also challenged the medium with the intent of making it better, more expansive, and as a greater, deeply textured expression of the human condition. These critics were harsh, but only because they want quality and craft from the people who are the very best in their field. There isn’t a filmmaker, author or chef in the world who doesn’t want to please a tough critic, and when they do, they know that they’ve done something special, and that critic has pushed them to that limit. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and it only works when the public trusts its critics, and the critics are believed in by its craftspeople. And it’s more than okay to disagree with a critic - that’s what they’re there for - and that’s the healthiest thing that can happen for any art form, which is debate and discourse of what is working and what isn’t. It’s absolutely vital to progress, and it is the role of the critic to eloquently and rationally be the firestarter of that debate.

I want to leave you with one of the most beautifully written passages about criticism I’ve ever experienced. It is from Pixar’s Ratatouille, where food critic Anton Ego - voiced by Peter O’Toole - speaks of the responsibility and burden of the critic. It’s staggeringly gorgeous and relevant, and is arguably one of the greatest sequences in all of cinema. Of course that’s my critical opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

5-star Review: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS FLOWERY LANGUAGE. And also spoilers. Like I give a flying fuck. The movie’s made a bazillion dollars. You’ve been warned.

Let’s get this out in the open. From the very first Twilight movie, when the marketing teams posited the choice of allegiance, I took Team Jacob. I find werewolves to be the much cooler iteration, as there are tribal overtones and there’s an inherent connection to nature that I dig. Vampires reek of artifice and style for style’s sake. And I like animals.

That said, Team Jacob also is also a facet of a new pinnacle of stupidity in storytelling which has culminated in the latest installment of the Twilight film series, Breaking Dawn, Part One. That there are two parts to this insipid finale means that this was done to extract an additional billion dollars from the ruthless and irrationally loyal fan base of this inexplicably bizarre series.

In many ways, Breaking Dawn delivers on the horror genre. You know, there’s that immensely stupid girl who ventures into the forest alone, barefoot, without a flashlight or telling anyone of her whereabouts, with her boobs hanging out. "Don’t open that door!" screams the audience, but bimbotron does it anyway, because she has an undying academic curiosity - looks like someone’s been reading my post on quantum physics! Dumbass opens the door and gets her head knocked into tomorrow by some hulking giant armed with a ball peen hammer. Eeek!

That’s sort of the similar experience I had watching Breaking Dawn, as Bella Swan - easily qualifying as the single most idiotic character in all of history - perpetually makes one mind-blowingly foolish decision after another. Bella Swan is so stupid that even stupid people find her stupid.

Hey Bella, having sex with a vampire can cause bodily harm! That’s okay, I can handle it. It’s for love. Hey Bella, that baby inside you is going to kill you, and everyone, including your father who doesn’t know you’re pregnant and genuinely loves you is going to be very sad! That’s okay, I’ve already put my dad through hell so what’s my death going to matter, and plus I want to piss Edward off for making me wait this long. Oh and I have to respect the life of my fetus more than my own. Fuck you. Hey Bella, you’re totally dragging wolf-boy along and fucking with his emotions whilst claiming you’re a decent human being! I’m Bella Swan, motherfucker, I can do whatever I want. Hey Bella, they’re making you drink fucking human blood, and you’re not even a vampire! I don’t care, it tastes like Odwalla. Fuck you, don’t tell me how to live my life.

There will be blood.

Fair enough, Bella Swan, you’re a fucking idiot and there’s nothing we can do about it. And don’t get me started on Edward. Dumbass keeps saying crap like “I’ll protect you” and “nobody hurts my family” and he talks all kinds of shit with the werewolves, and yet does he do any of that? His girl is in perpetual danger, he needs the help of the wolves like all the fucking time, and is too busy moping in the corner to actually fight. Grow a spine, you worthless sparkling piece of shit. You got a girl pregnant, she’s stupid enough to die for it, so be a man, stop moping and live up to the two cents of potential that you’re capable of.

And why does anyone admire the Cullens? Because they drive Volvos? They’re inherently racist with the werewolves and killed off the one black vampire in the entire fucking universe. Their idea of being nice is stealing blood from blood banks (blood meant to save multiple humans in fucking hospitals) to feed an idiotic girl who should know better than to give birth to a child that will a) kill her and b) lead the entire vampire-werewolf-frankenstein-chupacabra-jackalope communities into all out apocalyptic war.

Spare the sweet jackalope.

But nooooo - the Cullens believe in love, and more than love they believe in being bullied around by a girl who is so stupid she thinks the YMCA is Macy’s spelled incorrectly.

What’s the endgame in all of this? Of course I’ll have to see Part 2 to find out, but I suspect it still revolves around Bella’s twisted sense of self-worth, simply a vessel to suffer for a boy who is ill-fit for her, and doesn’t do anything in return for her except make her suffer and teeter on obliteration. BUT SHE’S IN LOVE, and HE FUCKING SPARKLES. You know what, Bella? Here’s an alternative. Sprinkle some glitter on an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, lock the door, and let your imagination do the rest. There’s your fucking safe sex, Stephanie Meyer.

Uh, buy these jeans. NOW.

Oh and Jacob? Instead of falling in romantic love with an infant -which is fucking gross, I don’t care if you call it “imprinting” - how about, oh, I don’t know, MOVING ON. You ran up to Canada, I’m sure there are some pretty classy, nice gals in Toronto or Vancouver who won’t play you like a fucking Mario Brother. American Werewolf in London, Ontario. DO IT.

Perhaps instead of being a parable of abstinence, Twilight is the poster child for sadomasochism. Not since Pasolini’s Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom have I seen more human punishment with vague sexual undertones. In Salo we even have people literally eating shit, which is something I’m sure Jacob can relate to.

Breaking Dawn contains exactly 45 seconds of brilliance, and that is a scene-stealing turn by Anna Kendrick, who plays Bella’s friend and is the only person in the entire Twilight universe who thinks this entire scenario is blisteringly idiotic. It’s an inspired piece of acting, likely improvised because there’s no way the writers of Breaking Dawn could come up with anything that clever and observant. No, instead we get Bella looking like fucking Skeletor and then turning around and saying “I’m fine.” Jesus H Christ almighty. Is this a Lifetime Original Movie on bulimia? No? it should be. Throw in abusive relationships, the case for psychiatric care, medication, and marriage counseling and you’ve got a basic-cable winner. DO IT.

Breaking Dawn is a fucking gross house centipede wearing the bloodied, putrefied skin of a baby harp seal set to the tune of a Sarah McLachlan track. It’s a hemorrhoid on the ass of a failed competitive eater who lives in his dead grandmother’s house in New Mexico. Better yet, it’s the story of of Bella Swan, the girl who loved. That’s about as romantic as sticking your hand into a Cuisinart and cauterizing the wound with Clorox bleach and a hair dryer.

Can you tell I liked the movie? I thought maybe - maybe- I could sit back and admire the cinematography of Academy Award winner Guillermo Navarro, but I was even robbed of that. The film is drab, monochromatic and the framing is about as inspired as police brutality video. What happened?

Twilight happened, that’s what. I doubt no level of talent could overcome the basic premise of this god-awful and completely unnecessary series. But Sridhar, you say, what about romance? What about rekindling those awkward moments of pining for that boy/ girl when you were a teen? Go watch Once, or Spirited Away or the Harry Potter films. Not some movie about psychological and physical abuse in the name of idiotic obsession over how “totally hot” some emotionally-distant guy is. Better yet, just go and say “hi” to that girl or guy that you pine for. It’ll help you live a full, complete life, and not hide behind a shitty movie and a shittier set of books. If you get your heart broken, congratulations - you’re now living a beautiful, complete life.

I realize a review like this will make you want to see the movie even more. It’s called schadenfreude. Morbid curiosity. Like slowing down to see a car crash. Are there any dead bodies? Eww, I didn’t want to see that. Yes you did. Perhaps catastrophe seen from the armchair is that most passive form of self-psychoanalysis, and Twilight is that mirror to our cold, hard, uncaring faces. It can be that watershed moment when we realize that we are not Bella Swan, we are not selfish and completely lacking in gray matter, instead we care, we understand that we’re a part of something bigger, we’re smart, confident and self-assured. And if we find ourselves relating at all to Bella Swan, then that’s the sign that we need to commit ourselves to finding help and save ourselves and the loved ones around us. If that is the case, then Breaking Dawn earns five stars from me. Five golden, sparkly fucking stars.

Science and the Screenwriter.

I was gobsmacked when a few days ago I looked at the front page of the BBC News website and saw that a story about Twilight: Breaking Dawn had taken greater precedence over the recent findings from the CERN Labs that a neutrino had been recorded to have traveled faster than the speed of light. Just process that for a second: faster than the speed of light. This means that our fundamentals of physics will forever be changed, as will how we must empirically process the universe and creation itself. The claim is still being confirmed, but for now, this is big, monumental stuff.

Next stop - tachyons.

There have been numerous other discoveries in physics that have gone under the radar, but that have a profound impact on how we must view life as we know it. Recent studies in the creation of antimatter and our inching towards a state of absolute zero - the condition of thermodynamics wherein we reach ground state - makes the lay observer question things like what it means to exist.

Think about it - if a particle has a zero-point of stage of quantum mechanics, i.e. both potential and kinetic energy are zero, then can it be considered alive? We have had instances in biology that make us question this. A virus, while containing genetic information, is not really a living thing. It has no cellular functions, nor does it have the basic physiology of a single celled organism. It is merely a protein coat that houses a genetic code. It lives by injecting its DNA into a host organism, which replicates inside the cell and then explodes, releasing more viruses. It is therefore neither alive or dead - it is something inbetween, and we’ve yet to give a name for this. It is a zero-point entity.

As I write the next screenplay for my Paul Pope project, I find myself turning to science to explain the characters’ motivations. I initially did this because Paul’s story is a work of science fiction - anyone who has read any of Paul’s graphic novels knows that he has a predilection for science. My first rule for writing science fiction is that there must be governing laws within the universe that must be explained by a scientific phenomenon, be it fictional or real. For almost two months I’ve been reading about quantum mechanics and cellular functions to give a real-life grounding to the phenomena in Paul’s story. I eventually did formulate my sciences in this fictional world, but in doing so I also unlocked a powerful new tool in seeing plot and character.

Paul Pope and science fiction are a marriage made in heaven. And no, we’re not making a THB film. Announcement coming soon.

In asking the classic Mamet question of what does a character want, and what happens when they don’t get it, I started to think of this question in terms of quantum physics. I did this because Mamet’s question is in reference to motion - it is, in many ways, a conversion of potential energy (the thought) into kinetic (the action / reaction). The main characters all have their motivations, but one character in Paul’s book exists in a gray area. The character isn’t well-developed in the story, so I’ve been given the green light to really build up who this person is. And I turned to physics for it.

We see it all the time in science fiction and horror, where a character magically appears and disappears from our consciousness. Think of Freddy Krueger or the biomechanical alien in Alien. There is a dream logic applied to it, but I think it can be explained in a greater term of physics. Why is it that a monster of the mind is always ten steps ahead of us, and that they are able to manifest themselves at any given point, but we cannot pin them down? It can be explained by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which implies that it is impossible to simultaneously measure the present position while also determining the future motion of a particle, or of any system small enough to require quantum mechanical treatment. In essence, the minute we ascertain the position of one phenomena, it is impossible to measure future phenomena because it has already moved on. There is no present moment, because the future has already happened and continues to happen.

Take a bite of an apple. The millisecond our brain registers the apple is a moment of the past. That bite already happened, and we’ve already moved beyond that. Now think of Freddy Krueger. He is, essentially, a manifestation of fear. He registers in our head as a moment of terror, but as a particle manifestation he has already moved on. As long as we remain fixated on comprehending the position we last saw him in, he can freely move on to be ten steps ahead of us. He is, in many ways, in our inevitable future at all times.

So how do you stop a creature that’s always ahead of you? It’s another quantum physics solution, which is Schrödinger’s Cat. The basis of Schrödinger’s Cat is where a cat is placed into a box with a poison and a radioactive substance, and the box is closed. There is a 50/50 chance that an isotope will release the poison and kill the cat. But we don’t know if the cat is alive or dead until we look in the box. At this moment, the cat is existing on two planes - it is, for a brief moment, both alive and dead. Like Freddy.

But the solution to this is to simply open the box and find out if the cat is either alive or dead, and not both live and dead. So to defeat Freddy, one must open the lid and expose his true state - It’s too late, Krueger. I know the secret now. This is just a dream. You’re not alive. This whole thing is just a dream.

One can see now how we can build plot points based on quantum physics, and we know it will work because these are the fundamentals of motion. And what is storytelling but the unveiling of a timeline, film but a continuum, characters but a conversion?

Understanding science, and more so having a natural curiosity for it, is a gift to the screenwriter because not only does it allow us to fundamentally unlock mysteries on a molecular / subatomic particle level, but it allows us to create mystery using the grander forces that govern our existence. It’s been said that the writer is playing God, creating universes in her mind. If this is so then she must understand the forces she is playing with, and she will be the ultimate puppeteer. I love this approach to screenwriting, because once I figure out my internal laws of existence, I can play within those parameters and make anything happen, and it will always make sense because it is based on universal truths. My screenplay won’t be riddled with scientific explanations (unlike this post), but it will operate by them, and they will present both obstacles and solutions that are very real.

I know what you’re thinking - this is paralysis by analysis, overthinking something that should be free and organic. I argue though that my scientific research for this project is merely research and groundwork, it is not the writing itself. We all have to do research before writing something - this is absolutely required. Our definition of what constitutes research is different for every writer. For some it is going out in the field and living the experiences of the characters first-hand. I feel every writer should do this to some extent, or at least interview and befriend people who have lived through those experiences to get an honest account of what it means to live that life. For other writers, research is simply reading books and watching movies, which is also required but is also limiting, because you are confining yourself to the observations of others. The best solution is therefore a combination of both, where we read and collect, and then bounce that knowledge off of real life. What emerges is a unique perspective, and when this perspective collides with our worldview and personal philosophy, it is then that we create a highly personal, highly truthful story.

I embrace physics, biology and mathematics because I love them, but also because it is a way for me to figure out the worlds I create in my head. It gives shape and tangibility to my dreams. It fuels my curiosity to learn more, to possibly discover a new, alien way of thinking. It is like being Steven Hawking or Carl Sagan and looking out into the stars, and admitting that we still know nothing, but that the information we have is the gateway to discovering the new horizon. We need to have that sense of exploration, of discovery, of wonderment. And we need it in everything we do, not just storytelling. We tell stories with the hope of revealing something new and profound about us, about the human condition. Paintings and music reveal truths that are buried deep within us that we previously had no way of expressing. They are forging the new frontier of our psychological landscape. We can unlock the universe with our words, images, motions and sounds. But we have to get our foot in the door first, and that’s what research will do. So do it well, do it right, and do it because our hearts desire to unlock the mysteries of our own being. If that’s not exciting, then I don’t know what is.

Under Your Spell


Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Played 190 times

Music for the Weekend: Under Your Spell by Desire, from the Drive soundtrack.

Having worked so incredibly well with Julia on Lilith and becoming a dear friend, I often take for granted just how beautiful she is. I know, it’s crazy, but it actually happens. Sometimes it’s just nice to step back and enjoy the grandeur of creation. Julia was recently on the black carpet at the premiere of Twilight: Breaking Dawn and was an absolute vision.

Julia Voth is killer. Glad she’s on my side. :) Have a great weekend!

Hot Topic: Judging the Audience.

It’s become an unfortunate commonplace amongst independent filmmakers to judge the American viewing audience as “stupid” or “brainless.” Armed with the box-office data of films like Wild Hogs and Grown Ups, and conversely the average performance of well-made indies such as Winter’s Bone, Restrepo and even The Hurt Locker , the conclusion amongst independent filmmakers is that the American viewing audience doesn’t want to see challenging, thought provoking cinema. They’d rather go to the theaters and shut their brains off, whereas audiences in Europe and Asia are more open to seeing challenging cinema.

These are generalizations, and there’s a lot more at play than we know, and a lot of it has to do with the finance of films, and the ability to recoup on a large investment.

According to the Motion Pictures Association of America, the cost of the average Hollywood film is a little above $60 million, and the average summer “tentpole” blockbuster is now averaging $197.1 million to produce. This does not include P&A costs of distribution, which is now equivalent to the budget of the film, if not more. So for a $200 million film to break even, it is generally assumed that it has to do about $600 million in the global boxoffice. That’s a lot of tickets to sell.

Now put yourself in the shoes of an executive or a producer. Faced with such a huge expense, what is the most surefire way to recoup? Find a property that has a built-in audience (Twilight, The Lord of the Rings or any of the comic book films) or bank on a star that has historically drawn large box office, and place him (rarely her, unless you’re Angelina Jolie) in a profitable genre such as action or an effects-driven film, or a slapstick family comedy.

Some might argue that those films are eye candy only, that there’s no substance to them and they only appeal to the lowest common denominator as a target audience. This is where we go wrong in our analysis of the audience. The audience is not the lowest common denominator, rather the content that the studios are providing them is. Why do studios do this?

Because, as aforementioned, there’s a lot of money that has to be recovered, and the only way to do that is to reach as many people as possible, across the globe, leaving no stone unturned. So how do you get a middle class man in Mississippi and a working woman in Beijing to watch the same film? You give them something they can both identify with. Slapstick comedy, explosions and Maxim Magazine brand sex doesn’t have a cultural filter, they are things that everyone can connect to, regardless of education, language, or cultural beliefs.

Conversely, if we make an independent film about the authentic struggle of Mississippi fish farmers, or the burgeoning heavy metal music scene in Mumbai, chances are that the working woman in Beijing probably won’t see either. Not because she is unintelligent, but rather there’s nothing there she can connect with. But Transformers? Or for that matter any Michael Bay film? Sure, it’s not art, but it’s entertaining, and she can understand it from beginning to end.

As a global export, it’s essentially this:

Versus this:

From a business standpoint, which would you export? Be honest, and know that it has nothing to do with race or culture. It’s about selling fantasy over reality.

The fact of the matter is that when we seek the widest audience possible, the content of the film has to drop to such basic generalizations and caricatures for the purpose of a global audience being able to connect to it. Independent filmmakers might call this “dumbing down” a film, but a film studio calls it making a universally applicable product. And the studios make a lot of money doing it, because that’s their job, which is to make money, because they are publicly traded companies whose shareholders demand value creation every financial quarter.

So it’s not the audience who is stupid, rather they’ve been fed such universally banal movies for the past twenty years and that’s what they’ve come to expect. The film industry created this monster, and they’ve extracted every possible dollar out of an audience that simply doesn’t know what else is out there. Cue 3D as the next universal sensory experience, and another huge payday for Hollywood. They’re not committing any crimes, nor are they taking advantage of the audience, seeing them as a mass global entity and not as cultural beings. They’re just putting a product out on the market that everyone in the world can get something out of, even if it’s fleeting. Sort of like an iPad.

But the bigger problem is the cost of films, and the expectations of the market for larger profits every quarter. Once upon a time in Hollywood, a major film used to cost about $9-12 million to make, and if that film made $20 million, it would be declared a major success. Lower-budget films like The Deer Hunter, Easy Rider or All the President’s Men were successful staples of the 70s, which by my personal observation, was the greatest era of American filmmaking.

That was before Jaws and Star Wars, films that showed Wall Street the awesome earning potential of creating mass entertainment. Films became geared towards bringing in bigger wider audiences with the lure of spectacle over content (which, in defense of Spielberg, his films always had a beating heart behind them, don’t know what happened to Lucas with the prequels, though). Michael Ovitz, founder of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), started creating “package deals” built around a set of metrics that equated star power with box-office earnings. As a result, star salaries skyrocketed, and so did the overall cost of production.

It’s a simple ratio: the higher the cost of production, the more general a film has to become. We can return to a golden era of cinema if we conscientiously strive to bring down the cost of production, which will put less pressure on the producer because the recoup is far less. There’s no reason why, in this age of technology, why a good studio blockbuster film cannot be made for $20-25 million. The star system has proven to wane (Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day and Matt Damon’s The Green Zone have defied their salaries) and films that have been amazingly successful in the past five years have done so because of the craft of the writer and director (see the post on Pixar). Producers need to be tough in negotiating star salaries, otherwise risks have to be taken on newer acting talent that can deliver a powerful story. James Cameron knew this all along.

Lastly, the idea that European audiences are far smarter than American audiences, by virtue of the films that Europe creates, is a fallacy. Europe makes incredibly challenging and daring cinema because they have governments that regularly support and fund art. These are funds that are provided to modest budgeted projects without the expectation of a box office return, rather it is an investment into the preservation and development of culture.The fact that the United States is the world’s largest exporter of media, and yet we have not a single viable department of culture in our government is reprehensible. The National Endowment of the Arts is a whispering ghost of an institution, and Public Television essentially is the non-cable iteration of the BBC. If the United States had a lottery-funded film commission that empowered new voices, we’d make films as powerful and challenging as our European brethren. Until that lottery fund arrives, we’ll have to work with withering independent finance and Sundance, and we’ll have to consume the flavorless output of the major studios. It’s not by choice, rather it is necessity.

Thoughts on the horror genre.

Remember during this year’s Oscars when the Academy did a tribute to the horror genre? I was scratching my head when I saw clips of Twilight, Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice included alongside films like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and Nightmare on Elm Street. We’ve obviously got a very broad concept nowadays of what makes a horror film, and more so what constitutes what makes a film “dark.”

Having mentioned Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice (both of which I happen to like a lot), it seems odd to me that people are viewing Tim Burton as a “dark” filmmaker. He’s certainly quirky and eccentric, but never would I call his work “dark.” His movies are enveloped in a gothic look (especially Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd), but I’d like for anyone who thinks Burton’s films are dark to sit and watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead or John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. That, to me, is real darkness.

I think it boils down to that today’s “darkness” is more about looking dark, and not about really about experiencing the heart of darkness. When we tell people that Lilith is a horror film, we’re finding that people seem to think that I’m going to make a gory torture-porn horror film that shows everything in a flurry of quickly edited shots, glossy cinematography, seared and slashed prosthetic flesh and gallons of blood.

I could make that kind of horror film, but I don’t want to. Because I want to make a dark horror film, and I just don’t think torture / gore is dark. It’s twisted, it’s grotesque, and it’s most definitely gross, and it’s so in your face and sadistic that it either makes us laugh at its audacity or we just turn our eyes away. But it’s only a topical reaction - we can look away because it’s a visual / auditory experience only.

In my estimation a true dark horror film can’t be avoided by a turn of the head or plugging one’s ears - it eats at your inside. It does that by putting the audience in a situation that they can imagine themselves in. Plausibility is the true terror - that’s why stories like the original Changeling, The Blair Witch Project or even more recently Paranormal Activity really scare us to the bone, because at some point in our fertile imaginations we believe it could actually happen to someone, if not us. The fright doesn’t come from being hacked to pieces - that’s an end result - the real scares come from the idea of losing complete control, of losing one’s humanity and survival becoming a fast fading option. We fear the people we trust and love turning on us and becoming monsters, like Jack in The Shining.

With Lilith I’m never going to reach the level of creative genius or mastery of films like The Shining or Eraserhead, but I earnestly hope I’m going to honor the spirit of dark horror that those films championed. I want Lilith to be a throwback to horrors of the self, the monsters within that give life to the ones under the bed. It may not have a lot of blood and gore, but I think it’s very very true to the horror genre.

But that’s me, and I’m obviously biased. I’ll only know if I’m right when the film is released in the fall.

P.S. Which reminds me to let everyone know that Lilith does indeed have U.S. distribution, which means everyone will have a chance to see it!

Inspiration: Bill Henson, photographer (NSFW)

We live in challenging times. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Challenge is good. We need to keep challenging our thoughts, values and traditions, because that’s how progress is made, despite what Glenn Beck tells us. Evolution is based upon responding to selective pressures in the environment, and this includes sociological and psychological pressures as we learn more and more about the human mind.

I remember being absolutely revolted by Larry Clark’s Kids, seeing it as an exploitative work of trash that existed to expose barely-legal flesh. Jailbait on film. It’s been almost fifteen years since I’ve seen the film, and while I still don’t really care for the film, I’ve been learning more and more about our current society’s approach to sex, and am realizing that kids are becoming aware of their sexuality at younger and younger ages.

We look at a series like Twilight that claims to be a parable to abstinence, but in reality it is feeding into the sexual hunger and fantasies of teenagers. Let’s be real with this - teenagers are having sex, and they think about it all the time. I know I did when I was that age. The greater issue and concern is whether or not they’re being smart about sex.

But now that teen sexuality is in the common conscience, I find the work of photographer Bill Henson quite remarkable, a straightforward and honest depiction of human desire and want, one that is current to our times and challenges the mainstream idea of where teenagers are in society.

Henson is a controversial figure who, like Larry Clark, has been called an exploitative or perverted artist, someone who has a fascination with young flesh. But there is a difference, in my opinion, from Clark and Henson’s work. Where Clark takes the viewpoint of pervy voyeur in his films - his camera lingers on teen bodies in the most uncomfortable way - Henson’s camera focuses on teen desire, and not the desire for teens. There is a big, big difference.

There’s a poetic and dreamlike quality to Henson’s visions, setting his subjects within a fantasy land that is constructed within everyday landscapes. There is a macabre aura to his work, by way of his muted color palette and the almost deadened quality of the skin tones of his subjects. But what I love more is his treatment of desire and longing, which is treated purely as an internal concept, which leaves so much more to interpretation.

When we look at these photos, we’re taken to a place of the subject’s thoughts, and those thoughts are ones that we all have had. Larry Clark gives us the fantasy of an older man watching teens having sex, whereas Bill Henson gives us the fantasies of teenagers from their own perspective. Henson accomplishes what Stephanie Meyer could never do so poetically, which is to give us the magic of dreaming of falling in love, of capturing that moment when we first get an inking of what we want in our lives. The first moment when we realize that we desire.

It’s always a risk to freely admit that I am inspired by such a controversial and polarizing figure (I might lose some followers because of it), but I see beauty in his work, and it makes me think, which I can’t say that about a lot of art and media today. While there are many of Henson’s works that I find very uncomfortable (particularly his nudes), his work challenges me to think differently about teen life today, and makes me really dig for the truth of my own experiences as a teenager. It forces me to be honest with myself, and with others about a subject (sex) that we’ve all been browbeaten to be ashamed of. Why should we be ashamed of something that we’ve been wired to embrace and enjoy? The minute we freely accept that sex is going to happen, only then can we freely talk about the responsibilities and consequences that come along with it. Conversely if we banish those thoughts from our collective conscience, as the religious right and neo-conservatives have, then we’ll end up with a lot of people doing stupid things behind our backs. Like Sarah Palin’s kids

Not really sure what this has to do with Lilith, other than I’m using Henson’s photographs as a colour and texture reference. Which is pretty huge, I guess. :)