22 October 2011

The Three Musketeers (2011)

The Three Musketeers are assholes. To me, it's a core component of the characters. They do whatever they want, not giving one iota of a fuck, causing colossal shitstorms wherever they go. And they get away with it. Why? Because they're badasses, of course, but also because they fight for good causes and, underneath it all, they're lovable rogues. The trick to portraying them on screen is to make them charming assholes the audience can root for and enjoy.

This new film version does not make them charming. It tells us they're charming, and that they're good guys, and they fight for France and Love, and etc. etc., but it doesn't show us. What it shows us are musketeers who wantonly murder dozens of people in breezy heist sequences. Hoo-ray?

The opening scene takes place in Venice. A guard stands by a canal. He hears something in the water. A 17th century version of a frogman appears and shoots the guard with some kind of device thing.* More guards appear, and the frogman's device thing shoots them too. "Oh, this is the bad guy," I thought. But then the frogman takes off his mask and turns out to be a musketeer. "Oh, he must be killing bad guys then." Nope, he's on a heist to steal plans for an airship. He's just murdering hapless guards. He's quickly joined by the other musketeers, and Milla Jovovich, and they continue on their mission, slaughtering dozens.

Later on, the musketeers get into a brawl with the Cardinal's men, who are basically the cops of the time. The musketeers don't murder all of them, just most of them. The surrounding crowd cheers and claps. The musketeers are brought to the king for punishment, but the king favors them instead. "You rogueish rapscallions," he doesn't say, though he may as well. The movie wants us to laugh and slap our knees. "Those musketeers! They've gotten away with it again!" I sat there thinking about the children of all those dead cops.

One of the problems is scale. I was reminded of a community college production I saw years ago, which did a very smart thing. In the early fights, when the musketeers were just foolin', the people they stabbed would only be wounded. Those actors would groan, clutch themselves, hobble offstage, and reappear later. It was only when shit got real that the musketeers began killing people. Thus indicating that the stakes, as they were, had been raised. Here, the musketeers kill and kill and kill. Every fight is the most important fight, and involves them against dozens, and yet, at the same time, it ain't no thang for them, because they're the baddest badasses in all of badassery. There's no weight. None of the villains have any actual power, and the musketeers have all of it.

Another example: The heist at the beginning of the film is to get Da Vinci's plans for an airship. Later on, this airship makes an appearance. "Ah, this will be an element in later action sequences," thinks anyone who has seen the commercials, or any movie, ever. And it is. But the musketeers don't fight it. They steal it, and use it for another heist sequence, where they murder more hapless guards. (Many of whom burn to death; one is thrown out of a tower, on fire, screaming. How valiant are the musketeers!) It occurred to me that, perhaps, a better way to handle it would be to make the musketeers, I don't know, the underdogs, and have them fight the airship, and to have it be difficult. Like Indiana Jones versus the Flying Wing, or Luke Skywalker versus Jabba's Sail Barge (well, not really difficult for Luke, but it was for Lando). Instead, the musketeers breeze through every challenge, never encountering any obstacles, never really having any trouble with anything.

In another film, they would be the bad guys.

The film could have gotten away with all this had the action sequences been better directed, the screenplay written with more wit, and etc. etc. But those are phoned in, done in a very average, nothing-new way. There are a couple bright spots, and most of the actors are game; one can sense them raring up, ready to chew the hell out of the scenery, and finding nothing there. The film is serviceable for those looking to put their brains on hold and watch beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in front of CGI explosions for an hour and a half. It's art as product. The movie as machine-pressed hamburger.

*A related rant: Why do all these "historical" action films put modern weaponry and technology into the heroes' hands? Here, we get musketeers with airships, scuba diving gear, napalm, machine-gun cannons, bolt shooters, and rappel lines. There's even a scene where razor wire replaces laser beams in yet another heist sequence. (I kind of liked that one, actually, except the film then allows the character to simply just jump through them with ease. WHY FUCKING BOTHER?) Oftentimes, it feels like the only reason they set these films in the past is because the (previously established, highly marketable) properties necessitate it.

17 October 2011


Twitter has stolen my attention away from this blog. Used to be when I had a thought, I would mull it over until it became a series of coherent thoughts loosely related to one another. These would then become a blog post. Now I have a thought and I tweet it. Nothing is contemplated. Nothing is remembered. Nothing has weight.

Which means I can fly higher! WHEEEEEEEEEEEE!

And yet, I would like this blog to have timely information on whatever the hell it is I am or have been doing. And so this post. Here's what's gone down since June:

I co-wrote the screenplay for The Girl with Blue Eyes, a short film produced by UnSafe Film Office for the Project Twenty1 film competition. My co-writer (and the film's overall visionary and madman), Anthony E. Griffin, tied for a well-deserved Best Directing award at the competition. The film also tied for the Audience Award in its screening block, and received nominations for Best Sound Design, Best Editing, and Best Film. A slightly longer version will premiere at the Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival next week. More to come!

To promote the project, Griffin appeared on the first episode of Lorin Kozlowski's new podcast, "Lorin Has Friends." Being Lorin's best friend (and the best man at his wedding), I also recorded one with him, Episode 3, in which I talk more about The Girl with Blue Eyes, Lucky, and other projects, as well as whatever random crap floated into our minds.

My Hard Boiled Productions' partner-in-crime, Chris Kapcia, put together his acting reel, which is a damn fine entry into the genre. More pertinent to this blog post, it also features footage from both past and future projects of ours:

One of those projects is Hard Hounds, an on-going series of short shorts we created with Nick Martorelli of Radio Hound Productions. Nick suggested we actually start making all of those one-joke film ideas we larf about when we're bullshitting, and so we shot a bunch in one day and have so far released three. I like to describe them as "aggressively stupid."

And finally, Lucky, the feature film I appear in and helped conceive and produce, continues to bring home the awards cheddar: 1st Place Drama/Comedy at The Indie Gathering, a Film Editing Award at the Colorado Film Festival, Best Supporting Actress at the Detroit Independent Film Festival, Best Soundtrack at the Maverick Movie Awards, and an Award of Merit at the Accolade Competition.

That's it for now, folks. Lots of other stuff is currently brewing, and I will try to be better at updating my legions of dedicated fans and readers. But I promise NOTHING.

01 June 2011

Future Me Hates Present Me

A few nights ago, I felt content as I drifted off to sleep. I had just put the finishing touches on a screenplay and sent it off to the first competition I've entered in a long time. I'm generally against competitions, but with a couple of new screenplays under my belt, I figured I may as well enter a select few. You never know what might result and I have the money to spend (knock on wood). While laying in bed, fantasies swirled around in my brain: Me winning and being invited to speak at length on the brilliance of my screenplay, the unknowable source of my staggering ideas, the modern state of the industry, what it takes to write a script that matters, man, that can change the whole crazy world. "Yeah," I thought as I drifted off. "I'm pretty good at this writing thing."

The problem? I have that thought every time I finish a screenplay. And then, when no opportunities arise to sell it or produce it, and a few years go by and I happen to reread it for the first time in ages, I look at it with fresher eyes and wonder, "What in the blue hell was I thinking? This thing is a piece of limp crap."

It might not be. It might, actually, be a fairly decent read, one that producers would screw me over to purchase. But because I've changed as a writer, evolved into another artist that thinks differently than I did just a couple of years ago, or even a couple of months ago, I'll always feel that whatever I've written in the past is just not up to par with what I'm capable of creating in the present. Though if enough time goes by, I can look upon it with a twinge of affection. "Oh, look what he was trying to do. How cute."

On the other hand, there are times while rereading where I do feel, "That's a good bit. A sharp line. I didn't too badly with this one." But there will always be scenes, or moments, or sentences, or words that give me pause. "You missed perfection, you idiot. Just because you couldn't see the obvious flaw."

I try to keep that in mind whenever I feel content and confident. No matter how pleased I may be today, that mood will change as early as tomorrow. And it helps me write better. Knowing that Future Me will be full of wrath and fury is a sure way of staying level-headed and remembering to look upon my work with a critical eye.

31 May 2011

PSA for the MPress

Our friends at MPress Records recently asked Hard Boiled Productions to put together a PSA for their latest release, a charity compilation album that benefits the National Network for Youth. This is what we came up with. Please take a moment to watch it and, if so inspired, buy a copy of the CD.

Truth be told, Chris did most of the work on this one. He handled the camera and got the interviewees talking while I held the reflector or boom mike and nursed the cold I was suffering through. The only shot I can take credit for is the brief insert of the doorway with the phone book. (Of course, we had a lot more shots that didn't survive the editing process. Maybe we can repurpose those into a Malick-like montage we'll never get around to completing.)

Once it came time to edit, Chris had control of that too. Our first cut was a bit more experimental, but after the decision to focus more on the musicians' personal observations, it came together surprisingly quickly. We were familiar enough with the footage, and Chris has such an ear for the soundbites, that we didn't even really need to discuss (and/or argue) what to use and where. We're happy with the results, and we hope you are too.

31 March 2011

"Pocket-Sized Plays"

Normally I stick to movies, but a couple months ago I wrote a three page play for a charity organization looking for short submissions. I'm happy to announce that they've accepted my piece, which you can see as part of "Pocket-Sized Plays" on April 8th and 9th at the Shubin Theatre in Philadelphia. The show is part of the April Arts Festival, an event Act for Charity is holding to raise money for Project H.O.M.E. If you're in Philadelphia or the surrounding area, please come down; not only will you be entertained, but you'll be doing a good deed as well. I myself plan to be there at the 9:00 pm Saturday showing, after which I will cause trouble until the police escort me out of town.

My short, "Lavender," isn't the first piece I've written for the stage, but it's the first one I've liked enough to show other people, and the first one ever produced. It's a period piece set in an early 1950s bedroom and is rife with sex, innuendo, and heartache. It would be extremely lazy and shallow of me to compare it to "Mad Men," but if that will get asses in seats, then IT IS EXACTLY LIKE "MAD MEN."

19 March 2011

Lucky Premiere Weekend

Lucky, a feature-length motion picture in which I am a supporting star, has finally been unleashed onto the nation's consciousness. Buy a DVD of it today at the website, www.oneluckymovie.com. Support independent filmmaking!

The premiere of the film occurred at the Detroit Independent Film Festival, where it played on March 11th (and won Best Supporting Actress - congratulations, Grace Anne Rowan!). I was unfortunately unable to make it, but for the "official" premiere in Lansing the next Sunday, I flew in and surprised (most of) my friends in attendance. We had a grand ol' time, and as much as I hate to watch myself onscreen (especially the me of several years ago, the fat asshole), I enjoyed the movie a great deal and think it's a hell of an accomplishment. (An unbiased view, naturally.)

I wish I had a great story to impart about the weekend, or a tale to tell, but for the most part, I just had a blast hanging out with family and friends. And I ate a lot. Mostly at what I think of as big box restaurants - P.F. Chang's, Abuelo's, places where the food is mostly distinguished by your choices of meat and sauce. Somehow I found the room to fit in a Shamrock Shake from McDonald's. Apparently these aren't available all over the country, instantaneously appearing in your hand on March 1st, for some reason, so I had to grab one whilst back in Michigan. It was the first thing I've gotten from a McDonald's in . . . well, a long time. My disgusting food preference these days falls more toward the Taco Bell end of the spectrum. *shudder*

The other thing I did a lot of was watch CNN. I don't have cable television anymore - we're strictly a Netflix/Hulu household now - so when I saw images of the tsunami in Japan playing on the airport televisions, they were entirely new to me, and I was hooked in a sickening way. I spent nine months living in Japan, and still feel a great love for the country and its culture. (Is there a way for a white man to express that without coming across as an old-school Orientalist? When I write those words, I feel I should be British and drinking gin on a porch in 1892 Calcutta.) I've long said that if someone offered me a deal to live in Japan and make samurai and yakuza movies for the rest of my days, I would take it in a heartbeat.

All weekend long I was sitting on the couch, watching the terrifying, mesmerizing footage. Frankly, I've never wanted to be back there more than I do now, even though if I could magically be transported, there's nothing I could really do to help. It's a frustrating experience, as it is in any disaster, and all I can do is donate money and hope for the best. (Ahem.)

28 January 2011


While digging through my archives recently, I discovered this short piece I wrote several years ago. Writing it allowed me to vent some of the frustration I had with my job at the time, but once it was finished, I promptly forgot about it. I've decided to post it here with minimal editing in the hope that a reader may identify with it and find a bit of the same relief it brought to me.

* * * * *

"See me." Delivered via electronic message. Sometimes scribbled on a slip of paper.

"See me." The two worst words in the office vernacular. Lying in wait behind them are legions of meetings, commands, corrections. Thousands of wasted minutes will be spent receiving the same instructions delivered in different yet similar ways.

"See me." They are heavy with dark promise, an obscured future the only known fact of which is that it will be bad. You will be lectured and then dismissed to perform whatever new tasks have been assigned. But before you do them, you weigh them against all the old tasks and say in your mind, or may even dare to mumble, "As if I don't have enough to do already."

"See me." These words are produced when you commit an error resulting from one of two things: You weren't listening properly or they weren't explaining correctly. Either way, they will say, "Maybe I didn't explain correctly," but their tone will say, "You didn't listen." You are pretty sure it's a combination of both, but the main reason is that they assumed you have knowledge you don't actually have. They will give you this new knowledge in the most belittling manner possible, and you will go back to your desk and cursorily check Craig's List for new jobs. Yet even if you find something, you will not actually get around to sending in your resume.

"See me." An instant drag on morale, even before you respond to their summons. The moment you see those words you wish to be anywhere else, someplace where they can't spot you. Then, later, when they finally catch you and haul you in, you can plead ignorance. "I didn't know I should see you because I never saw the message." But they know you were there, at your desk, pretending to work on revenue reports but in reality browsing online for a new bedroom set you can't afford.

"See me." Sometimes the words are preceded with a quick back-and-forth e-mail exchange. You send them work. They respond with a question. You answer. They type those two words and tap the enter key. Inexorably, the words appear on your monitor. You will feel the temptation to quietly stand, board the elevator, and exit the building, never to return. But this feeling will only last momentarily, until you stand and enter their office. Still, the feeling will wait for you at your desk and greet you with open arms upon your return.

"See me re this" will appear at times above a forwarded message. You will read the message and experience either confusion or clarity. Confusion when you are unsure what it has to do with you or where you went wrong. Clarity when you foresaw it coming, briefly prophesied it in your imagination as you hesitated on a task or heard a bit of news.

"See me." The end of comfort and solace. The rise of irritation and panic.

07 January 2011


When you register a script with the Writers Guild of America, that registration is good for five years. Why not forever? Because then they wouldn't be able to send you a reminder asking if you would like to renew the registration and, incidentally, pay them another fee, thanks very much. I usually don't renew because I've mentally moved beyond the scripts I created that long ago. I wrote them, I rewrote them, I showed them to friends, I submitted them places, I rewrote them some more, they ended up going nowhere. They were a crucial step in my evolution as a writer, but they're ancient history, and whatever good I could wring out of them now with a thorough rewrite might be better used in a completely new script.

But I haven't had any new scripts as of late, not of the feature-length, write-register-and-submit variety. I've been too busy writing and producing stuff I could do with my collaborators on small budgets and completely neglecting the submitting aspects of my screenwriting career. In the past few months I had an epiphany: "You know, you can still write new scripts and submit them WHILE ALSO doing your low budget stuff." It was one of those "Uh, yeah, of course, you idiot" observations we sometimes have to make to ourselves because we are dumb.

So I got to work. I assumed all of my old feature scripts were either obsolete or already claimed by friendly filmmakers. I hemmed, I hawed, I combated creative blocks, I bitched and moaned, I wrote a couple new scripts. I got ready to rewrite them into "Official First Drafts" I can start submitting to production companies and agencies.

And then yesterday I got one of my reminders from the Writers Guild. "Hi, Asshole," it said. "Remember me?" I did indeed. It was for a script I don't even consider to be mine and, legally speaking, it's not. I wrote it for a producer based on his original idea. It ended up being shelved for whatever reason and never looked at again. The reminder awakened a few memories of the "Goddamn, has it been five years already? It seems so recently" variety. Which then led to "If it doesn't seem that long ago, maybe the other stuff I wrote back then is worth taking a look at."

Uh, yeah, of course, you idiot.

As it turns out, I've written a lot in the intervening years. Not all of it complete, not all of it worthy of being taken up again, not all of it solely mine and therefore not able to be submitted. But there's enough. And for once, I decided to forgo abandoning my past in favor of salvaging it. Over the next few months, I'm going to be reviewing some of my past scripts and seeing what needs to be changed, what needs to be updated, what is worth saving, and what is beyond salvation. At the same time, I'm going to be working on some new stuff, and will eventually have a portfolio of solid work I can show off to all the Hollywood hotshots who can't manage to shut the door on my foot.

I'm going to try to be better about updating here too. Whenever I need to rant about something, or promote a completed project, or maybe even show off something I wrote long ago but can't rework, I'll write a new post. But if things are (even more) quiet around here the next few months, you'll know why. I'm busy trying to get my dreams to pay off. Preferably in cash money. Wish me luck.