May 26, 2006

Lingering Adolescence

When I was... let's say twelve-or-so, one of my uncles abandoned his lingering adolescence and with it his comic book collection which was, at the time, inadequately housed in a number of blue plastic milk crates. I more or less rescued those blessed crates and the comics therein from sharing the fate of this same uncle's record collection, which ended up smoldering among the coffee grounds, eggshells and plastic bags in the local dump four miles outside of town. (I do hope some resourceful soul rescued them, although to this day the only record I can remember seeing in that stash was Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell which isn't particularly rare.)

In those blue plastic milk crates were several comic book series like DC's Jonah Hex and Scalphunter and Marvel's Power Man and Iron Fist and, my favourite at the time, The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. And I spent many happy months with those comics spread out over the floor of my bedroom, reading.

I was dismayed to learn, after reading them, that most of the titles I had been enjoying had been cancelled. The one series that hadn't been cancelled was The Amazing Spider-Man, of which there were relatively few in my newly acquired collection. So I started buying them every chance I got at the Fort Richmond 7-11 while my parents shopped for groceries at the Safeway across the street.

I soon realized that there were three Spider-Man titles, The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man and finally Web of Spider-Man. Being 'from the country', it was hard keeping up with all three on those infrequent forays into 'The City'. It never occurred to me to subscribe, probably because of the pure joy of spinning that squealing metal rack at the end of the candy aisle, (in that 7-11 which always reeked of vomit), perusing the various covers before finding my chosen quarry.

For anyone who's been paying attention, (or not), you've probably noticed Hollywood's obsession with comic-book based movies in recent years. Which I greeted with some righteous indignation after watching the Batman franchise get progressively worse, (before finally surfacing from the quagmire of mediocrity and bad camp with last year's Batman Begins).

Then came X-Men.

I never bought any X-Men comics, but one of the two other guys in my high school who read comic books did, (the third read Fantastic Four, so we had all bases covered), and I read his. And I found the first film very satisfying. Cyclops was still a bit of a dweeb, and Wolverine rocked, though I found myself disappointed in how underutilized Rogue was. But, more importantly, the story and characters were true to the comics, more-or-less, and the special effects were suddenly viable. It gave me hope that comic books could make good movies.

And then, finally, in 2002... Spider-Man.

I won't get into how disappointing the Green Goblin's high-tech costume/armour was, or the fact that Kirsten Dunst was miscast as Mary Jane, because, frankly, I was too mesmerized seeing Spider-Man swing through the streets of Manhattan. It was just as I'd imagined it. I could have watched that alone for the two hours. (Sorry, I'll, rein in the fan-boy stuff.)

When I read about the guys that got hired to write X-men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man et al, I learned that most of them were guys like me who had read comic books on the floors of their bedrooms as kids and grew up to become screenwriters. Some of them even wrote comic books, which was something that had never occurred to me for some reason. Most of them got to meet Stan Lee, and were given free comic books from the studio. And, as it turns out, comic books make good movies because the writing and imagery are similar to screenwriting and story-boarding.

Now, why didn't I think of that?

Guess I should start working on my pitch for The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.

Update: Drat, foiled again.

May 15, 2006

Best of 2005

I'm generally reluctant to recommend films to people, and when I do I offer a standard list of disclaimers that usually ends with "...well, I liked it anyway." Which is an oblique way of saying "This is something I found valuable, and if you value some of the same things I do, you may enjoy this film as well." All of which serves to let me off the proverbial hook in the event that the person I'm recommending it to ends up hating it. I'm never sure if I've loved a film until several days later and the initial emotion of the first viewing has faded.

Having said that, I humbly offer my favourite film of 2005: The Squid and the Whale.

I first saw The Squid and the Whale at the Vancouver International Film Festival where my last short, On A Sunday, was in competition. I had convinced my wife and our film's director and producer to attend, even though none of them had heard of it. Which put me solidly on said proverbial hook.

The Squid and the Whale is a comedy about divorce. Loosely speaking. It's also a coming-of-age story for its teenage protagonist, the eldest of two sons born to two bohemian intellectuals living in Brooklyn's Park Slope in 1986. It is the third feature film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou with Wes Anderson, who wrote and directed one of my favourite films of all time, The Royal Tenenbaums. See how this all works?

Noah Baumbach earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for The Squid and the Whale which was largely autobiographical. Jeff Daniels, who plays the faded patriarch and writer-gone-to-seed, Bernard Berkman, actually wore clothes from Noah's father's wardrobe. Baumbauch shot the film for $1.5 million, on Super 16 millimetre and the camera work is largely handheld, which makes the film feel like it was shot as it happened by a fifth member of the Berkman family.

In the case of the VIFF screening of The Squid and the Whale last year my cohorts enjoyed the film as much as I had, which came as a relief. But sooner or later we all have to defend a film we love that others, often our closest friends or family, hated. For instance, how could I like films as different as Heat and Husbands and Wives? The closest I've ever come to a catch-all statement to defend myself is that the film has to transport me for its duration. Which means that I have to buy into the reality of the film, but I don't necessarily have to like or relate to the characters or subject matter. My parents have one of the healthiest marriages I've ever witnessed, and I've never been to Brooklyn, and yet I have no doubt that that the pain, confusion and absurdity suffered by the Berkman family in The Squid and the Whale is true and authentic.

I don't think that's a lot to ask of a film, (especially at today's ticket prices), but it is a tough thing to accomplish.

May 04, 2006


So, as anyone who has been here before can see, I (with a little help from JDH) have changed the look, and quite possibly the feel, of this space.

Previously, the purpose of this page was to give my friends, family, colleagues, collaborators and potential clients some idea of who I am and the kind of work I do. Those self-imposed parameters began, at some point, to feel rather limited and limiting. I'm not entirely sure just how things will change in the days, weeks and months to come, and it's safe to say the content will evolve. I hope it will become a better reflection of where I'm at in addition to providing some insight into the things I'm working on and the things -- books, music and most importantly movies -- that I'm digging at any given time. You may find an excerpt of my work, or a movie review, or a childhood photo, or an emerging personal philosophy... you just never know, (because, at this point, neither do I).

I've also enabled comments, so please feel free to say 'hello', drop a note, or ask a question and I'll do my best to say 'hi' back, answer asked questions or ignore said comments, depending.

And, for the record, my wife does understand, (why I stare out of the window, that is). God bless her.