Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Summer Movie Awards, Pt. 2

Monday, July 29th, 2013


(Beware spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie)

Best Imitation of The Exorcist on Red Bull

Once you’ve seen The Exorcist, no movie featuring an exorcism will ever be that original again. The last half hour of this film about a family moving into a ghost house and demon spirits eventually possessing one of the family members tries to take the wacky shit that happens when the priest is reading the bible to a crackhead demon spirit on meth level. Frankly, someone waving a bible and railing gospel quotes at me would probably trigger the same effect. I feel your pain. But I have to give the director credit for trying to amp down the gore and creep an audience out for most of the movie with simple sounds and movements, such as creaking doors, rustling sheets, clapping hands and jiggling closets. When you find out that the director was responsible for that pinnacle of torture porn, Saw, you just have to give him some props, even if they aren’t the ones that slice your own limbs from your body. Someone no doubt exorcised a few of his demons.

Best Donation to Celebrities’ Private Party

This Is the End, if you like guy humor, can be pretty damn funny. But at some point during this movie about a group of celebrity friends (Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel) playing themselves hanging out with each other as the rapture and the apocalypse sucks up and destroys everything around them… you realize you just paid for them to hang out, drink, smoke dope and party together at your expense. This realization is only slightly dampened by the fact they portray themselves as self-entitled, narcissistic, clueless douchebags, which may or may not be true (but if that’s where they’re getting their improvisation humor from, it probably must have more than a kernel of truth) who are only left behind from the rapture because they are so uselessly sinful and unworthy. Still, they manage to deliver some of the best laughs of the summer, so maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad about donating at the door to their beer, bong and munchies run.

Best Donation to Celebrities’ Retirement Fund

Red 2 might work as a scenic stock shot travelogue of Moscow, Paris, London, and a promotional tool for wasting ammo as much expensive ammo as possible, but you won’t find any real thrills or suspense here other than wondering just how long these aging actors can keep going to the well and collecting a paycheck for the gimmick of seeing over-the-bankable actors play action heroes. Sure, it was a kick watching first class thespians such as Helen Mirren play a cold-blooded, two-handed hit woman, or John Malkovich look as dopey as possible in nerd hats, but at the end of the day and the machine gun clip, this barely qualifies as a pre-diabetic sugar rush. Anthony Hopkins has gone from such academy award-nominated performances as in The Remains of the Day, to the Remainders Bin, which is no doubt where this DVD will end up one week after release.

Best Movie of the Summer

The Way, Way Back is like a cool, friendly hug in a summer of movies trying to heat up theatres with mountains of money spent on CGI, noise, and meaningless action to bully you into submission. Great characters. Real emotions. Original dialogue. Heart in the right place. What the hell?! is this doing playing during the summer? (Other than the fact it’s about a pivotal summer vacation in the life of a 14 year-old kid trying survive his mother’s new boyfriend). Steve Carrel gives great asshole as the boyfriend. Toni Collete acts more with less than anyone with ten times as much dialogue. Alison Janey as the booze-injected gossipy neighbor in the beach resort town nearly steals the movie. But Sam Rockwell as the world wise water park employee the hero gets all his life lessons from is simply awesome, as usual. Even my 16 year-old son said he wished this movie, like summer itself, would never end.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Summer Movie Awards, Pt. 1

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013


(Beware spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie)

Most Boring and Never-Ending Finale

Man of Steel’s hour-long meaningless battle between indestructible Superman and indestructible General Zod, as they demolish an entire city. Whoever coined the term ‘demolition porn,’ got it right. CGI has ‘rendered’ the audience’s investment in onscreen destruction a big ‘meh.’ It might as well be a cartoon at this point, for all we care if we’re not invested in the story or characters. And Superman does something he’s never done in 70+ years before – he kills. He snaps Zod’s neck (you’d think throwing him through seven skyscrapers would have done the same trick) to protect a family from being fried by Zod’s laser beam eyes. Nevermind the countless thousands of people who must have died while they were knocking down skyscrapers pummeling each other forever and ever throughout the city. Yawn.

Best Impersonation of a Transformers Movie

Pacific Rim has a stylistic production look, sense of humor, and a nostalgic tradition going back to Godzilla movies and anime cartoons, but it’s still just two hours-plus of oversized CGI robots battling oversized CGI monsters. As I sit going deaf watching more loud and meaningless demolition, my mind drifts to trivial thoughts like, “I’m glad Idris Elba from The Wire is finally getting a big paycheck;” or “How do those little helicopters carry 700-ft robots out to sea on those itty bitty wires?” and, “I really miss the guys in the rubber monster suits stomping around on one of those awesome model cities. You knew something was at stake, then… hundreds of hours of painstaking work by a master model-maker.” Kinda cool sci-fi movie, though.

Best Third Act Rescue

No, it wasn’t a character within a film; it was the re-shot third act of World War Z itself. Apparently the first version of this world wide apocalyptic zombie romp tried to go even bigger than the first two acts and, in doing so, probably played like that third act of Man of Steel and bored test audiences into a near zombie catatonic state. So they brought in a writer from the TV series Lost, and scaled the last act down to Brad Pitt alone in a haunted house – er, I mean a World Health Organization lab – trying to retrieve a possible vaccine amid loitering, teeth-clacking zombies. I hope more films get the message that less can be more when you reduce finales back to human scale, where one person surviving or succeeding just resonates louder than countless CGI humans, buildings or worlds blowing up.

Worst First Two Acts

Despicable Me 2. Is it a James Bond spoof, a dating movie, a Gremlins rip-off, or a little princesses movie? No, it’s just a total mess of three-second visual gags in search of a comprehensible story. Fortunately, most of the 5 year-old girls at the matinee I went to didn’t care and were there to just laugh at the minions. Next time, just skip the plot, characters or story and give us two hours of minions or Scrit. Oh… that’s what they’re actually going to do: The Minions Movie is coming next summer.

Best Expensive Version of 24

White House Down is a $200 million dollar version of the TV series 24, but at least with a sense of humor and minimal torture. Channing Tatum’s character saving the president, his daughter (but not from a cougar) and the world makes Jack Bauer look like a pussy. The director previously destroyed the White House in Independence Day, one of the founding father films of demolition porn, but with a sly wink to the audience, he teases you to the brink here, but ultimately that’s about the only building in Washington he doesn’t demolish. Jaime Fox also has a blast playing Obama as a Nicorette-chewing pacifist who gets his badass on.

Who Was That Masked Man Award

I guess we’ll never know. No one showed up at the theaters.


Okay, where are the movies for grown-ups, already? And no, anything with Adam Sandler doesn’t count.

– A. Wayne Carter

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HE is legend

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Richard Matheson

This blog wouldn’t exist without him. This writer wouldn’t exist without him. Richard Matheson was my earliest inspiration to become a writer. I devoured his fantasy and science fiction short stories in paperback collections such as Shock! (previously published in men’s pulp magazines) as a normal suburban child starving for something completely different. The first story I vividly remember called “Children of Noah” had a city dweller driver pulled over in a speed trap in a way out-of-the-way town, arrested, and confined in a metal box of a cell that kept getting increasingly hotter, until our protagonist finally realized he was being cooked by a town inhabited by the descendants of cannibals.

Smokin’ twist. I was hooked.

Then there were the infamous “Twilight Zone” episodes. Think of the most memorable ones and chances are some were episodes he wrote, including: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where William Shatner can’t convince the crew of the passenger plane he’s flying on that a monster gremlin has been peeling back the wing fuselage. Or “Third from the Sun,” where two families desperate to escape a big brother government flee in a rocket targeted for a planet called… Earth. Or “The Invaders” episode, where a mute farm woman fends off the relentless attack of tiny spacemen with ray guns until she beats them and their spaceship to pulp with an ax and we hear their final distress signal calling… Earth. These perspective-shift stories might seem predictable today, but they weren’t back in the fifties and sixties when writers such as Matheson, Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont invented them.

My first published stories were pale Xeroxes of Matheson-style stories and perspectives, appearing in magazines like Creepy and Eerie. I wasn’t alone. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King and all the pioneers of our contemporary fantasy fiction and cinema acknowledge the overwhelming influence of those early Matheson stories. Spielberg even directed a TV movie based on a Playboy magazine story by Matheson called “Duel” about a hapless driver stalked by a maniacal truck driver along barren stretches of desert highway. These were stories derived from our own deepest anxieties and experiences – dangerous truckers on highways, fear of small town speed traps –  but played for maximum suspense and unexpected pay offs.

I have the original first edition paperback of his seminal vampire novel, “I Am Legend.” It seems everyone’s tried to make a film out of it, from the laughably race-charged version, “The Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston, to the over-the-top CGI version with Will Smith. The truest version is 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price. It maintains the ultimate creepy quality of the book, where the plague vampires flail with planks beating against your boarded up house all night trying to get in while you hole up listening to classical music on vinyl. That version preserves Matheson’s own devout appreciation and love of a composer’s music (he was a huge fan of Richard Wagner) as something still worth living for in an apocalyptic world.

I never met Matheson. I met his contemporaries, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, at book signings at the Change of Hobbit bookstore in Santa Monica. I went to Alfred Hitchcock’s funeral (I first read some of Matheson’s stories in collections published under Hitchcock’s name). I arrived in L.A. too late to meet Rod Serling or attend one of his writing classes before he died. But I haunted the bookstores and studios that housed original copies of Matheson’s books, or that filmed versions such as, “Somewhere in Time,” “What Dreams May Come,” “A Stir of Echoes,” “Hell House,” or “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

I lived in the same city and plied at the same trade as my unmet writer hero and mentor. I strived to write stories with relate-able characters and good twists and I tried to have them turned into movies. I continually improved at my craft, but never attained his prolific output of published or produced work, or his notoriety. And I’m fine with all that. He IS legend. I remain fan.

A. Wayne Carter
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The Dark Night never ends

Monday, June 10th, 2013

America has been in a dark mood for a long time now and, frankly, I’m ready for some light at the end of the credits.

The history of America’s mood can be measured by Batman. He began in the comics just before World War II as a capitalist billionaire patriot crimefighter sworn to uphold justice in Gotham City against insane megalomaniac villains. This no doubt helped comfort young readers facing a world potentially overrun by Hitler. Just shine a beacon in the sky if you need his help, Batman promised. By the 1960’s, no one could take such one-dimensional altruism seriously and he was played for a joke by pudgy Adam West in bright Technicolor on national television. Crash! Boom! Pow! He was later reclaimed in the 80’s as a brooding, nihilistic vigilante in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, and that’s the vision our present culture chose to embrace in a trilogy culminating with The Dark Knight Rises last year.

But this dark virus hasn’t just infected Batman; it’s everywhere. The latest Star Trek feature is also subtitled; Into Darkness. Talk about a 180-degree attitude adjustment. It uses the loveable, benign, peace seeking, optimistic characters created by Gene Roddenberry from the original series in the mid-1960s, but recast under the pall of domestic terrorism overshadowing their every move or instinct. Dammit, Jim, we’re supposed to be do-gooders, not a downer!

Turn on your television and you’d think the world were more populated by mindless zombies, hedonistic vampires and serial killers than anything resembling your ordinary family, friends, or neighbors. Psycho serial killers Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector now have their own prime time network TV series. What’s next, The Charlie Manson Family Hour?

Don’t get attached to any characters on Game of Thrones because, as George R. R. Martin constantly reminds us; noble acts are futile, justice is blind, and everyone dies randomly without purpose or redemption (but we’ll cut him more slack than his characters get until we get to the final body count by Book Six).

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan tells us the character arc that inspired his series was taking a mild-mannered teacher like Mr. Chips and turning him into a violent and maniacal Scarface. Congratulations, Vince, you did a brilliant job and certainly hooked me. But now that you’ve lead us into that dark abyss of Walter White’s mind, how about reminding us there’s also a way out? Rumor has it he wants to do a spin-off on the slimy, moral-free, self-serving lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here’s an idea for a twist: How about going the opposite direction with that show and taking this unredeemable ambulance chaser and transforming him into a respectable Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court by the end of his character arc? Couldn’t we believe that twist is possible?

I’m not suggesting our culture need return to the carefree optimism of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Happy Days, or even the truth, justice and American way of Superman. Shit, even George Reeves, the original TV Superman, blew his own brains out for some dark-shrouded reason. But, Jesus, can’t we have a little bit of sunlight as a cultural trend for a while; heroes who aren’t mentally tortured more by their own self-doubts than by this week’s villain?  (Don’t even get me started on the new brooding, bloated take on Superman in Man of Steel.)

Yes, we get it; life is complex, we all have self-doubts, threats abound. But do we have to wallow in this dark, brooding cloud as the only self-reflecting form of entertainment that prevails… and goes on… and on?

When Batman became silly in the 1960s, the world was anything but. Our president had been assassinated, bodies of our young men were coming back from Vietnam by the scores daily, and Russia had more than 4,500 ICBMs with nuclear warheads aimed down our throats with both our countries only a hair trigger away from mutual annihilation. And yet we still had the ability to not take everything so damn seriously, and laugh at ourselves and our heroes.

The people who create our movies, television shows, and literature enjoy the rarified privilege of making big money doing something fun that they love. So why are they so fucking pessimistic? Shouldn’t their output somehow reflect their good fortune rather than projecting some deep, often misperceived, collective funk?

Are they afraid if they actually show us the light at the end of the tunnel it might inspire or illuminate the way for us to create our own entertainment that replaces the dark brew they keep trying to spoon feed us?

It’s been said before, and much more eloquently, but maybe we should approach what we consume with our eyes and ears the same way we take care to watch what we eat. Feed on pessimism and darkness and you eventually create a self-fulfilling prophecy of how you look at life and what you can expect. Most healthy stuff grows under the sun’s light. Mushrooms are the only thing I can think of that grow in shit and darkness.

It’s time to Lighten our diet.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Robert Duvall, I’m so sorry

Monday, April 8th, 2013

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

Dear Robert,

Think back to late summer 1971 and you are hanging out in Pompano Beach, Florida spending time with your ailing father (or, at least, that was your story). My family is vacationing at the Lighthouse Cove Resort in Pompano, and I just joined them from spending three months as a foreign exchange student in Peru prior to my senior year in high school.

My mother, Gwen, is about 44 at this time, but still quite good looking. She was the lead baton-twirling majorette at her high school back in Iowa. Apparently, you struck up a conversation one late afternoon with her while in the restaurant at the resort, which also has a bar. You told her about your father and why you were hanging out there, and some of the stories about your acting career. This was probably close to the time you had just been cast to play the part of the consigliore, Tom Hagen, in Francis Ford Coppolas’ classic “The Godfather.”

My mother, besides her beauty, always had the uncanny ability to attract conversations from almost anyone anywhere. She was an open, bright spirit, with major(ette) social skills and an Iowa politeness and innocence. She could even summon great conversations from the usually non talkative. She somehow summoned a lot of conversation from you about your life, your father, and your acting, and later mentioned it to her son (“He’s an actor, Wayne, maybe he can help you with your scriptwriting.” “I doubt it, mom,” the obstinate teenager replied). She wasn’t quite sure who you were, even though we had no doubt seen you in countless television shows from the 60’s such as “The Outer Limits,” “Route 66,” “The Virginian,” and many more. But you weren’t a ‘movie star’ yet.

Cut to nearly 20 years later. I’m living in L.A. working as a screenwriter and my mom and dad, who have been married nearly 40 years at this point, come to visit. I want to take them to all the hip places. Dudley Moore and Tony Bill had recently opened a restaurant down the street from where I lived in Venice called “72 Market Street,” and all their movie star friends liked to hang out there, so I took my parents there to eat.

No sooner have we sat down, when my mom looks over to another table nearby and spots you. She gets very excited. She remembers the conversation you had all those years ago with her in Pompano Beach, but now you are a big movie star. I tell her she should go over and say hello. But my mom is way too shy. My dad is usually even shyer, but at some point he says he’ll go over and say something.

My dad steps over to your table, stands just behind and above you, and, very nervously and tensely starts to say, “You met my wife at a bar in Pompano Beach several years ago …”

And, at this point, it all suddenly dawns on me and I think, “Oh, shit.” Of course. You were an actor hanging out in a local hotel restaurant bar where tourists stay in a town while no doubt being bored in between visits with your father (if that story was true) and you were trying to pick up my mother. God, it was suddenly oh, so obvious.

And here was this six foot-tall stranger stepping up behind you towering over your seat and very tensely saying, “You met my wife in a bar several years ago ….” And I believe I saw your face turn a whiter shade of pale.

Was this guy about to clock you for having an affair with his wife? How could you have had a clue or known otherwise? That must have been one tense moment. I could see it in your expression and in the way you tensed up.

But then my father continued, adding something like, “… and I just wanted to thank you for having such a nice conversation with her that helped make her vacation so much more memorable.”


I guess at this point you were wondering just what the hell happened, but you’re being thanked by a strange man for having a ‘conversation’ with his wife. Still, you looked visibly relieved. You smiled politely. Looked over to where my mom and I were sitting and nodded politely, and that was it. You weren’t about to die.

But if that moment cost you a few more strands of hair, or a near stroke, or some possible indigestion, I apologize. It was all very innocent.

Unless of course you really WERE trying to pick up my mother that afternoon in Florida; in which case, the apology’s off.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Ray Bradbury, I’m so sorry

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

(We lost Ray Bradbury last year, but his legacy is immortal.)

Dear Ray,

Okay, this is really embarrassing. You are the legendary science fiction author of Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesDandelion WineSomething Wicked this Way Comes, and hundreds of classic short stories such as The Illustrated ManI Sing the Body ElectricThe Fog HornThe Veldt. I read them all as a kid. I watched them adapted into episodes of my favorite television shows, on The Twilight ZoneAlfred Hitchcock Presents and Suspense. They were a key inspiration for me to write short stories in my youth and to pursue a career as a writer.

Your brand of science fiction was different than many of the technological or hardware-oriented genre writers of the day. Your stories were humanistic. You were less concerned with some new gadget or where a planet was located in the galaxy, and more interested in what effect that invention or discovery had on humans and their relations to one another. It was science fiction with soul. And it moved and inspired me. You were an idol.

And I diss-ed you to your face.

Oh, it wasn’t deliberate, or premeditated, or by any means intentional. I didn’t even realize it was supremely disrespectful at the time, heck, I was in my twenties, but I do now. And that’s why I’m writing this note to say I’m sorry.

Cut to 1983 and I’ve already had a little success as a screenwriter in Hollywood. I wrote a couple comedy feature scripts for National Lampoon that were going to be produced by Universal Pictures, but never quite made it to the screen. You first tried your hand at screenwriting as early as 1956, when you were hired to adapt Moby Dick for the screen, starring Gregory Peck. I was following the same path.

I had a meeting with an independent producer to possibly adapt a science fiction novel called Space Vampires by Colin Wilson for a feature. These weren’t your usual bloodsucking vampires, but vampires from another planet that sucked the very life force or energy out of your body until you were a withered piece of crust. I liked the story and the inherent metaphor of ‘energy vampires’ who drain you (we all know one or two), and was very excited about working with the director, Tobe Hooper, who shocked audiences with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But Cannon Films, which was going to oversee, market and produce the picture had another project they wanted me to interview for instead that they were also excited about. This was going to be a 3-D extravaganza called Escape From Beyond about a bounty hunter in space. There were already a director and producer attached who just had success with their previous ‘revolutionary’ new 3-D picture, Comin’ At Ya! This would be their big science fiction follow up, and they were interviewing well-known veteran science fiction writers for the gig and some up-and-coming hot screenwriters. I was one of the up-and-coming hot screenwriters who interviewed for the gig. And you were one of the veteran science fiction writers.

But I got the job.

Now, of course, I understand the decision made was not entirely based on merit, or just because I might have a younger or hipper approach to the material. The deal with me was undoubtedly finalized because the budget of the film had been targeted at about $2 million total, and my negotiated fee was about $17,000 and your agent was probably asking somewhere around $100,000 minimum. Your fee was definitely a factor, if not the factor.

I didn’t know that you were up for the same film until after my deal was in place. They didn’t even want to pay me as much as they did, but I was already a Writer’s Guild member and my agent and I insisted as part of the deal that they become signators of the Writer’s Guild (make a formal agreement to abide by union rules and minimums for professional screenwriters) and pay me the union minimum for a writer on a feature motion picture. I had some clout as the hot newcomer. I was always very proud of the fact a company that had previously underpaid and probably abused screenwriters for scores of projects finally went legit with my deal. Of course, $17,000 is still a LOT less than $100,000, but that didn’t make me any less proud. I had successfully ‘scored’ a screenwriting gig over a childhood hero.

Now, if it makes you feel any better about losing this particular gig, you will be pleased to note I was seriously abused for this victory. The fact they became WGA signators and had to abide by union fees, didn’t mean they couldn’t take their pound of flesh out of me in other ways. I eventually wrote about seven full drafts of the screenplay, working with an Italian director who spoke little English, and a temperamental actor-producer. The film went from a space bounty hunter picture to a medieval Spain chariot picture to-, well, at one meeting with the president of the film company, he said to me in the most serious and dramatic Israeli dialect and tone possible, “Vee got Charles Bronson.” Yes, could I somehow turn this original science fiction epic into … Death Wish IV?

Escape From Beyond poster in Reporter

The Charlie Bronson part of the deal never came through. His fee would have chewed up about $1.5 million of the $2 million budget (minus the $17,000). And by the time they had hired the chariot stunt crews and started building the sets in Mexico to film the medieval Spain version, the budget started to look more like $10 million and they pulled the project as being too costly. But not before they had pre-sold the film at the Cannes Film Festival using posters and art with my name as screenwriter, along with two other ‘producers’ who had nothing to do with the script. More abuse.

The money they didn’t have to spend on Escape From Beyond probably went to the budget overages for Space Vampires, which had gone before the camera earlier. This film was eventually released as Lifeforce; a film most horny science fiction fans will remember as the movie starring this unbelievably voluptuous naked chick walking around sucking the life energy out of every man within kissing distance. (She was Israeli, didn’t speak a lick of English, and was the company president’s girlfriend at the time, I’m told).

This brings me to the moment where I unfortunately diss-ed you.

You were making an appearance at a local science fiction bookstore, A Change of Hobbit, to sign copies of your books along with another of my writer heroes, horror scribe Robert Bloch (Psycho).

I waited patiently in line with paperback copies of your Golden Apples of the Sun and Bloch’s Stuff that Screams Are Made OfAnd when I got to the front, I shook your hand, effusively talked about how you had been my childhood inspiration; how I was now successfully making it as a writer in Hollywood; and how I had even got a job you were up for.

You betrayed no distress at my hideous lapse of manners, and graciously signed the book, but the conversation quickly and awkwardly ended. I grinned excitedly at finally meeting you, and under these unique circumstances, and walked away on air.

And later felt like a total douche bag.

My only excuse is that, I was just so excited about finally getting somewhere trying to walk your very same path, I didn’t realize when I was stepping on your toes (or heels). It was the move of an ego-pumped amateur. An upstart. And I’m sorry.

Karma caught up with me on the nightmare that was the rest of that project, and I have no doubt that neither you nor your agent would have put up with the blood I was made to spill on those seven different drafts (when the WGA supposedly only allows one revision per fee).

And I never made it much further up the path you blazed in terms of fame, fortune, or movies produced or adapted from your own stories or novels.

But for that brief moment, I felt like I could look a childhood hero in the eye from the same height and share the rarified air up there.

Thanks for not calling me a punk, and kicking my ass off that cloud.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Handicapping Oscar

Saturday, January 19th, 2013


POST SHOW UPDATE: My final score; 7-5. No contest-winning tally, this time. I was 6-0 until the screenwriting categories, but tanked big there (in my own field). Once “Argo” won best screenplay over “Lincoln,” the ‘writing’ was on the wall  that the Academy preferred a movie where Hollywood saves the day instead of a long dead President.

*** (Here’s the original piece, posted before the “Argo” surge)

I always get a bit annoyed around this time of year at the obsessive, non-stop coverage of the Oscar race by the entertainment news magazines and TV shows. But, I suppose if you can’t beat ‘em…

So what are my qualifications to make predictions?

1)     I’ve been on the red carpet. Sure, I was just place-holding a prime spot for a cameraman buddy on the crew of Entertainment Tonight, but I’ve been to the big parade.  I’ve also had opportunities to attend the ceremonies, but I made a silly vow I would never go inside except as a screenwriting nominee. I realize that vow sounds presumptuous and far-fetched, but two of my screenplays had Academy Award-winning directors attached at times, and I’ve also adapted best-selling books for studios. It was a goal, but one that’s no longer on the radar. Still, the screenwriter who won for “The King’s Speech” a couple years ago was 73. There’s still time.

2)     I was hired to write two screenplays with Bruce Vilanch, who’s been the main backstage go-to joke writer for Oscar hosts for the past few decades. He also has the first-hand, inside gossip on every major star in Hollywood and what extremes they’ll go to compete or get ahead. My second-hand knowledge of that gossip is now pretty stale, but the basic types ultimately never change; just the names and the hairstyles and how much they pay their publicists and lawyers.

3)     A few years ago I correctly predicted 20 out of the top 20 categories in an online contest for an Internet start-up company and won $25,000 (and paid off my PMI insurance and saved 10 years of mortgage payments). I’d like to thank the Academy… for being so predictable.

4)     I used performance-enhancing drugs for 10 years and ruthlessly bullied, sued, and intimidated any competition that got in my way. Oh, wait, that wasn’t me; that was Lance Armstrong.

Without further delay…

The Golden Globes surprised everyone and gave Best Drama to “Argo,” but that organization consists of 90 drunken Frenchmen and Italians whose bladders would never have made it through “Lincoln” or “Zero Dark Thirty.” They love a good popcorn ride and big stars who will actually schmooze with them. Academy voters take themselves MUCH more seriously. And the closest thing to an overly-serious holocaust picture this year is “Lincoln” (a president who ended America’s own particular brand of holocaust). Besides, they have to make up for the king of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, being completely snubbed by those weak-bladdered foreigners.

BEST ACTOR – Daniel Day-Lewis
Nothing risky about this prediction, but remember that, when it comes to best actor, it’s always the ROLE that determines the winner, not the actual performance. The best role wins. Now many of the roles that win actually DO seem to feature some mentally or physically-challenged character, real or historical. Bradley Cooper plays a bi-polar character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” but don’t forget Lincoln was also famously manic-depressive. John Hawkes should have been nominated for his horizontal (with one part vertical) performance as a quadriplegic trying to end his virginity in “The Sessions,” but I guess voters were too distracted by Helen Hunt getting naked. Day-Lewis previously won as a victim of cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot” (top photo).  He’s a method actor who reportedly remained in a wheelchair on and off the set throughout the production. During the filming of “Lincoln,” he reportedly lived at the White House, but was frequently puzzled at the sight of an emancipated slave with big ears and a wide grin wandering around like he owned the place.

BEST ACTRESS – Jessica Chastain
It was a smart move to tie all the disparate pieces of “Zero Dark Thirty” – which often feel more like a never-ending documentary – together with the composite character of a woman CIA analyst who can also express the emotional ups and downs of the decade-long process to track down Bin Laden. Chastain is the go-to actress in Hollywood right now, who drew big attention in “The Help” and now gets to collect after her more obscure 10 years in the trenches. Second-runner up Jennifer Lawrence is the younger go-to actress in Hollywood, who will get her own Oscar soon enough. It seems best actors have to visibly suffer on screen, while best actresses just have to keep doing good work and stick around long enough.

I dreamed a dream she won. There have been many instances where best-supporting actresses have won for their performances in a single scene within a movie. Hathaway will join them for shedding her hair, her tears and her vanity while also baring her character’s tortured soul as Fantine in “Les Miserables.”

Tommy Lee Jones may have scowled his way out of contention for this category after his performance during the Golden Globes ceremony. There was nothing likeable about any of the characters, including Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master.” Alan Arkin was great comic relief in “Argo,” but that’s not enough. Critics loved to see Robert De Niro finally make an effort to act again in “Silver Linings Playbook.” But Christopher… Waltzed away with the picture in “Django Unchained.” It would have been relentlessly brutal and insufferable without him.

BEST DIRECTOR – Steven Spielberg
The Academy may decide it was enough to appease Spielberg by giving “Lincoln” Best Picture. In that case, I think David O. Russell sneaks in for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which he would deserve, if you consider that every actor in every category within that film was also nominated. Performances like these don’t spring up spontaneously. Which do you think is  harder; getting an Academy-Award winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, or one from Bradley Cooper? Still, the safe bet has to be Spielberg for his grand, decade-long passion project. And I’d give the award to him just for the considerable restraint he demonstrated by not using his patented, emotionally-manipulative push-in shot to the close-up look of awe he has used in almost every film in his career.

DOCUMENTARY – “Searching for Sugarman”
Stop searching and FIND this movie on blu-ray or Netflix now and enjoy. It might be the best musical comeback story you will ever experience. Here’s a movie that makes you feel great about what can happen in America, even though it took South Africa to get it started.

All you need is love, even if you’re 80 years old, French, and completely outside the ticket-buying demographic Hollywood exclusively panders to. Maybe this will start a revolution in films that will bring grown-ups and aging Boomers back to the theaters. One can only dream. Oui oui.

Not so much on this pick.

This is a very tough category because I don’t know if anything actually real was every filmed in ANY of these pictures besides the actors. So I’m saying this movie will win in the new category, Best CGI Cinematography.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Mark Boal “Zero Dark Thirty”
This will be somewhat of a consolation prize for ZDT losing in all the other categories, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. But the Academy could pull a Golden Globes safe move and go for “Argo” because of all the controversy over whether the black site scenes validate the use of torture. That would be a stupid reason, because those scenes do no such thing. They just show, factually, that torture was used. And getting citizens to argue over whether that’s something America ever wants to ever have a reputation for again is certainly worth a gold statue of a naked man minus his genitalia.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Tony Kushner “Lincoln
Kushner had to somehow build an inspiring movie out of a President trying to gather enough votes to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING from an obstructionist, bigoted and obstinate Congress. Now THAT’S how you make a 160 year-old story relevant.

So, how’d I do? I guess we’ll find out whenever the awards are because I haven’t followed any information beyond the nominees. If you want to take these picks to Vegas, be my guest, but betting hard money is a lot different than just making picks to win a contest. The only sure bet is that we’ll forget who most of the winners were by the time next year’s nominees come along.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Predictions for 2013

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012


Happy New Year!

Aren’t you  glad that last one is over? I know I am.

I’m also relieved to report that, despite some interpretations of the ending of the 5,000 year cycle Mayan calendar, the world did not come to an end on December 21, 2012.

However, it’s a fact the Mayan calendar NEVER actually predicted the end of civilization; it only predicted the coming of Honey Boo Boo.

Of course, most scholars say that’s the same thing.

But in the spirit of wildly speculative predictions attributed to the Mayan calendar, I hereby present MY wildly speculative predictions for 2013:


… Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones will join the cast of “The Walking Dead” next season… playing himself.

…It’s possible the universe WILL implode when matter and anti-matter collide in the form of Mariah Carey and Nikki Minaj working together on American Idol.

…The Supreme Court will legalize gay marriage AND marijuana, but everyone will be too stoned to remember what sex they are.

… Redskins 5,000; Patriots 50. Wait a minute, sorry about the mix up, but that’s not a prediction for the Super Bowl… that was the final score of Custer’s Last Stand.

…Dedicated doctors and research scientists will finally find a cure once and for all… for Gangnam Style.

… The world WILL come to a cruel end for teenage girls everywhere when Taylor Swift DOES NOT break up with her latest bad boy boyfriend, Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, Jr., and fails to release a new album of chirpy revenge songs.
…In a major Oscar Ballot screw-up , Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” will lose Best Picture at the Academy Awards to “Lincoln the Vampire Slayer” at the Oscars. Way to swing an ax, Abe.

… The world will be miraculously spared any more sequels to “Twilight.”

The first new gun control law will be a test for mental illness to prevent you from owning a gun. If you are a civilian and want to own an assault weapon… you are mentally ill.

And, finally.

… Zombies will invade Washington,D.C.seeking to eat the brains of our Congressmen… and will promptly starve and die. Again.

— A. Wayne Carter

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The Golden Aged of Marvel

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

The Avengers
movie opened this past weekend to buffo box office numbers more than 49 years after the original comic book appeared in 1963.

I had that comic book. In fact, I collected almost every comic book from that period from the early-to-mid sixties: Spider-man 1-50, Fantastic Four 1-100, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Dr. Strange, X-Men 1-30. These were the original versions of these superhero comics that, if I had them and sold them today, could easily put my son through a Harvard education. X-Men number 1 alone is valued at almost  $100,000 in mint condition.

My mother used to pick me up after school and take me for an allergy shot every Tuesday, and my reward was a stop at the local Drug Fair to pick up all the latest issues of every Marvel comics at 10 or 12 cents a piece. I spent about a $1.20 for 10 at a time. I had a few subscriptions to Fantastic Four and others, where the comic would arrive FOLDED in a brown paper slip cover. I’m sure collectors today would shudder in horror at the thought. I remember quickly pressing them straight as soon as I got them because I wanted to preserve them as perfectly as possible, too.

I kept my comics in excellent condition, but I read them multiple times first. We didn’t have plastic comic bags back in those days, and we would have never thought of buying two copies of an issue to save one without opening it just for possible resale. But that’s why the comics from the 60s are worth thousands of dollars in their mint or near mint condition, and why the comics that came later in the 70s or 80s, when EVERYONE was collecting and preserving, are practically worthless. Rarity of a comic in great condition is what makes it valuable. Try finding a mint condition of an E.C. horror or science fiction comic from the even earlier 50s.

My comic collection, which ended up around 1,200 strong, earned value to the point where when I sold most of it when I went to college ten years later, it easily paid for a pair of 80 lb.ESS speakers with 15-inch woofers that I paid more than $300 for, and which I still use to this day. I like to say that I am still listening to my Marvel comic collection. But there are times I cringe a bit thinking just how much that total collection would be worth today. I thought I made a good deal when I got as much as $40 for individual titles in my collection. If you think about it, that’s still a 3200 percent profit markup from the price I paid for one. I can be satisfied with that.

What truly makes me sad, though, is that, at the time my life was devoted to reading and collecting Marvel comics, there were no such things as Marvel Superhero movies. We had a few lame attempts to create them in cartoons or on television, such as the Lou Ferrigno Hulk series in the 70s, but how could you film what would have been enormously expensive battle sequences and special effects back when Superman still had to fly by planking himself on a stationary post while a rear screen projection simulated the effect of clouds in the sky passing by? I suppose it’s better that we didn’t have a collection of the movies made back then and were stuck with our vivid imaginations instead.

The original Avengers line up was Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man and Wasp Woman. The new version drops the two pipsqueak people and replaces them with Hawkeye and Black Widow or whatever her name is. Those two characters were never around in the original 60s line up. But I guess it’s hard to cast a big star masculine actor in today’s market to play … Ant Man; especially when people realize all his parts would have to be proportional.

I’ll go to the Avengers movie, but probably not to fight the crowds on opening weekend. And I’ll remember sitting in my basement room of the house in Maryland I grew up in savoring the latest stash of Marvel comics from the Drug Fair that easily transported me away from the lingering sting of an allergy shot.

And then I’ll crank my ESS speakers up really loud.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Faking your action doesn’t excite me anymore

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

I can’t get worked up over CGI action. It just doesn’t do it for me. When there’s nothing resembling a human involved, no basis of recognizable physics, and no real damage at stake – it’s just pixels on a screen – why should I care?

Case in point:

This past weekend I saw John Carter in 3D on a huge Imax screen clocking in at more than two hours of mammoth battles of green, four-armed Tharks, flying ships broad siding in mid-air, and tattooed Heliumite humanoids locked in spectacular conflict for rule over the planet Mars.

A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Yawn.

Why is it that I was thrilled about this stuff when I read it in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars more than 40 years ago, but watching it on the big screen didn’t even get my pulse going? No matter how much I tried to summon that inner 10-year old spirit of awe and wonder, the only thing my outer year-old was wondering was how much longer this would go on.

Is it just me? Am I incapable of being excited by action on the screen anymore?

Not at all.

The very next day I saw Act of Valor with my 15 year-old son about an elite Navy Seal team engaged in firefights and rescue missions across the globe and I felt real tension, an accelerated heartbeat, and action that gripped me.

What happened?

For starters, there were actual human beings involved: My species.

Well, to be honest, the cast were an actual Navy Seal team of emotionless, hyper-trained athletes, so it’s a stretch to include me in the same ‘species,’ but we still share a considerable portion of similar DNA. I’m closer to them than a guppy.

They were also involved in action I could reasonably believe in, knowing the world we live in today. The guns were real. I read somewhere even the ammo was real. And though I assume the blood-splattering injuries weren’t – the depictions of what high velocity automatic weapon fire can do to a human – which is mess you up big time – was realistic. There were real and plausible consequences to the action, even if the story was entirely fictionalized.

There is nothing plausible to me about CGI action anymore.

I’ve seen a real train wreck on the news and in historical films. I studied train wrecks for a screenplay I was heavily researching. The train wreck in Super 8 had nothing remotely to do with physics or reality. It might has well have been featured in a Road Runner cartoon.

The train wreck in The Fugitive used a real train, and cost more than $1 million. It may not have flown three hundred feet in the air when it crashed off the rails, but that sound you heard, and the thud you felt and the images you saw were reality-based. Maybe they jacked up the sound, sped up the image, utilized multiple cuts to draw out the action, but it all came from a real stunt.

And now, for many films, they’ve gone and replaced the most sacred action sequence of all with fake action; the car chase. Inexcusable. Why should I ever care about a car chase without real drivers or real cars that defies all physics and where nothing real is at stake? If I wanted that I can  play Grand Prix 5 on Xbox.

Stunt drivers trained for years and risked their lives to create fantastic chase sequences in films such as The French Connection, Bullit, Ronin, and The Italian Job (1969 version). The screech of the tires, the flying hubcaps, the ripping metal, the danger to the driver – was all very real and palpable to the audience. You felt it through the screen.

I completely understand a studio trying to cut costs and yet still deliver a thrill ride to customers by substituting computer-generated images for real stunts.

And it works for me sometimes when the movie has wizards in a stylized universe with extra powers, such as Harry Potter.

But when you are using CGI for action that involves everyday things and dynamics we are familiar with such as humans, cars, and guns, there’s just no substitute for real stunts.

What does it say when the only place you see a real stunt anymore is on a lame reality show like Fear Factor?

We used to see films about oversized monsters like Godzilla chewing up the scenery, and our inner or outer 10-year old was thrilled. We weren’t that savvy about Hollywood techniques and could be dazzled by primitive special effects. When they weren’t just created on a keyboard, there was something innovative and truly ‘special’ about them.

Today’s movies have a different green monster swallowing up all natural reactions from an actor and chewing the scenery up with fake images: It’s called a green screen.

(P.S. – I realize it’s a silly complaint – all movie action is essentially phony, but you know what I mean. If it can be done by real people as real stunts, let’s keep some of them employed, too.)

— A. Wayne Carter

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