The Cialis Matchmaker Game

October 21st, 2013

Your first clue that the aging couples in the Cialis commercials aren’t remotely married is how lovingly they look each other in the eye as they cuddle and graciously share their wonderfully active lifestyle.

If ever a married man watching television was made to feel like he doesn’t… measure up, these Hallmark cards of women adoringly snuggling up to their hubbies effectively gets the message across. You want your woman to lovingly adore you again, then you better get it up and keep it up.

But the twist on the game in real life is that may be what the husband wants at that age (and, after all, he’s buying the product), but probably not the wife. The wife wants the snuggling. The man wants to go all night again like he did at 20.

And no, I’m not divulging any personal secrets or issues; I just happen to find these commercials comically amusing as they are endlessly rammed down our gullets during the nightly news like a stiff… shot of non-reality.

The thing I find most amusing is thinking about the casting and the shooting. I’ve scripted and produced dozens of corporate videos and commercials of happy couples checking in at hotels, eating at restaurants, children bouncing on the hotel beds, etc. I know the drill. And for some reason, you never cast the actual spouses together in a video or commercial, even if both are working actors. It just rarely happens.

For something as… short as a Cialis commercial, the chemistry of the actors working together doesn’t matter as much as how they look together. And it’s very rare that an aging Brad Pitt is married to an aging Angelie Jolie. More often, the actress is married to Wally Shawn or Milton Friedman the banker, broker, real estate developer or plastic surgeon (who else can afford to support her commercial career?), or the really good looking actor guy is either gay or so narcissist that the only one he can truly looking adoringly at, is himself.

So the next time you watch these commercials, appreciate that these two actors have met just prior to the shoot. They are asked to pretend to be long-time marrieds, and they somehow equate this with locking their eyes to one another in adoring gazes, peppered with delightfully light kisses. The kisses are light because you can’t really ask two people who just met before coffee at the craft services table to really go at it jamming their tongues down each other’s throats. Which, for some reason, I would find more believable an action as a real couple about to embark on a Cialis adventure. But it might creep out any Gen X-ers or Y-ers who, by some wild improbability, happen to be tuning into the nightly news instead of the Internet or YouTube.

Since these commercials have no dialogue, I also like to imagine the director behind the camera being able to yell out directions to this stage couple who have been put in the challenge of pretending to be long-marrieds fantasizing about having sex with each other very soon. How can he get the hungry look and effect he really wants?

The first thing he might yell out to the woman, who just slipped her pretend husband’s baseball cap on her own head backwards and has to smile seductively and stare back at him like she wants to gobble him up, is… “He’s NOT your real husband! Go for it!”

But the real husband is either off camera or will be seeing the commercial a hundred or more times, if he ever watches the news.

So, she never does, ‘go for it.’ That might constitute grounds for divorce.

Instead, she just continues to look adoringly at him. But you can almost feel the distance she is actually so self-consciously projecting and maintaining. It’s a look that says:

“I’ll give you another innocent little peck, stranger, but don’t you dare come near me with a Cialis-fed pecker.”

 

– A. Wayne Carter

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That ol’ black & white magic

September 12th, 2013

(Revisit this oldie but goodie – the kid’s now 20! – or check out the archive while I commit my beleaguered brain cells to finishing a thriller feature screenplay in the next few weeks. )

Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette.  And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Citizen Kane.  The Third Man.  The Maltese Falcon.  Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white.  Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.

Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho.  The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.

Especially for horror.

I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.

Just yesterday (it seems like), when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.

Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Saturday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next week to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.

So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”

I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?

I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.

He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.

That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.

It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.

I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.

And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course).  I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.

But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.

– A. Wayne Carter

Destruction of the Clay Man

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A brief rant on men’s fashion

September 5th, 2013

Okay, I’m the last guy in the world qualified to talk about fashion since I haven’t been seen out of loose-fitting, soft T-shirt, shorts and socklets with sneakers since I gave up bosses. But sometimes a trend so abominable it rankles your senses just forces you to go rouge, er, I mean, rogue.

I’ve always had a problem with men wearing suits, anyway. Did we really evolve and fight for our freedom over thousands of years to wear a colored noose around our necks? Do we really need a suit to proclaim we are a successful hunter-gatherer? Obviously some people don’t think so, and they are usually the richest and most successful in Hollywood. Take a look at Larry David, who’s worth about a half a billion dollars, and see if you ever catch him with a noose around his neck, or anything that remotely looks uncomfortable.

So what’s the trend that’s got my wrinkles rankled? It’s overly tight suits with overly short tight pants. And where are we seeing it? Such fashion mavens as Nick Cannon on America’s Got Talent, and Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time. Are they really fashion mavens? They seem to think so. And what exactly is a maven? A raven with a hair lip?

First, Nick Cannon and Bill Maher both obviously take pride in their fashion sense. You can tell that immediately by their peacock strut that screams, check out how fit I am to wear this ridiculously tight suit and pants. Suits with narrow lapels buttoned in the middle, but so tight the gap under that button exposes their narrow ties hanging out like a loose tongue gasping for air. Pants tapered down and coming up short above the shoe like they’ve been shrunk in the wash. Who is the inspiration for this fashion trend? They have to be delusional (or at least their fashion consultants) to they think they impress.

We all know the deal. At least for men’s fashions. And how what once was considered hip is soon considered laughable. Take a look at the pastel-colored suits and wide ties and lapels of the 70s. Johnny Carson’s checkered sports coats. Skip to the 80’s and look at the slick tight pants with a sheen, shiny fake leather, tight suits, big hair and narrow ties. Skip to the 90s and look at grunge. Skip to the 00’s and see very few actually following any trend, but the five-day beard stubble is big (have you ever HAD a five-day stubble? Not comfortable), as are shaved heads that have to be shaved more frequently than a woman shaves her legs. That’s just a little OCD, if you ask me.

And then realize that no matter what the fashion is, like the neon day-glow sneakers everyone wears now, sooner or later it all looks ridiculous.

Which is why I stick to non-descript loose-fitting T-shirts, jeans and whatever sneaker is the most light or comfortable. It’s true, I’m no peacock seeking to attract a mate or any other kind of attention at this late point in my plumage, but it’s also because, as a writer, the last thing we want is anything that can possibly distract us from the ridiculously deep focus task of writing. We look for any excuse not to face the blank page of oblivion, so a tight collar, scratchy underwear, overly warm sock, and any presence of finger rings or neck jewelry is just going to interfere with the process. Shit, I bet I could feel a year-old tattoo on my skin. Sensitivity is our gig and it’s also our bane. To create characters and invest them with life, we literally, or at least figuratively, have to walk in their shoes.

So when I see a Nick Cannon or a Bill Maher walking around in an overly tight suit, colored noose, and clearly uncomfortable tight shoes with scary high lifts, I feel their pain. And I wish they could feel the pain I feel for them.

Now I realize any woman reading this right now is laughing out loud at what I feebly characterize as an uncomfortable outfit for the sake of fashion. But that’s a whole other conversation. We’re talking about men here. Or at least men who for some reason want to wear tight suits and short pants that could have only been inspired by that maven of all fashion mavens; Pee Wee Herman.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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A most unusual horror film

August 26th, 2013

John Frankenheimer’s cult masterpiece “Seconds” just came out on Criterion Blu-ray and it’s even more disturbing than when it was released almost 50 years ago in 1966. Especially if you’re close to the age of the picture itself.

I remember seeing this picture on television probably around the time I was in college because the first screenplay I ever wrote for a film course was heavily influenced by it.

But first, the plot. A bored, middle-aged Wall Street banker, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), is slipped a business address on a piece of paper before boarding a commuter train at Penn Station for his Scarsdale home. His job is numbingly dull, his marriage is devoid of any passion, his daughter is gone off on her own life, and his life is… lifeless. A call from someone claiming to be a close friend from the past eggs him on to go to the address, but how does this complete stranger’s voice know so much about him?

Curiosity piqued, he goes to the address; a cleaners, where he’s shuffled into the back of a truck and taken to a meat-packing plant, and then to a secret business location. It’s revealed this company offers life do-overs or “seconds” to high-paying customers. They substitute a corpse for your ‘untimely death’ in a fire or car crash, perform complete reconstructive plastic surgery and physical conditioning, and then set you up in a completely new life direction that you may have always regretted not pursuing.

And, just to make sure you keep your mouth shut about a business that requires secrecy (and as a surefire deal closer) they drug you and shoot staged blackmail footage of you in a compromising or criminal situation.

A gruesome operation, grueling physical therapy, dyed hair, and months later you come out looking like Rock Hudson, are a successful but unknown painter, and live in a house on the beach in Malibu among the hedonistic and hard-partying California set. What’s not to like? You’ve had your ‘seconds.’

But, of course, no one changed your brain or your mind or the way you think, and you are haunted by your former life, and these new ‘friends’ seem just as phony as you are, and when you get overly drunk at a party and start blabbing information about your former life, those new ‘friends’ are not so friendly because your loose tongue is jeopardizing all of their ‘second’ chances.

And when you go AWOL back to your old town and try to see the woman you were married to for 20 years who has no way of recognizing you, but painfully reveals the depressing truths of a passionless relationship to a veritable stranger, it’s like being a witness to your own worst funeral. What happens next when Arthur decides he wants a ‘third’ chance completes the ultimate horror.

It’s a shockingly powerful and apocryphal tale that completely subverts what so many people bored with their lives think would happen if they had a second chance. The black & white photography, framing and camerawork by Oscar winner James Wong Howe are bizarrely unnerving, and the ending is as disturbing as anything you will ever see in film.

I don’t know why this film resonated so powerfully and horrifyingly to me as a kid. I think it must have been shocking for a suburban kid to see the main character who had everything we were taught in America to cherish; plenty of money, a nice family, and a beautiful home in the suburbs… be so desperately empty. And even when he gets a second chance with a new face and as a painter, he’s still stuck suddenly longing for his old life. Maybe it’s the ultimate ‘grass is always greener’ story, that is revealed as an inevitable nightmare.

The first screenplay I ever wrote (at 18) influenced by this tale was called “Pay the Devil His Do,” about a bored school teacher with disrespectful students, who makes a deal with the Devil. In a twist, the Devil is a Calvinist, who believes in predestination, so he doesn’t have to buy souls since you are either pre-destined to go to heaven or hell. But he will commission people to speed up the fate of those who are destined to go to hell. The teacher, ‘Arthur Banks,’ commits one of these deeds, and his wish is to go on live national television and give a speech that shakes the rafters and wakes everyone up and tries to stir their souls into more passionate living. It’s the typically amateurish and overly philosophical tale every first-time screenwriter tries (and as a professor of screenwriting, I read hundreds of them). The speech was almost entirely the thrust of Howard Beale’s “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” rant from Paddy Chayefsky’s classic “Network,” though not nearly as beautifully written. It was written a couple years before “Network,” though, and it was inspired by the frustrating horror of “Seconds.”

(Later, in Hollywood, I was commissioned to write a screenplay called “The Donor,” where the brain of a rich old dying guy is transplanted into the body of a young stud basketball player. That one didn’t work out so well, either.)

I guess the obvious moral to these tales is to live the one life you have with all the gusto possible and without any regrets, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. I consider myself lucky I got this heads up message early enough in my own development to boldly go for the ‘artist living and partying in California’ life soon after college. But I feel even luckier that I got that life out of my system first, and ultimately found myself happier back in the quiet comfortable suburbs with a nice family, where Arthur had begun (only he had no real perspective to appreciate it). He also didn’t have the luxury of pursuing alternative lives through the craft of writing and the characters we can create in our heads and in our stories. It’s a hell of a lot safer. And you don’t have to make a deal with the Devil to do it.

– A. Wayne Carter

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The Facebook Funk

August 19th, 2013

 

What we always suspected has now been confirmed by a university study – Facebook actually depresses people. Frankly, I was completely depressed when I saw in the news that the first thing the abducted teenage girl did when she was returned home after her mother and son were murdered by her kidnapper and he was gunned down by the FBI, was to go on Facebook to answer questions from her “Friends.” Is this how we now process grief in America, by giving a virtual press conference on matters most personal? I’d argue that nothing gets processed virtually except the shallowest aspects of one’s own ego, need for attention, or vanity.

The study, conducted through the University of Michigan by psychologist Ethan Kross not only revealed that a person’s mood fluctuated depending on their Facebook usage, but that, “the more you used Facebook, the more your mood dropped.”

Is that really any surprise when you consider this form of social media is used more like a depository of bragging rights for the computer literate suburban set, just as rap music is used for the urban street? But instead of bragging about how many bitches, bling, BMWs, size of your crib, or members in your ‘posse’… it’s children or grandchildren, career or scholastic achievements, bling, size of your crib, and members in your posse, otherwise known as “friends.” When you base your self-image or life on comparison of material possessions, number of friends, and where you career is on the food chain like it’s some kind of scorecard, it’s no wonder most people become depressed. Remember, there’s only 1 percent in the 1 percent, and even if you consider yourself lucky or privileged enough to fall into that category, there’s always someone within the 1 percent who’s going to be doing better than you are.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing leap in evolution if we measured success in terms of emotional balance, empathy, conscientiousness and selflessness? But than those qualities, too, would somehow turn into a game of one-upmanship, as well. There would be a competition to see who gave the most to a charity, or volunteered the most, or gave the most humble acceptance speech at a humanitarian award ceremony. Our Hollywood ‘royalty’ already plays this game.

But as long as we measure anything or buy into such comparisons, we put our self-image into play. Dr. Thomas Harris once authored a national bestseller, called, “I’m OK, You’re OK,” yet Facebook fosters a paradigm shift that promotes “Look at how much better I’m doing than you, but I hope you’re still okay with that and will ‘Friend me.’”

I hate to break it to people running up their ‘friends’ score, but that’s not how ‘real’ friends roll.

According to the study, Facebook users wound up feeling worse about themselves after two weeks, and their moment to moment-mood-darkened the more they browsed the social medium, no matter how large their network was, or how supportive they thought their ‘friends’ were.

The fact that businesses and corporations now feel compelled to have Facebook pages only serves to emphasize even more obviously that Facebook is used more to promote, than to actually connect.

Eventually – and there’s evidence it’s already happening as people drop off or move on – Facebook will fade away and some other new-fangled way to ‘keep in touch’ or ‘connect’ will emerge.

There’s this thing called the telephone where you can talk to people live, actually hear the context or sincerity in which they are saying something, and have a real give and take conversation, where, hopefully, you listen as much as you talk.

I hear it’s a fantastic device to lift a friend’s spirits when they are depressed. Just try not to brag that you thought of calling first.

– A. Wayne Carter

(And I’m hereby vowing to call at least one long distance friend per week as penance for writing this blog)

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Summer Reading Round Up

August 8th, 2013

 

Joyland by Stephen King

A better title might be “Summer of ’73.” Stephen King’s jaunt into crime pulp fiction has a hauntingly familiar theme about a writer who nostalgically remembers back to a summer in his youth when he lost his virginity to an older woman, whose husband was recently killed in the war. That’s right, it’s “Summer of ‘42” re-do, but the war is now Vietnam, and the setting is an amusement park on the coast of South Carolina instead of the coast of Long Island or wherever that beach town was where our hero Hermy lost his. (Ironically, the film “Summer of ‘42” came out in 1971 shortly before the events of this novel). I happen to love crime pulp fiction, plus stories about carnies, so I give the Big Bang plot a pass and applaud King’s tremendous restraint here. This book’s a mere 287 pages, whereas most of his recent novels are short stories padded with another 700 pages of unnecessary exposition, lately. You can read this one by the time the hoister (Ferris Wheel) comes back down and dumps you and the other rubes back off again into the Midway.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

If you subscribe to the belief that television is now the place where great characters dwell (unlike feature’s addiction to comic book heroes), and also, thanks to “The Sopranos,” that the protagonist in a TV series no longer has to be like you or even likeable, then this is the book for celebrating the true age of writers ruling television: Vince Gilligan (photo top with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) with “Breaking Bad;” David Chase with “The Sopranos;” David Milch with “Deadwood:” David Simon with “The Wire.” The shows covered in this book look like they were cribbed directly off my DVR viewing queue for the past decade. Of course, all of television’s dramatic show runners are now trying to follow this formula of morally questionable lead characters (who is Ray Donovan but a thinly-veiled West Coast version of Tony) but it all started with James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano: a brute and a killer, but a man who also suffered the slings and arrows and disrespect of trying to be a regular family man with a ‘real nagging housewife of New Jersey,’ and two rebellious teenagers whining him down to size.

The Unwinding by George Packer

Here’s your more serious read for the summer – a documentation of the last 40 years of America and its decline through the stories of several real life characters from the depths of Youngstown, Ohio projects to the heights of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. This is territory the great Studs Terkel used to mine so well, and it’s a beautifully written and worthy successor to his theme volumes (such as “The American Dream,” or “The Great War”). Packer doesn’t so much re-create his subjects’ dialogue in interviews as Terkel used to do, but instead encapsulates their stories in finely woven and succinct updates that alternate throughout the volume. Expect to see this one on Pulitzer or National Book Award lists at the end of the year. Equal parts depressing and uplifting, perhaps no book this year will give you a better sense of what we’ve been through and the toll it’s taken, but also one that showcases the spirit that might just drag us out of the mire and wind us back up.

Stop Feeling Lazy: How to Break the Procrastination Cycle Once & For All and Excel by Carol Look

Okay, I admit to a bit of procrastination getting around to reviewing a book that was sent to me:

I don’t really consider myself a procrastinator, at least not for work. Early on during my school years I learned that the sooner you got your work done, the sooner you can play, while all the other kids were waiting until the last minute stressing over their projects. I carried that attitude, for the most part, into my adult working life. But, as the basic dynamics of parenthood would have it, my 16 year-old son is one of those who puts homework assignments and projects and trumpet practice off until the last possible moment before getting around to it. It drives me nuts. But that’s the point, since being a teenager is all about establishing your own identity and driving your parents nuts. And, the process doesn’t seem to stress him out at all. He knows he’ll get to it, and that’s all he needs. You can’t force your will upon a teenager without it biting you back, so if he doesn’t see it as a problem, I will learn to accept that it’s not a problem.

But, as the writer of this book points out, if it IS a problem – if it does affect your productivity, you financial situation, your stress level or your happiness, then why not do something about it?

The surprise to me was finding out the technique advocated in the book was Meridian Tapping. I had experienced this form of therapy before during grief counseling after my mother died, but here it was tapping me in the face again in a book on procrastination. Meridian Tapping, for the uninitiated, works on the flow of vital energy, or as the Chinese term it, ‘chi,’ through your body and how to keep it from getting blocked or stagnating. Anyone who practices or believes in yoga, meditation, acupuncture or acupressure should be familiar with the concept. Tapping is a gentle form of acupressure for various meridian points on your face, torso, or head that seek to open up or keep open the flow of that energy while you are also ‘meditating’ or focusing on a desired goal or thought. You are stating the problem and also the emotional state you wish to be in to overcome that problem while you do the tapping. I’ve seen the value of this with the practice of “I Ching,” where you toss coins while focusing on an issue in your life that you want resolution for, and then read a proverb relating to that alignment of coins. These techniques are really just forms of forcing you to intensely focus on what you want to resolve, and to apply your own consciousness through these conflict-resolving meditative techniques to bring you a solution. It’s not as far out mystical eastern hooey phooey as you might imagine. And the surest way to test whether something’s whack or not is to at least give it a try.

You don’t need to be a procrastinator to enjoy the potential benefits of Carol Look’s book. Personally, I used the tapping to focus on overcoming any projected anxiety over the unknown variables in my life; to stop worrying about them so much, and to reinforce that I am a basically grounded individual with reservoirs of talent that can bring me unlimited financial and emotional happiness. Simple, right? What do YOU want to accomplish? Why not pick up this book –  it’s a mere 71 pages – and apply the simple tapping techniques to see if they resolve any blockages or stagnation you are experiencing, or to achieve any outcome you are desiring. What can it hurt, right? Just be careful and not too hard or you might tap yourself silly.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Summer Movie Awards, Pt. 2

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

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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Above the Dumb

July 8th, 2013

“What the hell!?”

A ‘literate’ Paramount Pictures executive I was developing a screenplay for once told me that if she ever encountered a character in a script using that phrase, she would immediately stop reading and toss that submission. She explained that it was lazy, cliché, imaginatively bankrupt, and that it reflected those same qualities on any writer who would stoop to provide characters such trite, overused dialogue.

Characters in “Under the Dome,” the summer series on CBS use that phrase 11 times in the first two episodes. They use in it reaction to the dome that has suddenly entrapped their city of Chester Mills; and they also use it any time they are excitedly demanding an answer from someone else. And EVERY character uses it as if they all took the same brimstone Rosetta language course.

If that were the show’s only crime, it would merely be irritating, but the rest of the dialogue, plotting, staging and even the production choices are so dumb they are painfully laughable.

A stranger in town to collect a debt struggles with the man who owes the money and pulls a gun, and ends up killing him, and then secretly buries him. You’d think he’d want to avoid attention, but he befriends the dead man’s girlfriend who is a reporter, and stays at her house, gets in another fight with the (snarling villain) used car salesman’s creepy son, is spotted by a police squad car wandering near the woods and then, when they are suddenly called away to a house fire, turns up at the same house fire on foot helping put out the blaze. Way to keep a low profile, manslaughter man.

The house on fire is one of those cheesy temporary constructions Hollywood is so notorious for, with obvious gas jets spewing flames conveniently out all windows. But that doesn’t mean the preacher who has been trapped in there has already been asphyxiated and can’t be easily rescued by the woman town deputy. Oh, and the preacher is in some secret scheme with the used car salesman involving propane tanks, which is why he was in the police chief’s house trying to steal evidence after the police chief’s pacemaker exploded and killed him when he touched the dome wall.

What the hell?!

Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into some pretty classy screen fiction; including “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” “Carrie,” and “The Dead Zone.” But there have been plenty of misses, as well. Count this corny adaptation as a complete whiff.

I get it; we’re not watching HBO. But if the scriptwriters adapting George Martin’s Game of Thrones can deliver viewers the rich experience of more than 30 characters with complex arcs, different speech patterns, complicated agendas, relationships and motivations, why can’t CBS do the same for the mere five or six characters who seem to be the only people that turn up at every incident in this small town? It’s lazy, unrealistic, unimaginative and just plain silly.

I’d call it a Maberry comedy, but even Barney Fife, who only ever had one bullet, never was desperate enough to resort to “What the hell?!”

– A. Wayne Carter

 

P. S. Here’s some alternatives for the “What the hell!” challenged.

“Jesus!”           (Lapsed religious version)
“Heh-suus!”   (Still religious Spanish version)
“Holy Shit!”    (R-rated version)
“Crikey!”          (Australian version)
“Golll-eeeee”  (Gomer version)
“Verrryyy Interesting” (Arte Johnson version)
“Whoah”        (Keanu Reeves version)
“Bloody Hell!” (British version)
“Fuucckkkk me!”    (NC-17 version)
“Gazooks!”     (Scooby Do version)
“Fascinating” (Spock version)

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HE is legend

June 25th, 2013

Richard Matheson
1926-2013 

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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