Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for January, 2011

8 Out of 10 Americans Still Crazy

Posted by metaphorical on 30 January 2011

First the good news: The number of Americans who believe that humans evolved over millions of years without God’s active intervention is greater than ever. The bad news: it’s still less than one-sixth the population.

Two and a half times as many—40 percent—hold a strict creationist view that God created humans sometime in the last 10,000 years. The rest hold a hybrid belief that acknowledges evolution while still asserting that “God guided the process.”

Gallup has apparently been asking people since 1982 to choose between

Human beings have developed over millions of year from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process

(1982: 38%; 2010: 38%)

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part of this process

(1982: 9%; 2010: 16%)

God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so

(1982: 44%; 2010: 40%)

I’m characterizing that squishy middle ground as not believing in the theory of evolution, because the theory of evolution makes no reference to God and describes a mechanism that weighs out the future without a divine finger on the scale. But Americans themselves aren’t so clear on what constitutes a belief in evolution. In 2009, Gallup asked this:

Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in the theory of evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?

The result:

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way.

Anyway, the split in the more exacting three-way question runs pretty strongly along party lines. A majority of Republicans reject evolution entirely, while only a third of Democrats do; only 8% of Republicans believe in the theory of evolution, while 20% of Democrats do.

Maybe the most shocking stats of all: 22% of all those with postgraduate degrees are strict creationists, 37% of all college grads are. While those numbers are lower than among those without college degrees, given the strong self-selection that probably takes place, it would seem that college changes few minds about creationism. So much for the powerful liberal hegemony in academia.

Posted in education, language, politics, pop culture, religion | 4 Comments »

Non Company Mentis

Posted by metaphorical on 24 January 2011

The Company Men
109 minutes
Written and directed by John Wells

The dictionary defines “non compos mentis” as “not of sound mind.” How else do you explain the release a movie that’s missing the last twenty minutes of the story?

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without talking about, well, the movie, so, fair warning: spoilers ahead.

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From the trailer, the story line is clear: Ben Affleck is laid off from his white-collar job, others (Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones) are as well, they band together and start a new company of their own.

And, indeed, that’s what happens. It’s a little disconcerting that Chris Cooper doesn’t lose his position until a second round of layoffs, roughly at the movie’s midpoint. When are they going to get around to starting this new company? Tommy Lee Jones is still with the old company until plot point #2. Actually, I’m not sure there is a plot point #2. But we’re at the 90 minute mark or so. The new company doesn’t get started until the last 10 minutes or so. And then Tommy Lee Jones hires Ben Affleck. And then the movie ends.

Huh?

In other words, we never see Ben Affleck stealing away his old company’s big account, or, stealing away that new contract the greedy CEO-antagonist was counting on, or, well, do anything. So there’s no satisfying feeling of revenge. And there’s no real success—yes, his character’s fundamental desire is met: he has a job again now, and it’s not just hanging sheetrock for his brother-in-law the housebuilder. But does he have great success, or just a job that pays better than carpentry? Doe he have a job he loves?

More importantly, the movie violates perhaps the single most fundamental rule of movies (and all fiction, and in fact, all drama): the protagonist has to do the thing that achieves the movie’s outcome. Ben Affleck’s character does nothing—he passively accepts the job that Tommy Lee Jones’s character offers him.

There’s no question what the shape of this movie should be. The inciting incident is getting laid off—this should happen within the first ten minutes, ideally the first five. Chris Cooper should get laid off between minutes 30 and 40, Tommy Lee Jones would be laid off (or, for my money, quits) at the midpoint. The new company is started soon thereafter, and cannot survive unless Ben Affleck gets a big account, a task that will take us to the climax.

Yes, this would make for a very conventional three-act, two-plot-point Hollywood structure, but after all, this already is a conventional Hollywood movie. The trailer promises us one, and the movie is otherwise constructed as one. They just dragged out some of the middle parts, and forgot the third act. It’s pretty astonishing, the number of people of people who had to not notice there’s a quarter of a movie missing here—the screenwriter, the director (oh, wait, they’re the same person), the producer, and the studio. I don’t think the audience won’t notice though. Despite a great cast, the movie scores a mere 59% at Rotten Tomatoes. (Inexplicably, 71% from the critics. Maybe some of them are non compos mentis as well.)

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 1 Comment »

2010 Movie favorites to date

Posted by metaphorical on 16 January 2011

Without picking winners or trying to predict how the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will pick ’em, here are some favorites, out of the movies I’ve seen to date. Interestingly, two of my favorite performances were by teenagers.

Picture:
Inception, The King’s Speech

Screenwriting:
Inception, The King’s Speech, The Town

Performances:
Christian Bale in The Fighter
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
James Franco in Howl (I haven’t seen 127 Hours yet)
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech

Posted in language, pop culture, screenwriting, the arts | 1 Comment »

Why do all the good movies come out in December?

Posted by metaphorical on 15 January 2011

If you have the impression that most of the good movies come out toward the end of the year, that feeling would be borne out by looking at the release dates of the 21 movies I listed last week as the top screenwriting candidates for 2010.

I suppose it’s just happenstance that a movie can come out in December, catch a few Golden Globe nominations (December 14th), hang on for a few more weeks, win a few (January 16th) and hang on long enough for the Academy Award nominations (January 25th) and awards (February 27th).

Below, the movies are listed in order of release date. Current availability is given in parentheses. As far as I can tell, Winter’s Bones hasn’t had a U.S. general release yet at all (only festivals). By the way, I saw three of these movies today, bringing me up to 12 of 21.

Shutter Island
February 19, 2010 (Netflix Instant)

The Ghost Writer
February 19, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Toy Story 3
June 18, 2010 (digital rental)

The Kids Are All Right
July 9, 2010 (digital rental)

Inception
July 16, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Get Low
July 30, 2010 (not available)

Never Let Me Go
September 15, 2010 (not available, 2/1/11 digital rental)

The Town
September 17, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Howl
September 24, 2010 (digital download)

The Social Network
October 1, 2010 (digital purchase 9/30/10, still at 11 theatres in NY metro area)

Hereafter
October 15, 2010 (DVD)

127 Hours
November 5, 2010 (2 theatres in Manhattan)

Love & Other Drugs
November 24, 2010 (3 theatres in Manhattan)

The King’s Speech
November 26, 2010 (many nyc theatres)

Black Swan
December 3, 2010 (wide release)

The Fighter
December 10, 2010 (wide release)

Rabbit Hole
December 17, 2010 (9 theatres in NY metro area)

True Grit
December 22, 2010 (wide release)

Somewhere
December 22, 2010 (11 theatres in NY metro area)

Another Year
December 29, 2010 (2 theatres in Manhattan)

Winter’s Bones
17 September 2010 (UK only?)

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Golden Globe nominations

Posted by metaphorical on 13 January 2011

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t award separate Golden Globes for adapted and original screenplays. Of the 2011 nominees two are adaptations, 127 Hours and The Social Network.

According to a November article in the UK Telegraph about screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s writing process,

he decided to write the script after reading a 14-page proposal submitted to publishers by Ben Mezrich, whose subsequent book, The Accidental Billionaires, became a bestseller.

Though Sorkin was undoubtedly inspired by what he had read – he knew by page three that he wanted to bring the story to the big screen – his script and Mezrich’s book were written simultaneously and independently of each other. If Sorkin has produced an adaptation rather than an original screenplay, it’s an adaptation of an idea (albeit highly developed) rather than a finished work.

In an article in the Jan/Feb issue of Script magazine, which doesn’t seem to be online yet, screenwriter Charles Randolph said his screenplay for Love and Other Drugs bears a similarly loose relationship to the book it’s nominally based upon, Jamie Reidy’s 2005 nonfiction book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.

As his script came into focus, he confesses, “I didn’t really use much of the book.” Reidy’s anecdotal tales quickly became “more of a background resource than story points. It’s not really an adaptation in that sense.”

The original work was similarly disregarded when it came to David Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of Rabbit Hole. Here, though, the original work being disregarded was a play and a the original author being disregarded was himself. Again from Script magazine:

I had to re-imagine the play fairly entirely to turn it into a movie. When I decided to turn it into a screenplay, I put the play aside and thought, “Okay, if this never existed as a play, how would I tell this story as a movie?”

Lastly, what’s also interesting about the Golden Globe nomination list is the many movies with acting or other award nominations that are not on the Script magazine list of potential screenwriting Oscar nominees. I may have to expand the also-worth-seeing list. Here’s the list of major Golden Globe nominations for film.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

    The Fighter
    Inception
    The King’s Speech
    The Social Network

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

    Alice in Wonderland
    Burlesque
    The Kids Are All Right
    Red
    The Tourist

Best Director – Motion Picture

    Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
    David Fincher, The Social Network
    Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
    Christopher Nolan, Inception
    David O. Russell, The Fighter

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

    Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
    Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
    James Franco, 127 Hours
    Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
    Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

    Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
    Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
    Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
    Natalie Portman, Black Swan
    Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

    Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
    Johnny Depp, The Tourist
    Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version
    Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
    Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

    Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
    Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
    Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
    Emma Stone, Easy A
    Angelina Jolie, The Tourist

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

    Christian Bale, The Fighter
    Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
    Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
    Jeremy Renner, The Town
    Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

    Amy Adams, The Fighter
    Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
    Mila Kunis, Black Swan
    Melissa Leo, The Fighter
    Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

    127 Hours
    The Kids Are All Right
    The King’s Speech
    The Social Network
    Inception

Best Animated Feature Film

    Despicable Me
    How to Train Your Dragon
    The Illusionist
    Toy Story 3
    Tangled

Best Foreign Language Film

    Biutiful
    The Concert
    The Edge
    I Am Love

Posted in language, pop culture, screenwriting, the arts | Leave a Comment »

The Ghost Writer—2.5 of 5 stars, and that’s being generous

Posted by metaphorical on 8 January 2011

The Ghost Writer (IMDb, Netflix)

Written by Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, based on the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris

It’s astonishing that this mediocre movie makes Script magazine’s list of potential Oscar nominees for best adapted screenplay—its mediocrity is deeply rooted in screenplay’s weaknesses.

The fundamental problem is that the movie violates the standard Hollywood understanding of a movie’s story. Drew Yanno, in his book The 3rd Act,, puts it this way:

Somebody wants something badly and goes after it against great odds.

The only thing the protagonist wants at the start of The Ghost Writer is to make a lot of money doing a quick rewrite of a former UK Prime Minister’s memoir. Later, he stumbles upon a secret and tries to unravel it. To be sure, doing so imperils his life, but it serves no interest of his beyond idle curiosity. It also puts at risk the only thing we him wanting.

A post at the blog Complications Ensue says much the same thing at far greater length and disgust, and includes a detailed spoiler-laden summary of the movie’s plot.

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 1 Comment »

Screenplays, 2010

Posted by metaphorical on 8 January 2011

The current issue of Script magazine handicaps the Oscar races for best screenplays. Some of their picks are still in theatres here, some are available on Netflix, the rest we’ll have to rent from iTunes or Amazon. Those with loglines I’ve seen.

Original Screenplays

1. Another Year (Lincoln Plaza, Angelika)
Written by Mike Leigh
  The happiness of her older friend from work eludes a middle-aged woman struggling through another year alone.

2. Get Low (available for Amazon online purchase 2/22/11)
Written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay), and Chris Provenzano & Scott Seeke (story)
  A hermit hires a funeral home to gather the entire community to tell, Tom Sawyer-like, stories about himself before he dies, but really, it’s for him to tell his a story from his own dark past.

3. Hereafter(available on DVD 3/15/11)
Written by Peter Morgan

4. Inception (Netflix DVD)
Written by Christopher Nolan
  Haunted by his own dreams of his wife, Dom Cobb assembles a team of dream-stealers for one last act of corporate espionage—to plant an idea in the subconscious mind of a rival of his industrialist client.

5. The Kids Are All Right
Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
  When a lesbian couple’s children contact their biological father, the couple’s relationship begins to fracture.

6. The King’s Speech
Written by David Seidler
  King George V’s younger son can keep his stutter hidden from the world until a number of events thrust him in the limelight: his father’s death, his older brother’s abdication, the inception of WWII, and the new importance of radio. Can eccentric self-trained speech therapist Lionel Logue cure the newly crowned George VI in time for him to rally a complacent nation?

7. Somewhere (Clearview 1st & 62nd, Lincoln Square, Angelika)
Written by Sofia Coppola
  A Hollywood star is surprised by how much meaning his 11-year old daughter brings to his aimless existence when she comes to stay with him for a couple of weeks.

Adaptations

1. The Ghost Writer (Netflix DVD)
Written by Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, based on the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris
  A ghostwriter, hired to complete the memoir of a former UK Prime Minister when the first writer dies suspiciously, pursues a secret despite putting his own life in peril.   (I didn’t think much of this movie, and briefly explain why here.)

2. Love & Other Drugs (AMC 84th St, Regal 42nd St, AMC 19th St, AMC Village 7)
Written by Charles Randolph and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz, based on the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy
  Jake is a happy-go-lucky born salesman—now in pharmacuticals; Maggie, a talented and gorgeous artist suffering from Parkinson’s, refuses to commit to a relationship because drugs can only hold off her symptoms somewhat and only for so long. They’re perfect for one another, until they fall in love.

3. Never Let Me Go
Written by Alex Garland based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (available on DVD 2/1/11)
  A love triangle at a boarding school where cloned children are being raised for their body parts raises the question: will we understand life better – and will we live it better – if we know when we’re going to die?

4. 127 Hours (Landmark Sunshine)
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  It takes a hiker 127 hours to bring himself to a point where he can save his life by sawing off his arm with a dull knife.

5. Rabbit Hole (Clearview 1st & 62nd, Landmark Sunshine)
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire
  After the death of their 4-year-old son, a couple can’t get on track with their lives—nor with each other.

6. Shutter Island (Netflix Instant)
Written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
  A U.S. Marshall’s investigation of the disappearance of a murderer-patient at an island hospital for the criminally insane is too zealous for the hospital’s director.

7. The Social Network (AMC 25, AMC 19th St, Quad)
Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich
  The youngest billionaire in history is bound to have made some enemies along the way—and rightfully so. But then, some of them were assholes too.

8. The Town (Netflix)
Written by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
  A young, handsome, master bank robber has trouble leaving the life, and trouble staying. For one thing, he’s fallen in love with the only person who can identify his gang, and his best friend wants her dead.

9. Toy Story 3 (DVD)
Written by Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich (story)
  Andy is headed for college, and the toys have to figure out how best to move on—a matter they have almost no control over.

Other movies that seem worth seeing

Black Swan
Written by Mark Heyman (screenplay), John J. McLaughlin (screenplay) and Andres Heinz (screenplay and story)
  A shy, young ballerina on the cusp of greatness has to embrace her dark side or lose her first starring role.

The Fighter
Written by Scott Silver (screenplay) and Paul Tamasy (story and screenplay) & Eric Johnson (story and screenplay) & Keith Dorrington (story)
  A Lowell, Mass., boxer with one more shot at the top is torn between professional management and his current manager (his overbearing mother) and trainer (his screw-up exfighter older brother).

Howl
Written by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
  Out-of-the-closet beat poet Alan Ginsberg is liberated by the publication of Howl, while his publisher—poet and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti—stands trial for the poem’s obscenity.

True Grit
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis
  A 14-year old girl seeking justice for her murdered father hires an alcoholic U.S. Marshall (because she’s told he has “true grit”) to hunt down the killer in Indian territory—forcing him to take her along.

Winter’s Bone
Written by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell
  In the Ozark foothills, a 17-year-old girl, already responsible for her 12- and 6-year-old siblings, now has to find her crank-dealing father, dead or alive, before the law takes away their house.

Blue Valentine
Written by Derek Cianfrance & Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis.
  As a marriage breaks up, you wonder what they ever saw in each other, but as they remember, though flashbacks, the relationship’s early days, you wonder how it could go so horribly wrong.

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 2 Comments »

 
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