Saturday, September 27, 2008


Occasionally you just want to see a particular actor, no matter what they are in. In this case, it was Alan Rickman. From the description, Snowcake sounded like it was going to be the Canadian version of Rainman. And a few of the characters from Slings & Arrows did show up, perhaps just to insure the Canadian pedigree. Rickman is a sad soul traveling to Winnipeg when he picks up a joung hitchhiker. After a car accident which kills his passenger, he goes to visit her mom (Sigourney Weaver) and discovers that she is "high functioning autistic" living in a quintessential small town. Quintessential, meaning that everyone knows everyone, and your sense of privacy must include the idea that you have none. The bulk of this story is the development of the Rickman/Weaver relationship, along with Rickman battling the demons from his own past. While it is a bit slow, a bit predictable, and a bit sappy, I liked the care shown for people. I liked the realistic portrayal of how some peoples "care" is just annoying. And most of all, I liked the scene involving Comic Book Scrabble. What a brilliant concept. Scrabble with the ability to make up words that could be found in a comic book. The only requirement is that you can use the word in a comic book sentence.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Grand Slam StorySlam

The Moth is at it again. This time we went to the Grand Slam held at King King, where winners from the past 10 months of StorySlam all compete against each other with a new theme - Crossing the Line. Perhaps this theme begs for storytellers to go to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps I was tired. Several of these stories ended up feeling cheap and manipulative. Tell a story of masturbation, or bi-sexual trysts, or lesbian sex. Of course those cross the line, and the titillation factor gets a rise out of the audience. But they were not necessarily well told stories. In contrast, my personal favorite was the story of two kissing cousins observed at a wedding. It also could be considered cheap and manipulative, but the story teller was charismatic, and the story was told not for shock value, but as an OMG - I can't believe what I am seeing, people watching bonanza. So as obvious as it sounds, good story telling is only partly in the text, and largly in the delivery.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beautiful Girls

Watched Beautiful Girls again last night. What a classic movie. Maybe only because it hits so close to home. This is a tale of coming home, and finding that everything you remember is exactly how you remember it. And finding that while you don't feel any older or different, going home shows exactly how different you have become. Sometimes it takes that going-home experience to shake us out of our funk. And in this case, having one of the old-timers come back home and wrestle with his identity is enough for the locals to realize that they too need to keep moving on. All this and a stirring rendition of Neil Diamonds Sweet Caroline. What could be better

Just finished reading Eragon and Eldest. A great start to a trilogy that I can now finish with the recent release of Brisingr. Dwarves, Elves, Dragons and Magic are always a good combination in my book. But as I was reading this rendition, there is some really good, rational articulation of Just War theory as Eragon completes his training. It got me to thinking, what would a fantasy novel look like based on non-violence and pacifism. Is it possible to develop conflict and resolution in a story arc in a fantasy series without war. Is it possible to show the conflict between good and evil, and resolve that conflict without resorting to death? Or is that just one long, boring dialogue that no one would read.
In any event, what makes the first two books of this trilogy appealing? Brom (the mystery and intrigue about who this man is), Arya-Eragon (will they be able to love), the werecat's prophecy (it was not fulfilled at the first encounter of the Menoa tree), the constant images of a dragon walking, Eragon's potential (scrying from his dreams?), Eragon's future (leaving forever - how can this in any way lead to a satisfying ending), rational elves and mystic dwarves. So for now (until the third book is read)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Priscilla, Jakob and Willie

On our way out of the Santa Barbara Bowl a couple of weeks ago (having just enjoyed Ben Harper performing one of the best renditions of Burn One Down ever), we noticed Jakob Dylan listed on the ticket booth marquee. Well, actually, it listed Willie Nelson with special guest Jakob Dylan. So we overpaid for last minute tickets and went back for a show of one of our favorite musicians. We arrived in Santa Barbara early enough to enjoy a meal at a local vegetarian restaurant. I knew that it would be a great evening when a couple of women walked in and sat in the booth across from us. One of these women, had she been a man, would have been David Bowie. The other, had she been a man, Gerard Depardieu. I did not even know that David and Gerard were friends, and here they were (or at least their female dopelgangers) enjoying a meal across from us. We departed for the Bowl a bit early and surprise!, Priscilla Ahn is on stage. Apparently she was opening for Dylan who was opening for Willie. So our being scalped for seats was eased by the fact that we got three concerts in one.
Priscilla Ahn - I love her voice. She only sang about 3 songs, just her and her bass player (and her kazoo). But she definitely has stage presence, and interacts with the audience. This is what I like about a live performance. The artist spends some time adding value to the experience. Talk to me, joke with me, tell me something about the music or your life that I don't know. Or even something that I do know because I am a fanatic, but didn't get on the CD. All this Priscilla has.
Jakob Dylan - Great music and great lyrics. But I knew that before arriving. Dylan seems to loathe the audience. It is a necessary evil which allows him to be the artist he is. This set was about 45 minutes, with songs strung together like an album. No audience interaction, no "live performance value added". So while he is still one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and has one of the most distinctive voices around, he could take some live show lessons from someone. I probably don't need to see him live again for awhile.
Willie Nelson - This man is pure musician. His 2 hour set played like a medley, with song after song strung together without a break. At one point, I thought he was going to try to sing every song he knew, which is substantial for this icon. His vocal range is astounding and while I am the first to admit my own musical ignorance, I was impressed with his musicianship on the guitar. Had I been a Willie fanatic, this would have been an amazing set. As it was, I was entertained and enjoyed the music this man produced.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fresh Starts

I attended my very first story slam tonight. It was quite fabulous I must say. This story slam is sponsored by and apparently is big in New York. Here in L.A. they do one once per month. It is kind of like a directed open mike, with each person (max 10 per night) given five minutes to tell a story based on a pre-determined theme. This months theme was Fresh Starts. There was not a bad story amongst the ten. Some were hilarious (the Texas kid telling about wanting to "push over" a meter maid trying to boot his car), some sappy (mom telling the story of not having an abortion, while her 6 month old kid in the sling continually tries to grab the mike), some soul searching (a conversation with God about why He picks on their family), some improbable (a lost journal in Spain returned to its owner in L.A. three years later) and nearly all had a New York connection. Rarely do I travel in circles of artists and writers. But aside from the two kids from Texas, the other eight all confessed to living in New York and moving to L.A. to get their fresh start. As one storyteller stated, "Shit happens there, and then you move here to write about it". Every one laughed a knowing laugh. One storyteller confesses to living in Pasadena. Every one laughed the knowing laugh. One tells of living in North-North-North Hollywood. Every one laughed the knowing laugh. There is definately an "in" and an "out" crowd, and I just liked being in the room with the "in" crowd, feeling the angst of the semi-employed writer looking for a big break. Or any break at all. Not a bad story told tonight. Next months theme is Names. Maybe I will prepare something.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Frozen River

Some movies are pure entertainment, requiring the suspension of belief. Others are real, often depressingly so. Frozen River is clearly in the camp of reality, but only dabbles in depressingly real. A glimpse into the poverty of the northeast, into the attitudes whites and native americans have towards each other, into the struggles of a teenage kid who isn't sure about whether he should or should not love his reject dad, and into the daily drama of life are all offered up in a matter of fact, this-is-how-life-is portrayal. Mom needs money for the double-wide she has been promising the kids (dad stole it and gambled it away) and in an effort to support her family, enters the world of human smuggling. I enjoyed the characters showing how hard it is to get by, to do something a little special for each other. I enjoyed that the decisions made were not always about me, or about my family, but instead often showed care for others. In a small way, it begins to break down stereotypes.