Top Ten Animal Films (According to Dee)*

*No cartoons, animatronics, etc

  1. Orca, the Killer Whale (Michael Anderson, USA, 1977) This is pure camp, but I was born the year it came out. I’ll never forget when he bites off the broken leg – cast and all – of Annie (Bo Derek).
  1. Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, USA, 1990) It is the cheesiest of films, I concede that, but the wolf, Two Socks, is awesome. It’s one of the saddest moments in film when those bastard soldiers shoot and kill him.
  1. Tarzan the Apeman (W.S. Van Dyke, USA, 1932) Cheetah is a star, but it’s really all the elephants and crocodiles that make this film amazing. (Not so much the fake hippos.)
  1. A Boy and his Dog (L.Q. Jones, USA, 1975) This is camp apocalypse – before apocalypse was hip – with Don Johnson and his bitter mongrel, who thinks profoundly and cruelly on humanity but remains loyal to the end.
  1. The Secret of Roan Inish (John Sayles, USA, 1994) The magic in this film is very real. The seals come out of the dark sea in a wonderful, terrifying way. They know more than you would think.
  1. Gorillas in the Mist (Michael Apted, USA, 1988) The gorillas are incredible, just incredible. I know this film has animatronics, but it was shot on location and there are incredible shots of the gorillas in their habitat.
  1. The Edge (Lee Tamahori, USA, 1997) Bart the bear is a force, not only in the way he flings that poor guy around but also in how he lowers his ears and pushes out his lower lip. He also dies the tragic death.
  1. Babe (James Cromwell, USA, 1995) I admit there are too many visual effects – puppets too – but there really is a border collie and a pig. And it’s a great pig. “That’ll do, pig.”
  1. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA, 2005) The rogue bear is pretty horrifying – devouring Treadwell and his girlfriend – but that is what bears do. There are so many other great bears in this and Timmy, the fox.
  1. Born Free (James Hill, UK, 1966) Elsa! Elsa! Elsa! Kitten or full-grown, Elsa is the second greatest of cats. (Apollo rules.) There’s Pati-Pati too – a rock hyrax! – the other lions and elephants. Nothing compares to this one.

The Edge: Of Good Writing

Screenwriting is a most inconsistent proposition. While there are many films that have great scenes and characters, the work is often lacking in its overall story. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films, including The Master, fall into this category as does the work of many modern screenwriters/filmmakers, such as Gaspar Noe, Terence Malick, Pedro Almodavar, Jim Jarmusch, and that other Anderson, Wes.  I posted recently on Andrei Tarkovsky’s film The Sacrifice, and his struggle with story-telling.  This too is an issue for many of the great auteurs: Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and, even my favorite, Werner Herzog; it’s the image, the motion, the atmosphere first and everything else after that. This is not say that the story arc of Hollywood should be subscribed to in any way. There is nothing so painfully innocuous as to be dragged along through the introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement and all the pain-in-the-ass red herrings in the films of Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jimmy Cameron or Clint Eastwood.But there is a middle ground out there, something between the poetic image and the Hollywood ride. It’s as hit and miss as the rest, although there are diamonds in the rough. One film that comes to mind is Greg Motolla’s Superbad (written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg); as stupid as this movie can be, the story is true, the characters honest. Another surprising film is Lee Tamahori’s The Edge, written by David Mamet. This film is typical Hollywood, “Jaws with claws” as it was dubbed; however it is well-written. The story structure is effective – except for a weird denouement/climax #2 – and the arc is clear. The characters are engaging, even as types, and interact in an interesting way with both each other and their environment. The message is loud – We must face our demons! – but it’s a good film. And the bear is great. Really.

Ugh and damn

I’m in a lousy mood today. I think it’s last night’s Obama/Romney debate that set me off, that ugliness in human nature, everything an evasion or attack, and how it goes so much deeper than that. It really isn’t just those guys. As Voltaire said: “Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.” It’s so ugly! Stupid me. No writing today, that’s for sure. Ugh and damn.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice

Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (Sweden, 1986) offers a hypnotic sequence of images, the camera tracking sideways across rooms and fields, fog horns and chanting girls in the background. Amazingly, the 143-minute film is comprised of only 115 shots, some of these over eight minutes in length. This, Tarkovsky’s final film made while diagnosed with terminal cancer, is a staggering work that strikes at a primal level. And while the film can get bogged down by an obscured story and series of monologues, the images are profound.The colors transform throughout, sometimes into black and white, often washed out, dreams and reality, from an apocalypse through a glass partition to a sleeping boy, until it all seems to mean the same thing. It’s us and all in our head.

I own hockey

This National Hockey League lockout/strike/work stoppage thing is pathetic; the owners and players can make as many serious faces and proclamations as they like, but the farce has to end. If these gravel-heads can’t figure this out – how much money do they want now?!? – they need to hire an arbitrator to do it for them. It’s that simple. They can hire me, and I’ll do it gratis, out of the goodness of my ice-cold heart. I’ll solve it in one hour. One hour, that’s a promise. Done. (And if they don’t like my final solution, I’ll send in the fourth line to straighten the matter out.)Let’s be clear about this. Both groups – the  players and the owners – are to blame. None of those involved in this brain -damaged dispute can hope for understanding for the simple reason that they both decided to have beer-drunk summers, doing absolutely nothing. I’m sorry, did I say nothing? No, I’m wrong; they actually did engage in a spree of free agent signings, including Parise and Suter for $98 million apiece…uh, what?!? Make no mistake, these ne’er-do-wells are greedy, stupid and expendable. Indeed, as much as today’s players might impress – Stamkos, Karlsson, Quick – they can all be switched out – every last one of them – if they don’t want to play. They can go to Europe, go to Russia, or go home. Or if they want to stand firm in their cute little collective, they can all get jobs in a hockey school together. But if they want to play hockey, if they want to play the game, they need to do that now. No excuses. No press conferences. Nothing but ice. Nothing but hockey. They need to just shut up and play. Bettman, Fehr, Leipold, Crosby can pretend all they want. They can pretend that they’re something in their owner’s boxes, in their jerseys, in their locker rooms, on their benches, microphones in their sad little faces, drafts of contracts on their table, their ridiculous numbers – 57%, 46%, 50% – in hand, but it’s nothing, worse, just a percentage of nothing. Hockey is a game, not a business.I own hockey. That’s me. The game, the cup, the dream, they are all mine. These others, these pseudo-players and pseudo-owners, these halfwits and buffoons will be gone soon enough, all of them; and the game will remain as it was, mine, truly. Somebody should tell them soon. Or did I just do that? Goal.

Funk on: The over-write

I’m still in limbo, still waiting to get back at the book, another week to go, maybe more, but I have to admit that I have slipped in and messed around, adding details, taking them out, putting them back in.

One scene I have spent the last few days over-writing is the night of Dee’s Grad Cruise. It’s a background moment, something I hadn’t fleshed out previously, and now in which I’ve added a classmate and dialogue to the counselor. She’s alone on the deck and then joined by a classmate who she doesn’t know. He gives her a cigarette, and the supervising counselor shows up.

“Your cigarette.”

“I thought we were allowed.”

“You thought wrong.” He looked back, almost like he was smiling; he wasn’t.

This last line is what I’m going back and forth with at the moment. I’ve tried each of the following:

He stared back, like he was smiling, but he wasn’t.

He glared back, close to smiling, although he wasn’t.

He waited, almost smiling; he wasn’t.

…and a few variations in between. I keep going back to the first because it’s neutral and still expressive. I don’t know. I know I should  just leave it alone. And I will…very soon.