October 2005 Archives

How many screenings are there?

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I've been trying to keep track of upcoming screenings by juggling various e-mails, website listings, and flyers, but finally gave up and spent half an hour putting together an excel spreadsheet to track the damn things.

What I REALLY want is a computer program that would let me select the movies I want to see and the dates I'll be in town, and then provide me with an optimized screening schedule. In the meantime, I'll have to select from my staggering range of free screenings by hand. Poor me.

To give you a sense of what's available, here's a snapshot of my spreadsheet for the first week in November. Movies highlighted in yellow are ones that I want to see at some point (although not necessarily on these particular dates):

That's nearly 25 screenings in 7 days, and there will almost certainly be a few added to that over the next week.

Screenings a-go-go

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I've been so busy going to screenings I've fallen behind in writing about them. A brief summary:

Wednesday, 19 October: Me And You And Everybody We Know.

Thursday, 20 October: The Constant Gardener, followed by a panel discussion with Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, director Fernando Meirelles, and producer Simon Channing Williams. According to Meirelles, much of the film was shot using a lightweight, handheld 16mm camera, meaning they could shoot on location in Kenya without attracting much attention. In many of the outdoor scenes, the crowds are not played by extras; the cast just went out and shot.

The other highlight of the Q&A came when the moderator asked the actors to name their favorite scenes in the film. Weisz cited a moment when Ralph Fiennes receives some bad news, and Meirelles holds on his face for something like a minute. As Weisz said (and I agree), Fiennes does some remarkable, wordless acting in that minute. Fiennes seemed genuinely touched by the praise from a fellow actor.

Friday, 21st October: Elizabethtown, followed by a panel discussion. The panel was billed as featuring Cameron Crowe and Kirsten Dunst. When the moderator announced that they were going to be joined by Orlando Bloom, a woman two rows in front of me--who must have been at least in her thirties--let out a gasp of girlish excitement that might have come from a 13-year-old girl.

Audience members are usually very professional at these sorts of events, but this time, there was a mildly embarrassing exchange:

PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: This question is for Orlando Bloom. You've worked with a lot of great, experienced directors. Would you consider working with a first-time director?
[Muttering and shifting from the audience, who know where this is going. Orlando knows, too, and while he tries to figure out how to answer politely, Kirsten Dunst jumps in and buys him time by talking about some of the directors she's worked with. Finally, Orlando gives a polite answer about how exciting it is to work with good directors of any degree experience.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I'm not going to pitch you tonight--
[APPLAUSE from the audience. Pushy Audience Member fails to take the hint.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER:--but is it true you're a very good surfer?
ORLANDO (GOOD NATUREDLY): I'm a keen surfer. I'm not sure I'm a very good one.
[Moderator quickly moves on to next audience question.]


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If you've never lived here, it's easy to forget just how far north London is. It's at 51°30′ N, which means that--at least in terms of latitude--it's closer to Moscow than to Venice. Vancouver, Seattle, and Zurich are all south of London. Still not clear on how far north this city is? There are parts of Siberia that are south of London.

Fortunately, thanks to the Gulf Stream, London has a far more temperate climate than its geographic sisters. Unfortunately, the Gulf Stream can't carry sunlight.

In winter, the sun can rise as late as 8AM, and set as early as 4PM. After a summer in which there's still light in the sky until 9PM, the transition to winter is a brutal one, and this is the time it hits me hardest. In a month or so, I'll be once again used to getting up before, and staying at work after, the sun does the same. But for now, it's hard to get out of bed in the morning, let alone stay awake until dinner time.

Another review

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To the list of People With Exquisite Taste, add the entire editorial staff of Men's Edge Magazine.

A review

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I am glad to report that students at the University of Connecticut are possessed of excellent taste.

The Government Manual for New Superheroes has apparently also been reviewed in Men's Edge's November issue, and issue 1612 of Comic Buyer's Guide, but I haven't seen either of those reviews yet.

Brokeback Mountain

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We went to a screening of Brokeback Mountain on Sunday, followed by a Q&A with Ang Lee.

Here's a brief summary of the Q&A, with the caveat that it is repeated from memory, and all quotes are rough paraphrases...

The moderator started off by asking Lee if he minded that the film seems to be commonly described as a "gay western," since that's not entirely accurate. Lee didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed pleased that the film has been widely discussed, and he quoted an entry from a David Letterman Top 10 list of Things To Call A Gay Western: "The Magnificent Seven Inches."

The moderator mentioned that he had done a similar Q&A with Jake Gyllenhaal, who said that Lee had spent a huge amount of time working with the actors before shooting, but that once the shooting started, nothing. "It was like you've been having great sex, and then you get married, and the sex suddenly stops." Lee thought that was pretty funny. He said that he is "a control freak" during production, and he has too much to focus on in order to pay much attention to the cast at that point in the process. He does like to have a rehearsal process, although "Unlike in rehearsing for theater, you don't actually want to bring out the best performances during rehearsal; you want to leave something for filming, so that the performances will be fresh." To that end, Lee likes doing exercises with the actors, and discussing their characters with them, but tries not to over-rehearse the actual scenes.

A question from the audience asked why so many of Lee's films deal with repressed emotions. "When I made Pride & Prejudice, a lot of people wanted to know how this foreign guy expected to make a film about English culture. Well, for a Chinese director, repressed English people aren't much of a stretch."

In response to another audience question, Lee said he had no idea how well this film about gay cowboys would play in small town America. "The meeting with the marketing people was a bit of a reversal. They were very excited about the film and wanted to show it everywhere. I was nervous and asked if we could maybe just release it in the blue states."

I'm not sure the primarily British audience at the screening knew what a "blue state" was, but it was an interesting session.

Snakes on a Plane: The Blog


I've been doing my best to keep my readers informed of the latest Snakes on a Plane news, but one man can only do so much. Fortunately, help is on the way: it's Snakes on a Plane: The Blog.

Last April, John Rogers wrote a post about TV comedy writing jargon over at his always-excellent Kung Fu Monkey. He mentioned a technique called "the Red Dress Cut," which occurs "when you cut directly from a character declaring there's no way he's going to do something, to him doing it, for comedic effect... This name comes from the way it was always described to me: a burly guy saying 'There's no way I'm going to get into a red dress and pretend to be your wife'. SMASH CUT to ... you get the idea."

I mentioned to him that I had always heard this technique called "the Gilligan cut," after the TV show that used it with great frequency. John agreed that that was a more common term, and updated his glossary accordingly.

Of course, neither of us was under the illusion that the writers of Gilligan's Island invented this technique. I'm fairly certain I've seen it used by Abbot & Costello as well as the Three Stooges. If you had asked me, I would have speculated that it was invented very soon after sound came to cinema. It's hard to imagine it working on stage (where it's rather difficult to smash cut) or in silent film (where the interposition of title cards would ruin the rhythm of the joke.)

This evening, however, I made a discovery that is going to revolutionize the burgeoning field of Gilligan Cut Historical Studies. I present to you a quote from The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836:

"I should like to see him," said Mr. Pickwick.

"See Serjeant Snubbin, my dear Sir!" rejoined Perker, in utter amazement. "Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir, impossible. See Serjeant Snubbin! Bless you, my dear Sir, such a thing was never heard of, without a consultation fee being previously paid, and a consultation fixed. It couldn't be done, my dear Sir, it couldn't be done."

Mr. Pickwick, however, had made up his mind not only that it could be done, but that it should be done; and the consequence was, that within ten minutes after he had received the assurance that the thing was impossible, he was conducted by his solicitor into the outer office of the great Serjeant Snubbin himself.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Unless somebody can find evidence of prior art-- perhaps through close examination of The Tale of Genji-- I will conclude that the Gilligan Cut was invented by Mr. Charles Dickens, nearly a century before the talkies came into existence.

Now Available for Pre-Order


The Government Manual for New Wizards is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Just how famous am I?

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I just received the following e-mail:

From: Chong Pek Kee
Subject: request an autograph

I would like to request an autographed photo of you. Hope that's not a problem for you.
Here's my address:
Peggy Chong
Perak, Malaysia.

Best wishes,

Theoretically speaking, it is entirely possible that Peggy really wants my autograph. Maybe she's a fan of Yankee Fog or The Government Manual for New Superheroes. Maybe she's a slightly obsessive fan of Dennis Miller Live. Or maybe she's a really obsessive fan of The Onion.

Still, the e-mail smells like spam to me, mainly because it's so generic. Anybody who is enough of a fan of my work to want my autograph would know that I'm about as non-famous as writers get, and would therefore begin with an explanation of why she wanted an autographed photo of me.

If this is spam, though, it's puzzling spam. Is it part of some art project, to see how many autographed photos one can collect? A sort of fame-based phishing expedition, in which somebody is sending out thousands of e-mails in the hopes that some of them will reach actual celebrities whose autographs are worth having?

Either way, I hope posting here will resolve it. If Peggy is really a big enough Jacob Sager Weinstein fan to have tracked me to my website, she'll presumably see this post, and perhaps she'll be kind enough to comment on it and explain why she wants the photo. And if this is just a spam e-mail sent out to vast numbers of people, perhaps some of the other folks who have received it can pipe up.

Snakes On A Plane: The Other T-Shirt


The only thing better than a t-shirt celebrating Snakes on a Plane is a t-shirt that allows you to be the actual plane in question.

Awards screenings kick into high gear


There have been a few scattered "For Your Consideration" screenings here in London already, but they're now starting to come fast and furious.

This weekend alone, there are screenings of Nanny McPhee, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit, Corpse Bride, March of the Penguins, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Batman Begins. I've seen Batman Begins, and don't have any particular interest in Nanny McPhee, but I'm looking forward to seeing all the others. I'm not sure I'll make to any of this weekend's screenings, but there's always next weekend... (This weekend's "Wallace & Gromit" screening, by the way, is clearly aimed at Academy members with kids--it's on a Sunday morning, they're giving out four tickets per member instead of the usual two, and they're promising an opportunity to "meet the costume characters and have your photo taken with them.")

Of course, not every distributor can afford to rent out West End venues for multiple screenings. The distributors of Le Grand Voyage send out an e-mail reminder of two upcoming Academy screenings, adding, "We are sure you are aware of the considerable costs involved in providing free screenings to BAFTA members. As a small independent distributor, we regret that-- apart from the Academy screenings above--we will be unable to offer any further free screenings to members, as the expense is simply too great." I'm very sympathetic to this, and I plan on seeing the film at one of the two screenings.

Singing Snakes on a Plane


As part of Yankee Fog's ongoing commitment to bringing you the latest Snakes on a Plane news, we wish to direct your attention to Snakes on a Plane: the T-Shirt and Snakes on a Plane:the Song.

Unfortunately, the audio quality on the song is rather low, perhaps because the snakes have infiltrated the recording studio itself. Still, muddied though it may be, the singer's tragic dilemma shines through:

You're a cold, cheatin' woman, and there's nothin' to gain.
Do I let you break my heart, or stick with snakes on a plane?

Strange Rites


It is an unquestionable theological principle that anybody who is even slightly less religious than I am is a godless heathen, while anyone who is even a jot more religious is a dangerous fanatic. That's why I'm glad to have found a synagogue in London that is very near the level of observance that I grew up with.

But there's one major difference that never fails to jar me. In every Jewish service I've been to, there's always been a "prayer for our country," which asks that wisdom be granted to our nation's leaders. In the US, I've seen some variations that specifically mention the President and the vice-president, and others that just cover all the bases by praying for "all who exercise just and rightful authority."

But at our synagogue in London, the prayer includes "the Queen and her advisors." That's logical enough, but it always feels a little odd to my rebellious Colonial soul to be praying for the Queen.

In any case, shana tovah to my Jewish readers, Ramadan mubarak to my Muslim readers, and to everybody else, erm, have a nice day.

A Minicab Conversation


Our minicab driver has a Caribbean accent, although it's been faded by years in England. There's a "Dominica" sticker on his dashboard, and one on his windshield.

He tells us that English children have no discipline. He's carried passengers with kids, and watched in amazement as the kids treated the parents "like servants," yelling at them, and even cursing.

"My mother would never let us get away with anything," he says. "When she sent you to the store, she'd spit in a corner, and tell you you'd better get back before it dried. You hurried. There was a tree near the house--it looked a little like that one, over there--and when she wanted to punish you, she'd pull off a branch, and strip it, and--"

He mimes whipping. "Then she'd tell you to go down to the beach--we lived near the sea--and swim in it."

"Salt water," I say. "Ouch!"

"Salt water," he agrees. "And you had to do it, because when you came back..." He mimes his mother running her finger along the back of his neck, and then licking her finger to check for salt. "And if you just put your head in, she'd lift up your shirt." He mimes the same action, this time on his back. "She knew."

He drives for another minute or two, and then adds, "My brothers and my sisters, they're here in England, but they've sent their kids to her to raise, so they can just work, and send back their money."

"Are your sisters as tough as your mom?" I ask.

"No, they're not," he says, and then adds, "My dad is white." I'm not sure if that's meant as an explanation, or just as a new train of conversation. He goes on, "He's lived in Dominica for so long, though. When I go visit them from England, he says, 'Go back to your country, and take your cold weather with you.'"

And then, unfortunately, we're at our destination. We pay our fare, and go our separate ways.

Backstage at the Emmies, 2005


My friends Rob Kutner and Sheryl Zohn have written up their experiences backstage (and onstage) at the Emmies. Here it is, reprinted with their permission. If you enjoy it, you might also want to read Rob's Emmy writeup from 2004.

Dear Friends and Family,

With the recent events in New Orleans hanging heavily on everyone's minds, we thought we'd distract you for at least a few moments with something utterly frivolous: our account of the 2005 Emmy Awards. Yes "our," because this year, Rob has enlisted some help from his trusty cub reporter/Emmy "+1," Sheryl.

We begin our story at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where the "Daily Show" housed its entire staff. Of course, not everyone at the hotel was a fan of the show. At check- in, Rob's co-worker Jason Reich overheard the following conversation concerning one Mr. Jon Stewart:

Clerk #1: "Hey, did you see the guy from 'Half-Baked' is staying here? But he's grayed a little."

Clerk #2: "Yeah, he has his own show on Comedy Central now."

Clerk #1: "Oh, I only watch Comedy Central for 'Mind of Mencia'."

Fortunately, several members of the Academy were more familiar with Stewart's work (and that of his 13 writers), and so Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in a limousine on our way to the Shrine Auditorium for the 57th Annual Emmy Awards. As in past years, the city was clogged with limos, stretch hummers, and even a stretch Mini-Cooper (Is that just a Cooper?). But not everyone believed in motorized transportation: From our car window, we saw Zach Braff ("Scrubs") passing by on foot and waving at all of us suckers stuck in traffic, as well as David Letterman sitting at a bus stop, in his best Emmy formal shorts and T-shirt.

Second Printing

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Matthew and I have been informed by our editor that they're printing another 4000 copies of The Government Manual for New Superheroes, on top of our original print run of 9000. Obviously, this is good news.

One of the things I never realized is how hard it is for an author to get a sense of how well his book is selling. I've been somewhat obsessively checking our Amazon sales rank, which has generally been hovering between 20,000 and 70,000, but I really haven't had any way to calculate what that means. I'm glad to know we're doing well.

And I'm also glad to see that, as of this writing, The Government Manual for New Superheroes is at 10,581 on the Amazon sales chart. At this rate, we'll be in the top 10,000 in no time.

More trailers...

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The same contest that produced the heartwarming trailer for The Shining also resulted in this brilliant trailer for West Side Story and this well-done-if-not-as-funny trailer for Titanic.

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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