On A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop

I don’t like remakes. Generally speaking, they offer relatively little change from the original and more often than not the filmmakers don’t make the new version their own. I can think of a couple of films off the top of my head that fit in this category: Friday the 13th, Black Christmas, The Longest Yard, Miracle on 34th St., Psycho and The Parent Trap, to name a few. Each year it seems like more and more film companies are reaching into their back catalog for properties to re-use and the lack of “originality” is nothing short of frustrating to a writer such as myself. You hardly need to do much more than Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V and viola! Instant Remake! So, you can imagine my lack of expectations going into A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop.

Apparently, I need to rethink my stance on remakes some.

A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop is an insanely fresh take on the Coen Brother’s Blood Simple. The abused wife of a businessman has an affair with one of her husband’s employees and when the husband finds out he hires a local authority to kill them both. The basic plot is the same between both films, which you’d be able see if you watched them one after the other. Other than that, the two films are vastly different. Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers acclaim, brings a unique style to the film that’s hard not to like. Leaving the theater, I had to remind myself quite a few times that this film was in fact a remake.

The blending of humor and drama is perhaps where this film stands out the most. Like with remakes, I’m not a huge fan of over-the-top humor and am even less of a fan of slapstick when it’s juxtaposed with violence or drama. Here, however, the comedy is played smart and it is played well. Movement from the darker elements of the story to the humorous never seem forced or out of place and help define the characters. There’s one scene in particular where two of the side characters are trying to break into the boss’ safe to get their wages while another character is trying to do the same. The back and forth between the two situations is hilarious and I found myself laughing while simultaneously at the edge of my seat.

This is perhaps due in part to the casting, which fits the story quite well. I admittedly know very little about the players in this film, so I can’t really judge on previous merits, or what they bring to this film versus others. What I do know is that the performances were believable and kept some of the film’s wackier moments from getting too wacky. The standout role here of course is that of the Officer/Hit Man character, who compared to his American counterpart in Blood Simple, plays it “straight-man” to everyone else’s idiot.

The cinematography in this film is yet another standout in this film. I don’t think I’ve seen such use of color that’s both jarring and beautiful at the same time. Transition scenes like the one above are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to this film. There were a few times where I wished that I could just jump right into the frame and roll around in the vibrant orange hills, or watch a sunrise bloody the vast and unrelenting landscape. Even in a scene that involves light scatological humor, we’re witness to breathtaking composition.

I could probably ramble on a bunch more about how I absolutely enjoyed this film, but I think you get the idea. If more filmmakers would approach remakes like Zhang Yimou approached his take on Blood Simple, I’d be more inclined to go see them. If you’re going to remake a film that you love, why not infuse your sensibilities into it and make it your own? Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to see a guy about…um…some stuff.

On Centurion

I’m not a big fan of Sword and Sandal epics. That’s not to say I hate them; they just don’t register on my radar. Too many plots for the runtime and no real character development to speak of. It’s all a bunch of costumes and ornate set pieces that leave me wishing there had actually been a movie within. So, it stands to reason that I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in to Neil Marshall’s Centurion. I dug the hell out of his horror film The Descent, but felt very disappointed with his post-apocalpytic snore Doomsday. Seriously, you can’t achieve much in the way of post-apocalyptic gobbledegook if you don’t have Milla Jovovich as your protagonist. But I digress. I went into Centurion unsure of what to expect and in turn was quite surprised.

“This is neither the beginning, nor the end.” Where Centurion sets itself apart from other Sword and Sandal epics is in the pacing. This film is tidy. We start on the main character, Quintas Dias, running for his life. From there we’re taken on a chase spanning the continent and before we know it the credits are rolling. Even in the film’s slower first act, there’s relatively little breathing room. Despite all of this, the film manages to develop it’s characters and throw in the lavish scenery that you would expect from this genre of film.

The performances overall are top notch. Michael Fassbender (of Inglourious Basterds and 300 fame) stands out as Dias, the rather flawed main character. Fassbender plays the role with the right amount of humility and as a result we identify with the character a lot more than if he had been some speech-giving alpha-warrior. I find it interesting that this character is the better survivalist in the film than even the more seasoned generals.

Olga Kurylenko, who you might remember recently from Quantum of Solace, is well-cast as the antagonist of the film Etain. She could have easily played the “woman in a man’s world” archetype that seems to be the default in these films (*cough* Keira Knightley in King Arthur and Pirates *cough*). Instead, Olga gives Etain depth and there were moments where I truly felt for the character’s struggle. There’s a scene in particular where she slays an enemy with a rather frightful fury. Kurylenko fuses the tragedy of her character and the catharsis of the kill define her and it’s in that moment we realize there’s more to her than just the Mila Kunis pout. By the end of the film, I’m not entirely sure if I’m rooting for the right person.

Perhaps the only blight on the casting for this film is Noel Clarke, who doesn’t offer anything worthwhile to his role as Macros. From moment one onscreen to the last, I could only see Mickey Smith. But that’s a relatively small complaint considering that the role fits the story well enough and that everyone else’s performances more than make up for it.

This film, given it’s smaller scale and tidy pacing, is shot as well as any film in this genre. Props to the cinematographer and location scouts for bringing the lush scenery to life and drawing us into the story even further. There were a few times where I was reminded of Gladiator and in those moments I felt like this film did comparable if not better. One scene in particular involved a rather gruesome ambush. Just the setup for it (which you can see in the image below) is impressive and gives you an idea of the overall scope of this war.

That’s not to say the film is without it’s flaws. Some of the dialog in the film comes across really cheesy and took me out on more than one occasion. The aforementioned casting of Mickey Smith also took me out and weakened some of the drama that the subplot involved. Some of the makeup and costuming work fell flat in the beginning, and the use of CG blood throughout was just a wee bit distracting. The love story, which is thankfully understated in this film, still feels a little out of place. Thankfully, there’s not a lot of screen time devoted to the love story and thankfully it plays out realistically enough to be believable.

Despite all of that, Centurion is a very strong film and one that’s worth the ticket price. If you get a chance to see this film, do so. Even if you only feel “meh” about this genre like myself, you’ll find something in this film to like and you’ll at least be entertained.

On A New City, and Stuff

I suppose I should make some kind of post about life as I know it right now. Decided that I was done with Chicago and moved my ass all the way over to the west coast to live out a life of fame and fortune. That is to say, I moved to LA to try and see if this writing business will actually pan out. Whether or not this was a bad move remains to be seen. Whether or not this degree of mine was a bad move remains to be seen. Basically, I moved from one question mark to the next. But hey, that’s what adventure is, right?

All I know is that I haven’t really done a lot of writing since I got here and that’s NOT a good thing.

Feel free to ignore this post at your leisure. This is me getting back into the habit of writing.

On Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I’d like to get a couple of important details squared away with you first before I start rambling about why I think Scott Pilgrim is one of the top mainstream films this year. First of all, I’m a writer. As such, I believe in the story and characters above all else. Things like “who directed it” or “who produced it” or “how it was made” sit on the shelf below. Finally–and this is the most important detail–I’m a video game nerd from 8-bit yesteryear and I digest non-mainstream comics like fifty-nine cent, name-brand mac ‘n cheese; which is to say, I really dig comics. I’m the dorky, indifferent kid that wants “to think about death and get sad and stuff.”

There. I feel like we can proceed.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is awesome, and the hyperbole is well-founded. The film, from beginning to end, is an experience. Every moment oozes with style and is tailored to the “and stuff” generation I subscribe to; 8-bit sound effects run rampant, sound effects are written out comic book style, and characters pull huge fucking hammers out of their satchels.

This is all fine and good, as long as it’s not at the expense of the characters or the story. There have been too many adaptations that have opted for the “look right” option and have totally flubbed on the story front. With Pilgrim, the main characters all have story threads that wrap up nicely by the end credits and title character himself grows from being a kind of “twenty-something asshole” to “not that bad of a guy.” To quote him, “I think I just learned something.” The romantic triangle between him, Ramona and Knives is also very believable and the awkwardness and crushing blow of getting dumped is played out in a way that’s borders on uncomfortably accurate. It’s nice to see the filmmakers keep a good balance between silly romantic cliche and heartfelt character stuff.

The casting for the film didn’t feel wrong, and everyone was able to do their own thing with the characters. Michael Cera, despite his tendency for sameness across his roles, embodies Scott Pilgrim and does the role good. After seeing the film, I’m not sure anyone else could have played that role. One reviewer I read suggested that all his other roles are just training for this, and I can definitely agree with the sentiment.

Perhaps the most memorable role of the film is that of Scott’s roommate Wallace, played by Kieran Culkin. Every scene he is in is gold and I found myself wishing he had had more screen time. Brandon Routh also shines through as Todd Ingram and revels in the delightfully ridiculous role. When I say that I can’t complain about any of the casting choices, I’m being super-vegan serious.

That’s not to say that this film is perfect. It’s not. It’s a niche film tailored to a specific demographic. It’s paced like a video game and it winks at it’s viewers like an epileptic seizure. The characters could be deeper and could have more heart, but that’s not necessarily the point of the story. What you see on the screen is as faithful an adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work as anyone could hope to achieve. It’s not going to be Criterion Collection Masterpiece of Nerddom, but it’s most definitely in the top mainstream films of this year and is pretty much THE film of the “and stuff” generation.

I lesbians this film so hard.

On Gods and Nolan

I decided to push on despite the general writer’s malaise I’ve been feeling to ramble a little bit about Christopher Nolan’s film Inception. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I want to talk about some of the hype about this director that’s been getting under my skin and has been for awhile. This problem of hype started with Batman Begins and has only gotten worse with each new film. Put simply: people are way too eager to ascribe “god-like” status to Mr. Nolan and I don’t believe he’s earned it yet.

Inception is a damn good movie. There was harmony between all the departments for this film and it shows. The story was solid, the pacing was good, the acting was good, and the direction was good. When you leave the theater, you will discuss this movie with your friends and it will be on your mind for a few days more after that.

But is the film great? No, and it doesn’t have to be. Will it go toe to toe with the classics and come out within the top ten of all time? Hardly, but why does that even matter? We’re too quick these days to deliver heaps of praise on these movies when I think these movies should be the norm and not the exception to the rule.

At the risk of sounding the contrarian, Nolan isn’t a great filmmaker. He’s a damn good one and he has yet to make a terrible film. But I don’t think his work will define this era of filmmaking, nor will it change how we perceive visual storytelling in general.

And that’s not a bad thing..

On Life So Far

A lot has been going on in Jonathan-land since the last update. Instead of getting all prose heavy on you with how my life has been, I’ll just do a simple bullet point list of recent developments. You can thank me later.

  • Moving to Los Angeles in August to try and start my career as a screenwriter.
  • Redesigned my site.
  • Ended the hiatus to Hilarious Henry, and then hiatus’d again for the move to LA.
  • Started work on draft 2 of the script I wrote for Script Frenzy. Not much progress has been made on that front, however.
  • Started a cool new podcast with some friends. It’s called Flickers & Beats and we talk about movies and music. Sometimes there’s talk of theater stuff.
  • I’ve seen She & Him, Mates of State and Modest Mouse live.

All in all, it’s been fairly busy. I haven’t written much because I just haven’t had a lot to say that couldn’t be said on some other social site out there like Facebook or Friendfeed or Twitter. And even then I haven’t been too terribly active on those.

I promise I’ll be better about this.

Sincerely, me.

C2E2: Day 3



The final day for C2E2 arrived quickly and I leapt from my bed with excitement. I was going to try once more to get Jeff Smith’s autograph and make up for some of the fail of the previous day. I threw on two completely different socks and my Sonic hood once again. I shoved my copy of BONE into my book bag and bounded down the stairs of the apartment. Getting into the car, I told Chewie to “punch it.” We did and stopped at the nearby Dunkin Donuts for some breakfast.

I usually never have any problems at that particular chain, but that day seemed to be “mess up everyone’s order” day. After about ten minutes of getting everything straightened out, we were finally on our way down to McCormick place for the last time.

Continue reading…

C2E2: Day 2

My Feet

My Feet

I woke up the next day, back in my apartment with a wicked hangover. Whatever happened during the Time Lord Orgy would forever be lost to the ether of drunken stupor. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and picked up my phone to see what time it was. Seven in the morning. I checked my alarm to see what time I had set it for and realized I woke up roughly an hour earlier than I had planned. Slowly, I dragged my ass out of bed and made my way to the bathroom to see if I could get some sort of grip on reality.

Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror was a sight to behold. My hair looked like it belonged in an anime, shooting off in every conceivable direction. The light in the bathroom shone too bright, a sure-fire sign that I was in the throes of hangover. My eyes were bloodshot and I felt like my wrists were about to explode Riki-Oh style.

It was time to start C2E2, Day 2.

Continue reading…

C2E2: Day 1

Twisty Face

Twisty Face

I arrived at McCormick place from the #3 King Drive bus line. Emerging with me was a fellow in a Green Lantern tee and a guy who reminded me of a once co-worker. All around us there were signs for a kitchen and bath expo aptly named K*BIS. Confused, we made our way to the building and to where we hoped C2E2 might be held. Business executives chain-smoked like it was the end of the world and their faces suggested that they couldn’t give a shit.

Mustering up all the creepy I could find within, I got close to Green Lantern Tee and Once Co-Worker and asked them if they knew where the convention was. Just to throw some humor into the mix, I asked them if they were in fact going to the convention. Once Co-Worker scoffed, said yes and said that his plan was just to go through the K*BIS convention. I liked that plan and followed too closely. Fortunately for them, I backed off when I realized what I was doing.

The convention was nestled away behind the Kitchen and Bath Expo with a bajillion banners proving it. We found ourselves on a walkway over the road which seemed to stretch on for miles. I read each of the marquees above us that encouraged us along our way and that we were “almost there.” One sign even said that The Dark Knight was filmed in Chicago.

Continue reading…

Eleven Day Steampunk



April 1st came around and two things happened: I completely forgot that it was April Fools Day and I began the screenwriting boot camp known as Script Frenzy. If you’ll recall, I wrote earlier about my plans to write two scripts to make up for the zero I wrote last year. Well, I’m here today to tell you that I’m done with my first script, LAMENT. It’s a Steampunk Western Revenge Flick about a father and a husband who will stop at nothing to kill the man responsible for ruining his life. There’s action, there’s drama and there’s enough steampunk to whet your appetite.

All in all, the script took me eleven days to write, averaging out about ten pages a day with a day or two off to keep my sanity. I discussed the beauty of outlining in my last post and the proof was in how easy it was to bang out the script. I essentially breezed through ten pages, checked my notes, and then soared through another. Naturally, my script ended at page 93.

Now you might ask, “Doesn’t Script Frenzy require 100 pages?”

Yes, it does. This was perhaps one of the more interesting aspects to my writing binge this past week or so. By around page 85, I started to burn out. When you burn out as a writer, the first thing that goes by the wayside is the prose. While you’re generally not supposed to flower your script with prose, the details help. I perused the pages near the end and realized that I had all but dropped the prose in favor of quick action text like, “Westin charges forward, shoots guy,” or “Westin kills bad guy.” On the first day, it was more along the lines of, “Westin steps off the train, letting his bag drop to the ground. He toys with the cigarette sandwiched between his lips and tosses it aside.”

You get the idea.

The other thing that also seems to fall by the wayside is the dialog. The first few days of writing (roughly 30-40 pages) saw some interesting dialog between the characters, stuff that gave you a decent idea as to what made them tick. Granted, we’re not talking Tarantino’esque yakking, but something useful for a first draft. By the last page, no one was saying a word except for the villain and he repeated himself to an annoying extent.

“Hey,” you might interrupt, “weren’t you supposed to do two scripts?”

Busy month, indeed.