BLaiNe's Hospitable Habitat

Location: Los Angeles, Southern California, United States

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Awkward Hollywood Moment

I talked to the creator of Carnivale yesterday. Small problem: I'd never seen the show. He was a funny guy, though, and gave me some good advice. Nice tidbit: the writers on CSI are leery about getting too close to the nearby Carnivale office. "We write weird stuff up on the walls and on the glass. One time we waved them over, like come on in and hang out, and they just (put their chins down and kept walking.) It's like left brain meets right brain."

Friday, February 04, 2005

Boiler Room as Teaching Tool

There was a good article in the L.A. Times today about Ameriquest and their unscrupulous methods of financing loans that they know their customers will never be able to pay. As an aspiring screenwriter, I found this passage most intriguing:

Many of the ex-employees likened Ameriquest's culture to the rough-and-tumble world of "Boiler Room," a 2000 movie about fast-talking, young stock swindlers who revel in their powers of anything-goes salesmanship.

The comparison is more than happenstance: "That was your homework — to watch 'Boiler Room,' " Taylor said.

Managers and employees passed around the film to keep themselves fired up, she and others explained. Kendall, in a sworn declaration in the Redwood City class-action case, said that watching "Boiler Room" was part of his Ameriquest training.

It was all about "the energy, the impact, the driving, the hustling," Taylor said.

If you've seen Boiler Room, it's pretty obvious the film does not intend to glorify the "chop shop" business mentality that dominates Giovanni Ribisi's job at a finance firm. However, you also know about some of the film's more glaring problems: Ribisi's main character is a hustler who never develops a believable arc. For half the movie, we're presented Ribisi's new world as a lucrative extension of his old casino lifestyle, the logical next step for a money-grubbing up-and-comer. When he suddenly goes moral on us, it doesn't ring true. Meanwhile, the Vin Diesel-and-Ben Affleck-portrayed fast-talkers (those most quoted by people who like the film for Ameriquest-style reasons) never get a come-uppance at the end. We don't ever see them led away in handcuffs, or forced to pay retribution for the lives they've ruined. So the ever-lasting images the viewer takes away from the film are from the hustling scenes. Our free-market, education-devaluing economy does not need anyone tossing fuel on the fire of a young generation that is increasingly speaking the language of financial ruthlessness better than proper English.

When Ben Younger wrote this film, I'm fairly certain he wanted to paint a cautionary tale about hustling and the danger of letting sales quotas stand in the way of empathy. He must be horrified that the film is now being used to train the very audience he was trying to reach and transform. But then, maybe he should have made a better film. I don't think you'll ever see a drug dealer show Traffic to an up-and-coming aspirant, and I certainly don't think Casino and Goodfellas are on Tony Soprano's list of films for Christopher to take a look at.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The State of Manipulation

"You watching The State of the Onion tonight?" my boss asked casually.

I thought he was referring to a satirical news program produced by The Onion. Turns out no such program exists. He was being a wise-ass, opining he would be better off in small-claims court than sitting in front of the tube watching W. spew new arrangements of the words "liberty" and "freedom." My boss is just another Angeleno filled with blind hatred for our president. I'm not. My hatred is measured and calculated, like a cake recipe that's tough to get right.

I listened to the address on the radio. So I just heard all the teleprompter talk. Conservative KFI radio offered some insight into the speech afterward. Among the golden nuggets: The President has improved so much at reading the Teleprompter. Apparently, reading words aloud is an accomplished skill that merits direct praise once mastered. I always did a much better job at oral reading than the rest of my elementary school classmates. Perhaps I missed my calling.

Then the announcer filled me in on the visuals I couldn't see by listening to the radio. The choreographed introductions of the Iraqi voter and the parents of the fallen Marine were described in heartfelt terms. Their "spontaneous" embrace was described as "an emotional moment that that won't soon be forgotten." Yeah. They just happened to be sitting a row apart. Coincidence. And as far as the Republican pencil-pushers who stained their fingers in a show of "solidarity", Marc Cooper sums things up nicely.

Manipulative political theater is now what we have to look forward to in State of the Union addresses. Congrats to the Republicans for putting on a great show. But the spinsters can't be sleeping well knowing this fact: more people watched American Idol.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sosa No Esta Aqui

Praise Jim Hendry! After twelve years filled with of enough whiffs to ventilate eons worth of Chicago winters (that's why it's so damn cold this year), Sosa's finally gone. I wanted this to happen in 2000, when it was clear the new home run king had little interest in anything but bulking up and swinging for the fences. Maybe, finally, the Cubs will field a team bent on fundamentals and execution, knowing Swattin' Sammy isn't waiting behind them to strike out and kill the rally.

I wasn't going to subject myself to Cubs baseball this year. Seriously. The conclusions of the past two seasons ( a little background here and here, if you're lucky enough not to be afflicted with my illness) got me more frustrated, angry, bitter, and depressed than I could handle. Pro sports are supposed to be fun, not infuriating. I said at the end of the season, "The only way I'll deal with this again is if they trade Sosa." Now I sit back and wait for a new round of torture, Cubbie-style.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Looks Like I'm Hanging Out with Jack Tonight

Not Nicholson again, though we've been tight of late. Daniel's. Within a ten minute span this afternoon, I broke up with my girlfriend and paid a $900 car repair bill. Especially when occurring simultaneously, seismic emotional and financial shifts take a toll. If you want to know which shift did the most damage, or was most traumatic, you're asking the wrong guy. On to self-medication.

Million Dollar Update

Again, go elsewhere if you haven't seen Million Dollar Baby.

Here's a comprehensive article about the Million Dollar Controversy (I express my thoughts in the post below). Most intriguing are the details that Clint Eastwood used a lawsuit against his property as a springboard to fight for changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In yesterdays L.A. Times article, Eastwood simply said the lawsuit was dropped and his subsequent court battle was not mentioned.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Million Dollar Bullshit

I love a good sports movie. Movies that duplicate the raw emotion of the games we play (Rudy, Field of Dreams, and Any Given Sunday are a few of my favorites, though the sports genre's top fillms are very much debatable) make for a teriffic night at the theater.

Million Dollar Baby is such a movie for about two hours. If you haven't seen it, don't read any more of this post.


Sports--the desire to watch them and the desire to thrive at them--are pervasive throughout American culture. Just about everybody American, including females now more than ever, spends some portion of their life dreaming of being a professional athlete. For denizens of our technologically-oriented society, sports are just about the only survivng outlet for the physical, animal instincts our human natures are increasingly being told to supress. Obsesion with sports exists on an ultra-sensory level. Once it grabs you, it's got you. Regular competition in an athletic arena, if available to and undertaken by every American, would render drug and alcohol abuse obsolete. But the final whistle blows and every athletic career ends before the mind and heart want it to, whether you're talking about the guy whose mom made him quit football in second grade, or Michael Jordan clinging to his livelihood in a ghastly Washington Wizards jersey. When sports are taken away from us, a void is left that can never be filled. Few other pursuits can claim such mastery of the soul.

Hillary Swank portrays such an obsessed soul, and she does so triumphantly, with dynamic fervor. Watching her studious reverence of Clint Eastwood's aging trainer, and her relentless fight to become a better boxer, will provoke memories for anyone who has ever dreamt of reaching his or her athletic potential. If you're an ex-boxer or boxing fan, the first two hours are especially relevant and accurate, based upon the personal stories of a retired trainer.

Like it does for all athletes, Hillary's bell rings far too soon. Her finale is particularly harsh--she winds up paralyzed from the neck down. And from here, a wonderful film takes a turn for the worst. Swank's character decides she cannot bear a life devoid of boxing rings and big crowds. She asks her trainer to kill her. He complies.

Not surprisingly, Eastwood has come under some fire from disability activists. There's a longer article in today's L.A. Times Calendar section, but you have to subscribe. In it, Eastwood responds to the criticism by saying he was merely telling a story, not making a political statement. He alludes to his over-the-top performances in other movies, saying his waving a gun around in Dirty Harry did not implicate those were his accepted standards of behavior.

I don't care whether Clint was making a statement. I'm used to Hollywood filmmakers pushing agendas, and I've come to expect that the MPAA will favor ultra-liberal viewpoints (i.e. Vera Drake) come Oscar time. I just hated the fact that such an uplifting tale about sacrificing and dreaming and achieving had to turn into such a negative statment, not only about disability, but post-sports life itself. Many people have used their successes and failures in sports as a springboard to attain admirable heights in other arenas. Further, many disabled athletes have enjoyed long, prosperous lives after injury.

In this modern age, quadriplegics can lead productive lives, with advanced medical procedures, computers, and specialists trained to help them. To make a film in which a strong heroine gives up and says death is the only option, is simply irresponsible. I was disappointed. But at the same time, I was encouraged. I wrote a screenplay about a star football player who finds a full, enriched life after his injury. The complications arise when he is suddenly able to walk again. Now, I'm thinking this script may be the yin to Million Dollar Baby's yang.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Congrats, Ryno

Today I experienced the melancholy associated with one's boyhood hero being enshrined for all eternity. Ryne Sandberg is rightfully in the Hall of Fame. It's wonderful to know that the demigod of my baseball-worshipping youth was, indeed, heads-and-shoulders above his peers, and history will remember him so. His election also reminds me of a time when I dreamt of being a heroic baseball player like Ryno, a youthful imaginitive time when anything was possible. Yet the fact #23 is on his way to being bronzed and hung on a wall, to get dusty with the faces of other dead guys, is a potent reminder of my own mortality, of time passing by.

There will be plenty of comprehensive tributes to Ryno over the next year, like this one. I won't make a list of his greatest moments on the field or anything like that. Honestly, he broke my heart about as often as he lifted it. After all, he was a Cub, and that's what Cubs do.

I do recall one instance, when I was about 13 years old, when I literally tried to chase down the man's autograph. Outside Wrigley Field, fans congregate around the metal fences surrounding the team parking lot, hoping their heroes will sign their balls, programs, etc. Ryne rarely signed here, but as was my custom when going to Wrigley, I waited outside the fence just in case. As always, Ryne never showed. I wasn't too disappointed, and I began walking to my car with my dad. In the distance, I saw a bunch of kids gathering around an SUV. Weird, I thought. The SUV stopped at a red light, and I could make out a face in the rearview mirror: Ryne Sandberg. The kids were holding out balls and cards and paper, and Ryno was actually taking things in the window, signing them, and funelling them back to the kids while he was parked at the traffic light. When will I get another shot at this? I took off sprinting towards the intersection, cars and street vendors be damned. I reached in my pocket, grabbed at the scrap of ticket step, felt for a pen--there had to be a pen, just had, yeah, there's a pen! I'm going to get it--and ran for the driver's side of the SUV, that winged chariot carrying my idol. Just as I broached the side of the SUV and began extending my bony arm, the light turned green. Cars started honking. Even Ryne Sandberg has to get his ass moving in traffic. He smiled, waved, and put the car into drive. The wheel of the SUV bounced over the tip of my foot. Wow, I thought, maybe it's broken. Ryne Sandberg broke my foot! I darted through the traffic back to the sidewalk, realizing my foot was actually fine. I just didn't have Sandberg's autograph. Again.

I finally got Sandberg's autograph a few years later. My dad came home with a signed ball one night. He scored it through some business connection. It was nice of my dad and the ball is still one of my prized possessions, but I was in high school then and already knew full well Ryne Sandberg was mortal. He was just a baseball player, I thought as I held the long-coveted autogrpah, just a regular guy. What was so big about this? I recalled my childhood infatuation with him and winced.

Today, when I read the Hall of Fame headline, Ryne Sandberg once again emerged as an immortal, all-powerful mythical figure in my hazy head, just for a moment or two. It was a nice state of mind to have a visit with.