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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

Well, at least they ended the suspense before any real curiosity could be created. The Writers Guild of America, currently picketing the pleasantry out of the awards season, announced the nominees for their 2007 accolades. Divided into categories for Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Documentary (which, apparently, is considered an indirect form of writing), the organization at the center of current industry chaos took a moment off to praise their own people. With the recently truncated Critic’s Choice Awards, the all but called off Golden Globes, and threatened Oscars giving the industry pause for concern, many wondered how the striking organization would handle their own stab at trophy time. Of course, they cut out all the speculation by simultaneously announcing that their own banquet for recognizing the winners would be cancelled as well.

It wasn’t the only intriguing thing about the WGA’s nods. Since they follow the Academy mandate and recognize both original and adapted work, the writers decided to do what Oscar doesn’t and give comedy a little love. Humor was the basis for 80% of the screenwriter-created category, while drama took 20% (seriousness is the only thing featured in the book/play to film translation category). Rumors also circulating that the WGA posted its list of choices in order of winner and runners up. Even after a similar slip up was reported last year, and a supposed randomization was used to re-identify the contenders, it appears the same thing has happened again. So in the name of all that’s fair, SE&L will scramble the names in that good old statistical standby - alphabetical order. That way, a small amount of surprise is left come disclosure. Let’s begin with:

Best Original Screenplay

Diablo Cody Juno

The Oscar for Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) is often referred to as the ‘Runner Up’ award. It is usually given to the artist or newcomer who, while outside the studio system or movie mainstream, deserves recognition for what they accomplished. It’s where the Coens, and Quentin Tarantino earned their only Academy acknowledgment. Cody should be prepared to have her name listed among this illustrious number as well.

Judd Apatow Knocked Up

In a perfect world, Apatow would be handed the keys to the cinematic kingdom. After single-handedly saving big screen comedy this year, and inspiring many to once again take up the cause of motion picture wit, some peer recognition would be nice. While Superbad got all the gross out geek love, this is the better movie - from both a performance and screenplay position.

Nancy Oliver Lars and the Real Girl

Here’s a pleasant surprise, the recognition of a truly quirky movie that seemingly got lost among Juno‘s growing grrrrl power. Critics who had problems with this film often listed Ryan Gosling’s oddball performance as the main problem. Others argued with director Craig Gillespie. No one had a bad word to say about Oliver’s solid script, however. While it probably won’t win, it’s nice to know someone was paying attention.

Tony Gilroy Michael Clayton

Of the two Guild awards earned by this film, this is the one that makes the most sense. Gilroy is not a solid director (some of his pro-actor histrionic choices mar this movie), but you can’t deny the power in his writing. In a clear case of giving some respect to an effort that might otherwise go unnoticed, this nod feels like the final payoff.

Tamara Jenkins The Savages

Here’s the nomination that really throws us. The Savages is a strange film. It’s either undermined by its performances (mainly the mannered work of Laura Linney), or it’s a victim of a poorly conceived and sloppy script. One imagines that Guild members, wary of having to take care of their own aging parents, gave Jenkins a handout. There are definitely better efforts out there.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ronald Harwood The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

This one’s as confusing as The Savages, but for decidedly different reasons. Without a doubt, Julian Schnabel’s work is far more satisfying than Jenkins’ dour jokefest. But with so much of the material lifted directly from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book, and the reliance on visual vs. verbal cues to tell the tale, it seems like a stretch to award the otherwise fine film for its writing.

Sean Penn Into the Wild

In one of those ‘hard to mess up’ situations, Penn’s persistence with the devastated McCandless family (and their desire to keep their son’s story sacred) guaranteed that Wild would work on some level. But matched with the actor’s newfound visual flare, and the undeniable emotion inherent in the story, this could be a case of the sum being greater than any one part - including the screenplay.

Joel and Ethan Coen No Country for Old Men

It’s interesting that the Coens are the only team of writers nominated in the screenplay category (documentary does have a trio). Of course, when they make a movie jointly, they are always listed together, even if directing is more Joel’s area of expertise. As adaptations go, this is a first rate reconfiguration of Cormac McCarthy’s dark and very dense novel. The presumptive favorite, one guesses.

Paul Thomas Anderson There Will Be Blood

Whether or not Anderson can win this award has a lot to do with what the Guild considers a successful book to screen translation. Upton Sinclair’s Oil! is definitely part of the narrative strategy, but the auteur also goes off on enough flights of personal fancy to make much of this movie his own. If strength of direction and acting were factored in, he’d definitely win.

James Vanderbilt Zodiac

Talk about your dark horse picks. When people discuss the unforgettable work done in this ‘70s throwback police procedural, few are focused on Vanderbilt. In fact, director David Fincher and his commendable cast usually get first kudos, followed quickly by anyone involved in the look and feel of the film. That someone actually recognized the difficulty in condensing this complex story into a sound, suspenseful thriller is remarkable.

Naturally, SE&L thinks there are a few overlooked or unconsidered scripts that deserved credit as well. Somehow, the WGA decided to neglect these wonderful examples of the written narrative, and choose the 10 efforts above. Any one of these would easily replace at least one (if not two) of the wonky choices provided, beginning with:

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg Hot Fuzz

The insane minds behind Shaun of the Dead deliver the definitive lampoon of big budget action cop buddy action movies while systematically satirizing the concept of ‘being British’. It’s a work of undeniable genius from beginning to shoot ‘em up end.

Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard Gone Baby Gone

We know Affleck can write - he has his own little gold man for cranking out Good Will Hunting. This stellar thriller proves that said statuette was no fluke. While earning some cred, this film will probably end up 2007’s most unappreciated - and that’s a shame.

Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman The Darjeeling Limited

Like watching a novel unfold on screen, the work of these terrific storytellers lifted what could have been mannered and manipulative into something quite magical. This is the most human and heartfelt movie Anderson has ever made - and the scripts the reason why.

Aaron Sorkin Charlie Wilson’s War

Apparently, burning one’s bridges among the Tinsel Town talent pool means that, even when you do something substantially right, you get little recognition in response. Sorkin may be a sourpuss, but his biting work on this non-fiction adaptation deserves more than mere pat pleasantries.

Kelly Masterson Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

The twisted turns and tricks of a complex crime story are hard enough to navigate. Now imagine being a first timer creating a Rashomon like narrative for directorial legend Sidney Lumet. But that’s what Masterson did, and the results were stellar. Her efforts deserved to be recognized.

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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

Book World is fired up this week. Authors, librarians, readers, and non-readers all want to have their say about thing that piss them off—literary things, of course. Today’s news round-up allows everyone, including me, equal ranting ground.

Nora Roberts is mad at romance novelist Cassie Edwards for her blatant plagiarism. Roberts tells AP: “I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t see it as fair use.” Edwards’s publisher, Penguin, and her own husband are standing by her. “She doesn’t lift passages,” Charles Edwards told AP. Edwards herself said, in her AP interview that she indeed gets “ideas” from “reference books” but did not know she was supposed to credit her sources. The linked article compares Edwards’s Savage Longings (1997) with George Bird Grinnell’s The Cheyenne Indians (1928). The passages quotes are almost exactly the same. Penguin, which also publishes Roberts, will surely have some backpedaling to do in the near future.

Julia Alvarez is mad at Johnson County, North Carolina schools for banning her book, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez is quoted: “The novel is no slight ‘pornographic’ hack work that got into curriculum as a misguided selection by clueless teachers who are corrupting the minds of young people. Perhaps the high school teachers who selected the novel for Johnston’s high school students knew (they) were in fact making an informed and intelligent choice.” Right on. Apparently, some slightly racy paragraphs in the book led to the ban.

I am mad at Lisa Schroeder for dreaming up, writing, and publishing a story I write when I was 10. The Beaverton Times quotes Schroeder: “I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died in a tragic accident, but he loved her so much that he came back as a ghost. I remember waking up and feeling their love so strongly, I had to go to the computer and start writing their story that morning.” Simon and Schuster are publishing the book called I Heart You, You Haunt Me. My story was about a girl called Odessa, who meets this guy, called Clover, and they fall in love. And we learn later that he is the ghost of the boyfriend she really loved that died. It was called Four Leaf Clover. Damn you, Lisa Schroeder! If someone dreams about, writes, and publishes a book about a saxophone playing vampire who steals schoolgirls for his harem, I’ll know I’m bugged.

Wellington librarians are mad are mad at book thieves. Stuff NZ reports: “The capital’s public library users owe almost $900,000 in overdue fines, forcing Wellington City Libraries to call in debt collectors for some of the worst cases. Of that, $720 is overdue fines and the rest is fees for replacement costs. Library staff say books about the paranormal, witchcraft, psychic abilities, true crime, tattoos and Hitler are among the most likely to be overdue.” At my video store, it’s wrestling and porn. That last bit is a bit of a phenomenon. My mum is a librarian here in town and she says exactly the same books go missing from her library all the time. Apparently, books for new mums go quite frequently, too.

Missy Chase Lapine is mad at Jerry Seinfeld’s wife for stealing her ideas. Apparently, Jessica Seinfeld ripped off Lapine’s idea for a book featuring recipes for kids. She is suing for copyright infringement and defamation. This actually gives me hope that I might be able to sue Lisa Schroeder for the same thing.

Hollywood screenwriters are so mad about their lack of work, they’ve taken to writing kids books to relieve aggression. In a way. I actually can’t wait for some of these. The article reports: “Former Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle writer David Sacks, who is now an executive producer on Comedy Central’s The Root of All Evil, is writing Vigfus, a story about Vikings who come to contemporary New York and find the city too tame for their tastes, the entertainment industry trade paper said. Former Raven executive producer Dava Savel is composing a tale about a boy who creates his own town to avoid his sister.” The books will be published by Worthwhile Book, an IDT/IDM imprint.

And finally…

Britain is mad her citizens don’t read enough. This is something we’ll be getting into a bit more next week. This year is Britain’s National Year of Reading and already debate is raging about the benefits of books. Does reading make you more intelligent? How much does one have to read to be considered a reader in the first place? There’s a lot to discuss on this subject. For now, I’m linking this article mostly for the reader comments at the bottom. The gist of the piece is that one in four Britons admits they have not read a book in over a year. And, apparently, lots of them say they have read books they haven’t read just to seem more intelligent. Some highlights in the Reader Comments section:

“I don’t understand this fascination about adults not reading books. It doesn’t make you any more intelligent if you read a book or two a year. Can adults who read Harry Potter stories, Jackie Collins, Jeffrey Archer or any other novel or biography really to claim to be more intelligent. In fact I would go as far as saying reading fiction possibly lowers the intelligence, and reading biographies lowers it even more. Especially if you include the people whose biographies sell well such as Jordan, any of the Spice Girls, anybody who wins the jungle show and any modern celebrity.” Yes, he said reading fiction lowers intelligence. And not all readers, my friend, read Spice Girl memoirs. Although, I have read Geri’s.

Another one:
“It’s not that we don’t want to read. It’s simply this drivel they publish nowadays and try to pass it off as bestsellers. There’s nothing to read! No thanks. I’d much rather read a good article online.”

And finally…
“I think people would be better of trying to think of ways to improve the world rather than wasting their lives reading any sort of book.”

I don’t even know what to say.




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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

In the city of Nezahualcoyotl, 60 miles east of Mexico City, police supervisors had a great idea a few years back about introducing their rank and file officers (many of whom had been ill-served by the country’s wretched school system) to works of great literature. Problem was, it didn’t work. The men were bored and inattentive. Then one of the regional chiefs had an idea: he cracked open Don Quixote and translated it into an idiom the officers understood: police radio codes. Pretty soon the officers were asking for more books. In Manuel Roig-Franzia’s fascinating dispatch for the Washington Post, he talks about how the cops went to work on the first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which as you’ll recall, starts like this:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Once translated into police code, this is how it read:

Many alfas later, in front of a 44 squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía had a 60 about that distant afternoon when his father 26 him to 62 ice.

Whatever works.

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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

In a CNET article, Trent Raznor said that he was disappointed with the sales of the Saul Williams album he did but what makes this newsworthy is that this was yet another online experiment in pass-the-hat (getting consumers to pay what they want, like Radiohead).  He was disappointed with this figure: “154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5 as of January 2.”  That comes out to less than 20% of the people willing to shell out five bucks for an album.  But Williams himself in a separate interview with CNET saw things differently.

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Thursday, Jan 10, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Trans Am

Trans Am

Today’s the day to wear orange to voice your support for the closing of Guantánamo Bay. The ACLU has organized this visual, political effort and is calling on people opposed to torture and indefinite detention to show their thoughts by donning orange garb today. Find out more about what you can do and how to get involved on the ACLU site.

Here’s what a few folks you may know have to say on the issue:

“I’ll be wearing orange because I believe in human rights.”
Susan Sarandon

“I’ll be wearing orange because this prolonged torture is obscene, nakedly sadistic and patently un-American.”
Henry Rollins

“I am wearing orange because respecting human rights is the only way to preserve humanity.”
Gloria Reuben

“I am wearing orange to help bring back the dignity our country has lost as a result of Guantánamo. We must join together in solidarity to demand the immediate closure of this shameful prison. It has tarnished America’s image in the world and continues to be a symbol of torture and injustice.”
Meshell Ndegeocello

“Guantanamo Bay is un-American.  That’s why it’s in Cuba.”
Phil Manley, Trans Am

“Everybody has the right to be treated justly and the injustices and corruption of this facility has already been exposed.”
One Be Lo

“I wanted to get involved with this cause because I feel no matter the situation, human rights come first”.
Rasco, (one half of Cali Agents and solo emcee from NorCal)

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