Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The New Blogger

Well, I finally made the switch to the new Blogger and I don't know if I like it better or not.

We'll find out with time, but I'm sure you'll notice that things have changed just a little bit and that's why.

I've added or fixed a few links. I've tried to streamline things a little.... Who knows.

If anybody sees any glaring problems due to the switchover, let me know.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Untitled Obesity Documentary

I just wanted to let everyone know why the posts have been a little lax in the last couple of days.

I've been swamped on the documentary. And there's a few things to check out in case you guys haven't heard about them yet:

The Documentary is on IMDb, you can check it out here.

We have a website for the production company, you can check that out here.

Someone threw up a wikipedia entry for me, but not Steve, you can check that out here. It's actually a little weird, it's embarrassingly accurate.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Aint it Cool News

Moriarty over at Aint it Cool News saw fit to publish my three reviews from Sundance yesterday.

They even left in my plug about the Obesity documentary and Calvin Reeders film "Little Farm."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sundance '07


I don't have any fancy pictures or anything, you'll all have to talk to Steve about those, but I did get a chance to see three movies today at the festival. They were all documentaries.

First up: "Autism Every Day". This was a short 44-minute film and it seemed like it was an hour and a half. It had all the makings of a great documentary but somehow managed to stop short of each and every one of them. The film follows eight families with autistic children in them for 24 hours. Good premise, right? Well, they manage to stick strictly to that. I don't know any more about autism than when I went in except that it pretty much sucks to be a parent of an autistic kid. It was 44 minutes long and they could have easily gone feature length with an interview with a doctor that specializes in Autism explaining the mechanics of the disorder. A couple of parents talked briefly about how they are on the border of bankruptcy because they have to take care of their autistic kid and that would have been a perfect segue into a part on the failures of the American health care system. One of the grandparents of an autistic child mentioned that all the grandparents of autistic kids should get together and do something in the halls of congress. What should they do? The filmmakers never allow anyone to explain. What are the current political situations regarding autism that would require action on the part of the grandparents? They didn't explain that either. They also talk about how shocking the prevalancy of autism has increased. It's now 1 in 166 kids. I don't know how much it's increased though, the filmmakers forgot to tell me.

Overall, I think this would be a great first draft of a feature length doc about a pressing medical issue. And the subject matter was interesting, it just needed to be fleshed out. And the editing got rather sensationalistic at times.

Next: "Miss Navajo". This film revolved around the "Miss Navajo" beauty pageant held yearly on the Navajo reservation. I was mildly interested to see this film, a few of my good friends are Navajos and thought it might be interesting to see a different take on their culture. Overall, the film was generally mildly entertaining if not a little bland. You could tell the director cared deeply about the subject matter more than most audiences would, but that's the great thing about documentary film nowadays. The form has cheapened to the point where anybody can point a camera at something they find interesting. I say that as a good thing.

The film wasn't bad, but I can't see anyone who's not interested in the subject matter in the first place terribly interested in the film. I was quite curious to find out how much they spent on the film, but the filmmaker refused to answer the questions relating to the budget. It was beautifully shot though, he should own up to the fact that it cost money and if it didn't cost money, he should be screaming from the highest mountain tops how good his film looked without a substantial budget.

I don't have much else to say about this film. It's an interesting film if you're interested in Native American (particularly Navajo) culture. If you're not interested in life on the res, then it might very well bore you to tears.

The last film of the day was "Enemies of Happiness". I think this film was the best of the bunch and the most important. It documents the 2005 parlimentary of election in Afghanistan through the eyes of Malalai Joya, a woman who ran for parliment and was quite a national figure fighting for democracy in a misogynist society that has gone through more than a few governments in the last 25 years and was coming off the heels of the US led invasion. The reason I think this film is important is that it shows how primitive and chaotic a life in a middle-eastern country can be in a post-invasion environment. The environment was tense but generally peaceful when compared to Iraq and I don't think I could handle living in constant fear of my life. And that's another amazing thing in the movie, the subject, Malalai Joya, is such a preposterously strong and brave woman, it's a wonder that a country that has spent who knows how long oppressing women could produce such a strong national hero.

The cinematography was especially good in this picture as well. There were a couple of spots that it got a little heavy handed though. In particular, there were a couple of spots where they actually shot through a burka and I understand the intention but it takes you our of the story and makes you realize that you really are watching a movie that has human actors behind it.

Overall, it was a pretty good day at the festival. I tried to go see Hounddog, which was playing at the Tower Theatre tonight, but it was all sold out and the waitline was too long for me to brave.

We got a DVD of Calvin Reeder's "Little Farm" though and I'm quite anxious to see that after Quints review of it from the other day.

We're so busy on our film though, I'm not sure if I'll have time to catch more films, but I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union

I watched the State of the Union address last night as well as the democratic response. I must say, Bush still isn’t very impressive. This wasn’t the homerun he wanted to rescue his poll ratings from the toilet. The speech was entirely rehashed fluff.

Yeah, he made a few head turning statements. Mentioning climate change for one. That was a step in the right direction, but mentioning it is a long way off from doing something about it.

He also pulled the same old “Stay the Course” business from the last few years that is really starting to piss me off. Well, let’s be honest, it was pissing me off since the very beginning, but it’s frustrating to see him so foolishly stick to his guns. Why are we still in Iraq? If we would have left right after the invasion, before the sectarian violence set in, things would have been a lot better. In recent weeks, the war has only gotten bloodier. Why are we still in Iraq?

I liked Jim Webb’s response to the State of the Union address although I think he lacks enough personality to keep people watching. They should have had Chuck Schumer or Charlie Rengel do the response. Those guys have charisma.

But, if you boil it down, the State of the Union address was Bush asking Congress to give his new plan (read: staying the course) a chance and the Democratic response was essentially them telling him that he’s had a dozen chances too many.

And I can’t say as I can argue with that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Overrated

I just wanted to go on the record before the Academy Award nominations are announced in the morning and say that two movies that are likely going to be nominated for a bunch of awards weren't very good.

Those movies are: "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Illusionist".

They just weren't very good and I don't know why people seem to think they were.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Neal Shaffer


Any long time readers of this blog know that I am a fan of Neal Shaffer and am damn proud of the fact that he saw fit to allow Elias and I the opportunity to work on getting his graphic novel "One Plus One" made into a feature film.

So, I saw some stuff Neal has been laboring over lately and wanted to post an update about what he's been up to.

His material certainly deserves all the attention I can send it. Which may not be much, but I do what I can.

First off, Neal wrote an article that was published about two icons in the design industry. Milton Glaser and Paula Scher. It's quite an interesting read. These two do the thankless work that it seems that no one notices. I mean, think about buying a comic book from DC five years ago. The logo was as much a part of the piece as the rest of the book, but there was never any question about its existence. I mean, for guys my age, the DC logo has been constant, ever-present. It was though DC came with it. But no, this man, Milton Glaser actually birthed it....

I'm not sure if that made any sense, but I hope you get the idea.

Anyhow, here's the article.

Next up, the second volume of Neal's "Borrowed Time" is coming up pretty soon. You can get more details on the "Borrowed Time" blog.

The first issue was quite good. I really liked it.

In fact, not to sound like a fanboy, I really like all of Neal's work. You could do worse by picking any of it up here. I highly recommend "Last Exit Before Toll."

The Robotech Score


I wrote my review of Shadow Chronicles (see here) and I mentioned briefly that, even though I liked very much the music used, I would have liked them to have used some more familiar themes throughout the piece.

Never would have I guessed that the actual composer of the film, Scott Glasgow, would reply to this. (I can't help but imagine that it had something to do with this report of my review.)
Now as for "more of the music from the original show"-- The director and I set out to make it fresh and new (like what happened between Star Trek 1 and Star Trek 2).. I tried updating a couple of the other themes (Zentradi theme, Biomech theme) and it simply did not work for me--- they sounded dated from a CHORD and HARMONY perspective and not to menation the synths were painfully bad.. Also, frankly I just didn't like them,, it need a fresh new modern take on this,, so that is what we did.. I feel it was a good choice for me as a composer (working in someone elses shoes is very hard from an artistic sense)..

remember how many times you have seen a revitalization of an old series / movie to only hear very small bits of the original music--- think of Superman Returns (which is a good example) or the new Batman (which had NONE of Elfman's music).. There are millions of examples --- I watched GODZILLA (the Dean Devlin one) and there David Arnold had a brilliant score with not one ounce of Ifukube's music and I think it was better that way,, not to say anything is bad about Ifukube's music--- its just dated (just like Ulpio's tracks for Robotech)..

None-the-less,, I hope you understand what a tremendous amount of work it was to score this film and appreciate what I did bring to this new film.. I really went for that Star Wars treatment where the themes are all woven in to the textures of the film.. You will hear the love theme for one second before going into the heros theme..

Take another listen (and watch) you will hear more of the original theme than you think--- remember when one of our charactors dies to save his buddies? The "taps" funeral trumpet theme is actually a slowed down version of the main title by Ulpio! Another moment is at the beginning when the fighter pilots "race back" to the moon base--- that is also the main title arraged completly differently.. It is everywhere but just not obvious..

Give it another listen and hopefully my work will grow on you too.. The CD is coming out a week after the DVD (if you were curious)..

best,
Scott Glasgow
(composer of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles).
So, there you have it. Straight from the horses mouth the deal with the score. I'm certainly going to keep an eye out for the new cues. I will certainly be buying the DVD and watching it along with the rest of my Robotech discs.

And I did notice "To be in Love" humming around in the background in that officers club. I kept thinking to myself that the scene would cut to a bunch of drunken pilots, arm in arm and lost in love singing the classic tune, but it never happened. That would have been golden.

Then, I mentioned that I thought half of Robotech's charm is that they had all the same cues for the entire series. It was cheesy, but you really learned to love those cues.

I'm excited for more Robotech and I'll be there if they put them out theatrically... Which they should talk to me about, their theatrical release could have been much larger, even from DVD... (yes.... they projected the version I saw from DVD.) I booked This Divided State on 30 screens (good ones, too) across the country and from DVD. I could take over the world with a Robotech movie.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sundancing

Steve and I have been having meetings and parties and stuff up at Sundance last night and today.

Posting will adjust accordingly on Monday.

With pictures from this weekend, too.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles


I'm a nerd.

All of you knew that. There's a few things that I am extremely nerdy about. Star Wars, principally, and I'm sure most of you knew that, too. But I don't know how much my Robotech nerdery shows.

Here's an example: My daughter's middle name is "Miriya".

I'm a Robotech nerd. It came as no surprise to me that when, late last night, I read that the new Robotech movie was going to play in limited release in Salt Lake City on one screen for 6 days only, I was there, front row and center. (I did the old double feature today, first "The Good German" and then Robotech.)

I've read a lot of terrible reviews for this movie and I was expecting the worst. But my love of Robotech parked my ass in the seat anyhow and I was pleasantly surprised. I was so happy to see Rick Hunter and Scott Bernard again. I was happy to hear Roy Fokker (even though he wasn't in the movie, he was voicing a different character). In fact, pretty much the entire original voice cast is back and it's a treat if you've watched the original series as much as I have.

It wasn't as bad as all everyone made it out to be. In fact, it was pretty good. It wasn't great, but there were a couple of problems that prevented it from reaching the greatness it deserved.

The first problem was the horrible, horrible, headache-inducing computer generated space battles. If they could ace the process of doing hand-drawn space battles with the same ships twenty or thirty years ago, why bother trying to switch to CGI. And if I were the director, I'd have seen the dailies of the CGI animation coming in and start screaming for a switch to 2D hand-drawn. All of the hand-drawn animation in this movie was really good. My favorite character animations were all of Maia (daughter of Miriya) Stirling.

I would bet that the reason it wasn't all hand-drawn is because CG is cheaper now-a-days and it's a shame that something as cool as Robotech has to be compromised in anyway because of a lack of money. That's why if you like Robotech you need to go see it.

The second major problem with the film was that it felt like it was an entire season (maybe two) of Robotech condensed and revised to fit into a 90 minute time constraint. I could see where expanding it into a series would be a great move. The characters lacked the depth that the rest of the installments of Robotech had because whereas with the series, you'd get five or ten episodes with a major sub-character before their timely death and it would be heartbreaking. In this film, it was kind of... Just not as much....

There were also a couple of other minor problems:

1) It needed more of the music from the original show adapted into the body of the piece

and

2) I wanted the singing part to include one of Minmei's two songs. ("To Be In Love" or that "stagelight crashing..." one....)

I don't see anyone but Robotech nerds caring about any of this at all. So, if you like Robotech and any of what I just said made any sense, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It has the same campy awesomeness as the show and it's just entertaining as all hell.

It's also nice to see some progression to the story that ended in a cliffhanger twenty bloody years ago.

(Also: If anyone has the power to get me in contact with someone who could get me into writing or plotting some Robotech (comics, films, whatever) I'd greatly appreciate that. I don't know if anyone does, but stranger things have happened by my posting here.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Good German


I have been quite excited to see this motion picture.

I'm in love with that old Hollywood style of making movies. I like Soderbergh. I like Clooney. I love Blanchett. I loved the book.

I was severely disappointed by the fact it took me an extra month to see this picture.

What I was not severely disappointed by, was the movie. It was pretty good. It wasn't an amazing, fantastic, orgasmic motion picture. It was pretty good. The acting was all interesting, the dialogue was all fairly period, the look and style of the picture was amazing.

I'd love to make a movie like this. It put a smile on my face the whole way through.

I have only two major problems with this adaptation that made it a 7 out of 10 instead of a perfect score.

Problem #1) Soderbergh made the choice to make a period movie. Everything about it was held to the mid-40s standard of technology and acting. Everything but the language and nudity. Now, I'm not squeamish about nudity and I have, at times, what could be called a potty mouth. They just didn't belong in this picture. They should have made the film so it would have passed muster against the Code. I think this would have made the film much more plausible as an artifact of the 40s and much more commercially viable.

Problem #2) I've read a number of reviews from critics that have said that the major problem with the film is that the style keeps all of the characters at arms length. This is simply not true. It's the screenplay. It's the adaptation. The film was substantially different from the novel, and that doesn't bother me. I'm fine with writers and directors taking liberties with the material, that wasn't the problem. The problem, it seemed to me, was that Attanasio threw out the best material for an adaptation in this style. A more clever writer would have left more to insinuation and been able to play in that era more capably.

Don't expect too much, but don't avoid the movie either. It really does have merit.

We should be supporting experiments in film like this with our box office dollars.

Another Review of the Film

The Eclectic Gamer has posted his review of This Divided State on his blog.

So....

Head over here to check it out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Scud: The Disposable Assassin

Good news from the comics front (not that most of you care, but it makes me giddy) but Rob Schrab (from Channel 101 and Monster House fame) has committed to finishing his series Scud: The Disposable Assassin.

Scud is an assassin purchased in a vending machine and programmed to self-destruct when his mark is killed.

The series ended when it was revealed that he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse and the world was pretty much about to end.

This news makes me happy.

You can check out more at Rob Schrab's website, where he has a vlog documenting his progress.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Free Speech 101 update

I got an email from Joe Vogel today. I thought it was worth passing off to you guys.
Dear Friends,
Quick update on Free Speech 101. The book was recently "highly recommended" by the Midwest Book Review, whose reviews are distributed to libraries and universities across the country. It is also currently being reviewed by a publication in Spain. Thus far the book has done quite well overseas, having found an audience in Australia, Sweden, Spain, and Japan among other countries (largely as a result of the documentary, This Divided State). Free Speech 101 has also been endorsed by such prominent academics as Noam Chomsky and Harvey Silverglate. The book was used as required reading in a political science graduate course at George Mason University. It is now available at many bookstores throughout the country as well as Amazon and other major online retailers.
These are few of the highlights over the past couple of months. Thank you very much for your continued support. We're hoping to make it to a second printing here soon, so please help spread the word to friends and family.
You can visit my website at www.freespeech101.net for more info and updates.
Thanks,
Joe Vogel
P.S. If you get a chance write up a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
--
Joseph Vogel
Author of Free Speech 101
www.josephvogel.net

Too Little


It seems as though the Democrats are taking steps in the right direction again, but it seems as though it's merely a drop in the bucket.

They're looking at putting a cap on the amount of money corporate executives can place in tax-free, deferred compensation plans. They expect that such a plan would raise taxes on the preposterously rich by as much as $806 million over the next ten years.


Like I said, it's a good first step, but the real problem is the amount of money they're making in relation to how much they're paying the lowest paid workers. Why can't we work out a scheme that the highest paid worker in a company can't make more than 20 times the lowest paid worker. So when the executive gets a raise, it would give everyone in the company a raise. I think that places would like this better than a "minimum" wage, becuase this way they'd know how much they could waste on a hot air machine (read: CEO).

On a sidenote, I'm sick of hearing people say that raising the minimum wage is pointless because now prices of everything will go up. That's preposterous. The amount the minimum wage is going up is negligible. And the amount of profit that the sort of companies that set prices are making, even with the small hit from increased wages, is still stratospherical.

I don't know.

My point is this: We need to do something to level the financial playing field of all Americans.

Wouldn't this country be a lot better if the richest in the country were only 10 or 20 times richer than the poorest?

The answer is yes.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth


I have witnessed genius this evening.

I saw Pan's Labyrinth and it was sad and sweet and heartbreaking.

It was everything I like to see in a movie, good guys, bad guys, imagery that will knock your socks off and an ending that will cleave your heart in twain.

I'm madly in love with the setting. I have been since "The Devil's Backbone." And the way Del Toro uses the setting to tell his stories is enough to take your breath away.

There isn't much I can say about this film that I'm sure others haven't said better, but I was struck by a few things in particular. Chiefly, it reminded me very much of the general thesis of Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle." It would be presumptuous of me to boil it down to a sentence or two, but allow me to try: It seems that even though organized religion (or a more base belief in the fantastical, in the case of Pan's Labyrinth) is completely fictional, as long as it causes a relief of pain and suffering and makes people feel better about themselves and their situation, it's a fine thing indeed. It truly is the opiate of the masses, but in a good way, generally.

I felt that this story fairly well re-affirmed that sort of idea. Perhaps Ofelia is dreaming everything, but if that makes things better for her, in the end, who are we to argue?

Like most works of art, it also remains as a stinging indictment against the preposterous indignities of wars. It seems that any film that has anything to do with any war, anywhere from any time, shed light on the idea that the people calling the shots aren't exactly in tune with things like empathy or humanity or really, anything worth being in tune to.

There are hundreds of things I could praise in a review of a film like this, but what would the point be?

At the end of the day, when you like a movie as much as I liked this one, all I can do is say, "Go see it for yourself." And when you do, all I can ask is that you like it as much as I did.

Read PART TWO here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

IMDb External Reviews

Just so everyone knows, IMDb seems to have added all of the reviews of films we've written on this blog.

So, for instance, my Children of Men review can be found by clicking "external links" on the Children of Men IMDb page.

So. I guess that's pretty cool.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service


I recently watched the sixth James Bond film. It was the thankless orphan “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Regrettably, it was George Lazenby’s first, best and last Bond film.

I was stunned.

I’d never watched it before because I was told that it was that sad orphan and that Lazenby wasn’t very good. I would argue that Lazenby is every bit as good as Daniel Craig, making them tied for my second favorite Bond. He brought a realistic anonymity to the role that it needed. He brought depth to it.

He was the perfect follow-up to Connery. And I would argue that the James Bond franchise wouldn’t have needed this “reboot” of Casino Royale if Lazenby would have remained James Bond. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” maintained a gritty reality and warmth that the Connery Bond films had since left behind to a degree. It grounded them back into some sense of reality.

And, to be honest, the ending of the film is both haunting and heart breaking. Even by the end of Casino Royale I wasn’t nearing tears, but the end of this picture truly made me sad.

The raw emotion and vulnerability when Lazenby says, “It’s all right. She’s just resting. We have all the time in the world,” is enough to melt hearts of even the toughest Bond fans.

I watched it and then re-watched it and it made me wish that Roger Moore hadn’t been James Bond. Don’t get me wrong, I like Roger Moore, but lets face it, his Bond movies were fucking cartoons. Remember how he picks up Blofeld on his wheelchair from the helicopter and drops him down an industrial smoke stack in “For Your Eyes Only”? It was balls.

I’d forgotten why the Dr. Evil character in Austin Powers was so funny, because I’d only remembered Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas playing him and they were bloody brilliant.

Anyhow, what I’m saying is this: if you like James Bond movies, go back and give “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” another viewing. It’s now one of the few Bond movies I want to own. (To date, I only own Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and Goldeneye.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A name fitting UVSC's slant

Well, Michael Moore and UVSC are together again in the news. This time, a “Charles F. Abbot” of Provo offered the following in today’s Daily Herald under the headline “A name fitting UVSC‘s slant”:
After the Michael Moore fiasco and Utah Valley State College’s decision to select the “Vagina Monologues” as its school play I decided I would never support this college, even by visiting its campus, and encourage my friends to withdraw any support they might be offering.

However, I understand the college is seeking help on picking a new name. I decided this was some small support I could in good conscience offer. How about “UVSC at Berkeley”?

Charles F. Abbot
Provo
Two things disturb me about this letter. The first is all the standard arguments about this manss anti-intellectualism, etc. It’s disturbing that people are still pissed off about Michael Moore’s visit to campus and the production of the “Vagina Monologues.” It’s even more disturbing that this Charles F. Abbott character is so bent out of shape about it that he had to renew his rage in so public a forum.

The most disturbing thing about this is, though, is that I’m almost sure this Charles F. Abbott guy used to write what used to be one of my favorite columns in the Herald from my days in High School. He wrote a column that answered various legal questions and explained the ins-and-outs of the law. I really liked his column. I’m something of a junkie for that sort of thing, but if it was him that did all that writing, I doubt I’d read his column again. I mean, if his judgment was so lapsed about the above issue, what else could he be dead wrong about?

(I did a little calling around and I'm still not sure if they're the same guy. I would hope not, the lawyer Charles F. Abbott seems like he'd be way more reasonable than letter-to-the-editor writing zealot Charles F. Abbott.)

Utah Senators Should Be Beaten With A Hammer

So, I go to lunch yesterday and there's a Salt Lake Tribune just chillin on the counter. I pick it up and read the front page headlines.

Top of the page:

"UTAH SENATORS STAND BY BUSH" After a sneak preview of the new Iraq plan, Hatch and Bennett have nice things to say.

Right under that (like 2 inches):

"THREE DEATHS HAUNT TIGHTKNIT GROUP"
Bomb-dismantling squadron leader calls fatal blast 'catastrophic'.

Those three deaths were of Utah soldiers in Iraq. They blew up. One of these soldiers was Elizabeth Loncki, age 23. Here's her picture. She's dead now. And probably in pieces.


Senator Orrin Hatch, kool-aid drinker and cult member, said, "Retreat is not an option." As if he's fuckin' Charles Bronson or something.

Senator Bob Bennett said, "This (Iraq Plan) appears to be the best way to move in this situation and we'll wait and see if it produces success."

"WE'LL WAIT AND SEE"?!?!?!?!?!

With all due respect, Senator Bennett, but fuck you.

And fuck you, Orrin Hatch. You're both a disgrace to logic and reason and to the lives of those being lost senselessly in Iraq.

Orrin Hatch can play "Book Of Mormon Stories" with his eyes closed AND has "nice things to say" about the war in Iraq.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Vultures, vultures everywhere."

This a repost from a while ago. I read this post again and it rekindled all sorts of rage, so for those of you who haven't read it, here it is again.

Credit Card companies are vultures and they are, I believe, in part, responsible for the financial crises low-income and/or young Americans find themselves in these days. Bear with me, I'm going to go on a well researched rant about companies like Citibank and MBNA, etc. In the efforts of full disclosure, I want to say that I don't have a credit card. I don't have a debit card. I don't have a checking account. I have a savings account and when I need to pay a bill, I get a bank check from a teller. I don't do automatic withdrawals and I don't like buying stuff on the internet. I don't like the idea of being in debt. I've had a couple of personal bad experiences with credit card companies and have vowed not to use them.

I apologize for the unreasonably long post, but please bear with me.

I've been thinking alot about this recently and I came across this article that started to piss me off. Here's a couple of highlights:
[people] born in the 1980s, [are] the leading edge of a generation that is shunning paper payments like no other before it.

So even if they aren't increasing their debt by buying with a credit card, consumers who use debit cards might wind up with less money to save than they would if they paid for things with cash.

The article also goes on to explain that this plastic spending trend is significantly reducing our national level of savings. This article explains that in November '05 Americans spent 0.2% more than they made, it was the seventh straight month of Americans spending more than they made and they expect that trend to maintain it's average over the entire year when all the data has been analyzed.

"You're seeing a situation where the consumers are spending every penny they possibly can and borrowing on top of that," said Joel Naroff, a Pennsylvania economic consultant...

And these credit card companies are offering people who can't afford a credit card credit cards, throwing them into debt and bankruptcy. It's not just anecdotal evidence that credit card companies will send pre-approved offers to anyone. My son, who is three years old got one a couple of weeks ago.

I was at Little Caeasers pizza last night buying a pizza and there was a human "lead box" for a credit card company there. He was offering a free pizza to any BYU student who would surrender to him all of their vital information for a credit card application. (And who knows who else they'd be selling this database of information to.) He'd taken out ads around campus and the lobby was literally chock full of 35 students hungry for a pizza willing to hand over all of their personal, vital information to this vulture. So, these starving students will get this card, spend on it, not be able to pay it back and then end up in Bankruptcy court. They'll end up declaring bankruptcy because they were hungry for a $5 pizza.

And sometimes, even if you can pay it back, they still come back to haunt you. When Elias and I made our first film, Missy, we spent about $5,000 of our own money on it. For about $500 of it I got two credit cards of $250 each so we could make the movie. I paid them both off and forgot about them. (bear in my mind, I was also 18 years old and shouldn't have been able to get $500 in credit in the first place.) A couple of years later, one of the companies sent me a $500 bill. The company I'd originally got the card from and paid the debt off to, "sold" the paid debt to another company and that company contended that I'd never paid them. I sent them copies of checks and everything, nothing would abate them. I was too young and naive to realize I could sue them for this gross mismanagement of data, so I just paid them. In any case though, these aren't problems people should be dealing with.

Were I to have declared bankruptcy, I'd still have that on my record. And with these new credit-card company written Bankruptcy laws on the books, I'd be boned if I had to do it now. I did some research about those and found this, this and this.

A couple of my favorite quotes?

Far from being either an effort to stem "Bankruptcy Abuse" or an effort at "Consumer Protection", the bill is in fact an attempt to rewrite bankruptcy laws to reduce the ability of those laws to protect consumers from predatory lending practices on the part of MBNA members, and to stiffen the capabilities of those corporations to collect from consumers already suffering from extreme financial hardships.

Consumer advocates say it is bad enough that the bill does nothing to protect consumers against predatory lenders and faux non-profits, but they also fear that the bill will actually push people into economic relationships with those types of agencies.

"In our opinion, it’s going to create a whole new industry based on taking advantage of the people who can least afford it..."

Here's a good transcript of Democracy Now! about the situation with Re. Jim McDermott.

Some highlights it reveals:

You know, the corporate media has sort of presented two views on this: One is that the bill is addressing massive fraud, a claim disproven by evidence from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accounting Office, the FDIC, the non-partisan American Bankruptcy Institute, numerous academic studies. The truth of the matter is that bankruptcies are up, because debt is up, dramatically. And in fact, in relation to debt, bankruptcy filings are down. And debt is up in large part because of the neglected health care crisis

Since 1989, the credit card companies have given over $43 million in campaign contributions.

Child support payments will go first to credit card companies in many cases, rather than to children. I mean, it's absolutely extreme. And there's a long laundry list of changes, and they are all to the disadvantage of consumers.

It is a done deal, but there's an election next year, and we want to remember who voted which way, and we want to keep up the pressure and the media attention.

DebtSlavery.org is a good place to see a number of other articles and references.

Predictably, my own representatives in the Senate, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett voted for it, as did my Congressman, Chris Cannon (who also took $2,000 from Jack Abramoff). An interesting sidenote about Chris Cannons press release is that he claims child support payments move up to priority one on the list of debts, but detractors of the bill claim that money goes first to the credit card companies, then to child support.

Looking to the passed text of the bill it's too confusing for me to tell who's right. This bit from "The Women's News" had this to say about it:

As wives and mothers, Entmacher said, women would suffer an additional burden if the bankruptcy bill became law because spouses who are seeking alimony or child support have the same priority as commercial creditors--without the legal staffs to pursue their claims.

And I found this bit from a non-partisan consumer reporting agency, Consumer Reports:
The payment of child support and alimony would be endangered. Today, child support is among the few obligations that cannot be wiped away in bankruptcy. By allowing more credit card and other debts to also survive the bankruptcy process, the bill puts banks in competition with parents trying to collect child support from former spouses who have declared bankruptcy. The bill’s provision that would require child support to be paid first when distributing the assets of chapter 7 debtors is virtually meaningless. About 95 percent of chapter 7 debtors have no assets to distribute in the bankruptcy proceeding.
The article itself is very informative about the bill in general as well. Highlights from the rest of the article:
The bill does not contain a single restriction on reckless or predatory lending by creditors. “While credit card companies urge Congress to erect new bankruptcy barriers for many families, their profits are soaring,” he said. A large body of evidence links the rise in consumer bankruptcies in the last twenty years directly to an increase in consumer debt.

Much of this lending boom was fueled by the extension of credit to vulnerable consumers, including young people, lower income Americans and minorities, and the elderly. Some lenders, such as those offering “predatory” mortgage loans, targeted these borrowers with often deceptive offers that had abusive terms.

“By making it harder for consumers to wipe away abusive loans in bankruptcy, this bill rewards the bottom feeders in the lending industry,” said Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Programs Director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “These are the firms bombarding college students with high interest credit card offers, or peddling predatory mortgage loans to older Americans, or marketing payday loans at triple digit interest rates to cash strapped members of the military.”
See, more evidence of that human lead box at Little Caesaers being a predatory asshole.

Here's the Wikipedia article about the bill. It's worth reading, too.

I don't know. I want to apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to be thorough. I think theres a reason credit-card companies are bad and the politicians they have in their pockets (Republicans as well as Democrats) need to be held accountable for the vicious nature of their industry. We need to see this on the midterm slate of election issues and Democratic and Republican candidates alike need to work towards a reasonable Bankruptcy reform bill that addresses the need for protection of consumers from the predatory nature of the credit card companies, not the other way around.

I hope Pete Ashdown takes this to the mat as a key issue he can use to get the moral high ground over Orrin Hatch.


Loan-sharks like Citi-bank and MBNA truly are the vultures described by the pick-pocket in Casablanca. Or perhaps with this new bill, a more fitting description would be that of Shylock... Either way, they're picking our pockets when we can least afford it.

Wikipedia

We finally have a wikipedia entry for "This Divided State."

I think that's pretty cool.

Two New Short Stories

I unearthed a couple of shorts from a few years ago, so I posted them.

Both are scripts for short films that were going to be shot, but never were.

The Last Days, a story about war

and

The Executive Attendant, a comedy.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Children of Men


Children of Men.

Wow.

This was a breathtaking piece of legitimate science-fiction. It’s not often anymore to see a film that is true science-fiction. Much as I love Star Wars, it truly did popularize the notion that Space Opera was science-fiction.

Good science-fiction, to me, is something of a more literary quality.

1984.

THX-1138.

Blade Runner.

These, to me, typify the dystopian myths of the future. Good science-fiction is a parable. Something that, when stripped away, will show you something about the goings-on of the day that you didn’t fully realize. Great science-fiction seems to be apt at just about any juncture in history. 1984, for instance, becomes more and more harrowingly luminescent of things to come as time marches on. THX-1138 is a blueprint for the direction of the world if prozak-popping Christian conservatives were in charge. Each time one is elected, we come one step closer to the horrifying reality portrayed in the film. Blade Runner shows us what life is like when people are treated like robots to the point where we have to test peoples humanity in order to separate men from machines.

Children of Men is a story not only about the spirit of man, but a world with an ever increasing distrust of foreigners and immigrants. It also reveals the dangers of a government that is willing to encroach on civilian life with military force. Bexhill, the immigrant “refugee” camp seems to me to represent Baghdad and government armies and political radicals fight each other in the midst of civilians without a care in the world. The camp of Bexhill is even outfitted with Guantanamo-style prisoner kennels, replete with black hoods and blaring music.

It’s horrifying and scary.

Except, in this world, the mere sight of a child is able to stop the fighting. In the current war, in Iraq, the sight of children seems to stop nothing.

The more I think about it, the portrayal of war in this picture is actually nicer than what is happening in Iraq.

The point is, the story is amazing. The storytelling, the filmmaking, is utterly breathtaking.

Cuaron stages shots that go ten minutes in length across three blocks and up flights of stairs that include heavy physical effects, tanks, hundreds of extras, squibs, gunshots and top-notch acting performances that force actors to remain in character for ungodly lengths of time. Sustained shots for more than a minute or two always keep me on edge and some of these shots go on for entire reels, it seems.

And they all stand out.

One is an amazing chase from the inside of a car where action is occurring on the outside and the five performers on the inside are all reacting. Another amazing shot is a car chase down a grassy hill where a car won’t start all in one sustained shot.

The most bizarre thing about the chase is that, in one single camera shot, Cuaron manages to make it tense and electrifying. He keeps the action on the edge of your seat and the cars are literally just rolling down a hill. I was on the edge of my seat.

Long story short, every good thing you hear about this film is true. Cuaron is an amazing filmmaker. (To date, he’s made the only Harry Potter picture worth watching.)

You owe it to yourself to go see this motion picture.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Democrats have a plan


It seems as though the Democrats finally have a unified strategy on Iraq:
"Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror," Reid and Pelosi wrote.
It's great that they do. But does it really make a damn bit of difference unless they actually mandate it as a law.

Bush isn't going to listen to them, so realistically, they could suggest anything they want to. Anything would be better than increasing troop levels and if it comes from the democrats, then Bush is sure to ignore it.

They could devise a plan that could guarantee we're out of there in three days in victory and Bush would still ignore them.

Although this plan sounds sane, they could argue that the reason we lost the war in the first place is because we didn't give the Iraqi's flowers to throw at us when we "liberated" (read: bombed) them, and since that lost us so far, it stands to reason that if we give each Iraqi a fresh carnation, we'll be out of there all the sooner. For all the pomp and circumstance of their counterplan to Bush, it still amounts to nothing of flowery talk. They don't have to come up with a plan to be used, because they know it won't be used. They need the appearance of a plan.

Because it doesn't matter. To Bush, phased redeployment and shifting the principle mission to training is the same to him as asking him to give government issue pink carnations to each Iraqi citizen.

And for that, he's a hard-headed douche bag.

Y tu mama tambien

In advance of my plans to go see "Children of Men" tomorrow night, I watched "Y tu mama tambien."

It was an excellent film.

I was really surprised. It was really good.

I was a little pissed off that I didn't see it before I started (or finished) my novel, which covers a bit of the same ground. It's weird how that works, you create something and then it's validated a little bit when you see truths of it scattered in other pieces of popular media.

Cuaron is also shaping up to be one of my favorite filmmakers.

We'll see how "Children of Men" turns out.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Barack Obama


I think Barack Obama could make a good next president.

Personally, I really like the guy. his speech at the last Democratic Convention was, to put it mildly, electric. He seems like a decent man with a good head on his shoulders. He's soft spoken and has had no problems in admitting mistakes (even if those mistakes include having done blow.)

I read his editorial in the Washington Post today and it gives me hope that the next generation of lawmakers have a chance to help fix things.


And, if you notice, Barack Obama doesn't seem to talk like other politicians. I've never got the impression from the man that he was capable of double-speaking his positions. He just seems so sincere and likable. Those are important qualities in a political environment based on TV appearances. He's like a young, black, Jack Kennedy. And instead of having to jump the religion hurdle, like Kennedy did, he'll have to jump the race hurdle.

I just hope that either Barack Obama or someone like him can make it to the stage of Presidential Candidacy. I mean, as much as I'm probably going to vote for a third party, a third party isn't going to win. No matter how much I'd like Ralph Nader to be president, it's not going to happen. So the best I can hope for is people to nominate a seemingly stand-up act like Barack Obama.

Who knows.

Maybe he can do it. Maybe he won't. Maybe he's just another politician who says whatever he can to get where he wants. Maybe not. I don't get that impression.

But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Straczynski


Mr. Straczynski (JMS as he signs his email) has responded to me about his thoughts on the film personally. I have asked for his permission to republish them here.

If I get the permission, I will post it up here.

He's a sharp guy.

Also, I think it's amazing how many different random photos of the man there are on the internet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

RECENT "DIVIDED STATE" PRAISE

Haters beware...

Hi,

My name is Andreas Haglund, I am an 18 year old filmstudent from Sweden. I just bought the swedish Devided State dvd, and I'm stummed, or however you spell it.

I have seen so much Iraq, Us-election, Bush Vs. Kerry Crap the last two
years but this film was one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. I mean, it's
Koyaanisqatsi, The Friedmans and This wounderful devided state.

The very last clip, the no-one-is-the-devil-character and the not at all
many Michael Moore-scenes.

Yes, that was a film.

Best Wishes
Andreas Haglund

______________________________

I just watched “This Divided State” on Free Speech TV, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Great job!

Craig Gillette
Justice Through Music Project
http:/www.jtmp.org


_______________________________

Hey Steven... just saw your movie. Great stuff, man.


I'm in the beginning stages of working on a documentary of my own and I wanted to touch base with you for some thoughts and advice. Please let me know if you're down to chat.

Thanks!


Danny Ledonne
http://www.emberwildeproductions.com


J. Michael Straczynski Update


I went over to the message board dealie and, as per Jan's instructions, posted a question over there, so we'll see if it gets responded to, I'll let everyone know. My message was as follows:
"This Divided State" was on the list and I'm curious what you thought about it...

I'm the producer/assistant director and everything else on it and I was at your writing seminar at Comic-Con (I asked you how to get an agent, I already had stuff at WMA, CAA, etc. and you sarcastically told me to get the hell out, that I didn't need anything from you).

Had I known you knew about our little film I'd have tried to catch you and ask you about it then.

I posted up a post about this on the films official blog as well, if you care to check it out...

http://thisdividedstate.blogspot.com/2007/01/j-michael-straczynski.html

I'd love to pick your brain about the film (or film in general) for five minutes if you were interested.

Bryan Young
This Divided State
Also, in a bizarre coincidence: according to the IMDb, JMS (as he seems to be known on the internets) and I share a birthday. I was beginning to think David Hasslehoff was the only other person in film born on July 17th. And before you say Hasslehoff wasn't in any films, let me remind you that he was once Nick Fury: Agent of Shield.

J. Michael Straczynski


This is an odd bit of news here.

I don't know how many of you know who J. Michael Straczynski is, but he created and wrote the brunt of the Babylon 5 series and written a number of top notch comics (Supreme Power, The Amazing Spider-man, Fantastic Four, etc.). I really like his work in comics (I actually haven't seen Babylon 5 although it's been highly recommended to me repeatedly) and so when I had the opportunity to go to a writing seminar he was holding at Comic-Con I had to go. Whenever I'm at events like that I always have to go to the screenwriting seminars just to see if there is anything about anyone else's method that I can learn from. In Vancouver, I went to a presentation Neil LaBute did, in High School I did three weekends of training under Orson Scott Card in lecture format... Needless to say I like that sort of thing.

Anyhow, I went to J. Michael Straczynki's and explained to him where I was professionally as a screenwriter and he told me, sarcastically, to get the hell out of there, I didn't need anything from him, I sounded like I was doing just fine already.

He led an interesting seminar, but it would have been twice as interesting if I would have known this.

He posted to his message board system the movies he owns and counted among them is "This Divided State."

I could have had a much more interesting and in-depth conversation with him had I known he was a fan of our work. (Maybe he's not a fan, maybe someone gave it to him and he hasn't seen it and doesn't care to, who am I to guess?)

I guess you just never know.

I would ask him what he thought about it, but apparently you have to be some type of hip member or something to comment.

CLICK HERE FOR AN UPDATE

Monday, January 01, 2007

Free Speech TV

I have been informed that Free Speech TV is running "This Divided State" fairly consistently at the moment.

If you haven't seen it yet or know of people who haven't seen it, then now is the time to see it for free on television.