Sunday, April 28, 2013

The longest response I've ever written to a comment on the Internet.

I wrote an article at on Top Ten Film Directors who Inserted Themselves in Their Own Films in Secondary Roles. It's admittedly not a perfect title as I've included two show runners (Mike Schur and Michael White) but that's more on the editor then me. While it's generally best to avoid the comments section for writers, I relish it (partially because no one comments here) and feel it's a great way to enhance the site by interacting with the readers.
I recently wrote the longest response comment I've ever written and thought it would make an entertaining read on the blog, so enjoy:
bodymaster says:
Most of these aren’t even secondary roles, they’re cameos. Given that, how can you justify having Kevin Smith (who has made arguably one good movie) on this list and not having Martin Scorcese on a list of “top 10 directors…”? What’s the measure of success here? Though I guess we should be thankful Peter Jackson isn’t on the list.
  • Orrin K (article's author) says:
    I’ve seen 10 Scorsese films (which I think is a decent number) and he was in zero of those films I saw. I start from my own experiences as a viewer to devise ideas for names on the list. If Scorsese was in none of the films I saw, why would even put his name through imdb to see how many of his own films he’s starred in.
    When I think of Scorsese’s acting career, the first two things that pop in my head are Akira Kurosawa’s film and Shark Tale, neither of which he directed.
    • Bodymaster says:
      Taxi Driver is a pretty well regarded, famous film. I assumed somebody writing an article on popular film would have seen it. I guess not.


Not that your criticism is invalid, but this is generally the kind of comment that makes me regret breaking from the standard internet writer practice of not going into the comment section.

As for you, I’d recommend making less assumptions and you’ll enjoy these lists (or at least this specific one) more or make your own list.

I could argue that Kevin Smith would be more deserving of Marty Scorsese.  That’s not an implication that Smith is a better director but it IS possible to make a top ten list on film that Kevin Smith would be on and Scorsese wouldn’t be on. I think Smith’s insertion into his own films is pretty clever: Especially the irony that he’s a loudmouth in real life and he barely ever talks in his films, not to mention the couple times he does talk, he sounds highly intelligent which I think makes for a nice twist.

The criteria for this list is two fold: 1) people who impressively inserted themselves into their movies (for me Shyamalan fits that bill because he either failed or succeeded spectacularly) and 2) if they make an interesting story. My goal, above all, is to be interesting and informative.

That’s why Dennis Dugan (whom I thought you would have taken an issue before Kevin Smith), who by all accounts is an awful director, is on this list. I felt there was a narrative there about how he failed as an actor and stumbled into directing.

Upon checking imdb, I have now learned that Scorsese is indeed in a number of his films in uncredited roles I’ve seen but I don’t see anything particularly impressive about most of Scorsese’s roles that I can directly remember like doing the voiceovers on Color of Money or on Aviator and I see Gangs of New York practically every time it pops up on TV because I love that film TV and have NEVER noticed Martin Scorsese’s role as an uncredited “wealthy land owner.”

I will say this:
If I magically went back in time and redid this list, Tarantino would be a glaring omission that I would fix. Scorsese’s somewhere in the realm of "I’ll look into it more and consider it."

As for Taxi Driver, congratulations, you have uncovered the dark secret that TopTenz does not screen out all writers who have not seen Taxi Driver, the 52nd greatest film in the history of America cinema according to a massive poll conducted by the American Film Institue, before selecting contributors. I would say that I’m qualified to write articles on film becuase I’m familiar with Taxi Driver and its historical context and every other notable film in American cinema (, for example, published a list of top 300 films and I’m familiar with all of them) so that if I were to make any of the following lists, I would be aware that Taxi Driver belongs on it: Top ten Jodi Foster movies, top ten Robert De Niro movies, top ten movies featuring child actors, top ten Marty Scorsese movies, top 1 Cybill Shephard movie, top ten counterculture films of 1976, top ten films featuring taxi drivers, top ten films written by Paul Schrader, top ten lines delivered by Robert De Niro talking to a mirror, etc etc etc.

Congrats on evoking the longest comment I’ve ever written in response to a comment on one of my articles

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Open question: Does a novelization of a film count as a novel?

On a recent episode of "The Mindy Project" (note to self: make sure your next blog post does not accidentally relate to The Mindy Project), Mindy is making small talk with an intelligent teenage girl in her apartment building and asks her what she's reading. The teenage girl is reading Jonathan Franzen (my outsider status to the literary world is apparent here as I have to ask Jonathan who?) while Mindy sheepishly replies that she's reading a novelization of the book "Iron Man." The implied joke here is that novelizations are a cheap form of literature.

I just found myself in the same conundrum. After feeling so proud of myself for finishing the novel "The Paperboy" (and blogging about it here), I went in search of another novel for all the same grandiose reasons that anyone has when they decide to turn off the TV and try reading instead: I wanted to be cultured, I wanted a greater intellectual challenge, and I wanted to lengthen my attention span.

The book "Proof of Life," based on a 2000 film about the kidnapping and ransom industry in South America, was already on my bookshelf and looked immensely promising: It was based on a film I'd seen and it was about something interesting. The book was riveting until I discovered halfway through that this wasn't the novel that the film was based on. Instead, this was a novelization of the movie. The front of the book reads "A novel by David Robbins...Based on the Screenplay by Tony Gilroy." Am I an idiot or what?

So the big question is: Are the intellectual riches I would have gotten from reading a novel still valid now that I know I'm reading a novelization? Am I still reading a novel?

Responses when I asked this on the IMDB Message Board:
  • "Counts as a novel, just not necessarily a good one." -BloodVVank
  • "Technically, yes. Intellectually, no." -Shantytown1212
  • "If film adaptations of novels count as films, then novel adaptations of films count as novels." -GrimlocksNewBrain
  • "Someone wrote it to the best of their ability - I say yes!" -Chason_S
  • "They may not be great works of literature, but it's still reading a novel. An author spent quite a bit of time writing it after all." -Unwantedaddress
  • "Sounds like you're reading for all the wrong reasons." -Dio52
  • "Does reading the Cliff Notes count as readng the book?" -Dolfanatic313
  • "I didn't even know those still existed, seemed like an 80's thing to me, but I don't see why it wouldn't count as reading a book. It probably won't count as reading a good book, and probably won't make you necessarily more "cultured", but " -Shagrroten

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mindy Project: "My Cool Christian Boyfriend" and the Endgame: How will Mindy find love?

More than most other shows featuring a single character, The Mindy Project has a clear endgame: The protagonist wants to get married and have kids and a good number of the episodes focus on Mindy's love life with the occasional foray into office politics, Mindy's relationship with her friends, or Mindy's brother.

This week's episode "My Cool Christian Boyfriend" was riddled with plot holes on a number of levels:

THE OBLIGATORY SUMMARY (skip ahead if you've seen the episode):
The episode starts with a smooth-talking guy picking Mindy up from the metro (oops!) Subway. We find out on the first date that he's actually a minister. Mindy's moderately impressed with him but when she attends his church service and hears his sermon, she starts to get all hot and heavy.  After the service, Mindy starts becoming more forward with him and telling him she's (as the youngsters say these days) DTF making for the comic highlight of the episode. He reacts by essentially dumping her explaining that while he had a lovely time on his date, altruism and selflessness are central parts of his life, and he doesn't see those qualities in her.

OK, hold up a second!: Why did the minister want to date her in the first place? She was incessantly complaining and self-involved on the Subway and even disrespectful to the other passengers. And why was the minister taking her to a fancy and expensive restaurant if he wanted to find a prospective mate who didn't value materialism?

Later, Mindy Mindy reacts to being dumped by joining the staff as they volunteer to see patients in a prison.  Mindy finds the whole situation icky and wants little to do with the patients until she meets an inmate so unreal, she could almost qualify as a female friend version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. What inmate would want to waste the rare opportunity to get a free medical consultation to discuss an episode of The Real Housewives?

If the show was attempting to give Mindy a story arc where Mindy was slowly warming up to volunteerism and becoming a better person, it failed. Mindy still isn't a good person, she only likes helping people if they can keep up with her on reality TV gossip.

Even worse, at the end of the episode, Mindy's brother sticks up for her sister when she bumps into the minister and demands an apology for treating her sister poorly. Why should he have to apologize? Being dumped isn't easy but the minister was forthright, honest, and dignified with her.
The episode demonstrates how skewed the show can be as told from Mindy's point of view. I'm not suggesting Mindy should be a saint or that she's significantly more morally vacant than the average person, but its debatable how much the show is aware of Mindy's short comings.

In some ways, the show reminds me of Becker where the show's protagonist is unlikeable and largely unaware of it. When viewed in this light, the Mindy Project is a more interesting show. If nothing else, it makes better sense that Mindy has trouble with guys (although the show seems to stigmatize unmarried women in their 30's as if having not found Mr. Right is equivalent to social failure).

From here, there could be two routes to Mindy's final goal of meeting Mr. Right: 1) Recognizing that she could be a less self-involved person or b) Finding a man who doesn't mind that she's self-involved and matches her shallow interests.

If the show goes with Option #1, it would be a more interesting and holistic show. Less plots would be need to be focused about dates and relationships gone wrong before meeting Mr. Right and the subsequent diversity would be a good way to avoid creative exhaustion from one romantic plot too many.

The question comes from whether Mindy Kailing and the show's writers are self-aware enough to portray Mindy this way. The way tonight's episode played out in the first act, one might think that B is also very possible because the writers can easily cook up slightly contrived situations where a sort-of Mr. Right comes in and easily overlooks Mindy's flaws but I much prefer Situation A