With the mountainous amount of quality TV available on Netflix, HBO, AMC, & FX, I keep putting off watching any Amazon original shows even though I've heard many good things about some of them. I had to watch the pilot for The Last Tycoon, however. I tend to dislike modern film industry-themed narratives, but make it a good period piece, and I'm in.
The Last Tycoon was the novel that F. Scott Fitzgerald was working on when he died. It was loosely based on the life of Irving G. Thalberg, the Universal & MGM wunderkind who defined what a Hollywood super-producer should be. The novel was unfinished and unpolished upon Fitzgerald's death, and I was not going to read something in a not-meant-to-be-read condition from such an iconic author. However, when it was announced that Sony was making it into a series to be aired on HBO, I was excited. It fell apart at HBO, like so many projects do, but Amazon swooped in to pick it up. I'm glad they did.
Amazon has pilot-offs, where pilots go against each other in competition, and then the winner gets picked up. The Last Tycoon pilot won the previous competition, so it's going into production now. They're leaving the pilot up for us to watch to get a taste of what's coming.
It's well-produced. The casting is solid. Kelsey Grammer and Lilly Collins might be the biggest named stars, but seasoned actor Matt Bomer more than holds his own. The sets are terrific and effectively put one back into 1930's Hollywood. Amazon is certainly spending some money on some of their shows.
Most of the ratings for the pilot were in the 8.5/B+ range. I think that's pretty accurate. Since I love that era so much, I'd probably even rate it a bit higher. It did what a pilot should do: efficiently set up the characters and setting, put up some obstacles, and leave us hanging so we want more.
I'm not sure when the full first season will be released. I'm guessing not for awhile. But if you're looking for a good, old school, 1930's Hollywood story, definitely check out the pilot on your Amazon Prime.
I finally got around to watching Richard Linklater's groundbreaking film that follows the life of a family over the course of twelve years (using the same actors throughout). The film has a 98% RottenTomatoes score and a 100% on Metacritic. It simply doesn't get any better than that.
During the 165 minute journey, Linklater casually tells the story of a young boy growing up within a broken family in different parts of Texas. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play the parents as superbly as we would expect them too. The boy, whose journey we are experiencing, is also played extremely well by Ellar Coltrane, who through the course of all the years, becomes an excellent actor right before our eyes.
There is plenty of drama, as different father figures come and go, and as the adults make various decisions which turn out to not be the best. They, along with the kids, realistically mature throughout the narrative as they pass through different stages of life, and just as in our lives, their decisions start getting better.
This is fundamentally a story about the boy, Mason, who has far too many adults pushing him to commit to a direction throughout his childhood, when he has no idea upon which path he should take. At an early age, he learns how chaotic life can be, and he learns how hard it is to choose the correct answers when they seem so fuzzy at times. As adulthood is pushed on him by his parents, we feel the weight and pressure of the over-parenting.
The story itself is wonderful. It's easily relatable which is what Linklater does best. He delivers moments where we're thinking "Oh, we've been there. Yes. We. Have."
What's frustrating is that this excellent film could have been a masterpiece if it weren't for some very suboptimal execution mechanisms. One of the most annoying is how Linklater continually uses dialogue far too blatantly to dictate to the audience how much time has lapsed. If Mason walks into his birthday party, someone has to ask him his age right off the bat to alert the audience where we are in the timeline. It's distracting, completely unneeded throughout, and felt forced every single time.
The film also lacks subtlety in many scenes that would have been played more effectively had they been cut down. Ethan Hawke was well established early on as a father who tried too hard--that pushed his children to believe his views too much. Then it's reinforced again, and again, and again. One particular scene that would have played out much better was one where Mason sits in the minivan with his father and his new wife, and it's revealed that the father had sold his old sports car to pay for the minivan. The scene then drags on with Mason getting upset because it had been promised to him when he was a young kid, and with his dad blathering about how cars are bad investments. The point is that the dad had gotten to the point in life where he had to sell his dream sports car because his priorities had changed. That would have been enough to shock Mason into seeing his dad differently. All the rest was excess that just dragged an already too-long movie further than it needed to go.
Some scenes are handled brilliantly, however. Mason talks to his dad in an empty balcony of a club, while a band tunes up on the stage below. After some needed small talk to establish the scene, Mason asks his dad what it (life) is all about. His dad reveals that even at his point in life, he has no idea, and nobody else does either. It's a great moment between father and son, and shows a very specific couple of points in life that they had each grown to. Linklater's handling of the scene was superb.
I love how Linklater ended the story. It was laid back in his usual style, yet it was profound as well, and a fitting conclusion to Mason's arc of childhood. As the credits roll, one has to just sit back and think about what all has been absorbed. It's a heavy moment.
I think Linklater deserves an enormous amount of credit for daring to get this film made. IFC Films also deserves credit for taking a chance on such a long-term project. Hats off to the actors as well. This movie is truly groundbreaking, something that is rare in the current era of film.
Though I had some problems with it, I did fall quickly into the story and truly did want to see where the characters were going. A few unwanted annoyances did kick me out at times, but each time I was able to fall right back in. It's hard to complain about such a huge undertaking that was crafted so well for just a few million dollars. Richard Linklater has done some remarkable work. I think he's proud to have this project on his mantle.
My Rating: 8.7/10
My gaming time took a major hit the last few weeks as a result of my moving combined with the Olympics being on. I've finally got everything going and have been starting to get in some quality time. Here's what I've been playing:
1. Overwatch - Been getting into more of the characters. This is a great game if you only have 20 minutes or so to play a couple of rounds.
2. The Witcher 3 - Been roaming around The Skellige Isles.
3. Minecraft - Only playing for a couple of hours a week, but I'm sure it'll pick up here and there.
I've ordered Madden NFL 17 because the reviews have been the highest in years, and because it's been a couple of years since I've bought a Madden Game. Man, do I miss the NCAA Football series. Praying that'll come back. 17 is set to unlock tonight, so I'll be able to dive into it after work.
1. Bloons TD 5 - best money you'll ever spend for your phone. I play a few rounds or so every day.
2. Table Tennis Touch - purchased this recently, and it's a gem.
3. Magnetic Balls Bubble Shoot - Best bubble shooter I've played.
4. Candy Crush - I'm fading now that I'm in the level 800's.
I'm still crushed by the Titanfall pre-Alpha tech test. I'll be glued to the gaming sites to see what's happening with Respawn. Man, do I hope they somehow pull this off, but hope is fading so fast...
Sometimes, after artists have had incredibly successful runs, you put too much faith in them, and then they end up breaking your heart when they inevitably let you down. I still remember the day in August of '91, when I rushed home after purchasing Metallica's Black Album, and became more enraged after every song I listened to. It was such an incredible slap-in-the-face to the band's hardcore fans who thought they'd never sell out. Well, it's real life, and they did. And to true metal fans, the result was garbage.
I also remember September of 2007, when I started playing the beta for Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the day it was released. It was easy to see that this was a huge step forward in the development of first-person shooters. Then came Modern Warfare 1 & 2, both tremendous games. Soon thereafter, came the firing of Vince Zampella and Jason West from Infinity Ward. They decided to start their own studio: Respawn Entertainment. In 2014 they released Titanfall, which exceeded the unbelievably high expectations I had for the team. It quickly became my favorite FPS of all time, and was the genre's most innovative game in years. It took Activision two cycles to copy the game mechanics of Titanfall within their Call of Duty series.
Needless to say, my hopes for Titanfall 2 where as high as Mt. Everest. A few days ago, I told a friend "There is no way this game will not be great." Well, now I have my doubts.
For some completely incomprehensible reason, Respawn, instead of releasing a Beta, released a "pre-Alpha tech test," just weeks before the game's release date. Why on Earth would someone do that? What good can come of such a thing?
Well, while I worked yesterday, I watched Redditors release one comment after another on the tech test. The comments slowly trickled in, and they were brutal:
No Titan timers!
No Burn Cards!
Titans are too slow to get into!
People don't move!
There are barely any Titans!
The maps are horrible!
What happened to Attrition?
This gameplay isn't fun!
I'm canceling my preorder!
Please, Respawn, delay the release, and fix this thing!
Then the articles started coming out, confirming how bad things were. I got home late last night, set the tech test to download, and went to bed. I woke up at 8am, and gave it a try.
I played a couple of hours throughout the morning, and I can confirm, it is absolutely no fun, whatsoever.
We have no idea what Titanfall 2 will be like once released. What I think we can safely say is releasing this version, at this time, was an unbelievably horrible idea.
First off, if you're using the Source Engine--something that is older than sin, don't release a test that doesn't look sharp. It's just going to lead to criticism for the eight weeks up to the game's release. People were already criticizing you for not using a modern game engine.
Secondly--why would you release something that isn't fun at all? Everything that made Titanfall so great has been stripped away. Every, single, thing. If you're going to release something that's pre-Alpha, do it six months before the release so you don't scare the living daylights out of people. Release a tight Beta going into the final stretch.
Third. If you strip all the intriguing strategic aspects out of the game in this test release, such as burn cards, let people know that they'll be there in the final product. If they're not, you've just killed the game for a huge chunk of players.
This version is a knife blade to the gut of Titanfall fans. It will do the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. Instead of creating positive buzz, it's forcing people to question whether or not they're even going to buy the game.
I am the biggest Titanfall fan in the world. Nobody loved that game more than me. But I've been burned before. Even the best creators drop horrible bombs now and then. I'm not sure what the hell Zampella is thinking. Even if the game comes out with 9.0 and 9.5 reviews, the release of this tech test will sour sales. To make matters worse, DICE, which is coming off of the much-loved Star Wars: Battlefront, is releasing Battlefield 1 a week before Titanfall 2. We all have seen the amazing footage from B1. Millions of people are going to be laying down their $65 on DICE before the reviews for Titanfall 2 even come out.
What an epic disaster. I'm not confident that Respawn survives this, unless the game is an absolute gem and they're just doing this to lower expectations going into the final stretch.
All I know is if those reviews aren't incredibly high, the biggest Titanfall fan in the world is going to go with DICE's product. And that's a crying shame.
I found a pretty cool (and I think useful) website called thetruesize.com. It allows users to accurately compare the sizes of states and countries (which are obviously massively distorted on globes).
I think this can help us as writers because it gives us a sense of how large things are compared to places we know. It's difficult to get a sense of how big Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, or Bangladesh are, without having lived there. Fortunately, with this site, we can get a clue.
For example, Spain is slightly smaller than Texas (which doesn't seem accurate in my mind):
The Netherlands is much, much smaller than the state of Utah (how can that be?):
It turns out that Brazil is really, really big:
And Bangladesh, with its 172 million people, is half the size of New Mexico, with its population of just over 2 million:
I think this tool can not only help us with travel times, but it can give us a better sense of population densities as well. I'm definitely adding it to my writing research folder.
I've talked about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian on this blog before, not only for my love of the novel, but because there have been several attempts to adapt it into a film (most recently by James Franco)--something that many in the industry feel is an impossibility to do well, given the novel's immense violent nature. In fact, Ridley Scott, who once tried to get the project off the ground, famously said that "It would have been rated double-X."
A few years ago, William Monahan (who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Departed), was given the chance to adapt the novel. I've long wanted to read his draft, and thanks to a nice redditor, was finally able to get my hands on it.
Monahan's first act was written extraordinarily well. I fell into the story as quickly as I did the first time I read the novel. Although no one could match McCarthy's vivid description of mid-1800's Texas, Mexico, and California, Monahan does a serviceable job to say the least, especially with the limited amount of space he had to work with. The Kid's travels down to Texas, the Glanton gang's move into Mexico, the initial battles with the Apaches--it's done well.
Then the Judge is established, and it's clear where Monahan diverges from the book--to the detriment of the story. The master-craftsman McCarthy brilliantly layered the Judge within the multitude of members of the Glanton Gang, The character is slowly established, and it's not until deep into the novel that we realize his true significance, not only to this story, but to the world as a whole.
Monahan was restricted by time, so he hacked out most of the other character's dialogue. He gave the Judge much more prominent of a place in the story--right from his establishment. This ruins the whole character, and frankly, does immense damage to the story as well.
However, with the exception of this unfortunate fact, the Monahan script is relatively strong, specifically in the first act, and first-half of the second. The end of the second act and the entire third act do need some work. But, this is a very workable script, much to my amazement.
Monahan changes the ending (one of the greatest endings in fictional history, in my opinion), and absolutely crashes and burns with it. One has to wonder what the hell he was thinking. It's bizarre that he would even attempt to alter such a brilliant end to an amazing story. But he does. Probably an ego thing, but when you're adapting arguably the world's greatest living writer, don't fuck up the ending. Is that too much to ask?
I think with a bunch of work, which would definitely include the removal of (perhaps) 70% of the Judge's dialogue, and with the beefing up of some of the side characters (such as Toadvine and the Delawares), this script could be made to work to the level of our high expectations attached to McCarthy adaptations. Above all, that ridiculously bad ending would have to be changed back to McCarthy's original intention. (The greatest scene in the whole book is removed for some reason).
So, overall, I was impressed with Monahan's attempt. This is truly a near-impossible project. He took a hard shot, and it ended up being decent. In fact, the first third of the screenplay is pretty incredible. As it stands, however, I'd hate to see this script shot. The magic of who the Judge character is would have to be added back in, and that addition would certainly be made through substantial subtraction.
I absolutely love watching the Olympics, both the Summer & Winter Games. It's not just about the actual events--it's about the narratives. We learn so much about these athletes, and the trials and tribulations they went through to reach the grandest stage. Then we watch them succeed or fail, against the world's strongest competition. It's a true delight to witness.
Every cycle, there're new real-life heroes, the likes of which rival our greatest fictional characters. They get cemented in our long Olympic lore, not only for us to remember, but for future generations to honor as well.
I thought the opening ceremonies last night in Rio were pretty good. I was not a big fan of the London opening ceremonies, but obviously, Beijing's were spectacular. My favorite of all time were the Salt Lake City Winter Games opening ceremonies. From the girl in red with the lantern, to watching the US Hockey team light the soaring cauldron--it was fantastic throughout.
I really hope that Los Angeles wins the competition to host the 2024 Summer Games. I'd love to see many of the events, and unlike some, I'm willing to put up with the couple of weeks of horrible traffic. I'd also like to see a Winter Olympics at some point as well. It's something that's definitely on my bucket list.
Having the whole world get together in peace to compete in sporting events is absolutely wonderful. And every cycle it gets better as we're able to see more events with the expansion of tv channels and internet coverage. It's especially fun when it's in our hemisphere, and we're able to see a lot of live events.
There are some things that the world gets right, and the Olympic Games is definitely one of them.
What a busy end of July I had. I did manage to get moved from my apartment in the East San Fernando Valley to my new condo in the West SFV. It was 105F most days, and it wasn't a fun move, so I'm very glad that it's done.
I'm making slow progress on the stacks of boxes that inhibit my movement around my new place. I finally got my internet connected today, almost five days later than expected. Here's the fun story behind that:
I set up my Time Warner cable myself, over the internet. I brought my own cable modem to my new place, and couldn't get any connection. After calling the Time Warner rep, and after much confusion, we finally figured out that I was off by a digit when entering the new address. We then find out that a technician has to come to my place. A couple of days later, the tech comes, can't get a signal, so he traces the line, and it ends up going to a dish on the roof and not the cable junction box. He can't run the new line because the Co-Op has only contracted service through a different company. A couple of days later (today), the new tech comes, and I finally get my internet connection working. Excited, I set up my Xbox and come to discover that I can't find the power cord to the external drive (which I have most my games on). I know it's in a box somewhere, but Lord knows which one.
So that's the fun stuff of moving. Though I did get most of the painting done before the move, I still have some left to do and some trim work as well. Needless to say, I'll be busy for a few weeks.
I'm hoping to get back to writing soon. It's been too long. I'm going to have to start rereading my new novel from page one. But since I'm about halfway through the first draft, it'll be fun. I'm hoping my wi-fi router will reach all the way to the pool. If not, I might have to buy a more powerful one.
Yesterday I did go down to the pool to read. It was nice. I went for two 45 minute swims, one during the day, one at night. Hopefully, the exercise will help get my mind in shape as well.
I'm guessing that in a couple of weeks, I'll be writing daily, and having time to watch some of that wonderful TV that's out there. It's been a busy, hot summer, but I'm loving my new environment, and believe it will help me be more productive. One can only hope.
Jon David Rosten, author of
Order "The Wicked Trees" off of Amazon, today!