Friday, March 27, 2009

Fade In: The Controversy

It seems that somehow I have found myself in the middle of a war between Fade In: the screenwriting magazine, and The Wrap, an online entertainment magazine, so I just wanted to put my side of the story on record:

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a reporter for The Wrap. The reporter wanted to know about my experiences with the Fade In: screenwriting contest, as I had come in 2nd in the Comedy category in 2005. I agreed to talk with her.

The reporter asked me if I was happy with my relationship with Fade In: as she had spoken to a number of people who had not received the prizes they were promised. I told her unequivocally that I had received everything that was promised to me. I also told her that the notes I got from staff writer Allen Ury were some of the best notes I had ever received, and that I had been a finalist or the winner in a number of contests and none of them had done more for me than Fade In.

She asked me if I knew of any other writers who had not received their prizes and I told her I did not know the outcome of any situation with any other writers in the contest, which I still do not.

Finally I admitted to her that I was a little disapponted that I felt "cut off" from Fade In: after my last set of notes. Although I was told that the script was sent to New Line and MTV, which I believe, I never received any feedback from them, either directly or through Fade In: I also did not receive any further communication from Fade In:, and when I tried to contact Audrey Kelly, was deflected several times, until finally I got through to her and she agreed to put together a list of ten agents and managers who I could contact with my script. This never happened and I was never able to get in touch with her again. At no time did I tell the reporter that this level of access was a promised prize of the contest, only that it was something I expected and hoped for.

I saw the article shortly after it appeared, and pretty much only read the part that included me. Since it stated that I received the prizes I was promised but disappointed that I didn't get that list of contacts, which was all true, I said the article looked fair. I could not and cannot speak to the fairness of the rest of the article because I have no relationship with any of the parties involved.

Shortly after this I received an e-mail from Allen Ury expressing his shock at my participation in the article. I sent him an e-mail in response (which he may not have received), detailing what I have said here, that I told the reporter that I did receive what I was promised, though I was not happy with how our relationship seemed to end.

When I went back to The Wrap website, I saw they had a follow up article which stated:

The letter said Fade In had made good on all promises of cash, prizes and connections to contestants Patrice Williams, Powell Weaver and Craig Berger.

But all three denied receiving portions of their promised prizes and/or industry connections in interviews with TheWrap.

This sentence craftily makes it seem like I denied receiving portions of my promised prizes when I in fact am only part of the "/or industry connections" part.

In the end, I just want to reiterate three points:

1) I always got all the prizes promised to me and I never contended, to The Wrap or anyone else, that I did not.

2) I thought that Fade In: ended their relationship with me abruptly and that was a disappointment to me, even though I understand there were no explicit promises of industry access as prizes in the contest. I mentioned it to the reporter because I think most people enter these contests with the hopes of gaining this access, rather than winning a few hundred dollars.

3) I have no idea whether or not Fade In: made good to the other people named in the article or any other contest participants. I have no relationship with those people whatsoever.

So that's that. Hopefully now we can all get on with our lives.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Ten Most Significant World Series of Poker Final Tables

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of the World Series of Poker this year, I'm taking a moment to give my take on the Top 10 Most Significant WSOP Final Tables:

10. 1995: Winner: Dan Harrington Number of Players: 273

This year is notable for two reasons. One, the winner, Dan Harrington, went on to make two more final tables (and he had already made one before) and to write some of the best known books on tournament Texas hold'em, Harrington on Hold'em, where he talks about, among other things, his thought processes in tricking Howard Goldfarb to bluff all-in against him on the final hand when Harrington held top pair. And two, it featured the presence of Barbara Enright, the first, and to date only, woman to make the final table.

9. 1972: Winner: Amarillo Slim Preston Number of Players: 8

Notable Line: Slim: "It feels better in!"

The second main event ever, what makes this one notable is how it ended. Back in 1972, poker was a game of smokey backrooms, and unlike today, no one was interested in becoming a celebrity, save one: Amarillo Slim Preston. When it reached the final three, Doyle Brunson simply took his money and withdrew, an option not available today, and Puggy Pearson dumped to Slim to avoid the spotlight. Slim made the most of the win though, and by appearing on programs like the Tonight Show, became the first poker celebrity and helped to improve the game's image, decades before the poker boom.

8. 1998: Winner: Scotty Nguyen Number of Players: 350

Notable Line: "You call, gonna be all over baby!"

What's memorable about 1998 is it was one of the most watched finals before the poker boom. Scotty's goading comment to runner up Kevin McBride, causing him to go all in when he could only play the board, is one of the enduring memories of older poker fans, and Scotty remains one of the most well-known and top pros in the game today.

7. 2001: Winner: Carlos Mortenson Number of Players: 613

Two years before Chris Moneymaker and hole card cameras put the WSOP on the map was a final table that ESPN would drool at the prospect of televising today. In addition to eventual champion and future WPT main event champion Carlos Mortensen, the final six featured two time 2nd place finisher Dewey Tomko, former champion and all time bracelet holder Phil Hellmuth, two time final tablist and well-known poker celebrity Mike Matusow and popular player and commentator Phil Gordon. Even more amazingly, probably the most recognizable face in poker today, Daniel Negreanu, just missed the final table, finishing 11th.

6. 1977 Winner: Doyle Brunson Number of Players: 34

1977 represented Doyle's second consecutive WSOP victory, putting him in rarified company with Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar and Johnny Chan. Amazingly, Doyle won both with the same hand, 10-2. Would Doyle have the same legendary status as the Godfather of Poker and the author of poker's bible, Super/System, if he had not won two in a row? Who knows?

5. 2000 Winner: Chris Ferguson Number of Players: 512

Famous Line: T.J. Cloutier: "You didn't learn THAT in my book!"

When the 2000 World Series came around, T.J. Cloutier was widely recognized as the strongest tournament player in the game, and was favored to win it all. He might have, too, had not the dominated Ferguson spiked a nine on the river to suck out on Cloutier on the final hand. Also notable was the final table presence of Harper's Magazine reporter Jim McManus, who entered the tournament while researching a story on women and poker and went on to make the final table. McManus' story, which later became the book Positively Fifth Street, may have been one of the early contributors to the poker boom.

4. 1987 Winner: Johnny Chan Number of Players: 152

In addition to being the series that introduced the world to Johnny Chan,who would go on to win two series in a row and almost three, this final table featured some impressive future poker stars, including Dan Harrington, who would go on to be the most successful WSOP main event player of all time with four total final tables and a win, including two final tables in the post boom era, and Howard Lederer, a frequently seen face on the poker tour.

3. 1989 Winner: Phil Hellmuth Jr. Number of Players: 178

The final table that should have cemented Johnny Chan's legend as the greatest of all time instead gave birth to a new legend. When Hellmuth's pocket nines held up on the final hand, thwarting Chan's bid for a third consecutive championship, Hellmuth became the youngest champion ever, and went on to create a new dimension of self-branding in poker.

2. 1988 Winner: Johnny Chan Number of Players: 167

One of the major contributors to the poker boom was the movie Rounders, staring Edward Norton and Matt Damon, possibly the best poker movie ever made. The WSOP main event featured was this one, specifically, Chan trapping Erik Seidel for all his chips on the final hand. Chan and Seidel both went on to achieve great poker success, and became the first poker celebrities since Amarillo Slim.
1. 2003 Winner: Chris Moneymaker Number of Players: 839

Notable Line: Sammy Farha: "I could make a crazy call on you."

Of course, the series that gave birth to the poker boom was the 34th series in 2003. Due to hole card camera technology, viewers at home could see and understand every bit of action, resulting in the most comprehensive coverage ESPN had ever given to the WSOP. This enabled a growing faction of poker fans to see that anyone, even an accountant from Tennesse, could achieve poker fame and fortune, and poker has been growing ever since.

If you liked this, you might like my Ten Most Influential Mainstream Comic Books in History. Then again, you might not.

Friday, March 06, 2009

On Watching the Watchmen

If eagerness to see it is any indication, Watchmen is going to be a monster success. I saw it an hour after its official release and felt like a latecomer, as several people had already reported to me having seen it. Anyway, here is my review, which will have spoilers at the end, so read carefully.

General Overview
Four stars. While I had modest expectations, I think this movie is as faithful an adaptation of the source material as a three hour movie could possibly be. To be sure some elements were modified and some left out, which I will address, but on the whole, I'd say Zack Snyder pulled it off.

The Performances
Off the bat, Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Rorschach, was simply amazing, on the order of Heath Ledger's Joker, in my opinion. From his opening grunt to his final stand in the snow, I thought Haley captured Rorschach perfectly. Who knew Kelly Leak had it in him?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as the Comedian, was unfortunately a little disappointing. His was certainly a competent performance, and to be sure, a lot is going on with Edward Blake and this is a challenging role, but the Comedian has some of the best, most pithy, thought-provoking lines in the Watchmen series, and there are times I felt that Morgan failed to give these lines some of the punch and passion (or stark dispassion) that they merited.

The Look

The movie looked cool. There was no doubt about it. Modern technology enables the filmmaker the ability to bring this material to life in a way that no one could have ever dreamed possible in 1985, and its great to have the opportunity to see it.

The Sound

Snyder's choice to pair each set piece with an overpowering pop song reflective of the time and moment did not work for me, and was the one major failing of the movie in my eyes. It almost felt like the movie was being given the equivalent of a laugh track.

For Non-Fans

While people unfamiliar with the graphic novel will certainly enjoy the movie, I'm not entirely sure they will be able to follow the whole thing. The "master plan" was modified for the movie format, so I felt like some of the "clues," for example, The Comedian's drunken midnight confession to Moloch, do not quite make sense. However in the end, the revised master plan is certainly clear, so perhaps that is all that matters.

The Modifications (BIG SPOILERS HERE)

The decision to leave out the Black Freighter and its implications is one I understand, as it enabled them to trim down the movie considerably. That being said, the necessitated revised ending is at once elegant and far too messy. Saying that the plan was simply to unite the world against Dr. Manhattan rather than against a fake alien monster transplanted into New York City was the elegant part. However, the movie seems to indicate that Ozymandias uses Dr. Manhattan's power to destroy something on the order of five major cities. Ozymandias' original plan only required taking out half of NYC for the same result, making the original a far cleaner, and far more Ozymandias-worthy, solution.

The tone, if possible, I thought was even darker than that of the graphic novel. In particular, with respect to Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. The movie portrays them as unrepentant killers. In their first fight scene, it seems that they clearly kill some of their attackers without remorse, something that does not seem to occur in the graphic novel. Similarly, during the Police Strike Riots, the novel has The Comedian using rubber bullets and tear gas, while the movie seems to have Nite Owl standing idly by while Eddie uses live ammo on innocent civilians. I think its important that Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have different (stronger?) moral fiber than some of the other characters, and that was lost.

The ages. The Comedian and the second Silk Spectre were both aged up to be the same age as their peers, with the Comedian appearing to be an adult as part of the Minutemen in the 40s and the Silk Spectre the same age as Nite Owl and the others in 1985, about 35 years old. I understand why they did this, but the reasons to do it are the same reasons it is problematic. Both characters were supposed to be teenagers, about 16, when with their respective super peers. This would be troubling on screen, as it would force the filmmakers to depict a teenager attempting to rape a grown woman in one era, and a man in his late 30s (Dr. Manhattan) carrying on an illicit affair with a teenager in another era. However, the contrast here, especially when we learn that the Comedian is in fact the Silk Spectre's father, is beautifully poetic and an important part of the story which should not be lost. On top of that, an adult Comedian wearing what is clearly a kid's costume in the 40s looks a little ridiculous.

On the whole, I have only some minor quibbles, and think the movie is definitely worth seeing. Maybe more than once. The diehard fans will probably never be satisfied, but I think this telling of the story is as good as anything they could have hoped for.

5 Things You Didn't Know About WATCHMEN

On the release of the new WATCHMEN movie (which I have seen and will review in the next post), here are 5 things that you probably didn't know about WATCHMEN if you are a layperson. If you are a comic book geek, you probably do know most of these things, but maybe not all of them:

1. The Heroes of WATCHMEN are based on "real" superheroes

While people unfamiliar with Watchmen will probably think of characters like Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan as simply veiled versions of Batman and Superman, this is really only indirectly true, in that Superman and Batman were the archetypes for hundreds of superheroes to follow. In fact, the WATCHMEN heroes are based on the Charlton Comics super hero pantheon. DC bought the Charlton brand and was looking for a way to use the characters, but the proposal Alan Moore brought to them would have rendered these bought and paid for characters unusable for future projects, so Moore was forced to come up with imitations. In fact, the heroes are alternate versions of: Captain Atom (Dr. Manhattan), The Blue Beetle I and II (Nite Owl I and II), The Question (Rorschach), The Peacemaker (The Comedian), Nightshade (The Silk Spectre) and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt (Ozymandias).

2. The Heroes of WATCHMEN are based on OTHER "real" superheroes

While the Charlton heroes created the template, some of the other aspects of the characters are based on heroes outside the Charlton Universe, including Superman (Dr. Manhattan), Batman (Nite Owl), Mr. A (Rorschach), The Shield (The Comedian) and The Phantom Lady (The Silk Spectre).

3. Alan Moore does not want to be associated with the WATCHMEN movie

OK, you probably did know that, but what you don't know is WHY. It's only partly about an objection to crass commercialism. In the beginning it goes back to the deal that Moore had with DC Comics. If the Watchmen characters were not used by DC within a certain amount of time, the rights to them were to revert to Moore. Since there would be no reason to use the characters once the series was completed, it seemed a fait accompli that Moore would get the characters back. However, to sidestep this loophole, DC had the main character in their book "The Question" (The Question being the character Rorschach was based on, see above) READING the graphic novel and DREAMING about the characters, as a way to retain the copyright. Needless to say, Moore was less than pleased.

4. There ARE no "Watchmen"

In the movie, "The Watchmen" are referred to as if they were an established superhero team, featuring Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, The Comedian, the Silk Spectre and Ozymandias as a sort of alternate reality Justice League. In fact, in the graphic novel, only one super team exists, the Minutemen, who were disbanded in 1949. There is a gathering of the "Watchmen" for one ill-fated meeting in the late 60s in a failed attempt to create a team, but they are referred to only (and only by the would-be founder, Captain Metropolis) as "The Crimebusters."

5. There ARE no superhero comic books


In the movie, after Ozymandias reveals his master plan too late for anyone to do anything about it, he scoffs at Nite Owl that he is no "comic book villain." In the graphic novel, Ozymandias says he is no "Republic serial villain," referring to an old movie company that would run film series of western heroes, super heroes, and other B movie fare. In addition to the fact that this sort of sounds cooler, Ozymandias does this because in the book, there are no more super hero comics, since with the existence of super heroes, this type of entertainment would no longer be escapist fantasy. Instead, comic book stories consist of adventure subjects like pirates and cowboys, and in fact, a pirate comic book features significantly into the plot of the graphic novel.

Hope this enhances your enjoyment of WATCHMEN