Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Feeling Remote

About 15 years ago I bought a new Panasonic VCR that came with a universal remote. This remote perfectly fit the shape of my hand, and all of the buttons were in the perfect location - and were the perfect size. With a click of a button, I could program it to operate my TV *and* the VCR. I can hold the remote in one hand and operate it with my thumb. My hand can slide down the remote and easily hit every button. It is easy to use, and comfortable.

That VCR died, and was replaced by a much better VCR... with a crappy remote. You know, it was probably a more expensive remote, but the buttons were in difficult positions and it didn’t fit well in the hand. In order to use it, you had to hold it in one hand and push the buttons with the other. Hey, that’s not how a remote works! So, I tried the old Panasonic remote on the new non-Panasonic VCR... and it worked!

Since then I’ve had a bunch of different TVs and DVD players... but this old Panasonic universal remote has worked on every single one of them. I always try out the remote that comes with the TV or DVD player, and they are always poorly designed. My first DVD player was almost as big as the TV, and came with a remote that had strange buttons that operated features you never use in the places that were most convenient... while the play and other frequently used buttons were at hard to reach places. That one got tossed.

The DVD player I have now is small and sleek, the TV is big. The old remote works for both. The new DVD player’s remote has a zillion little buttons, and my fat fingers hit two at once. And, again, the buttons are in strange places. It’s almost as if a left handed person designed the remote (and I am right handed). And the remotes don’t fit your hand! You’d think it’s easy to design a remote - but obviously only those long gone Panasonic guys knew how to do it. No one else can figure it out. And the amazing thing about the Panasonic remote is that it works for everything. Everything!

This old Panasonic remote has been taken apart and cleaned a half dozen times. It’s gone through a bunch of batteries... it still works. Well, except for the channel clicker, which works going *up* channels but not going down. That means if I’m on channel 7 and I want to watch channel 9, I either have to click around the horn through Mexican TV to get there, or slide my hand down and hit the 9 button. Now, if I’m on channel 9 and want to go to channel 7, click-click, I’m there. Slightly inconvenient - but I have accidentally caught one of my movies on Mexican TV, and am now familiar with odd infomercials targeting the Hispanic audience, like the “miracle panty” which shapes a bulging fatty butt into a pleasantly shaped butt by taking all of the fat and moving it above and below the “miracle panty”. If the remote had not been broken, I would never have known about such things! (I have never dated a woman who wears the “miracle panty”.) So the defect has some interesting side effects...

But yesterday I dropped the remove, and the little panel that holds in the batteries fell off and the little plastic tab that holds it in place broke. It won’t stay in place without tape. So, there’s a big old piece of tape on my remote today... and I have realized that soon the time will come when I have to replace te batteries, and the thing will have to be de-taped and re-taped... and that’s going to be messy and the remote’s days are numbered. My current, sleek, DVD player’s remote - does not operate the TV at all. I tried that today. So, I’m probably going to have to by a new remote... and it won’t fit my hand, and it won’t be easy to use, and my life will be diminished.


- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Lingo vs. Slang
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burgers on the run at Carl's Jr.

Movies: BANK JOB - After seeing a bunch of bad movies, I finally saw a good one... twice. Reason: well, first time was with one friend when it was at the top of my list, second time was with another friend when it was the top of their list, and the alternative seemed to be 10,000 BC (which I will eventually get around to seeing, because the always prickly Kenneth Turan of the LA Times gave it a good review, as did Hollywood Reporter). When movies cost $11.50 in Los Angeles, you have to really like a film to see it twice. And BANK JOB was just as good the second time around, maybe even better. Second time you notice a lot of details you missed the first time around.

Basically, it works really well as a crime film *and* really well as a character story about obligations to family and friends. It does what I call the 50-50 split. If I were a guy who loved the first TRANSPORTER movie and was looking for an entertaining action film complete with suspense and fight scenes and people getting shot and scenes in topless bars, I would enjoy this film. If I were some guy who wanted to see a character based drama about an interesting event in history that impacted the British government, I would enjoy this film. It’s like a Doublemint Movie - two films in one.

The movie begins with a few time jumps, then settles down... and for the TRANSPORTER audience, it may start a bit slow, but that’s because there are a bunch of subplot characters we need to know about, because later in the film they become *dangerous* and create much of the reason for the shooting and fight scenes. Once all of these threads have been set up and we get to the bank robbery, it’s an express train.

BANK JOB is a *caper* rather than a *heist* - it's not about armed guys who enter a bank during the hours of operation and threaten customers and employees in order to get the money (like HEAT), it's about a carefully planned break in after hours where they steal without ever using a gun - they sneak away with the loot (like TOPKAPI). These films usually have an inside man who knows about some treasure, the assembly of the team, the caper - where things go wrong, often a double cross, the police pursuit, and some sort of action ending (either with the police, or with the double crossers, or both). BANK JOB fits that model... with a twist.

Terry (rugged Jason Statham) is a struggling car lot owner with a wife and two of the cutest little girls ever put on film (don’t be surprised if you hear the TRANSPORTER crowd going “Aww”). He lives in the old neighborhood, wants to make enough to money to get his family to somewhere better. When a woman from his past, Martine (Saffron Burrows), shows up with a bank robbery scheme, he needs to be convinced. Terry’s pals are not above a little after hours shopping, but robbing a bank is a serious crime. Martine tells him she slept with a guy who told her about a bank where the alarm will be out of commission for a week while they make repairs, and if they only steal from the safety deposit boxes they will end up with money that hasn’t been reported to the IRS, so the victims won’t report it to the police.

Then we get a time jump to show us the truth - the British Secret Service (MI-5... or maybe 6) wants to retrieve blackmail material against the Royal Family that is in one of the safety deposit boxes... with maximum deniability. They arrest Martine for drug possession and use her to find some thieves... Terry and his friends. Martine used to be one of the group - she dated one of the other guys, not Terry. One of the great things about this movie is that it’s not just a story about breaking into a bank, it’s the story about a group of childhood friends who are *still* friends. When they decide to break into the bank over the weekend, the robbery impacts the friendships. No extra scenes needed - the robbery scenes also have the friendship elements. The scenes where they meet to discuss the robbery end up being the bachelor party for one of the guys and later at the wedding.

In the beginning, we have all of these dangerous subplot characters who have things in the safety deposit boxes they’d *kill* to keep secret, they manage to find an elegant way to give us a bunch of characters in very little time and very few scenes. One character leads us to the next in kind of a tag-team (this probably was much better on paper, the direction didn’t seem to get the idea.) So while the guys are taking about the robbery at a strip bar during the bachelor party, a pair of cops enter and go into the back room to talk to the boss, crime lord Lou Vogel played by David Suchet (villain in EXECUTIVE DECISION). These two cops are on the take, and are here for their payoff... and mention that Vogel’s madam friend has raised her rates, so they want more money from her. When the cops leave, Vogel calls the madam, and we get to see her operation for a moment... including her British Government clients... and her “insurance” - she photographs and films all of her clients, especially the ones in government. And guess where all of these people keep their secrets? In those safety deposit boxes our guys are about to break into.

The wedding scene gives us a scene where Terry dances with his daughter, a sweet scene... and it shows us another side of Statham. He’s a great dad and husband... but his wife wants to know what Martine is doing here and what they are discussing in secret. The other great element of this film is how the robbery impacts Terry’s marriage and family life. At first the family life is a conflict because Terry’s wife doesn’t want him to go back to his old law breaking ways... but later, when everything goes wrong, they end up in danger and Terry really comes to realize how this criminal act has impacted his wife and kids. Oh, and there’s some excitement and action that comes from that.

When we get to the break in, all of the friends and family and crime threads amplify. And many many things go wrong. One of the great things about this film is how many reversals there are - just when you think things are going okay, something terrible happens that changes everything... and Terry has to come up with some instant solution. The twist just keep coming - and Terry always comes up with some amazing way to save himself and his friends. Lots of excitement!

As usual, there are double crosses and team members who do not survive... but unlike your usual caper movie, these things happen with friends and family! So there’s an emotional element *and* a conflict element. That sand blaster is being used on one of Terry’s friends! Though it may have a slow start for you TRANSPORTER fans, hang in there and you’ll be treated to an exciting movie where Statham finds an interesting use for am old brick wall. And it stars two people I’ve met, one who tried to kill me*...

BANK JOB was written by the guys who scripted THE COMMITMENTS, based on a true story... and I was kind of curious about the member of the Royal Family mentioned... and it seems she really was involved in scandalous behavior. Probably a laugh moment for the British audience.

PAGES: Sunday - no writing at all. Monday was not a great day, but not a bad day. It *was* a day where I wrote 7.5 pages... Tuesday, looking good so far!

- Bill

*Jason - I just had a nice conversation with him. LOCK STOCK had just come out, and the US producers on it loved one of my scripts and I had some meetings with them... and they gave me a crew hat. So, we talked about the movie and I told him how much I liked it and liked his performance. He's really good in BANK JOB - he plays a dad, and there's a great scene where he dances with his little daughter at a wedding that's just sweet. Statham sweet? That's one of the great things about this film - every character is three dimensional.

Saffron - we were on a film fest jury together in London. I imagined sitting in a dark cinema with her watching movies every night for a week and a half... didn't happen that way. I was the only one on the jury who actually saw the films in the cinema! Everyone else watched them on DVD. So, I was in a packed cinema when they showed VISITOR Q... and we laughed like crazy. That is a sick, twisted, nasty movie... and funny. But if you see it on DVD at home, I guess it's only sick, twisted and nasty. Not funny. So, the jury meets for the first time at a room several floors above street level at the Soho Club, and we're discussing which movies we liked... and I mentioned how funny VQ was, and Saffron *passionately* disagreed with me... and charged me! And I'm standing in front of an open window! And she's *tall*! I'm 6'4", and she's about as tall as I am! And angry as heck! And I could just imagine the headlines the next day "Beautiful and talented actress kills completely unknown screenwriter". But she didn't push me out of the window - she just got in my face to tell me how unfunny she thought the movie was, and how I must be sick & twisted to have laughed at it. Needless to say, VQ was not the winner (a great movie called NO MAN'S LAND was). Later, she was in town doing publicity for ENIGMA and we bumped into each other at the Sunset 5 Cinema and had a laugh about it. She's really good in BANK JOB as a very non-traditional type of femme fatale - she is never overtly sexual in any way... she's just there and beautiful and probably not 100% part of the team.

- Bill


Oasis said...

George Bernard Shaw once quipped that "Every profession is a conspiracy against the layman."

If that is true of Professional Screenwriters...

then that is "totally nauseous"!

ObiDonWan said...

well, thanks to you, I'll go see BANK JOB, which I might have otherwise taken a pass on.
You may not feel like a rich scriptwriter, but you actually have a rich, interesting, life as reflected in these blogs.

ObiDonWan said...

No, Fritz!...

Oasis said...

"Da" or "Nyet"!...

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