Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Philippe De Broca

One of my favorite directors. Died in 2004... last film directed in 2004.

You know how Madonna doesn't need a last name? There was probably a ten year period where De Broca was famous enough in the USA that he didn't need a first name. Trailers just said "DeBroca" and that was enough.

I probably first heard his name from my parents - and we aren't talking about people who saw movies in art houses while wearing black berets and reading Camus, here. My parents are normal people. They saw normal movies. De Broca made a film in the mid-60s called THAT MAN FROM RIO - a funny spy film - that was a huge hit in the USA. I don't mean an arthouse hit, I mean a mainstream hit. It was a funny James Bond kind of thing when those films were really popular - a globe hopping adventure story. So, when it was on NBC Monday Night At The Movies (or whatever) they watched it. And I watched it... and it's my kind of movie. (When was the last time a dubbed foreign language movie played on network TV?)

So it was one of my favorite movies on TV, and some of his other movies were also on TV (he was a famous director back then) and eventually I saw one of his films, Le MAGNIFIQUE, on my own in a cinema... And became a huge fan all over again. MAGNIFIQUE is about a writer of spy novels who ends up involved in a real life spy story... but, he's just a writer! Now, all of the kinds of things he creates for fiction he must live as fact in order to survive.

Though this film wasn't a huge hit like THAT MAN, it didn't only play in big cities... it played in my home town. Maybe a semi-wide release kind of thing.

This was followed up by a couple of movies that I think were major cities only - so I have to drive to see them: DEAR DETECTIVE, a comedy cop movie that's part rom-com, and the sequel (title I do not remember) that takes the same two characters on a new case. And then he kind of disappeared from US cinemas. Still making movies in France, we just weren't getting them. He made some films a bit later that played art houses and I saw them, but he wasn't famous anymore.

The film I left out is the one that probably made him most famous - and the one I watched on DVD last night... KING OF HEARTS starring Alan Bates and, I think, Geneveive Bujold's first movie. It's an anti-war comedy, made in the late 60s with a British star... and kind of became an anti Viet Nam War film. Probably wasn't even intended as such. Has a strange history, because when it came out in the 60s, it flopped big time. Big time. It killed DeBroca's career... But a strange thing happened during the Viet Nam War, it started popping up in college area cinemas. And was one of those movies that was playing *somewhere* up until 1975 when the war ended. In fact, there was one cinema that played it non-stop for *over five years* until the Viet Nam War was over. First time I saw it was at the UC Theater in Berkeley... and it played *somewhere* in Berkeley through the 70s... and brought back DeBroca's career in the USA.

Story is a comedy that takes place in France in WW1. The German army has taken over a town in France, but when they see a larger group of British soldiers (actually Scottish - kilts are funnier) approaching, they decide to evacuate... but hide a booby trap bomb in the town that will explode at midnight and kill the Scottish soldiers and their commanders. The next day the Germans plan to return and re-take the town from any survivors.

Well, a French underground guy radios the Scottish army and tells them about this plan... but tells them about it in French. So things get lost in translation. And the bomb is set to go off at midnight... and the town has a beautiful ornate clock in town square where a mechanical knight in armor comes out to strike the midnight bell with his mace. This information really loses something in translation - nobody knows what it means.

So the Scottish send in a man to disarm the bomb before they occupy the town. Since none of the demolitions guys speak French, they send in Alan Bates - a communications officer. A geek. A non-heroic guy.

Once he finds the bombs, they will either send in a demo guy or have a demo guy talk Bates through disarming the explosives.

Well, the whole town evacuates because if the bomb.
And they leave the gates to the asylum open.
And the crazy people venture out, don clothes of the townspeople, and kind of have a looney-bin holiday.

And when Bates enters the town, well... the people are acting strange. And that's the set up. The rest of the movie compares the crazy people to the soldiers & the war... and guess which is crazier? And Bates has to figure out why the townspeople are strange, then figure out where the explosives are, then stop them from blowing up, then decide if this crazy-world is more sane than the war around it...

And he falls in love with Bujold in the process, and is crowned King of the crazy people.

The movie is charming. Not laugh outloud funny. What used to be called a "gentle comedy". It's kind of like going to the circus (hey, Bujold does tight-rope walking on power lines in a scene, and there are lions and bears!) - it's also a beautiful film... really well shot. Hard to tell if it holds up - since it's already a period film, it can't really be dated. But it's a gentle film... kind of the anti-Michael Bay. And it still charmed me.

The last film of his I saw was ON GUARD, which actually got a wide release a few years before DeBroca died. A THREE MUSKETEERS kind of thing filled with sword fights and action and romance... about a female sword fighter tracking down the villains who killer her father, and finding love along the way.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Fast & The Furious *is* No Man’s Land *is* Point Break
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sausage pizza on honey wheat at CPK on Sunset.

Movies: Two Number Movies...

10,000 BC. - Completely silly movie... but much better than it needed to be. Some people are complaining that it’s not historically accurate... well, duh! The thing was made by Roland Emmerich, the guy who had aliens building the pyramids in STARGATE and time travelers zooming around from present day to pyramid time. He’s wacky! He mixes up time periods for fun. And here we get sabertooth tigers and Egyptian Pyramids and anything else Roland wants to put in the film. Story is kind of lifted from APOCALYPTO - a cave dude who is reluctant to lead has the girl he loves stolen by evil dudes - probably to be sacrificed - so he and his worst enemy and a village elder and some tag-along kid go to get her back. They manage to walk across the world, meeting all kinds of folks from all kinds of time periods - from African tribesmen to Egyptians to, well, an alien dude building pyramids (not Jaye Davidson - which would have been a cool in0joke and cameo). Here’s the thing about Roland - he knows how to make a cheesy movie. This film has some big emotional moments, and some amazing magical moments (the red birds) and lots of CGI spectacle stuff. And the film has a *scope* - Roland makes films for the big screen - he may not have the talent of David Lean, but he steals lots of shots from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. When characters cross the desert, you get to see the whole damned desert! This film reminded me of a Conan movie or an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. If you're in the mood for a big dumb epic adventure - it's okay. Just check your brain at the door.

21 - Based on a true story... which probably wasn’t as boring as this film. This thing seemed like the rough first draft of a script, complete with placeholders scenes, We start out with some tin-ear dialogue - awful OTN stuff. Story has whiter-than-white college kid at MIT who *dreams* of going to Harvard Med. That’s his motivation - he has this dream. He doesn’t want to be a doctor to help people or be a doctor to cure cancer or be a doctor to make lots of money... he just dreams of going to Harvard Med. He seems to have no goal after he graduates from Harvard Med. He has these two fake friends, who seem like place holders for characters to be created later. They are generic nerds, who have a generic science project.... and here’s the thing - they look completely different than our hero. He’s a handsome guy, they are chubby nerdy guys. So you *know* that he’s going to dump them and move up. Our hero works at a retail job in a clothing store... that is pure hell. Except, it’s not. We see him goofing off in the back room, and his job is dealing with upscale people buying upscale clothes. When I worked at Safeway Grocery, they would send me to other stores to fill in for people on vacation sometimes... and no matter how much seniority I had at my store, in the other stores I was the guy they gave the crap jobs to - and that usually meant cleaning the public restrooms, and *actual* crap job. I scrubbed toilets. That’s the kind of job you learn to dislike. That’s the kind of job that makes you say “Yes” when someone asks if you’d like to do something on the fringe of illegal. But he’s got a nice, clean job selling upscale suits. It’s a bland job.

For a moment, you think there may be some kinky twist when our hero seems to flirt with an older diner waitress - and he says he’s coming home with her.. But then we figure out she’s his mother. It was a bad way to introduce her... but after that, his relationship with his mom? Bland. She loves and supports him... no drama, nothing interesting - she’s kind of a generic, place holder character.

Kevin Spacey, who produced this film, plays the MIT professor who brings our hero onto his team of card counters who fly to Vegas on weekends to make lots of money. Our hero says he’s only interested in making enough to pay for Harvard Med, then he quits. The other members on the team are all place holders - they have no characters. Sure, one is a klepto, and one is a pretty boy and one likes to wear wigs... but none of these are *characters* - they are sketches. Kate Boswell plays the girl - and that’s pretty much what her role is. Our hero has the hots for her, and there are scenes where they talk for a moment and this is supposed to show the relationship progressing... and eventually she invites him to a comped room in Vegas, and you’re thinking - they have no relationship at all! We know *nothing* about her - in fact, we know so little about her that I thought for a while she might be Spacey’s daughter. They don’t have anything in common, other than they’re in the same movie and on the same card counting team, but why doesn’t she hook up with one of the other guys? Or Spacey? So our hero goes up to her room, and they kiss in front of a penthouse window overlooking Vegas.... but they have no conversation! They have no characters! Afterwards, they don’t act like slept together - they treat each other like strangers... which is pretty much how they treated each other before. It’s bland. No drama. No real characters. It’s a placeholder scene - an outline of a scene, but not the scene.

Also in Vegas, we have the place holder for a villain, played by Larry Fishburne... who seems like he belongs in some other movie - some 1950s mob flick. He’s a cliche leg breaker... but in modern Vegas. Completely out pf place! They keep trying to find ways to Scotch tape him into the story - but he seems like he stumbled in from other film. Since card counting is not illegal, just frowned upon, they needed some physical threat - and that’s Fish. He beats people up just for fun - because modern Vegas isn’t mobbed up anymore.

The film just goes through the motions, ticking off scenes until they reach the running time... but none of it adds up to anything. The characters seem like sketches, there is no drama, there is no actual conflict, and we don’t care. The film has no “juice” - we fell nothing at all. There is no suspense or mystery or romance or excitement or anything. One character says “In Vegas you can be anybody” - except none of these people live a fantasy life. Sure, they put on wigs or moustaches and go to strip clubs - but they don’t live any fantasy. They just play cards.

Eventually Spacey gets to say, “You know what I’m capable of!” as a threat... but we don’t know what he’s talking about, so it’s an empty threat - even a silly threat.

And they come to the end of the list of scenes and we get closing credits... but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t care... and I didn’t really believe any of these people or events ever existed, even though it’s based on a true story.

Every scene of your screenplay, you should know - what do you want the audience to feel? And how are you making them feel that? If they aren’t feeling anything, they are just sitting there... wondering when the damned movie is going to be over.

Pages: Finished the script, delivered it... and had a meeting on another potential assignment. And this blog entry... and some other stuff.


Emily Blake said...

And when you handed in your script you went out and got loaded right? Because that's what you always tell us to do. Yay for finishing on time!

wcmartell said...

No... I'm doing that tonight.

I was tired, and mostly wanted to sleep.

But I did buy $120 worth of DVDs.

- Bill

ObiDonWan said...

well, thanks for the info on de broca. I remember King of Hearts, it was weird and funny. Must look up some of his other pix.
And I celebrated my turning in a requested script by buying a new Mac laptop.

Anonymous said...

I read the book and wondered how the hell are they going to make an interesting movie out of this -- guess they didn't ha... I must say I have seen more trailers and TV ads for this one than most of late

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