Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Scene Of The Week: THE THIRD MAN

Mondays we're going to look at a great scene from cinema. Though this entry is a re-run from the first time I tried this, I hope to keep it going every week this time.

The scene of the week is a nice bit of threatening dialogue from THE THIRD MAN, and a reunion between two old friends Holly (Joeseph Cotton) and Harry (Orson Welles)... after one of their funerals. The great thing about this conversation is how charming and fun Harry makes his threats and his justifications for criminal activities. He's a bad guy you just want to hang out with.



The British Film Institute selected THE THIRD MAN as the Best British Film Ever Made - and it's hard to argue with that. It does a million things right, it has one iconic scene after another, some amazing lines (this scene doesn't have the film's best lines!) and is a great thriller with a huge action-chase set piece at the end which has been lifted in dozens of other films. If you haven't seen it - check it out. Actually filmed in the rubble of Post WW2 Vienna!

This is one of my favorite films - and I can watch it again and again. The characters, scenes, and story are all great. The story has a really messy and messed up romance - can you fall in love with your dead best friend's girlfriend and not have it be just a little awkward? I also love the humor in the film - like all great thrillers it straddles absurdity. The yappy little dog. Saved by a speech on cowboy literature. The misplaced slide in the slide show. It's a great example of how to balance a film.

Comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures - Tip #1 - it's all about making the audience feel something!
Dinner: I've been brown bagging lately - to keep from eating so much fast food.
Bicycle: Short ride, even though Sundays are supposed to be my long ride day. I stuck around the dollar cinema area in NoHo so that I could see THE CALL.
Movies: PAIN & GAIN - Could this be Michael Bay’s best movie? A small time crime flick, based on a true story, that seems to focus more on characters than explosions. Marky Mark, The Rock, and Anthony Mackie are body builders in Miami who fall under the spell of a TV self help guru who preaches that material things are all that matter and you should DO whatever it takes to get them. Well, there’s this obnoxious rich guy (Tony Shalhoub) who works out at their gym; why not kidnap him, force him to sign over his house and car and boat and money to Marky Mark, and then they dump him on the side of the road, broke and powerless? Sounds like a plan!

Except Shalhoub continues to be a prick and won’t sign over anything... instead he insults Marky Mark for being too stupid and lazy to *earn* the money like he did. So they beat him with sex toys until he gives in and signs, then try to collect... except the contracts need to be *notarized* and that requires that a Notary witness Shalhoub’s signing of the documents - can’t exactly bring a Notary down to the adult novelty goods warehouse where they have him tied up, can they?

It’s one damned thing after another, because these guys *haven’t * thought their plan through and aren’t very bright. They’re the kind of body builders who use steroids because it’s a short cut. They want the riches without the work. But they are DOERS and find a Notary at the gym they can coerce into signing and stamping their documents... and now all are rich! Marky Mark moves into Shalhoub’s mansion... and the neighbors like him better than the old owner.

But soon their money is spent and they need to kidnap someone else - this time a sleazy phone sex company owner. And here’s where things go very wrong, and the phone sex guy and his bimbo girlfriend end up dead on Mackie’s brand new carpet in his brand new house with his brand new wife coming home in a couple of hours. Which requires a trip to the hardware store for chainsaws and rubber gloves and all of the things one would need to chop up bodies into little pieces and dump them in the swamp. Somewhere in here Shalhoub - living in a crappy motel he can’t even pay for - hires a retired private detective (Ed Harris) to get his stuff back. And things begin unraveling even more...

The problem is, Bay is Bay. The story takes place in Miami, so there’s no shortage of shots of fast cars and girls in bikinis and all of those things from BAD BOYS. He uses all of his style-without-substance camera tricks, and the characters are all surface. Yeah, they aren’t very deep characters to begin with, but for a story that focuses on the characters we need to dig a little deeper into their lives. The Rock carries a skateboard everywhere, just got out of prison where he found God... but that’s the extent of his character. It’s just a bunch of surface things. You know, even people who aren’t very bright are still *people* - they have fears and dreams and regrets and secrets and souls. Even though this was based on a true story, I think Bay should have pulled out his checkbook and hired Elmore Leonard to write the book first, then adapted that book. These guys are the type of small timers that Leonard understands and could create vivid living characters - which this film really needs. It’s kind of ironic that a film about guys who are all about surface materia goods ends up all slick surface with nothing much underneath. Bay *is* these guys! He’d rather do his signature shots than find the shots that best tell the story. Style over substance. But the story is so loopy and fun that it even works with Bay’s direction - making this his best film so far.

DVDs: KILLING THEM SOFTLY - On the other side of the spectrum from Michael Bay is Andrew Dominic who adapted and directed this film. An ultra-low-key director who seems to like slow paced character studies... he should have directed PAIN & GAIN! This film is based on a book by the great George V. Higgins, who I discovered after seeing THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE with Robert Mitchum. I read a handful of his novels, and Higgins’ thing is dialogue. His stories are about small time crooks who sit in bars and cars in the middle of the day and discuss the problems in their mundane lives with witty street language. What Quentin Tarantino didn’t steal from Elmore Leonard he stole from Higgins - his books are like all of the Jules and Vincent conversations strung together with a really mundane shooting or two. Higgins’ stories * use* the mundane and ordinary to make his small time hoods into real people - those guys at the end of the bar who seem like regulars. His characters talk about all of the small problems associated with crime - in EDDIE COYLE one of the big issues is what happens to the family while you are behind bars... how do they pay the mortgage and buy groceries? By focusing on the details of criminal life, and using his gift for witty street dialogue, Higgins took us into the world of criminals. His books were like the anti-GODFATHER - no glamor at all!

In this film, based on COOGAN’S TRADE, Ray Liotta plays a charismatic host to an illegal back room poker club... one of those small time mobsters on the front lines. His club was robbed once by a couple of young punks - and the mob sent an enforcer to make sure Liotta didn’t hire the two punks himself. The enforcer (a nice Sam Shepard cameo) *likes* Liotta, so when he says he didn’t do it after a mild beating, he lets him go. But the robbery has caused *all* of the mob’s poker games in the area to shut down for safety reasons, and that costs them. Years later, Liotta get drunk and admits that he hired the two punks - but by then everything is okay and the mob does nothing. Hell, everybody loves Liotta - he’s a great guy.

But a low level criminal nicknamed The Squirrel, who runs a dry cleaners, realizes that if Liotta’s illegal poker game is robbed *again* everyone will naturally suspect him... and no one will suspect The Squirrel. So, he hires a couple of punks - both fresh out of prison - to knock over the illegal poker club. These two losers are the center of the story - one is a heroin addict who steals pure breed dogs and sells them in Florida (but driving them there - they shit and fart and bark the whole way - is a hassle) and the other doesn’t have a car or a job or anything - and their bar and street conversations about their dreams and regrets make the story come alive. The poker game robbery is tense - because they are idiots and keep screwing things up. They use thick dish washing gloves which make it hard to handle the crappy guns they bought. They get the smallest size nylon stockings - which smash their faces when used as masks. They are completely incompetent... But manage to pull off the robbery.

So the mob calls for hitman Brad Pitt to clean up the mess. He’s met by Driver - the guy who handles all of the mob’s business transactions. Driver and Pitt have a series of car conversations about the job which focus on the small stuff - Driver complains that nobody in the mob will make a decision, they never agree with each other, and *he* ends up having to do everything. Pitt (Coogan) knows The Squirrel and doesn’t want to be the guy who pulls the trigger on him, because it means listing to the guy beg for his life and get all emotional and make all sorts of excuses. Pitt wants to hire a subcontractor hitman played by James Gandolfini...

But that ends up a nightmare. Gandolfini is a drunk womanizer who is henpecked by his wife and does nothing but bitch and complain. Pitt ends up just putting out this guy’s fires - he insults the hotel staff and runs up his bar tab and room service and has a parade of hookers he refuses to tip - and still hasn’t hit The Squirrel. Pitt spends all of his time trying to find some way to get Gandolfini off his ass... and eventually gives up.

Then Pitt shoots some people in bloody but mundane scenes and restores peace and balance to the mob world so that the illegal poker games can begin again.

So, this is my type of movie, and (unlike PAIN & GAIN) the style of direction perfectly matches the subject matter and story. But for some weird reason Dominic takes a book written in the early 70s and plops it into the 2008 financial melt down and *fills* it with radios and TV with George W. Bush speeches about bailing out banks and GM... and then campaign stuff from the Presidential election. This stuff is sledge hammered in so hard it threatens to capsize the whole film. Michael Bay subtlety. Actually, worse than that. You want the *story* to demonstrate the theme or point or whatever - not some obtrusive radio broadcast whenever two characters are in a car or TV broadcast when they are in a bar. Aren’t there any radio stations that play music? Don’t TVs in bars usually have the game on? If the idea was to parallel the financial melt down with the mob’s financial melt down after the poker games were closed - why not just stick with the mob story and let *us* draw the parallel? Come on! This is a movie that appeals to a smart audience, so why dumb it down? Why not *use the story* to make your point?

- Bill

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