Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old Burt Lancaster

This week we’re going to look at Burt Lancaster’s career when other actors had long since retired. Robert Mitchum continued to play tough guys, Lancaster played *retired* tough guys the way Clint Eastwood plays roles like that today.

Lancaster was an interesting guy... A working class kid who was a high school athlete, landed a college sports scholarship but dropped out to become a *circus acrobat*. He also worked as a singing waiter before WW2, and when he returned from the war he auditioned for a play and landed on Broadway... where he was discovered by a talent agent (who would later become his producing partner). He was a handsome athletic guy who could sing and dance... and make women swoon. His first role was the *lead* in THE KILLERS with Ava Gardner directed by Robert Siodmak (who directed CRISS CROSS and some other great Lancaster films). Lancaster was kind of like the George Clooney of his day: he didn’t just want to play handsome men in typical Hollywood movies, he wanted to control his career... so he formed a production company and began making his own films. Like Clooney, these were often the kind of edgy and unusual films that the studios *wouldn’t* make... like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. And Lancaster grabbed his circus pal Nick to do stunts and often co star in films. Lancaster was nominated for a pile of Oscars, won one for ELMER GANTRY, and continued to make interesting films throughout his career (a string of great films with John Frankenheimer, and the recently released to BluRay THE SWIMMER which is probably the weirdest movie ever made with a Hollywood star). But when he was getting up there in years... he seemed to be rediscovered.



Though the movie that really brought him back (he didn’t go anywhere) was ATLANTIC CITY in 1980, I’m going to start off with the only movie he directed, THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974), the story of an old tough guy ex cop working as a security guard on a college campus who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. It’s kind of a geriatric private eye movie that deals with aging and action at the same time, I think most people have forgotten it. Susan Clark and Harris Yulin from NIGHT MOVES pop up, and screenwriters Quinn Redeker (DEER HUNTER) and Bill Lancaster (THE THING) (Burt’s son) play roles. It wasn’t a hit, but I think it got some good reviews. I read the novel (“The Midnight Lady And The Mourning Man” by David Anthony) and probably saw the movie when it opened in my town. Haven’t seen it since, and I’m curious what it looks like now that *I’m* older.



1900 (NOVECENTO) (1976) is one of my favorite movies, but a completely acquired taste. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sprawling story of Italy from the year 1900 to 1976 stars Robert DeNiro and a young handsome Gerard Depardieu as childhood friends from different sides of the tracks who fall in love with the same woman (Dominique Sanda). DeNiro is the son of the wealthy estate owner, Burt Lancaster... and Depardieu is the dirt poor kid of the senior field worker, Sterling Hayden. This film is filled with beautiful images and an amazing performance by Donald Sutherland. Lancaster and Hayden, two old tough guys, are great in the early part of the film when the two lead characters are little boys. This was one of several films that Lancaster made in Italy as an older actor.



ATLANTIC CITY (1980) was the film where people noticed Lancaster all over again, playing a retired mobster living in Atlantic City and pretending to have once been more important than he really was. He hooks up with a young casino worker played by Susan Sarandon, who applies lemon juice to various places on her body... and wants to get enough money together to move to the south of France. She’s married to a bum who steals some drugs from the mob, and brings a whole world of hurt down on them... and Lancaster’s mostly tall tales of being a mobster turn to action reality. This is a kind of a film noir mixed with Italian neo realism... and shows an Atlantic City that no longer exists. The city before it was rebuilt with all of the new casinos.



LOCAL HERO (1983) is a great film. If you haven’t seen it, stop everything you are doing now (except breathing) and check it out! This is a gentle comedy by Bill Forsythe about an oil company flunky (Peter Riegert) sent into a small Scotland town to convince the residents that they should accept and love the new oil company refinery that is going where their town used to be... and move the heck out. This is one of those great movies that feels like a life changing experience, and is kind of the prototype for many UK comedies to come like WAKING NED DEVINE about unusual occupants of small towns. When Riegert runs into trouble getting some townspeople to sell the homes that have been in their families for generations for something as silly as *money*, the big boss (Lancaster) comes to town to convince them... and ends up recapturing the magic of small town life and decided that maybe this isn’t the right spot for a refinery.



Just for fun, I’m throwing in TOUGH GUYS (1986), a buddy comedy with very old buddies... Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are the old version of the kind of gangster roles they played, just released from prison and trying to figure out how the world works now. The film is uneven, but has some funny scenes that I can still remember... including one where Lancaster and Douglas end up in a gay bar without knowing it... and are asked to dance. These two guys realize they are never going to fit in with the world now... and decide to go back to their armed robbery past.



And though his career still had a few films to go, let’s wrap it up with FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), because I saw it on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater about a year ago and it was still an experience. Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham, who played only one game in the Major Leagues and then retired to become a country doctor. Lancaster plays the old version of Graham, again playing the old retired tough guy... this time a retired athlete. Lancaster began as a high school athlete and gets to play the old version of that in FIELD OF DREAMS.

Even at the end of his career, Lancaster was charming and charismatic and commanded the screen in every scene... and still virile as hell. One of those larger than life movie stars who had a great onscreen third act playing characters who were old but still cooler than I’ll ever be.

Bill

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Superhero Showdown

Lancelot Link Monday! BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: No Matter Who Wins, We Lose! Because the film made so much money in its opening weekend, we're getting another round of those articles about "Critic Proof" movies - I swear they just change the film title and republish the old ones. Hey, a movie like BATMAN V SUPERMAN was *always* going to have a huge opening weekend. Even with bad reviews. Bad reviews actually *fuel* the opening weekend - "Can it be as bad as they say it is? Let's go see it and find out!" But the real issue is: The critics have seen the film, the people who bought tickets on opening weekend didn't... but now have. So will they want to see the movie again and maybe even again? Will they provide good word of mouth when their friends ask? My FB friends are mixed on this film - some think it's not that bad, others think it *is* that bad. I have yet to read a glowing excellent you've gotta see this review from any of my FB friends (many of whom are the target audience for this). I suspect next weekend will be pretty good, too - but here's the thing: STAR WARS TFA was #13 over the weekend... and that's been out since *last year*. Will BVS have that kind of staying power? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Batman V Superm................ $170,100,000
2 Zootopia........................ $23,138,000
3 MBFGW2.......................... $18,120,000
4 Miracles......................... $9,500,000
5 Allegiant........................ $9,500,000
6 10 Cloverfield................... $6,000,000
7 Deadpool......................... $5,000,000
8 London Bridges................... $2,926,000
9 Doris............................ $1,700,925
10 Eye Sky.......................... $1,001,204


Though the *current* reported budget for BATMAN V SUPERMAN is $250 million, before the bad reviews kicked in the budget was over $410 million as of October of last year! That's before post production overages and reshoots and P&A advertising and everything else! Yikes! It's common for studios to under report budgets when things get out of hand and there's concern that a film may not perform as well as they thought. So BVS will have to do STAR WARS business to break even. Hopefully it will do great business and Warner Bros will be able to fund another MAD MAX movie.

2) Return On Investment? Small Movies With Big Profits.

3) Writing DOUBLE INDEMNITY With Wilder & Chandler.

4) Women & Minority Writers - This Get Worse According To WGA.

5) And The Actual WGA Report.

6) J.K. Rowling's Rejection Letters.

7) As The Guy Who Gave Albert Whitlock The Welcome Mat That He Used In Front Of His Trailer, I Love Old School Effects Like This...

8) From 3 Minute Proof Of Concept Short To Feature Film - LIGHTS OUT.

9) I Think The Premise Is Wrong - Hitchcock Didn't *Block* Scenes, He Used Specific Shots (Often Altering The Set For The Shot), But Interesting Look At VERTIGO.

10) Dialogue Is Like Toilet Paper...

11) The Cannes Game Begins!

12) What Script Readers And Development People Look For In Your Screenplay. This is GOLD!

13) BATMAN Vs. SUPERMAN - The Previous Fights Before This Week's Rematch!

BONUS: DEADPOOL Effects. And the Car Chase Of The Week:



RIP: Garry Shandling.

Bill

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Lancelot Link: Spring Has Sprung!

Lancelot Link Monday! This is the second day of Spring... which means giant blockbusters are just around the corner! Those big summer tentpoles! BATMAN vs SUPERMAN just premiered for press in New York City, and soon there will be leaks about whether it's good or bad or just is. If it flops, with all of those DC Comics characters in the film, what will Warner Brothers do? MATRIX 4? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Zootopia........................ $38,042,000
2 Allegiant....................... $29,050,000
3 Miracles From Heaven............ $15,000,000
4 10 Cloverfield.................. $12,500,000
5 Deadpool......................... $8,000,000
6 London........................... $6,894,000
7 WTF?............................. $2,805,000
8 Perfect Match.................... $1,900,000
9 Brothers Grimms(by).............. $1,400,000
10 Revenant.......................... $1,225,000


Just a note: DEADPOOL has now made $340,941,383 in the USA alone on a budget of under $60m (making it one of the cheapest superhero comic book movies ever made). More than twice that when the rest of the world is factored in. It's one of the main reason this year's Box Office is shattering records - 10.1% ahead of last year, 15.9% ahead of 2014, 25.0% ahead of 2013, 9.1% ahead of 2012, and only 25.8% ahead of 2011. Yikes!

2) Max Landis (who thinks I'm funny) Just Sold A Spec For $3 Million To Netflix.

3) Joel Edgerton On MIDNIGHT SPECIAL.

4) Want To Go Indie? Prepare To Make 7 Features In ONE YEAR... Every Year.

5) Michael Mann Becomes Book Publisher - Announces HEAT Prequel & True Crime Film.

6) The Reality Of Screenwriting.

7) James Rollins' Novel MAP OF BONES Comes To The Big Screen.

8) Relativity Comes Out Of Bankruptcy - What Does This Mean

9) Want To Hear The Score To Ben Wheatley's HIGH RISE?

10) Black List's BUBBLES Becomes Stop Motion Film.

11) MIDNIGHT SPECIAL's Jeff Nichols on AQUAMAN and More!

12) The Talented Max Adams Picks 15 Screenwriting Books.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Well, cars and space ships!

Bill

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IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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Movie:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Report:
How To Live The James Bond Lifestyle

From a few years back...

One of my oldest friend is Paul Kyriazi who gave me my very first film job on WEAPONS OF DEATH building a biker camp at the Black Diamond Mines and generally being a go-fer on set for a few days. I was a stupid teenaged film student at Diablo Valley Community College where Paul was a celebrity. He was making kung fu movies for drive ins, and shooting them right there in my home town! With big 35mm Panavision cameras! And dollies. And grip trucks. And big lights! And I got to help for no pay! I was the happiest guy in the world!

Later Paul called and hired me to write NINJA BUSTERS and my screenwriting career began... and then ended for a while.

Paul is still a friend - he lives out of the country, but when he’s in town we get together and go to a movie or something. I recently re-ran the blog entry about the autograph show in Burbank, and Paul co-starred in that. Over the Holidays I was in my home town and so was he (visiting family) and I got a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to go to dinner... I told Paul I’d just ordered at Taco Bell, and he said “I’ll be there in a minute” and then drove up, At that time I had just put up my Action Book on Kindle and Paul was curious about the process. Paul has retired from film (yeah, right) and has been doing these amazing audio book projects - which are really movies on CDs. He hires a bunch of famous actors from the 60s and 70s and each plays a role. Kind of like an old fashioned radio show. There are sound effects and everything. I’m in one of them called HARD ROCK NIGHTMARE.




But Paul also does seminars - and you may have seen him on TV or on the radio talking about them. He came up with a great twist on the self-help seminar, called HOW TO LIVE THE JAMES BOND LIFESTYLE. Basically, he’s taken some great life lessons and found examples that illustrate them from James Bond movies. Some of the lessons are self-help and positive thinking type things, some are relationship things, some are money management things - but the lessons that I really liked were the ones on very practical things to improve your life - like how to get your rental car upgraded automatically. Things that can really help you live that James Bond lifestyle. Paul has done the seminars all over the world and a few years ago when he decided to do an audio version... I was the director. The easiest job in the world when the voice talent has done the seminar a million times before in real life.

But a few months ago in that Taco Bell, Paul was talking to me about making the James Bond Lifestyle class as an e-book, and expanding it with even more lessons and advice - and a prologue by David Hedison who played Felix Leiter in two James Bond movies. And now he has done that.

Full disclosure - though I have bought a copy of the Kindle version, I have not read it yet. I *did* hear that audio version of the seminar a few years back (since I was in the recording room with the cans on) so my recommendation is based on that version - I’m sure the expanded e-book version is even better. I was hoping to have read it by now... but I’ve been busy!

- Bill

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lancelot Link: Spring Forward

Lancelot Link Monday! I must have been really drunk Saturday night because I blacked out for an hour! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are ten links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Zootopia........................ $50,000,000
2 10 Cloverfield Ln............... $25,200,000
3 Deadpool........................ $10,800,000
4 London Bridges.................. $10,668,000
5 WTF?............................. $4,600,000
6 Perfect Match.................... $4,150,000
7 Young Mess....................... $3,404,000
8 Bros Grimms...................... $3,150,000
9 Gods Of Egypt.................... $2,500,000
10 Risen............................ $2,250,000




2) Congratulations To Jamie Nash?

3) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK story conference.

4) 10 Best Screenplay Contest (leaves off Final Draft Big Break - so make it 11).

5) Warner Bros Emerging Film Directors Contest.

6) A New Cinema In New York City.

7) Censorship And One Of The Most Famous Lines In USA Cinema.

8) How THE CELLAR Became 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

9) STRANGERS ON A TRAIN...

10) 25 Action Movies Under 90 Minutes.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Because - O.J.

Bill

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Book Report: Norbert Davis

From 5 years ago...

Input = output. One of the reasons why I'm a screenwriter is because I grew up watching movies and reading books. And I still do both. Though I usually mention what movies I've seen on the blog, I seldom mention what books I've been reading... and now I've decided to post about that every once in a while.

A while back I bought a Kindle, because it weighs less than a book, and I always have these danged books in my backpack weighing me down. Even though the Kindle itself costs $139, then you have to add books, Amazon tries to keep the Kindle book price down to $9.99 for most "hardback" titles, but the real deal for me was public domain books that you'd pay $3.99 or more for in paperback are usually free or 99 cents. WAR OF THE WORLDS - $7.99 paperback, FREE for Kindle. Since one of my little projects is searching for a kick ass PD novel to adapt into a screenplay, and due to some sort of mid-life nostalgia I am re-reading a bunch of the adventure and science fiction and fantasy books I read as a kid (most of which are now public domain), it made sense to buy a Kindle. I'm re-reading a bunch of great stuff... for free. Already, the Kindle has "paid for itself" if I had to buy those books in paperback. And my aching back also wins - no heavy books in the backpack.

I still buy some books in paper, and just bought Lawrence Block's great new novel A TOUCH OF THE HARD STUFF in hardback... and had him sign it. I'll probably write a review of that book next week, but I need to mention the book I'm reading now - Block's THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART. I have an ancient paperback somewhere on the shelf, and would have stuck it in the backpack, except...




The other good thing about the Kindle and other e-readers is that sometimes books go on a limited time sale, and LONG GREEN is on sale until the 15th for only 99 cents (back in 2011). Having just paid $25 for Block's new book, under a buck is a no brainer deal. I bought it and am now reading it on the Kindle when I'm stuck in line at the post office or taking a break from the laptop.

Block writes several series: Bernie the Burglar, Matt Scudder the alcoholic detective, the new Hit Man series, swinging 70's spy Evan Tanner, and some sleazy books about Chip Harrison who is not a virgin by choice. THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART is a stand alone noir title about a con man pulling the ultimate scam, and the woman who screws it all up. If you like THE GRIFTERS, check it out! (PS: Also check out his new noir novel, GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES.)

Some other stuff I've been reading: the Norbert Davis Carstairs & Doan mysteries. Who? you say? Well, Norbert Davis was one of those Black Mask pulp writers in the 30s and 40s who specialized in funny mysteries - hey, that's exactly what I like to read! He had a few different series in the pulps (at a penny a word, you had to write for different magazines and have stories in a bunch of them every month just to pay the rent) - Max Latin, Private Eye was the series where I first discovered Davis, and when I hit my local public library when I was in High School I found the Carstairs & Doan books - 4 of them. They had been out of print forever, and it took me a while to track them down in the library system. These things are collector's items now, and you couldn't afford to buy them...

Except they're public domain, so you can get them for 99 cents each!



HOLOCAUST HOUSE is the first book in the series. The series is about pudgy smart ass private eye Doan (think Paul Giamatti) who wins a pure breed Great Dane (Carstairs) in a poker game. Carstairs is snobby, aloof, and more intelligent than any human. He is Doan's master (not the other way around) and insists on eating steak while Doan eats hamburgers. But the great thing about this odd couple of detectives is that Carstairs is the brains (often solving the cases) and Doan is the brawn (he may be pudgy, but he can fight and is great with a gun). In the first book, Carstairs is mostly off screen as Doan is sent to guard a young woman who is about to inherit millions... and seems to have no shortage of enemies. In a secluded ski lodge Doan must figure out who among the staff is really a killer. One of the great things about these books is that they are funny and breezy... and VIOLENT. Kind of a screw ball comedy directed by Sam Peckinpah.



MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN - this was the first of the books I read back in High School, and it's the first one where Carstairs is more than just a funny prop - he's an equal partner in the story. The two are traveling to a secluded village in Mexico on some sort of secret business involving a mobster in hiding. But after an earthquake brings much of the village tumbling to the ground and takes out the only road in or out, people begin to get bumped off. Among the suspects are an heiress, her secretary, an ex-pat artist, a revolutionary, some military guys, and a strange hotel owner (both the hotel and the owner are strange). There's a secret treasure and all kinds of other fun stuff - and Carstairs figures out who the killer is long before Doan does. This book was a lot of fun.



SALLY'S IN THE ALLEY - probably the best of the four books. During World War 2, Carstairs has become a movie star and Doan is the guy who doesn't get invited to the premieres... but does get invited by the FBI to become a Japanese spy, even though he doesn't look the least bit Asian. Seems there's a crazy prospector who has discovered enough Uranium to make a whole bunch of atom bombs, and because he hates the USA for stealing his land to make Hoover Dam, wants to sell the Uranium to the Japanese or the Germans. Carstairs and Doan go undercover as Japanese spies, and get mixed up in all kinds of wild action (including a massive flash flood - these books all have a natural disaster element) - and along with German Spies and small town cops and cowboys and Indians, there's America's #1 movie star Susan Sally and her pushy Agent, plus a guy named Blue who has a secret past and a young woman who will believe almost anything Doan tells her.



OH MURDERER MINE - If SALLY is the best in the series, this is the worst... but still lots of fun. Less of a mystery and more of a satire about college life, Carstairs and Doan are acting as bodyguards for a faculty member for reasons which aren't revealed until late in the book. One of the strange things with this book is that it begins with a professor, Melissa Gregory, instead of Carstairs and Doan, and for a while you wonder if you're reading the wrong book. The rest of the faculty are a bunch of nut-jobs who make the cast of a Coen Brothers movie look normal and bland. Once again, Carstairs is the brains of the operation and figures out the case long before Doan.

Norbert Davis never wrote any more books in the series because he committed suicide at age 40!

One of the great things about e-books is that Davis' books are available at a low price - no cost for printing and binding. I would love to see a collection of the Max Latin stories and Bail Bond Dodd stories... plus all of his pulp short stories. So, that's what I've been reading.

PS: As I said - there are a bunch of public domain titles that are FREE, and you may even find the Carstairs & Doan books somewhere for free... just not on Amazon right now. I did find the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books for free, and the Sherlock Holmes books, and many others for free.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Global Screenwriting - 70% of your audience does not live in the United States, probably doesn't speak English, and really doesn't care about baseball statistics.
Dinner: That grungy Pollo Loco in NoHo.
Pages: Cold still hanging in there, so all of the work on the script I was going to do today did not get done. Other things that require less brain work *did* get done, so it wasn't a wasted day.
Bicycle: Short bike ride, just to keep the blood flowing.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Lancelot Link: I Did Not Win An Oscar!

Lancelot Link Monday! A week after the Oscars... and we've run out of Movie Awards Shows. How will we possible survive? But, Summer is around the corner, with superheroes and big tentpole movies. This is the calm before the storm... or is it? Take a look at this week's box office - isn't Hollywood All Summer All The Time? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Zootopia........................ $73,700,000
2 London Has Fallen............... $21,714,000
3 Deadpool........................ $16,400,000
4 WTF?............................. $7,600,000
5 Bods Of Egypt.................... $5,000,000
6 Risen............................ $3,885,000
7 KFP 3............................ $3,525,000
8 Revenant......................... $3,325,000
9 Eddie The Eagle.................. $3,100,000
10 The Witch........................ $2,509,453


ZOOTOPIA is now the record holder for non sequel animated openings. Meanwhile, in China, MERMAID hits $500m!

2) Too Many Tentpoles?

3) SANDMAN News: Eric Heisserer scripting, Joseph Gordon Levitt NOT Starring.

4) How The Coen Brothers Dealt With Writers Block.

5) What's Under The Columbia Pictures Woman's Dress For 2017?

6) VENOM Movie? Yes.

7) Jack Fisk on Terrence Malick (and KNIGHT OF CUPS)

8) Austin Honors Texas Filmmakers.

9) Keanu Prepares For JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2.

10) An *Actual* DEATH WISH Remake... With Willis. Why not make some of Garfield's other novels?

11) TOMB RAIDER Reboot.

12) HIGH RISE - Red Band Trailer & Director Interviews.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

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