Monday, May 30, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Hollywood Summer

Lancelot Link Monday! This was Memorial Day - the kick off of Hollywood Summer where the studios start to release all of the big tentpole movies. Yeah, the ones before this weekend were the little movies (like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR). Now we get the big ones... like ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Starring Johnny Depp... who seems to be involved in some domestic issues with his new wife. But at least he has this huge new hit film, right? Right? 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 X Men Apocalypse Now............ $65,000,000
2 Alice 2......................... $28,112,000
3 Angry Birds..................... $18,700,000
4 Captain America 3............... $15,135,000
5 Neighbors 2...................... $9,100,000
6 Jungle Book...................... $6,967,000
7 Nice Guys........................ $6,370,000
8 Money Monster.................... $4,250,000
9 Love & Friendship................ $2,496,000
10 Zootopia.......................... $831,000


Box Office is still dead because no one wants to see any of these movies. Only ahead of last year by 4.8%, only ahead of 2014 by 9.2%, only ahead of 2013 by 11.3%, only ahead of 2012 by 2.8%, and only ahead of 2011 by 15.1%. Nobody is going to the cinema anymore - Hollywood is dead!

2) Johnny Depp: Box Office Poison!

3) Sidney Lumet's SERPICO - Article And Screenplay!

4) Phillip Noyce Directed Next JACK ASS Installment?

5) How Much Do Entertainment Company Execs Make?

6) Treasure Trove Of Interviews With Charlie Rose - Hitchcock to Kubrick!

7) What Are People Buying On DVD & BluRay?

8) Rosa Salazar Cast In Robert Rodriguez's BATTLE ANGEL ALITA.

9) Movie Color Palettes.

10) Jim Jarmush Interview.

11) Sam Mendes NOT Directing Next Bond - So It Can't Help But Be Better Than SPECTRE.

12) Past Memorial Day Movie Hits.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Okay, *Card* Chase!

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Parker: THE OUTFIT

From 3 years ago... because I was talking with Ramesh about this film at 3 RIVERS SCREENWRITING CONFERENCE over the weekend...

Countdown To PARKER continues with THE OUTFIT. One of the interesting things about all of the previous Parker movies is that none of them have called their character "Parker" - I suspect part of that is to allow them to make a stand alone movie that isn't related to any of the others.


THE OUTFIT (1973, written & directed by John Flynn) is one of those no-nonsense action films from the 1970s - kind of a studio B movie. This was the tail end of the studio system, when they were still making movies just to fill screens. Studios were like giant factories with employees, and it would cost them more to shut down between movies than to just make some “programmer” movies. Now studios are just banks and distributors, and they do not have any full time employees, but in the early 70s they had actors under contract and film crews and directors who they paid a salary to whether they were working or not... so why not keep them working making B movies? Some studios, like Universal, became big TV producers with their employees on salary. But they all made “programmers” - basic meat and potatoes genre films often starring second string stars or TV guys like James Garner. Garner starred in all kinds of programmers, from the comedy-western GET TO KNOW YOUR SHERIFF movies to some action flicks like MARLOWE. The great thing about these movies is that the studios still had all of these great character actors under contract, so you’d get a bunch of familiar faces in every film.

The “programmers” served a handful of purposes - they kept the studio employees working, they filled screens with movies to watch until the studio’s next *big* film like THE STING came out, they often played as the “A feature” at rural drive ins and big city grind houses (in “second run” - after they had already played in normal cinemas as “screen fillers”) they were kind of the farm team for actors and directors and stars - grooming them for bigger and better films, they helped “amortize” the big budget films, and every once in a while one of these little studio B movies became a big hit - and the studio made a ton of money from a very small investment.

The great thing about the action films from this period is that without Paul Newman or Steve McQueen or big budgets, they had to entice the audience with what Blockbuster video used to call “Super Action” - fist fights and car crashes and hot women. In order to get you into the cinema, they’d make the fist fights more visceral, and the shoot outs might be fewer... but more savage, and you weren’t getting the car chase from BULLITT, but they’d crash some junker cars and there would be a nice explosion. These were studio exploitation films. The quality of a studio film crew, the subject matter of some drive in action flick. This time period also gave us all of the great studio Blaxploitation films like SHAFT (also from MGM).

Part of my love for these films is that they are not about rich guys with good jobs in nice office buildings, none of these guys would be caught dead as the love interest in a rom-com. These films are about guys who work for a living, and seem to either take place in the big city or somewhere rural... Charles Bronson played a *watermelon farmer* in one of these films!

THE KILLER SET UP



So THE OUTFIT stars Robert Duvall, from those GODFATHER movies, as a version of Richard Stark’s Parker named *Macklin*, who gets out of prison and discovers his brother has been murdered by the mob and wants to get himself a little revenge. The guy who wrote the novels thought Duvall was closest to his creation, and this is Duvall playing deep fried tough guy to perfection.

Film opens with a Priest in a taxi cab driven by Felice Orlandi - who you would recognize as the low level pock-marked crook in at least a dozen films (including BULLITT!), stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. So you know something is wrong...

Orlandi isn’t just playing a taxi driver like Duvall did in BULLITT, he’s some sort of bad guy. It’s like casting Gary Busey as a waiter. When they get to this house out in the middle of nowhere (rural setting), there is a guy fixing a fence with his dog... And Orlandi and the Priest show up with guns and blow him to pieces. Violently. They just keep firing at him while the dog barks and yelps. The dog is a great touch - when it howls for its dead master, we feel its pain.

Then Duvall gets released from prison, where his ex-girlfriend Karen Black is waiting for him. She tells him she has not been at all faithful, and he says that’s okay - he was away for a while. Then she tells him that his brother was killed by some mob guys...

That night in some crappy roadside motel, a bunch of mob guys including Orlandi try to kill Duvall. But he’s one tough bastard and blasts them all and gets the name of the guy behind it. But he also knows that Black set him up by picking that particular crappy roadside motel.

SOME CASUAL VIOLENCE


Duvall braces Black, she pulls back her sleeve and there are at least a dozen big infected cigarette burns. Guy who did it to her? Same guy who hired the killers who killed his brother. Seems the bank robbery that Duvall was busted for was a mob owned bank. They killed his brother for being part of it, they tried to kill Duvall, and they tried to kill the third guy in the robbery - Joe Don Baker. So Duvall and Black drive to the big city hotel where the lead bad guy is playing a 24 hour poker game...

While Black sits in the car with the motor running, Duvall walks into the hotel, goes up the elevator, pokes his gun in the face of the guard at the hotel room door, takes him out to the balcony and SLAMS him with his gun, then goes back to the hotel room, kicks open the door, slams the inside guard in the face without even slowing down, and robs the poker game - taking guns and cash. The great thing about this sequence is that it’s *suddenly violent* and the film never makes a big deal about it. If this film had been made today, they would make it a big deal... and it wouldn’t be nearly as cool. By downplaying the importance of the violence without downplaying the level of violence, it makes it seem like it is all in a day’s work for Duvall. Before Duvall slams the outside guard with his gun they have a casual conversation and the outdoor guard requests to be slammed with the pistol on his right side because of a previous injury to the left said of his head. These guys get hit with guns and shoot people for a living - no big deal.

The lead bad guy at the poker table is played by the great Timothy Carey - from THE KILLING - who is a big fat a-hole. Timothy Carey is one of those guys who shows up, gives a great sneering performance that gives you nightmares, and collects his check. There are actors who you can see working, Carey isn’t one of them. Hard to believe that this complete a-hole is the same actor who was so sympathetic in THE KILLING.

Carey taunts Duvall as he robs them - he’s got a gun pointed at him, and he’s still spouting crap. Duvall tells him that the mob has to pay $250k for the death of his uninsured brother... who leaves a widow behind.

Then, just when you think the whole thing is over and Duvall is about to leave, he calmly shoots Carey through the hand for using Black’s arm as an ashtray. Danged brutal!

Duvall connects with Joe Don Baker in some rural cabins that are owned by an ex-whore played by Marie Windsor from THE NARROW MARGIN, one of many great bit parts played by actors and actresses from classic noir and action flicks. This film is a who’s who of Noir actors... Elisha Cook Jr from THE MALTESE FALCON pops up in a bit part and Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST is the widow! Over some beers they decide to take the mob for $250k - even if it means they get killed. They are already on the mob hit list, right? What’s the worst that could happen? The plan is to rob every mob place they can find until they get $250k or they mob pays them. Then the $250k goes to his brother’s window.

DANGEROUS ADAPTATION


One of the interesting things about this film is how they turned what was book #3 in the Parker series into a stand alone movie. Unfortunately, THE OUTFIT is too much like POINT BLANK to be a good double bill. In the books, after Parker gets his money back from the mob there is one mobster left alive - Bronson. Bronson wants Parker dead, so in book #2 Parker gets plastic surgery. In book #3, Bronson tries to kill Parker... and Parker decides to show the mob who has more power by getting the word out to all of his armed robber friends across the USA that robbing the mob is now okay - as long as they mention Parker’s name. So in the novel THE OUTFIT, all across the USA robbery teams are knocking over mob businesses (casinos, drugs, prostitution, loan sharking, etc) and eventually Bronson decides to leave Parker alone.

The film manages to stay faithful to the book and still change the core story. One scene that’s lifted right from the book - but they completely change the location: When Duvall and Baker go to buy weapons, in the book the characters go to a hobby shop and the guns and rifles are hidden in model car kit boxes. In the movie they pick up a salesman with a sample case on the side of the road, and the sample case is filled with guns - kind of like the gun salesman in TAXI DRIVER. They drive around the highway and do siome shopping at the same time.

The dead brother thing is how they make THE OUTFIT work as a stand alone, and this gets used in a great scene from the book where Parker shows up at these redneck brothers rural chop shop, and they don’t recognize him because of the plastic surgery... and there’s some tension where they may kill Parker because with that new face he’s a stranger to them. Same scene in the film, but it was Duvall’s *brother* who knew the redneck brothers, so he must convince them he’s trustworthy. In this scene there also an angry dog that’s a threat throughout the scene - I have no idea how much a growling dog costs compared to an explosion, but the dog turns even the quiet moments in the scene into potential danger... And there aren’t many quiet moments.

I love the redneck brothers in both the book and the film. These guys are moonshine hot-rodders who know more about cars and how to make them go fast than all of those NASCAR mechanics combined. They build getaway cars for a living. The idea that people like this exist as peripheral occupations in the world of professional armed robbers is really cool - it’s like being taken into the armed robber’s world and shown details that you never knew existed. One of the cool things in this scene (both book and movie) is the VW Bug getaway car with the hidden V8 - looks like it would have trouble going up hills, but can do over 120 mph. Only problem? It doesn’t *sound* like a VW... and the brothers are trying to find the right muffler combination to get the sound right.

This part is *great* in both book and film, because while Duvall is off with the brothers (played by Richard Jaeckel and Bill McKinney - the hillbilly rapist from DELIVERANCE) looking at cars, Joe Don Baker is left with McKinney’s superhot wife played by Sheree North (who was kind of a Suzanne Sarandon earthy type) who tells him they have time for some luvin’ before her husband comes back. And she does everything possible to get him interested. And it gets *us* interested too (at least, the male target audience for this film).

THOSE BRA-LESS BABES


Now, I have no idea what was going on in 1973, but bras seemed to be completely out of fashion. No woman in this film is wearing a bra. Karen Black is wiggling around, even Marie Windsor was braless. Heck, the old waitress in the coffee shop is wiggling around! That’s actually kind of gross, but I guess it’s a small price to pay because a bra-less Sheree North? Yikes! She is already a mega-busty woman (real ones, too - this was made back when all big breasts were the real thing), add the lack of bra and the tight tops and... well, um, it’s easy to forget what the plot is. Anyway, she offers Joe Don Baker a little luvin’ and he decides that is a good way to get killed and refuses...

But when Duvall and Jaeckel and McKinney return with the car, North tells her husband that Joe Don tried to screw her. McKinney goes crazy and tries to kill Baker, and there’s a big fight, and Duvall and Baker dive in the car and barely get out of there alive. One of the great throw away lines in this bit is that brother Jaeckel *did* sleep with her! These people are all sleeping with each other - it’s Tennessee Williams country!

CONFLICT ON THE SIDE


Now, the cool part about this scene is that it isn’t one of the scenes where Duvall and Baker are taking on the mob... this is a scene where they *prepare* to take on the mob, and it is filled with tension and conflict and excitement. The great thing about lots of these meat and potato action films is that they make sure that even the scenes between the action scenes are exciting. They find the conflict in the little scenes - there’s a great bit where Black and Duvall are hiding out in a another crappy roadside motel and Black goes out to call her mom from a payphone and tell her that she’s okay... and there is a man watching her the whole time. Some mob flunky posted at that motel to look out for them. So the great character scene where Black talks with her mother and we get a glimpse of her white trash past and the way she hooked up with Duvall to try and climb out of it... is an incredibly tense scene. And there’s no shoot out or car chase or giant fireball or someone outrunning an explosion... it’s just some creepy guy watching her.

So, Duvall and Baker decide to talk to the local mob guy headquartered in a bar/restaurant who hired the hitmen, with Black as their getaway driver... and it’s a really cool scene filled with all kinds of side conflicts and one kick ass line of dialogue, “I don’t talk to guys who wear aprons.” Duvall gets in to the mobster’s office pretending to be a mob guy from Timothy Carey’s crew... accompanied by the guy in an apron - the bartender, and has this conversation with the mob guy about those hit men who got killed... and the mobster just looks at him and says - you’re Macklin. Knows it right away. And that’s when the bartender attacks. Sudden violence. One moment they’re talking, the next moment the bartender is trying to club Duvall in the head.

After Duvall slams them to the floor, he robs the mob safe - this is like a regional headquarters, so there’s a bunch of money. As Duvall and Baker escape there’s this big muscular cook with a huge meat cleaver in the kitchen who tries to stop them. That cook character was established when Duvall and the guy in the apron walk past the kitchen... using that cleaver. And you just know that cleaver is gonna be used on him later... or, at least the guy will try. That’s the kind of cool thing that happens in these films - instead of being some cook frying eggs, you get a guy with a giant meat cleaver.

BAD ASS HEROES


Another thing that comes directly from the book, with a bit of a change, is Baker’s character owning a diner... it’s in Maine in the books and in Oregon... but the town name remains the same. Baker and Duvall have this great conversation in the car about the shelf life on being an armed robber... and how getting old makes it more difficult. A very realistic version of the “I’m getting too old for this shit” conversation.

Black has gone home to her mom, and Duvall and Baker just start kicking major ass. They rob a sports betting place - and Baker savagely slugs a woman at the front desk. When they get inside, they can’t get anyone to open the safe and Duvall grabs the guy in charge and says he’s gonna blow off a toe for every minute the guy doesn’t give him the combination... then has one of the other hostages take off the guy’s shoe!

The Macklin character is what I call a Bad Ass Hero - not that there’s anything defective about his hindquarters. There are two basic types of action heroes: Superman and Every Man. The Every Man type is a normal guy who ends up fighting bad guys - like John McClane in DIE HARD. The Super Man is like James Bond - someone who is our fantasy figure. This has nothing to do with spandex or capes or super powers - Tony Stark is an Every Man, as is Peter Parker. And most roles played by Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris are Super Man types - tough guy fantasies. We wish we were that guy!

Duvall’s character is a Super Man type - kind of a blue collar James Bond. He’s tough, he says clever things we wish we could think of (“Die somewhere else!”), he’s ultra-confident, he is never afraid (or never shows his fear), he never shows any sign of weakness and never shows pain. He’s the kind of guy who gets shot and takes it like a man. He’s a man of violence, who *hurts people*. Seagal swiped his character from BILLY JACK, but does a great job with it. Seagal *breaks people’s bones* in fight scenes - he’s savage. He also does the great Bad Ass Hero speech thing - where he gives his super confident warning about how, exactly, he will beat the crap out of the ten guys surrounding him. No fear - he has it all planned out. He’s a Bad Ass. He’s gonna eff those ten guys up. Duvall’s Macklin has some similar Bad Ass moments - in Act 3 he’s *way* out numbered and tells the mob henchmen that they don’t have to die, they can just walk away. Um, that takes some major cajones! Shooting Carey’s hand and clubbing guys in the head with his gun without even slowing down - all of these are Bad Ass Hero moments. This guy kicks ass!

BIG BAD GUYS


The reason why this was “too much of a good thing” when doubled with POINT BLANK is that eventually it becomes Duvall and Baker climbing the ladder of mobsters to get the $250k for the widow... and that’s not that much different. In the book they were just robbing mob places until Bronson took the price off the Duvall character’s head. When they changed it into money, they ended up in POINT BLANK territory. Robert Ryan plays a version of Bronson named Mailer - the head of the mob... and a very young Joanna Cassidy as his hot (braless) trophy wife. Ryan is one of the film’s secret weapons - he’s not only one of those guys who has been in a bunch of old noir and crime films, he’s tough as nails. He’s a bad ass, too.

At a horse auction, Duvall and Baker brace Ryan - a very public scene with Ryan’s bodyguards right there and everyone trying to be on best behavior... but seconds away from shooting each other. Duvall and Ryan have a nice little chat that is all about the world of organized crime vs the world of independents - Ryan thinks Duvall is nothing more than a stick up artist... but Duvall has been hitting them hard. It’s a good hero and villain scene - and the little guy being smarter than the big guy... just not as strong. It’s what the film is all about - the theme in a tense scene with guns and the chance for a bunch of innocent bystanders to get killed. This idea of the little guy going up against the big guy is part of the appeal of these films. They are about underdogs who kick some ass that we wish we could kick. In a strange way, THE OUTFIT is kind of a Tea Party movie - normal people standing up and taking down The Man. I don’t think it’s an accident that the bad guys in lots of these 70s films end up being big time mobsters who live in giant mansions, or big business guys who live in giant mansions, or crooked politicians who live in giant mansions. It’s blue collar workers against rich a-holes.

Where POINT BLANK turns organized crime into glass and chrome skyscrapers and the 60s version of big business with junior executives in charge, OUTFIT makes it layers of sleazy mobsters with a John Gotti type at the top. Not as interesting, but works well for a straight action flick like this. A lot of the pulp paperbacks at the time, like the EXECUTIONER series, were about Viet Nam vets who take on the mob. Ryan, as usual, is brilliant playing Mailer: barking orders and always on the verge of exploding. He’s one of my favorite tough guy actors because he always had a trace of vulnerability.

After Duvall and Ryan have their little chat, the film becomes a series of action scenes setting one against the other until we get to Act 3 where Duvall and Baker buy additional weapons and bombs and anything else they can get their hands on and storm Ryan’s country estate for an Act 3 of wall-to-wall action. Dozens of mobsters guarding Ryan means dozens of shoot outs and fight scenes... and then all kinds of ground taken and lost once they get inside the house. Though big studio films often have wall-to-wall action in Act 3, in these 70s films it tends to be more personal and visceral - shoot outs with people in the next room... close enough to smell. In one scene, a character looks in a mirror and can see something happening in the next room... and uses his gun. It’s close fighting, rather than the big explosions of today’s blockbusters. And the close fighting ends up being more personal and more emotional. Though, um, there are some explosions. And I forgot to mention the car explosions that happen before the house raid - there’s a great country road car chase and shoot out ending with an explosion when Ryan sets Tim Carey after Duvall and Baker.

ACT THREE ACTION


The Duvall & Baker team seem like a predecessor for writer-director John Flynn’s next film - ROLLING THUNDER (written by the great Paul Schrader) where William Devane & Tommy Lee Jones team up to take down some scumbags in Mexico. That’s another great B action flick that I don’t think is on DVD. The shoot out in the whorehouse in THUNDER is much like the end shootout in OUTFIT. Two guys with guns take on a house full of trouble... and stay standing even after they have been shot multiple times. One of the great things about seeing THE OUTFIT on the big screen is that you don’t get that crappy TV print where they changed the end. Somewhere along the line, some network’s Standards & Practices (censors) decided that having Duvall and Baker get away at the end was immoral. They are armed robbers! They kill a whole lotta people! The people they do not kill, they aren’t very nice to! So the network cut the end where they escape, and end with the two laying wounded on the stairs of the country estate after all of the bad guys are dead, listening to the police sirens getting closer - seemingly resigned to do prison time. The great print the New Beverly showed had them cleverly slipping past the police, laughing.

THE OUTFIT isn’t a great film, but it’s a *fun* one. It seems like real people in real situations really hurting people. Not like the fake action flicks we get these days. I miss these meat and potatoes flicks - just meant to fill some screens and provide some great little action stories. The B movies today all seem to be chasing the A movies - trying to be big event films made for a nickle. The only time we get films like this seems to be those flicks that are either almost parodies of 70s action films or *actual* parodies of B action films. It’s too bad. Some studio should start making some little no-nonsense action films on low enough budgets that they can’t lose money. Just some guys kicking ass for 90 minutes. I’d watch that...

Buy THE OUTFIT at Warner Archives.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Pacing - from NORTH BY NORTHWEST to ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
Dinner: Popeye's Chicken.
Bicycle: Short - didn't sleep well and riding didn't wake me up today... there wasn't enough coffee in Starbucks to wake me up today!
Pages: Not much got done on the new Blue Book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movie Premiere Goes Wrong - Homer Simpson

Most fans of THE SIMPSONS don't know that APU starred in a trilogy of films by Satyajit Ray or that many of the other names and gags in the show are in-jokes. Since the show has been on so long, many of the in-jokes seem to have lost their meanings. If I said the name "Homer Simpson" you wouldn't instantly think about that character in Nathanael Wests's brilliant novel about Hollywood, DAY OF THE LOCUST. The joke is gone, because Homer is now more famous that the character he was named after.

Nathanael West was the screenwriter of one of my favorite movies, FIVE CAME BACK, which may have been the first Disaster Movie, and certainly inspired the film PITCH BLACK. He wrote a bunch of films in the 1930s, worked as a Hotel Manager in between writing gigs and got to know a bunch of young writers on their way up who stayed there, and wrote 4 amazing novels, two you may have heard of, two you probably have not heard of.

MISS LONELYHEARTS is the book that got him noticed - a really dark story of a male newspaper reporter who becomes the advice to the lovelorn columnist... and learns more than he wants to about people. That one's been made into a film at least 4 times, probably more... and the great comedy-mystery writer Greg McDonald even did a riff novel on it called LOVE AMONGST THE MASHED POTATOES.

DREAM LIFE OF BALSO SNELL is like David Lynch on acid - which is why you've never heard of it.

A COOL MILLION is one of my favorite novels no one has ever heard of - it's a parody of Horatio Alger jr stories (about hard working young men who overcome all kinds of problems and set backs to become very successful). Imagine the ultra-pessimistic version of those stories, and that's this book. By the end of the story, our hero is dancing on stage and several of his body parts fall off... and he's been screwed in ways you can not imagine.

Last and best is DAY OF THE LOCUST - and if you haven't read it, it's probably one of the best novels every written about Hollywood. It's up there with WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN and the Pat Hobby stories. It's so brutal that you can't believe it was written in the 30s. The book was made into a movie in the mid-70s by John Schlesinger (MIDNIGHT COWBOY) with a script by Waldo Salt (MIDNIGHT COWBOY and SERPICO and 2 Oscars and a screenwriting award named after him) - which was an amazing 70s film... that you have never heard of. While MIDNIGHT COWBOY keeps getting special anniversary editions, DAY OF THE LOCUST was unavailable on DVD until a few years ago and is now out of print. Part of that is probably because of the stars - everybody knows who Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are... but William Atherton's career just didn't take off... he's best known now as that obnoxious reporter that Bruce Willis punches in DIE HARD... and "Dickless" from GHOSTBUSTERS. Not a movie star like Hoffman or Voight... though he was in the 70s. And the film is a major downer. That played in the 70s, but not so much now.

So, just to spoil the whole story for you, here is the *end* - a big movie premiere where all of the characters lives intersect... that is completely ruined by Homer Simpson (played by Donald Sutherland). Homer has had very bad luck throughout the novel/film, and finally reaches his breaking point in this scene...



- Bill

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: The Nice Chimps

Lancelot Link Monday! THE NICE GUYS opens this weekend! Please support Shane Black's film! I know, after IRON MAN 3 he's not exactly the underdog, but he's a "screenwriter star" and his existence creates the possibility for other screenwriter stars like you and me. Plus, he's a nice guy and remembers me (or pretends) whenever we bump into each other. Plus, it's an original screenplay and without superheroes. That can be qa good thing, right? 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 CA:CW........................... $72,563,000
2 Jungle Book..................... $17,764,000
3 Money Monster................... $15,000,000
4 Darkness......................... $5,180,000
5 Mother's Day..................... $3,259,205
6 Zootopia......................... $2,816,000
7 Huntsman 2....................... $2,580,000
8 Kenau............................ $1,900,000
9 Barbershop: TNC.................. $1,675,000
10 Boss............................. $1,180,000




2) REAR WINDOW - John Michael Hayes Interview... Plus Screenplay!

3) Jeff Nichols Interview @ Cannes Film Fest.

4) 10 Screenwriting Lessons From BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

5) Spielberg's THE BFG Trailer & Poster.

6) Brian DePalma's DRESSED TO KILL - plus screenplay.

7) Alistair MacLean's FEAR IS THE KEY Being Remade. Can We Get The EXPENDABLES People To Read Some MacLean And Learn How To Makes A Team Movie? Those Films Are ***Inept***.

8) Ben Wheatley On HIGH RISE.

9) How Plot Works... according to British people.

10) Shane Black Was "First To Die" In The Original PREDATOR... Now He's Making The New One!

11) Scorsese's THE IRISHMAN Picked Up At Cannes.

12) The Movie You Need To See This Weekend Is THE NICE GUYS - Here Are Some Quips From The Stars.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Team Player

Screenwriting is a “team sport” where you are usually working alone. This often leads to confusion - some new screenwriters don’t understand when they need to be focused on individual accomplishment and when they need to be part of the team. Adding to the confusion is that there is a gray area where you need to fight for your individual accomplishments but still be loyal to the team, and times when you should consider the team even though you are at the individual accomplishment phase of the game. See, you’re probably already confused! So let’s take a look at how this works...

Basically, before you make the team you need to focus on individual accomplishment. Just like if you were trying out for a football team or basketball team, it’s all about you doing *your* best and being the best of the group trying out. If this were a sports tryout (I think some pro football teams still have open tryouts), even though some of the people you are competing against may make it onto the team and you may be working *with* them, at this phase you are in competition against them - and if one of them stumbles and goes down, you don’t help them up. You run past them and win.

But once you have made the team, the focus is on what is best for the team... and sometimes you have to sacrifice for the team. How many basketball and football players can we name who showboat? They bring the team down by not passing the ball and not being team players. It’s all about *them* being the star - and the team suffers. Hey, that’s true in screenwriting, too - and I’ll explain how these analogies apply in just a minute. Once you have made the team - you need to be a team player.

Before you sell your script, it is all about individual accomplishment.
After the script is sold, it is all about being a team player.

Except for the gray areas.


PLAYING WITH YOURSELF

When you are writing a spec screenplay, it is all about writing the absolute best screenplay possible. Whatever makes your screenplay better - you do that. I have a Script Tip in rotation that was adapted to be part of the Action Book revision called “You Can’t Do That In A Movie!” about those scenes and moments that sell the script... but are usually the first to be cut once the script is sold.

In “Night Hunter” the scene that sold the script was one where the protagonist (who is the last of the vampire hunters) talks about the horrors of his job - which include killing children who are vampires. They may be hundreds of years old and may have fed off thousands of humans... but they still look like kids. Killing them is not easy. Everyone loved that scene and talked about that scene... but after that script sold and we had our first rewrite meeting it was the first scene they wanted cut. Can’t have the hero killing children!

Similar thing with “Hard Evidence”, where the scene was not about how difficult it was to kill... but how easy it was. The protagonist in that story was a nice guy businessman who was forced to kill a criminal who was making his life hell... and admitted to his best friend that instead of feeling guilt and remorse, he felt elation. He had solved a problem. You are supposed to feel bad after you kill someone, but he felt *great*! Again, this was the scene that sold the screenplay - the scene they talked to me about in the first couple of meetings as their favorite scene... and the first scene that got cut in rewrites. Though, actually, I convinced them not to cut these scene but to give the dangerous dialogue to the best friend.

And just about every screenplay I have sold has had some scene in it that made such a powerful impact on the reader that they recommended the script to the producers... who were also impacted by that scene (or scenes) and bought the script... and later wanted that scene cut because it was too dangerous. That scene was all about individual accomplishment, but the producers feared it may not be a team player.

*Without* those scenes those screenplays would never have sold.

Before the script sells - it is all about individual accomplishment.

Though we are still writing *movies*, at this phase our job is to amaze them with *our* amazing skills, and not be a team player. We don’t want to pull our punches or soften our story or do anything that will make the script tame or bland or unusual. Or job here is to make it the *unusual* script - the amazing script - the one in a million script. And those are probably pretty close to the odds of selling a screenplay - one in a million. So you need to push the envelope to stand out...


FREE THROW PIROUETTES

The “gray area” here is that we are still writing movies. Those scenes that stand out also have to belong in the story - you can’t just paste something outrageous onto the story to make it sell... that will probably make it *not* sell. My two examples above are scenes that belong in those stories and completely fit the tone and story and expectations of those stories. I fought against having them cut... but had to take one for the team. Just adding some over-the-top violence or weird-ass stuff that isn’t necessary to the story is not going to get your script sold. You *always* want to be true to the script. If you are trying out for the team and you do some ballet when you are shooting free throws, you aren’t going to impress anyone. You’re just going to look weird.

If you mix oil-and-water tones or write some story that is so unusual no one can figure out what the hell it is, your script may stand out in the wrong way. I read a script that was a fun buddy comedy... until the extremely violent and graphic torture scene that was so detailed I thought I might barf halfway through the scene. That scene didn’t fit the rest of the script at all. That *scene* was not a team player in the script! You always want your scenes to make the script *better*, not sabotage it. I’ve also read scripts that were like no movie ever made and had me wondering if the writer had ever actually *seen* a movie. The goal of the individual achievement phase is to show that you can write the most amazing *movie screenplay* ever written. The basketball team isn’t going to hire you because you do amazing pirouettes - they care about your basketball skills.


TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM

Once you have sold the screenplay, you are on the team - and now when that runner stumbles your job may be to stop and help them up. You are not fighting for your script anymore, you are fighting for *the movie*... and the movie may end up completely different than the screenplay you sold them.

I have been interviewed by Variety and was featured in the Hollywood Reporter’s Writers Special Issue once... but the only “news link” that has ever been submitted to my IMDB page is a blog where the blogger was deeply offended by a script tip where I talk about the reality of rewrites. In their little blogger bubble they thought that once a screenplay sold it would never be changed at all - and make it to the screen exactly as the writer envisioned it. That is not a team player...

And here is where some of the confusion sets in.

Before you sell the screenplay *you* are the boss and you should make that screenplay the absolute greatest screenplay ever written and not pull any punches or water it down or anything else that makes it less than the greatest.

After you sell the screenplay? You are not the boss. You no longer own the screenplay. You are an employee of the producer... and now your job may seem like the *opposite* of what it was only a couple of days ago. Now your job is to conform the screenplay to what the producer needs it to be.

I think I have a tip that talks a bit about my TREACHEROUS script that I rewrote for every star that was attached (or that the producer was going after to try to attach). The original version of that script was about a retired athlete - the inspiration for the story was a newspaper article I read about a pro football player who had spent all of his money and now owned and operated a diner in Oakland, CA. Sometimes he worked as the fry cook. He had bought the place as an investment when he was rich... and now it was all that he had left. Burned out used-to-be character. That was my lead. By the time they made the film I had done dozens of rewrites for each attached star and now the lead was played by C. Thomas Howell - who was in his 30s. So my job was to be a team player and make the *movie* the best it could be - and that meant rewriting that lead role for a youthful guy in his early 30s. Keeping the original version of the protagonist would hurt the film - who would believe that C. Thomas Howell was and old retired guy?

And the same thing happens in just about every production - once the screenplay has sold it becomes part of the movie, and you need to make it work as part of that movie. HARD EVIDENCE was a spec script that sold to a producer who made USA Network Movies Of The Week. That meant that part of my rewrite was putting in the commercial breaks. Here’s the thing - if I had written that screenplay with the commercial breaks already there, I’m not sure they would have bought it. That’s kind of a cart-before-the-horse thing. I know for sure that if I had removed that dangerous scene they would *not* have bought it, because they told me that’s the reason why they bought it... and then a couple of meetings later told me to get rid of that scene, Gregory Harrison isn’t going to play some guy who is *happy* about killing people... and USA Network isn’t going to let that scene air. As a team player, I had to “fix that” so that the *movie* would be the greatest it could be.

By the way, on HARD EVIDENCE that wasn’t the only scene that was changed. Though that film is the closest to any of my screenplays, all kinds of things changed for the good of the movie. The original script took place in Los Angeles and Ensenada, Mexico... but the producers were going to shoot in Canada, so all of the locations had to change. Plus, because a Movie Of The Week doesn’t just play on TV, the PG-13 sex scenes in my script were pushed up to what seemed like a pretty hard R for the video and international release. I didn’t know about that until *after* I’d sent my parents a copy of the video. But one of the elements of *any* film is that it will play in a variety of different markets and there will probably be additional footage shot to comply with that. One of my films had that typical cops-in-a-strip-club scene and they shot the R rated version with strippers taking it off in the background... and the PG version with them dancing in bikinis. That way the film could play on TV and airplanes and sell to any country where they had strict censorship.

You don’t *write* the scene with the strippers wearing bikinis or burquas, but they might film it that way. Because the video aftermarket is big business on an MOW, you probably will write the R rated scenes so that they can shoot them. If they don’t shoot those scenes when they shoot the rest of the movie they’ll be in a heap-o-trouble when they do foreign sales or domestic video deals. I know on some of my projects there has been a TV cut and a video cut - with the video cut being 10-12 minutes longer. People would rather see the R rated or unrated version of the film than the tame version that played on TV. If those scenes are not already in the screenplay, you’ll probably end up writing them in order to be a team player.


HACK!

And here’s where that blogger comes in and calls you a hack because they don’t realize that once you sell the script you go from individual accomplishment to team player - from owner of the screenplay to employee - from doing what is best for the screenplay to doing what will be best for the film. The gray area here is that you are not some mindless do-as-you-are-told-and-don’t-ask-questions team player, you are the expert at the writing part of the movie and part of your job is to fight for *what is best for the film*. If your script was about a gritty burned out male homicide detective and they cast Anna Faris in that role, your job is to make it the very best script with that casting... and that may mean you fight for some gritty scenes they want to get rid of. But if those scenes will make the *Anna Faris version* better, you want them in the film. Just because you are now a team player doesn’t mean that you don’t use your individual skills - you just use them in service of the team... and to make the *movie* great. Your script may have been “A”, the movie may end up “Z”, so now your job is to make it the best “Z” ever! That’s not hacking, that’s being a team player - and many writers are great at individual accomplishment and awful at being a team player. They can’t get over that the role they wrote for Clint Eastwood is now going to be played by Anna Faris. They just can’t switch gears like that, so they fight to keep it a Clint Eastwood movie even though it now stars Anna Faris... and that means that instead of making it a great movie, the result of their fight ends up making it a *bad* movie. Instead of seeing the big picture, they only see *their* part of the movie. They are showboating... and they will bring down the team.

Once you have made the team, your job is to make the film the best film ever - even if it is a different film that your screenplay. If there are changes that will damage the film, your job is to fight those changes. But if there is something in your original screenplay that works against the film version - your job is to let go of that scene or element and do what is best for the film version. That isn’t hacking at all - it’s just making sure the *film version* is the greatest it can be, and that means you are playing for the team and not against it. If your story was about an old criminal who gets sprung from prison for 48 hours to help a cop capture the criminal's old gang, and they hire a 20 something stand up comic as the criminal - fighting to keep the criminal an old timer is *hurting* the film. They have already cast the 20 something stand up comic, and that's what the story is *now* - so your job is to make it the best screenplay ever about a funny 20 something crook on a 48 hour pass. Yeah, 48 HOURS was originally about an old guy like the 80s version of Robert Mitchum... but they cast Eddie Murphy. For the "team" to be successful, the script now has to be perfect for Eddie Murphy... even if that changes everything in your original screenplay. You are now playing for the team.

But to make that team in the first place, you need to be great at individual accomplishment and *not* write what you think they may want (you don’t really know exactly what they want) and *not* pull your punches, and *not* water down the story or make it safe and bland - you want to make it the very best screenplay it can ever be. Selling that script is a one in a million deal, and you need to make sure that your screenplay isn’t just good (many screenplays are good), but absolutely the greatest screenplay there is. No one buys a good screenplay because it fits their needs - there are *thousands* of good screenplays that fit their needs (unless it’s one of those InkTip adverts looking for a western with dance numbers that can be shot in Iceland and stars little people and was written by a Canadian) - so your script has to be the GREATEST SCRIPT OUT THERE and after they buy it (and you are a team player) they will have you make the changes so that it conforms to their needs,

Or, they will hire you to write that western with dance numbers...

- Bill




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Monday, May 09, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Monkey War!

Lancelot Link Monday! So, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR only made $182 million in the USA and someone is worried because they thought it might make more. WTF? Why has everyone gone greedy these days? I understand wanting your big summer tentpole to make money rather than flop, but I'm pretty sure that's been taken care of once you factor in the rest of the world's box office. It made $262 million overseas as of Wednesday, so it will probably be close to half a billion by the end of the week. And someone wanted it to make $200 million opening weekend in the USA. Boo-hoo! The film is getting great reviews, great word of mouth, and is likely to keep making money for the next couple of months. Why bitch about it not breaking box office records like the new STAR WARS film did? 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 CA:CV.......................... $181,791,000
2 Jungle Book..................... $21,873,000
3 Mother's Day..................... $9,006,141
4 TH:WW............................ $3,580,000
5 Keanu............................ $3,080,000
6 BS:TNC........................... $2,700,000
7 Zootopia......................... $2,677,000
8 Boss............................. $1,750,000
9 R&C.............................. $1,462,000
10 BvS:DoJ.......................... $1,045,000




2) Kevin Feige On Marvel's Future - Is A Line Of Driverless Cars In Their Future?

3) Directors Joe & Anthony Russo (COMMUNITY... and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) Interviewed.

4) Indie Films At The Box Office.

5) Amazon At Cannes Film Festival?

6) Behind The Scenes Of My Favorite Brian DePalma Movie (screenplay by the amazing Paul Schrader).

7) Bryan Singer On Marvel Properties Shared By Studios & Films.

8) The DGA's List Of Best Directed Films.

9) Cutting Class - YouTube Tutorials On Editing.

10) Jean-Luc Godard's Star Anna Karina Intedrviewed.

11) A Look AT ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (And The Screenplay).

12) Russell Crowe Talks MUMMY Remake.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From the first one...

Bill

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Together And Alone

Six Years And One Month Ago, I saw TOGETHER AND ALONE on the big screen at the Egyptian... and it's playing there again on Friday, May 13th at 7:30. Here's what I said the last time I saw this film...

Movies: EDDIE PRESLEY and TOGETHER & ALONE.

Last Wednesday I rode my bike to the subway station, took the subway to Hollywood, rode the bike a couple of blocks to the Egyptian Theater and literally parked ten feet from the doors to see a couple of films written by my friend Duane. Duane is a character actor, best known for playing the pawn shop owner from PULP FICTION. He’s played tow truck drivers and bikers and cops and just about any other role for a beefy guy from Texas. The American Cinematheque was showing EDDIE PRESLEY and TOGETHER & ALONE with a bunch of the cast and crew talking in between.

Though the cinema was not crowded, there were more people than for EYEWITNESS and FOUR FRIENDS a week earlier. Before the show I hung out in the lobby with the filmmakers, I know most of the people involved in the films. Someone told me Jeff the director was not going to be there - he's making a movie somewhere. Then I grabbed a seat right under the scarab in the cinema, and the big gates closed and the house light dimmed.




EDDIE PRESLEY looked great on the big screen. I think I’ve seen it once before on in the cinema, the others times on video. To me, what is strange about the film is that it's based on Duane's one man stage show... but that's the last third of the film - about 40 minutes of screen time. I think the hour of material Duane wrote to more-or-less pad it out is more entertaining than the play material - it's kind of Duane's artistic sweet spot. Hmm, maybe some background...

Duane’s one man show was about this Elvis impersonator whose performance goes wrong and ends up having a complete nervous breakdown on stage and tells his life story and sings a couple of songs. It’s this crazy, funny monologue. Well, my friend Jeff, who directed the movie, had just gone through absolute hell on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 - New Line had micro-managed the film, wanted him to tone the horror way down so that they could get a more favorable rating and play to a wider audience, then took the film away from him in editing and the film they released bombed because it was wimpy and the horror was tame. The CHAINSAW movies are about a guy with a chainsaw who chainsaws people - you can’t exactly make the PG-13 version of that and have it work. So Jeff was pissed off at the studio system and wanted to make his own movie his own way... and Duane, who had played a role in TCM3 had this one man show, and Jeff saw it and thought they could expand it into a feature. Because this was an indie film, they found the money completely outside the system - private investors. They made the film and it was released on video by a really small distrib (which also released John Lee Hancock’s first film) and that was basically that. Oh, the big coup for EDDIE PRESLEY was that it was the first movie bought by The Sundance Channel.

The 60 minutes that is not Eddie Presley on stage having a complete breakdown are about the days leading up to that performance, plus some great flashbacks in black & white to Eddie’s life before he ended up in Hollywood. Eddie lives in his van parked on the street in Hollywood - inside the van is a shrine to his past, when he used to make a living touring small-to-medium venues as Eddie Presley. He picks up his messages on a pay phone and works as a security guard at night. The Back Door Club is the location for the end of the film, the Van is a location, the Security Job is another location, and there’s also the Greasy Spoon Diner - that’s about it for locations.

In the Security Guard story thread, Ted Raimi is one of the other guards, and Lawrence Tierney is the hardass supervisor with a photo album of sleeping guard Poloroids. Willard Pugh plays another security guard and there's a nervous female security guard (Harri James) who has a major crush on Eddie. Raimi and Pugh and James’ characters and Eddie are best friends - and they would do anything to see him succeed. When he finally gets his gig at the Back Door Club, they take the night off from work so they can see him... and pull some favors from friends and friends-of-friends to get him a cut-rate limo to take him to the gig.

In order to stay awake on these night shifts so that he doesn’t get fired, Eddie fills his thermos at a greasy spoon cafe filled with Hollywood losers of all types... plus his girlfriend works there as a waitress. She’ll fill the thermos if the boss isn’t looking, and maybe get him a free breakfast. She wants to actually go out on a real date - but Eddie’s always broke. She’s a wanna-be actress, but has had no luck so far landing a role in anything. These characters in the Diner Thread are Duane’s forte - the struggling artists who litter the streets of Hollywood trying to hang onto their dreams but knowing that they are only dreams... and the reality is that they're a waitress. When Eddie’s not in the diner, there’s a skanky female porn star trying to make the moves on his waitress with promises of leading roles in adult entertainment... is a part a part? Will she do porn?

The other diner regulars are a colorful group, from the toll-taker guy who requires a cigarette from everyone who passes by his seat at the counter, to my favorite character in the film - Clu Gulager's sleazy agent. Hair badly dyed jet black, he tells prospective clients (all gals fresh off the bus) that he has major connections and can make them into stars... and when the pay phone on the wall behind him rings, he answers it with his talent agency name. I've had this agent!

The last thread are the Flashbacks in beautiful black & white of Eddie’s pre-Hollywood life in Texas, with Joe Estevez as his strict father and Barbara Patrick (Robert’s wife) as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Eddie was a successful pizza store owner (take out only) who sells his business to live his dream of being an Elvis impersonator. Father thinks he’s an idiot, wife divorces him and takes the kid... and Eddie and his band go out of the road. Jeff’s cuts from present to past and back are great - match cut stuff with a character from the present drinking a cup of coffee to one in the past drinking a cup of coffee. There is a great flow to the story which makes it seem less episodic. Because the black and white stuff was shot later, Jeff would end a scene with some action that could be duplicated months later when Duane had lost a bunch of weight and looked like a younger version of himself. Eventually the flashbacks get darker and darker (in tone, not lighting) and Eddie flips out in a burger joint and ends up sent to an insane asylum, where the guards include Quentin Tarantino (before he was famous) and Bruce Campbell and director Rusty Cundiff.

The last third of the film at the Back Door Club is filled with some great characters - the late great Roscoe Lee Brown plays the club owner, Tim Thomerson does a great cameo as an angry comedian, stand up comic Puppy Thomas is the world’s worst ventriloquist, and practically stealing the show is Danny Roebuck as Eddie’s warm up act - the world’s most unlucky magician: when he tries to pull the rabbit out of his hat, it bites him and he bleeds all over the place for the rest of his performance... which includes him accidentally catching fire and unable to put himself out. Then Eddie gets up on stage, everything goes wrong, and he has his big break down right in front of us.

Though that ending was the whole reason they made the film, I really like the parts of the film that come before that. You get a real feel for people on the fringes in Hollywood, the hopefuls without hope...

And that's what TOGETHER & ALONE is all about.

Between the movies a Q&A with Duane, Danny Roebuck (who read Jeff's letter), Jay Woelfel, Tom Callaway, Harri James, Clu Gulager, Chuck Williams, and probably some folks I'm forgetting.

The cameo folks like Tarantino and Bruce Campbell and Tim Thomerson must have been busy. Joe Estevez wandered in after the Q&A was over, but in time to watch himself in...



TOGETHER & ALONE - I had seen it once on DVD or VHS, but never on the big screen. This film is the bridge between Robert Altman and Mumblecore. When I'd seen it earlier, I got a little teary at the end. This time, other parts got to me as well. Big ensemble cast playing people living on the fringe in Hollywood who know they are not going to make it. The hope has been pounded out of them. Like in EDDIE, they all hang at the same greasy spoon diner - and that is where their lives intersect. Very funny, very sad - this is one of those films that some critic somewhere needs to discover and champion. Duane wrote the script, directed, and plays one of the roles. The film was made for pocket change, and I suspect some of the stuff shot on the streets of Hollywood was done without permits (there’s a bit at the end where an unsuspecting person ends up part of a scene where a character goes crazy and starts yelling). The one problem with the film is that it does not have the flow of EDDIE PRESLEY and there are abrupt and jarring cuts between scenes... but that kind of fits right into the whole Mumblecore thing, so we’ll just say this film was ahead of its time.

Here are the story threads in this tale of one day in the life of Hollywood hopefuls who lose all hope...

Billy (Casey Siemaszko) is a guitar player with real talent in some garage band that plays all kinds of low rent clubs. He’s dating a rich girl from a wealthy Texas family, and is about to be introduced to her father (Tim Thomerson) for the first time, and is a little nervous. So nervous that he misses a sound check with his band - who are about to cut a demo record. That demo record might be Billy’s big break...

Zevo (Duane) is the leader of the band - all of them have really big hair - and gets pissed off when Billy’s a no show, and tries to turn the rest of the band against Billy and vote him out of the band. Problem is, the rest of the band are idiots, and Billy is a good guitar player, and Billy also brings beer to rehearsals sometimes. Zevo is so cheap that he goes into a strip bar to borrow the phone when there’s a perfectly good payphone outside. After the band stops being distracted by strippers, they decide to vote Billy out of the band - leaving them without their most talented member and leaving Billy adrift and without hope. There’s a nice scene where Billy and his girlfriend end up at the base of the Capitol Records Building, and he talks about his dreams of a recording deal... and how they are probably never going to happen.

In the Greasy Spoon Diner where their lives intersect...

Chad the screenwriter (Tom Denolf) lays out his pens in a specific pattern on the counter and opens his legal pad to write... when a pair of pests sit on either side of him. An older dude who keeps asking him what he’s doing... and eventually starts to hit on him with the weirdest pick up lines you’ve ever heard, and Dougie Westa (Danny Roebuck) the worst actor in the world - his car is plastered with his headshots in a parody of Dennis Woodfruff’s car - sits on the other side of Chad and asks if there’s a role in the script for him. These three guys provide some great comedy bits throughout the film.

At another table are burned out actor Roscoe (Joe Unger in an Oscar calibre performance - really, this is one amazing piece of acting) and just out of film school young director Gene (Thomas Draper) who is buttering up Roscoe to be in his short film about a door-to-door bible salesman who kills people. Though I have no idea what % of the film this story thread is, it *dominates* the film due to Unger’s performance as a guy who knows he’s a has-been without ever really being somebody. He’s spent his life being a bit part player with his best roles on the cutting room floor (in real life, Unger’s big break-out role in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK ended up on the cutting room floor). He has this great rant about how Hollywood just screwed him over, and how lesser talents went farther. Unger manages to be angry and vulnerable and sad all at the same time... and Gene has to put up with all of this in order to get Roscoe in his short film. Gene has a girlfriend, who is an actress....

Laura (Stacie Randall) is taking an acting class from blowhard acting teacher Blaine (Joe Estevez - Martin Sheen’s brother) who has a big showcase for his acting class coming up where big time agents and big time talent scouts are supposed to be in the audience. There will be wine and cheese after the showcase, but only if the acting students bring the wine and cheese, because Blaine sure as hell isn’t paying for it. When Roscoe talks bout those guys who got undeserved breaks, he mentions Blaine’s name - Blaine was once in an episode of LASSIE in a featured role. Blaine has a photo of him and Lassie in his scrap book... that he shows to Laura after class... just before trying to rape her. See, she’s the only one in his class with any talent, so obviously they were meant to be together, right? Laura kicks him in the nuts - hard - and splits for the diner and Gene.

The part that made my eyes damp the first time I saw it was Janet (Harri James) the female comedian who goes to open mike night and bombs. Bombs big time. And realizes that she is not funny at all, and her dream is never going to happen. After being booed off stage, she gets in her beat up old car... which blows up! Now she has no car, no dreams, no nothing. She wanders to a bus stop where she meets Rusty (John Bishop) a shaggy guitar player who hasn't really made it, but sold some songs. As they wait for the bus - which never comes - they tentatively hit it off... and decide to take a cab to her place, where they do not have sex... but share some powerful moments where they talk about their failure to crack Hollywood. Then, as she sleeps, he writes a song about her. A sad song. The funny part about this is that I started getting misty eyed at the friggin’ bus stop scene! I knew that song was coming, and it was already working on me! Anyway, that is one great scene.

There are two “glue characters” who also connect these story threads... Buffy the free-spirit waitress at the greasy spoon cafĂ© (Mariah O’Brien) and the chatty philosopher / taxi driver (Larry Lyles) who picks up Rusty and Janet and a few of the other characters and transports them from one location to another. Chad the screenwriter works up the nerve to flirt with Buffy, and eventually asks her out. This is a great little scene. Afterwards, there’s a funny scene where Gene and Laura are talking and he jokes about a 3-way with another woman. Laura puts him on the spot by calling over Buffy and asking why she thinks men want that kind of stuff. Buffy thinks it’s just because they’re dogs, thinks the whole 3-way thing is gross... except for the time she did it, oh, and the other time she did it, oh, and the time before that when she did it, and...

The taxi driver guy talks a mile a minute and has a theory about everything and is funny as hell - he practically steals the show! You keep wanting one of the other characters to flag down a taxi! He has this crazy story he tells about how his ex-wife ran away with some clown... a real clown. Guy who does kids birthday parties. Worst thing was that she got custody of his little girl, and he wasn’t around to be a father to her... some clown was. When Buffy flags down the taxi, and it’s his cab, we can’t wait to hear whatever rambling monologue he’s going to do while he drives her home after her shift. Along the way, they pass Roscoe - who has flipped out and is wandering the streets of Hollywood screaming, then when he pulls up in front of her apartment she kisses him and it’s revealed that she is his daughter. Cool moment that brings all of the story threads together.

This is a pocket change movie that I enjoyed much more than any of the Mumblecore films I've seen - some critic needs to discover and champion this film so that it can find a larger audience.

- Bill

PS: Hope I didn't get any of the cast names wrong - tried to match character names to IMDB cast in the case of folks I wasn't familiar with.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: More Damned Pilgrims?

Lancelot Link Monday!If "April Showers Bring May Flowers" does that mean a whole bunch of Pilgrims are going to arrive at Plymouth Rock now? 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 Jungle Book..................... $42,439,000
2 Huntsman:WW...................... $9,390,000
3 Keanu............................ $9,350,000
4 Mothers Day...................... $8,302,319
5 Barbershop....................... $6,125,000
6 Zootopia......................... $5,006,000
7 Ratchet.......................... $4,823,000
8 Boss............................. $4,250,000
9 BVS:DOJ.......................... $3,810,000
10 Criminal.......................... $1,325,000




2) Summer Box Office Preview.

3) Black List Script Bought By Will Ferrell... Now Shelved.

4) The Troubles With CITIZEN KANE....

5) The Most Hated Movie In America.

6) Key & Peele On KEANU And 80s Action Films.

7) What Do Crew Members Make?

8) HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, The TV Series?

9) Andrew Niccol (TRUMAN SHOW) Has A New Movie In The Works.

10) Extreme MAD MAX Fans Have Their Own Version Of Cochella.

11) THE LAST DETAIL - Article & Screenplay.

12) The Final Shot

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

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