Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: DAVE (1993)

Hey, it's President's Day!

Director: Ivan Reitman.
Writer: Gary Ross.
Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames.


Because yesterday was President's Day, we're going to look at the Carpraesque DAVE (1993) about a nice guy who runs a temp employment agency and has a side job as a celebrity look alike for the President, who ends up becoming the temp President when the real one goes into a coma. This is a sweet film that managed to do it all: it’s a great film about American Politics, it has traces of romantic comedy, it’s shows the corrupt back alley deals that go in on (a version of the real life Keating Five Savings And Loan Scandal), it’s about a regular guy taking on the establishment (like Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) and it’s a fun comedy. Oh, and it’s probably the first film I ever noticed Ving Rhames in, because he steals the show as the President’s #1 Secret Service Agent. He has a line at the end that makes me tear up every time I see the movie, and the way that line is set up is a great lesson in screenwriting.

Crap, now I have to talk about that, huh?



First we need to have the story set up...

Okay, the story has Dave Kovick (Kevin Kline), a nice guy who just wants everyone to have a job on Monday morning so that they can pay their rent by the end of the month, picked to be a “decoy President”... not by the Secret Service, but by the President’s cronies played by the always evil Frank Langella and comic turned actor Kevin Dunn. You see, the President has a girlfriend (played by Laura Linney before we knew her name!) and would like to slip away from the press to meet with her in a hotel. So while Dave is leading the Press in one direction, the real President is going in another direction. The President is stiff, overly serious, and a bit of a dick. Dave, while walking down a hallway in front of the press accidentally adds a little humanity to the President, and is sure they will be mad at him for doing that. You know, he could use the extra money being a Presidential decoy now and then.

But the President’s tryst with his girlfriend goes wrong... he has a stroke mid stroke and goes into a coma. Usually the Vice President would be sworn into office at this time, but Langella and Dunn think the V.P. (Ben Kingsley) is a “boy scout” who won’t go along with the President’s not so nice policies; and hatch a scheme. *Dave* will continue to pretend to be President (but be less visible for a while), they will keep him away from the First Lady (who sleeps in a separate room anyway) (played by Sigourney Weaver), the V.P. will be sent on a tour of foreign countries to get him out of the way, they will pin a scandal on the V.P. while he’s away to discredit him, accept the V.P.’s resignation, and then Dave will appoint Langella acting V.P... and then the President will “have a stroke” and Dave will go back to his temp employment agency as the real President will publically go to the hospital and... well, Langella will take over as President and run the country instead of just being the puppet master behind the President. Great plan!

Except for Dave.

While pretending to be the President Dave is a nice guy who realizes the President’s policies are often not so nice. They often benefit the President’s cronies more than the American people. So when President Dave has a chance to do something good, he does it... making Langella very angry. Dunn is the “pivot character” here who starts out as an antagonist but is won over by Dave and becomes his ally.

Which brings us to that great set up and pay off...

Early in the film, when Dave first gets the job as temp President, he asks the Secret Service Agent played by Ving Rhames if it’s true that Secret Service Agents would take a bullet for the President. Rhames says he would gladly sacrifice his life for the President. Dave asks if Rhames would take a bullet for *him*? Rhames gives him a look. Dave realizes he’s in trouble if someone shoots at him...

This is a great gag...

But also secretly sets up one of the last lines of the movie, when Rhames says he’d gladly take a bullet for Dave. This is one of those big moments that comes out of nowhere and makes your eyes moist.

DAVE is one of those films that manages to be both sweet and savage at the same time. If you haven’t seen it, or just haven’t seen it in a while, check it out.



Bill

Friday, February 15, 2019

12 Hours Of Hitchcock/Truffaut.

Seems the new HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT documentary that just played at TIFF is just a rehash of what we already knew from the book and the recordings:

Review.

So since I'm still recovering from finishing the DESCRIPTION & VOICE Book, so why don't you spend 12 hours listening to the original recordings of Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock? It's only half a day...

Hitchcock Truffaut Master Tapes.

Plus, for your visual enjoyment, 1,000 FRAMES OF HITCHCOCK:

1,000 FRAMES.

Sight & Sound.

Bill

Thursday, February 14, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: Masquerade

SEASON 2!!!

Masquerade

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 6.
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by Henry Kuttner. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine, Jack Lambert, Dorothy Neumann. Music: Jerry Goldsmith channeling Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer, but has another most unusual talent as well: peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters... or was that old man flesh and blood? No, don’t answer too quickly, for this is the sort of night where all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm, and the wolfsbane reaches out with its evil, hungry brush. Yes, my friends, on just such a night as this who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose? Masquerade. That’s the name of our story. And the Masqueradrers: May I present Mr. And Mrs. Charlie Denham, played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston; and John Carradine, Jack Lambert, and Dorothy Newman as the infamous Cartas. Now that you’ve been formally introduced I’ll make you a promise. Before this terrifying adventure has ended you’ll change some of your outdated ideas about vampires... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Don’t be alarmed, I can assure you the old faithful weapons are not outdated. And those of you who happen to have some silver bullets or sharp pointed wooden sticks around the house have nothing whatever to fear. As for you others, perhaps you’ll be prepared next time... if there is a next time.”

Synopsis: Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his wife Rosalind (Elizabeth Montgomery) are on their second honeymoon... trapped in a rainstorm in a convertible with a torn roof in the middle of nowhere and stop at the most run down, decrepit bed and breakfast in the Southern half of the United States (the PSYCHO house making another guest appearance on the show). Charlie jokes that places like this are where travelers end up on the menu... and explains step-by-step what will happen to them beginning with the old fashioned door knocker falling off the door due to dry rot and the crazy old patriarch of the family inviting them in and warning them about the vampires in these parts...



When they get to the door there *is* an old fashioned door knocker, and then the door is opened by the crazy old patriarch of the Carta clan Jed (John Carradine) carrying an old fashioned oil lamp who invites them in. Jed is dressed in dirty rags, looks like a hillbilly cannibal’s poorest cousin. When the door closes, the knocker falls off - dry rot.

Rosalind keeps joking with crazy old Jed - about him eating them, and he responds by saying that they don’t eat the visitors, they just kill them and steal their money. A joke? Rosalind wants to get back in the car and drive to their destination - no matter the weather. Charlie counters that *she* was the one who insisted they stop. The old man is just joking, right?



Old Jed is building up the fire in the livingroom to warm them up, and tells them to make themselves at home. Charlie asks if they can borrow some dry clothes (WTF?) because Rosalind’s clothes are soaked. Jed says he’ll get something... then tells them about the local legends of vampires, and the recent suspicious deaths. When he leaves, Rosalind admits that she’s terrified... then strips out of her wet dress and wraps a blanket from the sofa around her. They have a conversation about hillbilly vampires - Charlie thinks that might make a good story idea, but Rosalind thinks no one would believe it... people have a preconceived notion of what vampires look like.

That’s when Lem Carta (Jack Lambert, from Don Siegel’s version of THE KILLERS) steps into the room with clothes, startling them. He’s creepy. Says that Mother is coming down to say hello later. Charlie tells Lem to leave, and don’t peek through the keyhole... which is weird because they are in the livingroom and there is no door. I suspect the script was written for a different location and nobody fixed it when they shot this scene in the livingroom - one of many weird disconnects in this episode between what people say and what we see. Lem is also supposed to be Jed’s grandson - except they are both similar in age... so they didn’t fix the script after casting, either. Lem leaves - there is no door - and Rosalind takes off the blanket to put on the dirty old dress (WTF?) - which is much shorter than what she had on. Charlie puts on the dirty checked shirt and overalls...



When Charlie hears a woman laughing... and it’s not Rosalind!

Then a bat flies through the livingroom startling Rosalind!

Charlie smells food, so they decide to creep deeper into the cobwebbed old house to seek dinner.

In the kitchen: Jed is sharpening a knife while Lem pleads to allow him to kill and butcher this one... Jed killed the last few. But Jed says he’s experienced in slitting throats , so he’s gonna do it this time.

Charlie and Rosalind follow the cooking smells to the kitchen... where Jed has finished sharpening the knife. Jed tells Charlie that Lem’s mother has been dead for a decade - found dead on her bed, drained of blood... legend was from vampires. Jed says that he doesn’t believe in vampires - they’d need to change with the times or they’d be discovered. Rosalind says she’s not hungry anymore and runs to the front door... which is locked! Charlie says they are locked in... and then that woman’s laughter begins echoing from the walls again!

Charlie decides they’re going to search for the laughing woman... and they run into more bats on the way to the kitchen where they discover a butchered pig in the pantry. They creep upstairs and discover Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) in a locked room - a prisoner, chained to the wall. She says she’ll show them the way out of the house if Charlie releases her. But after he does, she runs away into the night... after locking them in the room.



They escape the room, get into a spat, have a make up kiss... and then try to find the way out of the house. They discover some muddy footprints that *begin* at a wall. Secret passage or vampires who can walk through walls? Secret passage - with steps going into the basement. So they go down the steps... to the basement, where Charlie finds some moonshine and the guest book - which contains names of people and what valuables they stole from them!

That’s when Jed and Lem discover them! Jed is angry that they let Ruthie go - she’s a vampire. Oh, and Lem has set up a bed for them. So they go into the bedroom, where they find a locked door with the clothes of the previous guests. There are rats and lightning and other scary things that require Rosalind to jump so that her short skirt flips up (I know that sounds pervy to mention, but I see no reason why these hillbillies would give her an Ellie-Mae outfit except to provide scenes like these).

Later that night: the storm ends and Rosalind wakes up... and walks out of the room as if in a trance! Charlie wakes up and searches for her - finding Lem dead on the floor, sucked dry of blood with a pair of fang marks in his neck! Jed is shocked, says the whole vampire thing was just a joke. Laughter from the basement - Charlie wants to investigate, Jed warns him not to go down there. Charlie discovers Ruthie with a knife!

Later, Charlie comes upstairs and finds Rosalind, explains to her that he had to deal with Ruthie - it was her or him. Rosalind has the front door key - she knocked out Jed to get it, and they two leave. Hop in their car, drive away.

Just before dawn: at the resort destination where they had previously been driving to, they are finally able to get some rest... in a king-sized coffin. They are the vampires!



Review: Novelist Don Westlake has this term for stories that don’t fit in any genre, or maybe fit in too many genres - The Tortile Tarradiddle. It comes from Lewis Carroll (maybe even ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, which may be currently playing to almost empty cinemas near you). This story tries to be alll things to all people and ends up not working for anyone. Though we may look at something like this as “meta” now, I wonder at the time how following every single cliche in the genre played. As a short story, it probably worked - one of my favorite Richard Matheson stories, “Tis The Season”, is a clever comedy story that makes fun of post apocalyptic tropes. Because it’s cleverly written, we know that Matheson is making fun of these tropes. The problem with a TV adaptation is that we wouldn’t be able to read the writing and we’d just see all of the tropes, all of the cliches... and even with the comedy dialogue it still might not work. I don’t really think this episode works - but I’m fairly sure (without reading it) that the story it is based on probably does,



This points out a problem with adapted material - often a book or story is famous *for its writing* and none of that writing shows up on screen, only the physical things being written about. There are novels where the way a chair is described is laugh outloud funny, but on screen it is just a chair... or just a character... or just a simple action like a character sitting down. The humor (or whatever) of the novel is in *how* things are described rather than *what* is being described. And only the *what* ends up on screen. I’ve read screenplays that do this as well - a funny read, but nothing funny actually happening. The funny part is in how it’s described on the page.

So we have a story that’s a big bundle of cliches where they push the comedy to the point of it becoming obvious and less funny. Doesn’t really work. What’s kind of interesting is John Carradine’s character saying “She’s got spunk, I like a woman with spunk” years before Lou Grant would say that to Mary Tyler Moore. Also - is this the first time a married couple slept in the same bed on television? Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston do a pretty good job of playing the Nick & Nora Charles of vampires - and maybe because they are undead they could share a bed on TV and the censors didn’t care? The cast is interesting because this was a pre-BEWITCHED Montgomery, and she’s cute and sexy and lights up the screen. But just as we know Montgomery as a sexy young woman, we mostly know Poston as a crotchety old man from that last Bob Newhart show. So it seems slightly weird to see them as a couple (of about the same age) in this episode. The other thing that’s interesting about this episode is that it uses the “car breaks down in cannibal country” trope long before TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... long before it was a trope (at least in cinema). So we have an unsuccessful entry that wasn’t as much fun as they probably thought it was.

Next week, Ida Lupino returns behind the camera for an episode she wrote with her cousin.

- Bill

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Scene Of The Week: DIRTY HARRY

This week’s scene is one of my favorites, and it does a great job of introducing the protagonist... using *visual* exposition rather than the often clumsy verbal kind. I use it as one of several examples of protagonist introductions in THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING, and because that book works for all genres let’s snag that scene for discussion here.

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Though the "Hot Dog" scene in "Dirty Harry" (1971) isn't the first time we see the character (it’s his third scene), it is a good example of how to pack lots of information in a single scene. Harry is sitting at the counter in a blue collar diner eating a hot dog when he spots a car idling in front of a bank across the street. Harry tells the diner owner to call the police, then unholsters his 44 Magnum and stops the bank robbery single handed, destroying anything which gets in his way. Finally he threatens the downed bank robber, and gives his signature lines from the film: “Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

A great scene, huh?

So let's take a look at that scene and then tear it apart to see how it works:



One simple little scene - what do we learn about Harry from this scene?

1) He's a blue collar guy. When Harry says he’ll have the usual, the fry cook asks “Usual dinner or usual lunch?” Harry asks what does it matter... and the fry cook makes him a hot dog. Not only is Harry a regular here - he’s a regular here twice a day sometimes. San Francisco has all kinds of great restaurants, he’s more comfortable eating a hot dog at some neighborhood joint. We’ll look at the scene that follows this one in a moment for more of Harry’s blue collar side... and a simple thing that helps us identify with this Bad Ass Hero.

2) He's incredibly observant and smart. He sees the smoke from the tail pipe of the car parked in front of the bank, and figures out that there is a robbery in progress. Harry is kind of like Sherlock Holmes - he sees all of the small details that others miss. Everyone else sees a busy city street - Harry sees the car idling in front of the bank. We’ll look at the actual introduction scene to Harry in a moment, which has more Sherlock Holmes elements.

3) He carries a non-regulation gun. A HUGE gun. A gun that isn't designed to wound, but to kill. That was one of the “selling points” of this film - that huge gun. It’s the most powerful handgun in the world. It’s a *hand cannon*. There’s a chapter of SECRETS OF ACTION called “Weapons For Weirdos” about how a character’s choice of weapon can give us character information and create a way for us to identify the character. If everyone uses the same (regulation) gun, they become bland. We want our characters - even the henchmen - to stand out. Have a “personality”. If giving Henchman #2 a cross bow helps turn a minor character into someone more memorable, go for it! That same theory applies to your protagonist. Don’t give them a bland weapon (or wardrobe or whatever) when you can give them a distinctive one.

4) He faces the robbers alone. He is fearless. He tells the fry cook to call the police department and tell them there is a 211 in progress. But the moment he hears the alarm go off, he gets off his stool, eating the last of his hot dog, and pulls his gun and starts shooting. There are two bad guys, one of him - and he’s still chewing on his lunch - and he just strolls out and engages them in a shoot out.

5) He doesn't wait for back up. He's a lone wolf, not a team player. He could have easily just waited for the police cars to come after the fry cook called in the 211. It’s his lunch hour, right? But that isn’t Harry. Harry isn’t really part of the police department, he’s his own man. In the second scene with Harry, he’s reporting to the Chief Of Police (John Larch) and the Mayor (John Vernon) and he’s paired with toady team player Lt. Bressler (Harry Gardino) to bring out Harry’s independence. Where Bressler is doing everything possible to kiss the Mayor’s ass, Harry is holding his disdain in check. He’s a guy who does his job but hates office politics. He is not a team member, nor is he a show off. He’s *independent* and *interdependent*, which matches the cowboy character Eastwood played in many films.

6) He continues eating his lunch as he brings down the robbers. This is just another normal occasion for Harry. He’s calm while everyone else (robbers included) are running and screaming. Cars flip over! Shotguns are fired at him! At one point he looks down at his leg and sees red drops, and you can see him wondering: ketchup or blood? He is not afraid or hurt or affected. He is a bad ass. Everyone else has their adrenaline pumping like crazy, Harry is just trying to finish his lunch. While shooting bad guys.

7) Nothing gets in his way on his quest for "justice". He trashes the entire block while catching the criminals. Talk about collateral damage! There’s a great shot where Harry walks through the wreckage, past the flipped car and blasting fire hydrant, through the “rain”, passing a civilian car where people are screaming, directly to the injured suspect with the shotgun. Harry is a juggernaut. All of this destruction isn’t even on his radar, only the perp. This is an important character trait, because Harry will cause all kinds of destruction in his wake later in the story that will get him almost thrown off the force.

8) He doesn't give the wounded robber the Miranda-Escobito warning... He threatens to KILL him. No kid gloves, here. This guy treats criminals like scum. Here’s where he gets his signature line, and informs us that the gun will blow the bad guy’s head clean off.

9) For being such a bad ass, he has a sense of playfulness. Though the “Six shots or only five” line is a threat, it’s a *clever* threat. Harry isn’t some on-the-nose tough cop, he’s the kind of cop who is going to say things like “When a naked man is chasing a woman with a butcher knife and a hard on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross” to explain why he shot a suspect. Harry always has some amusing way of saying things - and the target of his wise cracks tend to be authority figures like the Mayor. This is a great way to balance out a character who is mostly seen in violent action.

10) Harry is always in control. After he threatens the wounded bank robber, who gives up and lets Harry take his shot gun rather that have his head blown clean off by that 44 Magnum, the robber says: “I’ve got to know.” Did Harry fire 6 shots or only 5? Was Harry’s threat just a bluff? Remember, Harry has that Sherlock Holmes element - of course he knows how many shots he fired in all of this excitement. But instead of Harry saying it was all just a bluff and his gun is empty, he walks up to the robber and aims the HUGE gun point blank at his face and pulls the trigger. Click. Harry smiles and walks away. Remember that actions not only speak louder than words, they are more visceral - and can be more clever. Of all of the ways Harry could have shown the bank robber that his gun was empty and this was a bluff, *this* method packs the most punch. Look for the small ways you can make an impact in your scene. The *beats* in the scene are important, and need to be just as creative and interesting as the scene itself. It’s not just the scene idea, but all of the little ideas within the scene.

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We learn many other details, and also get audience identification with Harry: This interrupts his lunch. Not even a sit-down lunch, but a lousy hot dog. Anyone who has ever had their lunch interrupted by work knows how Harry feels. I know that seems like a minor point of identification, but Harry is what I call a Bad Ass Protagonist, kind of a superhero without the tights. Though I go into much more detail in the book, the problem with protagonists like this is that they are more characters we wish we could be than characters we can identify with - so anything you can do to give us a point of identification helps. Being interrupted at lunch by work may seem minor, but it’s something. The writer was *thinking*.

This is a “fun” scene. At no time do you think it’s any form of exposition. You probably weren’t aware that you were learning anything at all about this character. It was a big shoot out and the protag’s signature line. A fire hydrant gets hit! A car flips over! And Harry’s reaction is *irritated* that his lunch has been interrupted! This is an *entertaining* scene, and we never realize that it is really and *information* scene. You never want the audience to realize you are establishing something that will pay off later or giving them critical plot information - you want them to be in the moment, enjoying the story. Storytelling is basically giving the audience information, but we don’t want them to be aware that they are getting that information - we want them to be wrapped up in the story.

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THE NEXT SCENE: After this shoot out, the red drops on Harry’s pants end up being blood rather that ketchup, and he goes to the emergency room. The doctor, Steve, grew up in the same neighborhood as Harry - establishing that Harry is a San Francisco native... and once had a childhood. (One of my favorite lines of dialogue is from ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ when Eastwood is asked how his childhood was and answers “Short”.) We also find out some personal information - the doctor tells Harry that if he has discomfort after being stitched up to have his wife... then stops cold and apologizes to Harry. And Harry has a flash of pain. The shotgun blast didn’t even register, but the mention of his wife does. This creates some character mystery which will be solved later in the story. Always great to withhold some information about your characters to keep the audience wondering (and involved) for a few scenes. This works especially well with Bad Ass Heroes because they tend to be mysterious. But when the doctor gets ready to cut off Harry’s trousers to remove the shotgun pellets, we get some character gold. Harry *painfully* removes the trousers, “For $29.50, let it hurt.” This guy lives on a budget, and that reinforces the blue collar aspects of his character and helps to create some identification with a character completely unlike us.

INTRO SCENE: The very first shot is the Scorpio Killer’s sniper rifle aiming right at the viewer! Then we see, through his sniper scope, a woman at a rooftop pool taking off her robe and diving in. Swimming laps. She’s beautiful, sexy, and the killer admires her through his sniper scope. Then fires - killing her - blood staining the water.

A door opens and Dirty Harry walks up to the rooftop pool. He’s silhouetted in the evening light - this is THE MAN. He studies the crime scene for a moment - and what we have is kind of a locked room mystery. Who could have gotten onto the rooftop to kill her? Who had access? Why didn’t she notice? Did she know the killer? But Harry is like Sherlock Holmes - he looks around at the other rooftops.

Harry walks down the streets until he comes to a skyscraper in the business district. On the rooftop, he walks around the perimeter - the city far below. Cars look like ants. You can’t even see people from this height. This is great, because we get a bird’s eye view of the city - and Harry is on top of it. There’s something subliminal about showing Harry looking over the city, not lost on Christopher Nolan. Harry walks around the top of the building until he comes to the side overlooking the rooftop swimming pool - way in the distance. We get a great telephoto shot of them removing the woman’s body that gives us a sense of how far away it is - just a blue rectangle from here. Harry searches the roof, finds a shell casing, uses his pencil to pick it up to preserve finger prints... then sees the paper flapping on an antenna and moves to read it. The Scorpio Killer’s note.

All of these actions in this opening scene have set the duel between Harry and the Scorpio Killer and shown how both are worthy adversaries. Harry has been established not just as a guy who uses the most powerful handgun in the world, but as a true detective like Sherlock Holmes. He can spot the clues where others can’t. A couple of minutes in and we have set up the entire story... and set up many elements of both protagonist and antagonist.

And in the Hot Dog Scene we learn at least ten very important things about Harry from this one brief scene. By the time Harry gets a new partner and is set out after the Scorpio Killer, we know exactly how he will react in every scene, because it was all set up in this character introduction scene. What we don't get in this scene – that Harry was married and his wife died after being hit by a drunk driver, but do we really need to know that to understand the character and their actions when the plot kicks in?

Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do you?

- Bill

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: OSS:117 - Nest Of Spies

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius.
Written by: Jean-François Halin and Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, François Damiens, Khalid Maadour.


Before there was the Oscar winning film THE ARTIST, the same team made a couple of silly spy movies starting with...



OSS 117: CAIRO - NEST OF SPIES - Imagine carefully recreating one of those 1960s James Bond rip-offs, even down to the cheesy rear-screen projection whenever anyone is in a car or on a motorcycle. The same lighting style and film stock and use of stock footage and the occasional model plane as in those old films. The same costumes and acting style and... well, it looks like a film they found in a vault somewhere and are showing it for the first time. That’s OSS 117: CAIRO - NEST OF SPIES. Because an early 60s spy movie would look silly, now, they give this film the full AIRPLANE treatment - the characters are dead serious, the film is absurd.



The OSS 117 spy series has been a staple of French cinema since 1956, when OSS 117 IS NOT DEAD was released, but really kicked into gear in the James Bond era with a film a year for a while in the 60s. OSS 117 TAKES A VACATION brought the series to an end in 1970... but this film brings back the character in a great mix of Bond parody and GET SMART. The spy (whose name goes on forever - even in the non-parody films) is this completely clueless moron who accidentally manages to save the day. His main talent seems to be saying the exactly wrong thing at the wrong time - angering everyone around him. Movie opens in WW2 where our hero and his best friend Jack steal the plans for the V2 from the Nazis in a scene that could be from one of those serials INDIANA JONES is lifted from. One of the silly things in this film are the title cards - we get a stock footage shot of the Colosseum... then the word ROME in huge letters. The Eiffel Tower stock shot lingers before we get PARIS in huge letters.



Our hero (Jean Dujardin) gives the crazy code phrase at a restaurant, gets the counter phrase, and is taken to a back booth to meet his boss, who tells him that Jack is dead! He was working in Cairo, where a militant Muslim group, the Soviets, a King’s niece, and a bunch of other bad guys are all involved in... something.

They’re sending our hero down to find out who killed Jack and what all of these bad guys are up to. But first - a flashback to our hero and Jack frolicking on the beach together... Which seems *very* Gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that... by the way, this is the 25th year anniversary of SEINFELD’s first episode). From here on, every flashback of our hero and Jack becomes more and more Gay until they are in that beach scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. And later in the film, a henchman has a flashback of him and another henchman on the same beach frolicking together.

Anyway, our hero flies to Egypt, where a dozen suspicious looking guys in the airport follow him, and we get every spy movie cliche... done to the comedy extreme. The French espionage agency’s cover in Egypt is a poultry company - with a warehouse full of chickens that crow when the lights are turned on, because they think it’s morning. This isn’t just a running gag - our hero can spend hours turning on and off the lights. Unlike other spy movies where the cover job is just a cover - there are shoot outs (and fights using chickens as weapons) with other countries spy organizations over the poultry business. It’s not enough that millions of dollars in Soviet arms were stolen... the German poultry business is losing money to the French poultry business in Egypt!



My favorite gag in the film has our hero wake up with one of the hot women from the story, with a terrible case of “bed head” - hair sticking up everywhere - but when he runs his fingers through his hair it ends up *perfectly* in place. Another gag has one of the fellows following him giving him the wrong code phrase again and again - each time our hero beating the crap out of him. Eventually, the guy gets it right - he’s not some bad guy spy, but his contact from the British Secret Service. He also shows the girl how his gun cocks... um, again and again. He causes an international incident when he stops a priest from calling people to prayer (and a dozen other times he is so insensitive to the locals that you wonder why they don't kill him). The double-triple-multiple crosses. An underwater scene where our hero holds his breath for about ten minutes. Enjoying a massage wayyyyy too much. And there’s a musical number that really gets out of hand. This movie has so many silly things going on in it, I was always laughing at something. Sometimes, just the way the movie gets some 1960s cheesy spy thing dead on is funny.

Bill

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Hitchcock Talks Terror

Here is a two part interview with Hitchcock from 1964 where he talks about all kinds of wonderful things, from fairy tale terror to "photgraphs of people talking" vs. pure cinema.

And Fairy Tales?



- Bill

Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: God Grante That She Lye Stille

SEASON 2!!!

God Grante That She Lye Stille

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 5.
Airdate: Oct. 23, 1961


Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews from the short story by Lady Cynthia Asquith.
Cast: Sara Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Victor Buono.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamine Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “God grant that she lie still. How would you like to have that grim wish carved on your tombstone? Not rest in peace, but fear - fear of the undead for whom there is no rest. Or, as Shakespeare had King Richard say: ‘Let’s take of graves, of worms, of epitaphs. Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes might sorrow of the bosom of the earth, for nothing can we call our own... but death.’ Well, I trust that puts you in the proper mood for what you are about to see and hear. Our story is by Lady Cynthia Asquith, and to bring her tale to life we’ve chosen a cast of distinguished players: Sarah Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Avis Scott, and Madeleine Holmes. They say that Elspeth Clewer dies three hundred years ago. But did she? We’ll find out now, my friends, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: 1661: Condemned witch Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) is being burned at the stake in public by crazed local Priest Weatherford (Henry Daniel) “For if the body of a witch and vampire be not utterly destroyed by fire, her curse descends on her posterity until the last generation.” Elsbeth laughs at the priest and the townspeople, “You can not destroy that which will not burn. That within me will not be killed and will not rest!” They burn her alive - while she chants, “First fire, then death - so it shall always be until my body is returned to me!”



Present Day: Lady Margaret Clewer (Sara Marshall) hears her little Sheen dog barking, and ask him what’s wrong. She goes to the window to look out, but her maid Sarah (Madeleine Holmes) warns her not to - there’s... something... out there. Lady Margaret opens the doors and steps onto the balcony - nothing outside but a “witches moon”. The dog freaks and runs away... and Sarah goes to fetch him. Lady Margaret has returned to her ancestral home for her 21st birthday (this Sunday) in order to receive her inheritance, and this is her first night in the estate. Just behind the huge old mansion is the family cemetery... along with Elspeth Clewer’s grave. Behind Margaret her birds chirps in their cage and she puts a cover over them and wishes them a goodnight, then starts back to close the balcony doors...

When the ghost of Elspeth floats in. Margaret runs to close the doors... and the ghost vanishes. But when she turns to the mirror - Lady Margaret casts no reflection. What? Laughter from the bed - Elspeth’s ghost is in the bed, beckoning to her! Elspeth chants the fire & death thing... and Margaret screams and faints. Sarah runs in to find her on the floor... and the balcony doors open.

Next morning, handsome Dr Stone (Ronald Howard) arrives to check out Lady Margaret - who has been in some sort of coma. He tells Sarah to open the curtains and windows, and as soon as the sunlight touches her face, Lady Margaret wakes up. She says she saw a face outside the window... and then freaks at the memory. Dr. Stone says her heart is strained and she’ll need to rest and take it easy - and gives her a sedative. Says he’ll be back that night. Margaret asks Sarah where Sheen is - and is told he’s vanished. Maybe found his way out of the house.



Dr. Stone takes a look for the dog on the grounds... wanders into the family cemetery... to Elspeth’s grave with its strange epitaph. When he turns around there is a man behind him! He’s John Weatherford (Henry Daniel) the local Vicker - who likes to walk while studying his sermon. Dr. Stone asks about the inscription, and Weatherford tells him Elspeth was a with and a vampire... Stone doesn’t believe in such things. Lady Margaret’s 21st birthday is the 300th anniversary of Elspeth’s death at the stake. Dr. Stone says this is all very interesting, then gets the heck out of there.

That night Dr. Stone is reading by the fireplace when his phone rings... Maid Sara calling to report that Lady Margaret has vanished. He tells her to keep calm, he’s on his way. He drives over, and the first place he stops is the cemetery for some reason... where he finds Lady Margaret passed out in the rain on Espeth’s grave. When he lifts her up to carry her back to the house, there is that pesky Weatherford standing behind him again! It’s as if the Vicker lives to be a jump scare... except the shots are framed wrong so there’s never any actual jump scare.

The next morning, Dr. Stone opens the balcony doors and looks down at the grave. Lady Margaret is awake, wondering if they’ve found her dog. Nope, but she still has those birds. Dr. Stone wonders if she needs a psychiatrist - because of seeing that face - and tries to psychoanalyze her. She has no memory of last night and how she ended up on that grave.

That night Dr. Stone is at home reading again when there is a knock at his door. Weatherford, with the records of Elspeth’s trial... then he vanishes mysteriously.



Stone reads the trial records when his door bursts open, and there’s maid Sarah. Lady Margaret has locked herself in her room, taken her phone off the hook and is screaming... and talking to someone named Espeth. So they head on over to the estate.

At the estate, Dr. Stone kicks open the door to find Lady Margaret in bed covered in mud... and for some reason Sarah decides to look in the bird cage, where the two birds are dead! Their heads have been torn off! Wham! The door opens and Weatherford is there (does nobody knock in this story?) along with his servant, who has been with him for many years... The servant has found Lady Margaret’s dog... murdered! Throat cut! Weatherford offers to have his servant bury the dog, and suggests Stone just tell Lady Margaret that the dog ran away. Um, okay. Then Weatherford leaves and Stone returns to Lady Margaret covered in mud and gunk in bed, previously in progress.

Sarah says there’s something sticky in Lady Margaret’s hand... and her mouth is covered with blood! Did she bite the heads off the birds?

When Lady Margaret wakes up, Dr. Stone has to tell her that her longtime maid Sarah has quit and split... but Stone has hired a private nurse, Miss Emmons. Stone leaves and we leave with him, because a doctor is much moire interesting than a woman who may be possessed by a with and may have bitten the heads off her birds.

Dr. Stone reads the witch trial transcripts - which gives us a whole bunch of exposition read by Henry Daniel about this curse and the witchcraft stuff... including drinking the blood of birds. Dr. Stone sets down the transcripts and bolts out of his house.



Dr. Stone arrives at the estate, where Nurse Emmons gives him a bunch of exposition about how Lady Margaret has been acting strange and talking to herself and yelling “Ley me in, I need a body!” and other wacky stuff. As soon as she finished with the exposition, Lady Margaret screams from upstairs and they run up to find out what’s going on.

Upstairs, the ghost of Elspeth is at the balcony... but she vanishes when Dr. Stone breaks down the door again. Lady Margaret is fine, she just screamed because that’s what the script said to do. She falls asleep. Dr. Stone decides to spend the night.

That night.... a possessed Lady Margaret stabs sleeping Nurse Emmons with a knife!

Except, the next morning Nurse Emmons is fine. Huh? Lady Margaret is sleeping. Huh? Dr. Stone tells Nurse Emmons that he has called a psychiatrist from London to come down. Then he calmly asks the nurse how that cut on her arm is. Fine. Wait - so Lady Margaret stabs Nurse Emmons in the arm, and that’s that? They just act as if nothing has happened? Who reacts like that?



The Psychiatrist (Victor Buono!) tells Stone that Lady Margaret is wack-a-doodle... and her heart condition has worsened. Oh, and she’s been asking for Dr. Stone. He goes upstairs as the shrink leaves. Stone and Lady Margaret *flirt with each other*, because that seems like the right thing to do in the situation. Then Lady Margaret says the best thing for her now would be to die, so that she’d be safe... then falls asleep. Or maybe passes out.

Later, Lady Margaret is sleeping as Dr. Stone sits up next to her when someone knocks on the door. He goes to answer it, opening the door to expose - Weatherford!

Upstairs, Lady Margaret wakes up, walks to the balcony as if in a trance, opens the doors so that Elspeth can enter. “I must be lodged!”



Downstairs, Weatherford tells Stone that Lady Margaret isn’t the only cursed family - his family has been sworn to make sure Elspeth never possesses another body and does very bad things again. That’s why he’s been lurking. Of course, that’s when Lady Margaret screams from upstairs, and both men run up to find out what is going on.

The break open the door in time to see Elspeth’s ghost pulling out of Lady Margaret’s body and walking out to the balcony. Lady Margaret wakes up - says that she’s won! She’s won! And then kisses Stone and then drops dead. That’s just the kid of girl she is!

Weatherford says Lady Margaret has defeated Elspeth by dying without popping any kids, ending the family line and any chance for Elspeth to inhabit any more bodies. The end.



Review: After a strong start to season 2 we get an episode that doesn’t really work... but at least it has Henry Daniel in the cast. One of the big problems with the episode is that it has no idea whose story it is - we begin in the past with our villain Elspeth, then jump to the present with Lady Margaret and spend a while with her as the protagonist, then jump to Doctor Stone for the majority of the story. The problem is that we go from a “first hand” character who is at the center of the conflict (Lady Margaret) to some secondary character (Stone) who has zero involvement in the conflict - he’s a “second hand” character who doesn’t have a dog in the race or a horse in the fight. There’s a point early in the story where we leave Lady Margaret’s house with Stone and basically spend the rest of the episode with him - watching him *read* in his house. How exciting is that? This is Lady Margaret’s story... or maybe even Henry Daniel’s Weatherford’s sort (since he is tasked to make sure Elspeth doesn’t take over Lady Margaret’s body), but this secondary character? Who cares?



And that’s only one of the episode’s problems - it’s also filled with endless exposition that just drones on and on and on, characters often act weird - doing things that help the plot move forward rather than anything a real person would ever do. It’s as if the characters know what needs to happen next and just does whatever creates that result. Though the writer may know what happens next, the art is getting to that next plot point in a way that’s logical and natural and completely what the character would do in that situation. It’s not that the writer doesn’t know what happens next, it’s that they find the way to get there that feels natural. What real humans would do in that situation. But this episode’s story is so contrived at points that characters do crazy things like look for a lost dog in a graveyard and go *straight to Elspeth’s grave* for no apparent reason other than the story needs to introduce that information. Again and again, characters do things that move the plot forward that just make no sense at all.

Henry Daniel’s character seems to exist just for exposition and failed jump scares - shot wrong so there is no actual jump scare. He’s suitably menacing and creepy (as usual), but seems as if he was just pasted into the story to give us a ton of back story and be creepy.



Herschel Daugherty was a competent TV director who did 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 16 episodes of THRILLER and one or two episodes of just about every show on TV for a couple of decades... but his work always seems more competent than inventive. Though last week’s episode WEIRD TAILOR had some great shots, there was nothing there to compare to some of the best work by other directors on this show. I think that often a not great episode might be “saved” by some interesting direction. Had the jump scares with Henry Daniel worked in this episode, it might have been better... but it’s just kind of bland.

This is one of those episodes where 100 monkeys with typewriters could have written a better script... and then it was just directed blandly. It’s probably not the worst episode of the series, but it’s in the bottom third.

- Bill

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

ATLiH: Trilogy Of Terror: Part 3.... Was Che A Vampire?

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.

WAS CHE A VAMPIRE?

The last exhibit in our little gallery of gore might be called The Man Who Googled Himself... That’s not a very good title, this tale of terror really doesn’t have anything to do with Google - but my sister just sent me this new “game” where you Google the phrase “(Your first name) was arrested for” to find out about your sordid criminal past. You’d be surprised at all the criminal activities you’ve been involved in. You can only play this game once, so it isn’t as good as the Elephant Panty game, where you take two completely non-related words, throw quotes around them, and do a search. Then read all of the weird stuff on the hundred or so websites dedicated to “Sewer Golf” or “Television Trousers” or whatever you’ve looked up.

I Google myself every so often to find out if I’ve been linked to Paris Hilton or if they’ve finally discovered that I’m the father of the TomKat baby. I always run across something even more unbelievable. I might do a 2 hour class on Film Noir and quip that most of the characters in these films wear hats... Only to discover someone who took the class says on their website that “Martell says the main requirement in writing a film noir script is to make sure every character wears a hat” - and this person is *serious*. Out of the *one thousand* sentences in that class, they’ve latched on to *one* and decided that’s the key to writing a great script. This is some strange and misguided type of tunnel vision or selective hearing that leads to some really odd scripts. Pretty scary stuff!

I think how this happens is that the person already has some sort of odd hat fetish, and - like those dogs in Gary Larson cartoons who only hear “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah...” - these folks only hear what they want to hear. If it wasn’t about hats, they didn’t hear it. When I find something like this on a website or message board, I wonder what I can do to prevent it the next time I teach a class... but I’m not sure how. I welcome your suggestions.

A friend of mine is a young writer-director who sees everything as if it relates to the struggles of his ethnic minority. He would even look at the “Television Trousers” results of the Google search and come away with how it relates to his ethnic minority. This writer-director has found funding within in his community to make four very political films. All are dramas about the struggles of his people. His first film got a lot of press, played in some film festivals, but never got picked up by a distrib. I saw the film at a local festival, and it was more political than dramatic - lots of speeches. Haven’t see his other three films, but they’ve gotten less press and fewer festivals have shown them. None of them are on DVD - no distrib. Now his community funding sources are starting to dry up, so he decided to make a horror film, because horror films are hot right now.

When my friend told me about this, at first I was surprised. This is a guy who thinks Hollywood makes stupid movies for stupid people. Most of our conversations have been the great debate about selling out versus being true to your beliefs. If you’ve spent much time on my website you know that I advocate being subversive - making genre films with a message. The script I’m currently trying to finish rewriting before I fly to London is a sci-fi action story about an agent with the Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Androids hunting down some renegade androids set on overthrowing the US Government... but it’s really about tolerance. I’ve taken a bunch of situations that deal with prejudice against minorities and turned the illegal immigrants and Gay marriage and sweat shop labor and National Anthem in Spanish and people smuggled over the border in metal containers into... androids. I can deal with all kinds of issues in a script that most people will think is just an action movie.

So I told him I thought it was a great idea. Minorities are under-represented in Hollywood films, and horror films like my friend Darin’s TALES FROM THE HOOD and Snoop’s BONES were good, solid money earners with some cross-over (big fat white guys like me even paid to see them). I gave him a copy of my Horror Class CD and the usual advice to rent a bunch of horror movies and study them - take them apart and find out what makes them tick, and use that information to write his screenplay. I also told him that just because it was a horror movie, doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. You can make a point within a genre film.

Some of you may be shocked that he had four previous films that didn’t get distribution even though they played at festivals. When people hear the phrase “didn’t get distribution”, they think that refers to *theatrical* distribution. I mean, they’ll put anything on DVD, right? You’ve seen some of the crap they put on DVD... maybe even one of my 36 Oscar Worthy Films Starring Tom Cruise. Hard to imagine a film not being good enough for DVD.

At a panel at VSDA (video software dealers association) the distribs said that about 27,000 independent feature films are submitted to them every year (you read that right)... and each distrib only buys a few of them. A company like Asylum makes 12 films a year and buys another 12. Even if there were 100 distribs buying that many films a year, it’s still only 1,200 films - that’s just over a fifth of the movies made every year. And I don’t think there are 100 big distribs out there... I’m not even sure there are as many as 30 distribs of any size. That means distribs can be really picky. And even the artsie distribs on the VSDA panel said it all comes down to what they think the public will buy or rent on DVD. Even artsie distribs have to pay their office rent and power bills.

I think the problem with my friend’s previous 4 films was that they had a target audience (his minority) but weren’t the most entertaining movies that targeted that audience. And that may even explain that crap that does get released on DVD - when you’ve spend 40 hours being abused by “The Man” for lower than average wages and having total strangers hate you for the color of your skin or the person you love or your wheelchair or your religion, do you really want to watch a movie about that? Wouldn’t you rather watch a lesbian vampire movie featuring members of your minority? Or a haunted house movie featuring members of your ethnic minority? Or a monster movie featuring members of your ethnic minority?

So the majority of the 27,000 films submitted to distribs every year get no form of distribution at all, because “The Man” can’t make a buck off them. So my friend is going to make a horror film, because “The Man” can make money on a horror film, and some of that money will trickle down to his investors and his community. Not a bad thing to make some money while showcasing the very talented people in his community.

The next time we have coffee, he’s telling me how his script is going - but all he talks about is the minority angle. It’s almost as if he’s talking out one of his other 4 films. I ask him if he’s had a chance to listen to my class, yet... he says he hasn’t gotten around to it. That’s okay, he’s writing. Always a good thing to be writing.

A few weeks later we bump into each other and I ask about the script. He tells me he’s almost done, and the good news is that his investors are really excited. They are going to give him more money than he had on his other 4 films, because this one is a winner. I ask about the story, and he gives me the capsule version - and it doesn’t sound like a horror story to me at all. In fact, it sounds like a love story! This is strange. I ask him about the horror scenes - and he describes a scene that doesn’t sound scary at all. It sounds *political*. I ask what horror movies he watched before writing the script. He tells me he started to watch NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET but turned it off after ten minutes because he thought it was garbage. He didn’t watch *any* horror movies. I ask if he’s ever seen a horror movie before. “Yeah, when I was a kid.” I ask him about that experience - he tells me he used to love movies like that, then he outgrew them. He’s opened his eyes to the world around him and has seen....

When I ask how he knows if he’s making something that even fits in the horror genre, he tells me it doesn’t matter because he’s writing from his heart and being heartfelt and honest is more important than selling out. Wow, we’re back to that.

I ask if anyone *dies* in his script, and the answer is “Of course!” But then he explains how a character who is prejudiced gets thrown in front of a bus and run over. The more he talks about his script, the more it sounds like the slightly more violent version of his other 4 films. But it doesn’t sound anything like a horror film at all (except for a big violent ending that could go either way).

I advise him that potential distributors are “The Man” and will care more about the commercial aspects than the social aspects of his film - so maybe he should grab some horror DVDs and watch them and maybe do a touch-up rewrite on his script (which probably needs a page one), just to fool distribs into buying his finished film. He says he might do that... but I didn’t think he would.

So, a couple of weeks ago I have coffee with him again - he has finished his script and begun pre-production. I ask him a few story questions - and it seems that the story has even less horror, now. The original ending he told me about, that was kind-of-horror, he changed into more love story. I am so confused by this, I ask him about the over-all story again... and it’s morphed into a social-political themed story where a couple of people get killed in ways that don’t sound scary at all. “But, weren’t you trying to make a horror movie?” “This is better.” “What about distribution?” “You can’t know what they want, so why even think about it? This is my best work so far. And, because it’s a horror movie, they’ll probably buy it.”

I would like to have said: But it isn’t a horror movie! though I didn’t. I wished him good luck. There’s a weird rule with friends - you have to be supportive. If this guy was a stranger on a message board I would have called him a moron and explained that he was continuing the same self-destructive patterns he was trying to break by making this film. But you have to wish a friend good luck and offer to crew for him if he needs you.

He didn’t need me. He had a nice budget.

That’s good, because I can’t imagine being on set for this film every day. It would be like watching someone try to kill themselves again and again. There’s this great scene at the end of Roman Polanski’s horror flick THE TENANT where the lead jumps out of the window of his apartment to stop the other tenants from trying to drive him crazy... he hits the pavement in front of the building... and lives! His landlord (who has bat wings) and his super (who has a lizard tongue) try to help him. They want to keep him alive and play with him some more. But he drags his battered body up the steps to jump again! That’s what working on that film would be like - watching someone keep trying to kill themselves over and over again until they got it right. I don’t have the stomach for that. When I see a *stranger* do something stupid like race across a busy street against the light to catch a bus or something, I worry about them. I want to stop them from their self-destructive behavior. I’m sure I would have spent every day on set hinting that maybe a scene with a guy in a hockey mask with a machete might be interesting at this location.

He’s filming right now. He managed to get a couple of known actors in his film - members of his minority group who are supporting the cause (not Snoop - he’s probably doing a *real* horror film). For all I know, this one may find a distrib... but I’m not holding my breath.

This brings our little trilogy of terror to a close. Hope you don’t have any nightmares. I said at the beginning that this was a fable, but I’m not going to tell you the moral to the story - I’ll let you figure that out on your own. You may come up with a different moral, or see these stories in ways that I could never imagine....

Maybe to you, it’s all about the hats.

- Bill

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: KING OF HEARTS

KING OF HEARTS (1966)

This is a charming movie that may have fallen between the cracks today, but it’s out there on DVD and has a special place in my life... because it introduced me to director Philippe DeBroca who made comedy action films like THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964) and LE MAGNIFIQUE that would influence my writing. One of the things I find interesting looking back is how many movies and novelists have influenced *my* work, and I never know if that’s because I followed them or that they clicked with who I already was. I suspect the latter: that what appealed to me about directors like DeBroca and writers like Ross Thomas was that they shared my sensibilites... funny and action. KING OF HEARTS was probably the first DeBroca movie I saw, even though it wasn’t his first hit film in the USA.



The film stars Alan Bates and one of Geneveive Bujold's first movies. It's an anti-war comedy, made in the late 60s with a British star... and kind of became an anti Viet Nam War film. Probably wasn't even intended as such. The film has a strange history, because when it came out in the 60s, it flopped big time. Big time. It killed DeBroca's career... He had become famous for his action comedy films like MAN FROM RIO and then this film came out and died... and DeBroca was a has been in the USA. But a strange thing happened during the Viet Nam War, KING OF HEARTS started popping up in college area cinemas because of its anti war story. And was one of those movies that was playing *somewhere* up until 1975 when the war ended. In fact, there was one cinema that played it non-stop for *over five years* until the Viet Nam War was over. Imagine a film playing on the same screen for five years today! First time I saw it was at the UC Theater in Berkeley... and it played *somewhere* in Berkeley through the 70s... and brought back DeBroca's career in the USA.

The story is a light comedy that takes place in France during World War 1, the “Great War”. The German army has taken over a small village in France, but when they see a larger group of British soldiers (actually Scottish - kilts are funnier on film) approaching, they decide to evacuate... but hide a booby trap bomb in the town that will explode at midnight and kill all of the Scottish soldiers and their commanders. The next day, the Germans plan to return and re-take the town from any survivors. Great plan.

Best Movie Ever Made



Well, a French underground guy radios the Scottish Army and tells them about this plan... but tells them about it in French. So things get completely lost in translation. And the bomb is set to go off at midnight... and the town has a beautiful ornate clock in town square where a mechanical knight in armor comes out to strike the midnight bell with his mace. This information really loses something in translation - nobody knows what it means. The problem with a World War is that we don’t all speak the same language... and here it creates a massive problem that could end up killing the Scottish Army in their funny kilts.

The Scottish Army sends in a man to disarm the bomb before they occupy the town. Since none of the demolitions guys speak French, they send in Alan Bates - a communications officer. A geek. A non-heroic guy. He speaks French, but has no idea how to disarm a bomb... shoot a gun... win a fist fight, etc. I could identify with this guy. A clever, literate, non action guy in an action situation.

Once he finds the bombs, they will either send in a demo guy or have a demo guy talk Bates through disarming the explosives. That sounds like a plan that is doomed to fail. It also creates a great ticking clock, in a *comedy* film. Just as movie like M*A*S*H mixed comedy and the serious horrors of war, this film is both funny and serious at the same time. That odd tone may have lead to its failure when it was first released, and its later success when we had seen the horrors of the Viet Nam War on the nightly news in the 70s.

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

Best Movie Ever Made



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

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

The movie is charming. Not laugh outloud funny. What used to be called a "gentle comedy". It's kind of like going to the circus (hey, Bujold does tight-rope walking on power lines in a scene, and there are lions and bears!) - it's also a beautiful film... really well shot. DeBroca was one of those directors who could blend comedy and action and had a great sense of the absurd. After this film came back in the 70s, it revived DeBroca’s career so that he could go on to make a bunch of great action comedies like DEAR DETECTIVE and JUPITER’S THIGH and one of my favorites LE MAGNIFIQUE (about a nerdy action writer who fantasizes that he’s his macho action hero... and then has to become him). Hard to tell if KING OF HEARTS holds up - since it's already a period film, it can't really be dated. But it's a gentle film... kind of the anti-Michael Bay. And it still charmed me when I watched it on DVD before writing this entry.

- Bill

Best Movie Ever Made



Friday, February 01, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: Torn Curtain (1966)

TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Screenplay: Brian Moore.
Starring: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Tamara Toumanova, Wolfgang Kieling.
Director Of Photography: John F. Warren (a HITCHCOCK PRESENTS DP who also worked on THRILLER).
Music: John Addison.

Hitchcock's *other* Cold War movie (I'm not counting NORTH BY NORTHWEST - which uses the Cold War as a backdrop but isn't really about the Cold war) is much better than TOPAZ, but still a lesser Hitchcock film. As I've probably said before, despite the insistence of critic Robin Wood that the 60s films were Hitchcock's best, mostly they are disappointments with a good scene or two - Hitchcock was believing his press and coasting. Though Hitchcock hated having the studio stick him with big movie stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, they are part of what makes this film a hundred times better than TOPAZ. The film has a few cool shots, one great scene, and some other scenes that are okay. It's a watchable film, Hitchcock’s 50th film.

Nutshell: TORN CURTAIN is about a top nuclear scientist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) who attends a conference of atomic scientists in Denmark with his fiancé and assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Michael was working on the “Gamma Missile Program” which is top secret... but the government cut his funding. Michael seems distant and secretive and she thinks he may be up to something strange - perhaps having an affair - and she starts to follow him and spy on him. In the mix is a creepy East German scientist Karl who also seems to be following Michael around town. Sarah spies Michael picking up a plane ticket at the concierge desk and she asks him about it. He tells Sarah that he plans to skip the rest of the conference and fly to Stockholm, where he’s been offered the funding to continue with his research. But Sarah discovers his plane ticket *wasn’t* to Stockholm... it was to Berlin in East Germany. Behind the Iron Curtain!

When Michael defects to East Germany, Sarah follows... and now Michael is stuck behind the Iron Curtain with her... protecting her and trying to keep her from discovering exactly what he is up to. Is he cheating on her with the enemy? Nope - he's actually faked his defection in order to get close to one of *their* Atomic Scientists and work with him long enough to find the answers the United States needs for the Gamma Missile Project. Only a nuclear scientist could get this information from another nuclear scientist: no spy would know what to ask. But once Michael has his information, not only does he have to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, he must get Sarah out as well... Michael ends up kind of like that spy stuck with the bureaucrat from Hitch's pitch - except she's his fiance as well. Michael must fulfill his mission *and* make sure the woman he loves doesn't get killed in the process.




Experiment: No big story experiment in this film... but Hitch mentioned in “Hitchcock/Truffaut” the difficulties he had working with method trained Paul Newman.

Hitch Appearance: In a hotel lobby with a baby on his lap.... Here it is on YouTube:


Score: This film is probably most famous for being the movie that resulted in divorce between the long-term team of Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Hitch rejected his score, and hired John Addison.

Great Scenes: One of the greatest Hitchcock scenes is in this not so great movie - the murder of Gromek. Hitchcock thought movies make murder too easy - casual almost. When someone was killed on screen back then, they’d get shot, clutch their chest, and fall over dead. Since it was the 1960s, there was some blood... but not much. But even if you think about films today, the hero sprays a bunch of bad guys wit machine gun fire, there’s a blood squib, then they all fall over dead. It’s over in a second or two. That makes it look easy, and Hitchcock wanted to show how difficult it was to kill a man. This scene is intense, scary, messy, and makes the typical movie scene where the good guy kills the bad guy into a long and frightening experience.

Paul Newman’s scientist Michael is followed to his contact in the underground’s farm by East German Agent Gromek, and must prevent him from calling the police and having them all arrested. With a taxi driver waiting just outside te farmhouse, this must be a silent fight - they can’t use a gun and they can’t let Gromek use his gun. Newman knocks the gun from Gromek’s hand, the farmer’s wife grabs it, realizes it will make noise... and grabs a huge knife instead. But when she stabs Gromek, the blade breaks off inside him, and he’s *still* grappling with Newman. She hits him repeatedly with a shovel, and eventually he goes down... but he’s still very much alive. As Newman catches his breath, Gromek moves to his feet, opens the window to call for the Taxi Driver. Newman and the farmer’s wife, pull him away from the window and slam it closed... and Gromek proceeds to strangle Newman! This guy just won’t die! Eventually the farmer’s wife turns on the gas oven without lighting it, and they drag the fighting Gromek to the open oven door, stick his head inside... then have to hold him seemingly forever until he finally succumbs.



That is the single action or suspense scene in the first *88 minutes* of the film. The problem with this story is that the structure is all wrong: not much happens in Act One and Act Two, and then Act Three (the escape) is full of action scenes. Though there are some minor suspense scenes earlier, nothing that really gets the blood flowing! Small stuff like Sarah discovering his plane tickets and Karl the East German scientist helping Sarah find the bookstore. It’s all small potatoes stuff that’s not very exciting.

So Act Three is start and stop escape scenes... There is an overlong sequence on a bus trying to escape from East Germany that has a few tense moments. The bus is a fake, identical to the real bus, and filled with fake passengers, running 10 minutes ahead of the real bus. The problem is, the police are all over the place looking for Newman and Andrews by this time, and they are stopped and searched. Tension builds as the police check everyone’s papers, and we know Newman’s and Andrew’s papers are forged. After that bandits rob the bus... and the police decide to give the bus an escort! Now the police are *with them* the whole time, and the *real* bus is catching up to them! Some tension here... but the scene goes on four times longer than it should.

Other scenes - an escape from a research facility surrounded by police, an escape from the ballet - surrounded by police, an escape from the post office - surrounded by police... and for those of you who are fans of TOP SECRET, the bookstore scene! It’s always fun to see the exact scene parodied in a ZAZ film, and TORN CURTAIN has that scene. Somewhere in all of these escape scenes is an *endless* scene where they have coffee with an old East German woman who wants them to sponsor her moving to the United States... and an equally endless scene at the Post Office looking for a specific employee who is part of the underground... before the police surround the place. And if anyone can explain the reason why the ballerina *freeze frames* in the ballet scene, I'd love to hear it (yes, we get to watch a huge chunk of *ballet* in Act Three).

In my HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE book we look at the suspense scenes which all revolve around *escape* - and even though not all of them work, we look at how they *were supposed to work* or *could have worked* with lots of step-by-step information on how to make escape scenes work.

TORN CURTAIN is too long, not enough real suspense, and seems to have the scenes in the wrong acts - it doesn’t build to and ending as much as peter out to an end. Both Paul Newman and Julie Andrews seem way too low-key to make this work. Newman was a Method actor, and gives a quiet and realistic performance without any trace of personality... and Hitchcock relied on the personality of the actors to carry the characters. Working in the old studio system, where they cultivated exciting larger than life stars like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, he seemed to struggle in the new gritty version of Hollywood. This film was made a couple of years after Cary Grant starred in the best of the Hitchcock imitations, CHARADE directed by Stanley Donen, and the same year Donen directed another Hitchcock homage ARABESQUE starring Gregory Peck in a story very similar to TORN CURTAIN. Though this is not Hitchcock’s best film by a long shot, it does have an interesting idea and is much better than TOPAZ.

- Bill






Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

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