Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tag - You're It!

In Paul Schrader’s TAXI DRIVER, Travis Bickle tells the Betsy, one of the two women he’s obsessed with, that he needs to get one of those signs that says, “One of these days I'm gonna get organezized". I can be precise in a screenplay, but in my personal life I’m usually all over the map - just too many different things that I have to do all at once, and things always slip through the cracks. A couple of days ago I was trying to find something I said on this blog and had to read more than a dozen entries before I found it. So, I decided to get organezized a little, and add tags. The tags are more for me than for you, but you may still find them helpful. The main help for *me* is to have a quick way to find film reviews or answers to screenwriting questions that I may want to “harvest” into script tips. Used to be I’d see a film and write the review as a script tip, now the reviews start here on the blog and may eventually find their way to the Script Tips - provided the film works as a good example - positive or negative. But for you, I’ve created tags for different kinds of blog entries:

EDITORIAL - When I bitch about the way Hollywood works or even the world works. Just like a newspaper editorial - it’s my opinion about the business.

SCREENWRITING ANSWERS - Anything that has to do with the craft of screenwriting. A while back I asked for your questions, and I still haven’t answered all of them. But even before, I had blog entries about the craft of screenwriting.

WRITING LIFE - Probably more on the business side than the craft side - the things involved in *my* day-to-day career, plus some information that might help you in your career. May include some bitching, which is editorial.

EVENTS - When I report on a film festival or event I’ve attended. Recently I posted about the Fangoria Horror Movie Convention and also about the Book Expo. In a way, this blog began on my website message boards when I would be at some far away film fest and wanted a record of what happened.

FILM INFO - Sometimes I post information about something that happened today in the biz, along with my take on it.

FLASHBACKS - Originally I planned to have a Flashback every month about the early days of my career - or before I even had a career. I posted a couple, then forgot to post more. I hope to remedy that in the future, because much of what happened in my past may be amusing (my first and only agent) and I think many of those adventures made me who I am today.

LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD - someplace between editorial and writing life are these entries about some of the real life horror stories about Losers I Know in Hollywood. At one time, the name of this blog was going to be I KNOW ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD, but I was hoping for some accidental readers thinking this was actually going to be a blog about having sex in a submarine.

BILL’S PROBLEMS - I often use this blog as a confessional, or get on some subject which is just Bill bitching or feeling sorry for himself or wishing the whole world would stop picking on me. Sometimes, these things are legit gripes. This is stuff that *might* be an editorial, if the problem was the world and not me. But usually, the problem is *me*, hence the category title.

FRIDAY'S WITH HITCHCOCK - a new category! Look for the first entry on Friday! For the next year, every Friday I will write about one of Hitchcock’s 53 films.

So that’s the reason why the tag “Losers” may show up on the end of an entry. I hope this little bit of organization doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the blog.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Cashew Chicken at City Wok.

MOVIES: THE INCREDIBLE HULK - Somewhere, about three quarters of the distance between Ang Lee’s HULK and this new INCREDIBLE HULK there is a great movie. Instead, we get a pretty good one. And like MONGOL, it’s a love story in disguise.

One if the cool things is the movie in the titles. Because this is a reboot and they want you to forget that Ang Lee ICE STORM version ever existed, they give you a recap of how Hulk came to be in a cool title sequence that plays like the opening titles for the old TV series. In fact, it seems like they replicated a couple of the shots from the TV show. Hey, and Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno make cameos in this film... more on that later.

I liked the first part of the film best - Bruce Banner is living in the slums of Rio (we don’t get the Sugar Loaf or any of the other Rio landmarks - just a title card and the never-ending favelas) and working on a bottling plant’s assembly line. Hiding. On the run. He’s taking martial arts and does meditation as ways to deal with his anger issues. And he has that heart-beat watch to make sure he doesn’t lose control. He watches SESAME STREET and COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER to learn Portugese.

One of the very first scenes shows one of his handful of belongings - a newspaper picture of Betty Ross, the woman he loves. He hasn’t seen her for 5 years. This newspaper picture goes with him throughout the story - until he and Betty are reunited.

Because I’m not a comic book guy, and know Hulk mostly from TV, I’m more interested in the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of the story and less interested in the monster-fighting-monster elements. That’s the character side of the story - and probably the side that people can identify with. All of us have lost our temper and regretted it... but when Bruce Banner loses his temper, buildings may get smashed and people may die. So for me a great Hulk movie would put Banner in dozens of situations where a normal person might lose their temper, and show him struggling to control his. I would make this huge list of things likely to make a normal person pop a cork, then put all of them in the story. INCREDIBLE HULK doesn’t do this - and the deeper into the movie we get, the less we even deal with the whole temper thing - but the first third comes closest to what I wanted in a Hulk movie.

Banner is trying to find a cure, but meanwhile has to deal with a bully at work. There’s some hot chick on the bottling line that Banner flirts with. Then there’s a great scene where Banner sees the Bully cornering the hot chick at the plant - maybe to rape her - and Banner walks on by... not wanting to lose his temper and Hulk out. But that’s not the answer, either... and he has to carefully get them to leave her alone without getting mad. As he says to them in bad Portugese, “You don’t want to make me hungry”.

One of the other great devices in the film is a title that tells us how many days it’s been since the last anger incident - like the number of days at this work site without an accident. This is one of those clever things that pop up throughout the film - making us laugh when it comes right after an action scene and the number of days is 0. I think things like this are clever, and not enough screenwriters even consider them. One of the best parts of RUN LOLA RUN was the little snippets of a character’s future (and how Lola altered it) when she bumps into them on the street. ****** You can’t do something like this in every script, but coming up with some clever device is what may turn an okay script into something really memorable.

Of course, it would just be the Ang Lee version if Colonel Ross and the government didn’t find him, and we get a cool foot chase through the favelas of Rio - a great location. Jumping from rooftop to street, running through hanging clothes, going through the narrow alley-like streets, it’s a great chase. Not quite as good as a BOURNE chase, but danged good. One thing I would have done here is come up with an anger list for the chase - so that there was an *emotional* conflict going on during the physical conflict. They eventually drop Banner into a situation where he will lose his temper, but they could have focused on all of the little things that may have made him lose control as he was being chased. Action should always be character related.

Anyway, we get some Hulk action... and they do a clever thing. They keep the Hulk in the shadows, so that he’s not only the dark half of Banner, he’s kind of a monster in the dark to those chasing him... even more frightening. This also helps with any CGI issues.

One of the things I also liked about the first third of the film is that Banner is broke. He has to stay under the radar, so he can’t work as a scientist, can’t access any of his money, can’t live anywhere that people might notice him. He lives with the poor. After he’s chased out of Rio, he has to hitch-hike and *walk* to get back to the USA. He’s homeless. Friendless. Ragged. He is a man alone... who now has stretchy pants.

Because all of the information that might help him is back home, that’s where he ends up... in the same college town where Betty lives. The romance ends up being the through line in this film - and it’s an interesting story for a comic book movie. The great thing about having the love story as the spine is that girls will like the movie... and they are more than half the population. A geek comic book movie can also be a date movie!

Betty hasn’t been doing nothing for the past 5 years, she’s now dating someone new... played by Ty Burrell. Now, I’m a big fan of this actor - you’ve seen him in a bunch of movies, but may not even know it was the same guy. He’s a chameleon. He was the complete rich prick in the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, but has done light comedy as Gary on the TV show BACK TO YOU. Here, he plays a psychiatrist... but plays him effeminate for some reason. I don’t know if this was his choice or the director’s choice, but it seems to me like the *wrong* choice. If I were a guy trying not to lose my temper, and found out my ex-girlfriend was going out with a guy I could stomp in my sleep - a guy I could pretty much win away from her without much effort... no conflict! No reason to get angry. But if the guy was some macho stud type, he may get physical with me... and I’d have to defend myself... and that would turn me into the Hulk. As it is, this wimpy guy is not a problem... and that's the problem!

As it is, it seems that most of Burrell’s scenes are on the cutting room floor - including that scene from the trailer that made it look like Banner and Burrell’s character might be Gay lovers. I guess that’s the California version of Incredible Hulk.

But we get the love triangle thing, and we also get Betty’s disapproving father... who happens to be Colonel Ross, the villain. This takes a romance story and magnifies it into a superhero movie. At times in the second act it seems like Colonel Ross wants to capture Banner more to keep him away from his daughter than because he’s US Government property. We get another chase - ending with Banner turning into the Hulk in front of Betty... and Colonel Ross says, “Maybe now she’ll see who he really is.”

And it’s right before he Hulks out that we get the Lou Ferrigno cameo - as a security guard - and that really kills the film. Because when Banner turns into a completely CGI cartoon Hulk, you can’t help but think about Ferrigno - who still looks great, and is 100% real human and freakin’ massive. He’s more convincing as the Hulk in his security guard outfit than the CGI thing is. The CGI this time around is much better than the Ang Lee version, but there's something about a *man* turning into a CGI creature that takes us right into that uncanny valley. In LOTR, Gollum was always CGI, so he was who he was. But here, even with good CGI, we can't help but compare Ed Norton with the CGI Hulk.

By the way, Ed Norton always claims he does massive rewriting that turns the crappy scripts they give him into gold... yet the character elemenst in Zak Penn's script are consistant, whether it's Norton's character or Tim Roth's. I suspect Norton's rewrite claims are similar to the actors who claim to do their own stunts or the comics who claim they ad-libbed all of the funny stuff... read the original script and it's all on the page (and talk to the stuntmen and they did anything dangerous - heck the insurance wouldn't let the star do a dangerous stunt).

By the time we get to our final battle, between the Hulk and the Abomination - the always great Tim Roth as a soldier who is getting to old to fight, so he agrees to have some genetic enhancements even though they may turn him into a monster - it’s like Godzilla vs. Super-Mechagodzilla. Two big monsters battling it out - and nothing human about it. I can identify with a guy trying to control his anger, I can’t identify with a monster fighting a monster. When one CGI thing is fighting another CGI thing, there isn’t much for us humans to do but sit there and watch. Not much identification or emotional involvement (though maybe there could have been had the story focused more on character and less on battle of the titans). Hey, kids will love it, and so will the Japanese... but I want something about people. So the big end battle is just kind of a let down for me.

After the big battle, we get out Robert Downey, Jr cameo - but not as a post credit sequence. I guess it was such a cool scene, they wanted to make sure nobody missed it. But what the film really needed was a short post credit sequence with Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns - who becomes The Leader - Hulk’s large craniumed nemesis in the comics. We see Sterns get some Hulk juice dribbled into a cut in his head... but it would have been cool to see what he has turned into after the credits. Kind of a trailer for the next film. Much better than the Ang Lee version, and the “Days Without Incident” titles were a great touch.

- Bill


Bryan said...

I would have paid good money to see this if Lou Ferrigno had played The Hulk. CGI vs. CGI doesn't interest me. Who cares?

All the action should have been wrapped around anger-management issues. To turn all that potential into chase-fight-flee scenes...yawn!

James Patrick Joyce said...

FRIDAY'S WITH HITCHCOCK - a new category! Look for the first entry on Friday! For the next year, every Friday I will write about one of Hitchcock’s 53 films

Absolutely great!

I look forward to reading your comments. I've seen a lot of Hitchcock films and have enjoyed everything from The Lady Vanishes to North by Northeast.

Hopefully you discuss ones that don't get discussed, often. His British films, for instance. Or, at least, hopefully you talk about ones I haven't seen.

But I'm sure you'll start with North by Northeast.

wcmartell said...

I'm doing the MEMENTO thing with Hitchcock, so look for the British films in fall or winter...

Oh, wait - look for one NEXT FRIDAY! ("You're not wearing a neck tie.")

- Bill

James Patrick Joyce said...

I actually haven't seen Frenzy. So I'll look forward to that entry. ("And this bullet stuck among the hymns, eh? Well, I'm not surprised Mr. Hannay. Some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through."

ObiDonWan said...

"Best Movie Critic" award for 2008.

Hugo Fuchs said...

I've only seen the trailers, but I agree on the no CGI aspect. I would rather see one of the 7 foot tall wrestlers in a muscle suit like Hyde from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Adding only CGI for areas that can't actually be performed by the actor.

As for the story, I always thought that the character story was the most essential to THE INCREDIBLE HULK. The action scenes, in the TV series, always appeared more incidental.

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