Monday, December 08, 2008

Desert Island DVDs

I own hundreds of DVDs, some still in the packaging. Others I end up watching at least once a year - often every few months. Movies that I just can't live without. There are some movies that I'll drive to see no matter where they are playing on the big screen. Here are five movies I can't live without. If I were dropped on a desert island and only had 5 movies to see again and again, I would take these... and retain my sanity.

NOTORIOUS - Ben Hecht - a heartbreaker of a thriller about a shy CIA agent (Cary Grant) whose job is to train a party girl (Ingrid Bergman) to infultrate a group of Nazis in South America... and falls in love with her in the process. Only he's too shy to say so. Nice story if it ends there, but the mission is for her to sleep with one of the Nazis (Claude Raines) and discover what they're up to. Grant is sure she'll refuse, Bergman is sure he'll stop her - neither does anything and she's screwing a Nazi for the CIA. They end up hating each other... then the Nazis find out she's an agent, and try to kill her. Will Grant realize what's happening and save her? Does he *want* to save her after she's been doing it with a Nazi every night? Romantic, heart breaking, and it's a Hitchcock suspense film.

POINT BLANK - David & Rafe Newhouse and Alex Jacobs - Pro thief Walker is double crossed by his wife and best friend, who kill him and take his money. But Walker's anger is more powerful than death, and he tracks the pair down, causing the death of anyone who gets in his way. Violent. Weird. Trippy. A movie that you can see 100 times and each time it seems to be a different movie... not because it's vague, but because it is so packed with details that you can follow a different story thread every time you see it. Lee Marvin, Angie Dickenson, Carol O'Conner, and John Vernon.

DELIVRANCE - James Dickey - 4 guys go on a weekend rafting trip... into hell. Four great characters, and each deal with their worst fears... and maybe your worst fears. You could watch it just as an adventure film gone wrong and enjoy it... but it has got to be the best movie about what being a man is all about, that has ever been made. When Jon Voight is climbing the side of that mountain and drops the photo of his family into the river hundreds of feet below, it just kills me every time I see it. It's like he's lost his last connection with civilization to the wilds of nature.

IPCRESS FILE - Bill Canaway & James Doran - Sort of the “anti-Bond”, but made by the same producers. Harry Palmer is The Spy Who Does Paperwork in this predecessor to THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. For every boring stake out assignment, every time you requisition a car, every time you even think about drawing your firearm, there is an endless pile of paperwork. Harry hates paperwork, but he’s a genius at sifting through it for clues - to find an enemy agent with no known address, he checks for parking tickets. Harry uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices the CIA was experimenting with in their MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. I love movies where intelligent guys get sent into the field, where they are clueless, and must fight to survive. Harry gets in so much trouble, and the story is so clever and twisted and has so many double and triple crosses that I can watch it again and again... oh, and it’s visually really really cool.

AMARCORD - Fellini - A year in the life of a small town and all of it’s interesting residents, told through a year in the life of a high school boy. I saw this film when it came out, and I was a high school boy - and even though it was in Italian, I completely understood everything that kid was going through. This film is funny and magical and for a movie with a large cast - you know and understand every single person. I dare you to see this movie and *not* think of the Peanut Vendor for months afterwards. Or the woman who owns the tobacco shop (though men will probably find her easier to remember than women). This film is full of great vignettes, and each of those stories are so much fun on their own that you can see the movie again and again. But mostly, it will remind you of *your* home town, and that age between childhood and adulthood where you did many things for the first time.

Wow... What do these 5 films tell you about *me*?

So what are *your* Desert Island DVDs? 5 movies you can watch again and again? List your films and a sentence on why you like them in the comments section! (So that this blog entry can last a whole week so that I can get this script finished.)

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: HANCOCK and the Rule Of Three - Brand New Tip about establishing info.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Pollo Loco, chicken, corn, black beans.
Bicycle: After not much bike riding, I figured I'd hop on the bike and ride to some distant Starbucks to write... and while typing this it began raining. Really raining. Now I have to either wait out the rain or get soaked. Swell.

MOVIES: JCVD - It’s one thing for the critics to be throwing around Mickey Rourke’s name in the same sentence as the word “Oscar” (when talking about his performance in THE WRESTLER) - Rourke was a promising actor who had done some great work... then crashed and burned. Rourke could have been a contender.. And maybe he still can. But I’d read a couple of reviews of JCVD that mention Jean-Claude Van Damme’s name in the same sentence as “Oscar” - and they weren’t talking about bologna. They said he gave an Oscar calibre performance. This, I had to see.

So Wednesday night, instead of working on the script I'm way behind on, I went to see JCVD. Um, my excuses were: I was pretty much brain dead after trying to make up for lost pages and needed to take a break... and the reviews had mentioned a bank robbery aspect, that the script I should have been working on has an armed robbery scene, so, you know, it was like research. Some of my friends have also read reviews, so there was a group of us that went to the only cinema in L.A. showing the film and paid to see an *art house* Jean-Claude Van Damme film.

JCVD is a *dramatic* movie about Jean-Claude Van Damme's life. His divorce, losing his daughter in a custody battle, his career that has gone to hell, his fame and failure. Though for me, the high point of the film was a scene where JCVD has a complete emotional breakdown over losing custody of his daughter a couple of my friends thought his big (emotional) monologue was the high point - he just lets loose with all of the crap he has to deal with in his life, ends up crying... and you may get choked up, too. Though I think the whole Oscar thing is hyperbole - critics trying to convince the art house crowd to see a movie staring Jean-Claude Van Damme - he’s no threat to anyone on the short list for nominees, he still really can act. One review snarked that he’s a great actor when he’s playing himself, but I think that’s more difficult than the let’s pretend put on a costume acting those other guys are doing. Several times in the film I wondered why other producers don’t take advantage of Van Damme’s acting? The film deals with his life in Belgium, has his mother and father as characters, and talks about his drug addiction and many wives - some he married more than once, his painful divorces and personal failures... and that child custody battlepover his daughter where he breaks down. It's the biography of a B movie action star...

But wait... art house, acting, monologues, Jean-Claude Van Damme... you may be thinking this is a boring movie. The great thing about JCVD is that it is both a dramatic movie *and* a Jean Claude Van Damme flick.

The movie opens with an amazing sustained single shot as Van Damme shoots, kicks, and punches about a hundred bad guys while protecting this woman. No cuts. It’s like the opening of TOUCH OF EVIL, except Van Damme *fights* through the whole shot. The fight scene ends as Van Damme enters a building, and the guy behind him opens the door and knocks down the set - this lengthy shot (which is still going on) has all been part of a movie, and the director is some punk Chinese kid playing games instead of watching the monitor. Due to the set falling down, they’ll have to do it again. Van Damme is exhausted, sweating like crazy. We’ve just seen him do this massive extended fight scene - obviously doing all of his own stunts - and now they want him to do it again? He tells the kid director that he’s 47 years old, and this epic length shot is not easy to get right every time. The kid director doesn’t care....

After the film wraps, Van Damme hops a plane to Belgium, grabs a cab at the airport, and then goes into a bank (actually a post office) to pick up some money that has been wired to him... and the bank is being robbed. JCVD is held hostage in an action situation right out of one of his movie (and that plot helps explore character more than if it had been a straight bio - we can contrast his screen persona and his real life persona) and the robbers have JCVD talk to the police when the SWAT Team surrounds the bank and the Hostage Negotiator calls... and the police and press believe JCVD has robbed the bank and taken the hostages! Again, this ends up giving us more story than a standard bio, because we can explore the way fame is a blessing and a curse... and how the fans and the press reacts. By creating this larger than life situation, we can go much deeper into character than if it was just a standard bio.

The movie is much closer to DOG DAY AFTERNOON or RESERVOIR DOGS than a biopic... and that allows the story to dig deeper into character and emotion than a biopic. When someone has a gun to your head and you expect to die any moment, you tend to reflect on your life more than when someone just asks you about it. And you tend to be more honest about your screw ups. And when people get shot in the head and die, or when a child is used as a hostage and you have to watch... thinking of your child who may also be sort of a hostage in your divorce... you can really get into the character and emotions in ways that re impossible if this were *not* a fiction film where an army of SWAT guys are surrounding a bank.

And the film itself is interestingly made. It kind of does an ATONEMENT thing, where we start off seeing the story from the point of view of the two guys who work in the video store across the street from the bank. When one of them sees Van Damme get out of the cab, he grabs his camera and asks the star if he will pose with them. Van Damme is obviously in a rush (the meter is still ticking on the cab - it does for the entire film) but he makes the time to pose with his fans and is good natured about it... until they ask for one photo too many, and he’s got to go. Instead of going into the bank with Van Damme, we hang with these two, as shots are fired, a policeman is shot, and every policeman in Belgium ends up surrounding the bank. The video store ends up the command center - which is another interesting contrast between reality and movies. The Hostage Negotiator is actually the Chief Of Police, who is suddenly in the middle of an international media event... in his underpants. Oh, one of the hostages has been injured and Van Damme says on the phone that the only way he will let a paramedic treat the injured man is if he comes in naked. Being a crack negotiator, the Chief gets that demand changed to underpants. The Chief and a paramedic go into the bank, where Van Damme is holding a gun to a hostage’s head... and acting crazy. Van Damme ends up fighting the two, and getting them to leave - and leave the medical kit behind. Nothing funnier than a Chief Of Police trying to maintain control and dignity in his underpants. This actor was really good, by the way.

But just when we think Van Damme may really have lost it and taken over the bank, the movie does that ATONEMENT thing and zips back to Van Damme before he hopped the plane for Belgium - at the custody hearing for his daughter... losing her. Then at his agent’s office, being offered a terrible film role (a very funny bit)... which he must take because he’s just blown all of his money on lawyers who lost the custody case. Then the long plane flight, no sleep, grabbing the cab in Belgium, where the driver is a bitch who complains about Van Damme’s attitude - when he hasn’t said or done anything. This time we see the video store guys - but from Van Damme’s POV, and then we follow Van Damme into the bank.... which is being robbed. Van Damme is taken hostage, and when the Chief of Police calls to do his Hostage Negotiation, they put Van Damme on the phone in case the police are recording the call - they won’t get the robber’s voices. And from Van Damme’s point of view, we see all of the things we have seen before, only everything is entirely different. Van Damme has and empty gun held to the head of a robber who has a gun aimed at Van Damme.

The monologue is also clever. Van Damme is sitting in a chair - a hostage - completely at the end of his rope, and he turns to the camera and lets loose... as the chair begins rising toward the ceiling... passing the false ceiling to the movie lights above. All the world really is a stage. Knowing that he’s going to be killed by the robbers, he talks about all of his life’s failings. It’s raw stuff. Then the chair begins to descend, and when it reaches the floor again, Van Damme turns to face the Robbers - and we are back in the scene. The film really does belong in an art house.

If you strip away the fiction - the life or death bank robber and hostage situation - and just focus on the real life story of JCVD (an international movie star, so he's had a special life) - it's too boring for the big screen. The guy may be famous, but he's got kind of a normal life. Divorce, custody battles, idiot bosses, money problems, aging parents... hell, all of this stuff could be me.

And there's the key to a great script - the *emotional* experience and the emotional truth of the characters. By using a fiction story, we can dig much deeper into the character of Van Damme than if we stuck with a straight bio. Because of the way the movie ends, I don't think this really happened to Van Damme. (Well, it *couldn't* have happened to him.) All of the emotional stuff, but not the story we see on screen. That was the lie they used in order to tell the truth. And there were some great fantasy scenes where Van Damme imagines what he would do if this were a movie he was starring in - how he would kick the robbers’ asses big time. But in real life? He’s afraid they will shoot him, or kill one of the other hostages. Being a hero in a movie is completely different than risking your life and the lives of those around you in real life. But the story leads to that point where he must decide to do something (or not) and the added pressure of his on screen persona weighs heavily on his decision.

Though Van Damme doesn’t need to get up early on that day they announce he Oscar Nominees for Best Actor, he does need to clue in some of these B movie producers he’s working with that he can actually do a dramatic scenes... and maybe some studio guys will see this and realize that, as the movie says a couple of times, when John Woo came from Hong Kong to Hollywood to make movies, the star he wanted to work with first was Van Damme. The guy deserves better than what he’s been getting.

- Bill

PS: Monday on Movies4Men2 (network): 16:00 Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Thursday on M4M2: 18:30 Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

You have been warned.


Grant said...


There's a part of me that wants to do a double feature of POINT BLANK and GET CARTER. But then I look deep down inside myself and realize I'm not man enough to survive. If I watch them back to back, I'll end up as a quivering, crying mass in a fetal position on the floor in my apartment. So instead, I blame the video store for only having POINT BLANK on VHS. Then I can still look at myself in the mirror every day and live in denial.

wcmartell said...

Coming soon to this blog...

Way back on July 30 I saw POINT BLANK on the big screen again, and wrote a stack of notes for a blog entry... but then got side tracked on this assignment (and other things) and have yet to type up the entry. It's coming.

The GET CARTER theme is on my iPod, listen to it every day while writing. At one point in time I had it on replay.

Wow, maybe I should do an article on revenge?

- Bill

Grant said...

Thanks for bringing that up.

In the thing I'm currently working on, the protagonist (intentionally) doesn't have a character arc. He lives by an unwavering code and a set of principals. He gets into some trouble. His enemies all claim to have a personal code, but they're hypocrites and bend and break the rules all the time. By the end, he survives with his code intact and they don't. He's not a better person, but the world is a better place.

I was trying to think of examples where the character didn't really have an arc or emotional growth to make sure I wasn't crazy. All I could come up with was "Rollerball", and frankly, letting your friends die and murdering people in cold blood because you love playing sports that much isn't very inspirational. (Yeah, I know it's more about being told what he can and can't do.) But if I squint my eyes and tilt my head a little, I guess my story is almost a revenge thriller. At least now I'm thinking of other examples where no character arc is fine. "High Plains Drifter" goes on the list, too.

Anyway, here's my five:

1. Videodrome
2. Big Trouble in Little China
3. Deep Cover
4. Green Snake (Hong Kong Wackiness)
5. Star Trek:TOS (I guess that's cheating. So shoot me.)

Good Dog said...

Do a triple feature by adding The Limey. What a corker that would be! Marvin, Caine and Stamp... cracking!

Trying to come up with five movies is a real bugger. I'd like to say the David Lean epics or Kubrick masterpieces, but the key is films that you can watch again and again regularly.

Oddly, if I'm at a lose end and have a couple of hours to kill, the films I usually reach for are Black Hawk Down and Where Eagles Dare. If I have a bit longer, then it's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which I can watch until the cows come home.

I guess the remaining two would be the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven and... I'd need a comedy, and something with real heart to it rather than mindless chuckles... Maybe Local Hero.

wcmartell said...

The thing is - these 5 films aren't what you think are the best films ever made, they are the films you can watch again and again - and all 5 might be complete schlock. Fun schlock. Enjoable schlock.

Speaking of which, I have a soft spot for SCHLOCK!

- Bill

E.C. Henry said...

Your selections show how ecletic and deep you are, Bill. Wow, I mean dude you really those movies well. Your selections are also a little of the "mainstream" beaten path, thus proving you're a writer -- or you wanna be one someday. (joke)

My top 5 desert island movies:

1. "While You Were Sleeping" 1994ish Sandra Bullock.
2. "Forrest Gump" 1994 Tom Hanks.
3. Back to School" 1985ish Rodney Dangerfield.
3. "The Patriot" 1998ish Mel Gibson.
4. "Aliens" 1986, Segorney Weaver.
5. "Sleepless in Seattle" 1993 Meg Ryan at the top of her game. Single man's hormones quite obvious now, say no more.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Emily Blake said...

I'd bring Pitch Black because it's awesome and The Emperor's New Groove and Hero because they're awesome. And then I'd bring Little Miss Sunshine because it's awesome. And that way I'd have two action movies and two comedies.

Then I'd bring Mullholland drive because I could while away my time on the island trying to figure out what the hell that movie is about.

SDMike said...

One item is embarrassing, but here are six I would and do always watch.







David CC Erickson said...

Blade Runner
The Matrix
Solaris (old one)

I love all kind of movies, but I guess I'm a scifi junkie at heart. Unfortunately there's a lot of scifi junk out there.

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