Monday, December 29, 2014

Lancelot Link: End Of The Year!

Lancelot Link Monday! It's the end of the year as we know it, and I feel fine! The end of the year brings out all kinds of lists, and this week we get all of the "early lists". How can you pick the 10 Best Films Of 2014 when there are a couple of days left in the year? I mean, what if someone sneaks in a film at the last minute? Say, some other movie North Korea didn't like gets released anyway? What if *that's* the best picture of the year? All of these early lists will be wrong! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

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

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Hobbit Five..................... $41,420,000
2 Unbroken........................ $31,748,000
3 Into Woods...................... $31,021,000
4 Museum Tomb..................... $20,600,000
5 Annie........................... $16,600,000
6 Hunger Games.................... $10,000,000
7 Gambler.......................... $9,300,000
8 Imitation........................ $7,930,000
9 Exodus........................... $6,750,000
10 Wild............................. $5,415,000

2) Hardboiled Slang Dictionary

3) The Mystery Of Martin Brest.

4) Starlog Magazine Presents Cinemagic.

5) * Documentaries on Cinematography.

6) THE INTERVIEW becomes Day & Date Experiment.

7) Best Indie Films Of 2014.

8) Empire's Best Films Of 2014.

9) Time Magazine's 10 Best & 10 Worst Movies of 2014.

10) Top 10 James Bond Deaths (since there's a chapter in the new Blue Book on Bond).

11) Say Anything Jackie Chan!

12) Adapted Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

13) Original Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

CHRISTMAS VACATION... some of you probably headed home over the weekend.



TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme & Emotional Conflict & Jackie Chan - even a silly genre film can have substance.
Dinner: Fish & Chips & Beer @ The Warehouse in Oakland.
Pages: My day of rest before the new treatment for the page 1 rewrite of the script I sold a while back.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Movie: THE GAMBLER (remake) with Marky Mark (but no funky bunch). I have the poster for the original James Caan version, which was a product of it's time: a gritty drama about a man whose life is in a downward spiral. Though I haven't seen the film in years, I believe it has an ambiguous ending where he bets his life and you never know if he wins or loses. Darker than dark. So... they remade it. The problem with all remakes of any good or memorable film is that it will be compared to the original, and just because we have already seen that original and have fond memories of it... the remake can only fail. This is doubled when you have a film that works for the 70s but is completely at odds with current films. THE GAMBLER is kind of a cult film, now... and that was why it was remade, but also why it can never work. Saw it in a crowded cinema in Oakland (Jack London Square) with an audience that really wanted to see one of the other films which were sold out. Only a handful of people seemed to be there to see THE GAMBLER.

This is a character study about an addict who doesn't want to kick the habit, he wants to OD and die. Every time he has a chance to solve his problems, he screws up *on purpose* so that his problems grow... and the people he owes money to want to kill him. And he *wants* to be killed by them. Just as some people purposely break the law and brandish a gun when the police show up so that they can commit "suicide by cop", college professor Jim Bennett (Alex in the original, which is the name of the character in the Dostoyevsky novel) is trying to commit suicide by loan shark goon. When he has the chance to pay them off, he gambles away the money and then seems to beg them to beat the crap out of him. So this is a hard guy to like, and one of the problems with this story in 2014 is that we want him to get his shit together... but that isn't part of his life plan at all. You gasp at how he keeps screwing his life up again and again. How he brings other (innocent) people into his problems. In the original he bankrupts his mother in order to pay back the mobsters... and then gambles the money away instead of paying it back. Here, his mother is wealthy so she isn't reduced to rags by her son, but I'm not sure that makes Bennett any more likable or even understandable.

That may be the core issue with the film: as an addict it's impossible to understand his addiction. We wonder why he doesn't just stop. But an addict doesn't think the way we do... an addict *can't* stop, and that's impossible for understand on an emotional level. Every time he borrows money from someone who carefully explains they will break every bone in his body if he fails to pay it back... and he just blows it on some stupid bet... we might intellectually think "that's because he's an addict" but *emotionally* we are more likely to lose identification and understanding. Is he stupid? This is the problem with conflicts that are internal in a film: we can't see his cravings, only the actions caused by his cravings. We have to process the story intellectually instead of emotionally... and our emotions often turn to anger against the protagonist (instead of sympathy and understanding). So, a tough movie to watch. Things that were daring in the 70s are now a retread of daring (which is not daring).

A movie like NIGHTCRAWLER which also deals with a character that is impossible to understand and identify with seems to work due to the trajectory of the character. Where Bennett is on a downward spiral and doing everything he can to fail, Louis Bloom in NIGHTCRAWLER is doing everything he can to *succeed*. So we cringe at Bloom when he gets ahead through some unethical method. There's an interesting contrast between good (success) and evil (means of success) in that story that really isn't present in GAMBLER because Bennett is a degenerate gambler (not good) who counters every moment of winning with a whole lot of losing (also not good). Oddly, NIGHT CRAWLER is the more upbeat movie... and maybe even has a happy ending (which you wish had not have happened). Though this version of THE GAMBLER has a more upbeat and less ambiguous ending than the original, it never "earns" it. It never shows us what's going on inside Bennett's head that could produce this ending. And I'm sure in some film school somewhere there is a student with a theory that the ending was all a dream... even though *that* wasn't set up at all (but could have been, and maybe that would have been a better end than the one we got).

Cast is great. Yes, that old man dying in the opening scene *is* George Kennedy. You can't beat John Goodman as the heavy "heavy", he is always in a towel with big layers of flab hanging off of him. Goodman is so calm, so at peace with his girth, that he's chilling just sitting there... before he begins explaining the violent things which might befall Bennett. Michael Kenneth Williams as the more violent mobster is great. I have no idea whether that facial scar is real or great make up, but that dude is chilling. One of the things that makes his character work are little moments like when he dances with a hooker in a hallway and really has some moves. Alvin Ing as the Korean illegal casino owner is also great due to his sense of inner calm when others would project anger. A highlight scene when he's getting a manicure while his men are beating Bennett to a pulp is great stuff (though Bennett isn't as messed up as he should be... his nose is never broken and I've had worse facial cuts shaving). Jessica Lange as his mother is a complete bitch... you almost want her to lose her money. Anthony Kelley as the student who throws the basketball game for him doesn't seem to be the tragic figure the 70s version of the character was, but his scene where he sees right into Bennett is great. The nice things about Lauren Hutton replacement Brie Larson is that they film her without make up... and she looks like a regular person. She has pimples, like a real college student would have. Her performance is good, too... but you keep wondering why she enables him... why she *helps him* commit suicide by loan shark goon.

The problem is that the film could never live up to the original, so no matter how well made it was it was never going to work from an "art" standpoint, and due to the subject matter it's never going to work from a box office standpoint. I understand remaking some old hit movie to make money, but don't understand why someone would remake a good film for *artistic* reasons. Why not remake a bad film and make it better or just make an original film? You can't repaint the Mona Lisa and be seen as an artist... only a forger.


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