Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Relaxed For Your Convenience!

From 4 years ago...

So this year I had to take the written driver’s license test, which I have not taken in decades because they keep just renewing my license; and I thought I’d better do some studying first. I grabbed my old Driver’s Handbook from the last time I took the written test from my files and read it a few times. Now, some of you are wondering why I would have kept that old thing, but it was filled with great research information - reaction times, stopping distances, turning ratios at certain speeds, and all sorts of other wonderful things that have managed to make it into car chases I have written over the years. All of those things the Driver’s Handbook cautions you *not* to do are the very things people do in action movies - so now I knew what the limits were and how to use them to survive. I have a car chase where I used the reaction time thing so that my hero driving 90 mph could hit the brakes and stop before going off a cliff, but the villain’s reaction time coupled with the stopping time meant they would never be able to stop in time. Hey, the section on driving on icy roads is like notes for a car chase! The paragraph on speed and stopping distance between cars was a *warning* in the Handbook - but an invitation to write an action scene to me.

So the old Handbook was in a file cabinet with a bunch of gun brochures and Radio Shack catalogues.

But after studying the old handbook, I realized there were probably a whole bunch of new laws - so I went down to the DMV to get a new handbook an study up.

And that’s how I discovered why there are so many bad drivers in California.

They seem to have relaxed the laws to make them all more *convenient* for drivers.

The *old* handbook said that you could only make a U Turn where there was a sign that said U TURN OKAY... the *new* handbook said you could make a U Turn *anywhere* except where there was a sign prohibiting it. This explains all of those people making U Turns on the blind corners of Ventura Blvd where the speed limit is 40 mph... and all of those accidents that are the result of that.

The *old* handbook said if you were making a right turn, you had to make it into the right lane, and if you were making a left turn you had to make it into the left lane; the *new* handbook said that you could turn into *any* lane. Well, the problem with that is that in California you can make a right turn on a red - so if a car turning left ends up in the right lane and a car turning right ends up in the right land - you have a collision. That’s not to mention the confusion of places where there are *two* left turn lanes - and if both cars want to end up in the right lane after the turn - collision. I recently witnesses a fender bender on Ventura & Vineland where that happened - both cars turning left wanted to be in the right lane and hit each other. Going slow, no one was hurt, and they corrected after bumping into each other - but there was damage done to both cars... and it could have been worse. Sometimes it *is* worse and people die.

The new handbook had *nothing* about reaction time and stopping distances and all of the other cool *hard facts* about dangerous driving - that stuff was probably a downer, right? No one likes to be told that they need one car length for every ten MPH between them and the car in front of them to stop safely, right? Hell, at 40 mph that is about 80 feet - who leaves that much room between cars these days? We love to be almost bumper-to-bumper on the freeway at 60mph. And all of the other laws about unsafe turning speeds and construction zones (used to be 25mph or 10mph under the posted speed limit unless posted otherwise) but the new handbook list *no* construction zone speed limit at all - so just floor it!

The two things that managed to carry over from old handbook to new were the tricky things about which car had the right of way on a narrow mountain road and speed limits around school buses... but it seemed like the new handbook was “drive safe but don’t sacrifice convenience” and the old handbook was rules-rules-rules/safety-safety-safety. The old handbook was two hands on the steering wheel at all times in the 10 and 2 position, the new handbook didn’t even mention things like that because you might be eating a hamburger or putting on make up with that other hand.

What the heck? No wonder there are so many more poor drivers! No wonder there are so many more accidents! No wonder I keep almost getting killed while riding my bicycle every day! All of the safe driving laws they used to have, have been replaced for driver’s convenience! Sure - there are more accidents and near accidents, but at least you can make a U Turn in the middle of a blind corner on a street where cars are going 40mph! You didn’t have to drive until you found a safe street to pull onto and a safe place to turn around and then safely turn onto the street you began on in the opposite direction. It takes a lot of time to be safe - we have places to go!

We would rather do what is convenient than what is safe. Rather do what is easy than what is responsible. I’m not going to get into how that is reflected in many other parts of life in the USA - I’ll leave that to you - but it seems like we want to roll through a stop sign when it is convenient for us... but when some other driver does it (causing an inconvenience for *us*) we want them thrown in jail for life. We don’t want to drive safe, we want the other guy to watch out for us. We don’t want any law that is inconvenient to us - even if that law has a logical reason behind it and will save lives.

Don’t believe me?

California just voted to change the (new) law on texting and driving - it’s now *okay* to text and drive!

I guess not being able to text while tailgating at 60mph was inconvenient.

Passing the written test was way too easy.

- Bill




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Monday, July 25, 2016

Lancelot Link: Linked Again!

Due to losing wifi, here are the links from this time in July in 2012...

Lancelot Link Monday! To prepare you for the last BATMAN movie (until the In High School reboot) 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 three cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) 25 Best "That Guy" Actors.

2) Confessions of a TV Movie writer.

3) 10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon.

And the car chase of the week!

- Bill

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Smoke & Mirrors

Today is my birthday, so this blog entry is a rerun while I try to see how many Free Grand Slams I can get by going all over Los Angeles...

From over ten years ago in 2006...

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages. The day before I wrote 6 pages. Three days ago I wrote 5 pages. I'm almost over the big hump with this page one rewrite on STEEL CHAMELEONS - all of the 100% new stuff is almost done. Soon I’ll just be rewriting existing scenes - most are getting a major face lift, and there are still some 100% new scenes left to write... but Act 1 is so completely different that as soon as I get through that it will be much easier going. Writing is boring stuff. Do you really care about that really cool idea I came up with on page 23?

But you might be mildly interested if I told you that Tom Cruise was attached, right? That makes it exciting - a real movie. I was visiting a friend at Cedar-Sinai hospital and got off on the wrong floor by mistake and ended up in the *Pediatric Plastic Surgery wing* where baby Surrey was getting some work done so that he looked more like Tom and less like the sperm donor (you wondered why Tom & Katy took so long to show him to the public? The kid's little plastic surgery scars had to heal) and after I accidentally witnessed this, Tom agreed to play a small role in my film - more or less what Jackie Chan did in PROTECTOR. But the great thing is, now that Tom's onboard, I was able to get Billy Bob and Julia and Marilyn Monroe in a very small role. I know she’s dead, but... (insert Monty Python ash tray joke here)

All bullshit.

This town is full of bullshit. It’s as if people who move here leave their values at home and bring the fertilizer. Everyone has some big deal going... in their minds.

Most of my Script Tips are either analysis of films or “this worked for me” advice. I tend not to share the things that didn’t work, or the lessons that I just refuse to learn. Hyping yourself is one of those lessons. Though I’m not from the mid-west, my parents brought me up to tell the truth and be modest about my accomplishments. If you’ve been visiting my site for a while, you may have noticed my resume “evolving”. In the beginning I never mentioned a single project that didn’t make it all the way to screen. Because my goal is to actually get scripts on screen, I considered the ones that were bought and shelved to be failures. I got paid, but they didn’t get made. Now I include them.

I also didn’t talk about *potential* deals that didn’t pan out. If a script that didn’t get made is a failure, what the heck is a script that didn’t even get bought? Who cares about how many meetings I got off that script or how many potential assignments I was up for - that’s all smoke. Nothing to show for that... But you may have noticed I include some of those things in my resume, now. That started when I was up for a rewrite job at 20th Century Fox... and didn’t get it when somebody else demanded a $300k producer’s fee if they hired me. This guy was *supposed* to be looking out for my best interests. That made me angry enough to talk about it.

But the main thing that contributed to loosening up my resume to include actual accomplishments that didn’t end up on celluloid? The amount of complete bullshit out there. When everyone else has Tom Cruise attached to their project (in their minds) and you’ve actually had two meetings with C/W while they were on the Paramount lot because they read and liked your scripts, why should I keep my real meetings a secret? One of the things I always say about printed film budgets is that if it’s an Independent genre film - divide by at least two. A guy who has made a low budget wants to make you think it cost more... and wants the distrib who picks it up to pay as if it cost more to make. If it’s a studio film - multiply by two. Studio films always go way over budget and they try to keep that secret - if you knew how much it really cost to make that bomb, the studio would look like a bunch of morons. I’m afraid that the same sort of inflation adjustment may go on when people read my credits, so why leave something *real* off my resume? Hey, I really did turn down the job adapting ANGELS & DEMONS. I *am* a moron!

But I draw the line at lying. That’s the lesson I just refuse to learn... and you won’t be seeing a Script Tip anytime in the future about padding your resume or misrepresenting yourself. Though the truth may be different than the way the final credits were attributed, I’m not going to take credit for something I didn’t do.

Which puts me in the minority in this town.


About a decade ago, I met writer who claimed to have written a movie in production at Warner Bros... he even had a copy of the script with his name on the cover. He made sure everyone saw it and everyone was impressed... and later we found out he *typed* the script. His job was to format scripts to mesh with the Warner Bros format - he worked in the secretarial pool at Warners.

A couple of years later I met a writer who told me he was the best writer in town. He didn’t stop there, though - he hired a publicity firm to spread the word. Next thing you know, he’s actually being interviewed in magazines as one of the new hot writers in Hollywood. He hadn’t sold a script, optioned a script, or even made semi-finalist in a contest. He just hired a PR firm. Now here’s where the story gets weird... someone believes the hype! He’s signed by some young agent at William Morris. That gets him ink in the trades - legitimizing the “hot writer” claims. It also gets him pitch meetings all over town... where he sells a pitch! They guy does have the gift for gab - he can convince you that he really is the best writer in town... until you actually read his writing.

I had never read any of his scripts until a couple of years ago. He went out of his way to keep them away from myself and any other actual writers. For good reason. He has these wild ideas that sound good until they end up on paper - I call them “underhanded pitches”. The problem is, the idea doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. In a pitch meeting, there isn’t time to think about it... but when you’re reading the script, you realize the idea just falls apart. Okay, now add poor execution. Because this guy wasn’t the best writer in town, he was kind of bland. All of his characters sounded exactly alike, all of his scenes were things we had seen before, and some of his stories were... well, you’ve already seen the movie, just with a different title. A friend of mine read one of his scripts and told me it was almost scene-for-scene AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. One of his scripts that I read was THE MECHANIC with the names changed and this completely ludicrous center-piece assassination that probably sounded amazing when pitched... but just made no sense on the page. Two of their scripts had SIXTH SENSE like plot twists at the end that came from out of the blue and were not even possible when you stopped to think about them.

So the poor execution (and turning in the script after their deadline) killed the first big studio deal... but they had already rode that hype to a couple of other deals. By the time a mutual friend had slipped me a couple of their scripts, they were telling everyone about the stars who were attached or interested. Oddly, none of those scripts ever got made, despite the caliber of stars attached.


I was having coffee with a producer friend a couple of days ago, and he was telling me about his frustration with the bullshit in this town. He has some private investors who are willing to put up gap financing or completion funds for films with stars, a distrib, and the rest of the money in place. Every day he is brought projects... and the story is always the same. Someone claims they have Billy Bob attached, Paramount onboard to distribute, Gary Marshall directing, and half the money committed. . They just need the other half of the budget. The first thing my friend wants to know is - if you have these people attached and Paramount is going to distribute, why doesn’t the studio just put up the money? And that’s when the hype begins to unravel.

“Well, we know someone in distribution at Paramount, and they said once we have the film made they are *very* interested in considering it for distribution. We have this letter from them that says that...”

Folks, Paramount is a distribution company. They have acquisition people there whose job is to watch movies and decide if Paramount wants to distribute them or not. It’s not difficult to get that person to do their job. But they watch a bunch of movies and only select a few a year. Having Paramount say they’ll watch your finished film is not a distribution agreement.

“Well, we have this letter from Billy Bob’s agency, saying that he’s interested in starring in our film if we meet his price and conditions and schedule...”

Folks, actors - even movie stars - are just like us. They are in a business where they really don’t know where their next check is coming from... and if you’ve got the money to pay them, they will star in your movie... unless they have a better gig (that scheduling part) or if the project completely sucks and they don’t need the money (conditions). I know you’ve seen some awful movie with a big star and said to yourself, “They did this one for the money!” And you’re probably right. There’s a difference between Billy Bob really wanting to make your movie, and Billy Bob saying he’ll do it for the money.

“Well, we can get the script to Gary Marshall....” But he’s never read it.

I’ve talked to Gary Marshall before. He has a theater across the street from Priscilla’s Coffee Shop (where I used to write every day for maybe 8 years) and sometimes he comes in. The famous Bob’s Big Boy is across the street the other way, and I’ve seen him there, too. I can easily get a script to Gary Marshall... what he does with after that is another thing entirely. There are two garbage cans between his theater and Priscilla’s. Even if he decided to read it, that’s no guarantee that he’ll direct it. Most likely, it will end up in one of those garbage cans, anyway. Access to a director or a star or anyone else is meaningless.

I had a meeting with a “producer” I had never heard of before at his office on Sunset. He’d “heard good things about me”. I was there for maybe 30 seconds before he began name dropping stars he was working with on other projects. And he wanted me to write a script for Big Name Star. He kept promising me a meeting with Big Name Star... I wrote a treatment, got notes (supposedly from the Big Name Star) and they asked if I would rewrite the treatment for free based on Big Name Star’s notes. Sure. Then they asked if I would start the script before they cut me a first draft check, because Big Name Star wanted to read it... and I balked. I asked for that promised meeting with Big Name Star. Turns out, they had partied with Big Name Star several times in the VIP room of some Sunset club... they had provided the cocaine. Now, I’m sure that actual films have been made based on relationships like this, but none with my (unpaid) screenplays.

My producer friend told me he’s been brought about 50 projects over the past month - all have supposedly had stars and studios and directors and partial funding... and not a single one of them *actually* had any money or people attached. It was all smoke.

And here’s the part that bothers me the most - he told me that none of the scripts he read (maybe half of the 50) were even close to good. Most were bad ideas poorly executed. One he had on his desk that day was riddled with typos and mis-spells. I’m not talking about a couple of things here and there, I’m talking about up to dozen mis-spells on a single page! (but Billy Bob was attached.) Even though the “producers” with these projects were full of crap, they were still getting all of these scripts out there to real people like my friend. And sometimes the bullshit becomes reality... and they get made! (More on that in an upcoming blog entry called Trilogy Of Terror.)

The moral of the story - the lesson that I refuse to learn - is that bullshit works.


One of my tips on my Guerrilla Marketing CD is to figure out some way to make an impression when you meet with someone. That’s advice that I give but really don’t use myself - I’ve seen it work really well for others, though. That doesn’t mean I don’t accidentally make an impression - I’m a big guy, 6'4" and not exactly thin. So people might remember me by size. But for a while when I had a manager and scripts going out wide and a bunch of studio meetings, I would ride my bicycle to any meetings at Universal, Warner Bros. or Disney. I live in Studio City - close to all three - and when you drive they always have you park on the opposite side of the lot from your meeting. Never fails. Studios tend to have these guest parking structures that are nowhere near anyone’s office. On a bicycle I could literally park at the front door. When I met with Will Smith’s company they were on the Universal lot - in a bungalow way the hell down by the mighty Los Angeles River. I would have had to walk *miles* from the parking structure to get there! What happened is, at those three studios, some folks knew me as the “bicycle guy”. I had a meeting with a producer a few months ago, and he asked if I rode my bike. I told him I drove (he’s in an office on Wilshire, now) and he was mildly shocked that I even knew how to drive. Maybe this bicycle thing isn’t the best image to have in the film biz.

I have a screenwriter friend who has created his own image... and come to believe his own bullshit. I find this strange. I’ve known him for over a decade, and it’s funny to see the conflicts between *his* reality and actual reality. More amusing than most of the comedies I saw this summer. If you listen to him, he was on staff at a TV show, and both Fox and MTV thought he was a really hot writer. A TV star read and flipped over one of his scripts. Etc. As someone who was around through all of this, it happened very differently. My favorite story is his TV show staff job - ask him and he’ll tell you about going all the way to the top and actually getting on staff before the show was canceled. He believes this. Once when I was invited to a screening, I brought him along... and who do you think was there? That TV executive who hired him on staff! So he decides to go up and say hello...

And the guy doesn’t remember him at all.

For a while I thought it might be that he didn’t ride a bicycle to his meetings or do anything else to make an impression... but then the TV executive goes down his list of people on staff the season they were canceled... and my friend’s name is nowhere on that list. The funny part is - my friend is trying to convince this guy that he’s mistaken! He keeps reminding the executive of things that happened... in my friend’s mind.

I was there for the TV star who flipped over his script - what really happened was that he gave the script to a crew member on the star’s show... and nobody really knows what happened next. In fact, nobody really knows whether the crew guy gave the script to the TV star. The crew guy says he did, but he has his own little dream world going on. But to hear my friend tell it, the star wanted it to be his next project... then he was offered something else by the Network and did that instead.

Truth is - he’s never had a paying gig. You’d think with all of the projects he talks about, one would have actually ended up as a paycheck. Nope. But he still believes that he was on staff for a TV series and had all of these stars drooling over his scripts.


I tend to be very self depreciating about my career (as one of my characters might say - “Does he really have any other choice?”) - I have referred to my films as crappy on many occasions (usually when I’m speaking to a crowd) and often call them forgettable. Whenever anyone says they’ve just rented one of my films, I always say “Writer offers no refunds.” Though I had high hopes for every single one of them, they grew up differently than I had planned. Now I’m left in the same position as some serial killer’s mom - they’re my kids and I love them... but I’m sorry for the pain they may have caused you.

Everyone tells me I shouldn’t do this. That I should hype the hell out of my films. I’m still on the fence on that one. If The Washington Post reviewer was smoking crack and gave NIGHT HUNTER 3 (out of 4) stars, I have no problem mentioning that. That’s a fact - I have the newspaper somewhere in my office “closet of doom” to prove it. But I often will mention my theory that it was a drug related incident. I’ve seen NIGHT HUNTER - it’s about vampires and it sucks. Some good scenes made it to the screen, but most did not. Most of the things I really loved about the script are nowhere to be found in the movie.

I always refer to IMPLICATED as “Victim Of Director” and tell everyone how terrible it is. Recently a friend of mine rented it, and I warned him how bad the film was... and he told me how surprised he was that it was pretty good. He enjoyed it. Talked about some scenes and dialogue and characters he really liked. He thought it was better than some recent theatricals he’s seen. He thought I was overly critical.

Maybe I am. I know what the script was - and it’s so much better than what’s on film. But, I’m sill going to warn you - this is not a good film.

Here’s the problem - When people ask if I’ve written anything they’ve seen, I always say “Probably not.” Most people haven’t seen anything I’ve written. Most producers haven’t seen anything I’ve written - and never will. So the only thing anyone in this business will ever know about my films is what I tell them. Their only source for information is me. So shouldn’t I stand up for my own movies? Shouldn’t I tell people how great they are? (even if it’s not entirely true?) Maybe I should hype the heck out of my movies?


I wonder if the other writer with the PR firm getting his name into all of the papers believes his own press? Or does he know it’s crap? I never can tell. Whenever I talk to him, he acts like the press release stuff is true. He’s since pitched a project to 20th Century Fox, who bought it... then the project died for some reason. He says it was studio politics - someone with a vendetta against him. I know he turned in the script late (again) and that the studio hasn’t assigned another writer to the project - and isn’t looking. I also know that his agents at WMA aren’t doing anything for him anymore, and nobody seems to want to hire him. Maybe the bullshit caught up with him?

This town is full of producers who have never produced anything, projects with big name stars “attached” and people who can help you get your script to the right places for a fee. Take it all with a grain of salt. When someone says they’re a producer, ask them what they have produced (then ask for a screener copy). Look up people on IMDB and also try to find (and watch) their films. And even if everything they say really does check out - be careful. Sometimes the bullshit artists get enough people to believe them that some of the bullshit comes true... even though they are still bullshit artists. Just because a producer has a real poster on his wall for a real movie starring Nicolas Cage does not mean that he’s for real.

All I know is that if people only believe half of what I say is true, I’d better start saying that I’ve had *36* crappy movies made. Oh, wait... I mean *brilliant* *Oscar worthy* movies made. And Tom Cruise starred in every one of them.

- Bill

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Laura Link, Female Chimp Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! So, the new GHOSTBUSTERS opened this weekend, an did okay business. It's also getting good reviews. It seems that all of those people who thought casting women would ruin it were mistaken (I'm being polite). But will this begin a trend where every movie remake has the roles reversed? DIRTY HARRIET? ALL ABOUT STEVE? THREE WOMEN AND AN OLD MAN? 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 over a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Secret Pets..................... $50,560,000
2 Ghostbusters.................... $46,000,000
3 Tarzan.......................... $11,120,000
4 Finding Dory.................... $11,040,000
5 Mike & Dave...................... $7,500,000
6 Purge TP......................... $6,080,000
7 Central Int...................... $5,300,000
8 Infiltrator...................... $5,287,124
9 BFG.............................. $3,747,000
10 ID4 2............................ $3,450,000

2) Indie Box Office.

3) Talking Animals Are Hot! Is It Time To Remakes A BOY AND HIS DOG?

4) Just In Time For BLADERUNNER 2!

5) Darth Vader Hits Virtual Reality.

6) Moderate Budget Indie Films Area Dead - Make Them Yourself For $35k.

7) GHOSTBUSTERS (remake) Director Paul Feig Interviewed.

8) My Friend Ramesh Suggested This NYB Based Film Interview Podcast.

9) Why WONDER WOMAN Needed A Female Director.

10) Are Agencies The New Media Giants?

11) Casting Of New Spielberg Film... That Guy From Star Wars. And Casting News About The EMOJI Movie!

12) Title Cards For Classic Movies.

13) James Wan On Horror.

14) Sacramento's Joe Carnahan (who bought a copy of my book ages ago after BLOOD, GUTS first screened in Sacramento) On His Unfilmed Screenplays.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, no cars and no chase....


Buy The DVDs




Monday, July 11, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Secret Life Of Chimps

Lancelot Link Monday! Sorry for the brief hiatus - but we're back! With the answer to the question we've all been wondering - What ever happened to Clyde from those Clint Eastwood monkey movies? How come nobody hires him anymore? Did he just cash out and retire? Was it drunks or some other addiction? Is he difficult to work with? Why didn't he ever get cast as the romantic lead in a Julia Roberts movie? He would have been prefect! Or starred in his own action flick? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

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

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Secret Pets.................... $103,170,000
2 Tarzan.......................... $20,615,000
3 Finding Dory.................... $20,351,000
4 Mike & Dave..................... $16,600,000
5 Purge Election.................. $11,700,000
6 Central Int...................... $8,125,000
7 ID4 R............................ $7,700,000
8 BFG!............................. $7,604,000
9 Shallows......................... $4,800,000
10 Sultan........................... $2,216,475

How is box office? Well, it's up 2.9% over last year, 10.7% over 2014, 5.2% over 2013, 3.2% over 2012, and 12.9% over 2011... so it's doing well, thanks for asking!

2) Are Video Game Movies The Next Big Thing?

3) Is Old The Next Big Thing?

4) Advice From 24 Big Name Screenwriters.

5) A Closer Look At Hitchcock's PSYCHO.

6) Comic-Con Film Schedule.

7) Take That Polti! There Are Only SIX Plots!

8) The Directors Of SWISS ARMY MAN On How A Fart Can Make You Cry...

9) Spike Lee's List Of Must See Movies. (None of mine made the list)

10) Submarine Casting?

11) Love In The Time Of TV Dramas About Anti-Heroes.

12) Charlie Kaufman On Indie Film Making.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs




Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Strange Endings

Thought I'd rerun this in honor of Lawrence Block's birthday, which was a few days ago. This blog entry is from June of 2011, so the book is no longer on sale... but still worth buying.

So, I finished rereading Lawrence Block's THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART on the Kindle, and it is *still* available for 99 cents until the 15th (Wednesday) (tomorrow) if anyone is interested. It's one of his earlier books, but heck - Matt Scudder first showed up in SINS OF THE FATHERS in the mid-70s, so it's not like you're getting a book by a beginner. The story is about a con man who gets released from prison and tries to go straight... when an older con man from his past comes to him with the con of the century. Oh, and there's a woman involved who is part of the con (this was a paperback original at the time that paperback originals usually had some sex scenes because we didn't have internet porn yet). And the mark is a clever but not always law abiding businessman. It's similar to THE STING... only it was written a few years earlier. One of the cool things about it is that you get into the lead character's motivations, wants and desires. You understand him. And then, as usual, things begin to go wrong and they must scramble to keep the con from falling apart and the three of them from going to jail. Not only well worth the 99 cents, it was well worth whatever I paid for it in paperback years ago.

Oh, and the Kindle version has some interesting author photos in the back - Block has his baby pictures and all kinds of fun stuff back there!
But one thing that's interesting about the story is the strange ending, and I'd like to talk about it, but it's the end of the book and so it's all spoilers! What I've decided to do is to put up a huge spoiler warning, and then to keep it vague and not mention character names. But even then, this is a book where guns are fired and people are killed and even mentioning that a character *survives* is a spoiler. So, if you want to read the book, don't read anything after the spoiler warning, okay? If you have already read the book, or don't plan on reading it; I'm going to discuss the ending after the spoiler warning... and how it's weird but still works.




Okay, I'm still going to be vague for those of you who may be reading this but still plan on buying the book. The hero and his partner live. Of course, he has two partners, and I'm not going to tell you who dies... Except I am going to tell you that the villain gets away at the end. WTF? How can you have a conclusion if the villain gets away? Well, here's what Block does - he has the villain get away in such a way that the hero and that surviving partner are unable to give chase and get revenge without putting themselves in danger. So they *can not* capture the villain - ain't possible. But to keep it from being a blah ending, the conflict is changed to which one of those two surviving partners is responsible for the whole thing going wrong. And that conflict is resolved... with a bit of violence. Oh, and before the violent resolution to that conflict, there is a great Act 3 series of suspense scenes as they try to escape any possible police pursuit due to the con going wrong. And it is during these suspense scenes that the conflict goes from "get the villain" to "who screwed up". Because there is so much action going on, you hardly notice the shift in conflict. And Block doesn't try to pull a con on the reader - we know that the conflict has changed - it's mentioned by one of the characters. And the interesting thing is, by shifting the conflict the book is able to have a happier ending than if they just went after the villain and killed him. That path would solve the past but not give us a future. I think Block came up with a bold and inventive ending that would not have been the first thing any writer would think of... and I think we should be open to the strange story possibilities instead of just taking the path of least resistence. We should consider the strange ending, and strange middle, and strange beginning.

I rewatched THE THIRD MAN a couple of nights ago, and that has a strange ending, too - there is a strong romantic subplot in the film between Joseph Cotten's Holly Martins character and Valli's Anna Schmidt character, and we are sure that the two will hook up at the end... but they don't. She just walks right past him, ignoring him. The story is kind of a coming of age movie for an adult, and Martins learns that many of the things he thought were true are lies, many of the people and institutions he trusted were bullshit, and he falls in love for the first time... and gets his heart broken. The whole danged film is filled with broken hearts. But you figure that he will get the girl in the end, and he doesn't. I just imagine Martins thinking about her every day for the rest of his life... this big unresolved conflict in his life that can never be resolved.

And that's also what I think happens to the lead in LONG GREEN HEART - he spends the rest of his life haunted by that villain who is out there, somewhere. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think about that big unresolved conflict that can never be resolved. He just has to live with it. That's not the way to end a big summer movie... except the first SPIDER-MAN has a heart break ending. So I think in the right situation that strange ending is the best one.

- Bill

Monday, July 04, 2016

Brian Cox Teaches Hamlet To A Toddler

This is Independence Day in the USA, a holiday. So Lancelot Link is taking the day off, and has left this clip of Brian Cox teaching Hamlet to a toddler to take his place...

Because you can't be too young to play a Danish prince...

- Bill
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