Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

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Third Person – Confessions of Screenwriter-Director Paul Haggis

 

This sounds like a good break from robot dinosaur battles.

 

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In no way is this an endorsement of the putrid Scott Pilgrim.  I’d rather gouge me eyes out than see another close-up of Michael Cera … or perhaps yours instead.

 

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“Above a certain level, it’s all dirty money.”

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Ben Stiller is a funny guy.  He’s got not one but two firmly set on my top comedies of all time list.  But this film falls into a place that isn’t quite funny enough, nor is it serious enough to work as a drama.  It’s got the neither fish nor fowl problem, and so we have a long dramedy.

It’s long in the sense that stretches of it drag slowly.  As a dramedy it never comes close to a film like GO, which set the bar for this type of story.  Also, Mitty comes from a bygone era, and this adaptation has to contend with a lot of content in the meanwhile.  Notably Jim Carrey’s Yes Man already carried the ball and with a lot more self-actualization.  Mitty is too passive, where things conspire to force him to act.  This passivity leaves a sense of waiting, and waiting.

The original Mitty story is very short and up on The New Yorker website right now.  I read it to get a sense of the divergence.  Stiller’s version does veer significantly in its meaning, style, tone and plot.  In the original, Mitty truly doesn’t do anything exceptional at all.  All the extraordinary aspects are psychological responses to a boring, stifling middle American existence.  Everything is an escape, rather like in Brazil, fantasizing to push away the horrors of the character’s real life.  Mitty has no horrors, but is simply responding to middle class pointlessness, bourgeois uselessness.  His entire life in the story revolves around buying dog biscuits to please his wife.

Mitty’s fantasy life, however, veers toward this sort of thing:

“There was a rending of wood and splinters flew through the room. “A bit of a near thing,” said Captain Mitty carelessly. “The box barrage is closing in,” said the sergeant. “We only live once, Sergeant,” said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. “Or do we?” He poured another brandy and tossed it off. “I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir,” said the sergeant. “Begging your pardon, sir.” Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic. “It’s forty kilometres through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?””

So, Stiller is caught between a rock and a hard place making this transition to film.  The real Mitty doesn’t do anything: that’s the point.  In the movies, we can’t have static characters who don’t do anything.  It’s too boring.  Having Mitty flip completely changes the meaning, but Stiller also has to keep it recognizable to the original.  So it’s a torturous problem that seemingly can’t be solved.

Stiller tried to weave aspects of Mitty’s real life and job into the fantasies, fighting with his boss for example like Transformer robots.  I found these sequences wrong, just gratuitously inserted by screenwriters / producers for their “cool factor,” rather than coming organically from the story.  And I could almost overlook these sins, if not for the commercial product placement serial eye rapes. As noted by others, Mitty 2013 is the worst commercial whoring of a film since The Internship (the Google fucks you up the ass movie).

“The film boast[s] the biggest budget of any of his directorial efforts…”

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Stiller made his deal with the devil, and he should be called out for it.  When you stop the story, oh, five or six times to get in the sponsors’ names, you’ve become a de facto commercial.  You’ve insulted your viewers and broken the 4th wall.  You’ve essentially said time out, I know you’ve invested some of yourselves into these characters, but these characters are going to sell you some shit now, so please be accommodating and don’t walk out.

It’s like your best friend comes over to your home one day and says, “Dude, I love you man, but you gotta listen to me about Amway.  You could be in my downline.”

I mentioned Go above and for a reason.  There’s a brilliant turn of events in that film where a depraved police detective has two Hollywood boy toys at his mercy.  The cop has a drug bust hovering over the actors, and he’s controlling them as his pawns.  In addition to bringing the two boys over for dinner, as he prances about naked in front of them, the cop finally broaches the other ulterior motive.  Confederated Products!  It’s hilarious satire and says pretty much the diametrically opposite message to what Stiller has done with Mitty.

Perhaps Stiller’s film doesn’t work so well because the people behind it have simply sold out and they’re no longer shy about shoving it in our faces?

And unlike Go, I figured out the Mitty plot device very early in the running time, so there’s that little failure. If they had spent as much time on the story as on the product placement deals…

I’m not going to pan the film entirely.  There’s a lot there to digest. I’ll rate it right down the middle, half-full, half-empty, a very Zen 2.5/5 stars.

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Straight from Simon Pegg – the very first outline of The World’s End on one sheet of paper.

 

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Time for another film discussion, this time centering on the most powerful single shots.  More important than aesthetics are the reasons why they stand out as exceptional and changed the directions of their stories.  This is not about length, although some are going to be long duration, but more about how what is revealed altered the story in front of our eyes.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

In a film filled with iconic, brilliant shots, the one that sticks out is when Tuco finally gets his greedy little hands on the gold.  With a handful of gold coins, he looks up from the grave he dug it out of, and he calls to Blondie to celebrate.  Only, when he looks up, he sees a noose hanging, and the camera frames him inside the noose looking down.  That moment changes everything.  The nature of their relationship has always been in question.  What Blondie would do to Tuco and how much he wants the gold are open questions.  Is Blondie a bad guy like Angel Eyes?  What would Tuco do if the situation was reversed?  All of this rushes forth in that one moment Tuco looks up into the noose.

They had been hanging one another throughout the start of the film.  Tuco had been a professional noose evader for a while.  It all brings the film to a breathless kind of climax at that moment, and the realization that there’s more to the story left to play out.

A Clockwork Orange

Kubrick does things you don’t expect.  The film opens right in Alex’s face, and he’s staring straight into the camera, dressed in a top hat, with odd makeup on his eyes.  The stare is cryptic and discomforting.  The music swirls, and the camera decides to roll back slowly.

The reveal is the point, as the location is extremely unusual.  Alex’s droogies are revealed, drugged out and yet dressed oddly in white long johns of some sort.  This seems like some evil clown convention, but the camera continues backward.  The tables are vulgar porcelain naked whores.  The contrast between Alex and his droogies and the women on which they rest their boots is indicative of something extremely weird, a world we haven’t seen before.  The camera simply rolls back the length of the space, showing that this is a semi-normal night for those present.

A Fish Called Wanda

John Cleese and Kevin Kline engage in a battle of wills, where Kline is insanely jealous over Wanda.  The shot opens up tight on Cleese, who a minute ago was stubbornly ready to fight Kline, insulting him in arrogant British form.  But in this shot, a close-up, he’s apologizing sincerely.  More than sincere, we pull out, flip upside down and find him hanging out the window by his feet.  The camera, on a crane, has swung back to reveal Cleese dangling by his legs, with stunned witnesses in the background, while Kline decides whether or not to drop him.  The shot uses a tight to wide kind of reveal over the duration.  Many of these most memorable shots use creative reveals that throw a monkey wrench into the story. In this case, we realize that Kline is totally psychotic and he might murder Cleese or any of the others at any time.

Strange Days

This harrowing first person POV shot opens in a moving car, at the start of an armed robbery.  The person wearing the camera, if that’s what it is, willingly participates in a violent assault on a Chinese restaurant.  We don’t have any idea who the person filming is, or if they are an important part of the movie to come.

Since these thugs are all we know, it’s another discomforting jolt that this film is being told from the POV of a lowlife, an unseen criminal.  By the end of the clip, he’s hanging on the side of a building, and he falls to his death.  The point then was not to set up this character at all, but rather the technology used to record his death.  These people were all disposable pawns, and the crucial information, the brain/media linkage is what is important.  The recording device successfully became a part of the plot in a unique way.

The Player

One of the most impressive shots of all time, the camera dances around a movie lot.  There it picks up snippets of various conversations, one of them through a window.  It also provides crucial data about the plot, involving postcards.

The shot itself begins with an odd giveaway, that the film itself isn’t real.  It actually opens on a painting of people making a movie, and the sounds of the crew are included.  The secretaries/assistants handle the studio’s business, but this was already spoiled as being unreal — only it isn’t unreal in the world of the film, because the entire rest of the movie plays as real, with those very same characters a part of the intricate world.

Pulling back and revealing more of the studio, the camera exits the interior and floats a bit, as a grand Hollywood opera plays out across the acres of studio lot.  Griffin Mill arrives, instantly harassed by a sci-fi writer pitching him a story.  Mill gives him the brush-off and barrels inside.  Camera stays on a different conversation, this one the head of security whining about the state of movies, “Cut, cut, cut…”  This obvious counterpoint to the 8 minute shot we are currently inside of is another way of teasing the audience.  There’s interplay, a wink and an acknowledgement of the film and its relationship to the viewer.

We settle in on Griffin Mill’s office, through the window like voyeurs.  We’re allowed a glimpse into the pitching process, the thinking of these guys and how people stream in seeking approval and green lights.  Mill is a prince of the system, and his main job is to say no repeatedly, over a hundred times per day.

We quickly learn that Mill seems alarmed about the sci-fi writer, and he alerts his assistant to notify security.  Of course the sci-fi guy looks as harmless a nerd as they come.

But the action takes a turn and a spill as the bicycle carrying the mail tumbles in the lot.  An unremarkable accident, except for one thing: the camera goes out of its way to home in on a particular postcard in the dropped mail.  It pulls back up again, and the bicyclist is helped.

An asshole in a white Porsche arrives and stops abruptly to chat up a smoking hot actress in a red dress.  Japanese business tourists stroll through.  Lots of exposition passes left and right, right and left with minimal effort or time.  The building blocks of the studio system are all included, tiny snippets that don’t warrant their own scenes or much elaboration.

New suits stroll out of the building, conspiratorial, hushed tones.  “What’s all this talk about heads will roll?”  There’s intrigue around the studio.  Everyone is on edge, and the class system and hierarchy is clear.  As they walk past Griffin Mill’s window, they note how the rumors suggest he’s to be replaced.

Instantly back into the window, Mill is now openly paranoid about the security situation.  We leave the office to rejoin several of the faces we’ve already seen and then return to Mill’s office for the big moment.  The postcard arrives.  Mill’s current pitch involves he and the studio’s aversion to “political” content.  Real political ideas aren’t welcome.  There is a possible political opening, however, if it’s funny, weird, lighthearted, etc.  All this plays upon our perceptions of what we’re watching right now and how we’re to interpret it.

When Mill flips the postcard, it’s a chill.  The card is a threat.  Somebody out there really, really doesn’t like him.  He turns over his shoulder to spy out the window, and we see his face well for the first time.

 

 

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A little bit rambling.  The guy behind Robot and Frank is included, and others talking about making indie movies and getting their thing together.

 

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John Ridley on 12 Years a Slave and the Power of Cinema