Alrighty folks, and as it's getting close to dawn here at my end of the world, I leave you with a smorgasborg of Moriarty musings. From a bit of a mission statement, to the work of the Coen Brothers, Sam Hamm & Henry Selick, John Sayles, a film from Germany called RUN LOLA RUN (aka LOLA RENNT) and more... Seems the devious one has been busy. And now... It's time for the dear professor....
Hey, Head Geek...
Strange days indeed here at the Moriarty Labs. Major pieces of my Evil Master Plan To Rule The World have started falling into place, and as a result I've been lax with my coverage. I've been reading scripts and seeing films, and I figured I'd try to play catch-up by tossing out a fistful of reviews all at once.
Before I do, though, I'd like to address an ongoing topic of conversation over at The Hot Button, David Poland's daily column on the TNT Rough Cut website. It also came up this weekend at the WGA's Words Into Pictures conference, but Poland is the one who's been coming at us hardest. Using AICN as his prime example, David seems to lately be questioning the idea of covering the process of filmmaking instead of just the end result. It's things like script reports and reviews of early test screenings that seem to have him worked up. Why should I write about the three scripts I read last week? After all, according to David, they're not finished. They're not ready.
But that's exactly the point. Film is collaboration. From idea to script to set to screen, film is an evolving, living thing. The final result, the version that gets released, is something that everyone can experience. The developing, evolving film is something that people are fascinated by, even though very few people are in a position to peek inside that process. We offer that glimpse inside and we try to call attention to the most interesting projects in the works, no matter what phase they're in when they catch our attention. Besides, studios count on test screenings to create buzz for films. That's part of the point. Just because that buzz is now online doesn't mean we're doing something wrong. They set the rules up. We're playing by them. Public screenings are fair game, or they shouldn't be public.
Now... about us somehow "corrupting the process," as Bill Mechanic and his fellow panelists said this weekend, I have to say that's nonsense. Do political correspondents only report the outcome of a campaign race? You work in a business that fascinates the public, gentlemen, and as such, you're going to have to accept the microscope you now work under.
I also think it's funny that we are somehow both the worst thing that's ever happened to Hollywood and too insignificant to have any real power. Both charges have been leveled against us, and sometimes even by the same person. I think the real level of influence this site has on films is somewhere between the two extremes... but I'm sure it exists. I've seen it close up several times now, and it's wild to watch.
In the end, the most compelling reason I write about these things is because they interest me. If that offends or outrages Poland and his ilk, that's no concern of mine. My interests and the interests of our readers remain the same.
Allow me to illustrate by example. Let's see what caught my interest this week, shall we? Near the beginning of the week, one of my mutant henchmen procured three scripts I'd been looking forward to reading. Of the three, there was one that I literally couldn't wait to read. As soon as I got it home, I sat down and tore into it, reading it cover to cover before looking up. I am, after all, a rabid Coen Brothers fan, and I'd been dying to learn more about their latest film, the now-shooting O BROTHER, WHERE ARE THOU?
Just from the cover page, it's obvious the Coens are up to more of their particular style of demented inspiration. The title itself is a nod to the Preston Sturges classic SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, while the page reads "Based upon 'The Odyssey' by Homer" right under the Coens' shared screenplay credit. I would assume this is either the shooting draft or damn close, being as it's dated this past February.
The top of the very first page sets the mood right away.
A title burns in:
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
Of that man skilled in all the ways of contending,
A wanderer, harried for years on end...
Head titles play as a guitar plunks and Harry McDaniel sings 'The Rock Candy Mountain.'"
That contrast of a Depression era folk song and the formal, almost ancient phrasing of the language certainly captures the strange folksy feel of the script. This is no simple update of Homer's story with obvious one-to-one parallels. Instead, it's a comedic exploration of the same themes that manages to be equal parts profound, touching, sincere, surreal, political, and profane. Like the best films in their body of work, this script refuses to be pinned down.
The central figure of the script is Ulysses Everett McGill, known to everyone as Everett. The script opens when he escapes a chain gang with two other men in tow. George Clooney is playing Everett, but I have no idea who's playing Pete or Delmar, his companions as he tries to rid himself of his chains and make his way home.
Much of what I find really funny about this script is the language. Nobody pens dialogue like these guys. I don't know if I like their ear for character or their command of the mise en scene better. In each case, they always seem to make right choices. There's some really edgy material in this film, racially charged material that goes into places the Coens have never dared before. They seem perfectly at home, though, and they never seem to flinch from any of the corners they paint themselves into. This is one of the most human stories they've ever told -- the simple quest of one man to be with his family, who are starting to move on, forget him. Everett does anything he has to, and by the end of the film, this comic character has become deeply affecting. If Clooney pulls this off, it's going to be another career high for him, equalling or even surpassing his work in last year's wonderful OUT OF SIGHT.
The script left me in such a good mood that I also read MONKEY BONE in that same sitting. This is the very latest draft of this film, the seventh, and I wasn't really sure what to expect. I know it was called DARK TOWN at one point, and that Ben Stiller was attached to star for a while. I know that visual mastermind Henry Selick is directing the film now, and that Brendan Fraser ended up with the lead. I know that Paul Reubens, Whoopi Goldberg, and Chris Kattan are all playing comic roles. And I know the whole thing was inspired by a comic book I've never seen or read at all.
Other than that, I had almost no idea what to expect from the script, and I ended up enjoying myself immensely. MONKEY BONE reads like a filthy version of ROGER RABBIT for the first third, a very surreal combination of HEAVEN CAN WAIT and BEETLEJUICE for the middle section, and THE MASK if the script had been as funny as the star for the last act. I know it sounds a little schizophrenic, and in some ways it is. Doesn't matter much, though. Scripter Sam Hamm has crafted a remarkable funhouse that Henry Selick was born to bring to life. This is a very visual piece of work, and I can imagine some of the extraordinary sights and sounds we're in for. There's all sorts of fun material about where nightmares come from and the nature of death and there's some grim gallows humor about Fraser's character and his coma. Overall, I think this film could be made into an astounding spring hit. Given a few weeks to find an audience, and granted that Selick takes this blueprint to the next level, this may be one of the first wicked thrill rides of the next millennium.
It wasn't until a few days later that I was able to read the last script in the bunch, another project I'd been excited about since first hearing rumors about it. It was just a few weeks ago that Columbia announced the cast for the new Mike Nichols film WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? Greg Kinnear, John Goodman, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino, Nora Dunn, Annette Bening, and Camryn Manheim are all set to join Garry Shandling in the film he scripted, with additional work done by Michael Leeson and Ed Solomon.
This is the earliest draft of any of the scripts I read. In fact, it's a couple of years old. It is my sincere wish that the draft I read caused a radical and successful rewrite to be undertaken. I personally believe that THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW is one of the highwater marks of television comedy writing ever, and one of the more sophisticated character studies I've ever seen. That's why I was so bitterly disappointed by how dull and uninvolving every page of WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? was. It's basically the story of an alien sent to Earth with a humming mechanical penis who is told to breed with a human woman. We've seen this kind of setup (okay... maybe not the mechanical humming penis part) before, time and time again. Jerry Lewis, Robin Williams, Ray Walston, ALF, Christopher Lloyd, the current THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN... they've all played off the idea of the alien observer who manages to make comic observations about our culture by trying to fit into it. Shandling's focus seems to be on relationships and sex specifically, which at least indicates a point to the satire. In the script I read, though, there is no ultimate point.
I guess the thing that shocked me most was just how deeply unfunny I found it all. It's not that I think it has to be howlingly, laugh-out-loud funny all the way through. It doesn't. The best moments on LARRY SANDERS were often the brutal, honest, unfunny ones. But this script isn't sharp enough to be considered brutal or honest. It's just dull.
I hope Elaine May came in and worked some serious voodoo on this script. The cast is amazing. I can imagine Mike Nichols finding the right comic tone for the film, making it slightly sophisticated, slightly silly, and if May did rewrite it, maybe there's some life and some fire to the dialogue. Maybe further drafts found the focus, made it work. With that many talented people along for the ride, I sure hope so.
I did see some finished films last week, too. One of them is a film I've seen a couple of times already, but never in English. Finally understand the dialogue made all the difference in how much I enjoyed RUN LOLA RUN, the German sensation that was written and directed by Tom Tykwer. I knew that it was a ripping visual experience with a propulsive sense of energy, but I didn't know it was also funny, clever, and even just a wee bit melancholy.
The strong, charismatic face of Franka Potente is the center of attention in this picture, and she's worth investing the time in. As Lola, she opens the picture on the phone with her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bliebtreu). He's frantic, hysterical. He's just lost 100,000 marks that he is supposed to give to someone in half an hour. If he doesn't, there's every chance he'll be killed. Determined not to let that happen, Lola hangs up and runs to meet him, determined to find some way to show up with the 100,000 in hand.
Like many young filmmakers, whether they're here in America or working in Europe, Tykwer seems drunk on the very possibilities of film. He plays with time here in a number of innovative ways, always pushing to entertain the audience. So many people in America think of foreign films like medicine -- they may be good for you, but they're hard to swallow. No one should have any trouble being engaged here. This isn't a deep film, but it's a confident, showy one. Lola is forced to repeat her run not once but twice, and each time Tykwer shows us a world of possibilities, each one hinging on the slightest variation in fate.
I had as much fun watching this film as I did when I saw Danny Boyle's first two movies. There's this infectious sense of "I can do anything." Tykwer and his female lead also collaborated on much of the driving techno music that energizes the film, something I'd be afraid of if I'd known it going in. It's perfect, though, and Tykwer joins John Carpenter in the ranks of filmmakers who know exactly what their films should sound like.
As Sony Classics rolls this one out around the country, it's well worth catching. At the same time, the new Screen Gems arm of Sony has just released their first film, LIMBO, the newest film written, directed, and edited by John Sayles, who will most probably continue to be virtually unknown to the filmgoing public despite having created another polished little poetic gem. CITY OF HOPE, EIGHT MEN OUT, PASSION FISH, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, LONE STAR... with film after film, Sayle inches closer to being our only true film novelist. He writes meditative, introspective films that ring true in every frame. Despite setting his new film in Alaska, Sayles has once again delivered total authenticity. I watched this film with friends who literally just returned from an Alaskan vacation in the last three or four days, and they were startled by how real it all felt. Even if they hadn't been there, I would have been able to believe it. Sayles has an amazing ear and a perfect eye.
He also has the ability to get spectacular work out of actors. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, and young Vanessa Martinez all deliver stunning turns. There's not a false note among them for the entire length of the film. It's the relationship between them that is the heart of this confounding, oddly-structured little film. It left one of the people I saw it with angry, it left a few of the others wanting more definite resolution, and it left me elated. This film is about emotional connection, and how impossible it is to move through life without engaging. No one can live in a constant state of waiting. No one can live without some form of connection. The film ends on what seems to be almost a cliffhanger if you're not paying attention. In fact, Sayle gives us one of the most powerful, direct resolutions I've seen on a screen in a long, long time. There's no explosions, no shootouts, no big climactic confrontations. Instead, we simply see decisions being made. We see life being embraced, if only for a moment. We see a moment of grace, and I feel better for having shared it.
And that's what I've been up to this week. I'm not even going into my current ongoing adventures with MYSTERY MEN yet, or my upcoming article that's sure to cause a massive uproar -- "Why I Love THE PHANTOM MENACE, And You Should, Too." Those are just a few of the things we will come back in the next couple of weeks. Until then...