Hey folks, Harry here with the latest Rumbling from that dear old fella, Moriarty. Before we get started reading, I just want to reaffirm that I am not a supporter of the current draft of SPIDER-MAN from Koepp... BUT... Neither is Sony or Raimi. Moriarty launches into SPIDER-MAN and gives that script... quite frankly what it deserves, but... this frustration and anger should not be directed at the current project in you good folks' minds. Massive changes are on the way, and you can rest easy knowing that we will keep you on the up and up with where things are on this project. As will every site on the net that covers cool movies. I tell ya... after reading this Rumblings... all I can think about is... Is it humanly possible that the ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE movie might be a work of some sort of demented genius? Tune in this Summer for the answer!
Hey, Head Geek...
The year 2000 is well underway now, and things are really heating up here at The Moriarty Labs. We’re working on a major peek behind the scenes of a film that’s heating up as one of 2001’s biggest event pictures. We’re also finishing the tunnel work that’s required for several major set visits, including one to what I consider one of TV’s finest shows. If you factor in the literal mountain of scripts we’re working our way through, it’s a seemingly endless maze of tasks. It’s a good thing we left the Sundance coverage in the capable hands of the lovely Lynn Bracken and our other correspondents. It frees us up to at least make a dent in things today.
NOT EVERYTHING’S NICE
I had occasion to screen New Line’s SUGAR AND SPICE here at the Labs over the weekend with several AICN regulars in attendance. All I knew about the film beforehand was that the script was written by Lona Williams, who also wrote 1999’s DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. I thought that film was an amiable but ultimately aimless “black” comedy, occasionally funny but nowhere near as sharp as Michael Ritchie’s SMILE, a film it was obviously modeled after. When I heard that S&S was supposed to be a dark comedy about cheerleading, I was sure I was going to basically just see more of the same.
Instead, I saw a film that’s pretty good, falling just short of very good. This is a stronger, smarter script than DDG. For one thing, there are real human beings mixed in with the cartoonish stereotypes, a combination that leads to moments of genuine emotion amidst what is a fairly broad comedy. At heart, the film is the story of Jack and Diane -- and, yes, they use the John Cougar song at least once in the movie -- and the way their intense high school love affair affects them and their friends, eventually leading to bank robbery.
The strange truth about Lona Williams as a writer is that she’s not nearly as mean as she wants to be. Considering both of her produced films are ostensibly in the same genre as HEATHERS or ELECTION, it’s amazing how frequently she pulls back from taking any truly brutal shots. In particular, the ending of S&S seems gutless, a collapse after a promising run. Having not read the script, I suppose it’s possible that director Francine McDougall or the studio spearheaded the soft, almost anti-climactic resolution, but it’s not just that one moment that chickens out. Throughout the movie, there are dramatic shifts in tone that seem to undermine Williams’ intent.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot that works in the film. Marley Shelton (PLEASANTVILLE) and James Marsden (DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, X-MEN) make a deeply appealing Jack and Diane. Shelton, who has just taken her place on the list as a potential Mrs. Moriarty, resembles Heather Graham closely, and like Graham, she seems game for anything, ready to harpoon herself, her looks, and any other target she’s given. She’s got great comedy chops, and she provides the film with a great anchor, managing to be both sickly sweet and somehow centered. She almost can’t help but be real. Marsden puts some truly subversive twists on his pretty-boy image, playing Jack as a decent guy who gets blindsided by love and lust. Of the two central roles, his is the easier, but it requires a delicate enough touch that he managed to convince me that he might be smart enough to pull off Cyclops this summer.
The supporting cast has some standouts. Mena Suvari, hot after her turn in AMERICAN BEAUTY, makes a strong impression in her few moments as Kansas, the trashiest of the cheerleaders, and Alexandra Holden, Rachel Blanchard and Melissa George -- ah, the luscious Melissa George -- provide able support as the rest of the squad. Sean Young has a very funny turn as Kansas’ mother, imprisoned since the day Kansas was born. In fact, one of the only really weak links in the film’s cast is Marla Sokoloff as Lisa, the girl whose police interrogation provides the framework for the film. It’s almost not her fault; the framework sucks, and when it finally comes full-circle, it cripples the movie, undermining every bit of interest we’ve had in the film until then.
Overall, the film -- which started life as SUGAR & SPICE & SEMIAUTOMATICS -- isn’t nearly as outrageous or as inspired as it wants to be, and the Tarantino-like bank robbery would only work if it was played seriously, going further than it dares in the current cut. Still, it’s a better film than any of the generic dreck Miramax keeps shoehorning Freddie Prinze Jr. into, and with some judicious editing between now and this summer, S&S just might turn into the tasty treat it wants to be.
DOES SOME OF THE THINGS A SPIDER CAN
Like Harry, I managed to come up with a copy of David Koepp’s SPIDER-MAN script this weekend, and like him, I tore into it the moment I had it home. I’ve been following this film’s development forever, it seems, since I was just a young evil genius reading VARIETY, seeing endless announcements from Cannon about the upcoming movie they were developing. I think that of all the classic superheroes that could be adapted to screen, few have the sheer potential that Spider-Man does. It’s a classic origin story, breathtaking in its simple power, and he’s got one of the great rogue’s galleries out there.
My enthusiasm for Spidey on film was greatly dampened when I got hold of the James Cameron scriptment a few years ago. I’ve heard so many people champion James for the project, lamenting the fact that he’s moved on, and I’ve never understood why anyone who had laid eyes on his horrific handling of the character would be anything but delighted to have him off the film. Even Stan Lee, god bless him, seems to think that Cameron automatically meant the film would work. Reading Koepp’s script, which closely adheres to the details of the scriptment, only confirms for me that it was the absolutely wrong way to approach the material, and I look forward to Sony starting over from scratch on the film’s script. They’ll have to; there’s no saving this one.
First, let me state again for the record: I hate the mutant webshooters that erupt from his wrists. I think it makes Parker into something he’s not, and it undermines one of his character strengths, his love of science. Peter figured out a way to make webbing in the comics, combining his newfound natural abilities with his long-cultivated scientific abilities to make himself into the final version of Spidey. By giving him these David Cronenberg-style webbing tubes that pop out on command, there’s really no reason to ever show him as a science geek. It’s just baggage now.
Second, I hate his relationship with Mary Jane in this script. I hate her introduction, her troubled family life. There’s actually a moment where she leaves her shitty house, then steps across railroad tracks into a decent neighborhood to meet her friends. Come on... that bit’s got whiskers on it, man. “The wrong side of the tracks”?!?! Why not just call the bad guy in the film “Simon Bar Sinister” and be done with it? There’s some decent material between them once they’re both in New York, but it’s too adult, too much of a doomed romance, and there’s too much emphasis placed on it. That bondage-oriented sex scene on top of the bridge has got to go, as well. There’s just no rationalizing it, or exposing Peter’s identity to her so early in the first film of what I’m sure Sony would like to see become a major franchise. I’m not even sure why they feel the urge to jam a fully-formed love story into the film, anyway. It’s SPIDER-MAN. Let’s just worry about one idea -- “with great power comes great responsibility” -- in this film, and start getting into other quirks of the character in later movies. There’s so much to accomplish, and every moment MJ is onscreen is a moment we’re not watching Spidey in action.
Third, I still think these villains are boring. They’re not as bad as Hummingbird Man and The Really Hot Guy from Hensleigh’s disastrous HULK script, but they’re bad. They are handled a little better here than in the scriptment. Hell, Koepp at least has the brains to call them Electro and Sandman in places. Still, the only way to justify using minor villains like this for the first film is to make sure you’re laying groundwork for MAJOR villains to show up in the next film. Come on... introduce Norman Osborne, or give us some hints about Doc Ock and his work. Remember that great scene at the beginning of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE with Zod and his goons in the big swirly thing on trial? Remember when they’re banished to the Phantom Zone? Yes, I know it was all supposed to be one big giant film at one point, but it ended up providing a beautiful, natural set-up for a sequel. Why not build one in from the beginning? You know you want to make other films about Spidey. Embrace that. Plant your seeds early, and it will pay off later.
There’s moments where Koepp really captures the feeling of being Spider-Man, and those are the moments where I can forgive him almost anything. The idea of swinging from building to building in New York, high above those concrete canyons... it’s seductive, and I’d almost go ahead and start production now. Damn the script problems... they’re fixable, right? Besides, it’s just the FX we all care about, right? That’s a dangerous attitude, Sony. Remember GODZILLA as you progress here. Make sure that you’ve got the best possible script, and make sure that it works as drama, not just as a thrill ride.
As far as Harry’s notion of casting James Duval goes, I think it’s intriguing. He’s got a casual physicality about him, as well as a cartoonish, almost exaggerated look. Unlike Harry, I actually know Jimmy, so I have to separate the idea of my friend from the idea of the ideal person for the role. The best thing about Harry’s suggestion is that it’s outside the box. When casting Spidey, the key is finding someone who comes to the role without significant baggage, someone who we the audience will discover as we watch the film. You want to find an actor experienced enough to handle a lead, but still on the fringe of the mainstream, someone who hasn’t had that one role that’s etched into people’s minds yet. Wes Bentley... he’s got crazy eyes. He might make a good Bruce Wayne, but Peter Parker was never a psychopath. Jason Schwartzmann... like I said in my RUSHMORE review last year, he’s a movie star, but he’s too small to pull it off. Nicholas Brendan... nice choice, but his TV work is going to keep him out of contention. He hasn’t carried a film of any size yet, and Sony’s never going to approve him until he does. When you talk about guys like Ryan Phillipe or Capser Van Dien or Leo Di Caprio -- who will be offered the role first, I’m betting, due to his work with Raimi and the fact that he’s freakin’ Leo Di Caprio -- you’re talking about actors who bring other roles into this film, guys who have already broken through. I know I’d believe Jimmy in the film. He can do standing back flips and ridiculous acrobatic moves, and he manages to make it all look second nature. In the end, every decision Sony makes -- whether they work on the script, whether they change directors, whether they spend $100 million or even more -- hinges on finding that right person. Best of luck to them.
The other big script I read this weekend was Zallian’s draft of HANNIBAL, and it’s so damn good that I’ve been calling friends and reading them chunks of it. It’s richly textured, smart, filled with suspense, and it has a phenomenal ending now, somehow keeping Harris’ intentions intact while making mainstream concessions. I think it works from the first page to the last, with that coda on the airplane serving as a great twist for people who read the book. Zallian’s got a wicked sense of humor that he indulges here and there, but he never loses sight of the fact that this is an adaptation. I don’t know who taught him how to sift through a book and make his choices, but he consistently impresses me as a guy with real taste, real skill. I’m not going to run on and on here, since most of what I have to say about the script echoes Harry’s earlier comments, but I will say that whoever inherits the role of Clarice is going to come off looking brilliant. I wouldn’t alter it just to explain why it’s a different actress, either. After all, Brian Cox did a phenomenal job playing Lecter in the film MANHUNTER, and when Hopkins stepped in to play him in the second film, it was accepted easily. True, MANHUNTER didn’t win a shitload of Oscars, but the point is that the characters are what’s important, not the actors. To have another FBI agent pursuing this case wouldn’t make sense, not with the way the plot is built. It’s only because Hannibal still has a fondness for Clarice that certain elements of the film ever come together.
Oh, yeah... I wanted to point out that this script has the single best use of e-mail and the Internet I’ve encountered in a script. For once, it’s realistic. When someone searches for something, it’s just like it would be in real life. I don’t know why this strikes me as such an innovation, such a startling stylistic breakthrough, but I suspect it’s because of the way I’ve seen the Internet depicted in films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. It’s just nice to see someone actually use it in a thriller without having to lie. It makes it feel like this could actually happen, like it’s the world I live in, and that makes the horror in the film even more disturbing. Nice touch.
DGA’S GOT SOMETHING TO SAY
Boy, we are deep, deep into awards season now, aren’t we? After the Golden Globes last night, we’re now officially in the home stretch that leads to March and the Oscars. Monday morning saw the announcement of the five nominees for best motion picture directing of the year, and it’s a strong list, even if it’s not exactly what I would have chosen. Sam Mendes for AMERICAN BEAUTY, Spike Jonze for BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and M. Night Shyamalan for THE SIXTH SENSE are all first-time filmmakers, first-time nominees. Nice year to make a debut, it seems. I’m pleased that Frank Darabont was nominated for THE GREEN MILE, and I suppose I should get used to seeing Mann nominated for THE INSIDER, the first of his films that I just plain don’t like. His work is strong, but I thought Minghella’s work on RIPLEY and Anderson’s work on MAGNOLIA was just impeccable, and I would have preferred either of them in that fifth slot. Any way you look at it, the contests are interesting this year, with plenty of room for last-minute upsets. For the first time in a long time, this season is actually fun.
I KNOW WHAT I’D PICK
Another way you can tell that awards season is underway is all the qualification lists that are trickling out of the Academy. I was happy to see that AMERICAN MOVIE, MR. DEATH, and BEYOND THE MAT all made it onto the list of 12 eligible documentaries that the Academy will be screening. I was also intrigued by the list of seven candidates from which the Academy will choose their three nominees for Best Visual Effects. Right now, THE MATRIX, THE MUMMY, THE PHANTOM MENACE, SLEEPY HOLLOW, STUART LITTLE, WILD WILD WEST and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH are all in the running. Right off the bat, WWW and the Bond film should get bumped. Neither one of them contains anything of any real note. As much as I enjoyed THE MUMMY, I think it’s the slightest of the ILM entries on the list, and I doubt they’ll get more than one slot. Obviously their nomination will be for the groundbreaking work they did on TPM, a film that features the most convincing, overwhelming fantasy environment I’ve ever seen in a movie. No matter what narrative problems someone has with the film, there are sights in it that were simply unthinkable ten years ago. If there’s any film that could steal George’s thunder in this category, it’s THE MATRIX, a film that managed to use its FX as actual character development. Of all the races that are brewing, this is the one that could divide genre fans the most heatedly.
BALLBUSTED... SCREWED... LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF
Okay, Universal, let me offer you just a quick bit of advice: it doesn’t matter what you call it at this point... the film’s doomed. You see, they’ve changed the title of PITTSBURGH or BALLBUSTED or whatever you want to call it again. Now it’s called SCREWED, which seems somewhat appropriate. This is the Norm McDonald/Danny De Vito vehicle about a guy who kidnaps his wealthy employer’s dog and holds it for ransom. The test screenings for this film have been horrific, and the word of mouth couldn’t possibly be any worse. What are you guys waiting for? It’s January, dump month. I mean, MGM managed to get SUPERNOVA out. I’m sure Universal is trying to tread lightly, since this is the directorial debut of Larry Karasziewski and Scott Alexander, who manage to do great work as writers on films like ED WOOD and MAN ON THE MOON. No one’s perfect, though, and this is a return to their PROBLEM CHILD days. Just go ahead and put this out and take your lumps, guys. Let’s see that Village People biopic and pretend this never happened.
HEY, WATCH ME PULL A BLOCKBUSTER OUT OF MY HAT!
No one is more astonished than I am, but I just finished reading the script for Des MacAnuff’s ROCKY & BULLWINKLE, and my face genuinely hurts from smiling and laughing all the way through. I’ve seen that teaser trailer a handful of times now, and I am just as creeped out as anyone by the sight of Bullwinkle standing in a crowd of people. I’ve actually ignored this film as it’s been coming together, flashing back time and again on the dreadful BORIS & NATASHA film or the various evil Jay Ward movies like GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE and DUDLEY DO-RIGHT. I figured there was no way this film would be anything but awful.
And I may have figured wrong.
Kenneth Lonergan has done with his script exactly what I complained above that David Koepp and James Cameron didn’t; he respected his source material, capturing the flavor of it precisely. How much you’re going to end up liking the final film is dependent on a few factors, the first of which is how much you liked ROCKY & BULLWINKLE on television. Me personally, I was a huge fan of the awful puns, the witty word play, and the absurd plots. Lonergan has preserved all of that, crafting a story that is just plain preposterous and is fully aware of it at all times. Until tonight, I didn’t actually know the premise of the film, but I certainly wondered why Fearless Leader, Natasha, and Boris were all people, while Moose and Squirrel were still animated. Turns out, it’s all a plot by Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro) to be elected President of the United States. He realized no one would elect a cartoon (insert your own partisan cheap shot here) and figured out a way to become flesh and blood.
I’m not about to ruin the script’s structure or any of its big jokes, but I had a blast reading it. If MacAnuff shows any sort of aptitude as a visual filmmaker and if ILM really cuts loose with the free-association visuals it will take to match the script, then this has a chance at being something truly special, and I’m certainly eager now to find out if that’s the case.
OF COURSE HE BANGED HER... HE’S JACK!
Looks like the Canton Company is chasing Jack Nicholson now to star in YOU AND ME AND YOU, which is described as the story of an older, retired businessman on vacation who spends the night with the woman of his dreams, only to find out the next morning that she’s the future wife of his son, who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years. The problem with casting Nicholson in almost anything these days is that as soon as I hear that he’s up for a role, I can picture the whole film and the performance. Unless he’s really pushed by something like the proposed AMERICAN CAESAR or AS GOOD AS IT GETS, he overwhelms films with his very Jackness. He’s a larger than life figure now, and the only way he’ll work in this particular project is if the Katherine Reback script rises above a premise that sounds like a bad THREE’S COMPANY episode.
Didn’t anyone learn anything from the death of DIVX? Evidently not, because there’s a new process called SpectraDisc that’s being introduced soon, according to the online edition of WIRED magazine. The big “breakthrough” here is the creation of a technology that would cause the coating on DVD discs to self-destruct after just one play. Great... just what the world needs... mountains of useless plastic all because studios hate the fact that we purchase films instead of renting them. Why is it that every studio keeps looking for ways to punish collectors? As soon as someone finds a viable way to create single-play discs, the price on purchase copies will go up, and we’ll be stuck with inferior product at inflated prices. All I can hope is that consumers will ignore the new process if it ever makes it to market, and that confusion and lack of market saturation will kill this process quick.
DVDs IN REVIEW
The mail brought two pleasant surprises lately. First was VAMPYROS LESBOS, a film I had never seen before the great new Synapse Films DVD edition arrived. It’s not a great film -- hell, I’d be hard-pressed to call it a good film, even -- but it’s got an undeniably hypnotic quality. If you’re a fan of lesbian vampires or Jess Franco, I can confidently state that there’s never been a better way to enjoy the film. The only minor technical note I have is regarding a slight flicker that shows up from time to time in the film. It’s like a single frame of black that flashes at several points. It looks to be a fault in the original materials, and Don May, Jr. has done a knockout job of mastering the film’s soundtrack, which is worth the price of purchase on its own. Overall, this is further proof that it’s the smaller collector-oriented companies that are doing the really great work in the medium.
The second film I just got is the upcoming New Line release of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, notable for the secondary commentary track that features John Carpenter and his long-time collaborator Gary B. Kibbe. As always, John is an engaging speaker, and he manages to make this film, one of my least favorite of his later works, seem infinitely more interesting than it did when I first saw it. This isn’t the greatest release from the Platinum Series at New Line, but it points up the consistently solid work they do. Even with a minor film like this one, they deliver exceptional sound and picture, and they’ve made sure that there’s more here than just the film. For fans of the picture, it is a must have as soon as it’s released later this spring.
Call it. You’ll be glad you did. I mentioned this promotional idea for MAGNOLIA way back when I first reviewed the script, and it cracks me up to see how excited people get over a simple recording of Tom Cruise as Frank “TJ” Mackey in full pig mode. There’s an undeniable kick, though, to hearing him hawk his Search and Destroy system, and his payment methods rant is classic. I hope his Golden Globe was just a precursor to an Oscar win in March. He’s really pushed himself as a performer this year and he deserves it.
By the way, while I’m thinking of it, was anyone else struck by the amazonian beauty of Nicole Kidman’s sister, Cruise’s escort, at the Globes on Sunday? Good god, these Kidman girls are giants. I’m starting to think that Australia might be the perfect new site for the Labs.
Anyway, I have to get back to the ‘90s list. As promised, you’ll see parts II and III later in the week, with the wrap-up coming by the end of the month. Until then...