Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Coming Attractions of Twenty Heaventeen

If there is anything that truly deep-in-the-stop-bath film lovers secretly, or not-so-secretly, love to do, it's imagine the dream movies their heroes would make if by some miracle said obsessive was greenlighting projects. Seattle's long-running alternative weekly The Stranger used to have a wonderful series of Photoshopped advertisements touting fake "lost" movies by dead filmmakers, suggesting that Orson Welles had done a drama about corruption in boxing or Sam Peckinpah managed to get one last bloody western made. When beloved New Beverly Cinema founder Sherman Torgan died in 2007, Patton Oswalt paid tribute with a wonderfully poignant "film festival" of, as he put it, "never weres, could-have-beens, and the lost." Certainly among the millions who enjoyed last year's Academy Award winner ARGO were those who were busy imagining what the fake movie at the heart of its plot could have looked like were it shot. And one of the most anticipated movies of the new year is JODOROWSKY'S DUNE, a documentary about the ambitious, and ultimately futile, attempt by the legendary director of EL TOPO to adapt the dense Frank Herbert sci-fi epic before its ultimate compromised version years later by David Lynch.

As such, I'm not immune from these fantasies, and during some slow nights this past holiday season, when I needed to economize and couldn't justify going out to the movies nor muster interest in what I had on DVD at home, I thus came up with a list of bogus blockbusters of the future that I would lurve to see. As much as I often dream of a world where the directors I love that are currently stuck working network television and teaching classes would get million dollar budgets again, and Michael Bay would have to hold a bake sale just to shoot a SnapChat photo, on this occasion I chose to stick to writers and directors currently active and "hot" right now, for the same reason that George Carlin and Billy Heeny "thought about" girls in the neighborhood: it seems more possible. At least a few of the talents in question have indeed visited in here in the past, so maaaaaaaaybeeeeee this might spark some imagination to make these a reality in the not-too-distant-future, next Summer A.D.

(That being said, aside from novel adaptations, let's consider these pitches under common-law-copyright to me; if I discover you horking these concepts the way you horked Quentin's HATEFUL EIGHT script, you'll be hearing from my attorneys at the law offices of John, Jacob, Jingleheimer, and Schmidt.)

RED LORRY, YELLOW LAURIE - written and directed by Edgar Wright

An English long-distance truck driver (Nick Frost) is forced to share his cab with a slimy efficiency expert (Nick Kroll) from the American corporation he delivers for. They must, however, work together when their route crosses paths with the dangerous "Burma-Shave Killer" and one of his escaped targets (Jaime Winstone).

WE HAVE A SAVIOR - written and directed by Asia Argento

The Shaggs were easily the most unconventional pop act of the late '60's, three sisters practically forced into making music by their spiritually-motivated father. As such, under the vision of Argento, their story is bifurcated into an initially straightforward account of the drama behind their sole album, followed by a wild speculative alternate history about the worldwide success that had been dreamed of in their inception, including an explosive appearance on Italian television featuring cameos by Ellen Page and Argento herself as popular European chanteuses Rita Pavone and Mina. In exchange for financing this project, Argento agreed to come out of acting retirement to appear in...

xXx: E PLURIBUS BURNEM - written and directed by John Hyams

When NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is murdered under impenetrable means, Agent Darius Stone (Ice Cube) is promoted to his position, and his first order of business is to locate the falsely-believed-dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and his ally KGB agent Yelena (Asia Argento) to investigate this mystery. Once found, they are thrust into a deep penetration mission in Turkey involving bankrupted Greek industrialists, Armenian militants, and the Arab Spring, with a much-too-genial street bootlegger (Jason Mantzoukas) the apparent link to the impending carnage.

THE SATURDAYS - written for the screen by Diablo Cody, directed by Lorene Scafaria

Elizabeth Enright's beloved series of books about the four precocious Melendy children in pre-World War II New York City begins with the siblings agreeing to pool their otherwise small allowances so that once a week, one of the four can go off to have a unique Saturday afternoon to remember. And as the eldest seeks to present herself as more adult, the middle two explore high art, and the youngest discovers how to make the large-looming city smaller and more navigable, they all bond in what their singular explorations have brought to their collective growth.

MAFIA KINGPIN - written for the screen and directed by Rian Johnson

In 1981, Sonny Gibson wrote a purported autobiography called MAFIA KINGPIN, casting himself as a connected hitman, drug-smuggler, and well-paid male prostitute who turned his life around in prison. But years later, a court case proved he and his failed pop-star/co-author/girlfriend Reparata Mazzola were none of those things, just small-time con artists. But for decades, they continued to ply this fake legacy into film projects and business deals that swindled hundreds. Johnson hilariously yet sincerely contrasts the real-life career of Gibson and Mazzola to the outrageous fantasy of big time crimes they documented in their fictionalized book, to illustrate how and why such a wild tale could be conceived by them, and sold to others.

FEAR OF FLYING - written for the screen and directed by Lena Dunham

After decades of false starts and being considered near-unfilmable, Erica Jong's influential novel finally reaches the screen. Isadora Wing (Alison Brie) is a working published poet in the '70's feeling herself overwhelmed by an unsatisfying marriage, lack of respect from her peers, troubling reactions from readers of her work, and her constant conflicted sexual desires, exemplified in her obsession with finding the mythical "zipless fuck," the perfect unburdened encounter with a stranger. And on a globetrotting voyage for academic and personal purposes, she learns even more complicated details about the new sexual freedom and her place within it.

KING AND JESTER - written and directed by Robbie Pickering

In the early '60's, the two biggest stars working for Paramount under canny producer Hal B. Wallis (Bill Murray) were Elvis Presley (Channing Tatum) and Jerry Lewis (Josh Fadem). When studio president Barney Balaban (Bob Balaban, playing his own father) suggests teaming them up for a movie, everyone agrees this is a natural pairing. So why did the movie never get made? This comedic mystery suggests that shady dealings by the infamous Colonel Tom Parker (Toby Jones) and some military secrets inadvertently picked up in Germany during Elvis' mandatory Army service, not to mention the wild offscreen antics of both stars, may hold the keys to the Greatest Teaming Never Told.

THE ANGRY GRIFFITH SHOW - written and directed by Ava DuVernay

Race relations and cinematic sacred cows are mercilessly satirized as a media production student (John Boyega) at a Southern college, irritated when his objections to prolonged hagiography of BIRTH OF A NATION are blown off by his pompous professor (Glenn Howerton), decides to get even by writing and directing a savage mock "making-of" the film as his final project for the class. But when he challenges himself to use the same technological limitations as would have been in place at the dawn of feature filmmaking, the ambitious plan begins to overwhelm him, as he himself runs afoul of campus p.c. enforcers uncomfortable with his editorial decisions, and the stress causes him to repeatedly have hallucinations of D.W. Griffith himself (Tim Roth) taunting him. He soon fears that he may not be able to make his artistic statement without also becoming memorialized in infamy.

FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM - written for the screen and directed by Shane Carruth

The dense and confounding novel by NAME OF THE ROSE author Umberto Eco is adapted by the director responsible for two mind-scrambling fantasies of his own. Three men working for a small publishing house amuse themselves by trying to link every popular conspiracy theory, shadow organization, and other assorted urban legends into one master conspiracy. Gradually, however, they begin to believe in their own connections, and other mysterious groups start coming out of the shadows who believe in the unification even more so than them, and demand they deliver answers that the three did not plan for when they first started coming up with "The Plan."

DEBORAH'S DYNASTY - written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

In early 20th century New York, an immigrant runaway (Saoirse Ronan) is torn between keeping a dead-end seamstress job and joining the rising Suffragette movement. But after a series of brutal murders of women remain unsolved by a less-than-aggressive police, and a deadly fire kills hundreds at her factory but the rich proprietors elude justice, she is drawn into a secret all-female vigilante society named for the Biblical warrior judge, who intends to punish all those who are profiting from the abuse of women. As their notoriety spreads, the forces that want to end them come closing in, including that uncaptured serial killer. The surprising conclusion to the "Right Side of History/Wrong Side of an Asskicking" trilogy also stars Colleen Camp, Carol Lynley, Sybill Danning, and Emily Lloyd as Nellie Bly.

That's enough fantasy film foolishness for this entry. Intermission time.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Just Seven Frames, I Can Make You a Cineaste

(or: Fuck Film School, Let's Get Drunk And Eat Meatloaf!)

You there! With the stack of black T-shirts and the $75 Blu-Ray player you got on Black Friday! Did you go to that revival screening of a favorite '80's movie and find yourself surrounded by bitter bloggers in junket hoodies and Teva sandals mocking you because you didn't know the difference between the KICKING AND SCREAMING with Chris Eigeman and the KICKING AND SCREAMING with Will Ferrell? Did you sign up for a what you thought was a production class at your college only to spend hours having some deranged Eastern European drone about how Anton LaVey cockblocked him over Maya Deren? Do you just want a little head start in learning the lingua franca of film geeks so that you can hold your own in 2a.m. Denny's debates and not get sent over to sit in the other booth with Mohammad, Jugdish, Sydney, and Clayton and listen to them badly recite the same "BIG BANG THEORY" quotes again?

Sure, you know plenty of the names that everybody knows in the film industry, but the reason why is because we hear those names repeatedly on a regular basis, on TV, in gossip magazines, critics lists, etc. And they're mostly new movies, directors, stars, the occasional screenwriter, etc. How can you get familiar with all those really geeky names and titles that separate the players from potzers, and how do you know which ones of those are going to carry weight and which ones will just clutter your head?

Believe it or not, there's a great way to hotwire the process, and in all likelihood, it's happening at a Friday or Saturday midnight show near you, if not this weekend, then sometime this month. You won't need to open a book, just your mind...and maybe your shirt, if you're a first-timer and get collared into a Virgin Sacrifice. That's right, just going to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW on a regular basis will help you get a leg up on the pile and teach you about some behind-the-scenes technicians in modern film you should be appreciating. And all for less than the cost of one Learning Annex lecture, plus you get to hang around people that have actually had sex.

First off, when the movie starts, you're already getting a roll call of some of the most memorable movies, characters, and talent that shaped so many imaginative minds in their wake. It's a shopping list you don't need to write down because you can sing it to yourself as easily as "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." And granted, we're still waiting on a properly restored edition of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, but almost everything else Richard O'Brien sings about is easily found on DVD, usually pops up on Turner Classic Movies, and even gets screened every so often in better revival theatres. You can get extra help from watching this video, where one intrepid soul went to the trouble of recreating O'Brien's originally scripted concept of opening the film using film clips instead of red lips:

"Aha, but what about all the audience yelling? Isn't that going to impede whatever constructive information I could receive?" Well, callbacks vary from city to city, but if they're anything like what I learned to shout out when I was fully immersed in the scene, they often actually help draw attention to the guys you oughta know.


"How do you say 'shit' in Polish?"

Peter Suschitzky was the cinematographer for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, MARS ATTACKS, and has the distinction of shooting every David Cronenberg film since DEAD RINGERS in 1988. Now that's some shit!

"The editor greamed on Clifford!"

Graeme Clifford apprenticed under the great Robert Altman, doing second-unit work on McCABE AND MRS. MILLER and editing on IMAGES. He also edited two of the most-acclaimed films of cult director Nicolas Roeg, DON'T LOOK NOW and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. He went on to become a director himself, helping steer Jessica Lange to her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in FRANCES, and immortalizing Christian Slater in skater-punk glory in GLEAMING THE CUBE.

 "Smoke La Roche! Smoke La Roche!"

Pierre La Roche only has a couple cultural credits, but they're pretty big. As makeup artist for David Bowie, he came up with the iconic Ziggy Stardust third eye and lightning bolt look, which, naturally, was immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker's concert document ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, has been copied and parodied for decades, and is probably being aped on a T-shirt at a Hot Topic franchise. As an actor, he appeared in the film referred to as Canada's version of EASY RIDER, GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD; that may not impress any of your Yank friends, but if you find yourself with a couple Canucks, just start talking to them about how you heard Toronto's got jobs, and watch 'em reply, "JOBS? WHOO-HOO!"

"Fuck the roach! Go for the Snow!"

Terry Ackland-Snow has provided art direction for some of the most indelible movie moments of your adolescence. Three Jim Henson projects (including THE DARK CRYSTAL and LABYRINTH), three D.C. superheroes (SUPERMAN II + III, SUPERGIRL, and BATMAN), and one James Bond outing (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS). And when Dr. Scott blurts out "ALIENS!" during the boring dinner scene, well, yes, Snow worked on that James Cameron epic as well.

"Look, Ward; it's Wally and the Veevers!"
"And Colin always gives me the Chilvers!"

The late Wally Veevers has the distinction of actually working on two of the movies name-checked in "Science Fiction Double Feature": CURSE OF THE DEMON ("Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes...") and DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS ("I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid..."). He also provided visual effects for Stanley Kubrick in DR. STRANGELOVE and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, invented some of the photographic trickery for SUPERMAN, did uncredited effects work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and Kenneth Anger's LUCIFER RISING, and before his death in 1983, lent his services to two of that year's best films, THE KEEP and LOCAL HERO.

Colin Chilvers, meanwhile, collaborated with Wally Veevers on four other movies, including SUPERMAN (for which he and his team won a Special Achievement Academy Award), and, on his own, was special effects director for SUPERMAN II + III and FOLLOW THAT BIRD, and special effects coordinator for BRIDE OF CHUCKY and the first X-MEN film. 
Oh, and have you ever seen that music video of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal"? He directed that. From a Sweet T to a Smooth C - that's T.C.B.!

There you go. Now, the next time some Comic-Con cornflake tries to pull rank on you, you can show him who's Boss.

"Wait, that wasn't seven frames!" you say. Okay, fine, so I lied. Guess what, Charles Atlas lied to you too: his real name was Angelo Siciliano. Go call the human race and cry about it, provided you can find a castle with a phone!