Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Liveblogging: The Bad and the Beautiful

8:09 Dramatic music!

8:10 Big Indoor set with director and cameraman on crane. I love movies that are about making movies! Really gorgeous black and white photography. Crane/boom moves forward with director, Fred Amiel perched on it, it's swooping towards our (real) camera, so the cameras are lens to lens. Camera in movie is getting closeup of reclining woman on set. Director gets a phone call. "Transatlantic. Paris. Johnathon Shields." He ignores it, and has a chuckle with his assistant. Ha ha. Stupid phone call from stupid mystery person. Why on earth would he not take a transatalantic call from this man? Mystery!

8:13 Black maid answering phone is actually well spoken and dignified. Relief. Lana Turner (Georgia) looks gorgeous in black dress with veil, with sparkly earrings. Just another day at home, with great chiarascuro lighting. Lana picks up the phone but pointedly doesn't take mysterious phone call from mystery man.

New scene. A man, James Lee Bartlow, with pipe and typewriter tells Johnathon on phone to "Drop Dead." You can tell he's a writer because of his pipe and his little teeny typewriter. He's also got pencils on his desk.

8:14 Big car drives into movie lot at night. Three people, the ones who didn't take the call all get out. These 3 all enter an office together to talk to white haired gentleman at the Shields motion picture lot. He's named Harry. Harry has Oscars littered about his office. He's a producer. Jim got a Pulitzer prize. Director, Amiel, gets praise for his last film. They chuckle about telling Johanathon Shields to drop dead.

8:18 Conference call to Paris to talk about doing a film together. Johnathon Shields, after 2 years away, wants the writer, the director and the star to work with him again. Johnathon Shield's name is mud in Hollywood right now and doesn't have the ability to raise money. But with these high powered ones gathered, Harry can raise 2 million tommorrow. Will they do it? He says he knows they won't do it. But he wants them to tell Johnathon on the phone so he'll stop begging him. They agree.

Flashback to 18 years ago. Kirk Douglas at a funeral. He's paying people who showed up to act like mourners for the funeral, some Hollywood guy that nobody liked: Hugo Shields, his father. Director, Fred Amiel shows up as one of the paid mourners, but he stands and mutters negative stuff under his breath while the preacher goes on and on about the great man. Doesn't realize he's standing next to the "great man's" son. Kirk says he won't pay him his $11 because he dissed his dad. Afterwards, Fred goes to Kirk's house to apologize. Kirk's ok about it. But more important, his spidey-sense gets activated: he can sense talent, and Fred's got the goods. Fred is an aspiring director, and they get to talking about the business. He's just starting out, looking for a job. As it happens, so is Kirk, the loathed Johnathon Shields. Turns out his father died during a year he was broke, so Johnathon gets almost nothing, no money or studio to inherit, so he's got to make his own way in the movie biz. They start their movie collaboration, working on whatever they can get.

8:24 They "crashed only the very best parties". Really long take going through the party room, different people clustered about. German sounding guy going on about "montage, montage, montage, but where's your story?" Some things never change! Lots of tuxes and strapless gowns and a Judy Garland clone singing a song next to the band. Vincente Minelli directed this movie. Moguls playing poker. Johnathon wants into the poker game. He loses big time to Harry Pebble. He can't pay. It's all part of his scheme to get a job with the studio. "Ah, so you're a genius boy, are you?"

8:28 "Shields/Amiel." Picnic at the beach. He carves a crest in the sand. "If you dream, dream big!" Nice guy director Amiel gets the nice girl.

8:29 Fred and Johnathon make lots of B-Pictures together. Then they are given "The Doom of the Cat Men," a total piece of crap with the worst costumes ever. They are not happy. They stare blankly while the studio hack tries to convince them the costumes will work. "It'll be good!" Johnathon gets the genius idea to make the film "dark", and focus on mystery and shadows. "Suppose we never do show the cat. No cat men! Two eyes showing in the dark!"

8:34 Happy, happy music as they get ready for the preview with film cans and all the that stuff. People excitedly filling out cards: "It stinks". Fail! But.... then ...more cards: outstanding! give us more like this one! a whole lot of good stuff to show the execs. Genius boy does it. Genius Boy, who has no trouble blowing his own horn, is getting ready to take all the credit too. But for now Fred and Johnathon have a happy laugh together about their success. Fred thinks maybe his name should be part of the equation. Johnathon says no. Shields is the name. Fred accepts this, cause he's a nice guy and figures Johnathon is too.

8:37 They drive to an abandoned scary mansion. George Lorrison's old house, up for sale. Johnathon cuts out a piece of wallpaper with a drawing of a face on it. Something that Lorrison drew. "Lorrison's idea of my old man." He did 3 pictures for his father, and was a kind of mentor to Johnathon. "He was a great actor. And a great man."
"And a rat. And a drunk!" We hear from above. A woman is sitting in the attic opening with her legs hanging down. We just see her legs. They ask "Who are you?" "His daughter." She's upset, maybe drunk, and crying. She tells them to blow. They somewhat reluctantly leave her there.

8:47 They get their next assignment, something crappy. Fred has a new treatment for a new movie, Faraway Mountain. They think can make it on a low budget and still make it right. They pitch it to Pebble, who is reluctant. Genius boy takes the words from Fred's mouth "I want to do it so much I can taste it!" and sells it to Pebble. He dares them to make it, thinks it will be a bomb. Johnathon sprinkles his magic on the script.

8:52 Casting. They can't afford a big name. Various guys in sombreros doing the same line. Lorrison's daughter is in the scene as background, shot from the back. Could this be Lana???

8:54 They wine and dine the top Latin love actor to get him to do their no-budget movie. They throw in a gorgeous starlet in a fabulous white shiny strapless gown. They close down the bar and Lena Horne clone is singing "Temptation" at the piano. Johnathon passes out - he's not a drinker - and they carry him back to a hotel room (?) where they dump him on the couch, and Fred gives Latin Lover, Gaucho, the script to read.

9:01 Big Relief. They get Gaucho, big budget, location shoot. But Fred doesn't get to direct. VonElstine directs. Fred is visibly disappointed. Johanathon keeps bigging it up, like it's all really great. He's smoooooth. Fred gets an "assistant to the producer" credit. Gee thanks, Johanaton, Fred says. "Fred, I'd rather hurt you now than kill you off forever," Johanathon says. "You're just not ready to direct a million dollar picture." " But you're ready to produce a million dollar picture," Fred retorts. "With Von Elstein? I am." "You're stealing my picture. It was my idea, I gave it to you!" Ripped off. Dramatic music. Pebble goes off saying, "I always thought the boy was a genius!"

9:11 Bit player Lana's story. Her character is Georgia. Agent Gus is driving her around for parts. Pebble, Shields are watching her do the scene in a drugstore with Latin Lover. "Read any good books lately?" First take is boring. Kirk, who has figured out that she is the daughter of his mentor, as she looked at the drawing in his office, tells her how to play the scene, by whispering in her ear. She does it, not looking up from her book. It's Pure Lana Turner.

9:16 She gets home to her place and Kirk is waiting in the dark. She is jaded and figures they are going to do a "casting couch" payoff. She's so nonchalant, she goes and changes into her pajamas and pulls down her murphy bed. He says he wants her to do a screen test. She has a shrine to her actor father who is sort of a melange of Barrymore/Errol Flynn. Kirk puts the needle on the record player. One of her father's Shakespearean scenes starts playing. Kirk tries to goad her out of being a wastrel, a slut, and a drunk. "Don't waste any sleep over me, Mr Shields." He yells at her. She throws a bottle at him, they tussle, then she dissolves in tears. He leaves her.

9:25 Lana's screen test. She's in a turban, getting her makeup done and going over her lines, with a cardboard coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She watches herself go through her lines. Guy with long cigarette holder who looks familiar - Leo Carey- thinks she's wooden. They go with her anyway, because she's cheap. They give her the lead. Kirk thinks she has star quality, even though she's not doing her lines well yet. "Everyone's looking at you. That's star quality. Lorrison quality." He believes in her! She still feels skeptical about herself.

9:34 Fitting. Lana is in a gorgeous gown that makes her waist about 12" around. Leave it to Beaver's mother, in a crisp black dress with a white stand up collar, is the costume person and she's worried about the fitting. She's great! She thinks Lana doesn't have enough poise! She shows how she should walk. She's got poise in spades! Kirk is a Svengali. He's having none of it. He knows just how to talk to his star! One week to go, so he's sending her away to Palm Springs. Kirk's white suit jacket is amazingly smooth. He must never sit down in it. They have champagne and have a somewhat chaste kiss.

9:39 Gaucho come in, other people on the movie come in and they all talk at once about various movie logistics. Kirk makes everyone get things done with his masterful bossiness. Lana walks through the set with a voice over, all her worries. Goes into her packing-crate trailer. Gets a pep talk note from Kirk, and a necklace. It drives her to drink. Time passes. She doesn't show for the movie, so they think they have to recast. He finds her at her place and she's staggering drunk. He carries her to his place, to the pool and throws her in.

9:45 "I was afraid I'd louse things up for you, because I love you." She wants to marry him. He wants a star, not a wife. But they are going to use Lana after all. He knows how to handle her.

9:50 Shooting. Kirk is coaching. She's in love. He's good at showing her how to act. Johnathon is a perfectionist. They do a million takes. He buys her dinner. She's in lurrrrve. Sparkly spanish costume with 12" waist.

9:54 The pretty female extra who is hanging out with Gaucho is grumbling. She's all envious of Lana getting special treament from Kirk. "There are no good men." Lana does her last scene. She impresses everybody.

9:56 Big opening night. Lana up red carpet in white Mink edged gown, parties. But at the end it's just her, the gown and a big bottle of champagne. Johnathon is at home alone, she's ringing his bell. She's happy. He says go back and enjoy it. Kirk vants to be alone. She wants to celebrate and share the success, but he is being curmudgeonly. Ooops. Shadow of female extra crosses the mink. Nasty female extra, silouhetted on stairs in fantastic gown, is all bitchy to Lana. "I though you said you were going to get rid of her!".He yells at her to go back upstairs. Then yells at Lana. Big drama, he bends her over and screams at her. He doesn't want anyone to own him. "Get out!! Get out!!!" She is devastated and goes off driving recklessly. In the rain, natch. Loses control of car, but somehow gets off road without killing anyone.

Harry Pebble says, well, look how successful you became, because of Johnathon.

Next story: James Lee, the college professor. His wife Gloria Grahame says, "What could Hollywood offer us?" Smooches with sprightly Southern wife. Another black domestic worker comes in with a tray, also dignified. Chalk up 2 reasonable African American portrayals. Hollywood, aka, Johnathon Shields, aka Kirk Douglas is calling, but, no, the author needs all summer to work on his new book. "He has enough charm for all three of us." He goes to Hollywood for a meeting with Kirk. They give them a car and a fancy modern bungalow with a next door neighbour who is a movie star. Cause that's how they do it in Hollywood!

10:12 "His work comes first!" The movie moguls have a chuckle over that. 2 weeks later they sign a contract to write a treatment for The Proud Land. Johnathon had his rocking chair and all his stuff already flown out. "I'm flattered you want me, and bitter you got me." "Don't worry, some of the best movies are made by people who hate each other's guts!" Kirk reassures him. He starts work. Gloria has a mink coat and a convertible. She's a happy girl.

10:17 Coming home from a party, Gloria has a fabulous black cocktail dress on, with a frothy bodice and a 12" waist and a huuuuuge flounced skirt. Oh the 50s,they could really do cocktail dresses. James and Rosemary are squabbling. Hollywood has changed them, and not for the better. They look at each other in a mirror. Very serious, then the mood changes. They're really just the same kids they used to be back home in Virginia. "James Lee you have a very naughty mind. I'm happy to say." They make up.

10:20 Mogul stuff. Phones. Desks, Gaucho is calling. The bank, etc. They get Gaucho to entertain Gloria Graham, and James gets going on his work. No interruptioins. Kirk is editor extraordinaire in a plaid shirt! He knows what he's doing, because he is Boy Genius!

10:24 Newspaper article. Gaucho and Rosemary were in a plane together and it crashed into a mountain. Feared Dead. Scandal! Reporters! James identifies body. He thinks his wife was having affair. Kirk doesn't own up to the fact that he set them up, and it was all perfectly innocent. Of course he doesn't. Cause he's a manipulative bastard. All he cares about is his picture. He's now growing a little mustache, to add panache to his evilness.

10:30 Kirk, very kindly, helps James Barlow finish the script. He doesn't want James to brood. James is actually remarkably unphased by the death of his wife. James suggests the movie star who lives next door to him for the lead. The person they have doesn't have enough sex appeal. Kirk says, no she won't do it, she hates my guts. I'ts Georgia/Lana.

10:31 James talks to Lana, asks her to be in the picture. She says no. "Are you trying to fight Johnathon Shield's battles for him? You re the first person who began by hating him, and ended up liking him. Do you always do everything backwards?" He says "do you still love him?" Knock at door. Fred walks in. "Fred, do I still love Johnathon?" "You don't get me on that one!" "Don't you know about first love? You may grow out of it, but you don't get over it." Fred gets introduced to James. Fred says, "Johnathon is more than a man, he's an experience, and He's habit forming.If they could ever bottle him, he'd out sell ginger ale."

10:34 Picture is in production. Kirk quarrels with his director, Von Elstine.
Back and forth about directorial styles. Kirk says "You are shallow and inept!" Von Elstine says direct the picture yourself. So he does.

He has a personality change "He was a new Johnathon. He was patience personified." He becomes considerate to crew, cast and his writer, and all the things you need to be a good director, like standing in swirling fake snow and dodging the boom, french foreign legion guys and flames around the set.

More scenes of people in screening room looking at rushes. Everyone is happy and complimentary. Kirk says, everyone was great, except the director: him. "I butchered it!!! I turned it into a turgid, boring movie. This is nothing. Shelve the picture." Harry Pebble says, you can't you'll be ruined if you do. There's no money in the sock. He still won't release it. He can't put out a bad movie with his name on it. He says just tell the press: "Johnathon Shields lays an egg!"

James and Kirk have a post mortem. They plan to go up to Tahoe and work on his new book, all happy. Then- drama! Kirk accidentally lets it slip that he knew all along that Gaucho and James's wife were together. He says it's no one's fault. He then tries to make it better by trying to convince James that it was better that she died, "she was a fool, she wasted your time", he wouldn't have gotten anywhere with her, that she was dragging him down. He wouldn't have been a success with her in his life. James is pissed off, naturally and walks out.

Back to the producer's office and the three of them around the table: He points out that James Bartlow is successful, due to his work with Johnathon: Pulitzer Prize novel, the highest salary of any writer in Hollywood. They all owe him a lot. Without it, they'd be NOTHING. He wants to talk them into working with Johnathon again. Help him get started again. Just this once. Nobody wants to talk to him. They walk out. Harry is arguing with Johnathon, Lana picks up the extension and listens in. Then Fred comes over and they share the phone. They can't help it, James comes over too and they're all listening. They can't help themselves. It's Hollywood! He's bad, but they're beautiful.

More on The Bad and the Beautiful here on Self-Styled Siren.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WALL-E: More Romance in 5 minutes than Sex In The City had in 2 Hours

And that was authentic, human romance. Between 2 robots. How on earth did they do it? By taking their time. By investing us in the character of WALL-E for the first 45 minutes, a fairly quiet, dialogue-free time where we could really become invested, and actually captivated by this...little machine, and how he goes about his lonely, but purposeful daily existence. He is carving out his world, performing his proscribed task with diligence, but surrounds himself as well with his idiosyncratically chosen creature comforts and his touches of magic: the choices of the objects he brings into his little house: the fairy lights, the toys, the talismans, the fragment of movie he watches over and over.

And there is the supremely inspired and devilishly quirky choice of music on the soundtrack: a throwaway tune from the Hello Dolly soundtrack, but one that fit so perfectly, conveyed so much joy and romance and optimism, it was perfect.

The early portion of the film has the compelling quality of watching a silent film - there's nothing else to distract except the inner and outer workings of this purposeful, determined, yet charming character, we get to know him so well. Having been fully drawn into the life of the robot, WALL-E, the arrival of the flashy robot EVA, the film can really take off, because we really feel we know this little guy. We want him to find a way out of his loneliness: to be happy, to "go out and get his picture took" like the song says.

While the quiet first half of the movie was richer than the busier, fuller segment on the spaceship, overall the film was completely compelling and uplifting. Just the usual Pixar magic, but in this case it was magical and soulful - heartbreaking at times. And yes, with WALL-E's love story with EVA the robot, more true and heartfelt romance in its little finger than Sex in the City had in 4 sets of its Manolo-squished toes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I can't say enough good things about Campbell Scott.

In my last post I talked about my fantasy cast for the Valerie Plame movie. My dream cast included Patrick Fitzgerald being played by Campbell Scott. Afterwards I wondered if that choice was ill considered. After all, he looks nothing like him. He's not as hugely tall as Fitzgerald. So there is the different physicality there. Maybe I was just trying to slot Scott into something that he wasn't right for, because I want him to get important roles. Thought I should correct my post, but with the changeover of the Blogger site I lost access to this blog for a couple of months. I finally got logged back on and now I'm glad I left it as is.

I think he could play him remarkably well.

My first introduction to Campell Scott was in The Secret Lives of Dentists. I told everyone I knew at the time to watch this movie. But not sure if anyone did. It's not the most exciting title, which maybe doesn't grab people. But the movie itself is more than worth the trouble. For me it was the most true picture of day to day middle class family life I've ever seen depicted on screen. Scott plays a dad with two young daughters. He and his wife are dentists who work together. He suspects his wife is having an affair. His mental anguish, along with the day to day life of parents with kids is subject of the film. It's dramatic, and also very funny. Scott is amazing in it. Supporting cast, including some very natural child actors, is also great: Dennis Leary as a sarcastic figment of his imagination who tries to counsel him, and his wife is played by Hope Davis, another great actress who should be getting all the roles that the over-used and, (in my opinion not all that spectacular) actress Laura Linney gets.

The next was a stumble upon situation. I occasionally subscribe to the movie channel on cable, when the Sopranos is broadcasting. And one night I came across Roger Dodger, about a quarter of the way through. Campbell Scott plays an absolute jerk in this movie, but an incredibly articulate, intelligent and somewhat humourous jerk. It was late at night, I knew nothing about this movie and I watched it with fascination, till I started to feel a bit drowsy and lose the thread of the story. It wasn't because the movie was boring: it was three in the morning. it was me watching a movie when I woke up in the middle of the night and happened to turn on the tv. At the end of the film the character he plays has a comeuppance of sorts, and I remembered the story only vaguely. But the memory of the actor who played the creepy, arrogant uncle stayed with me. I didn't put it together that it was the same actor who played the long-suffering and gentle dad who was in the Secret Lives of Dentists. The characters were that far apart in attitude and feel. Just a dramatic representation of this actor's amazing range. I've since watched Roger Dodger a couple of times and highly recommend it.

My third Campbell Scott experience was his Hamlet. I'd received the DVD through Peerflix, a DVD sharing group. I had randomly added it to my list on based on the rave reviews it had received, and because I'd never really read the play. Missed studying it in school and it was a slightly embarrassing knowledge gap I wanted to remedy. Received it but didn't watch it for quite a while. One Sunday afternoon I was out at my schoohouse in the country. No tv reception there, so it's a great place to watch movies. It was raining and I was inside painting some furniture. I put on Hamlet, and it was on in the background, so I didn't watch every scene carefully. But I enjoyed what I saw and heard. (And felt quite chagrined to discover all those famous lines I heard were from that play and that I hadn't known where they came from till now.)

About a month later I read Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for my book club. Of course you can't understand this play without being quite familiar with Hamlet so I resorted to my usual Book Club Cheat. I got out the movie and REALLY watched Hamlet this time. It was fantastic. Quite a revelation. I've read elsewhere that other people consider this the best Hamlet committed to film. I haven't seen any of the others, but I do plan to now. Something tells me that Campbell Scott's is going to be hard to beat.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The PlameGate Movie: Please don't ruin it, Warner Brothers

So the Wilsons have sold the rights to their story to Warner Brothers.
This make believe casting for the movie is a fun exercise, and I've been thinking about it since I read Joe Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth. It’s also driving me crazy to imagine how much Hollywood might blow it.

Here is my casting prayer: please Warner Bros. can you refrain from casting mega stars that we have seen a zillion times in a zillion movies. There are so many actors that don’t get roles who have really great acting skills and this is such an important story. Please hire actors who can really inhabit these roles, not those who can’t help but give off their tiresome movie star flavour.

So please no George Clooney. Same goes for Richard Gere and Ben Affleck.

Similarly obsessed Plamegate watchers have suggested Harrison Ford and Redford and Douglas for Wilson??? No a thousand times no I say! These ancient guys have been in every second movie ever made in Hollywood for the past 3 decades. Likewise please don't put Meryl Streep in this movie anywhere - or in any movie at all for at least seven years. (I'll never forgive you Hollywood for casting Meryl in the Devil Wears Prada when the role so obviously should have gone to Miranda Richardson).

Joe Wilson should be a distinguished older guy with his youthful handsomeness now fading into a slight jowly-ness. Joe Wilson earned those jowls and that stature by standing up to Saddam Hussein when he was ambassador. We can't have anybody who would be a present day pretty boy, like Clooney. I vote for Liam Neeson.

And now the mystery woman, Mrs Wilson. Valerie Plame. She of the gently rounded forehead, the movie star smile, the cheekbones. The one who looks more like Sharon Stone than Sharon Stone. OK, Miss Stone is 4 years older than the real Valerie but big deal. I vote for Sharon Stone. Put away all thoughts of Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Jodie Foster or other chiseled waifs.

And of course Judy Davis was put on the planet to play Judy Miller.

For the prosecutorial god that is Mr. Fitzgerald, I submit to you Campbell Scott, an amazing and unsung acting genius. Handsome but not too handsome, like Fitz, and also like Fitz, he oozes humanity, intelligence and authenticity.

For the rest of the crowd, I'm not sure yet. But I'll be scanning the crowds.