Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Pumpkin Eater (1964) - Not for Me

[Quick Summary: A thrice married mother breaks down in public, and the story explores of her difficult attitudes and marriage.]

I did not like this script.

In a series of flashbacks, we learn that:

- This is a story of Jo, who melts down in Harrods department store.
- She has a passel of kids from previous marriages, and wants more.  
- Jake, her third husband, is fed up and is at a loss.
- Jo is recovering from the breakdown.   

I did not like these characters, but I could deal with it.

I did not like the plot, but I could deal with it too.

However, the story was going nowhere, and that I could not stomach. 

Jo fits so well in this nursery rhyme:

"Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well."

But in a film? Not for me.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The more I read, the more that I sense my limits.

If someone asked me to pitch a take on this novel, I'd have to pass.

The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
by Harold Pinter
Adapted from the novel by Penelope Mortimer

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Servant (1963) - Creepy Invasion of Personal Space

[Quick Summary: A new servant takes over his employer's life, and becomes a menace.]

I'm very keen on writer's "must read" recommendations.

However, when the playwright Harold Pinter (1930-2008) was suggested, I procrastinated.

I knew very little about him, and his obituary was intimidating:
- "provocative"
- "vigorous political polemicist,"
- "[H]e spawned the adjective "Pinteresque" suggesting a cryptically mysterious situation imbued with hidden menace."

I finally ran out of excuses.

The Servant starts off innocently, and then it really spooked me.

Barrett, a manservant, comes to work for his employer Tony.  Barrett is ideal, until he stealthily isolates Tony.

It's little things at first.

ex. Barrett interrupts Tony and girlfriend Susan during an intimate moment.

Then it becomes more devious.

ex. Barrett brings his girlfriend Vera into the house as a maid. Vera seduces Tony.  Did Barrett orchestrated it or not?

Then it becomes horrible.

ex. Barrett keeps Tony drugged and dependent. Tony has no idea how much he has lost.

Barrett is a psychological menace.  He moves into Tony's personal space one step at a time, until there is none.

Tony is oblivious to how Barrett is destroying him...and that makes it ten times more creepy.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A psychological drama/thriller can be as simple as playing with personal space. 

The Servant (1963)
Adapted by Harold Pinter
Based on the novel by Robin Maugham

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Diner (1982) - Talking About Nothing

[Quick Summary: A tight group of male friends struggle with adulthood in 1959 Baltimore.]

Before Seinfeld, there was Diner, where a group of guys talked about nothing in their favorite diner.

How can nothing be interesting? Because it's really about something.

1) Some of it is building the anticipation.

ex. Boogie, Fenwick and Billy bet on Eddie's 140 question football test for his fiancee. Eddie will call off the wedding if she does not get 70%. Will she pass?

2) The guys love to tell often told stories, which is a window into their lives.

ex. Billy beats up a total stranger.  Shrevie explains to his wife that:
- Billy was jumped by a whole baseball team in high school
- Billy has beat up 7 of the 9 members
- This is number 8 of 9.
- Even though it's seven years later, Billy will not rest until he has found all nine.

In other words, Billy is stuck in time.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If done right, talking about nothing reveals more than something.

Diner (1982)
Written & directed by Barry Levinson

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Clueless (1995) - Contradictions

[Quick Summary: A high school girl tries to improve her friends, but has no idea that the person most in need of improvement is herself.]

My hat is off to Clueless.

It has withstood the test of time, and is still fresh and smart.

For my money, it is Cher (the lead) whose contradictions make the story so funny.

She is so well-intentioned, but has no idea that she is the clueless one:

- She has no idea what people are talking about, but pretends that she does.

ex. "They get in and he starts the car.

CHRISTIAN: You like Billie Holliday?
CHER: I love him."

- She thinks she knows what is best for others, and manipulates accordingly.

ex. "CHER: OK. It'll get easier, as long as we do it every day, not just sporadically.
TAI: How do you know if you're doing it sporadically?

Josh looks bewildered. What is Cher up to?

CHER (patiently): That's another thing Tai. We've got to work on your accent and vocabulary.  Like "sporadic" means once in a while. Try to use it in a sentence today, and find some other adjectives besides the "F" word."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Contradictions are interesting and timeless.

Clueless (1995)
Written and directed by Amy Heckerling

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Last Man Standing (1996) - Crosses & Double Crosses; My LAST Walter Hill script

[Quick Summary: A drifter arrives in a small Texas town, and pits two competing gangs against each other.]

Last Man Standing is a fitting read for my last Walter Hill script.

The story gets my grudging respect, mainly because of the smart crosses and double crosses.

"John Smith" is a conniving, quick draw drifter in the Old West.

He arrives during a truce between two whiskey smuggling gangs.

When the Doyle gang causes trouble for him, Smith aligns himself with the Rossi gang -- and then plays them off each other.

Smith is willing to cross and double cross two very bad gangs, which makes him interesting to watch.
 
Is he is a good guy? 

ex. He rescues enslaved Felina.
ex. He protects Joe the barkeeper.

Or is he bad?

ex. He shoots the Doyle gang who keeps Felina hostage, then shifts the blame to Rossi.
ex. He joins Rossi's gang, quits, then sells info to Doyle's gang - all to destroy both gangs.

Smith had the right motives (to get rid of bad guys), but his means did not have many boundaries.

I was rather surprised how far he took "the end justifies the means."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Does crossing and double-crossing bad guys make you a bad guy too? Still thinking about that one.

Last Man Standing (1996)
Written & directed by Walter Hill
From a story by Ryuzo Kikushima & Akira Kurosawa