When you haven’t submitted a blog in months, something must be going on. Fortunately, it’s all good. The suspense-thriller feature film, “Altar Rock,” I co-wrote with executive producer Kristin Alexandre is in pre-production for a shoot this Summer and I have finished revisions based on notes from director Andrzej Bartkowiak (pictured below). Below is an announcement about the film in Variety. I may use the blog to update news on the production, so stay tuned if you are interested. Otherwise, please enjoy my archive blogs for now.
Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category
As we mourn his passing, here’s an excerpt from my book, Hollywoodaholic: Confessions of a Screenwriter about my encounter with Robin Williams. A sweet man, an incredible force-of-nature talent, and completely different persona offstage than on.
April 30, 1984
I haven’t worked since I last wrote you some two months back or so, but that’s not unusual. I’ve been living off my tax returns from last year and going to meetings.
Recess, which I wrote several years ago, has come to the forefront again. I asked my manager to send a copy to director Tony Richardson (The Loved One, an Oscar for Tom Jones). He’s an eccentric British director with a taste for the bizarre. Sure enough, he liked it a great deal and invited me up to his house to meet him. He has this huge, tropical-style plantation in the Hollywood Hills complete with exotic macaws, parrots and free-flying lovebirds in an adjacent outdoor aviary. He wouldn’t let me talk about any of his work, but went on raving about my script, saying it was the funniest thing he’d read in a long time. Now this came as great relief and vindication to me because, for seven years, all I’ve heard about it from the studio people and readers and such is ‘what the hell is this?” or, ‘this is too strange and will never get made.’ (The episodic plot, including adventures in the army and on an anchovy boat, narration by a character with a 10-year-old mentality, and a theme of innocence amid worldly corruption are oddly similar to a picture that would get produced ten years later called Forrest Gump.) Suddenly, here was an Academy Award-winning director erasing layers of abundantly applied doubt. He mentioned that he’d been talking to Robin Williams and would like to give it him. I left floating on air, but keeping an inward and skeptical vigil.
The next week I’m sitting outside an office waiting to go into a meeting with a story person who works for a cream-of-the-crop management firm (Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy, Williams, etc.) about something completely different, and suddenly Robin Williams walks in the back door. My first reaction is surprise, and my second is; ‘What’s that purple-covered script he’s carrying?’ People in the office get up to greet him and I’m standing there with my head twisted around trying to see the script and going, ‘could that be…?’
It was. My body shudders with a start and he’s standing right in front of me and I reach out my hand and introduce myself, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne Carter.’ He shakes my hand, looks at me oddly, looks down at the script, then looks up again and we both freak out. He goes, with revelation, ‘You wrote this script?’. I nod and we both freak out again. Meanwhile, his manager has to come out and is wondering what the hell is going on. Robin explains he was coming by to give him this script to read and consider, and here’s the author right here.
His manager freaks out. He thinks this is some sort of conspiracy. We try to explain that it’s a total coincidence and that Tony Richardson had sent the script to Robin. Robin and the manager excuse themselves and disappear into his office for some low conversation. Robin is backing away from me going, ‘this is very interesting, very interesting.’ He means the script.
I have to go to my regular meeting with one of the manager’s assistants, only now everyone in the office is abuzz with what’s happened and I am getting all sorts of attention and feel like a celebrity. I go into the meeting, explaining the coincidence again. Five minutes later, Robin’s manager joins my meeting, with interest. He’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. He listens closely and thinks aloud that what I’m pitching now (The Man Who Had the Ability to Enjoy Life) might be something for Eddie Murphy or Joe Piscopo.
Now, you might wonder (or not) how I’m handling myself through this whole shebang. Well, the answer is, I couldn’t have been cooler. And the reason is because, truthfully, I was numb with sickness. I had woken up with a sore throat, a cloudy head and the beginnings of the flu, so by the time I hit this meeting, I had backed away from my body as if it were some distant entity, and everything was coming at me through a shrouded, invisible tunnel. Hence, a total lack of nerves.
Anyway, the upshot of the thing is that it’s being talked about now between Tony, Robin, his manager and with feelers to the studio. I’m not holding my breath. My agent and I suspect his manager will try to steer Robin away from doing something this off-center, but you never know. The point is, if Robin wants to do it, and we already got Tony, THAT’S a package, in Hollywood terms. So I’m hoping, with caution. If nothing else, I had those moments; an Academy Award-winning director enthralled with my work; and that heart-stopping coincidence in the tiring life of a screenwriter when Robin Williams walked through that front door carrying nothing but one purple script, and I flinched and thought, ‘Could that be mine?’
(Ultimately the hard-ass manager did steer Williams to another project because he thought Tony Richardson -an Academy Award-Winning director, no less – wasn’t hot enough for Robin. I understand why Williams, who offstage is terribly shy and polite, needed a hard-ass manager, because you get the idea he would say yes to everything just to be a nice guy. But I still have a few sleepless nights thinking about what his appearing in my screenplay would have meant.)
P.S. – Robin Williams used to occasionally come in to the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and go on after the last comedian of the night and just play for 90 minutes or so. You had to find out about these appearances through some inside intel, and my best friend was a stand-up comic who appeared there. So when my parents were visiting me from Maryland one time and I got the word, I dragged my poor 60 year-old father and mom to the Comedy Store and waited until 12:30 a.m. when Williams made one of his surprise no-time-limit appearances. We didn’t get out of there until after 2 a.m. and my dad was nearly catatonic, but I just had to expose my parents to the most electrifying and funniest man on the planet besides Richard Pryor (who might’ve shocked them a bit too much).
(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive)
I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that. Talk about an identity crisis.
And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?
This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?
I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.
Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.
And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.
But we dreamed much bigger than that.
Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).
Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.
We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”
David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”
Star Trek, Space 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.
And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.
And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.
It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.
My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.
And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.
This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.
This is … merely a realist.
A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.
The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.
You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within. That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.
Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.
I can’t wait for that play set.
— A. Wayne Carter
1) Collecting Shit
When I was very young I collected coins. I don’t think I ever got past a wheat cent, or maybe a buffalo nickel. The holy grail of mildly passive coin collecting at the time was a misprinted ‘55 Lincoln cent where his image was blurred. Never got that one. I sold the collection for about $40 when I was ten.
I collected Marvel Comics almost until the age I went to college. I had issues 1-50 of most every title that came out in the sixties, including the original X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, etc. If I still had those issues today and they were in near mint condition, the collection would be worth at least a half million. X-Men Number One alone recently sold for more than $30,000. I could’ve paid for my son’s college a few times over with my collection, or bought a nice shack on the ocean in Monterrey. But then we didn’t have comic saver bags back then and, even though I kept them in prime condition, I doubt I would’ve continued lugging the whole lot from Florida to L.A. and back again. I sold the entire lot for about $400 in 1973 and used the money to buy two large 80-lb ESS speakers, after I heard the cascading guitars of “Band on the Run” on them in a stereo store. I still use those speakers 40 years later, so it turned out to be a good investment. No regrets.
I eventually collected about 1,000 vinyl LPs, but as soon as I heard CDs, I traded them in starting in 1986 until I had about 1,000 CDs (I kept some of the best art vinyl). I never collected movies on VHS because it was a lousy medium, a pain in the ass to rewind, and you could never get a decent freeze frame. Laser discs cost $100 each and were too expensive. DVDs were perfect, so I collected about 700 of my favorite films and television shows. Now I’ve traded most of the DVDs in for Blu-rays because they’re even better. I won’t go 4K because, frankly, my 1080p eyes will never need anything better than the image I get from Blu-rays. And now, I regularly trade in my Blu-rays that I doubt I’m ever going to watch again for other Blu-rays I just want to see.
At some point, I finally realized that collecting is just a more organized form of hoarding. And I realized something even more important: It’s never really about the collecting; it’s more about the hunt. The joy of collecting was in finding that rarer ‘D’ penny, scoring that latest issue of Spiderman, picking up the Captain Fantastic LP the day of release, or having your favorite film finally come out on DVD or Blu-ray. It was the hunting and gathering that was fun, not the actual owning or putting that stuff on the shelf. Sure it’s nice to see this big library of stuff on my shelf, but, like I’ve said before, am I really going to listen to or watch it all again?
So now, it’s all just an evolving and diminishing library. If I have something I think someone else might enjoy, I pass it on. That gives as much pleasure as the original hunting and gathering. If I want to ‘briefly’ own a film or CD, I now trade in others to pay for it. I recycle. It’s all just moving through me now, not possessing me. And I also realize, I could let go of it all tomorrow. Well, except for the 3,100 songs on my iPod and iPhone. You’ll pry those songs in my earbuds from my ears when I’m dead (or I get tinnitus).
2) Putting a napkin on my lap when I eat out
I hardly see anyone do this anymore. I think it was part of a bygone era from when we watched Donna Reed with our parents. But we were trained well, because I have been doing it subconsciously ever since. Now, I’m thinking… “Fuck it.” It’s not just being lazy. Perhaps it’s a mild act of rebellion, where I don’t give a shit if I happen to spill something on a pair of pants. Or maybe I don’t have any pants worth caring that much about. A spill? Oops. Oh, well. Either wash them or toss them. How’s that for being a Rebel with a Cause? I’m sorry, mom, but you’re not around anymore to feel like you failed teaching manners in any way, and, like I said, laps seem to be open game these days. I believe I can count the times something actually dropped in my lap on one hand. With allergy season 24/7, I’m more likely to blow my nose on the napkin today than lay it across my lap.
Ann Landers just turned over in her grave.
No napkin would have stopped the glass of water my future wife threw under the table at my crotch when we were goofing around on an early date. I remember getting in a movie line afterwards to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in Westwood with my pants soaked in the front thinking, “No one’s going to think I actually pissed my pants.” If so, why would I really be standing in a movie line with this beautiful woman by my side? But as we walked further down the line and people continued to chuckle behind my back, I wondered if my reasoning had been wrong. That’s when I discovered that I had somehow also sat on an open package of brown mustard back at the deli. So it looked like I had not only pissed my pants, but shit them, as well. No wonder everyone was laughing.
A napkin on my lap wouldn’t have saved that event from occurring. And for that memory alone, and the laughs it provided, I’ll just say grace.
– A. Wayne Carter
Am I the only one who got hyperventilated and got dizzy watching The Lego Movie? It was like a Pixar movie on a Tilt-a-Whirl on methamphetamine. Which is actually an unfair comparison, because Pixar movies usually have a real heart instead of a fake one implanted at the last moment with that live action message moment. And Pixar’s stories usually unfold rather than being blasted at you like buckshot from a scattershot nuclear neon shotgun on ‘stun.’ The Lego Movie makes Toy Story look like a puppet show power point presentation.
Sure, I get the popularity of the movie. It’s like crack for kids with short attention spans. I don’t think there’s a scene that lasts more than three seconds before another chase with a thousand pieces of visual and aural stimulation bombard you incessantly into submission. I get the feeling the creators’ sensibility and inspiration was formed under ecstasy at a Rave with strobe lights flashing. The filmmakers don’t take any chances or trust that you won’t get restless unless there’s sight gags, random joke comments, recycled plot memes, first person roller coaster gyrations and explosions pummeling you every possible moment.
This film shouldn’t get three stars; it deserves six Red Bulls, because that’s what it was conceived, animated and produced on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I walked out of the theater with physical heart palpitations as if I had drunk the Red Bulls myself. That’s why the film itself is like an Adderall prescription for restless 3-10 years olds. No doubt they are pummeling their parents to take them to their nearest toy store RIGHT NOW to gobble up Lego kits they will take home to try and recreate the visceral thrill of the picture, that is… until they realize again Legos actually don’t animate themselves unless you ARE on drugs.
Okay, I’m a codger, a fuddy dud, an aging boomer. But it’s almost like our entire culture is now the movie Speed, where the bus will explode the moment it de-accelerates below 50 miles per hour.
But what all these people drinking 5-Hour Energy drinks, Red Bull, Starbucks coffee infusions, Mountain Dew and jacking themselves up on high-intensity shooter games, and Lego movies don’t realize… is that there IS a price to be paid for pushing your adrenaline glands to the max 24/7. You WILL crash and burn out. Eventually. And sooner rather than later. It may be physical when you wipe out your adrenals, or mental when you fry your synapses, but you’re headed for a fall. Maybe we’re all headed for a fall. Think of your brain like Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates coming down the conveyor belt, which keeps getting faster and faster until everything is all Fudged Up (no one gets that reference but boomers, but that’s okay).
One sign is to just look around next time you’re out and see people with the jittery legs. You know who I’m talking about. They’re sitting, but their leg is jittering like they are anxious to go somewhere, anywhere. Like the very act of trying to sit still is causing them to hyperventilate, or boil like water cooling the rods of a nuclear reactor. I see this EVERYWHERE now, and it’s obviously some manifestation of some real or manufactured pent up energy having a hard time being contained. I know people who would physically explode if they ever tried to harness or still their bodies and minds long enough to practice transcendental meditation.
I remember my psychic mother-in-law (yes, I had a licensed psychic mother-in-law) once told me that the human race was vibrating itself out of existence. Naturally, I put this observation into the category of many other wild predictions she made that seemed a bit far-fetched at the time.
Now… I’m not so sure. The idea that we can’t focus on any one task at a time; that we have to be stimulated constantly by multiple inputs at all times… is a pretty clear symptom of this phenomenon. No one can actually attend a concert, sit and just listen anymore. They have to sit, stand, listen, yell, sway, jazz hands, record with their iPhone, tweet to their friends, and save to their Facebook all at the same time. The idea of any experience being purely one thing anymore is passé. It’s not even allowed to be a real experience unless it’s somehow documented, recorded, relayed or re-copied or Instagramed ad infinitum and at the same moment.
Maybe this is the current evolution of the human race; to require so much multiple stimulation at one time to speed up the process of our internal coping mechanism and force that evolutionary leap to processing everything faster like the computers that serve us.
Or maybe we’ll discover sooner than we expect or are prepared for, that, unlike the lifeless microprocessors in our computers, the only thing you get when you speed up the processing of the living tissue, meat and blood we are ultimately made of… is hamburger.
Maybe that’s why zombies are so popular right now in the culture. It’s not because we fear them or the apocalypse; it’s because we envy them. They only have one thing on their minds at any time, all the time: your brains.
If you’re ten years old and you now set The Lego Movie as your necessary level of stimulation, then I will wave to you as you pass me by aging your nervous system at rate 100 times faster than any entertainment I ever grew up with. I may still be living in Mayberry, but you’re next stop in The Twilight Zone is Willoughby. (Google that while you read this, watch YouTube and listen to Imagine Dragons)
– A. Wayne Carter
I have zero loyalty to Woody Allen, either as a man, or as a comedian or a director. I rarely see his films anymore. If he were a scumbag pedophile, put me on the list to have him go to prison and rot in hell. But sometimes perversity is in the mind of the accuser, and I believe this is one of those times.
Less than a week after Woody Allen was celebrated at the Golden Globe awards with a typically daffy speech by Diane Keaton, an accusation that he sexually assaulted his seven year-old daughter when he was married to her mother, actress Mia Farrow, suddenly surfaced again. A remarkably vivid account by the daughter of the episode from 20 years ago appeared in the paper. Could this man really be a monster instead of a beloved comedian and director? Let’s check some of the details:
The alleged assault was investigated at the time of the accusation by the police and by prosecutors and no evidence or charges were ever brought forth. Allen may be a celebrity, but if there were any strong evidence beyond heresay that the event occurred, the New York tabloid press would eviscerated him beyond any favoritism or protection from the law.
The accusation occurred shortly after Allen had broken up with his wife and after his affair with her high school-age daughter. Yeah, that’s pretty icky. But the couple didn’t live together and it wasn’t his or her biological daughter. He can definitely pass the stink test as an old lech, but if you want to condemn middle-aged men for lusting after high school-age women or perhaps their children’s nannies, be prepared to throw a wide net. We’re all a bit Jack Nicholson when it comes to a Jennifer Lawrence (and yes, he did sort of hit on her). But there’s a huge difference between attraction to a fresh young woman and sexually assaulting a child. And Allen’s ‘attraction’ for the young woman went beyond infatuation to the point where he has been happily married to her for the past 20 years. If he was such a powerful and sick-minded predator, he could have easily sidestepped that commitment.
Okay, so you have a woman, an actress no less, who was not only emotionally attached to Allen, but also professionally – she appeared in several of his movies. She’s dumped in the worse possible way, and is consumed with a hatred, spite and anger beyond anything we can comprehend. Enough that she leaves an actual message for Allen warning him, “You took my daughter, so I’m going to take yours.” And that’s just what Allen (and I) believe she did. She took the only child that, as it turns out, was biologically his with her, and turned her against the father in the most vicious way possible – by planting the seed of an assault and feeding it for the past twenty years. There’s no question the girl now believes it. But where have we seen this before? How about the Salem Witch Trials? How about the McMartin Case in California?
I lived in Los Angeles when the story of the alleged child molesting McMartin day care providers rocked the media. The trial went on for months, lives were ruined, and, in the end, it was found out the workers were innocent. One young child was coached to provide damning testimony and got tons of attention, and the next thing you know, all these other children were solicited to provide testimony and, one by one, when they were asked, “And did such and such happen to you?” “Yes, it did,” they agreed, and they got tons of attention, too. Fortunately, no one was hung or burned at the stake before the stories were proven fancifully false.
But never mind all that, let’s just use some common sense. Almost every actress who has worked with Allen in the past twenty years has either been nominated for an Academy Award or won. How does this happen? How do they give the best performances of their lives for this director? And why do they trust him so much? Don’t they have any ounce of intuition if he were some kind of secret predator, monster or pedophile? Aren’t actresses supposed to be the MOST intuitive or empathetic because of their skills? Or is it because he just creates a unique protective environment for them to open up on screen? That takes a tremendous amount of trust. And loyalty. The major actresses all flock to appear in his movies, not just because they think they will get nominated, but because they know they will have a remarkable experience in an emotionally nurturing environment.
So imagine you’re an actress who will never have that opportunity again – either professionally OR emotionally? And you were married to the man for 10 years. And he fell in love and ran off with your adopted daughter? It’s like the hate, spite and anger trifecta. What could you possibly do to get back at him? And at a time when, once again, an actress – not you – is going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for being in one of his pictures (Yes, Cate Blanchett is going to win for Blue Jasmine). Would you casually and spitefully reveal that his other supposed biological child is not his, but Frank Sinatra’s? Ouch, that’s got to burn. And would you help revive an old accusation that he assaulted his one biological daughter and with some new details that were magically never presented during the original accusation? Would that hurt him enough?
Would it hurt him more than the Valentine’s Card you once sent that actually had needles stuck into the faces of all your seven children, and a knife with your adopted daughter’s face stabbed into the heart?
Sometimes perversity IS in the mind of the accuser, and sometimes it’s enough to poison the mind of a child and spew more hate than anyone can imagine.
Woody Allen is no angel. He’s a neurotic, old man who made an indefensible lapse in judgment initiating an affair with the one young woman who his wife would see as the greatest betrayal. But he’s still with that other woman 20 years later and she still loves him. Sometimes love is blind and stupid and hideously unfair, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.
And if another woman is incapable of ever reaching a point of forgiveness, if only for her own sake, she will just continue to stab and stab and stab at that heart.
– A. Wayne Carter
The Wolf of Wall Street
Not only a disappointment, but dishonest. It’s a disappointment because it’s Martin Scorsese and also because it’s three hours of numbing, repetitive hedonistic behavior with about five minutes of punishment or redemption at the end. It’s like one of those reality hour shows about Super Nannies, where the first 55 minutes are the child out of control breaking shit and causing chaos and driving everyone nuts, and then the last five minutes he has miraculously been tamed and is a repentant saint. The premise being we just want to see the bad behavior over and over and over again like pigs in slop. Wrong. Boring.
The dishonesty is casting a movie Adonis like Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. The movie is based on a true story about a toxic little gremlin from Queens, but would you really want to watch a Jason Alexander snorting coke off a woman’s ass or having sex with beautiful naked chicks for three hours? Not a chance. But that would have been a more honest depiction of how the lust for money corrupts and ultimately is hideous. How do we know all those gorgeous women weren’t hopping onto his lap because… because he’s freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio!? I read where DiCaprio defended the picture by saying you’re supposed to get disgusted with the guy. But if you really wanted to send that message, why not have all those naked models hopping on top of Gilbert Gottfried? Then I would be disgusted and I might also get the point.
Also, did Scorsese actually think he was making a comedy allowing his actors to do improv-like schtick for way too long in each scene? It didn’t work, and just came over as grating and undisciplined from an editing point of view.
Pass the goombah hair gel, because David O Russell just out-Scorsesed Martin for a three hour film that holds up both thematically, visually and with fantastic ensemble acting. The lead here is also a nebbish, but at least Christian Bale has made himself out to look like a putz, with an ugly comb over, glasses and 60 extra pounds of flab. So by the time the hot babe Amy Adams hooks up with him to pull the fast cons, we get that she’s in it mostly for the game. The theme that everyone is playing everyone else, whether in a money con or a marriage con comes across both humorously and profoundly. That’s how you make your point. Here’s a director firing on all cylinders at the top of his game, and pulling career performances out of an ensemble of actors doing the same.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
This festival of innovative action sequences was far more entertaining than the first Hobbit film. I still dislike films that overuse CGI instead of real stunts, but at least this film is SUPPOSED to be a fantasy. The barrel chasing scene down the river with the dwarves was fantastic to the point where I would need to study the storyboards just to catch all the clever little bits of action that were off-handedly thrown in. The dragon sequence, which filled almost the last whole third of the film, was also a revelation in the good use of CGI enhanced with the ironic twist that Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) was facing off against
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug).
You still feel a bit cheated when a film ends in a cliffhanger that just whets your appetite for the next installment, but it doesn’t come as a shock and we all trust Peter Jackson to deliver the goods. Plus, I’m old enough to remember when the Flash Gordon serials played at the movie theaters and always ended with a cliffhanger. And those model rockets on strings were a hell of a lot less convincing than a CGI Smaug. But it also just goes to show how much audiences used to have to contribute their own imaginations to form the reality on screen without the technology doing all the work it does today.
I confess that the only reason I even saw this film was because I was given the wrong time for the film I was trying to see (Wolf of Wall Street) and I just had to find the next convenient film showing. That is not enough reason to justify seeing this dreck.
The only way it conceivably would have been funny to me is maybe watching after a six pack of beers in a theater full of giddy drunk frat boys. It’s the same basic joke over and over – Ron Burgundy is clueless – but without any cleverness. And why have such a great ensemble of comic talent like Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell if you’re going to hog the entire picture for yourself?
The main gripe I have with this picture is personal: It never fails that when a comic performer is successful, they suddenly think they can WRITE. So instead of seeking out or giving the gig to original material written by a refreshingly new or experienced comic screenwriters (hint hint) who have carefully woven something with great structure and sustaining twists and turns for a comic star, they hog all the action and the money. They just sit in a room with their buddies and make it up as they go along (you too, Seth Rogan). And it shows. There’s just no way to sustain two hours of Will Ferrell mugging. Never mind that no comedy should exceed ninety minutes or risk wearing out its welcome, period. No comedy sequel should be made built on something other than a finished and polished script before cameras roll. If you want to self-indulgently or metaphorically masturbate on film, don’t assume we want to watch. Jokes only work in service of a good story, not the other way around.
Here’s the perfect film to cleanse the palate. Real characters you actually care about. I love the odd couple combination of a cynical younger atheist writer and a remarkably accepting and gracious elderly woman who has infinitely more reason to be an atheist or cynical, but sticks to her faith instead.
How do they affect each other when joining up to search for a son she felt she had no choice to give up more than 50 years ago? I heard the real Philomena interviewed on NPR talking about the scene where she last saw the son she raised until 3 years old looking out the back window of the car as it was driving away forever. How could she ever get over that? How could she ever forgive herself? Or others who forced her hand? And how can you miss Dame Judith Dench fully inhabiting the role of Philomena to show you just how movingly she did. You will never forget, either.
– A. Wayne Carter
The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.
Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.
And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.
I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). At some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.
There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.
We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. They don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.
When I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.
The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.
Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. And that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.
One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.
– A. Wayne Carter
(Revisit this oldie but goodie – the kid’s now 16! – or check out the archive while I commit my beleaguered brain cells to finishing a thriller feature screenplay in the next few weeks. )
Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette. And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Citizen Kane. The Third Man. The Maltese Falcon. Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white. Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.
Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho. The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.
Especially for horror.
I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.
A few years ago, when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.
Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Saturday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next week to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.
So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.
I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”
I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?
I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.
He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.
That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.
An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.
It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.
I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.
And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course). I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.
But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.
– A. Wayne Carter
John Frankenheimer’s cult masterpiece “Seconds” just came out on Criterion Blu-ray and it’s even more disturbing than when it was released almost 50 years ago in 1966. Especially if you’re close to the age of the picture itself.
I remember seeing this picture on television probably around the time I was in college because the first screenplay I ever wrote for a film course was heavily influenced by it.
But first, the plot. A bored, middle-aged Wall Street banker, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), is slipped a business address on a piece of paper before boarding a commuter train at Penn Station for his Scarsdale home. His job is numbingly dull, his marriage is devoid of any passion, his daughter is gone off on her own life, and his life is… lifeless. A call from someone claiming to be a close friend from the past eggs him on to go to the address, but how does this complete stranger’s voice know so much about him?
Curiosity piqued, he goes to the address; a cleaners, where he’s shuffled into the back of a truck and taken to a meat-packing plant, and then to a secret business location. It’s revealed this company offers life do-overs or “seconds” to high-paying customers. They substitute a corpse for your ‘untimely death’ in a fire or car crash, perform complete reconstructive plastic surgery and physical conditioning, and then set you up in a completely new life direction that you may have always regretted not pursuing.
And, just to make sure you keep your mouth shut about a business that requires secrecy (and as a surefire deal closer) they drug you and shoot staged blackmail footage of you in a compromising or criminal situation.
A gruesome operation, grueling physical therapy, dyed hair, and months later you come out looking like Rock Hudson, are a successful but unknown painter, and live in a house on the beach in Malibu among the hedonistic and hard-partying California set. What’s not to like? You’ve had your ‘seconds.’
But, of course, no one changed your brain or your mind or the way you think, and you are haunted by your former life, and these new ‘friends’ seem just as phony as you are, and when you get overly drunk at a party and start blabbing information about your former life, those new ‘friends’ are not so friendly because your loose tongue is jeopardizing all of their ‘second’ chances.
And when you go AWOL back to your old town and try to see the woman you were married to for 20 years who has no way of recognizing you, but painfully reveals the depressing truths of a passionless relationship to a veritable stranger, it’s like being a witness to your own worst funeral. What happens next when Arthur decides he wants a ‘third’ chance completes the ultimate horror.
It’s a shockingly powerful and apocryphal tale that completely subverts what so many people bored with their lives think would happen if they had a second chance. The black & white photography, framing and camerawork by Oscar winner James Wong Howe are bizarrely unnerving, and the ending is as disturbing as anything you will ever see in film.
I don’t know why this film resonated so powerfully and horrifyingly to me as a kid. I think it must have been shocking for a suburban kid to see the main character who had everything we were taught in America to cherish; plenty of money, a nice family, and a beautiful home in the suburbs… be so desperately empty. And even when he gets a second chance with a new face and as a painter, he’s still stuck suddenly longing for his old life. Maybe it’s the ultimate ‘grass is always greener’ story, that is revealed as an inevitable nightmare.
The first screenplay I ever wrote (at 18) influenced by this tale was called “Pay the Devil His Do,” about a bored school teacher with disrespectful students, who makes a deal with the Devil. In a twist, the Devil is a Calvinist, who believes in predestination, so he doesn’t have to buy souls since you are either pre-destined to go to heaven or hell. But he will commission people to speed up the fate of those who are destined to go to hell. The teacher, ‘Arthur Banks,’ commits one of these deeds, and his wish is to go on live national television and give a speech that shakes the rafters and wakes everyone up and tries to stir their souls into more passionate living. It’s the typically amateurish and overly philosophical tale every first-time screenwriter tries (and as a professor of screenwriting, I read hundreds of them). The speech was almost entirely the thrust of Howard Beale’s “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” rant from Paddy Chayefsky’s classic “Network,” though not nearly as beautifully written. It was written a couple years before “Network,” though, and it was inspired by the frustrating horror of “Seconds.”
(Later, in Hollywood, I was commissioned to write a screenplay called “The Donor,” where the brain of a rich old dying guy is transplanted into the body of a young stud basketball player. That one didn’t work out so well, either.)
I guess the obvious moral to these tales is to live the one life you have with all the gusto possible and without any regrets, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. I consider myself lucky I got this heads up message early enough in my own development to boldly go for the ‘artist living and partying in California’ life soon after college. But I feel even luckier that I got that life out of my system first, and ultimately found myself happier back in the quiet comfortable suburbs with a nice family, where Arthur had begun (only he had no real perspective to appreciate it). He also didn’t have the luxury of pursuing alternative lives through the craft of writing and the characters we can create in our heads and in our stories. It’s a hell of a lot safer. And you don’t have to make a deal with the Devil to do it.
– A. Wayne Carter