30-second FILM REVIEWS
Zero Dark Thirty is a brutish and brutal satire promulgated by two-dimensional characters under cover of sentimentality, armed with values that haven’t been paid for and an obsession to job function and “the American Way” that renders them morally and emotionally impotent with ever-diminishing opportunities to provoke even the slightest amount of empathy or concern in anyone - I suspect - other than those that already count themselves among “the blessed”, that find in their own patriotic fervor an appetite for pornography suitably camouflaged as an equivocating - albeit necessary - piece of American propaganda.
DOG DAY AFTERNOON: A TRIBUTE TO FRANK PIERSON
- Frank Pierson, on writing the screenplay for Dog Day Afternoon (from Oscar-Winning Screenwriters on Screenwriting by Joel Engel)
The performances developed by an ensemble of New York actors - Al Pacino, Chris Sarandon, John Cazale, Carol Kane, Charles Durning - were authentic and true to character. The director, Sidney Lumet, was smart and respectful enough to allowed the script and the performances to speak for themselves, and to allow the actors substantial rehearsal time.
And screenwriter Frank Pierson decided from the onset, that he would not build the screenplay around the failed bank robbery on which the film was based, but rather around "the character who tried to pull it off and the other people in his world."
Pierson said he intended for the viewer to continue to learn more about the main character, Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), and those around him as the story unfolded - "like peeling back onion layers".
Thus, the focus of the screenplay shifted from plot to the nature of Sonny, his relationship with his "wife" Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon), as well as Sonny's relationship with the hostages in the bank - how they gradually lose their fear of him and start to identify with him during his escalating battle with the police. Though in the end, when Sonny and his accomplice, Sal (John Cazale) arrive at the airport and the police make their move, everyone deserts him and Sonny finds himself completely alone.
With the journey of the main character and the concept of "peeling the layers" of his characters in mind, Pierson sought to knuckle out the chronology of events - some real, some imagined, which did not necessarily pertain to the reality of the true story
It is possible that had Pierson remained true to "real life events" and had centered the characters around them - as oppose to vise versa, that I might not be writing this tribute today. Nevertheless, the writer gives much of the script's credit to director, Sidney Lumet, stating that the script benefited tremendously from having Lumet at the helm, "because Sidney likes to have a lot of rehearsal before shooting, almost as though staging a play."
Pierson described Lumet as one of the rare movie directors who knew "how to really userehearsal time". Not merely to work out staging, but as an opportunity for improvisation, to explore character.
According to Pierson, the collaboration with Lumet went as follows: Lumet had the actors improvise off the script all the way through rehearsals, Pierson went off to another job, returned after a week or so to see what insights they had stumbled upon, and added orsubtracted the necessary material.
It carried on more or less like so until one day when in Hollywood, Pierson received a call from a panic-stricken Lumet: "Get on a plane and come to New York!"
Pierson arrived on set, mentally-prepared for major dialogue or scene changes. But that not the case. Things were a lot worse. Al Pacino was ready to quit.
He couldn't bring himself to play Sonny the way Pierson had written him.
The project had started off with the studio's - Warner Brother's - working title of "Boys in the Bank", based on the Life Magazine article, The Boys in the Bank, about the robbery of the Chase Manhattan Bank that took place in Brooklyn on August 22, 1972.
John Wojtowicz (who in the article is described to have "the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or a Dustin Hoffman"), along with accomplices, Salvatore Naturile and Robert Westenberg, had attempted to rob the bank and had held seven employees hostage for 14 hours.
Wojtowicz had had a failed first marriage to Carmen Bifulco, a typist at Chase Manhattan Bank. His second was less conventional. Wojtowicz had been married to Ernest Aron. However, their marriage ended 4 months later when Aron left him in pursuit of a sex-change operation.
John Wojtowicz/Al Pacino
According to the article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore, "These must have been the worst weeks in John Wojtowicz's life. The quiet normality of his first marriage was far behind him. The precarious second life he'd built around his liaison with Ernest Aron was a shambles. Deserted, low on cash, convinced that certain "lumps" in his intestines were growing into a terminal cancer, Wo- jtowicz groped for one master stroke which would provide for his wife and kids, regain the esteem of Ernest Aron, and enable him to spend whatever time he had left living, as he had always wanted to live, "high on the hog."
Back to Al Pacino who was ready to quit the movie.
Pierson confesses that original drafts of Dog Day Afternoon focussed more on the hilarious nature of Leon, Chris Sarandon's character and Al Pacino's character's "wife" in the movie. Leon in real life was, according to Pierson, "one of those drag queens who can't offer you a glass of water without putting such an obscene sexual spin on it that it makes you fall down laughing."
It was this humor and overt sexuality that Pierson had sprinkled into his script. It was this humor that Pacino was particular uncomfortable with. Also, there was a scene inside the bank where Sonny kisses Leon and the two share a few sexual jokes about their relationship.
Pacino's terms were clear and non-negotiable.
"The kiss is out, and there can't be any jokes about their relationship. And furthermore, I won't appear in the same frame with Leon."
In other words, Pierson had to completely re-think his story and not to mention, his script. And as far as Sonny and Leon went, the only time they could share a scene was over the telephone.
It was about at this time when Pierson and Lumet decided it was time to send the script to Pacino's adversary, Dustin Hoffman. At which point, Pacino took Pierson aside and asked him, "How often in the course of a serious relationship... where the two people who've discovered they can't go on together anymore and are going to have to say good-bye forever - how often does sex come into it?" Pierson's reply: "Never".
Pacino continued. Why couldn't they leave the sex jokes out and treat it "as a story about two people who love each other and can't find a way to live with each other?"
To which Pierson responded, "Damn! Why in the hell didn't you say that three months ago...?"
Once Pierson realized that Pacino was right, he set out to dismantle the screenplay, "take everything out and stitch it back together again." What seemed initially like a mammoth rewrite, took a mere 4 hours.
The hardest part came however, when it was time for Pierson to illustrate Sonny and Leon's relationship through two phone calls.
This is how he did it.
First, Pierson, wrote two long monologues - one for Sonny, one for Leon. Then he took the monologues to rehearsal where Lumet dismissed everyone but Pacino and Sarandon. As the two actors began improvising off their monologues, Pierson started to tape them. Nearly an hour later, the rehearsal was over and Pierson and Lumet got 12 people to transcribe it. And from the transcribe, Pierson pieced together a conversation between two ill-fated lovers which was then halved to form two telephone conversations.
Pierson describes this moment as the point in screenwriting where everyone is more or less satisfied, until you discover something else that was there all along, which makes you sit up and say, "Wait a second, there's more here".
Pierson stated that the original script would have been funnier, much more camp, "like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", and probably a commercial success. Though he also admits, "It would not have had the timelessness that it does now, because it would've been more shallow and it would probably be considered homophobic."
Dog Day Afternoon received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its first release. Film critic, Christopher Null, has described the film as one that "captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom."
Frank Pierson would go on to receive an Oscar for his screenplay. But was always quick to acknowledge the role that his director and leading actor played in the development of the script.
"I'm grateful to both Sidney and Al," he said."We had that time to rehearse, which gave Sidney and Al and everybody time to come to grips with what they saw taking form."
"And because of that, we had the opportunity to fix a weakness in the script - a weakness that would have shown when it was projected forty feet high."
Frank Pierson, received an Academy Award nomination for his first screenplay, the western lampoon "Cat Ballou", another Oscar nod for his script of “Cool Hand Luke” and the Oscar for “Dog Day Afternoon." Most recently he worked as consulting producer and writer for TV series "Mad Men" and "The Good Wife." His career as Screenwriter spanned 5 decades. He also served as president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Frank Pierson died July 22 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 87.
Pixar’s Best Film of the Year Is Just 7 Minutes Long
I did not want to watch Disney/Pixar’s Brave. Not on my one day off, which in the midst of a particularly cold winter happened to be exceptionally warm and sunny.
I did not want to watch Brave. Not in 3D or any dimension for that matter. But my daughter managed to drag me in there anyway.
You see, like millions of her generation, she is quite the Pixar junkie. Her earliest big screen memories after all, consist of Nemo’s father, Marlin, and Dory finding their way through the ocean to “P.Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney Australia” and Boo in her little monster suit, shouting, “Mike Waszowski!”.
The feature was, as expected, mediocre to say the least (See "Brave: A Film That Fails To Fulfill Its Name". What was unexpected was the little gem of a short that preceded it. An enchanting and original creation called La Luna.
A script and directorial debut for storyboard artist, Enrico Casarosa (Up, Ratatouille, Ice Age), La Luna served a refreshing change from Pixar’s last two shorts - Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation and Toy Story Toons: Small Fry, tired off-shoots of a pre-existing franchise.
Filled with wonder and enchantment, La Luna opens on a young boy, Bambino, who along with his Papa and Nonno, make their way on a small rowboat through a dark empty horizon. Papa and Nonno are involved in the most unusual business of sweeping the moon, and Bambino accompanies them for the very first time.
As they drift towards a towering majesty that is the full moon, it is clear that Papa and Nonno have different ideas on how to carry on with family tradition, each trying to impose their own method onto the little boy. What they do not count on is the boy’s own initiative in figuring out his own style, and ultimately his identity.
Virtually devoid of dialogue, save for a few smatterings of what we assume to be Italian, La Luna, is animated storytelling in its truest form.
Unlike its accompanying feature, the short maximizes the use of 3D animation to illustrate the journey of Bambino’s coming of age. From the reflection of the characters and the moon in the water, to the shimmering intrigue of stars, the 3D animation serves to tell the story and not the other way round.
In 7 minutes, La Luna does what its proceeding feature fails to do. It tells with deceiving effortlessness, a memorable and engaging tale of family, self-discovery and pure magic.
- Karen Quah
Written and Directed by Miro Bilbrough
The New Zealand-born, Australian-based filmmaker and published poet Miro Bilbrough has taken a while to work up to her debut feature. She won admirers with her appealingly poetic 1995 debut short, Urn, and again with her short dramas Bartleby (adapted from a Herman Melville story) and 2003’s Floodhouse. The latter, at roughly an hour, almost a feature, looked at a teenage girl in a rainforest feral community. Her sadly disappointing full-length feature debut, Being Venice, could be about the same girl several years later. The title has nothing to do with the Italian city but is the name of the protagonist (a rather one-note Alice McConnell), a young woman who lives in a spacious one-room flat above an old Sydney pub and describes herself as a poet – though she never seems to do much writing bar scribbling the odd line onto post-it stickers.
... Being Venice is a clear case of a film that would have almost certainly have benefited from a close collaboration between its director and an experienced screenwriter. Its flaws are basic ones that might easily have been avoided. Viz. there is no inciting incident worthy of the name. The action is largely inconsequential or trivial. Random incidents, such as Venice diving and hitting her head on a rock, are thrown into the script for pure convenience instead of arising from the dramatic situation.
Read the complete review at http://www.sbs.com.au/films/movie/13927/being-venice
"The debut feature film from New Zealand born poet, art critic and former film journalist Miro Bilbrough, Being Venice is a major disappointment. Venice Ford (Alice McConnell) is a poet and aspiring writer who lives in a poky flat above a hotel on the outskirts of Sydney. Her love life is a little erratic. Then her estranged father Arthur (Garry McDonald) arrives for a stay while he teaches a writing course at a nearby school. Soon unspoken resentments from the past come to the surface. But audiences expecting some powerful or revealing emotional catharsis will find that little actually happens in this drama about a troubled young woman’s life and her choices... Bilbrough, who has made a couple of well received short films, needed a more objective script editor to help shape the story and make it stronger." Read the full review at http://www.filmreviews.net.au/2012/08/melbourne-international-film-festival-2012/
It's annoying when a movie shows just enough flashes of brilliance to make you like it, while still displaying just enough unoriginality, cliche and predictability to make you angry. Such is the case in Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers. If ever there were a horror movie that starts out strongly and slowly loses steam before limping to a pointlessly abrupt finale, this is it.Jeepers Creepers has a very promising opening (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7uiQdfppCA&list=LPYb_GIboBivM&index=5&feature=plcp ). Two sassy siblings - played by Gina Philips and Justin Long - are driving home from college. They take the scenic route through the vast emptiness of middle America, and along the way witness some suspicious things. But then, around page 15 the wheels start falling off the story and the whole thing comes to a grinding,,, well, no, "grinding" is far too dramatic a word to be used in the same breath with one of the most disappointing scripts ever to be made into a movie.
So what went wrong?
Philips and Long are presented early on as pretty reasonable, intelligent, and keenly aware of horror movie cliches. However, once they are in the thick of the horror, they seem to forget everything, and their characters stand around waiting to get killed. This aggravates me to no end. Why make a point of having your characters talk about what not to do in horror situations and then let them do it anyway? Instead of being done like satire, it just feels lame.
What about the Creeper? What is he? What does he want? What's his story? Don't expect a single answer. Not even good speculation. Fooey! He dresses like a gunslinger, drives a freaky truck with a freakier horn, eats tongues and other assorted body parts, and has wings. Did writer Victor Salva throw a bunch of horror elements in a hat and play "construct a creature"? The only thing missing was lame one-liners right after each kill (thank God).
It's all right to have a mysterious bad-guy/monster, but throw the audience a bone or two. If you aren't going to attempt an explanation, at least provide a character that might know something. The best Jeepers Creepers can do is a frumpy psychic woman that no one (not even Salva) takes seriously.
One more thing... Why exactly does the local police department here in "Middle-o-Nowhere, USA" have more cops than the one in Terminator? If it had anything to do with the Creeper or the plot, no mention of it was made.
So what to do?
It's best to start with the creature. Figure out what he is and why...even if you don't share that information with the audience. Maybe Salva did this, but there's certainly no evidence of it. Drop a few clues. Sure, this is supposed to be a franchise, but why save the explanations for parts 2, 3, 4, and 5? All he did here was provide a set-up where the Creeper only strikes out in search of things to eat every 23 years. What??? That's worse than The Beast Within (boy turns into cicada after 17 years of percolating). Let the characters stay smart. Intelligent characters in a horror film are so refreshing. People watching these movies hate to see characters do things that make no sense. When the situation calls for running, the characters should run. Who is gonna stand around waiting to see what the mysterious creature will do next? A creature as indestructible as the Creeper, that's apparently been around for decades, would not find himself in a thriving community of oblivious people. Yes, the area was remote, but there were plenty of residents at the diner, and of course, a whole squad of cops at the station. This many people would know about the Creeper. In fact, if they hadn't already flown the coop, they probably would worship it. This provides you with characters that might know a little about the Creeper, and what he's after. The psychic was wasted. She should have been a more powerful and intriguing character. She could have been the one person that does know all about the Creeper, but maybe she's afraid to say too much. Or, she's the only person that doesn't worship the thing, and wants to save the main characters.
There are already plenty of horror franchises that have bad guys that keep coming back for more. Jeepers Creepers could have been something very fresh and new, but couldn't make up its mind what it was. You can't conjure an entire horror movie from one old song. Didn't they ever see Sleepwalkers?
BTW, those of you that might be interested in the inspiration for this film, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-pmaY2j8w0
Beyond The Square is Riverside Theatre's dedicated performing arts program for people with disability. The program is interested in developing people as artists and providing rigorous skills based training alongside professional artists to further develop their skills in music, film making, performance and theatre making.
For information about this, visit www.BeyondTheSquare.org