R.I.P., Syd Field


Syd Field

Yesterday, ‘screenwriting guru’ Syd Field died at 77, of hemolytic anemia. The closest I ever came to really knowing Mr. Field was by following his Twitter account, which I really enjoyed, for his sharing of space-related news and his use of things like ‘r’ and ‘u’ (are, you), but of course I and everyone understand his great legacy in essentially defining modern screenwriting. His book Screenplay is a must-read, and for me it literally was, in a class taken here last semester at Fitchburg State.

In terms of his work, one of the things I most appreciate about his approach was the wide range of films he’ll reference — pulling critical lessons from everything from award-darling American Beauty to fan-favorite The Matrix. As a film audience we are structured in a way to perceive film within certain paradigms, as set by critics and the Academy Awards, that some movies are real and some are B-movies, where if you look, almost everything has value to offer. If you’re a screenwriter, you’ve read Screenplay and know this, but for everyone else, it’s a good lesson about judging books by their covers. Field was a teacher, and though this is just one aspect of his work, it’s indicative of his intellectual and passionate approach to film.


“Slow Train Comin”


Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie has been making the rounds in foreign markets, but has yet to pull into the US station, which isn’t exactly what fans are so fussy about. It seems that the Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton starrer Snowpiercer has secured distribution here through Harvey Weinstein, who’s notorious for editing those pesky movies with words on the screen down for us Dumbericans. If I wanted to read, I’d get a book on tape, right?

Well, it’s tricky because this movie isn’t even entirely in a foreign language, unlike The Grandmasters, another foreign film to recently befall the so-called “Harvey Scissorhands.” So to help sort out this mess, I turn this over to Joseph Moser, professor of English here at Fitchburg State.

Moser has met and talked with Bong Joon-ho, and characterizes him consistently with his filmic output. “All his movies are very cinematic, and benefit from a theatre experience,” he says, but notes that in particular, Snowpiercer seems fit for the big screen. “It’s a small consolation at this point if, for instance, the director’s cut will be released on DVD, that will be a loss.”

Fans of Bong’s previous movies, for example we have The Host, a fun and oddball comedy/horror, and Memories of Murder, a thought-provoking drama, share this sentiment. But it’s important to keep in mind the reality of the situation, that this artistic filmmaker did after all, take Hollywood money.

It will be unfortunate to get a reduced version of a potentially very good movie, but more concerning about the affair is the variety of larger ramifications.

Foreign filmmakers who cross over into Hollywood and adapt to the system to compromise and make an American movie but maintain their artistic sensibilities are few (Verhoeven), and Moser cites at least one major example of the opposite: Jim Sheridan. “Sheridan makes five really excellent Irish films with Irish and British funding, and then comes to Hollywood and makes this movie about 50 Cent. It’s critically a disaster, and he does better with his second film … but it certainly has compromised his career, crossing over to Hollywood.”

Speaking to a Bong peer, Chan-wook Park (also a producer on Snowpiercer) has succumbed to a similar fate as Sheridan’s, as Stoker didn’t blow up the planet like Oldboy, the whacked-out thriller seeing a remake later this month.

Moser mentioned Steve McQueen, whose 12 Years a Slave was released very recently. He’s an extremely un-Hollywood director who seems to have garnered a certain prestige, the allowance of final cut. “What could happen,” with 12 Years a Slave being a clear lock for Academy Award nominations, “if it ends up winning Best Picture, and/or Best Director for Steve McQueen, it could really vindicate Hollywood in the short term by making it seem like ‘Oh, Hollywood really does value art.”

But Bong Joon-ho, and other foreign filmmakers without the local recognition, without that same prestige, will see their movies delivered in a less-than-satisfactory form, and the bigwigs at the top will have some plausible deniability.

But it’s not all apocalyptic, and snow-covered. “If this is a movie that brings in people to theatres who would not otherwise be interested in Korean cinema at all, I guess there could be a positive side.” Of course, it is still sad that commercial interests outweigh the art of someone like ol’ Bong-o. “He’s someone people will still be watching … thirty, fifty years down the line. You can’t say that for a lot of people.”

It’ll be interesting to see, not only because the movie is an interesting prospect, but for how it might affect our mystical magic realm of Hollwoodland. It would seem the Korean New Wave is piercing its way into US pop culture, which also means we could see more remakes of all our favorite hits, especially if Oldboy does well. “It could have been way worse,” Moser said about the personnel behind the upcoming flick. “So we’ll see.”

The Oscar Thief?

The Book what

Look at some of the comments on this New York Times article, this review for Brian Percival’s The Book Thief, the new movie about a historical struggle that might combine an Academy voter’s two greatest loves — dressup, and the haughtiness of historical fiction. In British popular culture this might be called a costume drama, which is certainly what Downton Abbey is (several episodes have been directed by Percival). Not only is this historical drama, it’s also based on a book, which a film must be in order to qualify for existence. This is so clearly Oscar-bait it’s become a cliché, and on these comments I’m pointing to, we see that things are coming to a head.

It breaks down two ways — either you perceive this new movie as an uninspired award-worshiper, and happen to dislike the film, or you’re a fan of the book, and subsequently the film. These two are gonna go at it now, and it’s kind of a perfect storm, because both sides have urgent points to make. One side is making a broader connection to a big problem in Hollywood, and the other is the young adult crowd, filled with adults who might scoff at nerds playing D&D or jocks discussing fantasy football, but love to jaw about The Hunger Games.

And there you have it — everyone on the Internet is cloistered and lacks perspective. Of course, this is obvious, but it’s never not unfortunate. The good news is that this hub-bub is not (apparently) affecting box office returns, as pundits would have it. The film is going steady, even in the face of the mighty hammer. I can’t decide which of those movies I want to see less.


Terminator Again: Rebecoming the Terminator it Never Weren’t

This is my scared Biehn Face

This is my scared Biehn Face


You didn’t even know you wanted more Terminator, but here it is. There’s a few things upsetting about this report from the field The Hollywood Reporter gives us about a Terminator reboot, but first and foremost in my mind is Emilia Clarke screentesting for a young Sarah Connor. Now, I don’t watch Game of Thrones, yet, but I do know that Lena Headey is on that show, and maybe they never shoot scenes together, but it’s weird to me, because Sarah Connor was sort of Headey’s star-making role. I always wonder about that kind of stuff, like would they ever get together and talk about that?

I just want to note how absolutely okay I am with reboots of all my favorite 80s SF movies, The Thing, Total Recall, and now Robocop, ‘cuz the two that’ve come out have been great. Just more of the same, but in one case with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (replacing Kurt Russell despite co-starring in two films with him. I wonder if they ever get together and talk about that?).

The difference between those movies and Terminator is that those movies were dead franchises. Frank Miller saw to Robocop’s demise, and Total Recall and The Thing existed on the fringes of genre fandom as comics and obscure TV shows based on Blade Runner. Terminator is still kind of telling its story, as childish as that sounds for me to say. As done with the actual Terminator narrative we all were after the satisfying conclusion of Part I, and then the again satisfying conclusion of Part II, it was a cash cow, and it was gonna keep going. I was glad we got Terminator Salvation, because that one was leagues over Part III, and not bad.

I guess in the end I do care about this series, though I know how out-of-control it is. This new movie, if it’s a reboot that just wipes everything clean (and not Trek ’09 style), it’s like… such a blemish. Remember “The Final Destination?” That was part 4 of 5. Also the three endings to the Friday the 13th franchise. It’s gonna make Terminator feel so soulless and corporate, like back in the day when T3 was coming out. I remember that too.

Take a note from the creepy critters who remade The Thing and Total Recall. Take a good story, and just do it again. You might say, ‘oh why bother,’ but the amount of modern genre films that are Pacific Rim border on one. You might as well have something you know you’re gonna like, even if it sucks. As I said once before, I’d rather see a movie set in 2019 L.A., than 2013 like I always do.

Behind this Lion’sGate, a Wild Animal

The Hollywood Reporter reports, Hollywoodly, that Lionsgate… is doing fine.

Too fine.


Reading this article I was like, yep, right, big studio, franchises, uh-huh. And then I got to “once known for low-budget horror films and Tyler Perry comedies” and I had to V8 myself — that’s right! Lionsgate! The guys who did Saw and Tyler Perry to offset distribution for actually good but unbelievably niche stuff like Punisher: War Zone and Crank. Yeah, I remember them. Loved those guys.

Seems they’ve come upon this same situation, but on a bigger scale and with less interesting products. Trade Saw for The Hunger Games 2 and Punisher for Ender’s Game and this is Lionsgate 2013. It’s good to know they’re still growing, but a lot of this article is sort of distressing, as is the straightahead point, that over the next three years, 62% of the company’s earnings will come from Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Isn’t Twilight over?

They’re banking on television it seems, but they’ve got a few movies on the horizon that pundits aren’t so sure about, namely this I, Frankenstein slated for next year, which sounds like a somehow more comical version of Frankenstein’s Army, and Divergent, poised to be the next Hunger Games based on… the fact that people like Shailene Woodley. I get the idea that studios don’t always understand YA fandom. Namely that it originates at the books, and The Mortal Instruments is way B-squad, though at least it wasn’t a typical $100 million-er.

I’ll tell you though… what is a $100-millioner.


If Ender’s Game does any business at all, I’ll be as surprised as I was back in 2009. I mean, our whole country is gay these days (though not gamers), and they’ve had plenty practice being angry at things. Card’s only claim-to-fame for non Card fans is possibly his praise of Serenity (2005), which he said was so good that … he also said this:

“Let me put this another way. Those of you who know my work at all know about Ender’s Game. I jealously protected the movie rights to Ender’s Game so that it would not be filmed until it could be done right. I knew what kind of movie it had to be, and I tried to keep it away from directors, writers, and studios who would try to turn it into the kind of movie they think of as “sci-fi.”

He actually comes off sort of charming here.

It would seem that they’ve got it right, those dumbasses over in Hollywoodland who don’t get science-fiction. Which is probably bad news because… when was the last time a real science-fiction movie came out? Sunshine? People liked Moon I guess…

I’m more worried about the studio than the author, who’s made his boatloads already (in the lucrative occupation of writer), but I trust that A) they’ve got a few people who might be smarter than me, the college student, up there crunching numbers and acquiring properties, and B) The Hunger Games 2 is gonna light the damn sky on fire.


Wow Card’s got a lot of good stuff to say in his review here, let’s see what else…

“I can enjoy the first Matrix and see it as a kind of magic sci-fi, but recognize that in the end, it’s all about the mystical quasi-religious ideas and the special effects, and not about human beings at all.”


Further Effects

Variety be saying this much

Variety reports that YouTube is teaming up with a subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation — AwesomnessTV — and NBC Universal’s Universal Cable Productions to produce Side Effects, an hour time-slot-length TV show — but on the Internet?

TV on the Internet may not be crazy these days — how did you watch the first three seasons of Breaking Bad? — but original programming for the web is still a developing medium. It might be the wave of the future, and it may just begin with Side Effects. Of course, YouTube will have to compete with Netflix as a platform, which has the prestige aspect nailed down, thanks to personnel and projects in the manner of Kevin Spacey, Eli Roth,  Jenji Kohan, Arrested Development, etc. Much as we love Felicia Day, her profile doesn’t reach as far as David Fincher, another one of these big-time Hollywood directors indulging in television.

There’s plenty of obstacles we could dream up to stand in this project’s way (BSG had a built-in fanbase, musicals don’t necessarily skate by on TV unless they’re Glee), but it’s more heartwarming to think about the paths this could open up. YouTube is a diverse enough platform that it could do well expanding into this kind of territory, and we’d never worry about it compromising what it — cat videos, as we very, very well know.

From the creative side, there’s never been a better time to be an independent filmmaker — ten years ago. Nowadays, all avenues are opened. The first person to use kickstarter to co-finance, with an actual factual cable company, a YouTube drama series that’s also available on VOD and later Blu-Ray Disc… well, they’ve seemingly won everything already. I’d like to see a great big cocktail of Internet services that take up positions along the development/production throughline.

But how does TV companies getting involved affect all this? If they help to set a standard, imprint a viewing methodology in the audience’s mind for full-length TV online, the indies will follow suit. And then we might see some additional interesting content. That’s a best case scenario though, and a good way to reconcile big business studios with the artistic temperament of broke people.

Three Dimensional Argument


To 3D or not 3D?

Always, we ask this question. Maybe we should’ve went with Roger Ebert, and not Stan Lee, for the “NO!” side, although Ebert was known for being pretty stubborn when it came to things he hadn’t given a fair chance. And Stan Lee isn’t quite Frank Miller, after all, some people I assume still listen to him.

The pro side here is wider than Stan Lee’s arguments, bringing into account history and recent developments in using the technology for artistic purposes, making an actual statement, as with the Martin Scorsese example.

They’re both reaching at the idea that the 3D film, for now, is limited in a number of ways. While Stan Lee calls it straight-up manipulative, the bigger concern is how a 3D film’s shelf-life is predetermined, that once out of the IMAX/RealD theatres, there’s no more 3D. Just like in the old days, before home video. The Huffington Post article doesn’t quite address that issue, but it certainly arises from the positives raised.

Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, and these two blogs are fairly representative of each side: the anti is reactionary and irrational, and the pro is on shaky foundation.


What did you think of Gravity?