Thursday, 26 January 2012

Script Editor VIII: 10 Forgotten Mainstream Film Treats

This week our learned script editor revisits 10 fine mainstream films who, for various reasons, underperformed on initial release, but are well worth revisiting...

1. Breakdown (1997)

Kurt Russell plays a city slicker holidaying with his wife who, following a car breakdown, unwisely accepts a lift from a stranger.

2. Return to Oz (1985)

Yes there’s a sequel – and it’s better than you would expect. Far more sinister than its predecessor, here junior goth Fairuza Balk takes over the role of Dorothy. Rest assured there’s no singing.

3. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

A deeply troubled film and all the more powerful for it. The seed of inspiration came from Stanley Kubrick but the film was directed by Spielberg. The tense combination of these distinct imaginations makes for a rattled, mysterious film, one of enchantment and dreadful suffering.

4. One True Thing (1998)

Although chiefly remembered as another golden bead on the necklace of Meryl Streep’s Oscar nominations, this is a far more subtle and entertaining film than its lachrymose synopsis might suggest. Streep plays a mother struggling with both a cancer diagnosis and the animosity between her husband and her daughter.

5. The Village (2004)

Seriously. It may have been the first of director M Night Shyamalan’s films to give rise to the feeling that audiences were tiring of his jack-in-the-box storytelling but The Village is a far more insinuating, atmospheric film than is often credited.

6. Excalibur (1981)

Prior to TV’s recent series Camelot, nothing really competed with John Boorman’s film for its exploitation of the lurid in the mystical – or perhaps it’s the mystical in the lurid; either way Helen Mirren acts up a storm as wicked witch Morgana.

7. The Hunger (1983)

Although almost exhaustingly modish this remains one of the most electrifying cinema explorations of the vampire myth. Featuring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as the gilded immortals and Susan Sarandon as their quick-witted prey, the film has a clotted style and a flimsy plot. It couldn’t be more entertaining.

8. Femme Fatale (2002)

If you detest Brian De Palma give this a miss. The film could be a montage of – or homage to – his obsessions and quirks. Rebecca Romijn steals some diamonds in the most flagrant of thefts and then betrays her fellow cons. A last-second identity swap is threatened by Antonio Banderas’ leisurely paparazzo. Compellingly silly.

9. Alien 3 (1993)

True, this entry into the Alien canon has its enthusiasts – more than can be said of Alien: Resurrection – but it deserves a larger cult. Ripley is now almost too careworn to fight and the atmosphere is doom-laden. What better starting place for David Fincher’s feature film career?

10. The American (2010)

Only released in 2010, this Euro-thriller starring George Clooney already seems in danger of fading from view. Staccato dialogue, a pretty but lived-in Italian town and a plot which uncoils like a serpent makes this a small masterpiece of intensity.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Script Editor VII - 10 Films You've Never Heard of Featuring Great Scripts...

On the script editor blog today: 10 Films You've Never Heard of Featuring Great Scripts (and why you should know about them...)

1. The Queen of Spades

Although director Thorold Dickinson deserves his share of the credit for the film’s magnificently eerie atmosphere, the script – by Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys – masterfully adapts a Pushkin short story about gambling and the supernatural in 19th century Russia.

2. The Reckless Moment

Remade quite well as The Deep End in 2001, starring Tilda Swinton, the original is directed with characteristic elegance by Max Ophuls. The script work is equally skilled, Henry Garson and RW Soderborg expertly capturing the brittle dynamic between a mother (Joan Bennett) and her troubled daughter (Geraldine Brooks).

3. Wetherby

Although written – and directed – by England’s leading playwright, Wetherby remains little seen. David Hare develops this sombre but engaging film around a woman’s twinned experience of memory and regret, moving between the past and the present in the life of a lonely but resilient school teacher (Vanessa Redgrave).

4. Carrington

Another directorial debut by a famous playwright, Christopher Hampton’s script is probably superior to his handling of the actual film. An interesting film nonetheless, this uncharacteristically acidic period piece concerns the unlikely affair between two members of the famous Bloomsbury group: Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and Lytton Strachey (Jonathon Pryce).

5. Providence

Alain Resnais is a director as famed for his very particular visual style as he is for his collaborations with literary luminaries, in this case playwright David Mercer. In the film, a writer (John Gielgud), drunk and sickly, begins one night to write a novel in which reality and fiction are mashed together. The film is a struggle to describe and would be harder still without David Mercer’s tight structuring and bracing wit.

6. Nixon

The triple taboo: a presidential biopic, an, unavoidably, political film and a film written and directed by Oliver Stone. It’s also over three hours. That it works at all is testament not just to Stone’s extraordinary, sometimes overwhelming, resourcefulness as a director but also his screenplay which is both a compendious – if sometimes inaccurate – history as well as a pungent depiction of failure and humiliation.

7. The Servant

Harold Pinter’s script was based on a trashy novel by Robin Maugham, the film was directed by Joseph Losey and the result is one of the most convincingly malicious films made in this country. Metropolitan toff Tony (James Fox) finds his life increasingly dominated by his manservant (Dirk Bogarde, chilling). Some of it looks like dated melodrama but Pinter’s writing gives it an edge of real sordidness.

8. Radio Days

Hard to pick one forgotten Woody Allen comedy – some of his neglected ‘serious films’ are worth a look too – but this joyous tribute to wartime radio shows is wonderfully loose and heartfelt. Woody is absent from the action but he narrates, as the film skips between a family of Jewish neurotics and the various radio stars their youngest son cherishes. It feels almost free-form but that’s because Allen is so perfectly in control.

9. The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman was famously a director who encouraged improvisation and The Long Goodbye – adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel – is a perfect example of improvisation enhancing a film’s mood. How much of Leigh Brackett’s script remains in the finished film is uncertain but equally uncertain is how much Elliot Gould’s jazz-rhythm lead performance was an intended counter-riff on Barret’s original characterisation.

10. Bad Timing

The title is misleading: it’s a struggle to believe there was ever a good moment to intrude on the curdled love affair between Alex (Art Garfunkel) and Milena (Theresa Russell). This is a film of almost surgical unhappiness but whilst director Nic Roeg occasionally shows a clinician’s too-cool professionalism, writer Yale Udoff ensures the characters pulse with yearning and disappointment.