Five Greatest Films about the Theater

The Five Greatest of Something: an occasional entry when I don’t have anything else to report and just want to put something on line. The five greatest films about the legitimate stage:

All About Eve
Children of Paradise
The Producers
The Bandwagon


I spent much of last week at the COL-COA film festival (which I keep wanting to call the Coca-Cola fim festival). I saw four of the new ones:

Baby Love is a sweet, charming and enjoyable dramedy about a gay man, played by heart throb Lambert Wilson, who wants a baby, but constantly runs into problems getting his wish. The two biggest obstacles are a boyfriend, played by equally heart throbbing Pascal Elbé (who seems to have only one suit and wear only one color, though in his defense he looks great in the suit and in that color), who doesn’t want a baby and moves out over the issue. And French law that makes it illegal for gays to adopt. Who would have thought that the French are actually behind the U.S. in some areas of the culture wars (it also seems to be illegal or there are restrictions on inseminating surrogates). One reviewer has suggested that a U.S. remake may be in the future, and that may be true, but as entertaining as Baby Love is, it feels like it’s been so over done over here that we’re now dealing with the issues of not how to get them, but how to raise them (see, for example, Breakfast with Scott). But don’t let that stop you from seeing this one. The empathetic screenplay is by Vincent Gareq, who also directed.

Secrets of State is an espionage thriller revolving around the DGSE, or the French CIA. It’s a convoluted story about Middle Eastern terrorists that never makes much sense with an ending that’s just plain silly. It’s directed by Phillipe Haim in the “hey, look at me, I’m a director and you’re not” style. He also wrote it along with Nathalie Carter and Julien Sibony. The director stated that it’s the result of three years research, and that may be so, but the research seems to have focused more on movies about espionage rather than the DGSE itself. The film also states that the DGSE has prevented numerous attacks (I can’t remember the exact number) like the one presented here. That may also be so, but you’d never know how considering the ineptness of the agents used here. Fortunate for them and for France, the terrorists apparently watched the same movies the director and writers did in making their plans. There is one bright note: though it’s against the law for gays to adopt in France, according to this movie, the DGSE has a program in existence to recruit gay men: of course, they have to have sex with someone like Nicolas Duvauchelle first, but it’s a sacrifice most gay men would be willing to make.

Final Arrangements is a comedy about the funeral business (which seems a tad redundant). It’s never anymore than all right and it has its moments, mainly in Didier Bourdon, very, very funny as a parlor owner who wants to become head of regional sales in Paris. Unfortunately, his plans are stymied when the head office hires Marc-André Grondin instead and sends him to Bourdon to learn the business (see Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way). The story, (screenplay by Sylvia Danton and Michel Delgado—who also directed) is all over the place and it never really comes together satisfactorily.

OSS 117 Rio was the best of the four new films I saw. The central character, played with a lot of teeth by Jean Dujardin, is the French version of Maxwell Smart, though without as many pratfalls, but with the personality of Archie Bunker, a bigoted, misogynistic idiot, though he doesn’t know it. The plot revolves around French collaborators during WWII and a Nazi still alive in Brazil. The director, Michel Hazanavicius, keeps things going at a good pace and does some fun things with split screens. The screenplay by Jean-Francois Halin and Hazanavicius, is even funnier and the satire is sharper than the original, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. It all ends with a very clever homage to both Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Vertigo atop Rio’s statue of Christ.

RIP Jack Cardiff, Ken Annakin, Beatrice Arthur

Jack Cardiff, groundbreaking color cinematographer of such films as A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes (all must sees), as well as the director of the black and white Sons and Lovers.

Ken Annakin, director or co-director of such popular films as The Great Race (Academy Award nom for co-writing the screenplay), The Battle of the Bulge and The Longest Day.

Beatrice Arthur: Maude Findlay, Dorothy Zbornak and Vera Charles. Need one say more?

Movie Reviews of Adventureland and Sleep Dealer

Adventureland is one of those movies that breaks one of the key rules found in books and classes on screenwriting. The hero is a passive character. James (played winningly, as usual, by Jesse Eisenberg) is someone whose active goal (a summer in Europe followed by enrollment in an Ivy League college) is nullified when his parents have an economic crisis. He then becomes like the hero Ulysses, except that while Ulysses is trying to get from geographical point A to geographical point B, James is trying to get from temporal Point A to temporal Point B (the beginning of summer to the beginning of fall). While he does this, he passes his time working at a somewhat pathetic and unamusing amusement park (made all the more pathetic because the owners and workers know exactly how pathetic it is) and reacts to everything going on around him while learning all sorts of life lessons usually found in movies like this such as Summer of ’42, Red Sky at Morning and the more recent The Mysteries of Pittsburg (coincidentally all are about centrals character losing their virginity, though in Mysteries… it’s about losing one’s virginity to man). Adventureland is a very good and enjoyable movie. It may fall a tad short due to a slightly uneven tone and the obviousness of the life lessons learned, but the characters are so rich and shrewdly drawn and the whole thing is just so damned entertaining, that one can do little but wax nostalgic for that same summer in one’s life when one learned all the life lessons that other guy claimed to have learned in kindergarten. The empathetic and intelligent screenplay is by the director Gregg Mottola.
Sleep Dealer is a clever and exciting sci-fi movie that like most sci-fi movies and books is not about the future but is a metaphor for the present. In this case, it’s America’s treatment of illegal immigrants and the recent trend in outsourcing jobs, with water shortage thrown in. In Sleep Dealer, all those jobs that many people claim no one in America wants are still done by foreigners. But here the workers have nodes implanted in their bodies so they can hook up directly to computers and the internet and do their work (build buildings, drive taxis, nanny) via robots, while staying on their side of the Rio Grande. The factories where the workers hook up are just futurized sweatshops. The able actors are ably supported by the attention to detail paid as to how such a situation would work. In the end, as in many sci-fi movies like this (Bladerunner, 2001: A Space Odyssey) the human condition triumphs over the non-human or mechanical. The smart screenplay is by Alex Rivera (who also directed) and David Riker.


J.G. Ballard, author of the books that served as the basis for the movies Empire of the Sun (adapted by Tom Stoppard; directed by Steven Spielburg) and and the 1996 Crash (adapted by the director David Cronenburg) has died. An adaptation of his novel High Rise is in pre-production.

Check out the article below at the L.A. Times for an appreciation:

RECOMMENDED READING: What Happens Next, Live Fast Die Young and The Red and the Blacklist

Three books that I recommend reading:

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, A History of American Screenwriting by Marc (Shakespeare in Love) Norman. Perhaps one of the most important books on screenwriting written recently. It traces how writers worked, created screenplays, how they were treated, etc. from the beginning to the present. One of the most important ideas here is that the traditional structure for screenplays (three acts with a central character undergoing a character arc journey) is not the most popular because it’s inherently the best. In the beginning the studios needed product and needed an assembly line in the same way that Ford produced cars. The structure most often used now came about because it was the easiest for the studio to use; it was the easiest to teach; it was the easiest to fix; and it was the easiest for multiple writers to come in and work on a script piecemeal.

LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, all about the making of that seminal movie. For screenwriters, it is very detailed about how the script developed (mainly by Stewart Stern) and how at one time Nicholas Ray, the director, tried to get credit for co-writing the screenplay (unwarranted) and how he claimed to come up with ideas that he didn’t. So often directors think they are the real writers of a screenplay.

THE RED AND THE BLACK LIST, The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, an autobiography of Norma Barzman, wife of writer Ben (Back to Bataan, El Cid) Barzman and a writer in her own right (The Locket). It’s a fascinating look at how writers survived the blacklist (for Ben, very well) and how wives were often treated by studios and their husbands when they tried to be creative (not so very well).

In the news 4/17/09

The 67 Most Influential Movies of All Times

An excellent compilation and justification. It’s hard to argue with his selctions, though he makes a few mistakes. He leaves out The Rules of the Game, The 400 Blows, L’Aventura and Bonnie and Clyde. He includes Meet Me In St. Louis, which seems highly questionable. He also has a penchant for including horror films whose influence may not be as “of all times” as the author might think.

A web site for TV pilots, made and unmade

Now you can find out why shows like Untitled Zombie Project and Depressed Roommates didn’t make it.

And now the ten most influential films in the last ten years:

It doesn’t show anywhere near the imagination of the first entry above and it probably should be called the ten most influential films in the U.S.A. It sounds like this author has never seen a foreign film in his life and has never heard of Pedro Almodovar or Michael Haneke.

Items in the News

Maxine Cooper who played Mickey Spillane’s Secretary in the over the top film noir Kiss Me Deadly (the one that ends with the atomic explosion) passes away at 84. Though my biggest memory of the movie is Cloris Leachman running down the road in nothing but a trench coat.


French writer Maurice Druon passes away

Sir Clement Freud passes away

In the News

Director Lee (Hells Angels ’69) Madden passes away

Screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald suing Mel Gibson over Passion of the Christ money

UTA Signs Writer Michael Chablon from CAA

Simon Channing Williams, Mike Leigh’s producer and partner, passes away

Review of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburg is one of those formulaic movies in which a central character goes on a journey and has a character arc change by the end of act three; the gimmick the author uses this time round is bi-sexuality. The movie has some nice things about it, especially in the performance of Nick Nolte (always good to have around) and Peter Sarsgaard (ditto), but it’s also one of those movies where one knows instantly when it all starts going wrong. In this film it’s when the hero (played by Jon Foster) and Sarsgaard take a trip to a house in the country. They can’t get in the house and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why they went in the first place. The movie might have recovered from that, but then the plot makes it’s really fatal error: it starts raining and it looks like Foster and Sarsgaard are going to, you know…do it—but they are interrupted. Because of this, the author no longer has enough time to develop this relationship so that the ending lacks the emotional resonance it needs to work (for someone using bi-sexuality as a gimmick, the author feels rather ashamed of it). Mena Suvari and Sienna Miller play the obligator women in the hero’s lives. Suvari (in a poorly written role) is dark haired which means she’s only good to fuck. Miller plays the blonde, which means the hero is compelled to fall in love with her (see also Two Lovers and The Heartbreak Kid). Written by Rawson Marshall Thurber (who also directed) based on the book by Michael Chabon.