Mr. Big and the Writer

The big Hollywood producer looks up from the papers on his desk and recognizes the writer across from him. From behind the producer’s desk, a large painting of Mr. Big smiles down on the two of them. Being new to the Hollywood scene, this is the writer’s first meeting with a Mr. Big. He sits stiff in the chair and hopes this will be his big break.

“Sam?” Mr. Big says. “I can call you Sam?” Without waiting for a response, the producer continues. “Just bought a Broadway hit. Think you can handle the adapt?”

Sam starts to say yes. Before he can, Mr. Big goes on, “A fellow named Shakespeare wrote it. Ever hear of him? Me neither. Well, we paid big bucks for the play. It’s called Macbeth and it’s got everything. We think it can be one of our blockbusters next summer.”

“No problem,” Sam says. “I can handle it.” He takes out his small notebook to take down his orders.

“Of course you can. That Pulitzer you won last year says it all. Anyway, Sammy Baby, we need some changes.”

“Changes?”

“The play starts off with three witches. Well, witches aren’t in this year. Wizards are. So three wizards it is.”

The writer writes down “three wizards” in his notebook.

“Macbeth, or Mac as he will be named in the movie,” Mr. Big’s voice rises as he becomes excited about the production. “He will be a second string quarterback. Played by Johnny Up-and-coming.”

A question appears on Sam’s face.

“You know the guy who was in that movie about tin cans.”

“Tin cans?”

“Yeah. The cans turn into big ass trucks. He’ll be perfect. And what’s more. We can get him for a song. Anyway he’s a second string quarterback.”

“So he kills the first string quarterback?”

“No, no, no.” Mr. Big shakes his head and frowns that the writer doesn’t get the direction he’s going. “Can’t have Pretty Boy killing nobody. He’s our hero.”

There’s confusion on the writer’s face.

“It’s his cheerleader girlfriend who does the murder. Mac would never do that. First String is his best friend. And, oh yeah,” Mr. Big’s voice goes into flight with excitement, “I forgot to tell you the really good part.”

Writer can’t believe his ears. All he can say, “The good part?”

“She’s a vampire. Call her Selene after the vamp in Underworld.”

“Vampire?” Sam asks, totally confused by now.

“Yeah, vampires are big these days. So she’s got to be a vampire. And remember those wizards. They’re zombies. Got to be zombies.”

“Zombies?”

“Yeah, Sammy Baby, add zombies and we have an extra hundred mil in profits. Zombies are really in, you know.”

Before the producer can continue, the writer stands up.

“I don’t think I am your man to do this project.”

“What?” Mr. Big rises out of his chair. “Listen, you don’t take this, you’ll not work in this town.”

“If this is Hollywood, I don’t think I want to work in this town. I’m goin back to Omaha.”

Shaking his head, Writer turns and walks out of the office. With his dignity.

Reg Gets Even

I’ve seen this movie before. Dozens of times. It’s your typical rock ‘n’ roll biopic we saw in such movies as “Ray”, “The Doors”, “A Star is Born”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Hollywood has the template down so well, this is how an Elvis biopic might go:
Scene 1. Elvis is driving a truck in Tupelo.
Scene 2. Elvis is recording in Sun Records Studio.
Scene 3. Elvis signs with Col. Tom Parker.
Scene 4. Elvis sings and dances in the movie, “Jailhouse Rock”.
Scene 5. Elvis gets drafted.
Scene 6. Elvis meets his future bride, fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, while stationed in Germany.
Scene 7. Elvis gets out of the Army.
Scene 8. Elvis makes movies.
Scene 9. Elvis is unhappy at Graceland.
Scene 10. Elvis makes a comeback.
Along the way, there’ll be a scene with Elvis’ addiction to pills. There’ll also be a scene where Elvis talks about his spirituality. Throughout the movie, there will be song after song by Elvis. So many songs the viewer won’t be able to distinguish one from the other. Why so many? The director doesn’t want to miss your favorite.

This is basic biopic 101, and “Rocketman” follows this template. “Rocketman” is the story of how Reg Dwight became Elton John. In scene after scene, we see how his father mistreated him; how Mom didn’t take him seriously; how his employer, Dick James, wasn’t encouraging; how his manager, John Reid, abused him. Even Bernie Taupin, his songwriting partner and friend, ends up being unkind to poor Dwight. When the two go to California and Elton John triumphs at the Troubadour, Bernie takes off with a beautiful woman at the after-the-show party, abandoning Dwight to be alone with himself. Only his Granny treated him with any kind of respect.

“Rocketman” is Reg Dwight’s revenge. After all, this is his project. He was an executive producer on the film.

Along the way through these adventures, Elton John breaks out in song as a kind of song-and-dance man you’d expect from George M. Cohan. In quite a few scenes, so many songs are thrown at the viewer. So many pies that the director is hoping one will stick. Better to have selected five or six songs and used them to give meaning to the story. Then they would be memorable. Instead we are given a jukebox.

In the early seventies, seven of Elton John’s first nine studio albums were unbelievably brilliant. I won’t tell you which didn’t measure up. He could do any musical style from rock ‘n’ roll to blues to country to pop. The songs made you want to listen to them over and over again. Of all the musical artists I’ve listened to over the years, he was one of the few that blew me away from the get-go. When he started performing in a chicken suit, it made me sad.

If you’re in the hankering for some Elton John, put on his music. VH1 did a documentary of “Yellow Brick Road” as a part of his Classic Albums series. Great stuff. As for “Rocketman”, it saddens me the way that the chicken suit saddened me. Elton John is one of the great musicians of the twentieth century and he deserves .better than “Rocketman”. So I guess you might say I give this one two thumbs down. When all is said and done, it’s a mess. A real mess.

Trains

Seems like the trains have been running through the city forever. As long as I can remember anyway. Like the riverboats of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain, they take people toward their dreams. Some head off to Hollywood. Some to New York City. Some go to the country where the dreamers farm. I know, I know. Who wants to farm? Lot of hard work, and no guarantee. That’s what makes them a dream. The lack of a guarantee.

My dream is to just sit here and watch the trains pass me by. Last Sunday I came to this station and watched the trains up close and personal the way I always do. Sunday is a good day for that. There was this woman, blonde hair, blue eyes, pretty as a peach. Sitting here waiting for a train. “Where you going?” I asked.

“Any place but here,” she answered. She was leaving her husband. Getting the hell out of Dodge. Then she smiled. She had the kind of smile that could make a man happy his whole life if he were the right kind of man. Her husband wasn’t. So she was taking off with “No More.”

I watched her get on the train and thought about leaving too. I thought real hard. Then I turned and headed back to my one room apartment. I had lost my suitcase of dreams a long time ago.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: A Steven Spielberg Epic

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. From time to time, a reflection on the movie will appear below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Empire of the Sun” (1987):

We don’t get to see many epics these days. Mostly Hollywood doesn’t even try. They really don’t know how. Thank, God. When they do an epic, it’s a remake anyway. Just look at some of the recent ones.

There was “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. A failure of a remake of “The Ten Commandments”. Lots of cgi and a bad script. We got Jon Snow’s “Pompeii” which could have been a re-do of “The Last Days of Pompeii”. (Actually it was Kit Harington but who cares.) I mean, who wants to go to see a movie when everybody dies at the end? Guess that was why they didn’t put “Last Days” in the title. Even the Ancient Romans wouldn’t go see it. And now it’s giving “Ben-Hur” the re-do treatment. Another bad idea. We’ll see how that one turns out.

Personally I am for Hollywood leaving the epics alone. Stick to what they know. Super heroes, Twilight fake vampires and it-go-boom kind of movies. They have no depth but neither does Hollywood. So it’s a perfect match.

I can think of only a few successful epics in the last thirty years. “Braveheart”, “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Lord of the Rings” are on that list with a few others. Problem is that it is very hard to make a great epic film. A film that includes both the big picture and the little picture equally well. David Lean probably did it best.

In the last few years, Spielberg is one of the few who have actually pulled it. For my money, “Empire of the Sun” is one of his best. It was made back in the days when he was hungry, and had something to prove.

It Go Boom

“I didn’t go to jail. I went to Hollywood.:–Orson Welles about what happened after his “War of the Worlds” 1938 radio broadcast.

It all starts with “Let’s blow up a town.” But it always starts that way. In some Hollywood office, a producer makes the suggestion to her in-house director.

Of course, the director takes up the dare. “How are we going to do that?” comes the question, and it’s a fair question too.

“We’ll get the special effects people to do it for us,” the producer says. She loves the special effects people. Unlike actors, they always give her exactly what she wants.

“I don’t mean how. I mean why.”

“Do we need a reason?” The producer isn’t looking for an answer. She already has an answer.

“Not really.”

“Remember what P. T. Barnum said. There’s a sucker born every minute. And what the suckers…I mean, the public wants is boom-boom-boom. So all we have to do is hire some poor schmuck of a screenwriter to come up with some kid and his hot chick girlfriend taking on some—“

“I know, zombies.” The director is bored. He’s heard all this before.

“Not zombies. That is so passé. And no more vampires. At least, not for a while.“

“What then?” He starts to yawn but he knows that is a bad strategy.

“And we’ve done the tin cans,” the producer says. She’s starts pacing around the office.

The director knows this is a good sign. When she starts pacing, she’s about to come up something spectacular. Another Class A blockbuster. “Tin cans?” he asks anyway.

“You know, those transformers.” She flips her heels off. Now every inch of her body from her toes to her pageboy hair style is getting hot with an idea. All the director has to do is wait.

“Yeah, but what?” the director says, taking his cue to draw out an idea from his boss.

Then the idea begins to come out. “What if the town is on Mars?”

“Mars?” he says, watching the producer do her thing.

“Yes, Mars,” the producer is laughing. “Of course, Mars.” She is back on her game. “It’s one hundred years after earth has colonized Mars. Only we don’t send humans. We send robots.”

“Why do we colonize Mars?” The director is getting interested. It means he will be working with machines, not actors. The machines will definite do what they are told.

As the producer is pouring out her ideas, she’s thinking this is better than sex. The roll she’s on can be downright orgasmic. “Doesn’t matter. The screenwriter can make it up. Maybe we sent the robots up there to take on the little green guys.”

“So how do we get the hunky guy and the hot chick in the movie?” He is watching her as she goes for the gold, and she is doing it with the gusto of a whirling dervish.

“They are sent up there for a regular maintenance. You know, the robots need some WD40. They hate each other. Not the robots. But the hot chick and Mr. Hunk. They are also hot for each other too. After all, it’s been six weeks since they’ve had any.” The producer throws herself back into her chair. She is in absolute ecstasy.

Then her face turns into a frown. She is having a moment of doubt. She needs reassurance.

This is where the director comes in like he always does. That is why she keeps him around. Not for his directing abilities. He doesn’t have any. Rather to goad her out of her doubt.

“Absolute genius,” he says. “This could be huge.”

“You think so?” she asks. Then she’s off again, “Of course, it will. And you know what happens next? The Martians appear, and they are werewolves. Yes, werewolves. That’s it. Werewolves will be the new zombies. And Martian werewolves at that.”

“Martian werewolves,” he says, getting into the spirit of things. “I like that.”

“Of course you do,” she says, putting her feet up on the desk. “What’s not to like. And the only way they can overcome the Martians is blow up Robottown. ‘Cause the Martians are overrunning the town.”

“Now all you need is a title,” he says, knowing what he’ll be doing the next six months.

She picks up the phone and calls the first on her A-list of screenwriters. “Hey, Marvin, this is Michaelson. I have a job for you. I need you to write a script for my new movie, ‘It Go Boom’.”

She sits the phone back down and turns to the director. “I have a brilliant idea.”

“What would that be, Chief?”

“We’ll do a video game spinoff,” her voice filled with excitement. She is thinking of all the money that will roll in from this one. “Call it ‘Blow Stuff Up’.”