Weekly Wonderings – February 8th, 2021

I started writing this last week. Now I write all the time because of this blog. And recently, I have been writing material to sell on the popular Teachers Pay Teachers. However, last week I really started to dig back into writing fiction. When I was an undergrad English major, I really got into writing but never really did much with it. I certainly enjoyed it at the time, but life’s circumstances got in the way, and I didn’t maintain the discipline needed. I’ve always admired those people who write no matter what, who make the time. It’s the only way someone can really be successful in the craft, making it an everyday priority. 

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DocuMondays – Tales From the Script

Tales From the Script (2009, dir. Peter Hanson)
Featuring Allison Anders, John August, Shane Black, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Frank Darabont, Antwone Fisher, Mick Garris, William Goldman, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Adam Rifkin, Jose Rivera, Paul Schrader, Guinevere Turner

The documentary opens with Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, Deep Impact) talking about leaving the studio commissary with a group of executives and one of them telling him his script was the best thing he ever read. Months later, Rubin was in the same commissary, leaving behind the same executives with  new writer and heard them say his script was the best they ever read. This anecdote sets the tone of the rest of the documentary which isn’t so much about screen writing as it is about the relationship between writers and the studios. This relationship is one in which the writer wants to accepted and the studio wants to get that script out of his grubby little hands and make it the movie they want to see.

The film is made up of interviews with a wide swathe of writers from mid-century pictures up to those of the last decade. To frame the segments of the documentary, scenes from popular films that revolve around screenwriters are used (Barton Fink, The Muse). The result is a very inside baseball type film that is definitely never going to appeal to a large audience. To people working in the film industry and movie nerds like myself, the picture is fascinating glimpse into the trials and travails of the Hollywood screenwriter. We get to hear from veterans such as William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, The Princess Bride) and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction) as well as young, but equally prolific writers like David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen) and John August (Big Fish, The Corpse Bride).

I found it very interesting to hear the voices and see the faces of screenwriters of films I was familiar with. I have to say, most of the films represented here were ones I don’t care for, particularly Bruce Almighty and Click, but the writers definitely fit your expectations of them. One of the most fascinating interviewees was Guinevere Turner. She started out scripting the indie lesbian romantic comedy Go Fish and went on to pen a draft of American Psycho. Turner tells the story of working with Uwe Boll on Bloodrayne and learning that he was letting the actors make edits to her script. While this would drive most writers insane, Turner says she told herself to take deep breaths and that she hated the movie anyway.

The film fails to be a helpful guide to novice writers which is a shame. Goldman has become a sort of god of screenwriting and has numerous books on the topic. There’s some interesting comments on the “postcontent” era of films which might be useful, but overall its just an interesting curio that shows us where films are born.

Wild Card Tuesday – Gentlemen Broncos

Gentlemen Broncos (2009, dir. Jard Hess)
Starring Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White, Halley Feiffer, Hector Jimenez

In 2006, after he had been hired to develop the score for Nacho Libre, singer-songwriter Beck said of director Jared Hess, “No filmmaker since Fellini has had such an eye for amazing characters”. That’s a pretty strong statement to make about a filmmaker who had only released one feature film at the time. And while Nacho Libre left me wanting for the disjointed narrative of Napoleon Dynamite, Gentlemen Broncos has shown me exactly what Beck was seeing.
It may come as no surprise at how much I loved Broncos as it definitely hit me where I live. The film’s protagonist, Benjamin Purvis (Angarano) is a homeschooled, amateur science fiction writer who has developed a novel based on his late father. He attends a young writers conference with a group of fellow homeschooled students from his co-op and meets his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Clement) who proceeds to steal Benjamin’s story and change key details to hide the theft. Simultaneously, Benjamin sells the film rights of his novel to an incredibly amateur filmmaking duo, one of whom has romantic intentions on Ben.
The level of the theatrical grotesque in this film is so incredibly over the top. As bizarre as this world is, it feels so familiar and fleshed out. There are so many rich details and background pieces of minutiae that part of me didn’t want to leave this universe. Added to all of this are dramatized excerpts from both Benjamin and Chevalier’s versions of Yeast Lords (the name of the stolen novel). In both versions Sam Rockwell plays the protagonist and proves once again why he is one of the most talented actors working today. In Benjamin’s version he plays the hero as a gruff, Southern accented redneck and in Chevalier’s is a lisping, albino.
Aside from Rockwell, there were many great performances, in particular Hector Jimenz (also in Nacho Libre). I have no idea what sort of acting choices Jimenez made for his role as Lonnie Donaho, the auteur responsible for making over 80 films (most of them trailers he tells us) but they result in one of the strangest characters I have ever seen on the big screen. The moment I knew Lonnie would be one of my favorite characters to pop up in the film comes early on. He and Tabitha (Fieffer), Benjamin’s love interest, take a seat next to Ben on the bus heading to the writers conference. Tabitha asks Ben to give her a hand massage, and as he does Lonnie proceeds to blow in Tabitha’s ear with a sound resembling a clogged vacuum cleaner.
Jared Hess, and his wife and writing partner Jerusha, have renewed my hope in their work. They come across as a combination of the clean, crisp filmmaking of Wes Anderson and the love of the mundanely bizarre of Tim & Eric. I think Nacho Libre’s flaws came from having a third party intervene and make rewrites to make the film more “palatable” for mainstream audiences. Hess isn’t built to make mainstream cinema and the more freedom he is allowed to pursue his skewed vision of middle America the better.