Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out is a prime example of how to stage an effective thriller, every step of the way and even when things get twisty in a time before every other film had a thunderclap twist midway through. Kevin Costner plays a navy officer operating out of the Pentagon and reporting to the secretary of defence, played by a shady Gene Hackman. He has a stormy affair with mysterious Sean Young, not knowing she is also Hackman’s side chick, and when she turns up dead a whole nightmare of a situation escalates for everyone involved. It’s great fun to see events spiral out of control until everyone is a frantic wreck and we’re just as lost for clues as they are. Then, the pieces slowly fall together and we are blessed with gradual revelation, a few delicious ‘aha!’ moments and one mother of a midway plot twist that lands in the narrative like a screeching cruise missile. Costner is subdued but keen, Hackman is his usual fired up charismatic hotshot, and the film benefits greatly from their crackling collaborate star-power. A knockout supporting turn comes our way from Will Patton, who is unnervingly twitchy as another operative doing his maniacal best to perpetuate a cover up. Maurice Jarre whips up a great score to accent the intrigue, while Donaldson’s direction is surefire skill. A premier 80’s political thriller, one of several launching pads for Costner’s career, and a bitchin’ great time at the movies.
Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s12 Monkeys. Both of the inaugural screenings I attended were sullied by external forces which greatly influenced my mood during the viewings and thus, my opinion of the films.
But time, it was once said, is the ultimate critic. Under different circumstances I watched both films again, and, this time around, my feelings toward both movies were drastically adjusted.
In several books on the art of screenwriting it is often put about that, if you cannot sum up the film you are writing in a single sentence, then you may want to rethink the plot. There is a great moment on the commentary track of this film in which the late, great Tony Scott admits that even he struggled to distill Déjà Vu into the logline form.
It’s a science-fiction/action/thriller/time-travel/romance in which the hero, Denzel Washington, meets the girl he will eventually fall in love with on the slab – dead as disco. Unbeknownst to him, he will eventually join a team that will, along with the help of a device that can see into the past, aid him in bringing her killer to justice. And it was from this humble yet intriguing premise that my guest, Bill Marsilii and his co-writer Terry Rossio constructed this rich, multi-layered tale which deserves more applause than some would proffer for its inventiveness and compelling real-world take on the age old time machine story.
But what I uncovered as I spoke to Bill was far more than a series of behind the scenes anecdotes and your typical boy meets idea, boy turns idea into a screenplay, screenplay sells for big dollars, boy lives happily and successfully ever after in Hollywood kind of scenario.
And yes, while it is true that Déjà Vu is the highest earning spec script thus far, beating out other entries like Basic Instinct, Panic Room and The Last Boy Scout, the story of how Bill came to, not only the concept, but how the writing and selling of the script changed his life is just as compelling as anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Co. managed to get onto the screen.
This interview, at least for me, proved also to be somewhat of a masterclass in, not only screenwriting, but the ever painful and soul-crushing journey the writer must endure to actually sell the script. It’s about the luck, timing, persistence and internal fortitude that you must have sufficient quantities to survive the gauntlet that exists between the page and the screen.
Bill’s heart-warming, inspirational adventure to make it in the realm where dreams are brought to life with that strange blending of art, science and commerce – that ultimately no one can tell you how, when a film is successful, it all comes together in the perfect proportions to ensure success is on the menu – is a conversation that could have gone on and on.
I hope you’ll will enjoy some extended insights into Déjà Vu, but more than that, I hope you, if you are one of those dreamers still out there trying to write your own ticket to cinematic glory, that Bill’s wisdom you’ll take onboard and continue pounding away on those keys until fortune smiles and your efforts will be coming soon, to a theater near us…
Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.
In the early days of writing for PTS, I did a little piece on Superman Returns (which you’ll find here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/31/a-nice-day-for-supermans-return-by-kent-hill/). It was, if you like, a hymn of praise to a glorious afternoon, when the exaltation of the moment, combined with the wave of nostalgia – and the fact it was my birthday – all blended together on the day of the premiere of the first Superman movie in a really long time.
Of course, as is the case with a lot of films, a second viewing broke the spell. What I was left with was something of a mixed bag of emotions that I still ponder to this day. How did it all go wrong? What happened to the Bryan Singer who had recently made X2 (which was great)? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the whole thing a multi-million dollar rush job? Should they have rolled the dice and made Superman Lives? (Hell, YES!!!)
Today I was sent another great behind the scenes glimpse from my friend, filmmaker and co-screenwriter Sean Ellis, who edited the footage (see here:https://vimeo.com/262035539/ea3164da85). There is even a moment when you can see Robert going about his stock-in-trade in documenting the making of the picture.
There has been more of Superman on the big screen since then. Admirable attempts, but, far from that iconic and wondrous unification of elements which saw the 1978 film explode onto screens, and into our hearts and minds for evermore. Now, I like Cavill in the role, and with the climax of Justice League there appeared a glimmer of hope. That maybe they buried the moody/brooding Superman, and with his resurrection would also be born a welcome return to form?
Only time will tell whether DC cinematic universe can recapture, in part, its days of honor. Lighting, as I once said, has already struck (circa 1978 with Donner’s film), now all we are left with is the thunder and its echoes. Do I hate Superman Returns? No. It was, in this man’s opinion, a valiant attempt to resurrect the Man of Steel after a long slumber – yet for all its magic, it didn’t cast a spell of significant longevity – though it wasn’t as silly as Superman’s CG shave in his most recent big screen outing.
I have a dream, as it was once uttered, that one day the grey clouds will part, the blue yonder shall emerge in all its heavenly brilliance and, there in the stillness, a figure traveling faster than a speeding bullet will rip across the vast firmament and we’ll look up in the sky – and maybe, just maybe, another magical retelling of the adventures of the most romantic of the superhero cast will descend – there we’ll find another great Superman movie?
The New Daughter is an odd one, a creepy Kevin Costner vehicle that almost seems like an M. Night Shyamalan idea that didn’t quite take flight from the drawing board. Nevertheless it’s a good enough time at the movies, and there’s genuinely skin crawling moments too. Costner, in solemn mode, plays a father who relocates to South Carolina with his kids. As if an obligatory adjustment period isn’t bad enough, soon his teenage daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ivana Baquero, skillful but an odd choice to play all American white boy Kevin’s daughter) starts acting strange, and I mean Stranger than your usual garden variety brand of pubescent restlessness. There’s something out there in those rural woods, something that’s drawing the girl’s attention and slowly start possessing her. Father Costner is creeped out and desperate, seeking help from anyone he can, including a professor of far flung urban legend mythology (Noah Taylor), the creepy previous owner of his new home (screen legend James Gammon in his last living film role) and his kid’s foxy local schoolteacher (Samantha Mathis). It’s a spooky enough little flick, albeit cobbled together from several other better movies. There’s creature effects later on that score some points, and atmospheric cinematography, but ultimately it’s average, middle ground material.
Ariel Vroman’s Criminal does its best to pay homage to beloved pseudo science fiction genre films of the nineties like Face/Off or Eraser, and for the most part it succeeds. All the elements are in place: padded, eclectic cast, implausibly sketchy high concept brain tampering, slick anti-terrorist war games, a brash arch-villain and adorably clunky emotional interludes. When a deep cover agent (Ryan Reynolds, weirdly uncredited) is killed in London, his FBI handler (Gary Oldman), has a shit fit at the lost secrets he knew and commissions Dr. Tommy Lee Jones to use sketchy cutting edge science and transfer Reynold’s memories into another man’s cerebrum. Of course they choose some violent, irreparably damaged convict, namely Jericho Stuart, played with growling, feral panache by Kevin Costner. “You hurt me, I hurt you back worse”, is this deeply sociopathic dude’s mantra, and it’s expectedly hilarious that the bureau shoots themselves in the foot by picking such a wild card for the program, but there you have it. With new memories, Jericho’s basic primal instinct is diluted with emotional scar tissue from Reynolds, haunted by his former wife (Gal Gadot, terrific), as well as a host of clandestine secrets from Ryan’s noggin that propel him on a globetrotting (well, London trotting, really) excursion to bring down a radical cyber criminal (Jordi Molla, the Spanish Gary Oldman, coincidentally sharing the screen with his counterpart). This is the Kevin Costner show all the way, it’s really the best work I’ve seen from him in years. He would have been way better taking the antagonist route with his career, as showcased here. Jericho is a bitter, psychotic outsider and Kevin plays it up royally, dishing out bone smashing beatdowns on random pedestrians and calling anyone he sees a ‘fucker’. Oldman yells at everything, and I mean everything. It’s like there were cue notes next to his lines that said ‘just scream your lines the whole way through’, but he’s fun too, that early career intensity showing through his weathered gaze. Michael Pitt also shows up with a hysterical Dutch accent, doing the boy with the dragon tattoo hacker shtick, looking pale and sullen. The cloak and dagger stuff is uproariously silly, as it should be, the emotional core appropriately sappy too. Smart move in keeping the hard R action movie alive, unlike some movies we know (I’m casting a disgusted look over at Expendable 3), and indeed Kevin gets some overly bloody kills in that fulfill the carnage quota and then some. He kicks ass, Oldman hollers, Reynolds cameos, Gadot cries, Jones looks weary, and so it goes. Not a total slam dunk, but it will make you feel nostalgic for those good old Sly/Armie/Van Damme blitzkriegs of yore.