Tag Archives: patricia arquette

“We’ve got some unique time constraints.” : Remembering Déjà Vu with Bill Marsilii by Kent Hill

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Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s 12 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.

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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…

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Bill Marsilii . . .

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Stigmata

Stigmata is one of those thrillers with religious undertones that seems to avoid pesky, eye roll preaching by simply sticking to the horror aspects and providing a solid genre flick, without getting up in our faces with it’s message or feeling lame (see Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate and Peter Hyams End Of Days for other ones that achieve this). This one is religious in the sense that it has to be for it’s plot to move along (just look at the title) but essentially it’s part atmospheric spook-fest and part chase film, both of which it does fairly well. Patricia Arquette, in full damsel in distress mode, plays Frankie, a girl whose last priority in life is religion, but suddenly finds herself afflicted with the stigmata, mysterious self-manifesting crucifixion wounds that show up without warning, ruining bedsheets and couches alike. The Vatican soon gets wind of this and dispatches priest investigator Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to debunk or research her case. Something about her her soon has shattering implications for not just Catholicism but faith as a whole, and suddenly they’re on the run from a nasty villain priest (Jonathan Pryce) whose ideology is seriously cornered by these new revelations. When Pryce plays a bad guy in your film (see Ronin and The Brothers Grimm) you know he’s going to go all out, arch it up and be a grandiose piss-ant of an antagonist, his ‘priest’ here is so vibrantly evil he seems to have walked over from a Dario Argento flick. There’s a more compassionate man of faith too (Rade Serbedzija) who has a better grasp on the new theology, which he lays down in expository patience so the audience has an inkling of what’s at stake. Byrne and Arquette actually have some terrific chemistry and romantic yearnings, but sucks for them with him being a priest and all. You can do far far worse with thrillers like this, it really sets up a hellish urban atmosphere neatly and diligently tells a pretty cool story.

-Nate Hill

Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner

I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.

-Nate Hill

Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch 


It’s always curious to me when directors remake their own projects. Sometimes it seems redundant and risky, and one wonders what compels them to revisit already trodden territory. In Ole Bornedal’s case it’s a creepy murder mystery called Nightwatch, made once in his native language of Danish, and again as a slicked up Hollywood version featuring some heavy acting talent and a reworked script by none other than Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen the newer one, and despite some awkward, clunky moments in the narrative, it can get pretty squirmy and frightening when it wants to, especially any scene involving a young Ewan McGregor stuck alone on a morgue graveyard shift. Creepy concept, and in some scenes it’s really milked to full effect, but there’s also few really silly and unnecessary subplots, particularly one with McGregor’s daredevil buddy Josh Brolin, and his girlfriend (an underused Patrica Arquette. When the film focuses on its main horror storyline it works quite well though. There’s a killer loose in the city, one with a penchant for necrophilia, and no one wants to have the night shift at a mortuary with someone like that running about. Nick Nolte adds class and charisma to his role as a weary, grizzled police detective who’s searching for the killer. Nolte rarely sets foot in the horror/thriller side of things, but his looming presence and concrete scraper sounding voice fit into the atmosphere terrifically. There’s a couple cameos as well, one from John C. Reilly as an ill fated police officer and an amusing Brad Dourif as the morgue’s cranky duty doctor. If Borendal had trimmed the fat in places as far as subplots go, given a bit more edge to the script and overall just tweaked it more it could have been a cracking good thriller, but as is it’s only above average with a few spots that really shine. 

-Nate Hill

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors


Although billed as pure horror, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors strays into fantasy as well and is a pure blast of fantastically diabolical special effects when it’s working in either genre. Around the middle of the franchise marks the place where Freddy Krueger began to turn into more of a cartoonish wise-guy from his original mainly silent phantom, but he’s still pretty foreboding here, as Robert Englund puts energetic work into both his funny and frightening sides. The cool thing about this flick is it’s ‘Goonies’ style aesthetic; several youngsters, committed to a mental facility for their insomniac ‘delusions’, do dream battle with Freddy, and it’s one of the few instances in a slasher film where victims get to fight back in some capacity, and as a unit. Patricia Arquette is wonderful as Kristen, leader of the pack and a fiercely vulnerable spirit, while a young Laurence Fishburne plays the kindly head nurse. It’s also a treat to see Heather Langenkamp return as brave Nancy Thompson, still out for Freddy’s head. The effects are dazzling, from Freddy’s remodelled syringe needle glove in one scene, to a giant pac-man version of his head attempting to eat a live person whole in another, it’s just imagination run wild in dreamland. The kills are still sufficiently gory too, if punctuated by his now classic growling one liners (“Bitch!”). It’s safe to say this is the best in the franchise barring the first film, it’s quite a bit of fun. Oh, and for a good hearty laugh, nothing beats the Dick Cavett/Zsa Zsa Gabor cameo featuring a priceless interruption from Freddy. 
-Nate Hill

Little Nicky


I’ve never been one to actively nab the Adam Sandler flicks off the rental shelf, but even he has made the occasional winner, one of the best being Little Nicky. For some reason it’s panned over other far worse ones he’s churned out of the gumball machine (ever re-watch Billy Madison? What the fuck were we/they thinking back then?), but when you part the curtains of Sandler Stigma™ and really just look at what the movie is in itself, it’s a hoot. What other film can boast Rodney Dangerfield playing Harvey Keitel’s dad in hell? That’s right, Keitel is the red beast himself, coming down off a ten thousand year unholy monarchy, with no plans to retire. This infuriates his two wicked sons, played by Tiny Lister (must have been a different devil-mom) and a slick Rhys Ifans. They depart the inferno and set up their own devilish franchise up in New York City, raising all kinds of hell, the most amusing of which is lowering the drinking age to ten (where were these guys when I was that age?) and forcing Regis Philbin to say naughty things on live primetime. Their younger, slightly retarded brother Nicky (Sandler) must pursue them on their haunts and trap them in a magic flask before it’s too late. Dumb concept, right? Sure it is, but try and tell me it’s not hilarious m, especially with the amount of inane visual gags and trippy production design these folks have dreamed up. Between Hitler dressed as a slutty maid getting a pineapple repeatedly rammed up his rectum to a giant gorilla massaging mammaries that have sprouted on a dude’s head like fleshy succulent pigtails, there’s no shortage of wtf moments. Sander picks an odd character mask as usual, sporting a metal-head swoosh of a haircut and lisping his way through his lines sounding like he had a stroke from watching Billy Madison dailies one too many times. Patricia Arquette is in it, as a sweet, shy girl he meets topside and the closest thing to a sane person you’ll find in this madhouse. Cameos abound, from usual Sandler cronies like Jon Lovitz, Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Peter Dante and Allen Covert, to randoms like Michael McKean, Clint Howard, Laura Harring, Henry Winkler, Ozzy Osborne, Reese Witherspoon as Nicky’s angelic mom and Quentin Tarantino as a blind preacher. I don’t really know what else to say about the thing, because its it’s own thing and you either rock out with it, or you don’t. Visually it’s never boring, the script was conceived in the toilet and jumped straight to the gutter, the performances are all garishly obnoxious and the overall tone is that of an sixth grade birthday party gone rogue. 

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s Lost Highway: A review by Nate Hill

David Lynch’s Lost Highway is a fuzzy, feverish portrait of a fractured mind attempting to make sense of extremely distressing circumstances that are both alienating and possibly self inflicted. Lynch is always keen on probing the cerebrally murky waters which border on the potentially paranormal occurrences, and the often frustrating line, or lack thereof, which is drawn in, around and between these two aspects. Psychological terror, ambiguous scenes that leave you scratching your head once you’ve caught your breath, identity crisis, elliptical narratives that leave us haunted and wanting more are all tools in his bag, ones he’s employed countless times throughout his monolithic career. Usually he implements that in an esoteric, earthy way, but there’s something cold, clinical and unsettlingly voyeuristic about this that somewhat separates it from a lot of other stuff he’s done. The term ‘Lynchian’ in itself has become its own genre, there’s no debating that anymore. It’s usually within this self made genre that he explores, but it’s almost like with this one he went in with a mindset to play around with a sordid, almost De Palma-esque style of genre, and then inject it with his trademark eerie weirdness, in this case to great effect. Bill Pullman stars as jazz trumpet player Fred, spending his nights belting out unnerving solos in smoky clubs. Pullman is an all American prototype, seen in a lot of generic, regular Joe roles. Seeing him venture into sketchy material is jarring and super effective (see his career best work in David’s daughter Jen Lynch’s Surveillance for an even better example of this). He and his gorgeous wife (Patricia Arquette) wake up one ominous morning to discover a packaged video tape on their doorstep, the contents of which show someone breaking into their house and filming them while they sleep. They feel both horrified and violated, and call the police who prove to be just south of useful. From there things get terrifically weird. Fred attends a party where he meets the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who plays a mean spirited magic trick on him that will have your skin crawling out the door. This was one of Blake’s last two roles before the unfortunate incident that cut his career painfully short, but he’s perfect for Lynch’s stable and eats up the frames he inhabits, a pasty faced ghoul with beady black jewels for eyes and a piercing laugh that will stain your psyche for years. Before he knows it, Fred wakes up and is accused for his own wife’s murder, whisked away to a dank death row cell, plummeting the film into a new segment, Lynch’s way of letting us know this isn’t going to be an easy watch. Fred wakes up sometime later… And isn’t Fred anymore. He’s a young lad with amnesia whose been missing for a while, played by edgy Balthazar Getty. It’s a stark left turn for the plot to take, a stinging reminder that from there on out, we’re in for some nasty antics with no light at the end of the tunnel. Getty is released from prison, since he’s not Pullman who they arrested to begin with. From there he gets entangled in a hot mess of a subplot involving a volatile gangster (Robert Loggia), his seductive wife (also Patricia Arquette) and the ever present Mystery Man who lurks over both planes of the film’s narrative. I’m trying to be deliberately vague about the plot (lord knows Lynch did as well), both to not spoil any surprises for you, and partly because after many viewings, I’m still not sure exactly what it means for myself. It’s a great big clusterfuck of extremely disturbing sequences, surreal passages of auditory and visual madness and a frothing undercurrent of atmosphere that constantly pulls on your sleeve to remind you that something is terribly wrong, but never gives you the solace of telling you what that something is. Traumatic viewing to say the least. Lynch assembles an extraterrestrial supporting cast including Michael Massee, Jack Nance, Natasha Gregson Warner, Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Jack Kehler, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Pryor and the one and only Gary Busey (when Gary is one of the calmest, sanest people in your movie you know you’ve driven off the cliff). Some highlights for me are anything to do with Blake’s paralyzing spectre of a character who is one of the best Lynch creations ever, Loggia intimidating an obnoxious driver is priceless and the closest the film gets to comedy, and the final twenty minutes where the lines of reality, fantasy and the jagged planes of perception within the characters minds collide, providing us with a creepy non-resolution, part of what makes the entire show so memorable and affecting. A classic that begs countless re-watches before it can fully cast all aspects of its spell on you, and one of Lynch’s unsung best.