Tag Archives: Romance

“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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Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight


No one does the breezy, goodnatured crime drama like Steven Soderbergh, and after rewatching his 1998 romantic caper Out Of Sight, I’ve realized it’s my favourite of his films by a mile. The easygoing love story between George Clooney’s hapless career criminal Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez’s feisty federal Marshall Karen Sisco is a pairing for the ages, and the two not only smoulder up the screen with their obvious presence, but have effortless chemistry in spades and know how to sell the romance until you feel that tug on the ol’ heartstrings when the stakes are raised. It doesn’t hurt that cinematographer Elliott Davis beautifully frames each encounter with them, the best being a gorgeous airport dinner where the two croon out Elmore Leonard’s savoury, measured dialogue against a snow laden Tarmac outside, the perfect romantic ambience. Foley is a trouble magnet, embroiled in scheme after scheme with his older, wiser partner Buddy (Ving Rhames). After their dipshit pal Glen (a stoned Steve Zahn) gets them mixed up in a plot to rob a pompous Wall Street millionaire (Albert Brooks) via some truly nasty jailbird thugs from their collective past (Don Cheadle provides the film’s only true dose of menace amongst the charm), all hell breaks loose and against odds, Jack and Karen find themselves falling in love. Elmore Leonard’s scripts always seem to find their way to great directors (Barry Sonnenfield made magic with Get Shorty), richly varied casts (Jackie Brown is an ensemble for the time capsule) and end up as films that are simply timeless. Dennis Farina mellows out as Karen’s concerned ex-cop father, Luis Guzman does his grimy cholo rat shtick, and watch for Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isiaah Washington, Paul Calderon, Viola Davis, an uncredited Michael Keaton playing none other than his Jackie Brown character (an Elmore Leonard cinematic universe!) and a surprise cameo right at the end that I won’t spoil except to say it sets up any potential sequels nicely. The whole deal rests on Lopez and Clooney’s shoulders though, and they’re nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a rag tale romance, classy but down to earth, two beautiful souls from very opposite sides of the tracks who generate sparks and circle each other like cosmic magnets. Stuck together in the trunk of a speeding car, they discuss life, love and films, reminding us that no romance is alike to another and the best way to start off something like that is perhaps on the wrong foot and in the least imagined circumstances possible. Like any love story it knows that a pinch of sadness is necessary to balance the bittersweet recipe and tweak our emotions just right. A career best for George, Jennifer and Steven and a film worthy of classic status. 

-Nate Hill

P.S I Love You


P.S. I Love You is pretty grounded, affecting stuff as far as romantic dramadies go, a sorrowful story that’s light on sap and earns your tears. It’s sad, to be sure, but that’s a necessary element to balance out any otherwise happy-go-lucky narrative, which is something many forget when making these types of films. Jarringly soon after we meet adorable and slightly dysfunctional couple Gerry and Holly (Gerard Butler & Hilary Swank), Gerry passes away, leaving her bereft and broken, but not necessarily alone. Knowing of his illness beforehand, he’s left a series of love notes that lead her on a scavenger hunt, each new note and following action geared towards easing her pain, saying goodbye and trying to help her start a new life. Although consoled by her two caring friends (Gina Gershon & Lisa Kudrow) as well as her mother (Kathy Bates) this is Holly’s solo journey at heart, a meditation sent from the afterlife by the world’s most thoughtful husband, unconventional in his methods yet intuitive to his last breath. Losing a loved one, especially your other half, is a kind of pain one could never fathom unless, heavens forbid, we find ourselves in that situation one day. Holly and Gerry didn’t always work well, as we see in a few of the haughty flashbacks, but their love for each other was real, and the subsequent pain on her part is palpable in Swank’s performance, which must be no easy task. A trip to Ireland, an encounter with a handsome stranger there (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), flirting with a kindly potential suitor (Harry Connick Jr.), she circles many endeavours in her time after his passing, all part of a grieving process and a desire on deceased Jerry’s part that she live her life, remember him yet not fall into an abyss of chronic grief and let it stall her, which happens to some. It’s a sweet and good-natured way to tell a very grave, emotionally corrosive story, but like I said before, it’s never manipulative or deliberately mushy, it lets the story push your buttons naturally, until the floodgates on your tear ducts are opened by observing the story and characters, not connived by soap opera histrionics or tacky melodrama. A beautiful little film that makes you deeply sad, but also puts in an effort to cheer you up along the way, just like Gerry does for his Holly. 

-Nate Hill

PASSENGERS by Ben Cahlamer

Homesteading.  Many years ago, when land was plenty, the government offered it to people who were willing to till the soil, grow some crops.  Perhaps raise a family.  It was not an easy life.  In fact, you could probably retire today and still be tilling soil.

What in the world does this have anything to do with Morten Tyldum’s (“The Imitation Game”) new sci-fi film, “Passengers”?

Very little or quite a bit; it really depends on your point of view.  The intent of the government was to get people to become productive because they had no other choice:  they were cornered into a unique way of life that not everyone is cut out for.

In Jon Spahits’ (“Doctor Strange”, “Prometheus”) script, the meaning of homesteading, “a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency as practiced by a modern homesteader or urban homesteader,” equally applies to the 5000 corporately-sponsored passengers aboard the Starship Avalon, destined for the colony planet Homestead II.

The trick is that the journey is so long, everyone on board is in hibernation and the state-of-the-art starship is on auto-pilot.  An engineer, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up alone with no explanation and no one to communicate with.  He is eventually joined by author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). As the only two souls awake on board the ship, they fall in love but not before disaster strikes.  Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia co-star.

Spahits’ script should have checked all the right boxes:  characters are well-fleshed out; the set-up was strong; social issues are at the forefront. The focus strayed from sci-fi-adventure to kitschy sci-fi-adventure-romance, where the romance just didn’t cut it. Preston’s reason for being woken up is clear; the emotional side of isolation became a focus instead of allowing his skills to move the character and the narrative forward, leading to the intended romantic angle; a wasted effort considering Jennifer Lawrence’s Lane tried too hard to remain in control, though her reasons for that become clear after a meltdown.  Had Fishburne phoned his performance from Earth, it would have been more convincing then what unfolded on the screen.  In homage to a Kubrick classic, Michael Sheen stole the show; but his role in a pivotal moment just fell flat.  Tight editing by Oscar-nominated editor Maryann Brandon (“Star Wars:  The Force Awakens”) keeps the pacing on track.

The script notwithstanding, there is one redeeming reason why this should be viewed on as big a screen as possible: the special effects.  In the tradition of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Scott’s “Alien”, Tyldum executes a strong, detailed technical look.

From the symmetry of the Avalon to the look and feel of the interior corridors, the hibernation pods, the stars and space around the ship, everything has a very real or visceral feel about it and visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby rose to the challenge brilliantly.  The effects are supported by strong cinematography from the Oscar-nominated Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”).  His attention to every detail, from lighting of cavernous interior spaces, to changing reflective lighting and exterior shots in space, Prieto’s work only enhances the visual impact.

Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”, “Skyfall”) resonates with the luxuriousness of the Aurora and the allure of space exploration.  Some of his dramatic riffs didn’t exactly jive with the onscreen action, but his music served the film well.

“Passengers” had all the right ingredients for a stellar show, its ambition steeped in “Titanic”.  Instead, its ‘Lost in Space’ meets ‘The Love Boat’ with all the drama that that entails.

For the intricately detailed technical effects work, “Passengers” is Recommended.  Aaron Spelling is probably rolling over in his grave.

Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes: A Review by Nate Hill 

JOSS WHEDON ALERT
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about In Your Eyes, a lovely little romantic/fantasy/drama written by the J Man, concerning a boy and girl who have shared a strange psychic bond over hundreds of miles since they were kids, despite never having met. 

  Its a slightly unconventional romance, a charming, breezy little piece that took me by surprise, having known nothing about it going in except Whedon’s involvment. It starts with his lovely script, laying down the bones for two adorable leads (Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David) to go to work. Dylan and Rebecca have never met. They live on opposite sides of the US, and lead considerably different lives. They would have nothing in common if it weren’t for an odd metaphysical connection. They can periodically (and often at inconvenient times) see into each others lives like a perceptive window, complete with senses like smell, taste and touch. When they are growing up its confusing and stunted, but I imagine it blossoms along with every other attribute, and suddenly they’ve discovered they’re not both crazy, and that there’s a real person on the other end of this bewitching mutual conduit. Soon they are communicating, much to the puzzlement of everyone else in their lives, who just observes them talking to themselves like loons. Romance isn’t far off, as we can well guess, and soon they are deeply in love in spite of their differences and the great gulf of distance between them. He’s a troubled fellow with a criminal past, a lenghthy RAP sheet and a nosy parole officer (Steve Harris). She’s a mild mannered, fragile girl married to a prissy control freak of a Doctor (Mark Fuerstein). Both of their lives are continuously disrupted by their relationship until they’re at the brink of crisis, and it seems the only way out is to find one a other in person. The almost supernatural aspect of their connection  is treated frankly, like more of a biological anomaly as opposed to ghostly gimmicks. It can be seen as Whedon exploring the nature of love in our world, finding “the one” who is always out there, somewhere, waiting. Or are they? The real hero is his incredibly down to earth script, an easy going, hilarious and poignant piece of writing. The cast is from all walks of Hollywood and includes Nikki Reed, Shameless’s Steve Howey, Richard Rhiele and a priceless cameo from Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, who is starting to look like a character from Desperate Housewives. Kazan and David are just the cutest, most earnest couple I’ve seen in a romantic film of late. She’s unsure, passionate and intuitive, he’s a scrappy patchwork teddy bear and together they’re perfect, capturing the essence of the relationship in a single very unique sex scene, nestled in with all of their “spiritual Skype” bonding, and eventual face to face meeting. Whedon loves his characters, right down to the bit parts and it shows. His writing is never short of sterling, and this one is another winner for him. 

Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes: A Review by Nate Hill 

JOSS WHEDON ALERT
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about In Your Eyes, a lovely little romantic/fantasy/drama written by the J Man, concerning a boy and girl who have shared a strange psychic bond over hundreds of miles since they were kids, despite never having met. 

  Its a slightly unconventional romance, a charming, breezy little piece that took me by surprise, having known nothing about it going in except Whedon’s involvment. It starts with his lovely script, laying down the bones for two adorable leads (Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David) to go to work. Dylan and Rebecca have never met. They live on opposite sides of the US, and lead considerably different lives. They would have nothing in common if it weren’t for an odd metaphysical connection. They can periodically (and often at inconvenient times) see into each others lives like a perceptive window, complete with senses like smell, taste and touch. When they are growing up its confusing and stunted, but I imagine it blossoms along with every other attribute, and suddenly they’ve discovered they’re not both crazy, and that there’s a real person on the other end of this bewitching mutual conduit. Soon they are communicating, much to the puzzlement of everyone else in their lives, who just observes them talking to themselves like loons. Romance isn’t far off, as we can well guess, and soon they are deeply in love in spite of their differences and the great gulf of distance between them. He’s a troubled fellow with a criminal past, a lenghthy RAP sheet and a nosy parole officer (Steve Harris). She’s a mild mannered, fragile girl married to a prissy control freak of a Doctor (Mark Fuerstein). Both of their lives are continuously disrupted by their relationship until they’re at the brink of crisis, and it seems the only way out is to find one a other in person. The almost supernatural aspect of their connection  is treated frankly, like more of a biological anomaly as opposed to ghostly gimmicks. It can be seen as Whedon exploring the nature of love in our world, finding “the one” who is always out there, somewhere, waiting. Or are they? The real hero is his incredibly down to earth script, an easy going, hilarious and poignant piece of writing. The cast is from all walks of Hollywood and includes Nikki Reed, Shameless’s Steve Howey, Richard Rhiele and a priceless cameo from Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, who is starting to look like a character from Desperate Housewives. Kazan and David are just the cutest, most earnest couple I’ve seen in a romantic film of late. She’s unsure, passionate and intuitive, he’s a scrappy patchwork teddy bear and together they’re perfect, capturing the essence of the relationship in a single very unique sex scene, nestled in with all of their “spiritual Skype” bonding, and eventual face to face meeting. Whedon loves his characters, right down to the bit parts and it shows. His writing is never short of sterling, and this one is another winner for him. 

Mr. Right: A Review by Nate Hill 

As I was watching Mr. Right, I started thinking to myself, this is stupid. It’s absurd and silly. So why does it work so well? The premise isn’t unique or original. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy turns out to be hitman/secret agent. Boy drags girl on mad escapade against some dastardly villains, the bond between them getting stronger in the process. It’s an ages old formula. It sorta kinda worked with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and elsewhere failed miserably with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. So why then does it work so well with Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick? Well, exactly that: It’s Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. The two are so suited for each other it’s adorable. The both of them are quirky, awkward, unconventionally attractive and very unpredictable in their work. Neither are what you’d call traditional romantic leads or action stars, and it’s in that sense that the film finds its groove. I’ve heard other critics bash on Max Landis’s script for being to busy or too stoked on itself, but in a studio system that tosses us garbage like the Kutcher/Heigl version, I’ll take anything I can get that puts in an admirable effort, flaws and all. Anna plays a jilted girl who is on a speeding rebound train that has a chance run in with Mr. Right (Sam Rockwell). He’s charming, super into her and the chemistry they have is obvious right off the bat. Soon they’re being appallingly cute and pretty much dating… that’s where the trouble begins. Rockwell is an infamous assassin on the run from several baddies including his former agency mentor (Tim Roth has even more fun with accents here than he did in The Hateful Eight) who has lost his marbles, and a trio of mafia brats played by a volatile Anson Mount, a hammy James Ransone and a wicked Michael Eklund as that nastiest of the bunch. The film tries hard to balance the two tones, and fpr the most part succeeds, blending them with the helpful notes of craziness from everyone. The violence is brutal, stylized and often darkly comical, the romance is sweet but never gushy with just a hint of mental instability from both parties (sounds weird, I know… it works). Rockwell adds shades of his off the rails work in Seven Psychopaths, albeit with less psychosis. Kendrick is endlessly cute, and endearingly klutzy. Throw in RZA as a hapless killer who can’t decide what side of the fence he’s on, and you’ve got a diverse little cast with enough collective and individual talent to make this a good time. It won’t be for everyone; I can picture many people I know big annoyed, or simply finding themselves unable to buy into it. But for fans of Rockwell and Kendrick (even if you’re not, there’s no scoffing at both their skills) it’s a charming blast of fun.