the “2-film” rule

So I was listening to some podcast while huffing glue and the two hosts introduced an interesting concept: if a film director makes two unquestionably great movies, then they belong in the canon of great directors.

It seemed like a sound enough argument. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a hundred more times: it is extraordinarily difficult to make ONE good film. If a filmmaker can make one good movie, then replicate that impact in a subsequent film, then it’s obvious that the director knows what he/she is doing.

But the more you think about it, you come across some problems: specifically what it means to be “great”, or even a “Director”. Because if this criterion were true, then we find that a few questionable directors would belong in this canon.

Some examples:

Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense)

John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard, Hunt For Red October)

George Lucas (Star Wars, American Graffiti, THX-1138)

Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator)

Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen)

William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer)

Etc, etc, etc

While there are a bunch of notable films on those director’s resumes, would any of those directors be considered “great”? (IMHO, I would say “yes” for Friedkin, Aldrich, and McTiernan. “No” for the others.)

A “three film” criteria would fix this: Ford, Hitchcock, Wilder, Lean, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Coppola, Scorsese, Tarantino, and Spielberg would easily hurdle this barrier. But what about directors that made ONE unquestionably great film?

The Deer Hunter is arguably the greatest film ever made. And it was the only great movie that Michael Cimino directed.

But here’s another example: Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane IS unquestionably the greatest movie ever made. Now name another movie he made that had a similar impact? The Magnificent Ambersons? Touch of Evil? The Lady From Shanghai? Sure, they were good to VERY good. But were they Citizen Kane…or even Deer Hunter…great? Yet every cinephile would undoubtedly place Welles as one of the greats in film history.

And what about the niche directors…David Lynch, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, Sergio Leone, and even Paul Schrader, etc etc? I’d argue that it’s these directors that have the greatest influence on younger audiences.

What about the directors that aren’t auteurs? Some operate more as “CEOs” in their craft. George Lucas is one of these guys. Ridley Scott is too (and Spielberg to some extent). My personal fav is John Sturges, who directed such bangers like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Bad Day at Black Rock (a forgotten classic).

So I don’t know, the “two film” rule doesn’t seem to work (neither does the idea of a “canon”). It’s all too subjective.

As a side not, I didn’t mention very many European directors or auteurs of other nations. That’s obviously my American bias. Like it or not, cinema is the one (and only) contribution that the US has uniquely made to the arts. Nevertheless, these filmmakers deserve a shoutout. The Japanese, Korean, and Italian directors have a distinctiveness that I greatly appreciate and I regret not mentioning more of them. The Mexican film industry is criminally underrated. British directors, at least with their mainstream work, mimic their American counterparts. Tarkovsky, Costa-Garves, Wim Wenders Fellini, Herzog, and Pasolini are all incredible as well.

But the French New Wave sucked.

Another shot at the title (part I)

“Get the fuck out of my house,” I told Pablo.

“At least read the script!” he replied.

“Pablo, I have everything I want. I’m happily married to a Vietnamese hooker I met in Van Nuys. I’ve got a son and a house in the hills. I’ve got more money than god thanks to This Taste Like Ass. I’m done with Hollywood. Fuck Kathleen, fuck the studios. I’m retired.”

Pablo shook his head and looked down at his beer. “You know what they say about you?” he asked. “They say you’re a one-hit wonder. That you got lucky with This Tastes Like Ass, and lightening doesn’t strike twice.”

“And they’re right!” I replied.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Pablo said. “I remember when I first read your script years ago. I said ‘this guy is going places’ and I thought it was a privilege to represent you.”

He stood up and looked at my three Oscars mounted proudly behind a glass case. “When we first met, you told me that the worst fate someone could have in this town is to have a career like Michael Cimino,” Pablo continued. Then he turned around and looked me in the eye. “Do what Cimino couldn’t do. Prove Hollywood wrong: make another great film.”

I looked away. “Like I said: I’m retired,” I replied.

Pablo stood up straight and laid the script down on the coffee table. “I’ll leave this here with you,” he said then showed himself out the door.

I picked up the script.

Like a Fart in a Windstorm by Dallas Austin Antonio,” it read.

***

Later that night, my son put on a film streaming on Amazonian Prime. I don’t remember what it was called. “Big Gay Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” or something. I was too drunk to care.

But my blood began to boil during the sex scenes. The action was not much better. Finally I had enough and in a drunken rage, I slammed my foot into the TV.

“What the fuck is this shit?!” I yelled.

“Dad you’re drunk! Go to bed!” my son, Slick Rick, said.

“Fuck you asshole! My creativity built this house! I own Hollywood! Back in my day, we showed rock hard cock, full frontal nudity, and absurdly graphic violence! Not this pussy shit! No tits, no penis? Why is there a plot? We never cared about that crap! What happened to kids these days!?Hollywood just ain’t the same anymore Slick Rick, I’m tellin ya.”

“Dad, you need to get a hobby,” he replied.

I sat down next to Rick and patted him on the knee. “You’re a good son,” I said. “Now go help your mother.”

I then wrapped my bottle of Evan Williams in a paper bag and began wondering the streets Laurel Canyon.

The next morning, when I woke up in my neighbor’s backyard, I began to ponder Pablo’s words. I took out my cellphone and called him up.

“James, where the hell have you been?” he said. “Your wife’s been frantically calling me, wondering if I knew where you were!”

“Nevermind that,” I replied. “Get me a meeting with Kathleen Kennedy (not THAT Kathleen Kennedy, the other one).”

“So you read the script?” Pablo asked.

“Yes, I took your advice. We’re back in business.”

TO BE CONTINUED

bill friedkin

The career of William Friedkin is a reminder of how hard it is to make a good film.

He hit two films out of the fuckin park with The French Connection and The Exorcist then kinda floundered from there (he did have a few notable films afterwards, namely Sorcerer and To Live and Die in LA, the latter of which I haven’t seen).

Sure Friedkin won his accolades here and there, but he is truly the maestro of one specific thing: directing car chases.

Everyone remembers Gene Hackman just plowing through cars and walls while Friedkin neglected to obtain permits to film such a thing in the French Connection (and apparently there’s a good chase sequence in To Live and Die in LA), but Friedkin’s crowning achievement, in my view, is in Jade.

Before David Caruso was spitting out one liners while rocking a pair of sunglasses in CSI: Miami, he tried his hand at being a film star. Jade was the absolute highlight of this period.

In the film, after Angie Everhart gets totally destroyed by a Ford Thunderbird, Caruso pursuits the vehicle in his POS Ford during a delightful chase where vehicles fly through the air down the streets of San Francisco (and Caruso does his best Gene Hackman impersonation).

The best part is when the chase goes through some parade and pedestrians attack the vehicles using martial arts. I guess that would make sense if you learn about other cultures while binging on cocaine.

Take a look:

poop (and crap)

I’m glad that the films of Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan are still considered events. Auteurism is dying in Hollywood but there are still remnants.

I’m not a fan of their films, but it’s still nice.

I know it’s heresy for film buffs to dislike Tarantino, but like Alabama in college football, his movies get evaluated by a different standard for better or worse. Even when it’s obvious that he didn’t put his best foot forward, like every movie he’s made in the last 15 years, Tarantino’s films get praised as if the film industry is about to go under. If you remove his name from most of his movies, you’d probably be wondering what the fuck you just watched.

Mind you, Pulp Fiction will stand the test of time. Jackie Brown should be better appreciated. Kill Bill Vol. I and II are what they are. But go back and watch Reservoir Dogs. It didn’t age well. Could this be the fate for all his retrospective reviews once when Tarantino retires from the biz (after he allegedly makes his “10th film”)?

Probably not, but I can hope.

I admit, Tarantino just isn’t my flavor. A perfect film, for me, transcends the medium. It’s gotta stick with me…reveal something about myself, about the universe, that I never realized. Tarantino the man, as reflected in his films, lacks that insight. He’s a film geek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s all that he’s capable of being.

I expect more out of films, not constantly getting nudged throughout a viewing, being reminded of some shitty Italian film from 40 years ago. Now I love schlock as much as the next guy, but art and schlock do not…cannot…mix.

Tarantino however wants to have it both ways. And that is a pipe dream.

He made a cool film once 30 years ago, most directors will never achieve that. But that doesn’t mean everything he’s made since has been a home run.

Really the same thing is true for Nolan. I personally think his success rate is greater than Tarantino’s. But Nolan probably thinks of himself as the Stanley Kubrick of mainstream blockbusters. That also screams trying to have it both ways.

But whatever dude, at least Insomnia, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight…the only superhero film I’ve ever liked…were damn good.

sudden impact yur ass!

We should all be thankful that we still have Clint Eastwood. The man’s been working for close to 70 years. He’s an absolute legend.

The Hollywood GOAT?

Seriously, think about that. He’s an accomplished actor AND director. It’s a career that will never be topped. Ever.

Many have tried, notably Sylvester Stallone, but it’s just not possible. (To be fair to Stallone though, Eastwood was in much more competent hands earlier in his career between Sergio Leone and Don Siegel).

This being said, Eastwood isn’t the most innovative director. In fact, when he does make a great film, it’s as though he accidentally did so. His two universally acclaimed films, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, are mostly great because of their scripts (same with The Outlaw Josey Wales). Gran Torino appears to be a film with a lasting cultural impact, and while I wouldn’t say it had an outstanding script or direction, the movie works because of Eastwood’s personality, not because of anything he did behind the camera. But I’d say that Eastwood is to filmmaking what Steve Kerr is to the NBA…he’s extraordinarily competent.

Of course, when you go through a stretch where you’re making a movie ever 20 minutes, it’s hard to maintain quality.

Sudden Impact is one of the million Eastwood movies that gets lost in the shuffle. With a story from pioneering independent filmmaker and Arkansas legend Chuck B Pierce, this Dirty Harry sequel has our favorite 44 Magnum carrying San Francisco investigator being more dirty than usual. Eastwood’s then-wife Sandra Locke costars as woman exacting revenge against men who raped her 10 years earlier. I’d say that this is the best Dirty Harry sequel. Nay, this sequel is better than Dirty Harry, a film that defined raw 70s cop dramas.

What makes Sudden Impact so memorable is not the plot, I don’t remember if there was one, or character development or any of that bullshit. No, what makes this film great is watching Eastwood stumble from one scene to the next just absolutely beating the shit out of and shooting everyone. EVERYONE. To top it off, he runs around with a farting bulldog. He also kills a guy by just giving him a heart attack for fucks sake. Eastwood is just a straight up asshole, more so than usual for Dirty Harry. It’s probably that greatest Cannon film not produced by Cannon.

The film feels as though Eastwood didn’t want to return to the role and the only way they could convince him is if they allowed him to direct. And it payed off. Some of the best films made from this period were done when no one gave a shit. But Eastwood’s direction gave this entry an added edge, which is probably why Sudden Impact feels so different from the other Dirty Harry films.

While we still have him, I wish Eastwood would do ONE MORE Dirty Harry film. It’s what we need now more than ever: a 90 year old bastard just blasting the fuck out of bad guys with a 44 Magnum.

Do it Clint!

earthquake with charlton Heston

Los Angeles in the 1970s was a magical time. Actors quit caring about their physique. Producers were blasting cocaine into their brains. George Kennedy was a star. It’s a time that’s never been topped and it never will be.

Out of this era came Earthquake (1974) starring Charlton Heston and a bunch of actors in need of a paycheck (and co-written by Mario Puzo).

As disaster films go, there’s a long buildup to the “disaster”: Heston is bangin Genevieve Bujold, George Kennedy is an absolute asshole, Walter Matthau is a pimp drunk, and so on. It’s all standard stuff. Then comes the 4 hour earthquake where cardboard houses crumble and the people of LA forget how to handle such an event as they fall several stories out of high rises to their violent deaths. It’s delightful.

My only complaint about this sequence is that they didn’t do enough with Richard Roundtree’s part as a daredevil. It would have been pimp if he CRUSHED that obstacle course on his motorbike while buildings crumbled and people died all around him. Oh well.

Honestly, there’s a few good matte paintings here and there. But the standout is Marjoe Gortner’s performance as the sexually confused grocer/wannabe karate instructor/National Guardsman. It’s a performance that was ahead of its time.

The ending is good too: the city is in ruins and none of the personal drama gets resolved (of course, I was barely paying attention at this point).

I think this film provides a good insight into an era where Hollywood quit giving a shit, just as long as everyone made a fuck ton of money.

lawrence! merry christmas 😀

Damn it! I wish someone hadn’t stolen my copy of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

It’s my favorite holiday movie!

Seriously though, it’s probably my favorite POW film. The first time you watch it, it’s kinda underwhelming. Certainly not the kind of thing you’d expect from the director of In the Realm of the Senses.

But it’s actually one of the rare films that get better the more you watch it.

David Bowie plays a British soldier, Jack Celliers, who is taken captive by the Japanese during WWII. The camp commander, played by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, becomes obsessed with him. Bowie and Sakamoto, not known for their acting, actually carry the film quite well.

Meanwhile, Tom Conti’s Col. Lawrence and Takeshi Kitano’s Sgt. Hara have a contentious yet mutually admirable relationship.

The emotional highlight of the film is when Lawrence and Celliers get locked up and scheduled for execution. The two confide in each other some of their regrets. We’re shown flashbacks of Celliers high class upbringing and his relationship with his younger brother. Lucky for them, it’s Christmas. Sgt. Hara gets drunk and grants the two of them a reprieve.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” Hara says.

At the conclusion of the film, the shoe’s on the other foot. Hara is a POW yet Lawrence is unable to prevent his execution.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is unusual for a war film in that rather than focusing on death and carnage, it explores human relationships, understanding, love, and regret.

I just wish whoever borrowed my copy would return it 😢

That would make my fuckin Christmas!

a shot at the title VI: still shootin’

At the premier, Pablo, Pee-Wee, and Dick Earnhardt were all decked out in their tuxedos. Kathrine was wearing her Louis Vuttoin gown, smiling and waving to the cameras. Even Dillon made an appearance.

I just threw on a clean shirt and cologne and called it a day.

At the press junket, I was asked “how would you describe this film?”, I said:

“Well it’s got some tits, dick, goblins, and swords. It’s alright I guess.”

We all sat down in our seats. When the title This Tastes Like Ass appeared on the screen, I fell asleep.

Pee-Wee nudged me when the end credits were rolling. The audience was walking out and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

I went home and cracked open a beer. “Take that Hollywood!” I said. Then went to bed.

The next morning, critics presented their reviews:

“A cinematic experience that can’t be matched. It’s literally impossible,” read the Fort Worth Telegram.

“The filmmakers were clearly drugged out of their minds, but damn it, it works. It’ll make you horny. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you depressed to the point of insanity. But there’s something there that transcends the capabilities of human language,” read the Des Moines Register.

The reviews were unanimous: the gratuitous nudity, the unsimulated sex from A-list stars, the excessive violence, the absurd and almost non-existent plot…it was unique in the history of film. Nothing could compare.

When I accepted my Academy Awards (not THOSE Academy Awards) for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, I said:

“All you mother fuckers doubted me. You said I was too old, too stupid, and too ugly to make it in this town. Well now look at me. I’m up here and you’re down there. You’re all sick and pathetic.”

Kathrine received her accolades as well. As producer, she was awarded the Best Picture Oscar (again, not THOSE Oscars). She later succeeded Dick Earnhardt as CEO after his untimely death from viagra poisoning. She became the toast of the town.

But my point was made.

A reporter later came to me and asked, “Now that you’ve conquered Hollywood, what are you going to do now?”

I responded, “Go home and take a shit.”

a shot at the title V: the final round

The dailies started rolling in.

Kathrine and I screened the raw, unedited cut with Dick Earnhardt, CEO of Trainwreck Productions. After the 14 hour version was finished, silence fell over the room.

“Sir, I can explain,” Kathrine said.

“Kathy, please leave the room,” Mr. Earnhardt said.

She pushed her chair away from the table and left in frustration. I sat there eating my crackers.

“Pretty good shit, huh?” I said.

Mr. Earnhardt stood up and paced across the room. He took one shot of whisky. Then another. He sat back down at the table facing me.

“I’ve spent $900 million on this production,” he said. “I’ve given you every possible resource, every possible opportunity to see your vision realized.”

Mr. Earnhardt paused.

“Bob Oglesby was a great man. He’s a legend in this town. He believed in you and your talents. He thought that you were going to save this industry,” he continued.

“Damn,” I said as I munched.

“And Kathy has done everything she can to fuck that up,” Dick concluded.

I dropped my crackers.

“Really?” I asked.

“Son, this is my last hoorah. I’ve made so much money that I could bankrupt this county, and have. I’ve banged every prostitute, male and female, from here to Denver. I’ve done every drug that can be taken. I was popping viagra before it was cool to do so. I haven’t done an honest day’s work in 20 years and hope to never do so again. In short: I do not give a shit.”

“So, what are you telling me?” I asked.

“The board wants me out, they say Kathy is the future. This is her production, but I’m in control of the money. So I am giving you a blank check to complete this film in the way you see fit,” Dick stated.

I sat back in my chair.

“In that case, I need $200 million.”

a shot at the title III: money shot!

“I’m Dillon J Dudenburg. I’ve directed softcore porn. I’ve directed hardcore porn. I’ve also directed episodes of Dharma and Greg. I’ve studied under David A. Pryor, Andy Sidaris, and Godfrey Ho. I’m ready for the Big Screen. However I have some concerns with the script.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I think we need to make the lead a heterosexual. I don’t think the Chinese market is ready for that sort of thing. But we can keep in all the gay sex,” Dillon replied.

“So the main character is straight, he just has sex with men?”

“Correct”

“I think that’s an excellent idea Dillon,” Kat interjected. “James, you need to prepare a fourth draft.”

“Very well,” I replied. I called over my production assistant, Pee-Wee.

“Pee-Wee, take note: make the main character less gay.”

“I think this has been a very productive meeting,” Kat said. “Dillon, thank you for your input. We’ll be reaching out to you shortly.”

We shook hands and Dillon exited the room.

“What do you think?” Kat asked.

“I enjoyed Take Me To Pound Town IX as much as the next guy. But he’s an asshole. I don’t think he understands my work at all,” I replied.

“Come on, James. Making films is a collaborative effort. Dillon has style, a creative flair. He is the best director for the job.”

“Or the best one we can afford,” I said.

Kat walked away when Pablo, my agent, called.

“Great news!” he said. “Kat and I have finalized your contract.”

“Oh wonderful! What did you get?”

“Well, now hear me out…”

“Pablo, what did you do?”

“Your contract is 15….“

“15..?”

“….hundred dollars. Which, of course, 45% of that goes to commission.”

“Pablo, you shit the bed on this one.”

“BUT BUT BUT you get sole screenwriting credit and 100% of the merchandising rights!”

“Pablo, the script is no longer an action romp in outer space! It’s now a melodrama in 1942 Stalingrad! What merchandising rights could there be?!”

I hung up the phone and looked for Kathrine. She was back in her office. So I climbed up the fireman pole and stormed in.

“So what am I? Your slave?!” I asked.

“First rule of Hollywood: you’re only as good as your agent,” she replied.

“The only way I can profit off this film is if we sell Nazi SS action figures! You think you can push me around? Well you got another thing coming sister!”

I slid back down the pole and found Pee-Wee.

“Pee-Wee,” I said. “When do the sets go up?”

“Uhh, Tuesday I think.”

“Load up on crank and call Dillon. We’ve got work to do.”

TO BE CONTINUED