Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blogathon Review: The Usual Suspects

Thought I'd put in my 2 cents worth for the screenwriting blog-a-thon that Mystery Man in Film has graciously thought up and discuss The Usual Suspects.

There are several things about Christopher McQuarrie's script and the resulting movie by Bryan Singer which made this one of my overall favorite movies.

With The Usual Suspects how could you not want to write a movie as well it shows on the page. McQuarrie pulls a little bit of trickery by presenting 'Verbal' Kint and then allowing him to play everyone for the entire movie only to escape in the end and poor Agent Kujan is left having to clean up his broken coffee cup.

But, in order for us to believe this clever deceiver, McQuarrie first shows Verbal into our hearts.

...FOLLOW A PAIR OF FEET as they shuffle across the cement floor. The shoes are shabby and worn, as are the wrinkled pants that hang too low and loose at the cuffs. The right foot is turned slightly inward and falls with a hard limp. It is clear that the knee does not extend fully...

...ROGER KINT, VERBAL to his few friends. He has a deeply lined face, making his thirty-odd years a good guess at best. From his twisted left hand, we can see that he suffers from a slight but not debilitating palsy...

It didn't make sense that I be there. I mean these guys were hard-core hijackers, but there I was. At that point, I wasn't scared, if knew I hadn't done anything they could do me for. Besides, it was fun. I got to make like I was notorious...

Awww he's a poor gimp (as Hockney calls him in the jail scene) who gets picked on by the five guys and even gets gut punched by Keaton. Afterwords Verbal states he'll "shit blood tonight".

So, McQuarrie makes him the narrator of the movie--he's gonna explain everything. So, he can't be a bad guy right?

Not so sure.

Also, by presenting Verbal talking through VO throughout the screenplay he is clearly telling a story which ends up being Agent Kujan and thus we never get to see the inner aspects of Verbal and his true hand is not never revealed.

So the game starts.

Since The Usual Suspects starts near the end of the action in the movie we learn what is going to happen to the main characters. The only clue we're given is in Keaton's demise by Keyser.

Then we learn that Verbal has some connections--

...David Kujan is walking quickly beside SERGEANT RABIN, a dark and weathered looking man in his late thirties. They move up a staircase into the heart of police headquarters.

What do you mean I can't see him?

The D.A. came down here last night ready
to arraign before they even moved him to
county. Kint's lawyer comes in and five
minutes later, the D.A. comes out looking
like he'd been bitch-slapped by the
boogey man. They took his statement and
cut him a deal.

Did they charge him with anything?

Weapons. Misdemeanor two.

What'he fuck is that?...

I give the D.A. credit for getting that
much to stick. This whole thing has
turned political. The Mayor was here -
the chief - the Governor called this
morning, for Christ's sake. This guy is
protected- From up on high by the prince
of fucking darkness...

So begs the question who is Verbal's connection? Then we learn more about this Keyser starting with the one survivor, Arkosh Kovash, of the shipyard incident where the whole screenplay starts. And so the mystery of Keyser Soze is built layer by layer by McQuarrie--

...He is the Devil.
You've never seen anyone like Keyser
Soze in all your miserable life you
idiot. Keyser Soze. Do you at least
understand that? Keyser Soze. The
Devil himself. Or are you American
policemen as stupid that you haven't
even heard of him. Keyser Soze, you
ridiculous man. KEYSER SOZE ...

Several more references are made by different characters saying "Who is Keyser Soze?" And again it is up to Verbal to explain Soze's back story (or so it may seem) but first we must meet Mr Kobayashi, Soze's supposed lawyer...

I work for Keyser Soze.

A strange look crosses Keaton's face. Skepticism, mockery and just a hint of fear. Hockney, McManus and Fenster all share similar looks.

What is this?

Who's Keyser Soze?

I am sure you've heard a number of tall
tales, myths and legends about Mr. Soze
I can assure you gentlemen, most of them
are true.

Who's Keyser Soze?

Who indeed. McManus, Hockney and Fenster are confused enough that they think Kobayashi is Soze and nearly knock him off. But McQuarrie continues to unfold the mystery--

He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say
his father was German. Nobody believed he
was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew
anybody that ever worked directly for
him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it,
anybody could have worked for Soze. You
never knew. That was his power. The
greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was
convincing the world he didn't exist....

McQuarrie adds a wonderful scene showing how Soze became the "Devil" as he is known when Soze kills his own family and the Hungarians who were trying to take over his business except one so that the story can be passed along. The way it is told though allows the mystery to sustain itself. Soze is never revealed and in the end you only see a shadowed figure walking away from a huge fiery blaze.

But after Verbal has spent time making it seem as though Keaton is the real Soze and Kujan is going right along with it. McQuarrie could have left that mystery solved in our minds and we all would have thought it's Keaton all along. But that wouldn't be the best screenplay would it? McQuarrie wants us to know who the real Soze is but doesnt want to stick it out there. Instead he plants just enough to know that it will come later--

Kovash's room is now filled with people. Jack Baer stands next to DANIEL METZHEISER, a balding man in his forties. Next to him is Doctor Plumber. Across from her is Ridgly Waiters.

Sitting beside the bed is TRACY FITZGERALD, a casually dressed woman in her late twenties. She holds a 15x20 inch drawing pad on her lap...

(To Bodi)
This is Tracy Fitzgerald. She's a
composite sketch artist from county....

He says he saw him in the harbor. He was
shooting... Killing... Killing many men.

Did he say Keyser Soze? He saw Keyser

Keyser Soze. Keyser Soze. I've seen his
face. I see it when I close my eyes.

He says he knows his face. He sees it
when he closes his eyes.

Ask him what this Devil looks like.

(To Tracy)

Tracy holds up her pad and pencil. She nods.

So we know at some point we are going to have a picture which doesn't get completed till the last pages of the screenplay rolling across the fax as Verbal walks out of the police station.

But McQuarrie adds another layer of detail toward the beginning of the screenplay that is so hidden but ultimately plays a huge factor in the deceit by Verbal--

...Rabin's office can only be described as a disaster area. The desk is cluttered with weeks, perhaps months or even years of paperwork that could never conceivably be sorted out.

Above his desk is a bulletin board. It is a breathtaking catastrophe of papers, wanted posters, rap-sheets, memos and post-its. This is in the neighborhood of decades. Rabin is a man with a system so cryptic, so far beyond the comprehension of others, he himself is most likely baffled by it...

A small detail about Rabin. Doesn't seem like much. And then later--

Kujan shakes his head. He gestures to the desk.

Man, you're a fucking slob.

Rabin regards the mess of his office.

Yeah. It's got it's own system though. It
all makes sense when you look at it right.
You just have to step back from it, you know?
You should see my garage, now that's a horror show...

Kujan is not listening. He has been staring at the bulletin board, lost in thought, his unfocused eyes drifting across the mess of papers, not looking at anything at all.

The detail is brought up again. What's up with the bulletin board? McQuarrie finally reveals--


Kujan still stares at the bulletin board.

SUDDENLY, Kujan's face changes. He leans in closer to the bulletin board and squints his eyes. His face changes again.

First a look of puzzlement, then confusion - finally realization.

The coffee cup tumbles from his hand. It hits the floor with the SMASH of cheap porcelain. Coffee splatters everywhere.

Rabin snaps out of his droning and looks up in surprise.


Kujan is staring not at what is on the bulletin board, but at the bulletin board itself.

His eyes follow the aluminum frame, mounted firmly to the wall. One might note it's sturdy construction and it's convenient size. Big enough to hold a lifetime of forgotten and disregarded notes and facts. Years of police trivia that has been hung and forgotten with the intention of finding a use for it all someday. One might want such a bulletin board for one's self. One would look to see who makes such a bulletin board. Kujan's eyes are locked on a metal plate bearing the manufacturer's name.

Kujan's eyes flash all' over the bulletin board. He finds a picture of Rabin in the far corner. He stands beside a scale in fishing gear. He proudly holds a hand out to his freshly caught marlin. His eyes skim quickly over and stop on an eight and a half by eleven inch fax sheet of what must be a THREE HUNDRED POUND BLACK MAN. Kujan glazes over his name, it is irrelevant. His aliases stand out.

Slavin, BRICKS, Shank, REDFOOT, Thee, Rooster...

KUJAN'S EYES WIDEN with sudden realization. He runs for the door...

All this details fulfill something Verbal said Soze would end up doing--

You think you can catch Keyser Soze? You think a guy
like that comes this close to getting caught, and sticks
his head out? If he comes up for anything it'll be to
get rid of me. After that... my guess is you'll
never hear from him again...

There was alot more I could have tapped into with this work by McQuarrie but I chose to center on Soze and the reveal of the bulletin board because those were to major things in the screenplay that elevated this one screenplay for me.

This is why The Usual Suspects is one of my favorite screenplays and ultimately one of my favorite movies, because McQuarrie succeeded in creating this mythical character in the movie. None of them ever realizing he was a "devil" walking right in their midst till it was too late...

....and like that he was gone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sandler's Dramatic Move Reigns Over Me

The movie going experience has been dreadful for the past year or so. I'm just not finding movies that draw me to the theater (and I am a BIG movie theater geek) as in previous years. I also have to take the wife into the equation. It has to have some element she'll like (humor usually is the best bet or the occasional hunk i.e Brad Pitt or George Clooney.)

So surprisingly we went to Reign Over Me last weekend. Adam Sandler in what appeared to be a seriously serious movie. His prior attempt Punch Drunk Love was just quirky. Good I thought but Paul Thomas Anderson's characters are more quirky serious than dramatic quirky.

I had to see it though. Even if there wasn't any outright humorous quality and Sandler channeling a Dylanesque mane of hair knocked him out of any hot actor category I'm sure for my wife. I just had to see if Sandler could pull it off.

When comic actors make the foray in drama it can have uneven results. Carrey is a prime example of that with The Majestic and the Number 23 pretty much falling to the wayside. His best dramatic work was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and most of The Truman Show and maybe The Man on the Moon but for me that ventured more into mimicry. Robin Williams pretty much made it though he's slipped back into mindless comedies again. However, the only one who made a successful leap the last couple decades is Tom Hanks. Remember a comedy he was a active part in? Remember The Bachelor Party or dare I say Bosom Buddies?


So Sandler is going down a lonesome road for comedic actors. But interestingly enough I really don't think Sandler brought the drama to ROM as much as he was a comic foil for Don Cheadle. Which was alittle unexpected. This movie was Sandler being a recluse over the death of his family on 9/11. Serious stuff right? Not really a chance for too many fart jokes. Sandler instead infused a quiet type of humor. Sandler did bring some of his usual insult humor to the show however he had a companion in Don Cheadle's character to bounce it off. These are two old college friends reconnecting after a traumatic event and they are fall back into that chummy college humor style dialogue. Without that the movie would have sunk quickly into a dry melodrama. But that isn't to say that Sandler didn't chop on the dramatic bit alittle with this role. There are several scenes where the familiar Sandler has been put aside and Sandler tries (and admirably succeeds) a new character.

The theater was packed for the movie which always makes the experience 100 times better (though the late comers also rile my feathers they do post the movie times in like a million places right? And yet people arrive right as the movie starts even 15 minutes into the movie....okay I'm trying to suppress the movie geek) The audience was totally engaged like a roller coaster going with the laughs and the quiet dramatic moments especially Sandler's moment of glory where his character does a pretty good reveal ( no spoilers here folks) even though I think it went just alittle long.

Although I was introduced to Mike Binder's movies through The Upside of Anger which was in its own right a good flick with Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, and with the fact that 4 months into 2007 there has been only maybe 2-3 pics so far this year that had any slight urge to see, ROM is at the top. It isn't up for Best Pic mind you. Just like last year with Little Miss Sunshine a great ensemble movie which probably should have gotten the Best Pic Nod for 2006. But against a behemoth like The Departed with (let's count) 5 huge actors and a couple more smaller ones (Alec Baldwin alone made the movie for me) it just wasn't gonna make it. Okay, so back to Mike Binder. I think he is progressing (even playing a reserved Sugarman in the pic which I love pointing who the director is to my wife when they play a role. More directors should do that..well not so much for Tarantino.) Anyway, I'm getting distracted...

Okay, so ROM only made 7.5 mil over the weekend which doesn't portend too well to it being a blockbuster and solidifying Sandler in the dramatic role. With the packed house on a Saturday night in Minnesota when it was usually warm (in the 70's) made me think it's gotta be better than the 8th spot. But I was wrong.

Luckily I have a few big tent pole flicks (Spiderman, Pirates of Caribbean and Shrek) to draw me back to the theater again this year cause otherwise the pickings are sparse. And it's unfortunate that this gigantic blockbuster in-the-wait films are they only thing grabbing my attention down the road for flicks this year. I'm sure I'll run across a couple small ones that hopefully make it a better than could be.

Hollywood is gonna be reaching a crisis point here soon if the trend for low ball high price bombs continue to dominate the screens. But this pending crisis sends a message to me that I need to get writing cause I like to believe that, while Sandler's movie inspires me, I need to get home quick so I can start changing that outcome.

I'll touch on why I think that issue may be coming about with later posts.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I need to write

I told my wife on Sunday that I seriously need to do some writing. I have fallen out of the habit for the last few months after having a decent run. Moving to a new house doesn't help cause there is just more to do.
So I open up the laptop to look at what I've written so far and I just hate it.


And now I've already broken 2 cardinal rules for writers.

1) I haven't been writing every day
2) I'm editing out of the box.

The second no-no has been my downfall since day one as a writer. I get stuck and so I want to look at what has come out of my ass so far and I start tweaking that instead of working on trudging forward. But I just can't seem to get the movie in my head to the paper.
The movie in my head is awesome ( at least I like to think so)

But it just gets lost in translation along the way.

I was using my old ratty apartment for inspiration because the locale of the screenplay takes place in one also and I'm hoping I can still recall how it feels to live in that 450 square foot box which had sucky heat in the winter and the bedroom a mere 5 feet from the living room was a sauna at night in the summer. (Apparently remembering too well for this post.)

So I am stuck. I try and go to the usual venues for assistance. Creative Screenwriting and Script Magazine sometimes offer an interesting ideas. Unk (Unknown screenwriter) is always going off about ideas for writing movies which have left me wanting alittle of that enthusiasm like he's got. But it seems when I get into this situation it's as though I'm a newbie at writing like I'm in a maze scrambling through possible routes to find the end when I just get back to the same place I just entered.

I can see what I want to write for my movie I even have great ideas for the ending but instead the screen taunts me with a blank face.

And yet I still tell my wife when my writing id gets an itch (like after seeing a great flick)...

I need to write.

God help me.

I need to write.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Gettin' Started

I am not in the middle of H'wood (or the state of Cali for that matter) and at this point in my life I don't know if I will ever be there professing a trade such as screenwriter or other means within the film biz. But I am just a middle class white boy who loves movies and right now writes screenplays as a hobby.

Okay wait that's gonna bug some people...I can feel the heat already. The important point is the RIGHT NOW. I'm gonna get heat from the artists who profess that this art of writing screenplays is more than that and probably some more heat from the everyday screenwriter professionals who work in the trenches of H'wood thinking I am debasing their work as just some stinking HOBBY. Mind you it is important to note that artists and the professionals are really the same thing but I'm sure each looks at the other differently.

But no offense to either. That was not my intent with any of these statements. They are both frakking right in their own worlds. I do think writing screenplays is an art and definitely more than a hobby.

So why a hobby for me?

Good question, but one I can't answer. Right now.

So it isn't just a trivial past time--I do take writing screenplays seriously.

But it isnt easy.

But that doesn't mean that it doesn't eat at me every day as I go to the job that came because of choices which did come before my love of movies and everything that goes with it.

This is a second attempt at a blog for me...I hope to keep at it since I am envious of the other bloggers who do. I have watched a few bloggers as per my bloggers list. I haven't been as successful or perhaps as knowledgeable as they have been. But I think, like them, I wanted to acknowledge my journey and along the way perhaps parlay something gained through my experience.

I know there are others out there like me. Finding the time to work out that one scene that one bit of dialogue that has been biting at their heels for days. Maybe not so much the same way I am thinking today. I do give high regard to those to fight the fight to bring screenplays their due in the vast monster we call H'wood.

But that is just not for me. Today. Right Now. Maybe tomorrow... I just like to write screenplays. I hope those who know what that means can feel what I am saying. Cause Now....

I'm just gettin' started.