Life

There are days when I can motivate myself to do anything. I can write an entire script, direct, shoot and edit a film, act, create… I can move all the furniture in the massive space we’ve built from one side and back without complaining… paint, do electrical and put up drywall.

It’s cake.

Then there are the other days. I’m sure the balance is the same, but now I find I remember the latter more than the former.

Let’s talk about this atrocity exhibition called Star Trek: Discovery. Shepherded by two of the most talentless hacks the Hollywood system has ever rewarded for their hubris, STD is everything Star Trek was meant as a weapon against; it is dark, hateful, filled with utterly unlikable characters and a complete lack of hope. It’s almost as if Kurtzman and Goldsman decided to do a series set in the Mirror Universe without telling anyone.

Discovery is, in every sense of the world, awful. After 50 years, Trek has become dystopian. How the fuck did that happen?

Full disclosure; Star Trek ended for me in 1991.

Undiscovered Country was far from a great film; it had much of the forced humor that has led to Voyage Home aging so badly, a forgettable plot, and a cast that mostly seemed tired rather than excited for one last run. Still, it was a welcome relief after suffering through Final Frontier, and when the original cast “autographed” the film at the beginning of the end credits, that was good enough for me. I’d achieved closure. Star Trek, as far as I was concerned, was over.

Y’see, I gave up on Next Generation at the end of the second season in ’89. I tried, I swear I did. I wanted to love TNG. As my friend Ken will attest, I sat through episode after episode hoping that this time, the plot wouldn’t fall apart in the last act; the script would make sense; the dialogue wouldn’t be terrible; Wesley would die a horrible, painful death. Finally, I just got tired of throwing pillows at the TV in anger and frustration. The mess I was watching had aspirations of being Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it was much closer to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

I know all the things you’re going to say. The point of this isn’t my dislike of TNG. (Maybe later this year I’ll put up a rant about the reasons why.) For now, you aren’t going to convince me, and I’m not going to convince you. Let’s move on.

Each successive Trek series lowered the bar. I’ve seen 2 1/2 episode of DS9, and that was enough to realize I hated it. Voyager was inexplicably much worse, and Enterprise said, “Hold my tranya.”

But as bad as all those shows were, they were still obviously Star Trek. Despite the thick layers of Berman/Braga cheese, they had their hearts in the right place.

Then came JJTrek. I’ve never bothered to post a real review of everything that’s wrong with NuTrek because, frankly, if you can’t see for yourself what a pile of shit it is, I can’t be bothered to talk to you. Not only was JJTrek (and its two retarded spawn) just a terrible movie, it’s also deeply offensive. JJTrek is rooted in a profound contempt for original Trek, its characters and concepts. It’s not an attempt to reboot, it’s an attempt to obliterate.

Now we have Discovery, and the cycle has breathlessly continued. Star Trek was intended as a fictional guide to what humanity could be. The best self Gene Roddenberry believed the human race could become. Now Starfleet are just another band of hi-tech thugs.

It’s true that the first tendrils of this rot are rooted in Trek VI, with the admiralty trying to start a war and finish the Klingons. But they were outliers. The Starfleet of STD seems to be composed entirely of different versions of Commander Styles from Balance of Terror.

The reasons are obvious. Just look at the news. Hope requires more suspension of disbelief than an audience can muster.

If art is the mirror held up to nature, then what else can we expect? Sure, TOS aired during a time of political strife and upheaval, but those people still hoped they could effect change. We all know we’re completely fucked. Think about Starfleet as portrayed in TOS and ask yourself if we’ll ever get there?

Art, in the form of Discovery, says no.

50. Today. Let that sink in.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t imagine being here. I expected both so much, and so little from my life. What I never expected is what it actually is. I suspect this is true for most people.

My last post, over a year ago, was after our first week of filming on Diminuendo. That film is now finished, and as we seek out worthwhile distribution (a task largely shepherded by others), I’ve had to begin thinking about what comes next. And so, as I wobble into my fifties, I have a stronger desire than ever to keep working.

Of course, most projects begin on the page, my great nemesis. I despise writing, and yet I have so much of it to do if Diminuendo is going to be a foundation rather than a ceiling. As a result, I’m stealing a page from my friend Ben Hoffman’s book. Once, when Ben found himself at a crossroads of fierce transition and a loss of direction, he dedicated himself to Project One, a photography website. Ben swore that he would make one piece of art every day, no matter what else occurred.

And he did.

I’m not reaching for art; I’m just going to write. It might be a rant, a review, a single, wayward thought, but every day for the next year, I’m going to post something, and force myself to put metaphorical pen to paper.

Bob help us all.

When you’re making a film, there comes a moment. It has happened on every film I’ve ever made, and every one I almost made. It’s a moment of equilibrium, either gained or lost. A fleeting moment of critical mass.

You feel it. It settles as a moment of giddiness, or a crawling in the pit of your stomach. The moment where you know, with unshakable certainty, that the film either is or is not going to happen.

Y’see, unless you’re working at a very high level of film or television, production is never certain until The Moment comes. Every movie is like a snowball rolling downhill. It either takes on weight, gains velocity and feels as if it will continue under its own momentum, or it comes apart and disintegrates.

This morning, the moment hit me. Diminuendo is happening. It’s a beautiful thing.

You’re going to be hearing me talk a lot about this film over the next several months. Here’s the scoop:

Never fully recovered from witnessing Cello Shea, the love of his life, commit suicide in front of him, famous director Haskell Edwards has fallen into a nine year, alcoholic, drug-induced slump he isn’t even sure he wants to pull out of.

When a high profile tech-company invites him to direct a movie about Cello’s life, Haskell’s not sure if he should take the job, especially when they reveal the utterly lifelike robot that will be playing Cello.

Recruiting his old friends (and enemies) to help him produce a movie that honors Cello’s legacy, Haskell is forced to relive his whirlwind relationship with Cello and finally address the differences between love and obsession.

THE CAST includes Richard Hatch (Battlestar: Galactica, Cowboys & Engines, The Rainmakers), Chloe Dykstra (Nerdist, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 2), Leah Cairns (Interstellar, 88 Minutes, Fargo [Season 1]), James Deen (The Canyons, Happy-ish), Gigi Edgley (Farscape) and Walter Koenig (Star Trek, Babylon 5) as Milton Green.

PRODUCING the film are Sarah Goldberger (Cowboys & Engines, X-Rated), Hollywood Heard (Range 15, Jake’s Corner), and Ryan Linderman of Lionsgate Entertainment. The Executive Producer is Michael Hemmerich (The Jokesters, Prey).

DIMINUENDO is directed by Bryn Pryor (Cowboys & Engines, Poker) and written by Bryn Pryor & Sarah Goldberger.

Rebel 11 and Faithless Films present Diminuendo, a Flamboyance Films production.

www.DiminuendoMovie.com

 

 

Whatever Barbara Broccoli paid Sam Mendes, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan to revitalize the Bond franchise after MGM’s financial collapse nearly killed it, it wasn’t enough. This is the first Bond film with a marquee, Academy Award-winning director at the helm, and the difference is breathtaking.

Before I begin, the niceties of the internet age force me to spell out the bleeding fucking obvious that if you haven’t seen Skyfall yet, don’t be a fucking retard. Go see the movie and read this later.

I should start by explaining my relationship with 007. Entire books have been written about the Bond films, and their effect on modern cinema. Jaws might have been the first legitimate blockbuster, but Bond was the first franchise. It spawned sequels, knock-offs, duplicates, legal battles, parodies, launched and sunk entire careers… James Bond isn’t a film series, it’s an empire.

To truly understand the scope of Bond’s reach, you only have to look at Neil Connery, Sean’s talentless younger brother, who was hired to star — as Dr. Neil Connery (!?!) — in a Bond ripoff that also stars Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Adolfo Celi (Largo), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Monneypenny), and was released by United Artists, who distributed the real Bond films. In essence, this was a company so desperate to capitalize on the Bond phenomenon, it was ripping off itself.

I first encountered James Bond at the age of six when I saw Diamonds Are Forever on television. It was the perfect age to be dazzled by one of the weakest entries in the series. It’s a sad commentary on the quality and tone of Diamonds that it was shown back-to-back with the Dean Martin Matt Helm film The Wrecking Crew, and I really didn’t understand the difference. Still, I was hooked. By the time VHS was a staple, I’d seen every Bond movie several times, and read Fleming’s books.

In regards to the latter, I have to say, I’m not a fan. I give Ian Fleming credit for inventing the Secret Agent as Superhero genre that spawned a thousand pretenders to the throne of empire, but taken as literature, the books are dry, dull, and thin on characterization. It doesn’t help that each seems hyper-fixated on whatever passion Fleming was indulging at the time; Casino Royale, for example, is not a book about James Bond and le Chiffre. It’s a book about baccarat.

That being said, I’m really a Bond purist. My favorite Bond film has always been From Russia With Love. It’s real, straightforward and simple. Bond doesn’t have an army at his disposal or the world to save. He has a clear mission, a sexy blonde defector and a slightly tricky briefcase. For me, that’s enough. Having seen Skyfall, I have to admit that From Russia With Love has finally been knocked off its perch.

You have to appreciate that I love all the Bond movies, even the horrible ones. I just bought the Bond 50th Anniversary blu-ray set, and I’ve been watching them all in order. I’m not looking forward to A View to a Kill, but I’ll suffer through it. You’ll also find most of the imitators on my shelf. While I don’t have the 1967 Casino Royale parody, I have the Matt Helm films, the Flint movies, and the entire Bourne series. Skyfall has as little to do with any of those knock-offs and predecessors as Martin Campbell’s 2006 Casino Royale has to do with the 1956 CBS teleplay that was also based on the book.

I’ve been a big fan of the Daniel Craig Bond retcon. I liked Casino Royale a lot, and I’m in that rare minority who think Quantum of Solace is an amazing film (that’s a whole other argument, but it really is a brilliant, $200 million dollar art film). I have never, however, hoped — or even imagined — that there would ever be a Bond like Skyfall.

What Sam Mendes and the writers have managed to do with Skyfall is nothing short of magic. I don’t mean that merely as an adjective, I mean it in the literal sleight-of-hand sense as well. Skyfall is a brilliantly executed magic trick, one so subtle most of the audience will never even recognize it. All at once it manages to be a soft reboot of the franchise, a deconstruction of Bond as an icon, and a reconstruction of the character as a flesh-and-blood human, so much more interesting that the superhero he’s replacing.

It’s also a classic Bond movie told in reverse.

What, you didn’t catch that?

With Skyfall, Mendes is rewinding the character, and our perceptions of him, one step at a time. In some ways its incredibly subtle, in others just heavy-handed enough that the subtext will seep through the thickest skulls without ever damaging the narrative. What Mendes and crew have done is give us a James Bond history lesson, tearing down everything we thought we knew about the character, rebuilding a new version right before our eyes, and yet affirming everything we love about him all at once. Seriously. Magic.

Think about it; the biggest action sequence in Skyfall — always reserved for the climax of any Bond film — comes at the top, before the opening credits. From that opening, everything in the plot narrows down to the final confrontation between M, Silva, and Bond. And for our final battle between our “hero” and “villain,” presented here more as two sides of the same coin than ever in spy movie history, how does Mendes “top” the huge train fight at the beginning?

By scaling back to the simplest, cleanest execution ever in Bond history. James Bond kills Silva with a knife in the back. No smart quip. No fanfare. The explosions are long over. And yet it surpasses our wildest expectations because it has emotional resonance, and feels completely real. Bond lives. Silva dies. M pays for her sins. And our hero, killed at the beginning, is finally reborn into a completely new scenario that feels as comfortable as old jeans. Then we get the familiar “Bond through a gunbarrel” opening that began so many Bond films before it, just to confirm that this is truly the beginning.

I’ve said for ages that sequels trying to “top” their predecessors is a mistake. Simply tell your story rather than worry about the stories that came before. Apparently Sam Mendes feels the same way. Instead of trying to top the previous Bonds, he upstaged them.

As for the magic trick? It happens in bits and pieces all through the film. We open by diving in with all the classic Bond elements: car chases, elaborate fights, a train (familiar), at the end of which Bond is “killed.” The filmmakers never expect us to believe it, and don’t even bother explaining how Bond lived. Nor do we care; he’s still superhuman, after all. Except… he’s come back mentally and physically wounded (deconstruction). This time, when Bond goes out in the field, we’re told he isn’t at the top of his game. Suddenly, he’s human again (reconstruction). A new Q gives Bond his only gadgets, a gun and a radio, delivered with the acknowledgement that these aren’t the old days of excessive toys (deconstruction). However, Bond still carries the Walther (familiar), and his tracker is a modern update of the homer from Goldfinger, (familiar), so we’re on well-trodden ground.

Bond tracks Patrice to Shanghai with the express mission of questioning him and killing him. Bond follows Patrice up the elevator in a method that would have been effortless for the old superhero, but proves nearly fatal for the flesh-and-blood Bond (reconstruction). Then, when Bond realizes Patrice is setting up an assassination, he doesn’t interfere (deconstruction). After all, that isn’t his mission. Once the hit is made, Bond uses that moment to move in, and in the ensuing fight, barely wins (familiar), but he fails to get any info from Patrice, losing his grip, and the target in the process (deconstruction). We realize the new, human Bond is fallible.

When he encounters Severine, we recognize that Bond the Ladykiller has returned (reconstruction) with the familiar introduction, “Bond. James Bond.” He is again willing to use beautiful women to get to his target and then cast her aside. When she’s killed — almost as an afterthought — the remorse for having failed her is palpable on Daniel Craig’s face… for a microsecond. Then he turns the situation to his advantage, moving on with the mission at hand, and Severine is never mentioned again.

In his miraculous star turn as Silva, Javier Bardem isn’t the first time we’ve seen a former-agent-turned-villain, he’s simply the only one who’s ever been effective. When he ties Bond to a chair (very familiar, especially if you’ve read the books) and brings the homoerotic underpinnings of Fleming’s books onto the screen for the first time ever (deconstruction), it’s like a breath of fresh, untainted, fantastically creepy air has just filled the theater. We Have Never Been Here Before, James. Except we have. As an audience, we all just came out of the closet.

The movie continues in that vein, tearing down, building up, and repainting in the image of something we know, but stopped really looking at a long time ago. Casino Royale did away with “shaken, not stirred.” It returns here quietly, without fanfare, but for all to see, and we love it. When Bond pulls the classic Aston Martin DB5 out of mothballs (accompanied by cheers from the audience) to return, quite literally, to his roots, Mendes has now woven old Bond into the new, creating a new tapestry from old broadcloth. When that car is destroyed later, it’s the more obvious metaphor for what’s been happening to James Bond himself. Destruction leads to creation, and when Bond rises from the ashes of his past, he is then baptised before shedding blood on the altar of his future.

Mercifully, it’s all presented with much more grace, and a lot less pretension, than I can summarize it here. Mendes’ magic trick concludes with the final turn — The Prestige — when Bond steps into the familiar M-branch head office, with the familiar coatrack, but a new M and a new Moneypenny.

From a sheerly technical viewpoint, I have to single out Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Skyfall isn’t just the most amazing-looking Bond film ever shot, it’s one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen, period. In every way, this movie is a stunning achievement.

Daniel Craig has finally cemented himself as the James Bond, as far as I’m concerned. Sam Mendes has created the first Bond film that is truly a work of art. Smart. Simple. Real. Films like this give me hope.

For those who’ve asked, here’s my list of the Bond films as I would rank them (cue the arguments):

  1. Skyfall
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. Goldfinger
  4. Quantum of Solace*
  5. Casino Royale (2006)
  6. The Living Daylights**
  7. The Spy Who Loved Me
  8. The Man With the Golden Gun
  9. Thunderball
  10. Tomorrow Never Dies
  11. Octopussy
  12. The World is Not Enough
  13. Live and Let Die
  14. Dr. No
  15. Moonraker
  16. For Your Eyes Only
  17. You Only Live Twice
  18. Goldeneye
  19. Licence to Kill
  20. Die Another Day
  21. Diamonds Are Forever
  22. Never Say Never Again
  23. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service***
  24. A View to a Kill

*Go back and watch it again. It’s serious, not over-the-top, and really breathtaking. It also has some of the most original action sequences ever shot. They’re like dances. It’s truly a big-budget art film. Just watch the opera house sequence when the audio drops out, and we only see Bond after the fighting is done (because we know he wins). It’s stunning.
**Again, take another look. People didn’t like Timothy Dalton because he was hard and cold, and they were coming off two decades of goofy Grandpa Roger, but he’s perfect in this. He’s the prototype for the Daniel Craig Bond.
***Just stop. It isn’t “the best Bond” anything. It’s boring, tedious, meandering, badly-acted, shot, and written. It’s cut together like monkeys edited it, and the script is a joke. Except for Diana Rigg, this movie is a complete wash.

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