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David Poland

By David Poland

Readers Week

I’m not here. I’m in Puerto Vallarta, but I wrote this last week after seeing The Big Hit. I couldn’t help myself. So, indulge in my ranting, then there will be some more from actual readers.
From David P: “I love movies. I don’t love every movie, but I love the art form. It speaks to my heart. Conversely, it can depress and enrage me. Which brings me to The Big Hit. I didn’t dislike the film. I was psychologically scarred by it. Now, I’m sure there are those of you who have seen the film by now and loved it. That’s OK by me, but you may want to stop reading this column now, as you might find it a bit insulting.
The Big Hit is an incredibly well-made movie. Mark Wahlberg is great. Lou Diamond Phillips is great. It introduces one of the sexiest intelligent young actresses that I’ve seen in a long, long time (China Chow.) It looks good. The director can shoot action beautifully. There are lots of funny things in the film. The story is good, even if it’s the 3,000th kidnapping love story of the last year. Great. So why did The Big Hit make me want to vomit blood? Well, in no small part because I knew I would have to write this column. There aren’t many films that make me want to start yelling out the jokes 30 seconds before they happen so I don’t have to listen to people laugh at the most obvious of gags. There aren’t many movies that beat gags so far into the ground that they become embarrassingly self-aware. And there aren’t many movies that I find so painfully hard to watch while I know in my gut a lot of people will love it. I don’t want to be insulting to any of you. It’s bad business and worse, those of you who choose to spend a few minutes a day with me are like a circle of friends. I don’t smack my friends around. Except about movies.
“First, I felt like I was watching yet another tired Tarantino rip-off. Then, it seemed to be a combination of QT and John Woo and some sort of broad farce. But it wasn’t clever enough to be Tarantino. The violence had no heart, so it couldn’t be Woo (even though he executive produced it.) And while farce has rules, The Big Hit didn’t follow any. It went wherever the joke was and then pounded away at it for as long as it could. The jokes were not only predictable, they were telegraphed. You can’t telegraph a joke by mistake in a movie, which is one of the reasons I found the film contemptuous. It said, ‘Here comes the joke. Here it comes!’ Then it told the joke and begged you to laugh at it because you saw it coming. It reminded me of a 4-year-old telling the same knock-knock joke over and over and laughing at it every time. The animal, vegetable or mineral most enamored of The Big Hit is The Big Hit.
“Sometimes people in this business lose perspective and get into that ‘the more, the merrier’ mind set where they just keep piling on the crap, thinking that it will add up in the end. Or as one guy said to me after the screening, ‘The geeks will love it. All those explosions.’ Well, geeks love explosions, but they also love movies and, more to the point, understand movies. If you have a good story to tell, good actors and some clever writing, let it sit there and pull the audience in instead of trying to reach off the screen and into our popcorn to pull us into the movie. Good is good. Hyperactive is hyperactive. And precious slickness will give us all a stomach ache by the third act. In other words, next time, trust your movie enough to let it play instead of feeding it steroids.”
And now, some further desperation from the readers…
From Killcows: “I am desperate to see a film based on Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. That novel features drama and violence combined in a way modern books never try for. I would like to see an accurate version of Jurassic Park, with the villainous Hammond, unedited gore, extra characters and a good ending. But they could keep the raptor nest and techno-babble out, and keep in the moral questions and sense of wonder.”
From Ryan N.: “Recently, there was a rumor of a film version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying with Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio. To my knowledge, this casting was just a ‘great notion’ to someone involved. Still, Sean? Jack? Leo? Three of the most talented actors of their respective generations? I’m there. I hope they make this one — I’d be curious as to how they do it. I’ve read the book, doesn’t look like it would be easy.
“Also, I’m a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d love to see decent movies made of some of his books, like This Side of Paradise, Tender is the Night, and a REALLY GOOD movie based on The Great Gatsby. Matt, Leo, Ben, Tobey (Maguire)…Any one of them would make an excellent Fitzgerald hero. As for heroine, I’d pay to see Kate, Minnie, or Christina (Ricci) in just about anything.”
From Bradshaw D: “I am dying to see Spiderman get made. Cameron is the man, and if it is made, it will be the best comic-to-movie transition ever. There are two reasons why Spidey wouldn’t fail at the box office…1.) Cameron’s the name, and making kick ass movies is his game. 2.) It’s a Spiderman movie. ‘Nuff said. Everybody else who wants to see this give me a hell, yeah.”
From Mike G: “The movie I wished would be made would be the movie adaptation of The Dreyfus Affair, based on Peter Lefcourt’s novel. This story of two ballplayers (no pun intended) who fall in love would have fit right in with such movies as In & Out and The Birdcage, but from what I read in EW, the rights to the movie are being held by Disney, and they currently have no plans to film it. What a waste of a terrific story just waiting for the big screen.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon