LiC Photo of the Week: Ventura Boulevard
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I think I’ve got summer movie fatigue. I’ve seen more this year probably than any previous year I’ve been blogging and I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for Rise of the Planet of the Apes despite positive reviews and higher than predicted box office.

Instead, I stayed home tinkering with ideas for a new feature or two here at LiC. I’ve been doing a lot of reading the last few weeks thanks to a new Kindle and I’m thinking about kicking off a feature called Page to Screen that basically looks at novels or short stories and their big screen adaptations. It seems like a good way to expand my coverage beyond the current cinema and also to give me an excuse to keep reading more.

To that end, I read Richard Stark’s The Hunter this weekend and I watched three of the novel’s adaptations: the John Boorman film Point Blank (1967) starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, the original theatrical cut of Payback (1999) starring Mel Gibson and Brian Helgeland’s director’s cut of the same film released on DVD in 2007. If I actually do this Page to Screen thing, I’ll talk about the novel and all three films and I might even throw in Ringo Lam’s Full Contact starring Chow Yun Fat for good measure, but for right now I just want to talk about the two different versions of Payback.

Two days after Brian Helgeland won the Oscar for his screenplay for L.A. Confidential, he was fired from his directorial debut, Payback. It turns out neither the studio nor Mel Gibson were happy with the dark, edgy picture he made and they wanted extensive re-shoots. Helgeland refused, he was replaced and 30% of the movie was filmed over with whole new scenes and characters added. The result is an almost entirely different film than what Helgeland had envisioned.

On one hand, it’s easy to see what the studio and Gibson were thinking. Gibson at the time was still a major movie star and here he is playing a vengeance-bent thug with few if any redeeming qualities. Audiences who came up loving the Lethal Weapon movies probably wouldn’t have accepted this version of Gibson and the movie would’ve bombed. On the other hand, I’m not sure why someone would read The Hunter and want to make a movie of it if their intention was to soften it. My guess is that they knew they were taking a risk, but they tested the film and got such a strongly negative response they decided to go in another direction without Helgeland’s participation.

Helgeland’s version follows the novel very closely with a few modest updates to bring the story into the 1990s and to punch it up a little for the big screen. Though the middle portion of the film remains largely intact, the original theatrical cut of Payback added a prologue of sorts, excised an early scene where Gibson beats up his junkie of an ex-wife, they juiced the romance between Gibson and Maria Bello a little bit, they added an obligatory Gibson Gets Tortured sequence and they completely altered the finale with a new character played by Kris Kristofferson and a totally different resolution to the plot. In order to bring back some of the edge that had been removed, they added a hard boiled voiceover by Gibson that adds absolutely nothing but a little bit of Gibson attitude and they also added a cold blue wash to the cinematography. The overall result is a much softer, less daring, less interesting and more uneven film. It’s not bad, but the Kristofferson stuff involving the kidnapping of his son is pretty terrible top to bottom.

Though it’s better, Helgeland’s version doesn’t quite work either. You can almost feel Gibson wanting to play the vicious creep that his character is, but he also wants to fall back on the Gibson charm and have the audience like him even in this darker version of the film. He doesn’t quite pull it off. Nevertheless, there is some terrific stuff in both films. Gregg Henry has fun chewing the scenery as the bad guy – I love the scene where he’s shot Gibson, he walks over with an unlit cigarette, picks up the burning cig that Gibson has dropped, uses it to light his own and then stubs it out in the pool of blood coming from Gibson’s wounds. Maria Bello is also very good as a hooker with a heart that isn’t quite made of gold and David Paymer adds some needed comic relief as one of the scumbags between Gibson and his revenge. Lucy Liu meanwhile has kind of a fun, oddly comic role as a sadistic prostitute.

Whether you’ve seen the original Payback or not and whether you liked it or not, you should check out the director’s cut which is actually 10 minutes shorter. It’s a rare example that is not just a couple of extra deleted scenes but an entirely different film – one that probably works a little better now we all know Mel Gibson is a giant asshole in real life and not the lovable/crazy Martin Riggs from the Lethal Weapon movies.

That’s all from me this week. Now it’s your turn. Has anyone seen anything worth talking about in the last week?

Oh, the 2nd entry in LiC’s Photo of the Week was taken on July 27 near the 12600 block of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City around 8:30 pm. I’d originally gone there to photograph something else, but couldn’t get the shot I wanted and came up with this one instead. I like trying to capture the city around dusk or just after sunset when the sky still has color, but it’s dark enough for the city lights to start coming on. This shot features the ubiquitous palm trees and constant automobile traffic that are stereotypically Los Angeles. In case you’re wondering what the hell all this has to do with a movie blog, I decided for last week’s Watercooler to start using it as a platform to post LA-set or LA-themed photos I like to take from time to time. Kind of like the Page to Screen idea, I figure if I can incorporate some of my other hobbies into the blog, I’ll be encouraged to pursue them more frequently.

12 Responses to “Payback x 2”

  1. See, your error, Craig, is assuming that Payback’s producers actually read The Hunter. My guess is that one of them saw the Boorman film 30 years prior and decided it would be a great star vehicle for that crazy Aussie from the Lethal Weapon films. That seems to be how a lot of Hollywood remakes and adaptations end up so watered down.

    I like the page-to-screen concept. It’s been done before, but it’s still fertile soil given Hollywood’s penchant for recycling old plots. One I’d recommend you consider doing is Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock, one of my favorite pulp novels from the ’40s. It was made into a 1948 film noir by John Farrow and then received total reconstructive surgery for 1987’s No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Sean Young. As ridiculous as the 1987 version is at times, it holds a special place in my moviegoing heart.

    This weekend, I caught a double bill of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Captain America at a drive-in theater — my first time there. Apes blew away my low expectations. The character development is surprisingly well executed, and so were the big action sequences. I think there is something to the Andy Serkis Supporting Actor nod hype — for the first time (for me), a mo-cap performance thoroughly transcended its CGI veneer.

    Captain America is fun for the first hour or so, but it kind of petered out with me. It showed promise as a kind of throw-back to the old 1940s serials, but then it descended into the same ol’, same ol’ bloated superhero fluff. During the big show down, I felt like I was watching a late ’90s Bond flick, and I mean that in a World Is Not Enough (i.e. bad) way, not a Goldeneye (i.e. good) way. I have to imagine movie reviewers are so worn down by the crap they have to feast on, that any blockbuster that’s barely serviceable starts to look like cinematic gold.

  2. I really like “Payback” actually. It’s no “Point Blank”, but it’s good. I forgot they released the director’s cut on dvd, so I should check that out. Thanks for the reminder. Sounds interesting to compare the two versions.

    I caught up with “Greenberg” this weekend. Another very good Noah Baumbach film, but man, his movies are tough sits. Very honest, personal films, so much so that it feels uncomfortable just about the whole running time. I admire that fearless quality about his writing. Stiller is great. Some very painful moments in there. Some very funny moments as well.

    I also saw “The Future”, which had a Q&A with Miranda July after the show. Interesting, original stuff. I’m not sure it’s my style or sense of humor, but I dug some of the darker, surreal elements towards the latter part of the film. She seems like a very bright, talented person.

  3. I saw Another Earth today and it actually made me a bit angry, not necessarily because it was bad (even though it really wasn’t good), but because there’s a very good story in this that gets lost in trying to make it fit into an entirely pointless sci-fi genre needlepoint. And the direction is sort of horrible. No, I take that back. The direction is horrible.

    Last night I was inspired by talk of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead once again, which has been sitting on my DVR for months now. Not perfect, but an entirely enjoyable affair. I really love this absurdist, existential adaption. Oldman and Roth are absolutely perfect, and late vintage Richard Dreyfuss is no slouch either.

    This evening I depressed the hell out of myself watching the chilling and enthralling Enemies of the People, a documentary from a man who spent ten years insinuating himself into the quiet life of the retired second-in-command of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. He did this simply to understand the mentality behind the people who slaughtered his family in the 1970’s, and the result is shocking and disturbing. One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

    By the way, Craig, I like the photo and the new feature. Please keep up both.

  4. Craig, I like the page to screen idea. It can really add something to the blog. I haven’t seen any of the films but I’ll try and check the original and the director’s cut to get a feel for the difference.

    Joel, I’m sad to hear about Another Earth. The trailer seemed so promising that I couldn’t assume the direction was bad. Interesting…

    I had an action packed film weekend. Much more enjoyable than the previous one. I saw:

    13 Assassins – amazingly bloody and great at the same time. I didn’t really like the ending too much. Had no real place for this final scene in a movie like that but otherwise it was a very well crafted action film, great battle scenes and all was very well set up.

    The Next Three Days – I’m a fan of Russel Crowe but I wasn’t really excited about this one. I mean, seemed like just another thriller film… Well, to my surprise it was a very well shot, written and acted drama/thriller. Definately ahd a lot of heart in it and had me from the first few minutes. If you haven’t seen it, it’s my recommendation that you do.

    Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – Well, I got talked into watching this but as a parody of the horror genre it worked much better than other such films that had some success in recent years. It had a sense of humor and that surreal feeling to it. The ending was so-so but generally speaking I liked the dialogue and the directing which is rare for a parody.

  5. Joel, Enemies of the People sounds amazing. Will add to my ever-expanding list.

    Unfortunately nothing for me this weekend but I’ll live vicariously through you guys :)

  6. I love your photography, Craig. (It reminds me of a dear friend of mine.) Your page-to-screen idea sounds great — glad you’re so ambitious.

    This week lacked new releases for me, but I did catch 2 gems on TCM:

    “The Breaking Point,” with one of my favorite actors, John Garfield. This film, well-adapted from a story by Ernest Hemingway, is very good but suffers from lack of exposure stemming from the 1950s Hollywood blacklist. Directed by Michael Curtiz, it also includes a good — and unusual for the time — performance by Patricia Neal.

    “Hobson’s Choice,” a comedy well-directed by David Lean, starring Charles Laughton, John Mills, and Brenda de Banzie (who played the female heavy in “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). Again, a very good film — Mills’ performance alone clearly shows his stellar talents.

  7. @Dorothy: There are probably documentaries that as a documentary itself are technically better constructed than Enemies of the People, but some of the moments in EotP are things I’d never seen before. Plus the journey the filmmaker goes on is an entirely singular experience. I think the only weakness of the doc is that it doesn’t attempt to portray his entire 10 year experience, but instead focuses on the outcome of that long commitment. Regardless, it’s worth seeing.

    @Pirohunter: You might love Another Earth. Like I said, there’s a great story in there, but I found the direction distracting and the scifi element really unnecessary to the film, even though the film is built around it. It just offered very little to me.

    To put it bluntly, there’s a moment in this film where we see an “end of the world” guy with a sandwich board on the street and he’s literally wearing a tin foil hat. It’s the sort of simplistic visual joke I’d expect to see in a short film made by a junior high school student, and I say that with respect for teen film makers everywhere.

  8. “The Breaking Point” is one of my favorite noir/thrillers. Killer ending. Very underrated. I saw it at the noir fest at the Egyptian Theater in LA a few years back.

  9. WJ, The Big Clock is a great idea, and for the record if anyone is interesting in taking their favorite books/adaptations and writing something about them, I’m open to having guest writers for the feature.

    Captain America held my interest a bit longer than you, though I have no interest in the dude’s further adventures in the modern world. My enthusiasm for it is based entirely on the relative novelty of a WWII era superhero.

    Ari, I liked Payback too. I’ll compare it more directly to Point Blank when I do the Page to Screen thing, but it stands on its own. My feelings about the theatrical cut are tarnished somewhat by having watched the director’s cut first. The flaws in the theatrical really stood out more. As a fan of that one you should most definitely check out the director’s cut on DVD. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

    Joel, I gave Another Earth a bit of a free pass (3 stars), but I wasn’t crazy about it either. The sci-fi conceit was interesting, but ultimately heavy handed and poorly executed. The basic human drama between the two characters was compelling, but wasn’t well served by the sci-fi. It wanted to be Tarkovsky but it just wasn’t.

    I also second your Enemies of the People review. Devastating and complex without being heavy handed or obvious. I like how it brings home the ongoing effects of the horrors of war without being stridently message-oriented.

    Piro, I loved the hell out of 13 Assassins. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year to this point.

    As for Next Three Days, you should consider checking out the French original Pour Elle (Anything for Her) by Fred Cavayé. I haven’t seen it but Cavaye’s latest thriller Point Blank is in US theaters right now and it’s terrific.

    Saw the trailer for Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and it was surprisingly appealing. I may have to check it out when it opens.

    Pierre and others who have commented on the photos, thanks for the encouragement. Like I said it’s a cheap excuse to encourage myself to keep pursuing other hobbies besides movies, but what the hell, right?

  10. I’ll add my own voice to the praise for your continued photographic feature and the page to screen idea. I’ve only seen the theatrical Payback and liked it at the time. Can’t remember much in the way of details about the film but I do recall enjoying the pleasingly hard-boiled nature of Gibson’s character.

    We watched the BBC drama serial The Shadow Line over the past week. The online reviews were a little mixed but generally on the positive side. We were very impressed by its quality. Hugo Blick wrote, produced, and directed the show and I have to say the word auteur comes to mind because he presents what appears a personal sensibility coupled with intelligence and cinematic craft at a level rarely seen in television work. It’s not groundbreaking or without missteps, not everything adds up particularly convincingly, but nevertheless treats the viewer as smart enough to cope with some obliqueness and to connect the less explicitly presented dots. Blick has a particular skill for writing, staging, and eliciting intense performances in scenes where one individual is asserting power over another through menace and wielding a razor-sharp and pitilessly dark intellect. A real standout is a scarily still and emotionless Stephen Rea who comes across as an angel of death in the guise of one of Magritte’s bowler-hatted urban everymen. There is a deliberate theatricality to the work and some iconography that signals the influence of film noir without it feeling like an over-familiar retread.

  11. Let me join the chorus of encouragement for your photo and proposed page-to-screen features. Love it. I’ve never seen any of those adaptations or read the source novel, but I approve of reading and movie-watching. Sounds like a fun new ongoing project.

    I watched a weird assortment of films at home this weekend. First was Trouble the Water, the Oscar-nommed Katrina doc. It has a lot to recommend it, though I think my expectations for the filmmaking were a bit high. It was fascinating though to see a documentary about some unlikely subjects’–drug dealers, really–experience with the hurricane and the ways they grew (or didn’t) from it.

    Saturday I watched The Girlfriend Experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enjoyed the well-filmed character study. Plus Sasha Grey was really pretty (she was new to me, unlike a big portion of the audience, it seems) and I thought she did a good job. A little flat affect maybe, but it seemed to work for the character, even if it’s not a performance that’d win any awards. I always love the look of Soderbergh’s films.

    My husband and I have a big box of classic and foreign DVDs from a friend, that we have not yet watched, so we started a new “Random Classic” thing where we select a film out of the box, blind, no matter what our mood and must watch at least 30 minutes of it before deciding whether to watch the whole thing or not. The inaugural DVD was Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest…and we got about 40 minutes into it before giving up. I know it’s respected and seminal and all that, but I have little patience or sympathy for characters struggling with their faith, particularly when the film comes off as so self-important and humorless. Anyway, sorry, but that one went in the tried-it-hated-it pile, which is MUCH smaller than the tried-it-loved-it-madly pile in which most of the discoveries go.

    After that, I watched Knight and Day on HBO, just to get the country-priesty-sanctimonious out of my mouth. It was fun-ish. Not great. Pretty corny, but passable fun. I liked the parents in the film better than the leads.

    Finally, I watched Cavalcade, the 1933 Best Pic winner about the first part of the 20th century in London and all the changes it brought with it. I was surprised how well it held up. Certain movie styles in it were a little dated, but overall it was pretty timeless, particularly for a movie about the onward march of time and all the scary things this new century brings with it. The aging makeup was really impressive, too.

    Also: Breaking Bad continues to rock. What a great show.

  12. JB, I really admired Trouble the Water, though it’s not exactly polished filmmaking. A good story and interesting characters. Not sure I want to relive that dark time in history though. I remember being pretty pissed off.

    Interestingly though, I think just recently a bunch of cops who were implicated in the shooting on the bridge (I THINK that was hinted at in the movie) were convicted.

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