Tools of the Trade

There’s a montage in Commando where Arnold Schwarzenegger packs on a few hundred pounds of munitions:

Not-too-common poster for "Commando"

(The poster neglects to show the shotgun and rocket launcher/pod that are part of his kit. Maybe the PR elves thought it all a little overkill or something.)

When it comes to writing, I haven’t been picky with my kit. All of my handwritten notes are consistent in their random ink colours – and occasional pencil – because I don’t care for my writing implement (and because I lose pens on a regular basis). As for the electronic records, they include Word, text-only, rich-text and Open Document formats – although that last one has been the standard since 2007.

A couple of years ago, I started playing around with Celtx and, well, nothing has been the same ever since. I use Final Draft now. I understand now the zeal of the convert: FD makes (screen)writing so much easier. But it’s only a tool.

Commando will always have a special place in my heart but it’s been a quarter-century already, and in this post-Bourne world where a rolled-up magazine is as handy in a fight as a Rambo knife, it’s no longer about suiting up for every possible situation. Save the montage for a flashback or Michael Bay homage.

Use whatever you have to hand to put words on the page or screen.


Point & Click

Is it the season or am I just being mean?

  • Screen Junkies has an excellent selection of kids’ letters to Michael Bay, my favourite being:  07SEP12 UPDATE: Unfortunately the Screen Junkies image/link thingie no longer works. If memory serves, it was a child’s hand-drawn picture requesting Mr Bay explode his – the child’s – father. Guess you had to’ve read it at the time.  (Fedora-tip: The Big Picture.)
  • Ken Levine has his 2009 Summer Movies preview, with all-time classics like:
    • Ghosts of Girlfriends Past – A new spin on the single most tired premise in RomCom history — hire a leading man who is an enemy of comedy. Stars Matthew McConaughey and the lovely but not-exactly-hilarious Jennifer Garner.
    • Whatever Works – Woody Allen’s 285th movie, the 247th with the same theme: older neurotic Jew in a relationship with hot young girl who could be his granddaughter. Larry David as Woody Allen. Reviews are mixed. Middle-aged Jews love it, young girls are appalled.
    • The Time Traveler’s Wife – “Where were you last night and don’t tell me the Middle Ages, you bastard!?”

    (Fedora-tip: The Big Picture.)

  • Forget Robert Rodriguez and his Ten-Minute Film School. I give you Mark L Lester‘s Commando is the Best Film Ever (with parts 2 and 3):
    [This] film wasn’t an accident, just like Jesus wasn’t an accident. It took real vision to pull off, starting with the theme of a parent’s love for his child, and the lengths he will go to to get her back from a wily South American dictator. Also, it has explosions, and a rockin’ saxophone-driven soundtrack that really gets the people moving in their seats.

Die Hard 4.0

Over at Roger Ebert’s, Time reviewer Richard Corliss has a sweet guest-post on the upcoming Live Free or Die Hard.

Jee-zus, has it really been almost twenty years?

I remember when the wham-bam style of films like Raw Deal, Cobra and their ilk were comforting in their predictability of character and story. The good guys were long on jaw-lines and short on dialogue. The bad guys had five-o’clock shadow and wore aviator sunglasses 24-7. The side-kick – pick your minority of spunky woman, jive-ass black guy or Mensa-IQ Asian geek – always died by the second or third reel. And how ’bout them bookends: the hero who’s shown at the beginning to struggle with something (like, say, flying a small plane) will, by the film’s climax, be forced to master that same something BUT ON A MUCH LARGER SCALE (like, say, flying a passenger jet).

What distinguished Die Hard from its predecessors – more so than even Lethal Weapon‘s spec-ops-grade tactics, hardware and action – was the human vulnerability that drove the story, and the attention to detail (like sparing a thought for your stock villain). (This aspect has been covered endlessly and much more intelligently elsewhere so I’ll keep it brief.) In Die Hard, Bruce Willis‘ John McClane isn’t cleaning out the Nakatomi Plaza just because he’s the hero – his wife‘s in there. But even that goal isn’t clearcut: he’s in Los Angeles to save his marriage. And his relationship skills border on, shall we say, the prehistoric.

Let’s not forget the baddies – they were a revelation: trained, armed and motivated, these were no strawmen waiting for the FX supervisor to blow their squibs. Each mano-a-mano clinch McClane goes into, he’s trapped, outgunned and outnumbered: sometimes luck helps but otherwise he has absolutely nothing to lose. Sure the baddies die one by one, but they get some good kickin’ into our hero before their demise. And Alan Rickman‘s urbane, sophisticated and meticulous villain has rarely been equalled since.

Nowadays, film baddies seem to have reverted to the Commando school of baddies where although you can outnumber the hero, you’re just there die in swathes of automatic gunfire. And if you’re the villain, ‘s like all you need is to be able to laugh maniacally or grit your teeth enough to have a vein throb on your forehead.

Meanwhile, the de rigueur hero is like Jack Bauer – always ready to save the world in spite of a rocky marriage, a flighty daughter, extra-marital affairs and/or office politics.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as immersed in a character’s situation as McClane’s first escapade. I was there with him, goddammit. I identified. The Die Hard 4.0 reboot mayn’t take me anyplace new or even exciting – but at least I’ll always have the memories.