Welcome To Marwen: Hidden Depths

If you include the mini episode that was originally recorded as a stand alone but later became a part of our Welcome To Marwen episode, this is my third deeper look at Welcome To Marwen. As I was pondering just what I’d write about I realise that there was so much said about the film that it was hard to write something that hadn’t already been touched on. I guess this also goes hand in hand with tackling such an insanely huge body of work as well. I found myself at a loss, so I began to have a look at our past articles and I realised that we tackled some very complex topics, not just relating to film making, while talking about Zemeckis’s films. Here was the “aha” moment when I realised that Zemeckis is a far more complex film maker than I think I’ve given him credit for.  

Previously I had described Zemeckis as a leader, as being versatile as well as being consistent. But even as we discussed his later films and the way it felt as though we were a part of his journey into a more cynical approach to his themes, I had completely missed the complexity in the themes he tackled frequently. Despite whether the themes were filled with wonder or a little touched with cynicism, the complex themes were always there and unashamedly so.

Now it’s highly likely that there are some of you sitting at home and reading this and thinking, “Come on Geoff! How can you be so dang slow?” If that’s the case, I’m sorry. For a slightly (maybe not, come to think of it) intelligent man I can be really slow sometimes. I get there in the end though and that’s the important part.

Today, I’m not going to harp on the this too greatly. You only need to listen and read previous articles to see Zemeckis tackles such a wide array of themes. But it the way in which he doesn’t smack you in the face with them that I love so much. A lot of the time they’re hidden just beneath the surface and after second or third viewing then they become more and more visible.   

If there’s one thing I love about our journey through Robert Zemeckis’s body of work, it’s that he is a layered film maker. Just when I think I won’t learn any more about him, I’m hit with a new revelation. It’s the old onions and layers analogy from Shrek and I freaking love it. What a great choice Zemeckis was for our first season, I hope you’ve loved it too.

Big Love, Yeah

Geoff

The Walk: How It’s OK to Disagree

We’re in a funny time of life. It’s an age where people are screaming for acceptance one minute whilst being completely unaccepting the next. To put it simply, it’s confusing as heck! One of the things I’ve loved about doing this adventure of a season has been seeing how our dear listeners react to our thoughts on the films. I guess the biggest surprise in this has been how despite the diverse range of listeners and their opinions, which at time differ to ours, there hasn’t really been a moment when our differences lead to hurtful remarks. It’s early days for the From First To Last Podcast so I’m not naïve in the fact that this may still occur but it’s extremely heartening that so far everyone has been so good with one another (and us).

The Walk was the first film in which Craig and I hadn’t agreed and the beauty of us not discussing films before we talk about them is that the conversations are natural, so our reactions during the episodes are genuine. Thinking back on this, it really dawned on me just how fortunate I am to have a co-host like Craig who is willing to listen to my opinion of something without being ticked off and confrontational purely because our opinions don’t align. As I mentioned before we live in an extremely odd and confusing time where a difference in opinion can be pounced upon with a scary amount of venom. Tolerance feels like it has never been more important or required and yet it feels like it’s a foreign concept to a lot of people.

When I dive deeper into this line of thought something Craig has mentioned previously in an episode stands out, that we’ve never lived in a more divisive time. Before I used this word I thought I’d check out exactly what the definition of divisive is and it’s listed as;

tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people  

This divisiveness has led to a culture that jumps on to anything that may cause offence. If this were a verbal conversation, it would be the moment someone would usually jump in and question where I’m going with this and before we receive a bunch of messages you should know that I believe we should have beliefs and values that we will take a stand for. That’s freedom and it’s beautiful but tolerance and grace when our beliefs and values don’t match up with someone else’s is love and I believe that transcends everything. To put it in a Zemeckis related context, the world needs a lot more Forrest Gump and a lot less Lt. Dan.

I’d love to see how Phillipe Petit’s antics would be received in a modern day. Would he be viewed as an amazing, death defying performer or would he be viewed as a foreign menace who could have destroyed a public monument, could have injured innocent people, wasted thousands of tax payer dollars and set a poor example to children. I fear these days there would be more people upset with his incredible act than impressed. I can imagine the Facebook thread too. Each person who said they loved it would be castigated, quite abruptly, in a public forum. From there a mini stoush would ensue where one member would general end the conversation by making an unfounded statement about the other. It’s a pretty sad state for us to be living in as human beings, but it’s the reality of the times we live in.

I won’t rant on any longer as I fear this is pretty much just something really preachy but I just felt this was a line of thought that needed sharing.

Be kind and Big Love, Yeah

Geoff     

Flight: The All Too Real Realities of Addiction in Flight

I have to preface this article by stating that I’ve never been addicted to anything so I have no right to make bold claims or speak as if I could ever comprehend just how difficult, damaging and disastrous addiction is. The knowledge I do have is primarily through two avenues, my childhood church and my now job. So throughout this I’ll try my best not to talk like I’ve been there or I know everything.

As we continue on through Zemeckis’s filmography it’s become apparent that as we’re now 34 years into his career that, as you’d hope, Zemeckis has changed. What I’m realising is that his films, whilst always having an edge of darkness, have remained dark but what has shifted is that some of that magic has faded over time. The result is that his films feel heavier, there’s an edge of cynicism to them and I think, in time, that when I look back at Zemeckis’s post motion capture I’ll realise this is where the general audience have struggled with his later work.

This week’s film, Flight, is an amazing piece of work. It’s a raw and very real (in my experience, but we’ll get to that later) look at addiction. Something I really appreciate about the way Zemeckis approaches the drug fuelled moments is that at no time do the moments when Washington goes on a bender feel gratuitous. There’s nothing attractive about it, despite the fact that the film begins with him waking up beside a very attractive woman, or despite the fact that the film is littered with a multitude of extremely great musical cues from classic bands. It’s slick without feeling supportive, which is an extremely difficult thing to do. It’s a testament to how great a director Zemeckis is and Flight plays out like a lesson in storytelling and character while respecting the fact that a struggle with addiction is real and messy. Which is what my experience with addiction is.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve never been addicted to anything illicit. In actual fact I didn’t drink until I was in my 30’s and I’ve never smoked or anything along those lines. My knowledge of addiction comes through people sharing their experiences with me. You see, from around 5 years old through to 17 my parents ran a church at a little lakeside town called Bonnells Bay. At the time the church was linked in with a local rehabilitation centre called Miracle Haven. Each Sunday night the church would double in size as Miracle Haven would bring a bus load of current residents all dealing with their own forms of addiction. After a while Sunday evening church services were allocated a “testimony” time in which anybody could share the week they’d experienced and anything they wanted to be thankful for or anything that was too challenging. It was during these moments that people shared their stories in all their rawness and it was here that I was taught the all too terrifying impacts that addiction has on people lives. It actually lead me to wait until I felt I was mentally ready to even go down the drinking path as I never wanted to end up in situations just like the people whose stories I’d heard.  

If there’s one thing that stood out during this time it was that even though everyone was different, their addiction brought tales of destruction that shared similarities such as deception, broken relationships, relapses and run ins with the law. Within the film there are moments of each of these as a result of Whip’s addiction. We watch throughout the film as Whip wrestles with his addiction and has a few failed attempts at staying sober, the final attempt being the heartbreaking bender where he drinks the entire mini bar in the room beside him the night before the court hearing. The film is so well told that we hurt for Whip’s self-sabotage and we almost celebrate Whip when he says “don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life!” This is Whip admitting he’s got a problem, he outwardly expresses that he has a drinking problem and he has been lying about it his whole life. Essentially, if this were an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous) he’d reached the first step of admitting that he has a problem.

Now in my 36th year of living, I work with people who struggle with addictions and I also work with people who are re-entering life after time behind bars. In discussing their past, it’s apparent their addictions have caused damage to those they love. I saw a quote today which read “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair” and I guess it’s true. For the majority of people I work alongside their actions broke peoples trust and this in turns leads to resentment. Some of these people feel they’re beyond forgiveness and that any attempt to try to repair the damage caused would not be accepted. As the quote says it takes “forever to repair” but it doesn’t say it’s irreparable.

I understand that the concept of redemption and forgiveness is one that is quite foreign in this day and age, in actual fact it’s not a social norm. I also understand that the topic is also a loaded one as everybody has their own boundaries and once those boundaries are broken forgiveness is difficult but as we’ve spoken about in previous podcast episodes sometimes humanity as a culture is too quick to persecute, peoples past mistakes are still their present mistakes and public crucifixions take place frequently in news feeds with consequences that in hindsight seem harsh. Now before conclusions are jumped to, I am not saying past actions are okay. I am not supporting wrong or incorrect actions in any way but what I’m trying to say is that if someone has genuine remorse for their actions, show a genuine and legitimate change to their behaviours and seek forgiveness are they entitled to it? Or at least entitled to a response that respects the journey they’ve taken?

I love that the film ends with Whip and his son reconnecting. I love that Whip’s son identifies that the man he grew up seeing was not really his father and as a result chooses Whip to be the subject of his assignment “The Most Fascinating Person That I’ve Never Met.” It shows a heart that I love is present in most of Zemeckis’s films. We don’t know how long Whip tried to reconnect with his son for, we don’t know how many times his son rejected him, but in the end forgiveness was granted and redemption is possible.

Flight may feel darker and it may be a little less magical but this was exactly what this story needed because addiction is messy, it’s hard and it’s ugly. In the end the people who are battling their own demons are just that…people. And sometimes I think we can forget that.

Big Love, Yeah

Geoff

A Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol and it’s Impact

As we enter the world of Robert Zemeckis’ a Christmas Carol, with its 3D, Acting talent and obviously large budget, we forget the real genius behind this film and it is Charles dickens

There is a film that has been released about the life of Charles dickens that stars the great Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and the up and coming Dan Stevens as Mr Dickens. It is called “the man who invented Christmas”

Whilst the title may seem a bit over the top, after a little research…..google. It may seem that it is not that far from the truth. Obviously the film is a stylised version but there are a lot of points relevant to the celebration of Christmas that was popularised or even Repopularised by Dickens.

I guess the most significant impact was the term “Merry Christmas”. Whilst the words existed before the story, the use of “merry Christmas” as a positive celebration of the time, was cemented by A Christmas carol. We now shout it merrily instead of hello. We also feel merry in saying it. This is all due to this masterful tale by Charles Dickens

Inspired by his own Christmas experiences as well as visit to a school for street children, Dickens first published “A Christmas Carol” in 19th December 1844. It had sold out by Christmas Eve and by the New Year, 13 more editions were printed. Suffering financial hardship as an author at the time of publishing, the success of his novel would only bring him minor peace as Dickens did not get his Rowling size comeuppance, as the illustrations, gilded edges and size of the book added to printing costs that eventually created a more humble profit for him.

Time and legacy were truly the greater profit for the novel as 120 years on, numerous books, movies, stage plays and interpretations have been made and of course…Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture version. My favourite is still Muppets Christmas carol followed by Scrooged and then Zemeckis…sshhh don’t tell anyone!!

However let’s go back to the impact in culture, not including entertainment.

Christmas Carol created the term “Bah Humbug” that I admit to using out of the festive season. Then there is Scrooge, One word that can fully describe someone without too much explanation. This is a term that is now reserved for those not in touch with the Christmas spirit. But what is the Christmas spirit? Well this is another thing that whilst not coined by Dickens. It is clearly defined by him (he literally introduced Christmas spirits!!). With this tale of redemption, philanthropy and family, Dickens gave many the idea of Christmas spirit and helped bring families together and appreciate each other. It helped Christmas emerge as a MAJOR Holiday as it was considered a 2nd rate holiday at the time. Also, unfortunately for one type of bird, it also popularised Turkey as the Christmas meat.

To steal a beautiful paragraph from Robert Frost at the Huffpost

“At the time of publication of A Christmas Carol, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists in America were still begrudgingly tolerated mild acknowledgement of Christmas as a holiday.

Other religious groups were much more open to the celebration, but this fragmentation meant there was no common imagination of Christmas. Dickens drew such a vivid portrait idealizing Christmas traditions and practices and then distributed that depiction around the world. Readers were captivated and wanted their own piece of that world. He created a market for Christmas stories that

would later make Santa Claus a household name. While certainly not shying from the Christian origins of the holiday, Dickens showed that the spirit of Christmas was one that could be shared by believers and non-believers alike - essentially creating the secular Christmas.”
— Huffington Post

Dickens tale gave use all something to celebrate. An ideal of sorts, which we all strive for over the Christmas period. He highlighted the worlds of the less fortunate as well as workplace reform. Mr Cratchitt being the beneficiary of his employer Mr Scrooges change in attitude.

But it is generally agreed that the greatest impact from his novel was on an individual’s generosity. With donations sky rocketing around Christmas then and every Christmas since.

This is the amazing legacy of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. A spooky tale that brought warmth, love and redemption to Christmas.

Dickens name would become so synonymous with the Christmas period that, supposedly, at the news of Dicken’s death it was said a young woman yelled aghast “Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?”

Craig

Beowulf: The Modern Day Standard of Fantasy

There was a time when high fantasy in films almost meant soft porn. Whilst today’s fantasy loves to show some skin, it does not feel as gratuitous as watching these in the past. We almost had to hide these collections so as not to have people think we were into bondage or sexual violence.

The epic fantasy film was always my go to film growing up. They were the ones I always gravitated toward whenever I went to the video shop. One of the first videos I owned was Excalibur. It actually wasn’t a video. It was recorded of the TV and you had to fast forward the ad breaks. Which if you were there to record, you would have to pause it and hope to start recording at the right time when the ads finished. But I am not here to talk about the evolution in technology but the evolution in Fantasy.

When John Boorman released Excalibur, it became a cult classic. I still remember so much of that film and with every upgrade in viewing VHS-DVD-Blu-ray I always go out and purchase this first. This is MY soul film. This film got me into Knights, Castles, chivalry and oddly enough Superman (the ultimate Knight in shining armour) I loved the core concepts of Witches, Sorcerers, intrigue and the prophecies of the chosen one. They would draw me in every time. I just loved Sword and Sorcery films or as they are otherwise known as; High Fantasy

High Fantasy has grown from “The sword and the sorcerer” (another great childhood memory, 3 swords in one!!) days. It is no longer restricted to brushed paintings on the side of a panel van. High fantasy is now mainstream. The nerds have truly taken over but they have also dealt a blow to the past. There was an odd comfort to the bad qualities a fantasy film had and also it was acceptable to have some cheesy acting and dialogue because you were just happy to enter this world.

But along came Lord of the Rings to open the door to a general audience but then came Game Of thrones to cement the adult audience. Whilst I am not saying LOTR was a kid’s film but it was for all to see, GoT is the TV show that you get when the nerds of Excalibur, Sword and the sorcerer, Beastmaster and Conan the barbarian get a good budget. As I said up above, GoT has taken this concept and added class and made it acceptable for critics to love and for the non-nerd to enjoy. GOT has also upped the standard to such a level that we can’t help but look at some modern day fantasy and find it wanting.

This is what brings me to Beowulf. A film based upon the great archetypal hero within a great epic story!! I remember first watching the film when it was released, and I was blown away. This was a high quality version of my favourite novels, comics and paintings. With the luxury of hindsight and through the diamond lens that GoT created, the film now leaves me looking at what could have been.

Admittedly I look back at the Conan series and feel the same. However Arnold’s presence transcends the screen and you can’t help but take his journey. I refuse to watch “the Sword and the Sorcerer” for fear of destroying my youth. I do watch Excalibur to this day as Boorman proved that fantasy can be timeless with an epic score and setting that would not be dated, only mimicked.

It is amazing to see what LOTR and GoT has done for us. It has opened us up to the magnificent world of Westoros and middle Earth but mainly it has shown the Hollywood moguls that fantasy is not a sub genre but a lucrative industry. It has happened the same with Comic books films. We are at such a lucky time in our lives that we are able to have CGI show us what only Alan Lee could give us in glimpses.

So When you turn on your TV and see Sword of Shannara and multiple other fantasy films, Be thankful that GoT came along to be fleshed out by HBO, DB Wiess, David Benioff and of course ol’ George. We will never view Fantasy again with the shameful looks. We will stand proud and state I fought alongside Arthur, I traveled the lands of Westoros, I joined the fellowship and of course….I am the chosen one!!

Craig

The Polar Express: The Magic is in the Moment

If there is one word we used most to describe The Polar Express, it’s magical. Just typing that makes me smile because the film is just that. I mean, just watch this clip of the films Hot Chocolate song. It’s nothing short of pure magical joy!

I guess that’s why the film has become a Christmas family classic. It’s filled with moments just like the Hot Chocolate scene. For me the film was made even more special, even more magical. For this episode of the podcast I got to share it with my 7-year-old daughter Evie. She was pretty nervous to start with but as the episode went along her gorgeous little character began to pop out for all to hear.

Now they say you should never work with kids or animals and there are moments in this episode where you’d be forgiven for asking why on Earth would we have a 7-year-old on the podcast, especially when each episode goes for 90-120 minutes. No kid has that sort of attention span! But the adventure made the episode even more fun and even more special. To me sharing moments with my family are most important to me. We want to be present to celebrate the good and the bad times with one another and therefore it was a no brainer when Evie asked if one day she might be on the podcast to then make that a reality.

I say it every episode, but I just love doing this podcast. It seriously brings me so much joy and it’s also become such a huge part of my life. You can’t escape it at home and that’s not a negative, we all discuss it and analyse it. Writing that I’m realising just how fortunate I am to have a family that are invested just as I am. But it’s in these moments that I find most magical, the moments when together we identify a potential problem and great alternatives are given.

As cheesy as it sounds, I guess when you really look at it, there is magic to be found in every moment. For me I got to share something I am incredibly passionate about with someone I’m incredibly passionate about and The Polar Express episode and film will forever be something special because of that. As for Evie girl, I could never have predicted how important and special being on the podcast was going to be for her as well. In the days following she told everyone and anyone about being on her Dad’s podcast. She listened to her episode multiple times, repeating her favourite jokes and critiquing her efforts, for the record she really wishes that she’d sung Yellow Submarine when we talked about Zemeckis’s attempted motion capture version of The Beatles classic. It could possibly be as important to Evie as it was to me.

So I guess my encouragement is to share moments with those you love and include them on your journey. Together the moments will be even more magical than you might expect.

Big Love, Yeah

Geoff

Cast Away: Robert Zemeckis and his Leading Men

Last year Craig and I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening to James Cameron talk about his two passions, film and underwater exploration. It was a fascinating look at the way he was wired and the way in which he approached both passions. What became really apparent during the chat was how skills from both passions transferred across one another. For me the main point I took away from it all was that Cameron is a natural leader.

Great leadership can come in many forms and if you go into a book store you’ll see a shelf dedicated to a myriad of ways in which people believe leadership can be delivered. But if there’s one thing that I feel is consistent amongst great leadership is the fact the great leaders are like magnets. People are drawn to them. While discussing his submarine work, it became very apparent that Cameron had accumulated a group that are the best of the best. Because he was a proven leader in not just his film projects but more importantly his scientific work, people wanted to work with him.

Directors are leaders. In film, they are THE leader, and the great directors are leaders with vision. There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Zemeckis is a visionary leader. You only need to take a look at his filmography to see that there is an astounding amount of talent that he has worked with. We’re a little over half way into his body of work and so far he has featured some of the best actors working today! To feature Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Michael J. Fox, Bob Hoskins, Bruce Willis, Matthew McConaughey, Harrison Ford and of course Tom Hanks by the half way point of his career is just bonkers. Then you see who Zemeckis will go onto work with (Denzel Washington and Brad Pitt for example) and you realise this is someone that people want to work for.

His list of leading men is enough to be the top of any working directors wish list, actually the list is probably the envy for most A-List directors. But it’s when we start to take a look at why it is that so many great actors have worked with Zemeckis that, even though it’s speculation, I can’t help but think that Zemeckis’s leadership plays a massive part in the team that works alongside him.

Now I’m going to tangent off here for a moment but stick with me, we’ll be getting back to it all. The first few films of Zemeckis’s career we’ve described in previous episodes as the times where he is finding his feet and films like Used Cars and Romancing The Stone, while popular now, had their challenges in production. It was really Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit that Zemeckis began to find his leadership feet. They are solid films, and as our ranking of his films currently show solid to the point of being extremely high on the list of 14 films. These early films become springboards for their star’s careers and once he has found his feet as a Leader/Director the caliber of star increases as well.

As we’ve discussed Zemeckis’s work more and more during this season, I’ve realised that he is a far more versatile director than I gave him credit for and gosh is he consistent! But this versatility and consistency isn’t limited to his work, all his leading actors could be described the same way. Consider Tom Hanks’s work, each film and character is different and yet you still get Tom Hanks in each of them. From leader in Apollo 13 to endearing single Dad in Sleepless in Seattle to the joyous Forrest Gump and as HIV/AIDS advocate in Philedelphia. Each role is constantly different on paper and yet you never lose Hank’s soul that he brings to each role and each film is crazy consistent. I can’t think of many duds in his very long career and this goes for almost all of Zemeckis’s leading men.

Zemeckis is constantly working with the best talent and you only have to look at his next two films where he has Dwayne Johnson, arguably Hollywood’s most bankable actor at the moment, and Anne Hathaway, who I am hoping will see a career resurgence as I think she’s an amazing actor, to see that he is going to continue to work with amazing talent. Leaders are like a talent magnet and I wholeheartedly believe that the talent Zemckis works with is as a result of the kind of leader Zemeckis is. He is so much more than just a director and far out I am loving discovering this about him.

Big Love, Yeah

Geoff

 

What Lies Beneath: The World of Stars and Starlets

As I watched What Lies beneath, I couldn’t help but wonder at the stars and starlets of old and how we perceive them. Watching the great movie icons of Harrison Ford and the unmatched beauty that is Michelle Pfeiffer, I couldn’t help but think that maybe we don’t have this level of stars today.

I know we have a lot of actors who are great and amazing but do we have modern day Harrison Ford? Is there an actress today who you could say would match the allure and seduction of Michelle Pfeiffer? Around the peaks of these two icons, there were so many actors who could carry a film on their own. People would go to the movies to see these gigantic actors do their thing in differing scenarios. I always said that Harrison Ford never played anyone apart from Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford in Space, Harrison Ford with brain damage, Harrison Ford with the Amish.

His presence and charisma energized franchises. He was able to carry the most basic of plots with a wry smile or a cranky look. I struggle to think of any up and coming actor who can do the same based upon their name alone. Maybe we live in a world where the actors name only compliments the film and does not sell the film.

Could Chris Evans drive a film without wearing the shield? Could Chris Pratt do it? He seems a close match as people love watching him onscreen but is this only because he reminds us how much we miss Harrison? I doubt that last statement but did you go to Jurassic park for Pratt or the promise of dinosaurs? Is Ryan Gosling our saviour? A talented actor who can be a selling point but even he couldn’t save Blade Runner and he was WITH Harrison??

Let’s jump to Michelle Pfeiffer. This lady was so big that she carried a young, up and coming TV star George Clooney in “One fine day”. Clooney himself was still an unknown quantity in the move industry with only one major feature film as Seth Gecko in “Dusk til Dawn” Michelle Pfeiffer was a Hollywood megastar that had proven she could lead profitable films like Dangerous minds and obviously the fabulous baker boys. This last film cementing her as one of the sexiest women to ever grace the screen. If you go onto IMDB and look at the back catalogue, you will understand the impact she has had on cinema.

Do we have a modern-day Michelle Pfeiffer? A good argument can be made for Jennifer Lawrence and there is a lot of merit to that argument but I struggle to feel comfortable tin that comparison. It is a debate in most generations. I remembering hearing these arguments before that there would never be another Steve McQueen, Cary Grant and the most beautiful woman ever on screen; Grace Kelly.

Speaking of Grace Kelly, one of her greatest collaborations was with Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart in the Hitchcock classic; Rear Window. Fast forward to the year 2000 and Zemeckis wanted to make modern day version of a Hitchcock film so it seems only logical that he would choose the modern day icons of Ford and Pfeiffer.

I do not want to be a doomsayer, lamenting the loss of the previous generation and disparaging this one. I think I will be proven wrong and we will see the new generation of stars and starlets to dazzle our eye.

Craig

Contact: Perseverance and the Pay Off in Contact

Hey there guys,

I’ve struggled a little bit as to what I’d write about Contact. Not because of the quality of the film but more so because during our episode, Craig and I discussed such a broad range of topics that I felt “what can I say that hasn’t been said already?” But reflecting on the episode and the journey that the film took what really stood out to me is that for Carl Sagan, Contact as a film was a passion project and one that took Sagan nearly 20 years to get to the screen. What’s even sadder is the fact that Sagan passed away a few months before the film was released.

During the episode we took a look, in greater detail, at the journey that Contact took. Aside from the extended time frame what really tells me that Contact was a passion project is that after the film stalled Sagan was willing to look into alternate ways in which his story could still be brought to the world. Sagan went on to write Contact as a novel which then, in turn, lead to a film being made based upon the book. It was the long way around for the story but after seeing the film, it was worth the wait. And, let’s be honest, who knows what sort of version of the film we would have received if it had been originally made when developed in the 80’s.

Time is such a fascinating thing to me. Time is such an individual and unique entity, our own priorities and passions determine whether time flies or drags. This is especially evident when we take a look at time in relation to something we’re passionate about. Just think about those moments in our own life when we’ve chased something we’ve wanted. It could be the genesis of a podcast or some other creative project, applying for a job or a potential significant other you wanted to ask out. There are all these moments in this pursuit where time is a struggle. We wish time could be sped up in order to reach something and then we wish it would slow down so moments could last longer. It’s just so intriguing to me.  

The creation of this podcast could be described as nothing less than a passion project for myself. I had idea after idea and some of them just didn’t come together, but my patience during development and creation, was fuelled by my passion for the project and for films. I don’t want to make a heap of assumptions but this is why I feel the 20-year journey was a wholehearted, passion driven project for Carl Sagan. But let’s take a moment and consider the highs and lows that Sagan must have endured during the 20-year journey of his labour of love.

I did a little research to see if there was any mention of Sagan getting to see Zemeckis’s version of Contact and stumbled across a letter written by Sagan and his wife/writing partner Ann Druyan. Throughout the 2 pages of what looks to be a much bigger letter, Sagan and Druyan pull apart a rewritten version of the script, undertaken during the George Miller years of the project, and give their notes. You can read those pages below;

Sagan1.jpg
Sagan2.jpg

But it’s evidence that shows that Sagan loved this project and wanted nothing but the best for it. He persevered through the early studio stalling, the wild/zany iterations during the George Miller years and in the end was rewarded with Robert Zemeckis’s vision of Contact.

There are always going to be moments where we’re disappointed or let down during the pursuit of a passion and sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration. For me, Contact will always be a source of inspiration as I believe it’s proof that if you passionately pursue something that great things can come. So keep chasing!

Big Love, Yeah

Geoff

Forrest Gump: An Ode To Alan Silvestri

If you’ve tuned into the podcast regularly you’ll have heard the name Alan Silvestri a few times. I am an unashamed film score nerd. I listen to film scores while I write/study and if you’ll allow me a moment of vulnerability, one of my dreams is to one day write a score for a short film or maybe even a feature! Why am I telling you this? I guess I just want to give a little context into the fact that, this isn’t something that I just decided to have a crack at, it’s something I flat out love about films.

I’m realising, as I plan to write this, just how difficult it is to verbalise moments in music into written word. So for the sake of this article I’m going to refer to our FFTL Podcast Playlist which you can find here;

The score, and its composer, can literally make or break a film. A great score doesn’t over power the film but sits in perfect unison with the visual images to lift our hearts in the moments of triumph and break them in both a moment of loss or a moment of beauty. Think of your favourite films and I am pretty sure that you can sing their theme songs. There is no better example of this than Star Wars. As soon as it is mentioned, most can sing the theme from Star Wars and further to that, if you ask someone about Darth Vader they will generally sing John Williams Imperial March. It’s iconic! I don’t want to harp on it too much as I think you get the point but think of films like Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible (yes, I know it began as a TV show) or Harry Potter. You can generally sing their theme as soon as you think of the film. But this is what a great composer brings to a film and Alan Silvestri is a composer who definitely brings that!

We’ve spoken a few times during this season about how Robert Zemeckis has surrounded himself with a group of creative people who enhance his work and the partnership between Zemeckis and Silvestri, which is a now 35 year working relationship, and one that I feel is vital to his filmography. The two have been working together since Romancing the Stone and in honesty, I can’t imagine a Zemeckis film releasing now that didn’t have a Silvestri score. When Craig and I recently saw Welcome to Marwen, one of the part of the film I was most excited for was to see what Silvestri brought and I was not disappointed. As I’m finding is often the case, it was one of the highlights of the film.

Now I could easily write about Silvestri’s non-Zemeckis work as it’s just as impressive but I feel that where Silvestri’s score really shine is with the visuals that Zemeckis brings. It’s a partnership made in film heaven and when you think about it, one that when a director finds that composer that clicks they hold onto them. Spielberg has his Williams, Burton has his Elfman, Fincher has his Reznor/Finch, Leone has his Morricone, John Carpenter has…well John Carpenter and Zemeckis has Silvestri.

So far, this season, we’ve seen some of Silvestri’s most iconic work already and he keeps getting better and better. Let’s start at Romancing the Stone, from the moment you hear the theme start that syncopated rhythm between the piano and bass you get a distinct vibe that fun is about to be had. The cowbells, shakers and occasional bongos give an almost salsa like/international flair. I’m being told so much about the film without seeing a single image, and those 80’s sax solos with a splash of slap bass! Dang!

As I’m writing this I’m listening to the score from Contact and it dawned on me. My original intention on this article was to speak about the ways in which Silvestri’s scores are as much a character in Zemeckis’s films as the ones written by the screen writers and that’s still the case. An article could be written that discusses how Silvestri’s score is as vital to Back to the Future as Michael J Fox is to Marty or Christopher Lloyd is to Doc Brown. The same could be said for Forrest Gump or Contact and looking forward into Zemeckis’s filmography, there are many more films as well. But what really struck me in this is the versatility that Silvestri brings to each score and this is further cemented by his usage of instrumentation. As I’ve already mentioned regarding Romancing the Stone, ignoring the distinctly 80’s tone, the usage of percussive instruments gives a South American flair to the already fun and adventurous score.

Taking a look into Back to the Future from the moment the films theme begins the crash of cymbals and blaring horns announce the film with a fanfare. You’re being told that something grand is in store for you. Then come the woodwind (flutes especially) and string sections, bringing with them a sense of adventure and soon after they all join together to send the theme soaring. It gives the theme an almost Superman like quality. I almost feel like I need to have a video accompanying this article as it is so hard to describe without giving an auditory component. I just can’t write a bahp bah or a diddledee and you know what I’m talking about.

What really shows how versatile Silvestri can be is the way that his moulds and shapes his theme from Part I across parts II and III. The heart of the theme is there in Part II (see song The Future) with the brass but it the theme and notes are drawn out, this allows space for Silvestri to fill it with the chaotic, frantic sounds of the woodwind and strings. Listening without images you feel a sense of awe, wonder and confusion at the start and then as Marty is seeing the world come alive around it increases in busyness. For Part III, the theme is there again but the underlying rhythm gives an almost horse clippity clop style drive. Then it reaches that gorgeous string moment that again without images you feel love, heartbreak and hope all at once and the usage of a harp and flute is just beautiful.

Following Back to the Future, Silvestri really shines in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. PLEASE listen to the song on the playlist (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) as you can hear elements of Golden Era Disney Animation, Golden Era Looney Tunes, Soulful Jazz and then as the song continues it begins to meld all of these elements together. The song itself is such a journey and the whole time you still hear Silvestri throughout it. It’s up there with my very favourite work by him.

Speaking of my favourite work by Silvestri it’d be terrible of me to not speak on my very favourite score of his. Forrest Gump is a film that from the moment it begins you know that something gorgeous is in store (see Suite from Forrest Gump). There are elements of the Forrest Gump theme that have been present throughout Silvestri’s previous work but for me this is the moment when it all came together for something absolutely magical. At times it’s heartbreaking to hear while being also being uplifting and hopeful. I guess in a way all the words you’d use to describe the emotions that the film brings can be used to describe the score as well. Again, the score is as much a character as the characters themselves.

But this is what great films need. As I mentioned before, a score can literally make or break a film and we’ve a few times on the podcast how the more we dive into Zemeckis’s filmography, the more we love and appreciate his body of work, the same goes for Silvestri’s work. I knew I loved him as a composer but the more I dive into his collaborations with Zemeckis the more I realise that he is a crucial element of Zemeckis’s film making.

I’ve already gone pretty deep here and I honestly could continue to profess my love for his work but I fear that you, the reader, would grow tired of it. Sort of like when someone is in love and won’t stop talking about how amazing their significant other is. But that’s how much I love his work and I am so excited to see what is to come from Alan Silvestri as we continue to hear his work in future films and I hope you are coming to love and appreciate him as much as I do.

Big Love yeah,

Geoff

Death Becomes Her

Now this is a true story!! I am currently in the process of finishing one job and starting another. In this time I have had to rearrange computers and changes laptops blah blah blah.

What has happened is I actually wrote an article on the cult following around films and how it grows but I have lost it!! This is at digital world’s version of saying “the Dog Ate My Homework”

I am also very time poor (translation: lazy) and so I have not able to find the time or motivation to write it again. So I have found this great article that is a great replacement.

PLEASE hit this article. It is written better than I could ever do.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/08/death-becomes-her-25th-anniversary-meryl-streep-goldie-hawn-gay-classic

LOVE YOU ALL

Craig

Back To The Future Part III: The Amazing Art of Miniatures

If there’s one thing I wish we’d spoken a bit about during our Back to the Future episodes, it’s the amazing usage of miniatures throughout the films. It got brought to my attention just how amazing the miniature work was for the films while researching behind the scenes photos for Part II. It was during this I came across the image of the miniature train in Part III with coloured smoke billowing out of it. It blew my mind, the level of detail in that image (even though it’s a picture from a distance) is amazing. So much so that I naively had never really thought how they did those scenes. I guess I’d always just believed that they were full size trains and a full sized Delorean in front of it! Thinking about how great the usage of miniatures in these film is led me down a train of thought about how in a digital/CG world, must films would opt to completely digitise the train from Part III or the flying Delorean from Part II.

I guess there are quite a number of articles that could be written from that statement, the whole Physical vs. Digital film making debate. When you really think about the film makers who are choosing physical (when possible) over digital, there is a realness to their films. There’s something that feels so much more tangible, rather than the strange emptiness that can be felt when watching a giant digital set piece. A prime example of this is George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the physicality of that film enhances the spectacle and makes it one of the best action/chase films in a very long time. Again, I digress and let’s be honest, I could rant about my love for George Miller and Mad Max: Fury Road all day long. Hopefully one day we can have a season on Miller as he is a fantastic film maker. My point is that the physical provides something so much more special to watch and feel. If I can use one more example it is Star Wars, the opening of A New Hope features a miniature spaceship passing by the camera. The way the light passes over the ship, creating shadows and giving an idea of just how huge this ship is. When in contrast, take a look at the opening of Attack of the Clones, where a digital ship passes by, it just doesn’t have the same impact. It looks cool but it just doesn’t feel the same and this is why miniatures in film are so important.   

After doing a bit of research into the usage of miniatures in film, it became apparent that the 80’s were when they were really in their prime. They were being built with a size and detail never seen before and it was all because the digital revolution hadn’t arrived, or just could do what they needed. One film in particular that pushed the limits of miniatures is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If you’re like me, you love a good behind the scenes video so I’ll throw a few in to watch amongst this as they give the info in a way I could never type out. Below is an awesome interview with Lorne Peterson discussing the miniatures used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and during it he talks about just how detailed they needed to be. It’s a fascinating watch.

The importance of the miniature work in films like Temple of Doom is often over looked. You see, a great miniature is never spotted and therefore it’s easy to not think about the role they play in films. If it wasn’t for films like Temple of Doom then some of the amazing modern usages of miniatures would never have happened. Again compare The Lord of the Rings films to The Hobbit films, the miniatures used on LOTR for Helm’s Deep are phenomenal while in The Hobbits films a lot of the castles were digital and the result speaks for themselves. They just didn’t feel as real in The Hobbit, as lived in.

I’m not sure if I’d call miniatures a dying art, but I’d definitely say that it’s an art form that is utilised less and less. Alongside, Peter Jackson, one film maker that is keeping the art form alive in a modern era is Christopher Nolan. His Batman films feature many miniatures, especially when the Tumbler is being used, the scene in The Dark Knight where the Tumbler smashes head on into a garbage truck is one particular example. But a film where Nolan uses an amazing miniature is Inception. I’d argue that Inception is his best work and one of the key, and under rated elements of the film, is the way that his effects ground a high concept film in reality. In particular, the scene towards the end where the “Dream Fortress” is destroyed. That fortress set amongst the snowy backdrop is a combination of physical buildings and miniatures. Again, where most film makers in a modern era would use digital technology to build the fortress, the tangibility that a physical location (and miniatures) provides is vital to the way in which the film feels and in a film that takes place outside of reality, it is the real nature of everything that completely sells the concept. Just look at the effort they took to build a miniature version of the fortress and tell me that it doesn’t sell the scene more!

When we’ve talked about Zemeckis’s usage of technology in his films so far, we’ve always applauded him for his restraint and his ability to use technology to enhance and sell his films. During the Part III episode we talked about how real and amazing the explosion of the train was and I believe it is because of the amazing usage of miniatures in this film. There is a realness that the physicality brings and that completely sells the entire train scene. Just like I mentioned earlier the usage in these films were so good I didn’t even think of miniatures being an avenue in which the results were achieved.

There are a lot of things I’ve loved about doing this podcast so far, but one I could never have imagined was how it would be like going to film school. Each film brings a new and exciting lesson to learn and just when I think I couldn’t respect Zemeckis any more as a film maker, then I’m taken to school again. I hope you’re enjoying it too.

Big Love, yeah!

Geoff

Back To The Future Part II: The Art of Making the Complex Simple

Another podcast and another article to take up some of your time. At first when I was about to write this article I had no idea what I wanted to talk about. The ideas behind Back to the Future 2 (BTTF2) are out in the world in so many forms. It is easier in the Movie nerd world to find an opinion piece on Back to the Future 2 than it is to find cocaine in Hollywood and that is supposedly pretty easy.

So instead of looking at the breakdown of tired old tropes about Marty, time travel breaks and of course incest. Let’s jump into some other territory. But before we do let’s have a little run down on Back to the Future 2.

Released in 1989, this follow up to the amazing Back to the future part 1(BTTF1), is a glorious thrill ride by Robert Zemeckis written with writing partner Bob Gale. Marty McFly and Doc Brown return and have to travel to the future to save Marty’s children and in doing so they inadvertently set off a time rift as future Biff steal the DeLorean to go back in time to give his younger self a sports almanac filled with sporting results to bet with that changes the past and the present so Biff rules supreme. This means that Marty and Doc after saving Marty’s children in the future (sexy MJF dressed as a daughter- You know you love it GEOFF) then travel to the broken timeline to see his Mum being abused by an all-powerful Biff who is also the murderer of Marty’s father George. Marty and Doc then need to go back to the time of the Original film and stop future Biff from giving younger Biff the Sports Almanac as well as not running into themselves and disrupting the adventure from from BTTF part 1.

Apart from my bad writing and phrasing, are you confused reading the above? Imagine how horrified the conservative 80’s Movie exec must have felt when Bob Gale and Bobby Z pitched this one? How did they sell something like this to the studios heads and more importantly to the audience?

In my responsible adult world, I am a trainer. Not the type with the rock hard abs who runs behind you yelling “give me five more Karen!!” Nope. I am a vocational trainer. I train people on systems and whatever else my bosses ask me to train. One of the hardest thing I have to do as a trainer is to try and make the complex ideas understandable. So there is always a part of me that is impressed whenever a director and writer are able to take complex plots and make then palatable.

BTTF1 takes a sci-fi concept of time travel and gives it to you in a hilarious and digestible fashion. You never leave BTTF1 questioning the physics, you leave thinking of the adventure. BTTF2 takes that time travel and completely goes to town. It doubles down on the twists and turns without losing you or making you think you are in “nerd” territory. At the time many studios viewed Sci-fi as “nerdy” and belonging to smaller audiences and therefore smaller profits. Ironically this is an idea that has been proven wrong time and again but that is an article for another day.

So what does Bobby Z and a Bob Gale do to make BTTF2 fun whilst pushing you down the rabbit hole? Misdirection. A trick magicians have used since the dawn of……umm magicians. When Doc and Marty first fly to the future, we are too distracted by the colours, flying cars, crazy fashion and of course the hoverboards to care about the logistics of a banana peel replacing plutonium. We see a familiar yet strange world that immerses us so deeply that we forget to question it. We leave our minds and enter successfully into “Suspension of Disbelief”

Apart from the visuals, the writing and storyline also distract you as it powers forward at a breakneck pace to keep you entertained and of course busy. This is a definite masterstroke by Bob Gale and Bobby Z. When you are able to see these brilliants misdirection’s, BTTF2 takes on another

level of brilliance. This is a film that very few blockbusters have been able to successfully emulate. Whenever I think of this topic, I can’t help but refer to another brilliant filmmaker. Christopher Nolan and Inception. Imagine how this film was pitched? How much salesmanship and confidence was required to get the budget and talent it required to make a film about a group of thieves who use dreams as a way to steal and manipulate business. Especially when they get to the level of three dreams down. Supposedly Inception started as an 80 page treatment that Nolan put aside at first to build his experience so he made Batman begins, the prestige and The Dark knight before returning and revising the story. Once Nolan did come around to making Inception, he made it in a fashion that people understood it and never felt flooded by it. Financially it was a hit and is now considered a classic.

I know there may be some of you who are thinking of other complex films that can be added but remember.....Were they successful and did a wider audience enjoy them? I love “the Fountain”. It is one of my favourite films but it is not part of our movie culture as BTTF2 and Inception are. Some of them missed what makes Inception and BTTF2 so popular. They used the story to explain the concept and then instead of throwing data and exposition at you, they make a conscious effort to humanise what is happening. They take the characters and make you feel deeper for them. Marty with his parents and DiCaprio’s Cobb and his wife. Nolan and Zemeckis write and direct the films with such an expertise that you somehow start to emote and relate to characters who are either travelling through time or through dreams!! That is an Achievement!!

I will finish this off now as I don’t like to go on and on in my articles, I am sorry as I believe I am better at talking than writing, hence the podcast. Albert Einstein quoted that “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” So I feel confident in the genius of Bobby Z and Bob Gale in Back to the Future 2. This reason alone makes this film stand out of the BTTF trilogy as well as making it one of my most loved films.

I hope you enjoyed the article and I would love to hear your thoughts. Now go listen to some more of our podcast, please!!

Cheers

Craig

Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Zemeckis and the Subtle Use of Technology

Hey guys,

I have to start this mini essay of sorts with an apology. I had mentioned in this week’s episode that I wanted to write about the amazing work of Alan Silvestri but I feel that my love letter to him would be better served later in the season as he still has so much more great work to come. So never fear! You’ll be hearing my thoughts on Alan Silvestri soon.

But it was when I was sitting post recording of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit episode that I began to think about the behind the scenes TV special that I had described earlier in the episode. I just wanted to find that footage so I can watch it again. This lead me down the old YouTube rabbit hole, no pun intended, and I came across a few nuggets of gold. In particular, this one here;

Watching over this you get a real idea of two things, firstly just how amazing a job Bob Hoskins is doing throughout the film and secondly just how meticulous a film maker Zemeckis is. Each of these moments in the film had to be thought out, planned, designed and implemented multiple times to give the finished products we love so much in this film. Without it the chemistry and relationship between physical actors and the characters we love so dearly just would be there or believable.

Craig and I touched on the opportunities that could have been there for Zemeckis and Co. to cash in on the usage of this technology a little during the episode, but let’s elaborate a little more on it. When you really think about it, the film business is in the game to essentially make money, albeit through a medium that we cherish. I’m not saying that Who Framed Roger Rabbit didn’t cash in on its technological uses, the fact that at 6 years old I can remember watching a Behind The Scenes video shows they were spruiking the film big time, but when the opportunity was there to maximise the revenue opportunities, I believe that Zemeckis showed a lot of restraint. Scenes weren’t crowded with characters, unless the scene called for it, actors weren’t given shameless cameos, and product placements didn’t fill the screen being sneakily endorsed by our beloved cartoon friends.  

Throughout the 5 films that we’ve watched so far as a part of From First To Last I’ve come to realise this. That when it comes to the usage of technology, Robert Zemeckis’s films may be cutting edge but that doesn’t mean that they glorify the technology in a way that is gimmicky and icky. Before I speak about Zemeckis’s subtle usage of technology I thought I’d show what I considered an icky usage of technology. In the mid to late 2000’s 3D technology saw a resurgence, now there’s an entire article that can be devoted to 3D technology and it’s pros and cons, but what became evident during this time was that if studios had their film shown in 3D that the revenue possibilities could be huge. This meant that lots of films, animated in particular, were made and released with 3D technology in mind.

The flow on effect was a times lazy and gimmicky moments in films, where it tainted the experience for me. One in particular is the opening of the Dreamworks Animation film Monsters vs Aliens. In this scenes a meteor is tracked by a government agency as it enters Earth’s orbit. In the moments before the meteor is spotted by the scientists, the viewers are given a glimpse into the workspace that the scientists live in. In particular, the shot ends with one scientist lazing in his chair, feet on desk, playing with an old school paddle ball game (you know the paddle with the ball attached to a piece of elastic that is hit back and forth onto the paddle). The result was that using 3D technology the viewer thought they’d get hit by the ball. Maybe it was a call back to the old 1950’s 3D films, but for me it just seemed gimmicky and a lazy usage of a technology that could enhance a film not betray it. A few months later this amazing usage would be displayed in James Cameron’s Avatar. I tried to find the opening scene from Monsters vs Aliens to show just what I meant but the best I could find is this and apologies because it’s in 3D but you get the idea;

Just in case there are huge Monsters vs Aliens fans out there outraged by my decision to single this film out. It’s nothing to do with the film itself, it’s quite popular in the Reid house and Craig and I have a soft spot for it thanks to some cool interviews in the CineFOOLS days as well. The studio that made the film, Dreamworks Animation, had a different approach to their films and as a result different values to their approach with technology. Again this could become a totally different conversation about product placement to justify additional funding for technology but to further show that the 3D was also used for additional financial gain check out this video where Monsters vs Aliens was then used to sell Samsung 3D TV’s.

Now we’re really in the early days for Zemeckis and his usage of technology, but never yet in his films have I felt that Zemeckis used technology in a way that came at a cost of his films. It always enhances things in such a beautiful way. Take Romancing The Stone for example, the first moment you see the stone technology is used to make it greener. It’s ever so subtle but the stone itself needed to be the most amazing green jewel you’ve ever seen. Or even the way in which the Delorean splits its way through time, almost as if it’s trying for the entire car to reach the place where it’s ready to travel. The glow, the sparks and shoots of light all work together to sell the possibility that time travel could really be possible.

As I mentioned before it’s early days for Zemeckis’s filmography but looking ahead I can already tell that now he is honing his ability to use technology in his film in such a way where the film itself is more important than the technology itself. It’s most like he is learning to use technology in its purest form. A little bit airy fairy I know but it’s true. Zemeckis only wants his films to be the best that they can and technology is one of the many ways that he does just this.

Before I leave, I thought I’d share a comparison video of technology again being used in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s just amazing, not just for the way in which technology was used but also to showcase just how great a performance Bob Hoskins gives. Enjoy two masters at work.

Big Love,

Geoff

Back To The Future: To Show a Lot of Heart Some Time It Takes Guts… Or At Least Learning To Listen To Them

Hey all,

I hope you guys have been enjoying these articles as much as we’ve enjoyed writing them. When we embarked on this adventure we never thought we’d have such a wonderful and loyal group of people listening in (and reading) with us each week. Before I start today’s article I thought I’d share something, which is that this article has been difficult to write. Each week I’ve had a clear idea of what I want to write. But when it came to Back To The Future, an absolute classic film, what can I write that hasn’t been written before? What can I say that isn’t just a keyboard vomit of gushingly epic proportions?

I’d reached a point this week where I realised I had nothing, I was literally lost for words and was unwilling to be just another half-assed voice praising an amazing film. I decided before I threw the towel in to have another listen to the episode (probably my fifth or sixth since recording). As I listened to Craig and I discuss the journey the film took it dawned on me just how bonkers it was not only that the film got made but in the grander scheme that it turned out so great!

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about I’ll give you a super brief overview. Originally when filming commenced on Back To The Future, the role of Marty McFly was not played by Michael J. Fox. Originally Eric Stoltz was hired and filmed around a month worth of Back To The Future. In some rumours, it is believed that was as much as all the way up to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance was filmed with Stoltz.

During this time in filming, Zemeckis felt that something wasn’t quite right. The film looked great but the more he thought about the film, the more concerns he had with Stoltz as Marty. It wasn’t that he was giving a bad performance, let’s be honest Stoltz is a heck of an actor, but it just wasn’t sitting right with Zemeckis. In time, this lead to Zemeckis deciding that unfortunately Stoltz just wasn’t going to be able to lift Marty to the level required for the film. Stoltz was replaced by Michael J. Fox and the film was re-shot.

When you really think about it, it’s one heck of a gamble by Zemeckis and in a modern era a gamble that probably could have killed the film before it was even released. Just think of the film Solo that was released this year, with shooting almost over directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard due to creative differences. The publicity that followed the film until release was not great, Miller and Lord’s track record with films was pretty amazing and they had a following amongst movie lovers that, coupled with rumour, gave weight to belief that the film was destined to be terrible. As a result, what was a really fun and great addition to the Star Wars world, was pre-judged before release and the Box Office takings suffered. So much so that Disney and Star Wars decided to take a break from standalone films and restructure their approach for future films.

Now imagine these days replacing your leading man 4-6 weeks into shooting. It would basically be murder to your film, rumours would have been reported and speculation would have probably driven the film to a poor box office opening and we would not have a film that is so dearly loved. It’s one of those films that while being a commercial success it just doesn’t feel like a big budget sell out and I truly believe that in large that is thanks to Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty. For guys, each of us find a little bit of ourselves within Marty and again that’s all down to Fox and when I think more about it, it’s probably something that Stoltz, as talented as he is, would not have brought to the film. While it was a crazy huge gamble at the time, and reportedly a pretty expensive one too, it was a gamble that certainly paid off as Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty is an iconic one and he completely owns the role of Marty. One example to describe this perfectly is that with Stoltz, Back To The Future felt like a Doc Brown film whereas with Michael J. Fox, Back To The Future is a Marty McFly film.   

Something about films that I love is the idea of what films could have been, documentaries like Jodorowsky’s Dune that detail the film that could have been, are fascinating and I just love them. This love of what could have been sent me down a rabbit hole of thought. What sort of film would we have got if Stoltz remained as Marty? Would it be as beloved? Would they have even made three of them? I’m not sure it would have been the success that it was and when you really break it all down it came down to one thing. Zemeckis trusted his gut.

For weeks he’d felt that maybe Stoltz wasn’t right for the role and I’m sure that plenty of people were reassuring him that Stoltz was doing a great job. In addition, there were financial pressures associated with a change in leads and on top of that Stoltz was good friends with Lea Thompson who played Lorraine (Marty’s Mum). So there were plenty of elements there that would probably have made keeping Stoltz an easier decision but Zemeckis trusted his instincts and moved towards making the change.

When it comes to Zemeckis’s films there is one thing I love. It doesn’t matter what sort of film he is making, there is always a stack of heart present. A warmth that can be found, even when making a Beatlemania film, a Romantic Adventure story or even a Time Travelling Sci-Fi film. Without trusting his gut Zemeckis could have jeopardised having that heart present, a mistake I feel he learned during Used Cars.

I don’t want to get too philosophical but sometimes in life we need to trust our instincts more. As long as the actions we take are safe guarding the things we hold important than the risks attached are worth taking. I love that Zemeckis showed me this and I can’t wait to see just how many more risks he takes to preserve his art.

Big Love Yeah

Geoff      

 

Romancing the Stone

Come back with me people, indulge me for a moment as I get pretentious.

Come back with me to the “good Ole Days”. A young Robert Zemeckis is watching a lecture by an up and coming director who would soon reshape the movie industry as well as my childhood. This up and coming director was, of course, Steven Spielberg. Robert (Bobby Z) approached Steven Spielberg after the lecture and spoke to him. They bonded and Steven became Roberts mentor as well as, I assume, his friend.

I like to think of this moment when I begin to write about Robert Zemeckis first financial hit “Romancing the Stone” as I like to think that one of the things that bonded them was the love of Pulp Fiction and it’s archetypal heroes. For those of you are unsure of the term. Let me give you a crash course as I think a good appreciation of pulp fiction will help you love “Romancing the Stone” even more.

I have looked around and found that Vintage Library has best described the Pulp Fiction

“Term originated from the magazines of the first half of the 20th century which were printed on cheap "pulp" paper and published fantastic, escapist fiction for the general entertainment of the mass audiences. The pulp fiction era provided a breeding ground for creative talent which would influence all forms of entertainment for decades to come” and “Bigger-than-life heroes, pretty girls, exotic places, strange and mysterious villains all stalked the pages of the many issues available to the general public on the magazine stands”

Like the opening scene of “Unbreakable” where Mr Glass is explaining differences between heroes and villains in the art he is trying to sell, the cover art  for Pulp magazines paved the way for comic books with high concept adventure, in your face heroism or villainy and always being stirringly epic. Pulp magazines were also the birthplace for many an artist not only in both the creative writing and comic book worlds but also for movies. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s love for them helped them create Indiana Jones as well a little Space epic you should already know.

But let’s get to Robert Zemeckis and his version. As Steven Spielberg and Lucas wanted to pay homage to the Pulp action icons like Allan Quartermain and to a lesser extent Tarzan. Zemeckis, always the innovator, wanted to bring the genre and the hero into the modern day and name him the coolest damn name in pulp history….Jack T Colton. Sounds like a Western rifle.

The first film not entirely written by Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale. The script was written a full five years before Indiana Jones and tragically, became the only script by Malibu Waitress, Dianne Thomas. She would die in a car accident just after the film’s release. Romancing the Stone is a classic fish out of water character meeting the mercenary huckster with a heart of gold. The fish out of water is the mousey Pulp love story writer Joan Wilder played to great affect by the always husky and sexy Kathleen Turner. Whilst the rugged huckster is played against type by the then producer Michael Douglas. The films follows the “odd couple” through South America as they search for a legendary diamond whilst being chased by a corrupt Colonel and drug dealing cousins. Along the way they fight the South American Jungle, encounter crocodiles and fall in love.

Michael Douglas only wanted to produce the script and wanted several actors for the main role until he had to settle for himself. Sylvester Stallone is one such actor who has since regretted turning down the role. Fortunately, Douglas jumps on screen with his natural charm, sharpened by his father’s Spartacus features. The chemistry between Douglas and Turner is palpable to the point of rumour. This helps the movie immensely as you can see it feed directly into the characters story arc.

Kathleen Turner admitted to having a lot of on-set arguments with Robert Zemeckis stating "I remember terrible arguments [with Robert Zemeckis] doing Romancing. He's a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras – sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I'd say, 'This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'” However, as we all would know, the arguing did not stop Zemeckis from rehiring Turner for “Jessica Rabbit”

The film wears its pulp roots on its modern sleeve but also has Zemeckis playing with our expectations all through the film. The starting five minutes of the film we are dropped into a western with the glamourous sweat dripping heroine as she kills her abuser and avenges her sister…and her dog. She then rides off into the sunset with her hero Jesse. Then the biggest Zemeckis touch of modernising the pulp stereotype; The Ending. Joan Wilder, now more confident and daring due to her adventure, sails off into the sunset on the dream boat of Douglas’s Jack T Colton. However the boat is on a trailer being towed through the streets of New York.

The film is littered with these touches by a director finding his mainstream groove. Finding his ability to twist your perceptions by setting you up throughout the film so he can nudge you off track but not enough to rob you of the pulp pay off we all are waiting for.

Before the release of Romancing the stone, the rough cut of the film was making its rounds and getting people worried. One studio who were thought that Zemeckis had created another box office flutter, fired him, whilst deep into the production of Cocoon.

But finally Triumph as the supposed “Indiana Jones ripoff” roared into cinemas to be a big box office hit for Fox studios in 1984. It gave Zemeckis more power to start his little time travel movie and even spawned a sequel “Jewel of the Nile” which followed Jack and Joan on another wild adventure with Danny Devito. This also cemented a loved trio of actors that would later return for the great dark comedy “the War of the Roses”

No matter the end results, Zemeckis has always shown he is a man who wears his influences for all to see from sci-fi, horror to pulp fiction. It also shows how immense the impact of Pulp culture is to our lives and films today. Without the underpaid writers and gorgeous cover arts we might not have the amazing culture we have today. So it’s odd when Steven Spielberg comes out and questions the legitimacy of comic book films when his pulp adventures are so closely related.

On a personal note- this would be the last Zemeckis cameo for Spanish actor Alfonso Arau who would be later famed as EL GAUPO meaning the handsome one. After playing the brilliant El Gaupo in the Three amigos movie. Alfonso would go on to direct “like Water For chocolate and the Keanu Reeves films “A Walk in the clouds”

Now please say it with me….ELLLL GAUPOOOOO!!!!

 

Romancing the Stone (1984)

 

Cast & Crew

 

Directed by 

Robert Zemeckis   

Writing Credits   

 Diane Thomas   ... (written by) 

 Lem Dobbs   ... (uncredited) 

 Howard Franklin   ... (uncredited) 

 Treva Silverman   ... (uncredited) 

 Cast

 

Michael Douglas   ...  Jack Colton 

Kathleen Turner   ...  Joan Wilder 

Danny DeVito   ...  Ralph 

Alfonso Arau   ...  Juan 

 

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FULL MOVIE CREDITS HERE

 

Love you all.

El Craigo

Used Cars: The Experience Is Everything

When we finally settled on Robert Zemeckis being the first port of call for this crazy adventure, I sat down and looked over his filmography. It’s really easy to look at all his work and be excited for the big guns like Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Forrest Gump. But where I really thought that I’d find challenges when it comes to watchability, and even further to that having something to talk about, would probably be the initial couple of films.

Historically, film makers don’t drop an amazing pieces of work on their first go. Even Spielberg had Duel and Sugarland Express before Jaws. Is this me saying that both those films are duds? Of course not! That being said, there are occasional exceptions. One could argue A Quiet Place from John Krasinski as an amazing first film but I can’t help think that it is an anomaly. I guess what I’m saying though is, to expect Zemeckis’s first films to not be his strongest offerings is a reasonably fair expectation. We all need to grow and for film makers that growth is played out on screen. We the viewer, rejoice as we witness their triumphs, especially when we think we’ve seen the best from that film maker already.  

As you’ve now listened to (or if you’ve found yourself here at our humble website by mere accident), we’ve watched Zemeckis’s first two films, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars, and let’s be honest we’ve had one heck of a fun time discussing them! Over the last few days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Used Cars. My feelings toward the film still hasn’t changed, it’s not my favourite Zemeckis film, but what has been interesting about the days following recording the podcast is that when I do think about the film, I smile. Not just a little smirk, but a full on teeth showing grin.

The experience of discussing the film has been such a fun time, and crazily it’s just as fun listening back to the episode. It actually makes me think nothing but good things towards a film I didn’t really enjoy while watching. But isn’t this the amazing thing about life? A lot of the time, even when not relating to films, the experience is just as (and sometimes more) important as the event itself.

My wife and I have these great friends who together we plan surprise adventures for each other. The idea is simple, we’re given a date which we keep free and on that day anything could happen. Some days we go for a fancy meal, sometimes it’s a movie in Gold Class and on this occasion it was on for the history books. We had no idea what we were in for but soon we found ourselves eating an Indian banquet, which was delicious (a huge shout out to Non-Sponsor Zafran Indian Restaurant, Newcastle). As the meal progressed our friend advised we needed to get going as we had a show to attend. We arrived to Newcastle’s iconic Civic Theatre and were rushed through to our seats at such a pace we still had no idea what we were there for. As we sat in our seats a few rows from the front of the theatre my wife turned to me and said “There’s a lot of grey haired people around us… I’m not sure if that’s a good thing!”

What unfolded is the stuff of legend. The show was called Celtic Illusion and it was as if a massive fan of both the magician David Copperfield and Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley decided that the world was missing a combination of the two disciplines. On paper the idea of an Irish Dancing Magician seems intriguing enough that it should work. It did not. Now I don’t have any knowledge of dancing as an art form so I was really scared to ask my wife and friends, but I couldn’t help but ask “Am I supposed to be finding this hilarious? Am I allowed to laugh?” The show wasn’t intended to be comedic but that made it so much better. There’s no way of saying it lightly, it was terrible but the experience of the evening was such that it will remain one of my cherished memories with my wife and friends. You see, sometimes the experience itself enhances what should by rights be a terrible evening and what’s even more amazing is that the same reasoning applies to great things too.  

If you ever saw John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place in cinema, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The film itself is a great piece of work from a first time director but the experience in a full cinema enhanced it to be seen by myself as an amazing film! The usage of sound in the film creates a tension that in a full cinema was amplified. Having such a silent, tense film meant that every noise in cinema was heard. As the tension built, no one wanted to make a sound and all that could be heard was the creaking of chairs as people uncomfortably shifted their weight to ease their own tension. It was incredible and made people engage further with the film. It’s honestly been one of the best and most memorable cinematic experiences that I’ve had in such a long time. The experience itself took something really, really good but made it great!  

This brings me to Used Cars. I’ll be straight and let you know; I didn’t enjoy Used Cars. It was one of those films where I can see that Robert Zemeckis is trying something totally different to his previous effort but it felt too mean. Perhaps as we work our way through his work I’ll see parallels between Used Cars and other films but right now, two films in. It just doesn’t hit for me.

What is both somewhat cool and somewhat confusing for me is after recording our episode on Used Cars, and the next day listening back, I can’t help but think of the film with much softer memories. It’s no longer the mean spirited and confusing film that I thought it was while watching the film. In actual fact, I feel that in time Used Cars will have nothing but fond memories attached to it. Why? Because Craig and I had such an amazingly fun time recording the episode. Even now while typing this I’m smiling like an absolute fool.

Isn’t that what’s so special about film? The moments we experience and the people we share them with, make them just as special, if not more so than the actual film itself. Really, it’s the reason why we do this podcast and I can’t wait for all the experiences to come as this season progresses.

Big Love, Yeah!

Geoff

  

The Cinema Is My Happy Place or Why The Heck Am I Doing This Whole Podcast Thingy

Hey there and thanks for stopping by our little podcast/website/audio/cinematic adventure. This was one of those ideas and dreams that rattled around our heads, and in conversations, for a few years after our beloved CineFOOLS ended. Despite both Craig and I still having a few lingering burnout issues, we still were extremely passionate about film and as a result, here we are with From First To Last.

To celebrate our launch, we thought it would be cool for both Craig and myself to write about why we love film so much, to share our story a little but in our own way. This is what the articles you’ll find each week are intended as, we hope they become an accompaniment to the audio you listen to. A place where we’ll share fresh thoughts, expanded perspectives and really whatever comes to us in the days following the release of that week’s episode.

I can’t speak for Craig, and I certainly don’t want to assume on behalf of yourself so I can only speak about what film/movies and the cinema is for me. To me, a movie is more than just a moving story, it’s an escape. It takes us on a journey, shifts the way we think and leaves us in a different emotional space to the way we were two hours previously. In a way the experience of watching a movie in a cinema is a spiritual thing for me. I once made the statement that a trip to the cinemas is like going to church for me and as a Christian, church going man, that was seen as a somewhat blasphemous train of thought.

Now I want to be clear, this train of thought is not intended to be controversial what I’m getting at is that for me, going to the cinemas is like going home, just like how I feel going to church should feel. It’s my happy place! From the moment I step into the cinema foyer and I smell popcorn I feel relaxation wash over me. Like the moment you open the door to your home to smell someone is baking bread, cooking a cake or a roast dinner. I breathe it in and feel 100 times better. 

I guess you could go as far as saying there is something somewhat ritualistic about a trip to the cinemas for me. A ritual that has many parts and as I wrote them down (about 4 times actually), I realised how crazy and nerdy it would sound to someone who doesn’t have the same love of going to the cinema as I do. But for those who do love it, you know that first smell of popcorn, the feeling of the choc top wrapper as it crinkles in your hand, the visual joy as the rows of posters move past you as you walk towards your cinema, the tingle of expectation as the lights come down, the elation at seeing the trailer for one of your most anticipated films and my favourite part of the ritual… the passionate post film coffee and chat. Give me that and my cup will be filled!

This is at the core of From First To Last, we want to let you be a part of our conversations about film. The good ones, the not so good and everything else in between. It’s why I do it and I hope you love doing it with us too.

Big Love, Yeah!

Geoff