Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Austin 3: Back in Black

Robert Rodriguez (blurry guy in center) introduces "Payback."

Writer/director Brian Helgeland (another blurry guy in the center) takes questions.

Shane Black, right, takes questions.

One of the best aspects of attending the Austin Film Festival was getting to see films with their filmmakers in attendance, then ask questions afterward.

Friday night at one of the theaters, I got to do this twice.

When "Payback" came out in 1997, I was bitterly disappointed in what I saw onscreen. What I thought was going to be this noirish, gritty thriller about revenge was in fact a rather lightweight film that couldn't decide if it was an action film or a comedy. Much of that was because Paramount and star Mel Gibson didn't want to ruin Gibson's likeable image on film at the time. (My, how times have changed).

So, when the festival was going to show writer/director Brian Helgeland's ("L.A. Confidential") director's cut, I was skeptical. How much could he have possibly changed from what was originally shown in theaters?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Much as everyone else in the audience, including Harry Knowles of Aint-it-cool-news fame, I was completely blown away by this new version of "Payback." Gone were some of the comic elements; this version was grittier and even more volent. This version was more streamlined, without the meandering kidnapping plot. And Gibson's Porter is a lot less likeable, much closer in spirit to the character from the books "Payback" was based upon.

After the movie was finished, Helgeland talked about his experience. The day after he won his Oscar for "Confidential," he was fired by Paramount for "Payback." He told us how he needed to get Gibson's permission to re-cut the movie.

Odds are, "Payback" will only get a limited re-release in theaters, but the director's cut should be available on DVD real soon. I highly recommend this version of the movie.

After "Payback" was finished, the theater showed "The Long Kiss Goodnight," written by Shane Black and directed by Renny Harlin.

Let me say right up front I've never been much of a Black fan. "Lethal Weapon," which he wrote in his 20s while working as a struggling actor, kind of launched that late 80s/early 90s action genre which I always found to be needlessly loud and ridiculously excessive in its action sequences.

But Black made quite a career of it with the original "Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," another movie I hated. A little history on "Kiss," Black sold it for $4 million, the highest sale ever for a screenplay.

(A friend of mine, Gray Beverly, who used to work at The Telegraph and is now in parts unknown, almost sank that deal, by the way. Gray worked as an assistant with the agency handling Black back then, came into the room with a speakerphone still on, not realizing that the agents were still driving the price of the script upwards when he started to tell them that papers for the deal were already signed. Black's deal still went through, but he did say to me "I'll have to find that guy and kick that $%#$%#'s ass!" when I told him the story.)

I had heard Black on a panel with the lovely Jessica Bendinger ("Bring it on") earlier that day about how they got into the business, and found him to be a pretty frank and engaging speaker, and since I hadn't seen "Kiss" in the 10 years it's been out, I decided to stick around.

Well, the movie was everything I thought it was going to be - loud, unrealistic, farcical. These weren't just my opinions, though. They were also Shane Black's. It turns out he hates the 90s action genre as well, even though it was his bread and butter for most of his career. When all these sycophantic fan boys in the audience kept telling him how much they loved "Kiss" and his other movies, Black would let them know how bad their taste was.

As you can see, by the way, I finally got some pictures up. You can check out Monday's post for a picture I added of Jake Kasdan.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: Honestly, any of you who are watching "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 9 p.m.) ahead of "Lost" (ABC, 9 p.m.) are really on the wrong Web site here. I'm not going to berate you like Shane Black would and tell you that you lack taste. It would just be pointless.


Zodin2008 said...

"Payback" was a good film but honestly, I won't re-watch it ever again because Mel Gibson is the star; I have already sold all the Gibson movies from my DVD collection--end of story,

As for "Lost" vs. "Criminal Minds", I have been as brash as you calling people idiots for choosing the dull "Minds" but I kind of feel at times that we are talking to a wall. You know?

Phillip Ramati said...

Actually, by watching the new cut, you'd be sticking it to Mel a little bit, because he was the one behind most of the changes.