Tuesday, July 16, 2013


The 5 Obstructions blogathon

OBSTRUCTION #2: Write a review of a movie, but also include an interview about it. 

As with any conversation I have with Firdosi Wharton-Ali, it can go on and spiral to a hundred places, and that's the fun of knowing her, and I thank her again for doing this. In between some talk about "Amelia," we discussed the low budget/Roger Corman-like do-it-yourself influence, going through the UNLV student body to why neither one of us can stand Jane Austen adaptations, to the issues with the Las Vegas Film Festival, and many more. She is a friend of mine, I did coverage for one of her scripts, not too long ago, when I applied for a mentorship position; we couldn't really get together for that but we stay in touch constantly; I occasionally ask her to read some of my scripts for instance. She's currently working on producing her own film "Sun City", right now, and when I got the latest entry in the "The 5 Obstructions" Blogathon, where we had to write a review that also had an interview with somebody, I immediately thought of her. She worked with the Oscar-winning Ron Bass as apart of his team for several years, the last of which, she was working on "Amelia", a film that I hadn't seen, but could easily get a copy of, and that she told me not to watch because that film was taken away from Bass, from it's director and that's partly why it didn't work. The interview I'll be transcribing will be, heavily paraphrased, as once again I am reminded that I really need to buy a decent recording device, however, I think I've gotten the jist of our discussion about "Amelia."

ME: So, Firdosi, thanks again. I just saw "Amelia", last night, I wasn't a fan, I'll say that, like you told me. Let's start with Ron Bass, at the beginning. Who is he, for those who don't know, and what it is his process, 'cause it's very unusual in Hollywood? 

FIRDOSI WHARTON-ALI (FWA): Well, it was my first steady job, working. He's a lawyer and I was on his staff, and it's more akin, to working on a television show; I'm one of the few film screenwriters in Hollywood that had a steady-paying job. Still, we would pitch him ideas, but he is the one who would do all the writing. He gets a bad rep for this process, he's a great person to work with. I worked with him for seven years, he the most principled man in Hollywood, and he's the most prolific writer. He's sold over 150 scripts of his own, and I think the next guy has sold like 50 something.

ME: Wow, all the writing himself. That's just mind-bogglingly inpressive? There's a wonderful Ted Friend article from the New Yorker about his process that you showed my, I'm gonna post it here, to let people understand more of what he does, and how he does it. I know it takes me, forever sometimes, to get through a script, and the we can write so many....


FWA: And he's nice too. When my mother was sick, during the process of "Amelia", I was pretty much catatonic during all this, and he was still coming to my house,- we broke down" the script at my house, you know-

ME: What's "broken down"? 

FWA: That's his word, were writing notes, going through the books..., all that was done at my house.

ME: I see. So it was adapted at your house?

FWA: Yeah, right.

ME: "Amelia" was based on, two books I think, so you read them? 

FWA: Actually no. I didn't. I have all the books and materials here, but, you know he kept me on, with a steady job and working for a year, when I really shouldn't have been. I asked him why he did that, he said that he wanted to try and get me out of my depression by create some as-semblance of a working order. I mean, I did as much for him to; I pitched him a romantic-comedy idea with Reese Witherspoon, that he sold to Universal for $750,000, so I gave as good as I got.

ME: $750,000! For an idea? That's something-, Wow! I don't know if I could get use to that.

FWA: Well, he is Ron Bass, that's his reputation that gets that kind of money.

ME: Very true. So, let's get back to "Amelia," and try to figure out what happened. First of all, of all the historical figures, to make a movie out of, she might have been, one of the last one's I'd think about. Was this Ron's project, or- who was the genius of the idea, to do an Amelia Earhart biopic? 

FWA: It wasn't him. Ron hasn't worked on spec since "My Best Friend's Wedding", that was the last time he worked for free, so was hired, but I don't know who's idea it was originally though. It was Ron Bass's idea, to bring in Mira Nair.

ME: That's right, he's a producer as well, so he brought in Nair, who-eh, you know she's not on the tip-of-my-tongue, in terms of favorite directors, but I liked "Monsoon Wedding," and "The Namesake", for instance. So what happened exactly? 

FWA: Well, I had left at this point, but he had hired Nair, and he was still going over notes and still talking with her, and then, he got a phone call, that she had replaced him with Anna Phelan. It wasn't so much, that he was fired, but that she didn't tell him to his face, or at all. Call him or anything, That's what really was just,-eh; you don't do that sort of thing. I'm an Indian woman, and I just don't have any respect for her, for that.

ME: Yeah, I imagine. So like, how much of Bass's script, actually ended up in "Amelia" after all that? 

FWA: I haven't seen the movie, so I wouldn't know.

ME: You haven't seen it? 

FWA: No, but most people have told me that it wasn't good. I will say, Hilary Swank, really played a big part in the production as well. She was a lot of the influence, and she was great I must say. There's a funny clip of her on "Ellen", where she's in her Amelia haircut, and she looks like she's impersonating Ellen, it's really funny. She was good to work with.

(Note: I tried to find the clip, but the audio on youtube clip was muted due to a copyright block, but it is actually pretty funny even without it, for anyone who wants to look it up.)

ME: Well, I've seen, and I'll write my review tonight, and-eh, no, there's no real need to see it.  Thanks again for doing this, I am always interested, in seeing the process, of what happens on a film, and all the little things about how it ends up the way it does. So thanks very much for doing this. 

FWA: Thank you, and I always people to donate, a dollar or two here and there to "The Shade Tree", they do a lot of great work over there, here in Vegas protecting homeless and abused women and children, if you have an extra dollar or two.

ME: Well, I'm a little broke, right now, but next paycheck, I will, and if anybody can donate, there information is below, and I am familiar with them, they are quite a good group of people. So yeah, a dollar or two, goes along way there. Thank again, so very much Firdosi, and I owe you one, and good luck on "Sun City", and sorry for having to paraphrase so much. 

The Shade Tree
1 West Owens Ave
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
(702) 385-7200

Now, for my review on "Amelia".

AMELIA (2009) Director: Mira Nair

2 1/2 STARS

The last time I wondered aloud about whether or not a historical figure was interesting enough to make a movie out of, was before I saw Sofia Coppola's masterpiece, "Marie Antoinette," and that was the last time I ever doubted anything she did. Still though, probably next-to-last on that list for me, would've probably been Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) and any first thoughts I had on "Amelia" have to begin with, "Why?" Was there a need for this biopic? Was there more to her? Sure, and she should probably be more well-known for the things she did other than die, but- I don't know, her life feels like a bit of a yawn to me, and the movie's a bit of a yawn. It's well-made, but I don't know, take out the interesting look back at the early beginnings of aviation, what do you have? Earhart first became famous by becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, which she originally did as a passenger, which her publisher and then later, husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) insisted on it for publicity. (The pilots were paid to claim that she flew) Of course, she would fly the Atlantic solo eventually, in those tiny little specks of an airplane. I had a teacher once, who talked about seeing the Spirit of St. Louis at the Smithsonian, she said it was so small and pitiful, she wanted to help push it into the air. Amelia's airplanes weren't that much bigger. There's some cool shots of them, especially at a race for women pilots that she organized. Occasionally, other characters and names are brought in but a Mia Wasikowska as Elinor Smith for instance, really doesn't have much to do in this film. They briefly go over Earhart's affair with Gene Vidal (Ewen McGregor), the famous multi-sport athlete of the time who founded TWA and is more famous now as Gore Vidal's father, but even that feels more like a slight piece of turbulence than a major plotpoint. Eventually it ends, and there's a couple scenes of his kids wanting Amelia to become more apart of their family. Swank's Earhart is good, although something bothered me about her accent, which is strange considering that I have heard recordings of Earhart, and that she did sound like that, but something still felt too weird about it. Maybe she shouldn't have done the accent, might have felt more realistic. When she isn't flying, she seems to be on a nonstop lecture tour and hocking products, everything from luggage to clothing to cigarettes. A few of the shoots, make it seem like they're shooting a commercial, which is odd, considering that I don't think TV was around back then. You'd think the photos and the audio recordings would've been all she needed. There's parts that were good, but I expect more of an opinion on a person, instead of just a slight look back. I expect more out of Mira Nair, but she does occasionally struggle when she isn't making a movie that's more based in her Indian roots, like "Vanity Fair" for instance, but part of me still thinks "Amelia" might have been doomed from concept, to never be more than just a regular run-of-the-mill biopic. That's a shame, Amelia Earhart probably does deserve more than that, she was a strong and courageous woman, who certainly would've fit better in modern times, although she probably wouldn't have been as famous if she did, but you need more than the subject to matter to have subject matter, and there just wasn't enough drama for a compelling feature film. Admiral attempt, it seems to be accurate enough, but still, I can't come up with a reason for anyone to have to see, "Amelia".

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