24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Crime movies

Where would Alfred Hitchcock be with today's technology?

August 30, 2011 |  3:06 pm

Cary Grant, left, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest 
Sorry, Alfred Hitchcock, that script needs a tweak.

Impressive structure, Frank Capra, but about the premise….

Crackling good dialogue, Billy Wilder, but there’s been a technical glitch. Actually, a technology glitch.

Some of the greatest films of all time probably wouldn’t be greenlighted today without some serious script doctoring because the advent of modern technology has removed the feasibility of the plot points that so many of them turn on.

Consider the opening scene of Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959). Roger (a never-better Cary Grant) realizes during a business lunch at the Plaza Hotel that he must relay a message to his mother, and therefore must send her a telegram. (For readers born after the Clinton impeachment, Google “Western Union.”) With unfortunate timing, he flags down a bellboy who is paging someone else, leading to an identity mix-up and his kidnapping by foreign spies.

A very Hitchcockian device, mistaken identity. It sets the entire plot in motion. But Hitch couldn’t have made that movie today. Not set in 2011, at least, because what successful businessman leaves the office without his 4G smartphone?

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'The Guard': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

August 11, 2011 |  6:30 am

Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard"
If the mere presence of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson — so arresting as Churchill in HBO's "Into the Storm," so amusing as philosophizing hit man Ken in "In Bruges" — isn't enough to convince you to check out "The Guard," let me just mention that the bad guys while away the time discussing Nietzsche like Oxford elite. Holy smokes!

Actually, nothing is sacred in the wry surprise of "The Guard.” Writer-director John Michael McDonagh set this comic whodunit in the beautiful Irish countryside, then mucked it up with a series of brutal events that suggest a bigger criminal conspiracy may be afoot. In a very cheeky turn, Don Cheadle swoops in as an out-of-country, impatient Fed saddled with Gleeson's Sgt. Gerry Boyle.

Gleeson, doughy and disdainful on the outside, wise and witty on the inside, carries the movie and the day, though the cross-dressing prostitutes he favors are charming too. Bodies and bold plot twists keep turning up in such unexpected ways that it all feels effortless. Such a satisfying piece of entertainment is rare, but then with Gleeson's Sgt. Boyle ever there, ever arch, ever rocking this very clever boat, it’s almost impossible to go wrong.


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— Betsy Sharkey

Top photo: As Sgt. Gerry Boyle, Brendan Gleeson, left, makes a questionable collar in the Irish comic whodunit "The Guard." Credit: Jonathan Hession / Sony Pictures Classics.

Up-and-comer John Hlavin plans a new heist

June 7, 2010 | 11:05 am

EXCLUSIVE: It's been a rags-to-riches kind of year in Hollywood.

First came the crop of shorts directors, such as Fede Alvarez and Ricardo de Montreuil, catching the attention of the film world's biggest rainmakers. Then relative rookies such as Shawn Christensen ("Abduction") and David Guggenheim ("Safe House" and "Puzzle Palace") sold screenplays and/or pitches to the biggest studios, with the likes of Taylor Lautner signing on to star.

The latest anointed one to join the list is one John Hlavin. A writer whose most well-known credit until recently was the FX show "The Shield," Hlavin broke through in December when he landed on the Black List with a crime drama called "The Gunslinger." At about the same time, he was also hired to write a few high-profile flicks, including the new "Underworld" movie, and also sold a pitch based on the comic book "Alibi" to Summit Entertainment.

Now Hlavin is at it again. Late last week, the writer touched off a bidding war with a new pitch (harder to do than with a spec). The movie, say sources, is a heist film that also puts a romance at the center. More details as they become available, but what we do know is that, as of late Friday, DreamWorks is said to have won the rights, besting Warner Bros. and other interested studios.

Studios continue to want big franchises, but they're increasingly willing to look at up-and-coming talent to write them. That may not be the world's biggest underdog story. But given the current state of Hollywood, it's nice every now and then to see a Christensen, an Alvarez and now, a Hlavin.

--Steven Zeitchik


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