Thank you Nora Ephron for your wonderful rom-coms!

Multi-talented writer/director Nora Ephron died Tuesday at the age of 71. I regretfully wasn’t aware that she was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia and to me, she always looked younger than her age. A tinge of sadness came over me when I heard of her passing. Well, for one, there just aren’t enough female filmmakers in Hollywood as it is and now one of the best has left us. I brought up the issue of the lack of female filmmakers during the Women Filmmakers panel at TCFF last year, and some of the female directors there acknowledged the struggle of being in a business strongly-dominated by men.

But Ephron, who was born in Manhattan to parents who were both screenwriters, was one of the few who thrived in Hollywood. Writing was definitely in her blood as her sisters Delia and Amy are also screenwriters, while her sister Hallie Ephron, is a journalist, book reviewer and novelist who writes crime fiction (per Wiki). She was triple-nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Screenplays: Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. I have not seen the first one, but the last two, as well as You’ve Got Mail, are amongst my favorite romantic comedies.

One of the actors who owed it to Ephron for her success was Meg Ryan, she starred in three of Ephron’s films and one of those films made her a star. “Nora was an era,” Ryan’s quoted as saying on this website, and you know what, she was. Her sophisticated and witty writing made rom-coms a genre that wasn’t frowned upon by critics nor audiences like it is today. As one of her personal friends Aaron Sorkin in this article astutely put it, “She wrote romantic comedy in a style we don’t see much anymore… Her spirit was really in it because she loved it so much. She loved film so much…”

Meg Ryan shines in Ephron’s Films

What I LOVE about Ephron’s rom-coms are how funny and heartwarming they are. The characters and stories are inherently sweet but not banal or hackneyed, and the actors in her movies embody their roles so well that they don’t seem like they’re acting. Unlike some of today’s rom-com stars, the actors aren’t *perfect looking* but they’ve got screen charisma and appeal to go with her charming scripts. Her films are packed with wonderful dialog, lines such as these…

“I’ll have what she’s having,”

“A movie! That’s your problem! You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”

“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

“It was a million tiny little things that when you add them up it meant that we were supposed to be together, and I knew it. I knew it the first time I touched her. It was like coming home. Only to no home that I’d ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of the car, and I knew it. It was like magic.”

That last long line from Sleepless is when Tom Hanks’ Sam Baldwin describes his late wife to a late-night radio show host. It always makes me tear up every time I watch it. It’s one of the most genuinely romantic and heartfelt scenes tinged with such poignancy.

She also wrote scenes that are iconic, there’s barely any rom-coms these days that have such indelible scenes such as the diner’s fake-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, or that Sleepless‘ finale up on the Empire State Building. The supporting characters are well-written too, they are memorable even in bit parts: Paul Child in Julie & Julia, Rob Reiner as Hanks’ buddy in Sleepless, Dave Chappelle as Hanks’ right-hand man and Greg Kinnear as Ryan’s technology-loathing boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail, the list goes on. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in Sleepless involves a minor character played by Hanks’ own wife Rita Wilson. The way her character describes a scene from An Affair to Remember is a hoot and the guys’ reaction just perfectly captures the amusing contrast between male/female dynamics. I LOVE this scene!

I also appreciate that Ephron wrote strong female characters, but yet they aren’t unrealistically so. They are quirky but relatable and also have such likability quality about them that I could see them as my own friends. They also have a lot going on in their lives instead of just being the subject of the romance of the story. Julia Child in Julie & Julia has her passion and love for cooking, Sleepless‘ Annie is a successful journalist, and You’ve Got Mail‘s Kathleen Kelly has her bookstore to save. It’s obvious Ephron is a romantic at heart, and she combines that beautifully with her intelligence and sense of humor in her writing. I wish she had made more movies in her lifetime, but one thing for sure, her legacy shall lives on in her work.

Lastly, her movies always have such great music. Sleepless in Seattle is one of my favorite soundtracks that’s packed with classic tunes. I’ll leave you with this one song from Harry Connick Jr. Nora Ephron and great rom-coms go together like a wink and a smile 😀


So what’s YOUR favorite Nora Ephron movie(s)?

TAKE TWO: How would these films turn out had these directors made them?

Many of us who follows Hollywood knows that a film goes through several writing stages before it hits the big screen; we also know that many directors were involved in this process, most of the time these directors decided to leave the project on their own terms or get fired by the studio. Then the studio would bring in another director to take over the project, sometimes it works out, many times the second or third director would end up leaving or get fired from the movie.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Mission Impossible 3 playing on TV and thought to myself, this film really blows and I really wished Cruise and Paramount went with David Fincher’s version. (You can read here as to why that didn’t happened).

So I decided to come up with a list of films that could’ve been directed by a different director and maybe the final product might be better than the ones we got.

Watchmen

Back in the late 80s, Terry Gilliam was put in charge of bringing the popular graphic novel to the big screen. The studio hired Sam Hamm to write the script, for those of you who are old enough, you probably remember Hamm; he wrote Tim Burton’s Batman and was the most popular writer in Hollywood at that time. But after several attempts at rewriting the script, Gilliam determined that the project just won’t work for the big screen and suggested that it should be made into a mini-series. Well, the studio disagree and so he left the project. By the way, if you want to read Hamm’s Watchmen script, I believe it’s available online but be warned, it’s quite awful.

So in early 2000s, Paramount hired Paul Greengrass to take over the project and his version was going to take place in our modern day society. In fact Paramount has so much faith in the movie; they even set up a website for it, well over a year before the film’s release date; it was scheduled to open in the summer 2006. Well in early 2005, Paramount then CEO Sherry Lansing decided to step down and Brad Grey took over. When Grey became the CEO, his first priority was to cut many of Paramount’s big tentpole projects, of course this includes Watchmen. Originally Paramount was going to have two big films opening in summer of 2006, Grey decided to just release one and the one he chose was Mission: Impossible 3. Now, I don’t blame Grey for making that decision because the M:I films are a well known franchise while not many people know anything about Watchmen.

I do feel bad for Greengrass and his team though since they worked on the project for several months trying to bring Watchmen to the big screen and suddenly they’re jobless. Of course things turned out well Greengrass, after he lost the gig he went and made United 93, which he got nominated for an Oscar and then he made The Bourne Ultimatum, which became the highest earning film of that franchise. M:I-3 on the other hand was a box office disappointment. I couldn’t stop thinking though, how would Watchmen turn out had Greengrass directed it? I’m pretty sure it would’ve been much better than Snyder’s bloated and too much slow motion crap fest.

Mission: Impossible 2

After the massive success of the first M:I film, Paramount and Tom Cruise wanted to move quick and make a sequel. They got Oliver Stone to come on board as the director after Brian De Palma declined to come back to do another one. Stone and screenwriter Robert Towne came up with plot about a big pharmaceutical company trying to spread a deadly virus to the world and the M:I team has to stop them. I remember Stone even tried to convince Paul Newman to come out of retirement and appear in this movie, he would’ve played Cruise’s Ethan Hunt’s boss, which went to Anthony Hopkins in the final film. The film was scheduled to open in the summer of 1999 but Cruise was stuck shooting Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, so they had to push the shooting date of this film way back. After several months of waiting, Stone decided he couldn’t wait any longer and left the project so he could shoot Any Given Sunday.

After Stone left, the project was handed to John Woo, who’s still high on the success of Face/Off. When Woo took over the movie, he told Robert Towne to rewrite the script and make it more of action/romance which is what we got. Now I enjoyed M:I-2, but I really would have love to see what Stone could’ve done with the movie. I’m pretty sure his version won’t have tons of doves flying around, slow-mo shootouts and cheesy love triangle storyline.

I Am Legend

Back in the late 1990s, Warner Bros. was gearing up for their 75th anniversary celebration and they wanted to release two big films in the same year. The new Superman film was supposed to come out in summer of 1998 and for the holiday season they were going to release a remake of I Am Legend. Ridley Scott signed on to direct and Arnold was inked as the leading man. Mark Protosevich wrote the script that was truer to the original novel, minus the one liners intended for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Everything was ready to go until they did some math and realized the film would cost well over $100mil to make. Remember this was back in the 90s, so a $100mil film was rare. By comparison, today the average cost to make a tent-pole picture is $150mil. Well, after they couldn’t figure out how to bring down the price tag, the project was put on hold.

The film finally opened in December of 2007, almost ten years after its original release date. Of course we all know it starred Will Smith and directed by Francis Lawrence. I enjoyed this version but I think Scott would’ve done a better job than Lawrence.

Dune

Alejandro Jodorowsky spent years in the 70s trying to bring this popular sci-fi book to the big screen, but after he spent millions on pre-production, he ran out of money and couldn’t shoot it. According to Frank Herbert, the author of the book, Jodorowsky’s script was the size of a phone book and it would’ve been a 14 hours movie, which was one of the reasons why it never made it to the big screen.

So in the late 70s, the film rights were sold to producer Dino De Laurentiis and he hired Ridley Scott to take over the project. Scott intended to split the book into two movies but after realizing it would take over 2 years to complete the movie, he decided he didn’t have the strength to do it. Also, his older brother has just passed away around that time, so he needed time off to grief.

In the early 80s, De Laurentiis decided to hire David Lynch to direct the movie because he was so impress with Lynch’s previous movie, The Elephant Man. Lynch decided to take over the screenwriting duty as well, even though he’d never read the book. After a 135 pages script was finished, Lynch started shooting the film in early 1983. The film finally came out in December of 1984 and it was a huge box office failure. Lynch was so distraught by the film’s failure, he vowed to never again work on a big budget movie.

Dune is one of a rare film where I didn’t hate it but didn’t really like it either, but every time it’s on TV, I’d watch it. In fact I bought a Blu-ray version last year and watched the entire thing again. I always wonder what kind of film it would be had Jodorowsky or Scott directed it.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Originally Stanley Kubrick was going to direct this movie, in fact he started developing the concept of the film way back in the 70s. By the 80s, he thought the technology was ready and he hired a few writers to write the script for him. He didn’t want to hire a kid actor to play the lead role, so he went to automobile manufacture such as Honda and Toyota and asked them if they could build him a realistic child robot that he can use for filming. Of course they told him that was impossible, so he decided to put the project on hold until the technology would be more advance.

In the early 90s after he saw Jurassic Park, he thought the technology was indeed ready and he again started working on the script. But when he saw some CGI pre-visualizations, he was not impressed and again he put the project on hold. He decided to start working on his other movie, Eyes Wide Shut, hoping by the time he finishes this film, the technology would be advanced enough so he could start shooting A.I. Unfortunately he passed away in early 1999 and we never know what his version of the film would’ve been like. From what I remember reading, his version would have been much more darker than Spielberg’s and it wouldn’t have included that “happy” ending with the super intelligent robots ruling the earth.

– Post by Ted S.

You can find all of Ted’s contributions here.


So folks what do you think? Do you wish these films were directed by another filmmaker or are you a fan of the final product? Also, feel free to name other films you thought could’ve been better with a different director behind the camera.