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SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

A DAY IN THE LIFE – SIX OF THE BEST #13 – FILMS SET IN A DAY

With a cursory Google search there’s a few of these articles around concerning films set in one day or a twenty-four hour period. But it’s something I wanted to explore from a narrative perspective in order to understand how it can help a screenwriter with their story. Indeed, as a writer a twenty-four hour period could be a seen as a limitation for one’s story but it can also create a hell of a lot of suspense, drama and comedy.

Of course, in some cases it can also increase the need for an audience to suspend disbelief with many events occurring in such a short space of time. For example, in the classic TV show 24, we kind of know that it’s totally unlikely that our hero Jack Bauer is going to suffer THAT many bad days but we still root for him to save the his family, the dog, his neighbours, and the world. Yet, the distillation of narrative incidents also raises the dramatic stakes, providing much fun and tension for the audience.

As well as creating entertainment the structural benefits of setting a film in one day can provide a “ticking clock” or race against time scenario. Moreover, fixing a time scale or limit conjures up a dramatic sense of containment for the characters. They are trapped within this day and must survive it and whatever fate throws at them. As time moves on during the day suspense is funnelled to a striking denouement as sun-up moves toward sunset. It’s a grudging acceptance of life’s incessant clock of fate as our existence flickers along to the inevitable end.

There are many films which have been set during a one day period and a lot of them are bona fide classics.  Here is SIX of what I consider the best or at least my favourites from a story perspective. I have not included one of the greatest comedies of all time Groundhog Day (1993) because, while that is set in the same day, it actually repeats its day in a Sisyphean and fantastical never-ending situation. Thus, the films here are all set in a fixed period so no temporal loops or time travel movies are included.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Spike Lee’s incendiary look at the day in the life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood finds a variety of characters coping with both rising temperatures and simmering racial tension. Lee’s brilliant script is fully of boldly written and brightly sketched characters presented via a succession of hilarious and dramatic vignettes. The formal excellence on show too from Lee is to be applauded as he uses devices from: music video and cinema to tell his rich stories. The day does not end well as the neighbourhood erupts into tragic violence with Lee proving himself adept at balancing humour, politics and tragedy in equal measure.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)

Sidney Lumet really was a terrific director. Moving from stage and television to film and his first cinema production was rather incredibly 12 Angry Men (1957). This film was ostensibly set in one location over one intensely dramatic period and he would revisit the day-structure for the equally intense bank-robbery-gone-wrong film Dog Day Afternoon in 1975. Lumet directs Al Pacino and John Cazale as ill-fated and inexperienced criminals who rob a New York bank and get deep in over their heads. Once again the set-in-a-day structure creates a bottle-neck effect, squeezing the drama to a suspenseful denouement. As these empathetic and hapless criminals find themselves surrounded by law enforcement Al Pacino’s performance as Sonny dominates, becoming more and more animated and emotional. Incredibly, this original heist movie was based on a bizarre, true story and was another compelling addition to Lumet’s fine directorial C.V.

FALLING DOWN (1993)

Michael Douglas is, in my opinion, a very well rated movie star but also a very under-rated actor. He proved it again in Marvel’s Ant-Man films that he is an altogether reliable on-screen presence, while his staggering performance as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra (2013), garnered deserved praise. Similarly he is in career-best territory as “D-FENS” – named so after his number plate – whom begins his day in a sweltering, polluted traffic jam, before deciding enough is enough. What follows is a violent and explosive rampage both bleak and darkly comic that highlights the anger an individual can feel at being discarded by society. While “D-FENS” actions are appalling it’s clear he has had a mental breakdown and gone over the edge, in this damning and compelling indictment of capitalist society.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

John Hughes was arguably the definitive creator of what came to represent iconic 1980s Hollywood teen and comedy cinema. It may have pretty conservative dealing with, on the main, middle-class American characters and their lot; however, he always had affection for the geek, outsider and under-dog.  Yet, it is important to note that Ferris Bueller is not a geek or an underdog but rather a narcissistic, lying, brash, confident and handsome youth trying to rail against the school system. But in the hands of Matthew Broderick’s standout performance he is also very cool. Because as well as skipping school he is a risk-taker and cheeky and amazingly talks directly to the audience too. During his day off school he crams all manner of crazy things into the day while trying to outwit the school Principal because as he (Hughes) says: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”

HIGH NOON (1952)

Not only is this classic Western set in one day but it’s pretty much shot in real time. It makes the most of the ticking-time-clock scenario, anchored by Gary Cooper’s noble sheriff and fine direction from Fred Zinnemann. The story is very simple. Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is about to leave town with his wife, Amy (an early role for Grace Kelly), finds out a vicious gang of outlaws are coming to town out for revenge. Kane’s choice is to flee or stay and fight. Guess which one he chooses?  Ready to face the outlaws on his own he tries to enlist the help of the townsfolk of Hadleyville, but he is admonished at every request. The suspense and drama are palpable as the clock slides toward noon and the gunfight. The film received many awards and nominations and is a truly humane examination of duty and courage under fire. It could also be seen as an allegory for the McCarthy and Communist “witch-hunts” occurring in Hollywood at the time. However, one could easily see it as a conservative validation of law and order too and the individual fighting for justice against a common enemy.

TRAINING DAY (2001)

David Ayer’s career as a filmmaker has taken a few critical body-blows lately on big budget Hollywood productions; notably his over-blown mess of a franchise trifle that was Suicide Squad (2016); and the odd mix of fantasy and cop thriller that was Bright (2017). While Suicide Squad really did not make any sense it made loads of dough and Bright was actually pretty decent entertainment. Indeed, it actually had a similar structure to Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day. Ethan Hawke is the in-awe trainee to Denzel Washington’s fierce narcotics officer, who has taken his younger charge along to see if he has what it takes to join his team. What I love about this superior genre film is, aside from the brilliant plot and characterisation, is the day unfolds so dramatically with their two respective characters beginning as master and student only to find the respect between the two eroding and a violent power game ensuing.

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“YOU’RE HAVING A BATH” – SOME GREAT MOVIE BATHROOM SCENES by PAUL LAIGHT

“YOU’RE HAVING A BATH” – SOME GREAT MOVIE BATHROOM SCENES by PAUL LAIGHT

I’m unsure why but I thought it may be fun to look at some classic movie bathroom scenes.  Perhaps to take my mind off the horrible conflict in Syria which has escalated now?  Perhaps just to remind us how great some of the films on this list are?  Anyway, the bathroom is a place where we spend the beginning/middle/end of our day cleansing ourselves or relaxing or having some ME time. It also happens to be a good place hide, fight, murder and haunt people in culminating in some classic scenes of horror, comedy and drama.

(NOTE TO PEDANTS: most of these scenes are exclusive to the actual bathroom but there could be slight toilet crossover!)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

LES DIABOLIQUES (1955) – HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT

DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM!!   IT GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE END!!

A massive influence on Psycho (1960) this story of murder and betrayal at a boarding school in France is a brilliant and devious thriller. It also has one of the scariest ending of all time!

PSYCHO (1960) – ALFRED HITCHOCK

THAT shower scene!  Need I say more!

 

THE SHINING (1980) – STANLEY KUBRIK

“Here’s Johnny!”   Bathrooms and toilets represent danger throughout when Jack encounters a naked nefarious women and the creepy butler earlier in the story. But, after a slow-burning descent into madness Jack Torrance finally cracks with Nicholson on fine maniacal form in this iconic scene from the Kubrik classic!

 

SCARFACE (1983) – BRIAN DEPALMA

Tony Montana’s rise from “political refugee” to peaky cocaine King is not without its violent troughs. One such scene occurs when he witnesses a colleague ripped apart by a chainsaw. I feel sorry for the cleaner of the apartment block after this wicked sequence.

 

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) – WES CRAVEN

You’ve had a hard week and you need to soak your bones and a dead serial killer invades your bath-time dreams. You don’t need that do you!  Great nod to Jaws (1975) too in this horrific scene.


FULL METAL JACKET
(1987) – STANLEY KUBRIK

The disintegration of Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) at the hands of Sgt. Hartman is a grim series featuring physical and mental torture. The episodes are painful and microcosmic in relation to what military life can do to a human being. This tragic latrine scene is memorable and unexpectedly brutal as it culminates in bloody death.

 

FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) – ADRIAN LYNE

The film that gave us the phrase “bunny boiler” is a taut, scary thriller of the sex, lies and obsession variety.  The fantastic scare-ending though is the one that really sticks in the memory as Glenn Close goes mental following harsh rejection by Michael Douglas’ have-your-cake-and-eat-it-cheat.

 

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – ETHAN AND JOEL COEN

The Coen Brothers classic stoner detective film has many, many classic scenes but I defy any writer to come up with a comedic concept funnier than a character being threatened in a bath by nihilists with a ferret!  Pure comedy gold!

 

WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000) – ROBERT ZEMECKIS

Zemeckis made this film in between shooting of Castaway (2000) while Tom Hanks lost loads of weight and it’s a really decent suspense thriller.  Getting drugged by your husband and unable to move is not the kind of date night you imagine will happen. Indeed, never has the creeping fill of a bath been so terrifying!

 

TRAINING DAY (2001) – ANTOINE FUQUA

At first watch I thought this scene was a bit of a narrative cheat. However, with a shotgun at Ethan Hawke’s head the suspense is palpable and how he escapes is fitting. Because, this clever and ruthless urban Western is about karma and retribution; with Hoyt’s earlier noble actions saving him from certain death.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) – ZACH SNYDER

Before he set about ruining the Superman franchise Zach Snyder made some decent facsimiles of other artists work such as 300 (2006) and this souped-up George Romero remake.  The early scenes are the most dramatic because the bloodthirsty zombies are out the traps like Usain Bolt, as Sarah Polley finds when she’s trapped in her bathroom.

 

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – MARTIN CAMPBELL

This sequence rebooted Bond for the Millennium perfectly as he takes down a hardy spy in the bathroom while confirming his “00” status in the process. It’s a brutal, clinical and a perfect prologue for a great Bond film. The scene is touchingly counterpointed when Bond calms Vesper Lynd down in the shower in an altogether less violent scene later on.

 

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES #2 by PAUL LAIGHT

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES #2 by PAUL LAIGHT

Directors and actors often hog the limelight and get the kudos for the movies they made but how about giving the screenwriter some credit too. Don’t forget some poor writer slaved over these words and probably didn’t get the praise they deserved. Thus, here are some more funny, dramatic and sad dialogues scenes I have picked out for mine and your amusement. Hail the writer!

**OF COURSE THERE’S SPOILERS!**

BAD SANTA (2003) – “YOU NEED MANY YEARS OF THERAPY”

This is the greatest Christmas film ever and one of the best comedies EVER! So much quotable dialogue and this scene is up there with the best of them! I love the dark humour here which basically finds low-level scumbag Billy Bob Thornton believing he’s “turned a corner” spiritually AFTER beating some kids up. Priceless!

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS – “IT’S NOT REAL!”

This is a brilliant monologue that cuts to the bone when it comes to the objectification of women in the Media and the false promises that are created for the male gaze. Rosie O’Donnell is pitch perfect delivering some cracking one-liners and a damning indictment of media representations and moronic men. Great dialogue from writer Scott Rosenberg!

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – “I’M SORRY – I WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION”

The Dude is the worst detective in the world and this makes him the funniest too. In his pursuit of Bunny Lebowski he ends up at the pornographer Jackie Trehorn’s abode. Drugged and dumped on the Law Enforcement Officers this scene is just too hilarious for words.

LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – “WHY’D YOU BECOME A COP?”

Sometimes the best dialogue scenes are the subtle ones which the writer has included and you think: “Mmmm… what was that all about?” In this superlative crime-noir-thriller THIS is one of those quiet incendiary scenes which explodes with a gripping payoff later in the movie.

NETWORK (1976) – “MAD AS HELL!”

You go into work and you feel disillusioned with your lot. You ask yourself: “why are we here?” “What’s it all about?” “Why do bad things happen all the time?” “This WORLD sucks!!”  And you get angry? You get mad as hell and the biggest problem there’s no solution! You just don’t know what to do! This cracking speech from Paddy Chayefsky sums that all up as Peter Finch scores an Oscar for a man-on-the-edge-who-just-cannot-take-anymore!!

NIL BY MOUTH (1997) – “YOU MUST REALLY HATE ME!”

This is a raw, gritty and heartfelt scene where Val rejects Ray and his violent ways via some incredible acting from Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone. I connected with this scene as Val’s humanity is wrought bare by the abuse she has suffered over the years and she just cannot take anymore!  Gary Oldman wrote directed ONE film and THIS was it. Amazing!

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) – “I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER!”

Need I say more?! Just a heart-wrenching monologue from writer Budd Schulberg perfectly delivered by Brando with Rod Steiger providing great opposition in this legendary scene. This is a film about brotherhood and corruption and Terry and Charley’s relationship is a powerful microcosm of such themes. Unforgettable!

THE TERMINATOR (1984) – “IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT STOP – UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD!”

James Cameron’s incredible sci-fi-time-thriller-killer remains one of my favourite films ever! Aside from a star-making turn from Arnie, awesome action and mind-bending plot it manages to collapse a lot of complex exposition in a very economic fashion. It does so brilliantly when Kyle Reese gives the lowdown during a frenetic high-speed car chase. Indeed, his summary of the Terminator’s deadly intentions is just punchy as hell; raising the stakes for Sarah Connor right up to 11!

TRAINING DAY (2001) – “TELL ME A STORY!”

Dialogue establishes character and the dynamism between characters that will occur throughout the film. In this scene from the fantastic crime thriller Training Day, Hawke’s Hoyt is very nervy as he meets his boss, the arrogant Alonzo Harris, for the first time. The dialogue just zings from Washington’s mouth as he pulls Hoyt one way and then the other in a great scene which foreshadows the brilliant drama yet to come.

TRUE ROMANCE (1993) – “I HAVEN’T KILLED ANYONE SINCE…”

This is just A-grade dirty street talk that’s just vile and offensive but delivered with perfection by two great actors in Hopper and Walken. The gangsters are trying to track down their drugs that Clarence has and his father knows where he may be. Not only does Hopper’s character know where his son is he KNOWS he will die anyway whether he gives his son up, so he delivers one of the most disgusting insults he can think of. This is a brutal yet compelling scene from Tarantino that crackles with hard-boiled testosterone, gristle and sickening masculine evil.