“Gone Girl” is lost in a crosswalk

Sometimes, I have to separate my personal tastes when reviewing a film. The truth is, I don’t like thrillers. I’ve never been a fan. I have a hard enough time watching the news,       especially when it involves heinous crimes against humanity or animals. So, it stands to reason if I avoid it in the news, I’m not going to go pay $10 to see it in a theatre.

However, there are times that I have to put my personal opinion aside when analyzing why a film works. Such is the case with movie Gone Girl. It earned an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes; in fact, the rating is what sent me to the theatre to watch it.

Gone Girl will not get a 5-star rating from me, but I’ll admit that it’s hauntingly brilliant at times. It is a sick, twisted adaptation that defines “psychological thriller,” and yet…

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a failed writer and college professor, and Amy (Rosamund Pike), a famous children’s book writer seemingly have the “perfect” marriage, but that quickly shifts from the get go. It’s their fifth wedding anniversary, only Amy is nowhere to be found. She is “MISSING.” As the story unfolds, we learn that the marriage is a bust; Nick is having an affair with one of his college students, and Amy’s overly cool and distinctly faultless manner is nothing short of disconcerting.

It is then no surprise when the audience discovers that Amy is not dead (as we have been led to believe), but she has grimly, shrewdly plotted her own death while framing her husband as the murderer. Yes, she is fictionalizing a masterful revenge, but it’s very obvious to me that Nick will never do time.

In the meantime, Nick, who was planning to divorce her after their anniversary is in a quandary; the police suspect him of murder. As the police investigation continues and with the pressure of nation-wide media exposure, Nick is forced to “act” like he’s a caring, concerned husband who simply wants his “loving” wife back. In addition, while the police hold Nick as the main suspect for Amy’s supposed murder, he is on a scavenger hunt looking for “clues” that will lead him to his big “anniversary” surprise – a storage shed full of guy toys.

We learn about Amy’s antics through flashbacks as Amy reveals her masterful plan via her diary, which she reads in a voiceover. Amy has no plan to leave the country; she has logged a date on her calendar and confirms her intent to “kill self,” but she will make certain her husband is locked away on death row before she exits the planet.

Seems like a perfect plan, right? Wrong.

The story is about to switch gears; in fact, this story switches gears so many times you might feel like you’re on the ride of your life in the in German’s famed Nürburgring – each twist and turn moves you onto the next part of the course, as you look for a moment of reprieve from so many detours, but none are given. When Amy’s apparent suicide plot is suddenly thwarted and she is forced to immediately come up with an amendment, the audience is introduced to an entire new twist. The story (for whatever reason) seems dependent of these kinds of subplots. Truthfully, good old Aristotle, with his belief that there is one main plot might not have given Good Girl such a favorable review.

This “R” rated film is given the rating with good reason. It is loaded with explicit sex scenes, and one bloody (and I do mean bloody) act of violence after another. If you have the slightest sensitivity toward brutal violence and excessive, juggler-gushing bleeding, then Gone Girl is not the film for you. To be honest, I found the melodramatic blood scenes excessive and near unbelievable. Especially after dear, sweet Amy, the woman who has written so many wonderful children’s books, decides to change her game-plan and murder her ex-boyfriend (played by Neil Patrick Harris). This sorry, ultra rich, obsessively love-struck guy does not have a clue that his ex is nothing shy of a full-fledged sociopath. Each crazy scene somehow morphs into the next, while believability is basically tossed out the window.

One of the imitable things illuminating Hitchcock’s genius was his ability to weave suspense into a story. He was known as the “Master of suspense” for good reason. He had an amazing talent to use both suspense and tension to shock his audience. Some of this was done with camera positions (angles) movement and various shots. Music and lighting also played a big part of aiding in his desire to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. He thrived on startling his audiences with the unexpected, and this is part of my issue with Gone Girl. The audience is on information overload almost from the get go, and while the story seems bent on confusing the audience with so many twists and turns, I was never once surprised. The only thing that actually kept me un-nerved was the Amy’s vehemence and twisted evil undertakings. So, it seems that Gone Girl is reliant upon violence and bloodshed to create dramatic tension and push the plot forward, where Hitchcock used a variety of calculated techniques and strategies to fool the audience and create suspense. Time and time again, Hitchcock artfully lured an audience into a foreshadowing of suspense largely through the use of camera angles, shots, music and lighting.

Much like Hitchcock, the film addresses relevant fears such as: abandonment and rejection, failure, loss, sexism, masculinity and femininity, but it never addresses them in a real way. With so many variables in the plot and melodramatic psychological shifts, it becomes impossible to suspend belief.  We have been fed a smorgasbord of plot twists causing a nasty heartburn and a gassy aftermath, and wondering “why” we decided to dine out at all. This “villainous” twist of a film is one crazy roller coaster ride, but instead of feeling that infamous rush of adrenaline at the end of the ride, we are left with a mishmash of perspectives – perspectives sold to us in the narrative – none of which are earmarked by anything true or reliable. One thing is certain though; Amy is a “shrew” that couldn’t be tamed. “Gone” is the understatement. This girl is lost in a crosswalk.

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To Flashback or Not to Flashback

It’s been awhile.  My life has been so busy, sometimes it’s hard to juggle teaching, working as a professional writer and keeping up on a blog.  However, I did want to share my latest article published in Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  I was fortunate and was able to interview screenwriting guru and author David Trottier.  Trottier is famed for his exhaustive work, The Screenwriter’s Bible. 

In my interview with Trottier, we discussed the use of flashbacks, which seems to be on the rise. As you will read, Trottier has concerns, and so do I.  When a flashback is thrown into the mix in the way a fiction writer uses exposition, it’s going to be problematic.  A flashback must be a part of the story.

As screenwriters, we have the amazing capability of creating visual masterpieces at our hands, and the use of the flashback is a wonderful story-telling device if used in the right framework…

Continue Reading…

http://creativescreenwriting.com/to-flashback-or-not-to-flashback-that-is-the-question/

R.I.P. Robin Williams…You will be missed…

I should be working, but it’s hard to wrap my brain around much right now.  I am brokenhearted over the news of Robin Williams untimely and tragic death.  This is a tragedy of horrific proportions, as it is being felt worldwide.

My heart goes out to his children, his wife, his family members and those who called him “Friend.” While the rest of us didn’t “know” him, Robin Williams has been visiting us in our homes for the last 30 + years. We have laughed ourselves to tears, and/or been touched by his raw and very real performances. We have experienced his genius time and time again, and have been lightened. As a screenwriter, and lover of the arts, it’s never been a struggle to be wooed by his artistic brilliance.

Death is never an easy topic, and as much as it is a part of life, this kind of tragedy is just senseless. My heart isn’t just saddened by the loss, but over the fact that this man who we “all” loved so dearly lived tormented…so much so, that he decided to stop living.

R.I.P. Robin Williams…you will forever be remembered.  Thank you for giving the world so many happy and poignant moments, and sharing a little piece of “you” with us all.

“Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare.  Robin Williams was such a man.

Robin Williams won 1 Oscar. Another 54 wins & 67 nominations.

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http://www.robinwilliams.com/

 

 

 

Begin Again: a perfect film for music lovers and romantics

If I could say just one word about the movie Begin Again, it would be, “Fabulous.”

However, I do have a few more things to say about this wonderfully fresh, alive, very “real” romance drama.

When Irish writer/director John Carney dazzled the world with the artsy, heartfelt film, Once, we were wooed by this modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin Ireland. In similar fashion Carney has wooed us once again, but this time it’s in New York City.

It’s an all too familiar story for anyone who has been within 100 yards of the recording industry… an industry filled with shattered dreams, broken promises and broken hearts.  Jilted by her rising music artist boyfriend Dave (played by Maroon 5′s Adam Levine), Gretta (Keira Knightley) is left wandering the streets of New York broken-hearted and alone. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has also been down on his luck. The very label he started fires this once high-power record-label executive. To make matters worse, his marriage of 18 years is a bust, he drinks too much, and his teen-age daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfield) is lonely and looking for attention in all the wrong places. She needs her dad.

When Gretta is asked by another musician friend to perform at a grungy NYC East Village nightclub, she reluctantly sings one of her original songs. Dan is drunk, but sees something in Gretta that inspires him, and he’s bent on producing her.

The artistic genius seen in Once is again repeated by Carney in Begin Again, as Dan and Gretta’s serendipitous encounter becomes the catalyst for a wonderfully “raw,” non-commercial collaboration between the two artists. There is no high-tech studio performances with over-produced sounds, but rather the authentic things that musicians frequently do to make their music happen.

Set to the sounds of New York City, this visionary producer pulls unknown musicians from around the city to produce a fresh, original sound – a sound that ultimately gets the attention of his old label.

The power of this film is not only about the music, but about a realistic creative process from start to finish. It breathes authenticity and originality, while the characters all march to the beat of their own personal transformation.

Unpredictable and heart-warming, this Begin Again promises to tug at your heart and put a smile on your face.

It’s the perfect film for music lovers and romantics…

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“Tammy,” a country western song gone bad

Comedy shouldn’t be code for compromised or bad writing. It’s as if some writers slough-off the need for structure perhaps hoping that the “laughs” will constitute popularity, and that no one will notice structural issues, but that’s simply not so. Such was my discovery last night when I went to see the movie, Tammy.

What’s not to love about Melissa McCarthy? She is quick-witted, garden-fresh (always ready to serve-up some juicy ad-libbing), and she’s absolutely hilarious, donning such box-office hits like: Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Back-up Plan, and The Heat (to name a few). McCarthy produced and co-wrote Tammy with her husband Ben Falcone.

McCarthy gives the audience more of the same – the arrogant tough girl, who humorously has no respect for humanity, but underneath her hard, calloused shell, she is a lost, vulnerable, victimized gal that needs some serious TLC.

I’m not surprised that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 23%. In my estimation, that’s fairly accurate. The comedy is unexciting and unoriginal, and consequently, the character and the plot move aimlessly with no real direction, and while this might seem minor, no one laughed. A comedy that doesn’t drive the audience to laughter is nothing short of a flop.

Tammy reminds me of a bad country western song. You know the type… Sick, sorry and busted, broke, disgusted and depressed; I’ve been cheated on, ripped-off, abused and I’m a proficient loser with nowhere to run. It’s a never-ending victims saga. What else can go wrong, right?

Tammy is having far more than a bad hair day; she has totaled her car after running into a deer—a deer that is seemingly dead until it suddenly resurrects after Tammy lies down on the road and blows on it (mouth-to-mouth is out of the question). The saga continues with one blow after another, starting with her getting fired from Topper Jack’s fast food restaurant. Broke, disgusted and depressed, Tammy hits the road with her drunken, over-sexed, unappreciated, younger-than-life grandmother (Susan Sarandon, who still looks amazing with gray hair).

It’s a seeming perfect combination plate…Grandma has the loot and Tammy feels the need to get out of dodge. However, these two renegades are not Thelma & Louise (sorry Susan…you were better as Louise). In truth, I’m not sure what purpose this road trip serves, and this is a huge problem since 90 percent of the film takes place on the road. The first 15-20 minutes of the film feels like a stand-up comedy act where the comedian overshoots to get a laugh from the audience. It becomes difficult to get engaged with the lead character and laugh.

The characters and the plot are underdeveloped, and what happened to the promise of the premise? There is no promise and there is no premise. It is a film loaded with implausibility from the story line to the casting. While McCarthy can entertain the best of an audience, if obnoxious and brash behavior happens to be your thing, there is no variance or engaging presence on screen, and that’s an issue. This isn’t about her size either, but it is about the fact that Tammy gives us nothing new or tangible that makes us care. While action moves a story forward, this film is entirely dependent on circumstances moving everything to a rather predictable end.

Certainly every good comedy uses chaos as a means to drive the plot forward and establish the sense of need for transformation in the character. The protagonist in a well-written comedy should go on the journey of a lifetime. But, even though Tammy is on a road trip, her trip is anticipated and rather dull.

Writers of comedy should study Jerry Lewis. Lewis was a comedic master, as an actor and a writer. Lewis was able to create multifaceted characters that exemplified flawed humanity at it’s greatest. His ability to put a comedic spin on human tragedy was incredible.

Comedy is the most difficult genre to write, and requires just as much structure and writing genius as every other genre.

 

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Hungry?

I was finally able to go see the current running comedy, Chef the other night, and let me warn you now…don’t go to the theater hungry! It’s a real palate-teaser! You’ll be salivating over the food Chef Carl Casper (Jon Vavreau) serves up – that is if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian. We don’t get to just view the food; we see how it’s prepared! From the speed slicing to watching Casper butcher a pig, it’s all about cuisine, even though a Los Angeles Times food critic (Oliver Platt) is less-than impressed.

Serving up a star-studded cast: Chef star writer/director, Jon Favreau, the ever-sexy Scarlett Johansson, stunning Sophia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, sous chef buddy, John Leguizamo, adorable Emjay Anthony, Casper’s 10-year-old son, who frequently steals the show, Oliver Platt and a fleeting encounter with Robert Downey Jr., whose character is offbeat and probably unnecessary.

Chef Casper is an outstanding chef, or at least he used to cook from the heart, but things have been going downhill for the robust cook. Newly divorced, he tries to juggle fatherhood while working as the head chef at a thriving restaurant in Los Angeles.

His claim to fame quickly comes to a halt when his boss forces him to stick to the “traditional, boring” menu, and he’s given an insulting review in the Times. In an effort to reclaim his honor, Casper gets his son to help him set up a Twitter account and publicly confronts the reporter on Twitter, setting off a widespread cyber war. As a result, the angry chef gets fired and finds himself in a pickle!

Casper’s ex-wife, the lovely Vergara makes him an offer he can’t refuse: She gets him to accompany her and their son to Miami, where she arranges a meeting between her wealthy first ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr), and Casper. Casper is given a dilapidated food truck so he can get back to basics and cook the way he wants.

If you haven’t salivated yet, I assure you it will happen once the food truck is cleaned and remodeled. Aye carumba! Joined by his cooking buddy Martin (John Leguizamo), who shows up out of nowhere, Casper taps into his creative side and creates a Cuban sandwich menu sensation. Casper, his son Percy and Martin cook their way back to L.A. – road trip style. Midpoint, the film becomes ridiculously predictable. There are no surprises, but there’s some good Latin music, great looking food, and moments of sentimentality as the chef enjoys much needed “quality” time father-son moments while on the road, blogging and tweeting as they go!

By the time “El Jef Cabanos” makes it back to L.A., Chef Casper’s fame has spread through the land! He’s back, cooking his own food and all’s well that ends well. Not only does Chef Casper get his creative juices flowing, his relationship with his ex-wife and Percy are fully restored, and the journalist who gave Chef a bad rap is now singing his praises after downing one of his Cuban sandwiches. So much so, that he backs him and Chef Casper opens his own restaurant! Although the film is ridiculously predictable, and the plot resolutions are somewhat contrived and unrealistic, it has some endearing moments, and the food looks pretty amazing.

Guaranteed… you’ll walk away hungry!

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What happened?

I have been sitting at my desk working on writing for 2 straight days.  Of course, I slept and ate, but you get the idea.

Anyway… I actually started writing this post when the movie Noah came out, which was back in March.  I haven’t had a minute to work on this blog, or any other blog.  Life can get very busy.

So, back in March (the week Noah came out), I decided to see the latest and greatest version — you know, Noah, take two!

There’s no denying that Darren Aronofsky’s Bible epic was well-acted.  How do you write a bad review about Russell Crowe.  It doesn’t happen too often. He’s a great actor, and he played the part of Noah well.  That doesn’t mean that I agree with the way Noah’s character was written, because I found it oddly interpreted, but Crowe performed well. He, which is not surprising, really takes on the roll. Most all of the other characters were underdeveloped, and that is another issue in my estimation. Noah himself definitely gets top billing, and somewhat holds the film together.  He is in a constant state of revision, flitting between hero to anti-hero almost overnight, when he becomes quite obsessed with the idea that “all humanity,” including his family have entirely missed the mark, will be punished and completely destroyed.  Guess he figures he’ll just continue where God leaves off.  He will stop at nothing to see that end accomplished too, even if it means destroying one of his kids, and much like Moses, sacrificing one of his own (his sons newborn twins).  His poor wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), is beside herself, and rightly so. Even more interesting is the antagonist that was added to the story.  Tubal-Cain, Noah’s macho-macho man rival defines the word narcissist. It actually becomes almost comical when he manages to break through the middle of the arch and camp out with the animals as a stowaway, and then winning Noah’s son over for a time.  I suppose Aronofsky felt the storyline needed some spicing up with the addition of this character and crazy sub-plot, but in no way does this deliver or even make sense.

It’s certainly easy to understand why the Christian community didn’t respond favorably to Noah.  It was not even close to accurate — at least, according to the bible.  It should be noted, that Noah is a “lose” adaptation, and often times adaptations are changed.  However, because Aronofsky makes so many changes, and ads so much fantasy, it’s past the point of believable, and moves into being just plain weird. From the mystical, expanding earth that moves through the audience through time in an instant, to the “Watchers,” the dark, sci-fi creatures that sound like Darth Vader remnants, it leaves one with the feeling that they are on an exhausting adventure ride at Disneyland. Even popcorn didn’t appease.

No doubt, the ark is impressive, and watching every creature surge toward the arch two by two, is fairly entertaining. Aronofsky doesn’t just use biblical text as his source; there is quite a potpourri from various religions, which includes: pre-Christian paganism, the Quran, Greek mythology, the Big Bang theory, and other literary works.  Also, I don’t think Noah and his famiglia were sporting English accents either, and most all of the main characters seemed to miss out on the fact that this takes place pre Great Britain (haha, actually pre-much of anything!).

In addition to the screenplay having poorly developed characters, Aronofsky taking near-laughable creative liberties, and a conglomeration of elements (as if pulled out of a hat), this action, sci-fi, epic adventure was grossly over-written.  By the end of this big screen fiasco, I found myself sitting in the darkened theater shaking my head and asking myself, “What happened?”

Russell Crowe as Noah

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Lord of the Rings?  Star Wars?  There was certainly the hint of Yoda.