The Shoe Fits! Disney’s Cinderella Triumphs!

It’s not easy to successfully remake an age-old fairy tale, and particularly one as renowned as Cinderella, but once again, Disney triumphs.

First of all, choosing Kenneth Branagh to direct this live action version of their original animated film (1950) was a terrific decision – it’s hard to go wrong with the talented and famed actor, director, producer and screenwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly, his understanding of both story and character arc, especially as related to his pronounced knowledge of Shakespeare can be seen in his ability to re-visit and revise this classic tale. In addition, Branagh was trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and has acted over the span of his career. Since he has been on both sides of the fence, it gives him some advantages because he’s connected to the audiences perspective, and this makes for powerful directing.

ellaThis updated version of the classic story is fresh, sweet, sometimes amusing and altogether lovely. While screenwriter, Chris Weitz sticks to the over-all original version, he does throw in a few nice surprises, such as the opening scene where Prince             Charming (Richard Madden…he’s incredibly charming) and Cinderella (Lily James) meet on horseback.  Cinderella is wonderfully engaging, charming, sincere, trusting and quite down-to-earth. There is nothing magical about her character, in fact, there is a wonderful message of strength of character that emanates to audiences of all ages. She’s not a victim, nor is she feeble — she stands strong. Cinderella is refreshingly real. She holds fast to memories of a happy time when her parents were alive, and rather than give way to anger or bitterness as a result of harsh life circumstances, she matures and her beauty radiates from the inside out. Cinderella recalls her dying mother’s instructions to, “Have courage and be kind,” and this becomes her life refrain, whether it’s in the way she connects to animals and or responds to Lady Tremaine, her cruel and calculating stepmother (Cate Blanchett), or in her interactions with her two vain, argumentative and imprudent stepsisters, Drisella and Anastasia (Sophie McShera and Holiday Grainger).

One of the most powerful things in the story is the way loss is perceived and dealt with by most all of the main characters. As a young girl, Cinderella looses her mother, and then   later on, after her father has remarried, he suddenly dies while he is away on a business trip, leaving her orphaned. We later learn that the King is ill, and Prince Charming…otherwise known as Kit, is about to lose his father and become king. Interestingly, Lady Tremaine confesses that she too lost her true love, and her bitter, jealous, angry response to loss is juxtaposed against Cinderella’s commitment to kindness – it really is all about choice, and according to Cinderella’s mother, having courage and kindness is a secret that will “see her through all the trials that life can offer.”

Instead of the typical “evil” stepmother as one would expect, Lady Tremaine is far more realistic. Granted, she is calculating, cruel, malevolent and abusive, but this antagonist is not the typical Disney villain. She is actually more believable, and for a brief moment, we don’t see hatred at the helm of her cruelty, but the need to provide for her two daughters and Cinderella is a rival.

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In a brief moment of weakness, when Cinderella faces her dark night of the soul, her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) magically appears on the scene and Cinderella’s world changes.  Carter is sassy and delightfully ditzy, introducing herself as Cinderella’s “hairy dogfather,” and then reassures Cinderella that she’ll find the jaw-dropping glass slipper “really comfortable.”

A fabulous cast, a fabulous director and superb writing are at the helm of this remake, and that’s only the beginning. Dante Ferretti’s set designs are nothing short of spectacular and Sandy Powell’s costume designs are simply amazing — in fact, they’re completely flawless.

It’s no wonder Rotten Tomatoes gave Cinderella an 84% rating. Both my thumbs are up!  Oh, and ladies — make sure you take some tissue.

Oscars 2015

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” — Henry David Thoreau
I’m very happy for those who won Oscars tonight and for those who were nominated. As a screenwriter, I wholly appreciate the vehement amount of creative energy, work, talent and bold tenacity that goes into every film made. BRAVO to ALL!

Best supporting actor
WINNER: JK Simmons for Whiplash
Robert Duvall for The Judge
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Edward Norton for Birdman
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher

Achievement in costume design
WINNER: The Grand Budapest Hotel – Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice – Mark Bridges
Into the Woods – Colleen Atwood
Maleficent – Anna B Sheppard
Mr Turner – Jacqueline Durran

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
WINNER: The Grand Budapest Hotel – Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier
Foxcatcher – Bill Corso, Dennis Liddiard
Guardians of the Galaxy – Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White

Best foreign-language film
WINNER: Ida – Paweł Pawlikowski
Tangerines – Zaza Urushadze
Leviathan – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Wild Tales – Damián Szifrón
Timbuktu – Abderrahmane Sissako

Best live-action short film
WINNER: The Phone Call – Mat Kirkby, James Lucas
Aya – Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham – Michael Lennox, Ronan Blaney
Butter Lamp – Wei Hu, Julien Féret
Parvaneh – Talkhon Hamzavi, Stefan Eichenberger

Best documentary short subject
WINNER: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 – Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Dana Perry
Joanna – Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse – Tomasz Sliwinski, Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper – Gabriel Serra
White Earth – Christian Jensen

Achievement in sound mixing
WINNER: Whiplash – Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, Thomas Curley
American Sniper – John T Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Walt Martin
Birdman – Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Thomas Varga
Interstellar – Gary Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, Mark Weingarten
Unbroken – Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, David Lee

Achievement in sound editing
WINNER: American Sniper – Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
Birdman – Aaron Glascock, Martín Hernández
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Brent Burge, Jason Canovas
Interstellar – Richard King
Unbroken – Becky Sullivan, Andrew DeCristofaro

Best supporting actress
WINNER: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Laura Dern for Wild
Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game
Emma Stone for Birdman
Meryl Streep for Into the Woods

Achievement in visual effects
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WINNER: Interstellar – Paul J Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R Fisher
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Dan Deleeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, Daniel Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy – Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner, Paul Corbould
X-Men: Days of Future Past – Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer

Best animated short film
WINNER: Feast – Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed
The Bigger Picture – Daisy Jacobs, Chris Hees
The Dam Keeper – Robert Kondo, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi
Me and My Moulton – Torill Kove
A Single Life – Joris Oprins

Best animated feature film
WINNER: Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Best production design
WINNER: The Grand Budapest Hotel: Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game: Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar: Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
Into the Woods: Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock
Mr Turner: Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts

Achievement in cinematography
WINNER: Birdman: Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Robert D Yeoman
Ida: Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr Turner: Dick Pope
Unbroken: Roger Deakins

Achievement in film editing
WINNER: Whiplash – Tom Cross
Boyhood – Sandra Adair
The Imitation Game – William Goldenberg
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Barney Pilling
American Sniper – Joel Cox, Gary Roach

Best documentary feature
WINNER: Citizenfour – Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier – John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam – Rory Kennedy, Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth – Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier
Virunga – Orlando von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara

Best original song
WINNER: Glory from Selma – Lonnie Lynn (Common), John Stephens (John Legend)
The Lego Movie – Shawn Patterson (Everything Is Awesome)
Beyond the Lights – Diane Warren (Grateful)
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me – Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond (I’m Not Gonna Miss You)
Begin Again – Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois (Lost Stars)

Best original score
WINNER: Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
Jóhann Jóhannsson– The Theory of Everything
Gary Yershon – Mr Turner

Original screenplay
WINNER: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
E Max Frye, Dan Futterman – Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler

Adapted screenplay
WINNER: Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Jason Hall – American Sniper
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash

Best director
WINNER: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game

Best actor
WINNER: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game
Bradley Cooper for American Sniper
Michael Keaton for Birdman

Best actress
WINNER: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon for Wild

Best picture
WINNER: Birdman
American Sniper
Boyhood
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Carla Iacovetti's photo.
Carla Iacovetti's photo.
Carla Iacovetti's photo.
Carla Iacovetti's photo.
Carla Iacovetti's photo.

Creating Believable Characters

Recently, I was asked to write an article on characterization by Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  In my search for a good candidate to interview, I was fortunate to interview famed screenwriter, Glenn M. Benest.  We spent a lot of time discussing characters and their importance to plot and the over-all development (resolve) of the story.  Good characters are paramount.  Here’s the link to the article.  Enjoy!  :)

http://creativescreenwriting.com/creating-believable-characters/

“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.youtube.com/watch?v=JsJxIoFu2wo

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097165?ref_=nm_aiv_t2

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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