Missing in action: The Finest Hours sails in the wrong direction

Less-than engaging. While this is based on a true story about the most outrageous coast-guard rescue in the 20th century, this adaptation did not deliver the kind of dramatic cinematic experience that should accompany an intense life-threatening story like this. It’s slow (rather methodical), and the dialogue at large is weak and seems to be missing in action. Squeaky clean and neat-to-a-flaw, the narrative is less-engaging. Sadly, A-list actors like Chris Pine, and Casey Affleck didn’t have much to work with, and the ending was nothing short of a cheat.

Admittedly, the film exhibits some true-to-life scenarios that were reflective of life in the early 1950’s:  Innocence in love Bernie Webber and Miriam (Chris Pine and Holiday Grainger), where Webber is so shy Miriam proposes. Both Webber, the captain of the small Coast Guard Vessel that is sent out to rescue the survivors of the the S.S. Pendelton and Pendelton’s chief engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) show very little expression (internalize), while making moment-by-moment crucial decisions.

“Bringing a wooden 36-foot motor lifeboat alongside a freighter in mountainous seas is near impossible without placing your crew in grave danger. Yet, that is exactly what Webber and his crew did. With the light from the small searchlight and timing the movement of the swells as they rolled through, Webber and his crew approached the stern of the floundering vessel more than 30 times to extract the survivors, one by one.” (60th Anniversary of the Pendelton Rescue)
According to the “actual” story, Webber had no idea what he was doing, nor did he really expect to live through the attempted rescue.  When the compass is lost, and the boat is tossed around in the violent ocean, Webber is left to instinctively find the ship that had split in two.  One of the biggest issues in the film is with Webber’s character.  He doesn’t ever change.  There is no apparent arch, nor does he display any sense of emotion during his journey — a journey that should reveal a fierce internal and external battle for survival in impossible circumstances.  However, Webber does not show this kind of raw emotion, but very methodically finds his way through a treacherous sandbar and out to a treacherous sea in search of survivors.
written by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Bernie Webber was the son of a preacher, who did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.  In fact, he just as he was about to run away from school, a childhood friend crashed his father’s car, and was looking for a place to hide. Webber helped him out by hiding him in his room, and stealing food from the cafeteria for him to eat. While the boys were caught, they didn’t ever suffer the consequences, because they returned back to Milton (their hometown).  According to the story, “The Reverend Bernard A. Webber struggled to understand the actions of his wayward son as young Bernie quit school and continued to drift.” Quite a different picture from the shy, reserved, obliging Coast Guard Captain, who seems intimidated by his superior.

Probably the best two things about this film are the tanker’s engineer, Casey Affleck, a character that was completely fictionalized,  and the insanely turbulent storm visuals created by cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe.  It’s man vs. the sea, and those moments are clearly defined visually on the screen with special effects, and a 3D option, that really isn’t necessary.  Indeed, the cinematography is well-played, for those “few” moments can leave you unnerved and holding onto your seat, in fact those moments somewhat carry the story, but that only lasts so long.

The ending is also problematic.  Once the men are successfully rescued, the trip home is a piece of cake.  While there are dozens of cars beaming their headlights toward the dark, stormy ocean, there is no real celebration of their arrival.  The men just methodically get off the boat and go home…men that also should exhibit some froze-bite and/or hypothermia.

According to history: “USCGC YAKUTAT’S MOTOR SURFBOAT RESCUES SURVIVORS FROM BOW OF SS FORT MERCER: Coast Guard rescuers in a motor surfboat carry blanket-wrapped master of tanker SS FORT MERCER, Captain Frederick C. Paetzal (far side), and purser, Edward Turner, Jr., to safety of the Coast Guard Cutter YAKUTAT.  The two survivors were plucked from the water after they jumped from the tanker’s bow section.  Captain Paetzel suffered from pneumonia and frost bitten hands and feet.”

In the final analysis, this film, though somewhat entertaining, is another adaptation that isn’t sailing in the right direction. When you use elements of nature being used as the sole catalyst to drive a story forward, it doesn’t work. Those elements are only a “part” of the action. The audience must connect to the lead characters, and that is an issue with this film, especially since the two lead characters are men that merely internalize their stress and decision-making process.  Perhaps, sticking more to the “real” story would have been a better option. Fictionalizing a “true” story can be risky.

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Official USCG Photo No. 5840; 2-18-52(2); Photographer unknown.

Coast Guardsmen from Station Chatham rescue 32 survivors from the SS Pendleton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

CG-36500 returns to the pier with  survivors of the tanker Pendleton after the rescue at sea. Photo by Richard C. Kelsey U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

 

How close is the film to history?  Check it out:

http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/finest-hours/

 

 

There’s Something Deeper Going On…

According to William Indick, author of Psychology for Screenwriters, “film is an extremely powerful psychological force.” If this is true, then we don’t just go to the movies to be entertained. There is something deeper going on.

There is nothing like a film that jolts your emotions. Whether you are moved to tears, or nearly fallout on the floor laughing, when your reactions to a story are vivid, you will remember the story long after you’ve digested the popcorn and moved on with life; it is indelible. But lasting connections do not just happen, especially in works of literature or in film. It is the result of calculated writing, which includes an understanding of human behavior and the relationship between conflict and human emotion.

Thank you screenwriter J.V. Hart and WriterDuet creator/software developer Guy Goldstein for creating a new story-mapping tool kit for screenwriters, which not only focuses on the plot, but the emotional journey of your characters.

I am excited to see how the collaborative efforts of these two masterminds will pay off!  I have used WriterDuet since it was first launched a few years ago, and I continue to stay amazed.  Screenwriter J.V. Hart has certainly seen his share of success with screenplays like:  Hook, Dracula, Tuck Everlasting, Muppet Treasure Island,  and Contact, and while HartChart is not new, it’s going live,  and I can hardly wait until its launching at the Austin Film Festival in October!

Details and Sign-Up here:  HartChart

What’s up with universal appeal?

So, you want to write a screenplay that has universal appeal (don’t we all)?

There are a couple of major things you need to focus on for that to happen:  Your plot and the reason for action.
According to Aristotle, “The life and soul of all drama (tragedy) is the plot,”  and action is related to the want and need/goal of your main character.  In other words, let’s say your protagonist desires or needs love.  His or her need is going to drive him or her to respond or act according to the need.  Micheal Tierno, in his book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says, “When a strong desire of a hero relates to all of the action, then the plot can depict a simple ‘portrait’ of the hero.”

So, often times, action is a emotional response of the character’s need or want.  For example:  Remember the movie Cocktail (1988), which starred Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue?  Let’s look at the storyline.  Brian Flanagan has just gotten out of the service and wants to make money.  He wants his own business, but after being turned down in several job interviews for lack of education, he takes a job working as a bartender.  His need for money pushes him to take a job that he’s really not excited about.  However, his need produces continued actions (chains of events), to include traveling to Jamaica to work as a bartender at an upscale resort, and meeting Jordan Mooney, the seeming love of his life. His boss, Doug Coughlin also wants to own his own high-end bar, so the two come up with a game-plan.  Once again, this flawed protagonist has an agenda, and his need gives rise to action, pushes the plot forward and will eventually guide the story to resolution.

(Tom Cruise- Brian Flanagan in Cocktail, 1988)

Universal appeal is important because for an audience to relate to a character or story there must be a relationship with the character and the storyline.  So, when Brian Flanagan’s business partner (the antagonist) puts him to a dare, we (the audience) feel bad for him, because it seems like all is lost.  We’ve all been there.  Desire and need are powerful things.  We somehow relate to his plight, his frustration, his turmoil, and that is universally appealing.

Is universal appeal important?  You betcha!  Life is a journey, and we are all a part of it.  For an audience or reader to relate to a character, there must be character traits, familiar moments that we’ve walked through or witnessed.  We know how this character feels because we’ve been there and done that!

According to Aristotle, “A plot must include causes of the action that can arouse the audience’s deepest pity and fear [or laughter and tears]. This means the audience must understand the hero’s thoughts and see those thoughts becoming actions, which in turn reveal a moral quality (character) of the hero.”

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

Reference:  Aristotle’s Poetics by Michael Tierno

What the heck does your character want?

Simply stated, want produces action.  Think about it…If you suddenly developed a toothache, what would you inevitably end up doing?  You’d call your dentist.

Here’s a good question to ask yourself when your creating a main character.  What is the inciting incident established for the main character?  You know…something that must be gotten or achieved.  Something that the character believes will ultimately make his or her life better.

Here are some examples of (obvious) external goals: money, love, career promotion, the love of a child or family member, etc.

Whatever this goal is, your protagonist must feel that this goal is essential to his or her life, and the audience must see that the character will suffer or loose out “if” he or she does not achieve this goal.  This connection is paramount between the main character and the audience.  If it’s not there, you might lose your audience along the way.  The character won’t be compelling and the audience won’t want to root for him or her.

Photo: Office Space Movie

Milton’s worried about his red stapler…but that’s just the beginning.

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

“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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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.

https://i1.wp.com/images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/23600000/Mrs-Doubtfire-robin-williams-23618258-1875-1216.jpg

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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“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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