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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Delivery Man Doesn’t Deliver

I went to see the film Delivery Man the other day, and it simply didn’t deliver.  In fact, according to Rotten Tomatoes (the tomatoemeter gave it ONLY a 36%), “It has an undeniably sweet charm, and Vince Vaughn is eminently likable in the lead role, but…”

Vaughn’s appeal is laced with sweet, endearing sentiment, and while his character does evolve, there are issues with the plot, in this American remake of the French Canadian film “Starbuck.” Just too many narrative threads, and David Wozniak, the flawed protagonist is juggling too many fires (stereotypical kids), that makes the plot sort of fall apart.  Vince Vaughn is always a good idea, but his desperation isn’t believable in this film.  It kind of feels like he’s just going through the motions of a story, which is somewhat exhausting. Ironically, the little bit of humor in the film, is more related to the circumstance the lead character finds himself in.  Then there is his oddball best friend and lawyer in season, Brett (Chris Pratt) with his 4 ridiculously brazen children who offer a moment of comic relief in this supposed comedy.  The script itself just doesn’t deliver.  It is confused and cliche’- driven.

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I love incredible movie moments

I’ve been reading Solomon Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, and it’s been quite a revealing narrative — a 12- year nightmare, truthfully.

I’ve been eager to see the film adaptation, and I went last night.  It did not disappoint. It  is incredibly sobering.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly acted, but unsparing and gut-wrenching. John Ridley did an amazing job with this script, and Steve McQueen’s directing is equally good.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96% rating, and it’s no wonder. “It’s far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave’s unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant — and quite possibly essential — cinema.” — Rotten Tomatoes

I couldn’t agree more with the review posted on Rotten Tomatoes.  The fact that this is written from Solomon Northup’s perspective only makes the intensity of the story that much greater.  This has top billing in my book, but beware, it’s graphic and boldly honest, so if you have a weak stomach, you might want to re-think viewing this.

Brilliant writing, brilliant acting, brilliant directing = incredible movie moments.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIqodUJ-UfM

Reeling your audience in with good characters

There is always controversy when it comes to plot-driven plots, or character-driven plots. When a story is character-driven, the protagonist will drive the movie’s progress, and the audience will focus more on what’s happening with the character than the storyline. The protagonist’s true self will shine with each obstacle (whether internal or external), and the audience will watch conflict managed through his or her actions.

In Kenneth Lonnergan and Peter Tolan’s situation comedy, Analyze This (1999), the audience is reeled into the plot as the credits roll and made aware that something “big” is about to happen.  With the understanding the plot and character are tied together, Lonnergan and Tolan use the emotional and external need of the flawed protagonist, PAUL VITTI to push the plot forward—this is a character-driven screenplay.

Vitti has a problem (here comes conflict).  The once “feared” mobster has seemingly gone soft, and not just in his ability to function as a mob leader in New York, but in his love life too (when it rains, it pours).  For the first eleven minutes in the script, Lonnergan and Tolan take us back in time and reveal the followings:

  1. Dominic Manetta [who is dead] narrates as a montage of news photos flash over the screen.
  2. A big meeting is about to happen between all of the wise guys [Carlo Gambino, included].
  3. Manetta’s voice over continues [who is he talking to?]. “Your father and me, we were goin’ up with Tommy D., Fat Tommy.”
  4. The F.B.I. closes in and gangsters are running for their lives.

The big meeting never happened.  Time spans forward, and Manetta [now in his 70’s] Manetta tells Vitti that times are changing and that he would make a great leader.  The two men are in a restaurant having a meal together. Vitti sarcastically says, “What are we gonna get, a fuckin’ web site?”  However, it is not just about the changes ahead, Manetta made a promise to Vitti’s father before he died—to watch over Vitti.  The mob is going to have another meeting, and Vitti does not want to be a part of it. History repeats itself, because just as he and Manetta start to leave the restaurant, Vitti goes back inside to get a toothpick.  The minute he does, a round of gunfire hits Manetta and his bodyguard, and once again, the meeting never happens.

Twelve minutes into the script and the audience/reader is set up for the introduction of BEN SOBOL, the Jewish psychiatrist that gets pulled into Vitti’s journey of self-discovery.  Sobol’s character brings more conflict into the plot by boldly confronting Vitti while at the same time bringing understanding to the emotional side of his character.  The flawed Vitti does not really get what he wants, he gets what he needs, and this is paramount for his transformation.  For example:  When Vitti cannot perform sexually for his young mistress, he begins to panic (imagine his frustration).  In fact, he ends up at the emergency room, fully convinced that he is having a heart attack, when in fact the doctor assures him that his heart is fine.  He is having a panic attack.  At the same time this episode is going on, Sobol is on his way to a birthday party with his 14-year-old son, Michael.  Sobol is not paying attention and he rams into the back of the mobsters limo, being driven by two henchmen, JELLY and JIMMY.  What Sobol does not realize, is that they have a guy tied up in the trunk.  Naturally, they are not concerned about a fender-bender, especially when Sobol suggests that they call the police!  Obviously, that is not going to happen, but Sobol, who accepts full responsibility for the accident hands Jelly his business card.  This scene sets up Vitti’s need for a therapist, since he is dealing with anxiety.

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Every scene in this screenplay is a comedic situation that continues to move the plot forward.  Vitti is not the only one with problems in Analyze This.  Sobol is a therapist that does not get a long with his parents, he hates his ex-wife, and his son Michael is an eves-dropper, as he continually listens to his father’s sessions with patients through the air-conditioning vent.  The tension only heightens when Jelly shows up unannounced during a session with his patient, CARL ANDERSON.  Suddenly the door opens, and Jelly enters:

JELLY

Dr. Sobol?

BEN

Excuse me!  I’m in a session here.

JELLY

Yeah, I know, I’m sorry.

BEN

You’re … You’re one of the guys

I rear-ended the other night.

JELLY

Bingo.

(to Carl)

Get outta here.

Jelly takes Carl by the elbow and lifts him off the couch.

JELLY

Upsa-daisy. You got a coat, nutbar?

It is an amazing boldness that comes on Ben, as he tells Carl not to leave.  However, the old saying, “Money talks” holds true as Jelly pays him off.  Once Carl leaves Vitti shows up, and this character [though he does not realize it yet] is on a comedic journey to redemption.

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Flawed Characters — Looking at life Sideways!

I love flawed characters.  Perhaps it’s because they seem so much more real.  Join me for a little analysis of the screenplay Sideways, which is wonderfully written.

Logline: Two old friends setting off on a wine-tasting road trip…only to veer dizzily sideways into a wry, comedic exploration of the crazy vicissitudes of love and friendship, the damnable persistence of loneliness and dreams and the enduring war between Pinot and Cabernet. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

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Failure is a part of the human condition, and whenever we see a character in a screenplay that reveals this aspect of humanity, we are somehow reassured.  In the screenplay Sideways, the protagonist has been hard-hit by the failure of his marriage and the rejection of his novel.  Through the use of good character development, well-written dialogue and conflict, the authors take the audience/reader on a metaphoric journey filled with universal appeal while covering complex life questions, such as:  depression, mid-life crisis, honesty and infidelity.

The opening scene in Sideways reveals a lot about MILES RAYMOND’S character.  Miles is hung-over, and running late for an appointment that he had forgotten about.  The opening line says it all:  “…the fuck….” A worker [painter] is standing at the door asking him to move his car.  Dressed in only underwear, a bathrobe and a pair of clogs, Miles proceeds to move his car, and ends up falling asleep in it.  It is clear that he is somewhat out of sorts as he races back into his apartment in frenzy and shouts out the repeated one-liner, “Fuck!”  He is late for an appointment.

Miles is an eighth grade English teacher and a want-to-be novelist who has not moved on after going through a divorce.  He is a loser.  In fact, he seems to be going through the motions of life passionless, with the exception of his love for wine and his fascination with Pinot.  When asked about his love for pinot his response is not only informative about the nature of the wine, it somewhat mirrors him.  Note the following excerpt:

MAYA

Can I ask you a personal question?

MILES

(Bracing himself)

Sure.

MAYA

Why are you so into Pinot? It’s like a thing with you.

Miles laughs at first, then smiles wistfully at the question.  He searches for the answer in his glass and begins slowly.

MILES

I don’t know.  It’s a hard grape to grow.  As you know it’s  thin-skinned,       temperamental, ripens early.  It’s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and  thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention…

Weaving in Metaphor:

Is this explanation a metaphor that describes him? Is he admitting to his inability to weather the storms of life and his need for constant attention and affirmation?  He has not survived his divorce well, and exhibits the signs of someone who is not just down on his luck in life, but most likely depressed.  This middle-age man has been rejected in love and in his career as a writer.

In the middle of their vineyard adventures, Miles and Jack sit on the hood of Miles 12-year-old Saab sharing a bottle of wine.  Jack encourages Miles to simply write another book.  “Another” is the operative word, because Jack does not know that Miles book has been rejected.  In this moment, Miles’ loser mindset and lack of self-esteem is exposed to the audience/reader with his response to Jack.  Miles not only has no new writing ideas, he believes that he is washed up.  In fact, he tells Jack that he is not a writer!  “No, I’m finished.  I’m not a writer. I’m going to spend the rest of my life grading essays and reading the works of others…the world doesn’t give a shit about what I have to say. I’m unnecessary (a dark laugh). I’m so insignificant, I can’t even kill myself.”

Not only is Miles on a journey of self-discovery, the authors humorously use the contrast between Miles and Jack’s characters; they are alive!  The diversity between these two men is as broad as the Grand Canyon, but it works well in the storyline. In fact, there is continual tension between the two men, even though humorous, that really adds color to the story.  It is human satire at its finest.  Jack’s apparent manhood is centered on his ability to land a woman in bed. By contrast, Miles inability to get past rejection brings even more tension into the mix as they discuss their adventures with the two women the night before.  Shirtless Jack wants ever detail, but Miles is not amused, nor is he willing to share anything about his time spent with Maya.  Clueless Jack continues to try and force the conversation with big bear hugs, and flinging Miles on the bed kissing his cheeks, while affirming how “Proud” he is of him.  Miles considers this a private matter, and Jack says, “You’re kidding, right?  Tell me what happened you fucker, or I’ll tie your dick in a knot.”  The comical conflict continues until finally, in a near triumphant moment, Miles stands up to Jack and tells him that he cannot take it anymore.  “Just leave me alone, okay?  You’re fucking me up.”

While enjoying his passion for wine, Miles is on a journey of self-discovery. In Sideways, the author’s successfully use the banter between two old friends (Miles and Jack), the development of their opposite characters, and the conflict that arises in their relationship to push the plot forward and bring resolve in the end—Miles is able to move forward with his life.  There is resolve and resolution, which is essential in every story.

 

The “Journey” is More Than a Road Trip in Thelma & Louise

In every successful story, the journey is what helps transform the protagonist.  In Callie Khouri’s screenplay, Thelma & Louise (1991), the writer uses a road-trip to birth the two main characters call to adventure; an adventure that takes them out of all things familiar, into a world of monumental change.

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The opening scene is revelatory, and Khouri’s uses juxtaposition to highlight the differences between the two main characters, THELMA and LOUISE, while setting up the premise for the story.  Louise is a meticulously groomed very attractive waitress in her early thirties who still works in a coffee shop, and Thelma is married, un-kept, untidy and in a dysfunctional, non-communicative relationship.  In fact, she was supposed to tell her husband DARRYL about the planned “weekend away,” but when he tells her he may not be home because it is Friday night, she opts to not share her plans and just go on the trip.  When he walks out the door for work, she says, “He’s gonna shit” (4).

Both of these women need to get away from the monotony of everyday life, and especially since everyday life does not seem to be very exciting or promising.   It is easy to picture their excitement, when they finally pack up Louise’s “66-T Bird convertible,”  and it is a good thing Thelma packs things like a gun and lantern, props that give the audience the idea that this trip might have some unexpected turns.

The first unexpected road trip happens about an hour before the ladies reach their destination.  Thelma is hungry, and Louise just wants to get to the cabin, but Thelma pleads her case when she says, “I never get to do stuff like this.”  The truth is, Thelma is bound by a loveless, boring marriage (great material for conflict within the character), with a husband who is most-likely unfaithful and very expectant.  There is no passion or excitement in Thelma’s life.  I’d like to add that her lack of zing creates a “need” for something more.  So, when these zany women stop off at THE SILVER BULLET, we see the beginning of Thelma’s exodus from her boring, old life.  To Louise’s surprise, she orders a “Wild Turkey, straight up, and a Coke back.” When Louise shows her surprise, Thelma’s response is very revealing.  She has had it “up to her ass” with placid living and is “letting her hair down.” Bottom line, there’s a huge shift happening, and Thelma is pulling Louise into the make-over.  Louise orders a margarita with a shot of Cuervo on the side.  In the meantime, while bantering about their problems on the home-front, the flirty HARLAN enters the scene.

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The ladies opposite personalities shine through even in the midst of their fun-filled drinking adventures.  Louise is uneasy and Thelma is engaging.  It’s no surprise when later Harlan tries to rape Thelma in the back of the parking lot. OOPS, murder will always add some conflict to a plot.  Everything in their worlds shift, and it becomes clear that Thelma and Louise are on a very different journey.  The string of incidents that take place at the Silver Bullet demand ACTION, and create the NEED for change!  The dysfunctional, ordinary world that they knew will never be the same.  In fact, when the two women stop at a truck stop at 4 a.m., and Louise is trying to figure out their next move, Thelma is enjoying herself to the hilt!  “Ur next move?  I’ll say one thing, Louise.  This is some vacation.  I sure am having a good time.  This is real fun.”  lol

Of course, Harlan’s murder is the catalyst that not only births change, but it is used to dramatically shift the way these two ladies respond to life.  Thelma, especially, is embracing her new-found freedom and asserting herself without hesitation.  Hence, the entrance of J.D., the hitchhiker who Thelma wants to take home because he has a “cute butt.”  J.D. is not a normal guy though.  He’s an ex-con who robs the women, which in turn sets up the scene for Thelma to rob a store.  These two are in for the ride of their lives.  First murder and now a robbery’s been thrown into the mix!  And the conflict on their road to discovery only continues…

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The robbery was taped.  What began as a joy ride for a weekend of freedom becomes a crazy crime-laden odyssey alternating between drunken hilarity, the reality of their plight, and empowerment.  Thelma and Louise choose to never return to anything that resembles their former lives (guess they’re not returning home anytime soon).  Their empowerment leads both of them into a very unexpected finale–a double suicide.  With an army of police behind them, police helicopters above them, and the Grand Canyon in front of them (yes, their boxed in), there is only one choice that will guarantee freedom.

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Death is an odd kind of freedom, but the brilliance of the screenplay really does lie in the transition that takes place on this road trip; indeed, it’s a road trip of a lifetime.  Their journey is all about self-discovery in a way that would have never happened if they had stayed at home (it’s simply wonderful writing). Through these series of unexpected incidents, the author creates a premise for CHANGE (every hero must change), and even through these fallen heroes are criminals, they are fully realized–enlightened and free to choose death over confinement.  After all, they’ve already had a taste of imprisonment.

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