First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00. For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you. I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
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I am the first to admit that the Oscars are rarely given to the finest in the art of film, but much more likely to the loftiest of middlebrow entertainment (with some edginess thrown in on occasion for good measure).
At the same time, I think we do have one thing to be grateful for when it comes to the Academy. Since the balloting closes the first of the year, more and more, fall and early winter leaves behind the cheek of tan, tent pole blockbusters of summer (films forced into as many of the four quadrants as it may fit) and gives way to producers who, like the changing colors of leaves, turn to releasing their prestige pictures, the ones they believe have the best chance at garnering the attention of the gold statuette who hides his genitals with a sword.
These films are the ones that producers and studio executives feel they don’t have to apologize or make excuses for and instead can brag that they actually had a hand in their making.
One of these films, Spotlight (or All the Cardinal’s Men as a friend of mine called it) is now being spoken of as the one to beat come spring. And, taking everything into consideration, they could certainly do far worse, because, however else you may feel about it, Spotlight is the epitome of middlebrow taste, and, even better, is crackerjack entertainment. Read the rest of this entry »
AVENGERS ONE, SMALL DEFENSELESS EASTERN EUROPEAN TOWN, ZERO: Movie review of Avengers: The Age of Ultron by Howard CasnerPosted: May 9, 2015 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, James Spader, Jeremy Renner, Joss Whedon, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, Paul Bettany, Robert Downey, Scarlett Johansson | Leave a comment »
First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
It seems that after razing New York City to the earth more than a few times, the makers of movies from Marvel comics have now decided to turn their eyes on a smaller, more defenseless municipality in the fictional Easter European nation of Sokovia, smashing it to smithereens in the new tentpole film Avengers: Age of Ultron.
And one really has to feel for this poor little town. Not only has it survived World War I, World War II and the Holocaust, the Cold War occupation (under Stalin, even) and the difficult adjustment after the fall of the USSR, it once again is going to be ravaged, this time by a man made robot with sentience.
I mean, I don’t know what this city did to piss off writer/director Joss Whedon, but it must have been really something. It really gets the shit kicked out of it. Read the rest of this entry »
REEL MEN, REAL MEN, PART ONE: Movie reviews of Foxcatcher, Rosewater and The Imitation Game by Howard CasnerPosted: November 21, 2014 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alan Turing, Allen Leech, Anthony Michael Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bennett Miller, Channing Tatum, Charles Dance, Dan Futterman, E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher, Gael Garcia Bernal, Graham Moore, Howard Shore, Jason Jones, Jon Stewart, Kid Bodnia, Kiera Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Maziar Bahari, Morten Tyldum, Rosewater, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Steve Carrell, The Imitation Game, Vanessa Redgrave | Leave a comment »
It’s November, which means we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, are fast approaching awards season, which in turn means distributors, producers and studios are bringing out a bunch of stunt performances, or as we vulgarly call them in the vernacular, bio-pics, to qualify for the Academy Awards (among other competitions).
And this year is not only no different, it may actually set a record as it’s quite possible that three of the five female nominees for best actress Oscars will be for movies with characters based on real people and the male category may have up to four.
So please join me for the first installment of Reel Men, Real Men.
Foxcatcher is a movie about a poor younger man with daddy issues who becomes entangled in the life of a wealthy older man with mommy issues. The filmmakers seem determined to raise all the goings on to the level of Greek tragedy, but I’m not convinced it comes close to anything remotely Sophoclean. Read the rest of this entry »
You Will Be My Son revolves around a father (played by The Prophet and The Beat that My Heart Skipped’s Niels Arestrup, France’s Edward G. Robinson) who owns a vineyard that has a history and reputation second to few, and his son (played by Lorant Deutsch) who the father doesn’t love because the son just doesn’t have it in him to be the face of the wine company. At first, the movie feels as if it’s going to be one of those been there/done that father/son dysfunctional stories that always seem to have more meaning for the filmmakers than the audience (and often makes me run screaming from the theater). Because of this, the first third is a little hard going.
But then Paul, the father, does something. When the manager of the estate is given six months to live, Paul goes behind his back and tells the manager’s son, shoe fetishist Philippe (who works at Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard in the U.S.), and Philippe immediately flies back (about the only person who is perhaps portrayed here as meaner than Paul is Coppola himself whose winery won’t give Philippe time off to visit his dying father and fires him when he decides to go anyway—I’m not sure I really bought it, but it was kinda fun watching the French stick it to the U.S. in such a sneaky, underhanded way). At this point, it becomes clear what the movie is going to be about (though it might help to know a little about French inheritance laws) and the nastiness begins, as does all the real enjoyment.
The screenplay by director Gilles Legrand (mainly known over here as a producer, including such films as Micmacs, The Widow of Saint-Pierre and Ridicule), Laure Gasparotto and Delphine de Vigan could have used a touch more Douglas Sirk melodrama (it’s all a bit too subtle at times) and I’m not convinced that Deutsch was the best choice for the wimpy son (I mean, he’s such a drama queen one finally begins to sympathize with the father—that might have been the point, but Legrand doesn’t quite pull it off as far as I’m concerned). But it’s set against some of the loveliest French countryside you’ll see in some time and Arestrup and Patrick (La lectrice) Chesnais (as the manager) are first rate.
Overall, a very neat, effective and perverse little family melodrama with quite a few twists and turns that is highly satisfactory. See it with your first born.
Thanks For Sharing is a movie about sex addiction that only wants to cuddle. I’m not sure I see the point. It revolves around three men (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad) who are all in the same support group and whose stories unwind in just about the formulaic way you think they will. Everyone is very sincere and works very hard and the three leads, along with the significant others in their lives (Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink and Joely Richardson), say their lines as if they were written by Oscar Wilde (it wasn’t—screenplay by director Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston—Blumberg also wrote that other Mark Ruffalo starrer, The Kids Are All Right—I’m not convinced this is a step forward). But no matter how sincere everyone is, nothing can hide the fact that the whole thing is rather routine, bland and boring. It’s the sort of movie about addiction that actually makes you want to go out and have a drink.
A Single Shot is one of those movies about someone finding either drugs or money and what happens as a result. Movies like this (A Simple Plan, Shallow Grave) are usually described as movies that do absolutely nothing, but do it very, very well. A Single Shot, unfortunately, with all its strengths, only manages to do it somewhat well.
But those strengths are often quite remarkable. Director David M. Rosenthal and writer Matthew F. Jones have created an incredibly convincing small town mountain world where everyone knows everybody. The daily details of this minor municipality have an incredibly realistic feel to them. And both Rosenthal and Jones create a strong mood of despair: it never seems to do anything but rain and no matter how much wide shot country is shown, it all feels very claustrophobic.
The movie stars Sam Rockwell and he, along with the rest of the cast (William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Ted Levine and Jason Isaacs), give remarkable performances. Almost no one is recognizable behind their scruffy beards; weather beaten, lived in looks; and less than Walmart quality clothes. And they all sport accents so convincing, there is many a time when you can’t understand a word they’re saying, which is too bad, because Jones has given all the characters often strikingly beautiful lines full of local color, equipped with full blooded colloquialisms and figures of speech.
In the end, the story never really quite comes together in a satisfyingly dramatic whole. Part of this may be because the set up and execution is pretty familiar with a plot that’s not particularly clever. And it’s a little hard to empathize with Rockwell’s character, as well as he plays him, because he never seems to be as stupid as he acts with this new found money (it’s a bit difficult to believe he doesn’t know he won’t attract attention by suddenly flouting hundred dollar bills around). And the menace to the characters involved often seems just a bit too vague; in fact, the middle section feels a little slow in going anywhere.
But one could do far, far worse. One could go see Prisoners.
Now You See Me is a very enjoyable shaggy dog story about magicians. However, the biggest sleight of hand by writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and director Louis Leterrier is how they’re able to make the audience overlook what is at times an unconvincing and questionable plot and go along with the often preposterous goings on, and like any spectator at a Las Vegas Show, love every minute of it.
The story opens with four practitioners of the art of prestidigitation receiving mysterious summonses from a total stranger—and they actually show up at the time and place requested—why?, well, you’re so busy looking at everything else going on you don’t notice that there is no convincing reason given. From there it proceeds to a story that too often depends on predicting how people will act in situations where actions of people can’t possibly be predicted. And as a friend pointed out, you would think that if they were as great at the art of illusion as they claim, the group would come up with better getaway plans than simply running away (there’s a lot of running here, more than in an episode of Dr. Who).
But it’s hard to focus on such minor pickinesses when you are caught up in a story that rarely stops to catch its breath; has a plot that is clever and filled with sly and dazzling magic tricks (well, except for whenever hypnosis and mind control is used—these sections never felt convincing); and is headed by a first rate cast who is given a whirlwind of staircase wit in which everybody’s snarky attitude only makes them more ingratiating than alienating.
The gang of four is lead by Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas and you can tell how much Eisenberg’s star has risen in that he plays the magician in the opening with the least interesting magic trick and yet he’s given the most screen time and is made the leader of the act made up of the other three. His manic line deliveries, that are unmistakenly Eisenberg’s and no other, are backed by a Greek chorus made up of Isla Fisher, David Franco and Woody Harrelson, all of whom deliver their lines as if they were acting in a restoration comedy.
Mark Ruffalo uses his hangdog looks to great effectiveness here and elder statesmen Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do what elder statesmen do—the same thing as the others, but with a lot more ease. Melanie Laurent is also on board. She is given nothing to do and she proceeds not to do it. Well, she is there as the love interest to Mark Ruffalo, but unfortunately, magic can only go so far, and the people involved could never make this part remotely believable.
The Future Folk is a blue grass music duo who dress in space suits pretending to be aliens. They’ve been entertaining bar crowds in NYC for many years now (they have a certain campy quality like that of Flight of the Concords). The movie, The History of Future Folk, is a tongue in cheek “origin” story of the singers and how they came to earth and became musicians. The duo is made up of Nils d’Aulaire (General Trius) and Jay Klaitz (Kevin) and while their music is clever and upbeat and catchy (and not enough of it is played in the film), the movie that’s been made about them (written by John Mitchell and directed by Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker) feels tepid and unimaginative, as tepid and unimaginative as the emotions that register on d’Aulaire’s face.
The basic idea is that a comet is headed toward the Future Folk’s home planet, so Trius is sent to earth to wipe out civilization so his home planet can come and live here; but he is overcome by the beauty of music, something that doesn’t exist on his planet (leading to one of the movie’s more effective campy ideas since the music he hears is the type played in a Target). He decides to stay and become a singer and start a family. The pacing is slow and the plot turns run of the mill (it’s an example of the movie’s clunkiness that you don’t find out until half way through that Trius has been trying to contact his home planet since his arrival, but hasn’t been able to, leaving you to think for the majority of the film that this guy’s a real douche for deserting his planet as it’s about to be destroyed).
The most pleasing performance is probably given by April L. Hernandez as Carmen, who has the perkiness of a Rosie Perez. Her role is to fall for Kevin and only a talented actress could make this remotely convincing (in one scene Kevin paralyzes her with a spray and then kisses her against her will, and no one seems to think there is anything creepy about this). Onata Aprile plays Trius’ earth daughter; she’s the cute as a button little girl in What Maisie Knew.