MAKING A KILLING: Movie Reviews of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Murder on the Orient Express by Howard Casner

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Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  FosCheck 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.


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When I saw writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and writer Efthymis Filippou’s earlier film Dogtooth, I must be honest and say I didn’t have the most favorable reaction and many might consider that odd.

I felt it a rather dated attack on middle class mores that had already been done to death in the 1950’s and 60’s, especially in the off-Broadway theater.

But then I saw The Lobster, their last film, an hysterical satire and social commentary on love and relationships and the society that promotes them.

And now I’ve seen their latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and I realized I was partially right about my earlier analysis because the more I see of their work, the more I realize the turgid social commentary of those decades are not their main influences. Rather, these two artists are the 21st Century embodiment of the existentialist/theater of the absurd practitioners like Beckett, Ionesco, Sartre, Albee and others of that ilk.

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3 Women: Movie Reviews of Personal Shopper, Ghost in the Shell and Beauty and the Beast by Howard Casner

For questions:

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I am now offering a new consultation 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?  FosCheck 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.


and check out my Script Consultation Services:


Kristen Stewart, as far as I was concerned, did not have a particularly auspicious start in films as an actress. She came to fame by making big movies. But I found the Twilight series, and her acting, impossible to watch (I couldn’t get through the first in the franchise). She followed that up with Snow White and the Huntsman, which I did manage to get through, but definitely no thanks to Stewart’s underwhelming performance.

Then something happened. She became good. I was astounded, but still it happened.

This came to pass around the time she made Still Alice and The Clouds of Sils Maria (for which she became the first American to win a César award for acting-here in the supporting actress category). Read the rest of this entry »

Moview Reviews of FROZEN and PHILOMENA by Howard Casner

Frozen is a fairy tale about a kingdom that is in, well, let us say, deep doo-doo. There is no one to rule it and it has been, well, frozen (hence the title) over. But since this is a story with two females at the center, the real focus of the story is on whether the younger one will find the right man for her life and the older one will learn to hide a power she has, a power that makes her one of the most powerful people in the world, a power that no one else has (there is actually something similar here to the television series, Bewitched, in which the wife, who is obviously the more talented of the two in her marriage, has to suppress her true abilities in order to be a normal woman—I guess we haven’t come a long way, baby).

I’m sorry, but I really don’t get it. I really don’t. Is this really the message we want to send our daughters (and I use daughters in a more catholic sense, I don’t have any myself)? I mean, this is a movie in which the rulers of a kingdom die, leaving their two daughters as heirs, but neither of the daughters are taught how to rule. In fact, one of the more ridiculous aspects of the film is that everyone talks about how important this port city, this Arendelle is, yet no one seems to be running the place. For years. And no one is grooming the next in lines to take over. It’s mind boggling.

But since both characters are future queens and/or potential mates for kings and princes, shouldn’t the story be about them learning how to become princesses and queens? Shouldn’t Elsa (voice by Broadway songstress Idina Menzel), the older sister with the power to freeze things, not be hidden away in solitary confinement, but taught how to control her power and/or how to use it for the good of the kingdom, even if she must hide it to some degree for fear of being thought a witch, since she will eventually take over the throne?

And shouldn’t Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), the younger sister, also be taught how to be to the manor born? Instead all Anna seems to learn how to do is become incredibly annoying (and I mean, incredibly; dude, she is like on of the most annoying characters I’ve seen on celluloid for some time now). I’m surprised the two ever learned how to read and write, the screenplay is so shoddy in this area. But no, the story is not about how women can learn to be effective rulers or groomed to take on power positions, but about how important it is to find a boyfriend and how important it is not to stick out as a strong female.

Even at the end when Elsa learns how to rein in the more dangerous aspects of her abilities, all she does with it is create a skating rink. No, really. I am not making this up. The ruler of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the area, and her main contribution as queen is…a skating rink. I mean, sure, it’s a pretty neat little rink, I grant you that, but, I mean…c’mon. Here the author (screenplay by Jennifer Lee from a story by Lee, Chris Buck and Shane Morris—Buck and Lee also directed) goes to all the trouble of giving her lead character this incredible power that at the end turns out to be rather worthless when it comes to her calling as a queen. So what’s the point?

Look at it this way. If the two central characters were male, do you really think the plot would work itself out remotely like this?

And since this is an animated tale and since this is Disney, it is also a musical. And I don’t know where to start here. The songs were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and they all sound like rejects from Wicked, the style feels so similar (as do all the songs to each other). Now I love the songs from Wicked as much as the next person (well, based on the person sitting next to me, probably more), but that approach here actually never meshes with the style of the story (it should, since both are fantasies, but every song in Frozen just seems to belong in another film). And the lyrics are so simplistic, I wasn’t just agog, I was often mind numbingly agog. I realize the movie is meant for children, but, I mean, c’mon, so was The Lion King. What’s worse, they all seem to be anthems and give new meaning to the word “stop” in the phrase show stopping. And I swear, with Menzel voicing Elsa, I kept expecting her to start belting out Defying Gravity at any moment (or maybe I just so desperately wanted her to so we could have a decent tune).

I do have to admit that there was one part of the film that I did find myself laughing at and quite enjoying and that was the character of Olaf (Josh Gad), an anthropomorphized snowman who always looks on the bright side of things even when he can’t find the bottom part of his body or he’s stuck through by an icicle. It’s gimmicky, true. But it’s also one of the few things in this ice storm of a movie that was actually quite heart warming.

It should be noted, though, that at the screening I went to, the movie was preceded by a sorta, kinda new Mickey Mouse cartoon. It starts out with the Steamboat Willie Mickey of the early 30’s and has Minnie Mouse, a cow with lots of udders and a really bad, bad guy who wants Minnie. At one point, the animated characters start breaking through the 2D black and white and enter a movie theater, becoming fully colorized 3D characters (like in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo). The interplay between the two worlds is genius and the whole thing is hysterical fun. I highly recommend it. It almost makes the whole thing worth the price of admission.

The movie Philomena is definitely a story that deserves to be told. I’m not quite sure, though, it’s gotten the telling it really deserved. It’s written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (which is kind of an ironic name when it comes to the movie, but more of that later) and is directed by Stephen Frears (but a long way from The Hit, My Beautiful Laundrette and The Grifters, I’m afraid; will we ever that side of Frears again?).

Steve Coogan also stars in the film, playing Martin Sixsmith, a disgraced journalist who is also one of those atheists with an unpleasant, offputting personality (you know, the Bill Maher type). In fact, he’s so unpleasant and offputting that whenever the screenplay turns to a debate on religion (and it does quite often because the character is unpleasant and offputting and that’s just the way it goes), the whole thing not only comes to a crashing halt, it comes to an embarrassing and clunky one as well. Judy Dench (the title character) plays one of those older women who gets laughs because she says things about sex we don’t think that women her age should know about, much less say (yes, that old warhorse is still employed for cheap giggles these days, I guess).

As a teen, Philomena got pregnant and was put into a convent run by an evil Abbess. How evil was she? She was so evil, that when Philomena had a breach birth which could have killed her baby, the Abbess refused to interfere (the baby was saved by a younger nun with a heart). The Abbess then forces Philomena to be an indentured servant for four years to pay back the cost of the birth while selling off all the babies born at the convent to American couples who are the only ones rich enough to afford the $1,000 cost (okay, so she’s not Hannibal Lechter evil, but still, she holds her own, I’d say, and I told you Pope’s name was ironic). The basic plotline is that Philomena and Martin join forces to try and find Philomena’s son and in the process all the familiar tropes and character arcs are employed (Martin becomes a kinder, gentler athiest and Philomena becomes more cynical about the church).

I’m making the movie sound terrible, and it’s not. It’s perfectly…okay. There’s nothing that special about it, but you do want to stick around long enough to find out how it all turns out and it does take a few surprising turns. Coogan and Dench work hard at their rolls, though Dench easily comes out the winner here. But the screenplay is uninspired and the movie is obvious, manipulative and cloying. This doesn’t mean that your throat doesn’t catch and your eyes never fight off those tears, but generally speaking that is not due to any of the actions of the behind the scenes people involved, but the story itself, which is often horrifying and moving in the historical details it provides.

Movie Reviews of YOU WILL BE MY SON, THANKS FOR SHARING and A SINGLE SHOT by Howard Casner

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.