ART ISN’T EASY: Movie Reviews of Straight Outta Compton and She’s Funny That Way by Howard Casner

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straight outta compton 1Though bearing almost no resemblance in any other way (to say the least), two movies have opened of late that demonstrate, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, that art sure isn’t easy.

Straight Outta Compton is a tale told of the rise of three best friends who stop becoming friends and then find their way back to being friends before the credits come up (or as we say in the biz, guys meet guys, guys lose guys, guys get guys). It’s the tale of Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who took the universe by storm with this newfangled sound called Rap and changed the world of music forever.

The film basically has four types of scenes in it: the first are scenes that show the horrors of growing up in the projects and how blacks are treated by the authorities (even when the authorities are black and in one case, find themselves to be music critics); second are the scenes that show the relationship of the three central characters, especially on tour, including the downtime of hanging out and getting high and laid; third are scenes of confrontation between the artists and their managers; and the fourth are the scenes where they actually perform.

I would say that all but the second set of scenes work well, sometimes astoundingly well, and are strong and rich in dramatic conflict. But the story tends to stall whenever the characters are doing little but hanging around just being themselves (the Beatles from A Hard Day’s Night they ain’t). Most of these scenes have little vibrancy or originality to them, while others resemble and have as much depth and insight as an MTV music video from the same period.

And as riveting as so much of the film is, somewhere in the second half it starts to lose forward momentum and I did sort of wish that they would wrap things up already at times. Read the rest of this entry »

Is There Balm in Gilead: Movie reviews of Aloha and Love & Mercy by Howard Casner

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.


and check out my Script Consultation Services:



alohaI’m not sure that I can really add to the general response to the movie Aloha (it’s 20% at and I don’t think the box office is of the more optimistic size), but far be it from me not to join in and kick a man while he’s down.

About three quarters of the way through the new rom com written and directed by Cameron Crowe (who also gave us the very good Almost Famous, Say Anything and Singles, but not much else since except for, well, Jerry “Show me the money” McGuire, but, no, I’ll stick with not much else since, thanks), I turned to my friend Jim and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to be honest: I have no idea what’s going on here”.

Jim laughed and sighed in relief because he had no more of a clue than I did.

The plot eventually does make sense; well, within the context of a not particularly well written movie it makes sense, but overall, as a piece of writing, it really makes little sense at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

O, WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE: Movie Reivew of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 by Howard Casner

the-amazing-spider-man-2-paul-giamatti1The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one of those movies where at one of the climaxes (there are a few here, but the one I’m referring to is a scene where two passenger planes are heading toward each other), the hero has four minutes to resolve the disastrous situation and twenty minutes later there is still thirty seconds left on the clock (the writers must be watching too much football).

Of course, I’m not sure I’m being fair. This is a standard trope for action movies and I’ve enjoyed many a one that, well, let’s say played fast and loose with the space time consortium.   And this one cheats no more than the best or worst of them.

Beyond that, as far as I’m concerned, on a scale of one to ten, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is less painful than Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man 1, but far, far, far more painful than Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight Rises. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Mice and Frenchmen: Moview Reviews of Ernest & Celestine and Mauvais Sang by Howard Casner

ernest-and-celestine-2012-snoutypig-004In Ernest and Celestine, the Oscar nominated animated film from France, anthropomorphized bears dwell above ground, live like humans (one owns a candy store), and claim that mice fairies will come by in the night and leave money whenever a cub loses a tooth.
Meanwhile, anthropomorphized mice dwell in the sewers and steal bear teeth to use as dentures. Read the rest of this entry »


Cosmopolis is a “where to begin” film…where to begin…yes, where to begin. Well, I suppose that in the end all one can do is be as honest as possible and say, as much as it saddens me since it was written and directed by idiosyncratic and ambitious filmmaker David Cronenberg, that Cosmopolis is…terrible, just terrible, a misfire from beginning to end, with almost no redeeming value whatsoever. At the same time, I could never take my eyes off the screen. Was it because I was hoping that it would all turn into something, anything? Was it because I was watching a train wreck in slow motion? Was it because I was in shock over the idea that so much talent had been put to use for a movie that was so obviously not working and no one seems to know it? I don’t know. But I just couldn’t look away.

The story revolves around twenty-eight year old billionaire Eric Packer who decides to take his state of the art limo (if state of the art means a vehicle normally used in futuristic sci-fi films) to get a haircut, an Odyssey like journey made more difficult by the city being confronted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and a visit from the president. The movie probably gets off to a weak start by leaving out a key event, an opening scene where the audience is informed that Packer is hemorrhaging all his money, a scene which would give context to almost all of his actions, especially his primary one of wanting to get a short back and sides (rather, we have to read between the lines to get this, rarely the best choice in a screenplay). Instead, we are told there may be a threat on Packer’s life, something that gives the story no context at all.

At the same time, it’s doubtful that such a scene would have ultimately helped much since the movie is mostly a series of pax de deuxs in which people have intellectual conversations in highly stylized language that makes anything anyone says sounds like they’re speaking Klingon. The rest of it revolves around Packer having sex (with an art dealer fuck buddy; one of his body guards; and his doctor who gives him a prostrate exam that nearly gives him an orgasm). Oh, yes, he also occasionally runs into his wife where he spends time asking her when they are going to have sex again. And the majority of it happens in the back of his four wheeled penteconter which crawls at such a snail’s pace, it looks like it’s going backwards at times (Ulysses got home in less time than it takes Packer to get to his barbershop).

My hats are off to all of the actors—well, most of them. Filled with such stellar performers as Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, they’re so devoted to their characters, they actually had me convinced at times they new what their lines meant, though I still question whether they did.

But then there’s Robert Pattinson, who plays the callow Packer. Where to begin. Yes, where to begin. First, in full disclosure, I have never been able to get through a Twilight film. I even consider it one of those movies whose damage is far greater than anyone suspects. Because of the franchise’s success, we are going to be burdened with film after film in which the leads are given to Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who just don’t have the heft or ability to carry them off (I call it the Love Story curse). Pattinson mumbles through most of his lines (it worked for Marlon Brando, but not so much here), never once convincing in his role. Though it’s easy to understand why he was cast as a vampire in those other films (every time you look at his mouth, you swear he has fangs for teeth), his casting here may be a bit more puzzling.

In the end, the best performance is given by the limo Packer rides in. It’s a sleek black number (at least on the inside—so slimming, you know), with a leather throne, couch, computers, television, fully stocked and fully lit bars, and a urinal. It slowly gets covered by graffiti and dented up along the way, which means it also has the most fully developed character arc as well.