Friday, September 26, 2014

Two Weeks of Leading Men

Leading men make me sigh. One of those happy sighs, of course. The past two weeks have been filled with some incredible leading men, and an actress who puzzles me.

Gran Torino
2008
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Nick Schenk
Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Christopher Carley 

Gran Torino is our critical essay this week. I did some preliminary research, but another assignment due at midnight last night pulled me away. Interestingly, in my initial search, there weren't many articles about the movie, so I'm curious to start the hunt again.



North by Northwest
1959
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written By Ernest Lehman
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

This may be one of my favorite Hitchcock films, full of adventure and suspense, with a few turns I didn't see coming. I may have enjoyed this one more because I had no reservations about watching this one, after watching some of his others. 



12 Angry Men
1957
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Story and Screenplay written by Reginald Rose
Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam

This one reminded me a lot of Runaway Jury with John Cusack, but without the outside influences or suspense. It still had tension, just not as much as Runaway Jury.



A Bronx Tale
1993
Directed by Robert De Niro (his debut)
Written by Chazz Palminteri
Starring Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra

We watched this movie not as an assignment but because I became a Francis Capra fan while watching Veronica Mars, and he didn't disappoint. The narrator sounds like Capra's voice as an adult, but he was only a child then, so it must be Brancato - but their accents and voices are almost identical. (I'm really an odd duck - I recognize voices almost instantly - and this one threw me.) 

One bit of trivia about this movie really emphasizes the need for research. In IMDb's list of "goofs" for this movie, they write, "It's supposed to be 1960 but the parking meters on the street where 'C' lives are the new kind with the slits for coins rather than the slots. These parking meters did not exist until 1973." This particular goof was production's fault, but the need for research applies to writers as well - when we don't research our topics, our credibility pays the price.

We're working on a spec TV script now in one of my classes. The beat sheet was due last night, and I struggled all week with it. My spec script is for an episode of Blue Bloods (season premiere tonight - YAY!) and the murder victim had a career I knew nothing about. So I had to research it to make his murder plausible. 

Tim and I continue to binge on various TV shows, studying different aspects. We're just finishing up (2 more episodes) the first season of Cedar Cove starring Andie MacDowell. The show's premise is interesting, and some of the actors are really great (Dylan Neal, Sarah Smyth, Teryl Rothery) but Andie MacDowell's performance leaves a lot to be desired, so much so, I've asked myself numerous times how she got to be such a big star. I'm not trying to be harsh - I'm truly curious. The script of Cedar Cove sometimes fails miserably, too. I haven't read the books by Debbie Macomber that the series is based on, so I don't know if the problems are from the original story or the screenplay, but it's one of those shows that doesn't live up to its potential. 


My older son alerted me to a new series starting this week, and we loved the pilot episode. Even if you're not a Batman fan, you may want to check out Gotham.

Gotham
2014
Directed by Danny Cannon, T.J. Scott, Dermott Downs
Written by Bruno Heller and a host of others
Starring Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz

More leading men worth a few sighs.


Who's your favorite leading man? (Besides your significant other...)






Friday, September 12, 2014

A Blur of Movies and Television

Time is passing so quickly, and we're watching movies as fast as they arrive. Here's a brief list of our viewing since my last post.


Lee Daniels' The Butler
2013
Director: Lee Daniels
Writers: Danny Strong (screenplay), Wil Haygood (article)
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Mariah Carey,  Cuba Gooding, Jr.

The Butler was our assigned critical essay of the week. Research revealed many intriguing details about the making of this movie. My paper touched on the cinematography, makeup, producers (41 are credited!), the star-studded cast, budget, and costumes. One of my favorite quotes from all the research was in Harry Haun's article "Witness to History." He interviewed Lee Daniels who discussed the difficulty of lining up all the cast. "When you’ve just got two dollars to pay these actors—plus a bag of M&Ms—and they have to leave their day job—their real working jobs—to come into our playing ground, you have to understand you’re going to lose some of these actors. The schedules don’t necessarily work out all the time."


Rear Window
1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: John Michael Hayes (screenplay) and Cornell Woolrich (short story)
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendall Corey


12 Years a Slave
2013
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by John Ridley and Solomon Northup
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender



First Blood
1982
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay) and Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, William Crenna










Castle
2009 - present
Starring Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas

A couple of years ago, we watched one episode of Castle, but didn't follow it. This time, we got a dvd from Netflix and watched the first four episodes and really liked it. We'll be watching more - Nathan Fillion might become addictive.


Mud
2012
Director and Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring  Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

This one wasn't on our list, but I like Matthew McConaughey, so we watched. Language is bad, but the characters are interesting. In one of our class lectures this week, the professor stressed that our characters must be likeable/interesting enough that viewers want to invest time, money, emotion into them. Jeff Nichols created characters like this - we may not agree with their actions, their words, their morality, but there's something about each one that draws us in.

Tye Sheridan is a young actor to watch. His performance was stunning.



This weekend, we'll be viewing North by Northwest, Amadeus, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Veronica Mars the Movie (yes, I'm addicted to these characters!)

Our school assignments are now including writing. We submitted our first short film script last week. I made a 96 and the professor is sending it to a pitching session for possible production by my school.

We also submitted five loglines for episodes of a current TV series. I pitched five episodes of Blue Bloods. (Really looking forward to the season premiere September 26th!) The professor will pick several loglines and post them to our groups for discussion and brainstorming, then we'll be assigned to write one episode that we pitched.

Next week, in another class, we begin writing 30 loglines for movie scripts. Fifteen are due the first week, fifteen more the second week. We're given categories to fit them in, like two log lines from childhood experiences, one based on a Bible story or biblical event, one based on a short story in the public domain, etc. I'm very excited about doing these - maybe I'll strike gold!


Other recent movie lists:

Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies

Whew! Week 2 was crazy! My future daughter-in-law's bridal shower was this past Saturday, so I spent part of the week prepping for that, but we also had two papers due in school with movies to watch, research, and critique.

I'm going to share what we've watched in backwards order, because we just watched a movie so fascinating I can't wait to tell you about it!

Hugo
2011
Written by: John Logan and Brian Selznick
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz

"Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton." ~ IMDb

This story took many twists and turns - one of the most delightful movies I've ever seen. Of course, it left me in tears, too, but that's okay.

In week 3, we're learning about The Visual Story. The author of the book, Bruce Block, discusses story intensity, and after reading Block's Story Structure, I can almost see Hugo on the following type graph that Block has in his book:


The abbreviations are:

Exposition
Conflict
Climax
Resolution

Hugo provided the ups and downs in this chart, and the intensity continued to increase with every minute.

I highly recommend both the film and the book. (Hugo is currently available on Netflix for live streaming or on DVD.)


We had two papers due Sunday, one on Citizen Kane and one on Vertigo. After studying and researching the films in depth, my earlier reservations about them (CK here and V here) are gone. I now have a great amount of respect for the talent and ingenuity that went into both of these movies. I still think they're odd, but my appreciation for them has grown exponentially.

Tim and I finished all four seasons of Blue Bloods and can't wait for the fifth season to begin later this month. One of my assignments for this week is to write five loglines for potential episodes of a current TV program. I'm going to write mine for Blue Bloods. I already have one idea, but now I have to figure out the others - and come up with original ideas they've not done before.

After we finished Blue Bloods, we began watching Veronica Mars. My BFF said it was like a modern day Nancy Drew, and being a Nancy Drew fan (of the original series) I looked forward to it. The "modern" part is what gets me, but once I got past that, it's an okay series.

It's interesting though - as I compare the different shows we've watched recently, I realize two things: 1) I'm not the target market for some of these shows; 2) there is a HUGE difference between excellent TV and good TV, not just good and bad, and it doesn't have to do with ratings. If anyone doubts that, just look at A&E's ridiculous decision to cancel Longmire, one of the best TV shows currently on the air, AND their #2 program behind Duck Dynasty.


Other recent movie lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins