Spielberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new volume of analysis, the double-sized, sixteen-movie volume on the films of Steven Spielberg, is now available for humans with eyeballs to read at Amazon.

Amazing at it sounds, Spielberg remains one of the most misunderstood, and underrated, directors of our time. If you’ve ever dismissed Spielberg, or thought “What’s the big deal?” or hated him for his whatever you hate him for, this volume will shed new light on his work. And if you’ve always liked his work but didn’t know why, this book will also shed new light on his work. And if you’ve always loved his work, this book will still shed new light on his work. Guaranteed.

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Train to Busan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, if you’re looking for a great horror movie to watch this Halloween, you really can’t do better than Yeon Sang-ho’s fantastic, slam-bang Korean zombie movie Train to Busan. Breathlessly paced, fiendishly inventive, wonderfully human and deeply affecting, Train to Busan puts a clutch of ordinary folk on a passenger train at the moment the world ends. Just when you think there’s nothing left to be done with the concept of “zombies on a train,” the director comes up with five or ten more ideas, each one more devilish than the last. Terrific filmmaking and automatically one of the greatest horror movies ever made. On Netflix.




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Settling the Score podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know what you should do? You should listen to Settling the Score, a new podcast where Jonathan Dinerstein and Andy Boroson.

Each podcast they discuss a different film score. Currently they’re counting down the sometimes-baffling AFI list of “top 25 scores of all time.” (How the West Was Won? On Golden Pond?) Today it’s Miklos Rozsa’s titanic score for the titanic Ben-Hur. Jon and Andy know what they’re talking about and the podcast is great entertainment whether you’re a film-score geek or not. If you like what I do here with screenplays, you’ll like what they do there with film scores.

It’s available here, or at your favorite podcast sites.

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Coen Bros: Five Films

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now available at Amazon, for your reading pleasure, my analysis of No Country For Old MenA Serious ManTrue GritInside Llewyn Davis and Hail, Caesar! Certainly five of the greatest movies released in the past decade. Endlessly watchable, endlessly rewarding of examination. Analytical readings of analytical screenplays from analytical writers. I especially recommend this volume for people who don’t “get” A Serious ManInside Llewyn Davis and Hail, Caesar!.



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Batman on the Big Screen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batman on the Big Screen, a volume collecting everything I’ve written about the Caped Crusader, is now for sale at Amazon. It’s the first in what will be a long line of volumes under the What Does The Protagonist Want? banner. Having just finished editing it, I can tell you, it’s still highly addictive reading!




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Mindhunter vs One Neck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the new Netflix show Mindhunter, I am reminded how the concept of “serial murder” was brand spanking new when I was a teenager, that killers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and the rest were a terrifying new phenomenon to law-enforcement agencies, who had no vocabulary or protocol to deal with them. A novel like The Silence of the Lambs was capturing events that were still in the headlines, the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit being a weird experimental new idea in an FBI where Dillinger-hunter J. Edgar Hoover’s death was still a fresh memory. Suddenly the FBI went from gangbusting to psychology, which required men like the protagonists of Mindhunter to travel around interviewing serial killers, to try to understand how their crimes were possible.

When I sat down to write the play One Neck, I read a whole stack of books on serial murder, and none — not one — came close to a clear explanation for their subject matter. For a researcher, the quest to understand involves trying to get inside the mind of a sociopath, which puts one in a very strange, very dangerous mental place (which the show Mindhunter explores to an extent). I can still remember trying to capture the voice of “my” killer, Lucian, writing for months in my room in Brooklyn, and how, in order to achieve his voice, I had to abandon every scrap of what I knew about morality. I would spend nights writing, hunched over my Royal portable typewriter, and then venture out in the morning to go to work and the world would seem like a very strange place.

That was just from reading those books and struggling to write that character, I can’t imagine what it was like for the FBI agents and psychologists who were actually in the room with those murderers.

There has been exactly one good movie about serial murder, one that captures what it’s like to struggle with a mind like that, and that’s David Fincher’s Zodiac (Fincher is a producer on Mindhunter, and directed the first two episodes). There is one great play about it, and that’s Lee Blessing’s Down the Road, which is about a “true-crime” writing couple who decide to take on the job of interviewing a serial killer for a book and how those interviews destroy their marriage. When I saw a reading of Down the Road in the early 90s, I said “That’s it. That’s what it’s like.”

My play One Neck isn’t about about that obsession or the (thankfully temporary) damage it did to my psyche. Rather it’s about what happens when a piece of chaos crashes a dinner party in Long Island, a party starring the peak of western civilization: a scientist, a stock broker, a TV news producer, a painter and a lawyer. While it’s almost been a movie a number of times, the play is deliberately anti-dramatic. The first act is a comedy of manners, the second act is pure existential horror. (As I liked to say in rehearsals, the first act is The Man Who Came to Dinner, the second act is Endgame). The narrative invites the audience in the same way the killer does, by being funny, weird, honest and discomforting. Then, when it’s got your interest piqued, it goes in for the kill.




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I’m also a playwright!

Hey folks, sorry I haven’t been analyzing screenplays as often as I’d like, I’ve been busy!

One of the things I’ve been doing is figuring out how to publish my plays through Amazon. I’ve finally succeeded, and here they are. If you buy one and enjoy it, leave me a good review, I would very much appreciate it.





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some thoughts on Rogue One: The Gang


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The question that Rogue One poses is “What does it mean to rebel?” Why rebel against authority? Should one rebel against all authority? What does rebellion do to one’s soul? What does conformity do to one’s soul? Why rebel when rebellion will lead to the deaths of millions, and maybe the death of you? Star Wars movies, up ’til now, have always explored the question of Empire vs Rebellion in stark black-and-white terms, but Rogue One dices up those terms, folds them over and then dices them up again before arriving at a conclusion.

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some thoughts on Rogue One: Director Krennic


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Before we discuss Director Krennic, let’s take a look back at the previous “bad guys” from the Star Wars universe:

First and foremost there is Darth Vader. Darth Vader starts off as “evil” in Episode IV, develops into “evil, but subservient to a greater evil” in Episode V, and, finally, “evil, but conflicted, and eventually redeemed” in Episode VI. Vader’s Terminator-like consistency was part of his appeal, it was what made him terrifying. He wore a mask, you couldn’t know what he was thinking, he destroyed anything that got in his way.

Then there is Emperor Palpatine. Emperor Palpatine is an uncomplicated climber, a man whose pursuit of power didn’t corrupt him at all, because he was evil to begin with. He started out a villainous creep and ended up as, apparently, all Sith Lords end up: killed by his own apprentice.

Then there are garden-variety bad guys like Grand Moff Tarkin, Jabba the Hutt, General Grievous and Nute Gunray, who range from sniveling pawns to  grotesque monsters.

What all of them have in common is “they are bad.” In story meetings, when the producer asks “What is the antagonist’s motive?” the poor screenwriter says “He does bad things because he is bad.” That, of course, is how you know you’re writing a melodrama.

(The word “melodrama,” for non-theater-nerds, comes from the theater of early America, where people of many different linguistic backgrounds would all go to the theater to enjoy a play. Because not everyone spoke the language being used on stage, the band in the pit would cue the audience as to how to feel about different characters. A “sweet” character would be given a sweet melody, a “sinister” character would be given a sinister melody, a hero would be given a heroic melody, and so forth. Hence, “melodrama,” a dramatic form where the audience is heavily cued as to the “good and bad” of the narrative. John Williams’s music for the earlier movies used all these tricks to good effect: Luke got a yearning theme, Leia got a gentle theme, Darth Vader got an imperial march.)

The problem with this approach, of course, is that no bad guy ever thinks of himself as “the bad guy.” As Jean Renoir said, “everyone has their reasons.”

Things have improved with the re-launch of the brand and Episode VII. Kylo Ren is a genuine freak, a perverse, warped individual who is compelled to do bad things even when he doesn’t want to, who wears a mask when he doesn’t need to, who reacts with fear and confusion when his worldview is challenged.

And now we have Director Krennic, the most finely-drawn, complex villain we’ve seen yet.

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some thoughts on Rogue One: Galen Erso


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Of all the characters in Rogue One, Galen Erso has the most complicated motivations, which I will discuss inside.

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