Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa

“I almost died once…I almost died the first time I saw your mom.”
Sam Sheperd’s character Gil talking about Jewell (Jessica Lange) in Country

“This movie observes ordinary American lives carefully, and passionately. The family lives on a farm in Iowa. Times are hard, and times are now.”
Roger Ebert 1984 film review of the movie County


While Sam Shepard never married actress Jessica Lange the two did have a long term relationship that produced two kids. And they made some movies together including Country (1984) that was shot in the greater Cedar Falls/Waterloo area in Blackhawk County were I lived for a decade.

According to a People magazine article Shepard even proposed to Lange while they were on location in Iowa.

“I swept her outside into the cold wind & snow & popped the question. We jumped up & down together like little kids, giggling in the snow.”
Sam Shepard on proposing to Jessica Lange

Though the couple were together from 1982 they split up in 2009. In various interviews Shepard spoke of regrets in relationships. Life can be hard—just like life in the movies. In the movie Country the real world and the fiction world overlapped.

Scott W. Smith

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[Movies] have an obligation to be sort of timeless. A good story is a good story, it doesn’t change. The Searchers is still The Searchers. It’s A Wonderful Life is still charming, Dirty Harry is still suspenseful, Jaws is still terrifying. These are movies that are prime, pristine examples of storytelling. The Exorcist is as compelling today and is absolutely frightening as it was when it was first released. It didn’t age. I took a friend of mine to see it recently, it scared her out of her wits.”
Writer/Director Shane Black
Interview with Alex Young

Related post: Study the Masters-Martin Scorsese 

Scott W. Smith

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Today I’m going to the premiere of the doc This Cold Life at the Florida Film Festival. It will be anything but cold today in Maitland/Orlando, Florida as the mid-90 degree temps are some of the hottest in the United States.

Much of This Cold Life was shot in Longyeabyen, Norway, “the world’s northernmost town.” Darren Mann directed the doc and is someone I did camera work for years ago for TV programs he shot in Minnesota and Iowa. I look forward to seeing him at the premiere and seeing a part of the world I don’t recall ever seeing before.

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“There are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.”
Unknown (Though often attributed to Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky)

I’ve always been fond of the above quote, and over the weekend I realized that the last two Best Picture Oscars were examples of each.  Moonlight being “a man goes on a journey,” and Spotlight representing “a stranger comes to town.”

Moonlight and Spotlight are not only one word titles with nine letters that end with “light,” but there is a Miami connection as well. Moonlight is about a boy raised and Miami, and the stranger coming to town in Spotlight is when the Boston Globe hires Marty Baron (Liev Schreiberwho was the executive editor at The Miami Herald.

As the editor at the Boston Globe, Baron oversaw the investigative team that earned a Pulitzer for their coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. If the movie version is true, it was Baron’s being a stranger to Boston culture that helped him pursue truth at whatever the cost.

“Over the course of 2002, we probably did almost 1,000 stories on the topic. We went to the court to have documents unsealed that the church had hoped to keep secret, documents that addressed the fact that the church knew these priests had abused and continued to abuse children. It forced the church to address issues that had essentially been swept under the rug for 40 or 50 years.” 
Marty Baron
Leigh University / Department of Journalism & Communication

P.S. Baron is currently the editor of The Washington Post and says, “I see a lot of people getting out of law school who can’t get jobs, but the ones with journalism majors still can. The people who have learned the tools and who are open to working in a variety of different media will find opportunities, and they will succeed.”

Journalism may have hit a wall around 2008, but it’s being revamped offering opportunities for storytellers with multimedia skills. So if you’re a film school grad looking for work, don’t ignore the chance to use your producing, shooting, writing, and/or editing skills in journalism.

Scott W. Smith

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Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

“Speaking personally, Martin Scorsese is one of my absolute favorite directors, and I will watch anything he makes. Where he leads, I will follow. His new ‘Silence,’ is ready-made for this time of year, a tale of religious faith and deep spiritual questioning.”
Mark Olsen, LA Times
December 25, 2016

“With the religious historical drama Silence, Martin Scorsese proves he’s as masterful a filmmaker with men of God as he is with gangsters.”
Brian Truitt , USA TODAY
December 19, 2016

You may not even have heard of Scorsese’s latest movie Silence since it does not get a wide release until next month. But the movie which began a limited release three days ago is already listed on AFI’s Movie of the Year list of the top ten films of 2016.  And the screenplay written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks won Best Adapted Screenplay by the National Board of Review, USA.

This is the movie that Scorsese waited 26 years to make.

“I knew he had a this script and was terribly disappointed that he couldn’t get it made. And I thought, ‘What a sad state Hollywood is in when Matin Scorsese, with all his success, with all the honors he’s gotten, can’t get a movie made.’”
Producer Irwin Winkler (Raging Bull, Goodfellas)
As quoted by Paul Elie in his The New York Times Magazine article
The Passion of Matin Scorsese

But even if Scorsese has mixed faith and films since his youth, and had financial and critical success as a filmmaker, the story of Silence is of a 17th century Jesuit priest sent to Japan to minister to persecuted Catholics. It doesn’t exactly have box office gold written all over it. Oscar nominations, yes.

From interviews with Scorsese you sense he wanted to not only capture on film Shûsaku Endô’s novel, but he stayed committed to the project over the years because it was sort of a spiritual pilgrimage.  

“I believe in the tenets of Catholicism. I’m not a doctor of the church. I’m not a theologian who could argue the Trinity. I’m certainly not interested in the politics of the institution. But the idea of the Resurrection, the idea of the Incarnation, the powerful message of compassion and love — that’s the key. The sacraments, if you are allowed to take them, to experience them, help you stay close to God.”
Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese

Related Posts:
Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
‘Study the old masters’—Martin Scorsese
The Director as Smuggler
Filmmaking Quote #30 (Martin Scorsese)
Writer/Director Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver)

Scott W. Smith

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“Coming from a violent country, I don’t find violence funny.”
Mexican born writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu
The Guardian 

If The Hateful Eight and The Revenant were a MMA match then The Hateful Eight is Leonardo DiCaprio and The Revenant is the bear in the already classic bear attack scene in The Revenant—at least the first and second rounds of the fight. (Part of which is at the 46 second mark of the trailer below.)

Two heavyweights going at it. Two time Oscar-winner Quentin Tarantino  (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) and Three time Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)—and at least from my perspective The Revenant is the better film.

Which was echoed Monday night at the Golden Globe Awards where The Revenant won for best dramatic film, Iñárritu for best director, and best actor (DiCaprio).

Here are some of the similarities between the two films:

—Both movies are set in the 1800s
—Both movies are set in the Rocky Mountains
—Both movies are intensely violent
—Both movies over 2 ½ hours long
—Both movies are set in the snowy winter
—Both movies had a limited release in December 2015, and a wider release in January 2016.
—And while the beauty and serenity of the Rocky Mountains can create may high moments in people’s lives, there is also a downside survival mode that can create horrific low points in other people’s lives (avalanches, hypothermia, floods, fires, rattle snakes, etc.). Both of these films deal with the lowest points in the character’s lives.

And, of course, there are differences between the two. Mainly that The Hateful Eight is verbal—almost a stage play—while The Reverent is visual, it could almost play as a silent movie. One movie goes inside from the snow storm, the other stays outside shooting in the harsh elements.  Which explains why The Reverent came in at least twice the budget of The Hateful Eight.  (The obvious lesson there is if you’re going to set a story in the Rocky Mountains, it’s a lot cheaper to take the horror template and basically lock in all the actors in one room.)

Both movies are beautifully shot and well acted. And at this point both movies so far have made in the $60 million range at the worldwide box office. Time will tell how the movies fare at Oscar time and in the box office in coming weeks.

I saw both movies back to back last week and while I loved the whole roadshow approach that Tarantino took because it gave me that experience for the first time ever. The 70mm print, the movie program, the prelude music, and no movie trailers at the start.  Loved it. And loved the long John Ford/Orson Welles-worthy opening shot.

But when the three hours was up, well, I wondered if I’d missed the point of the movie.  I went to see The Hateful Eight with a friend who was a teenager when Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction came out and could not have been more enthralled with a director than Tarantino at that stage of his life. The first thing he said when we walked out of The Hateful Eight was “I get to pick the next movie.”

My friend is no longer a teenager—he just turned forty and now has four children. He wondered why he just had to slog through a 3 hour movie that for all its sound and fury signified nothing. One that just seemed to land on nihilism.

“A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.”
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Tarantino set the tone early when he has Kurt Russell’s character smack Jennefer Jason Leigh’s character in the mouth. There was a row of 5 or 6 fanboys sitting behind me who broken out in instant loud laugher at the backhand punch—and every subsequent punch.

Of course, The Hateful Eight isn’t really in competition with The Revenant, and many reviews have been positive. Some not so positive reviews pull out the ole “self-indulgent” lines which I chalk up to Tarantino being Tarantino. Like Jack Sparrow—”Pirate!” But even the positive reviews seem to hedge their bets.

“Tarantino always swings for the fences. He doesn’t connect with every wild pitch thrown here. At three hours, this Western whodunit can feel like too much of a good thing…Coffee is poisoned, bullets are fired, blood is splattered, bodies pile up, and a letter from Abe Lincoln is read. Okay, maybe it doesn’t all add up. Screw coherence. Dig in for the fireworks and a whole lot of crazy.”
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone

I was disappointed in The Hateful Eight (even with the fireworks and the craziness), but all I’m saying is if you only have the time and the money to see one of these Rocky Mountain movies, go with The Revenant. My next post will be on Iñárritu’s one-two punch, as it’s possible he may land back to back Best Picture and/or Best Director Oscars. 

P.S. Not all mountain survival stories take place in the wild. For all writers dreaming of escaping to the mountains for some quiet time to write, remember what all that isolation did for Jack Nicholson in The Shining. (A stay at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado was Stephen King’s original inspiration for that story.)

Related posts:

‘What I’m really here to do…’—Tarantino
Tarantino Gumbo Soup
‘When you have a big flop…’—Tarantino
A Perfect Bad Idea (& Oscar-winner)
Filmmaking Quote #42 ( Iñárritu)
How to Be Epic on a Limited Budget

Scott W. Smith


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