Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Rocky Mountain Movie Battle Royale

“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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Friday Night Hoop Dreams

“I believe Hoop Dreams is the great American documentary. No other documentary has ever touched me more deeply.”
Roger Ebert

One constant theme on this blog over the years is how some of the most talented writers and filmmakers use various books and films as reference materials in creating their screenplays and movies.

Some of the most prolific and original creators today— Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, & Steven Spielberg—are open about the trail of influences in their work.

Today I was reading a Sports Illustrated magazine that was several months old and learned this interesting connection:

“After reading Friday Night Lights in 1991, I gave my copy to director Steve James. I said, ‘This is what we want our film Hoop Dreams to be.’ It was the only work I had seen in any medium that approximated the vision we had for our film.”
Fredrick Marx, Oakland
Hoop Dreams co-creator, producer
Sports Illustrated, August 17, 2015

Earlier this year H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, 25th Anniversary Edition hit bookstores with an update into some of the people covered in the original book. Friday Night Lights is one of those rare triple crown winners—a successful book, TV show, and movie.

The fact that it also inspired the production of Hoop Dreams makes it all the more legendary.

Related posts:

Remembering the Friday Night Lights
Before Friday Night Lights
Writing Quote #28 (H.G. Bissinger)
Another ‘Friday Night Lights’ Late Victory
Friday Night Lights
FNL (Character & Theme)

Scott W. Smith

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I’m a little late to the party but I just saw the Oscar-winning “Best Documentary” Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013) that’s currently on Netflix. Great stuff from writer/director Morgan Neville and a wide variety of people he brought together to create something special.

(It also fits nicely into my thread of musical related posts.)

Scott W. Smith

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“If I take the money I’m lost.”
Lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict

One of my all-time favorite screenplays and movies is The VerdictI happened to see it when when it first came out in theaters back in 1982 when I was in film school. And as I revisit it from time to time I just appreciate the multi-layers of the film.

The David Mamet screenplay is listed at 91 on WGA’s list of 101 Greatest screenplays  just after Sidways and before Psycho. It was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Sidney Lumet’s direction, and Paul Newman lead role.

I think the film follows the Simple Stories/Complex Characters model, but what the film does is shows us a textured glimpse into the legal world. I haven’t read the Barry Reed book which the screenplay is based on, but my guess is Reed did the heavily lifting.

Reed (1927-2002) served in the Army during World War II before getting his law degree at Boston College. He was in private practice in Boston specializing in, according to Wikipedia, medical malpractice, personal injury, and civil litigation cases.

He’d actually been practicing law for 25 years before The Verdict novel was published so he had plenty life experiences to draw on. But there is a simplicity how the screenplay handles all the complexities of law and medical which make the script a wonderful study even for the new screenwriter.

The core the story is about a fading, alcoholic lawyer whose mentor throws him a case that appears to be an easy cash settlement case. One that will help him get back on his feet. That is until Galvin’s conscience kicks in and he decides to try the case for justice to prevail. And at the same time be a personal redemption for himself.

On page 38 of the screenplay Galvin actually verbalizes to a female friend in a bar what I believe is the theme of the story:

“The weak, the weak have got to have somebody to fight for them. Isn’t that the truth? You want another drink?” 

At the end of a Christopher Lockharts’ post Screenwriting 101 he has an excellent detailed outline of The Verdict which is well worth your time to read. Here’s some of his highlights:

LOG LINE: A drunken, washed-up attorney struggles against a goliath law firm to win a medical malpractice suit.



Galvin is introduced as an attorney lower than an ambulance chaser – he chases Hearses. He is a washed-up attorney- glory days long behind him. He is a drunk – who only seems to show signs of life when he is in a bar.


For physical/external storyline: MICKEY jolts GALVIN into consciousness, reminding him that he has five-days to prepare for the ONLY case on his docket. This is a definite money-maker that will ensure GALVIN some much needed income (page 6-7).

For psychological/internal storyline: GALVIN visits his comatose client in the nursing home. He comes to understand the severity and enormity of the case before him (page 8).


GALVIN decides to try the case, “I have to try this case. I have to do it, Mick. I’ve got to stand up for that girl” (page 31). NOTE: This is the point in the story where the goal is establinshed. GALVIN’s goal is to win the case. A MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION is proposed: WILL GALVIN WIN THE CASE? The MDQ is the linchpin of the dramatic narrative – the purpose for which the story is being told. 

P.S. To find a link to most of the 101 WGA top scripts visit Simply Scripts.

Related links:
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) Galvin belongs in the end of the rope club Oscars ’83.
Writing ‘Flight’ Another alcoholic/redemption story with some echoes of The Verdict. And one Lockhart actually had a role in getting produced.
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 2)
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Great example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

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Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you’ve ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me
The Wrestler/ Bruce Springsteen

Breaking all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searchin’
Searchin’ for shelter again and again
Against the Wind/ Bob Seger

A little Springsteen and Seger to help round out a week of posts dealing with movies featuring characters seeking Shelter From The Storm.

Scott W. Smith

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I want to feel, sunlight on my face
See that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the Streets Have No Name/U2

Not all people seeking shelter in movies (and life) are in the mist of a world war like in my last new posts on Fury and Unbroken. Not all are running from a literal storm. Some struggles are more personal. Closer to the homefront—even in the home. Three movies came to mind this morning about women seeking shelter from—to borrow the U2 phrase—various kinds of “poison rain” that have damaged more lives than all the atomic bombs combined. (Wayward fathers, abusive husbands, drugs & alcohol.)

I started this run of “Shelter From The Storm” posts based on the Bob Dylan song, so it seems fitting to end this post with lyrics from another Dylan song:

May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever Young/ Bob Dylan

P.S. If you’re in an abusive situation may you seek shelter from the storm today:
The National Spouse Abuse hotline is 1-800-799-7233
National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information help line is 1-800-784-6776
Alcoholics Anonymous 

Related Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy (The novel & the story have roots in Cedar Falls, Iowa—as does this blog.)
‘Winter’s Bone (How it Got Made) One of my favorite films in last decade.
‘Winter’s Bone’ (David Morrell)
‘Winter’s Bone’ (Debra Granik)
Susannah Grant on Failure (Screenwriter of 28 Days)

Scott W. Smith

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“If you don’t think it can get worse, it can—and it will.” 
Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) in Fury

’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
Shelter From The Storm/Bob Dylan

“I’m a Veteran. I was in the Navy, in the submarine corps. I come from a military family. Both of my grandparents were in World War II and retired as officers. One fought in the Pacific and one fought in Europe. The whole family was in the war. I grew up exposed to it and hearing the stories, but the stories I heard weren’t kind of the whole ‘Rah, rah, rah! We saved the world!’ They were about the personal price and the emotional price. The pain and the loss are the shadows that sort of stalk my family. That was something that I wanted to communicate with people. Even though it was literally a fight of good against evil and it had an incredibly positive outcome, the individual man fighting it was just as tired, scared and freaked out as a guy operating a base in Afghanistan or a guy in the jungle in Vietnam.”
Fury writer/director David Ayer
Collier interview with Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

P.S. I think Brad Pitt’s line in Fury —”Ideals are peaceful, history is violent”—is the most profound movie line this year. A quote that you’d expect attributed to Patton or Lincoln. If AFI ever does the list 100 Years…100 Profound Movie Lines, I expect that line to be there. And if that line was ad libbed on the set by Pitt (as Ayer’s has said in interviews) then Pitt deserves an ad lib line of the year award.

Related posts:
Screenwriting from Hell “There are certain rules about a war, and rule number one is young men die.”
Filmmaking Quote #24 (Brad Pitt)
Brad Pitt and the Future of Journalism
Writing ‘Black Hawk Down’

Scott W. Smith

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