Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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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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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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