Tag Archives: movies

Shakespeare and the movies: A perfect combination

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hamletAs a shy kid, I loved movies. They were my friends, when I had few. They introduced me to great stories and characters.
In junior high, I fell in love with Shakespeare. A troupe from New York performed “Hamlet” at the local civic center, while my English teacher assigned us to study “Romeo and Juliet.” I was caught and held fast by Shakespeare’s words and emotions, and I haven’t let go.
As result, movies of Shakespeare plays are doubly enjoyable to me. The universality of the plays spans the decades, as filmmakers have discovered and reinterpreted the work in celluloid and their own visions.
And for those who believe the plays of some old English dude are out of time and not relevant, they simply have to go to the movies, or slip in a DVD to be proven dead wrong.
“The play is the thing,” as William wrote in “Hamlet,” but he might as well said, “The film is the thing.”
With Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in theaters, here are some of my favorite Shakespeare films in no particular order.
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” (1935 ) – This version is pure screwball and magic with a wonderful Mickey Rooney as Puck and a hilarious James Cagney as Nick Bottom. Get a taste on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTeQDMfq8Gw
“Romeo and Juliet” ( 1968) – The first film version of the star-crossed lovers to feature actors who actually looked like teenagers. The music, the costumes and Franco Zeffierelli. Still exquisite.
“Romero + Juliet“ (1996 ) – The Baz Luhrmann version is poignant, frenetic and imaginative. Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes have the heated chemistry of rocket fuel.
“Titus” (1999)- Julie Taymor’s adds her great visuals to this rather lurid tale of the Bard. The first few minutes are breathtaking. A great cast including Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
“Richard III” (1995) – Ian McKellen is glorious, charming and terrifying as the morally and physically twisted king. Also with Annette Benning and Robert Downey Jr.
“Othello” (1952) -Orson Welles’ version remains striking and one of the best. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09NWcKA7JKw
“Coriolanus” (2011) – Vanessa Redgrave steals the show in this fierce and bloody tale of a prideful warrior played by Ralph Fiennes, who also directed.
Henry V” (1989) – Kenneth Branagh’s rousing version is a play within a play. But also watch Laurence Olivier’s great take and compare their Saint Crispin’s Day speeches.
“Hamlet” (1948) – I give Olivier the better version here than Branagh’s. You can see why Olivier was considered one of the best actors of his generation. Don’t bother with the Mel Gibson adaption.
“Hamlet” ( 2000) -Ethan Hawke effectively puts the Dane in modern times. Also with Bill Murray, yes Bill Murray, who does great as usual. Entertaining.
“Taming of the Shrew” (1967) – A downright fun take with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton doing battle and falling in love. Zeffierelli again.
“Macbeth” (1948) – Orson Welles’s adaption is troubling, strange and totally watchable.

Yes, writers can be movie heroes.

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When it comes to action movie heroes, a writer isn’t going to save the world.
In “Die Hard,” no writer takes on terrorists with a computer to rescue hostages.
Indiana Jones flashes a whip and pistol not a pen and paper to beat the bad guys in any of those four movies.
A battalion of writers doesn’t storm beaches of enemy territory with thesauruses.
In none of the Alien movies did Ripley fight those monsters with adverbs and action verbs.
And do any of those Avenger heroes plot their novel after they remove their tights? I don’t think so.
So people of the writing persuasion usually are not the stuff of action movies (the exception is probably “Romancing the Stone.”)
One reason why there aren’t writer action movie heroes is that someone sitting in front of a computer screen or scribbling away is not too exciting or sexy unless they are writing in the nude. Wait, forget I wrote that.
Nevertheless, there have been some terrific films about writers as the central characters. But I am focusing about the ones that also deal with the hell and joy we all go through as we try to tell a story.
Here are some of my favs.
“Shakespeare in Love” — Sure there is romance, cool costumes and Judi Dench, but the film was also about Shakespeare’s struggles to finish a play, and how inspiration comes from life as well as the other way around.
“Wonder Boys” — A great movie about writer’s block, which parallels the blocked life of burned out author Michael Douglas.
“Capote” and “Infamous” — movies about Truman Capote’s writing of “In Cold Blood.” Capote gave the craft his all until he had nothing much left.
“The Hours” — Electrifying Nicole Kidman as a Virginia Wolf and how the process can leave you crazed enough to fill your pockets with stones and talk a walk into a river.
“Adaptation” – Brilliant and so true, particularly when the Charlie Kaufman character is paralyzed with self-doubt. As a writer I laughed and cried simultaneously.
“Stranger than Fiction” — Emma Thompson is wonderful as the tortured writer facing a deadline, a life crisis, and the character she created.
“Sideways” — yes it is about wine and love. But when Paul Giamatti’s character falls apart at a rejection of his manuscript and starts drinking all the wine he can get his hands on, I totally empathized.
These movies are not only darn entertaining, and well written, but full of truth for writers, that is, you are not alone. Great films, overall, even if none of the writers in them pick up a machine gun and save the world.

Bad endings wipe out a good story everytime

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You’ve probably heard this before as writers, but it is so true–namely, a bad ending can ruin what you created. Bad endings can trash what came before.

Here’s an example.

I recently watched a film called “Skyline.” Another one of those bad aliens come to conquer earth type of stories.

The premise was good, that is the impact of  alien attacks on LA and a small group of twenty-somethings trapped in an apartment. They were not soldiers or resistance fighters, just people trying to deal with space ships blowing the heck out of stuff and killing anything that moved.

The action was not bad, and they actually sounded like young people who were terrified.

And here comes the spoiler alert, spoiler alert!

After a lot of carnage, the remaining young couple-the girl is pregnant get taken up to the alien ship where they will surely have their brains sucked out as the aliens are doing with the human population. The people lose the battle.  The man gets turned into an alien and protects his human girlfriend. The end. Over the credits, there are silly images of the man-turned-alien carrying her away.

No dramatic changes. No damn sense. This bad ending made me mad I had invested time watching the movie.

Here are better endings. They couples’s characters have changed. They kissed and got killed by the aliens. Or they could have escaped and been the last couple left to repopulate the planet.

We don’t want bad endings to happen to our stories. How do we prevent it?

Make sure the ending follows the rules of drama. In other words, make sure our characters change, for the better or for the worst.  That way, we reward our audience or readers for their time.

End with a punch instead of a whimper. It can be a physical or emotional punch or  with a twist (M. Night Shyamalan is famous for these.)

Give your work to readers to see if the ending satisfies them. If not, ask what did I do wrong.

Don’t end with anything that conflicts with your characters.

An example is the book, “Hannibal.” FBI agent Clarice Starlings runs off with cannibal Lecter. The problem was that Thomas Harris did such a magnificent job with Starling’s character in “Silence of the Lambs,” we just can’t buy that ending.

Then there are endings where you remark, Where the heck did that come from? Or exclaim, That makes no sense.

Examples. After Jodie Foster’s return from talking with aliens in “Contact,” she is crucified before a government committee, while two other government types see evidence she has contacted aliens. In the end, Foster’s character smiles happily as she resumes her job seeking aliens. Huh?

In “A.I,” David the boy robot simply goes to bed with his dead human mother brought by aliens. Huh?

When I leave a movie with a great ending, I feel uplifted and complete.  For example, the last installment of “Harry Potter.” Humphrey Bogart and Claude Reins walking off into the fog together in “Casablanca.” In “Fargo,” Marge and her husband showing they’ve kept their humanity after all the murder and mayhem.

So, make sure your ending sends the audience home with a smile or tear, and not cursing that they spent $8 on a movie ticket. And for superior alien-invades-movie, skip “Skyline” and watch “War of the Worlds” (either the George Pal or  Spielberg versions).

Not surprising, you can find lists of movies with bad endings. Here are a few:

http://www.spike.com/articles/zuvhkw/the-top-10-most-ridiculous-movie-endings

http://www.usatoday.com/life/gallery/2005/02-02-popcandy/flash.htm

http://www.cracked.com/article_15621_the-10-most-asinine-movie-twist-endings.html

If you have any more examples of bad endings, please email them to me.

 

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