I just thought I’d share some good news that both of the Star Trek fan films, I was involved in writing, have recently won some new awards in the first annual “Showrunner” Awards, an international festival for Star Trek fan films.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER (2017)
Chance Encounter has recently won some new awards in the first annual “Showrunner” Awards! An international festival for Star Trek fan films. The film was entered into various categories, each of which had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place available. The short film picked up the following:
Best Actress: Ayvianna Snow – 1st Place Best Actor: Hayward Morse – 2nd Place Best Direction: 3rd Place Best Fan Film: 3rd Place
Congratulations to Ayvianna and Hayward! You can read about the awards here! And see the film here:
THE HOLY CORE (2019)
The second fan film was entered into various categories, each of which had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place available. The Holy Core picked up the following:
Best Direction: 1st place Best Fan Film: 1st Place Best Writing: 2nd Place Best Editing: 2nd Place Best Sound Design: 2nd Place Best Costuming: 3rd Place
You can read about the awards here! And see the film here:
STAR TREK and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other “Star Trek” franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt, Barbie Ferreira, Keith David, etc.
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Following on from the Oscar winning, Get Out (2017), and the should-have-won-an-Oscar-for-Best-Actress-in-Lupita-Nyong’o, Us (2019), Jordan Peele is back with the enigmatically titled, and equally ambiguous sci-fi-Western-horror film, NOPE (2022). Taking on writing and directing duties again, Peele has delivered a majestic looking cinematic feast, brimming with incredibly memorable images involving horses, chimpanzees, cinema, waving inflatables, surveillance cameras, carnival shows, and something very large that comes from beyond the clouds.
So, what’s Nope (2022) actually about? Well, put simply it’s all about cowboys and girls overcoming a monster. But it is much more than that. Because, narratively speaking it is difficult to sum up in a few sentences. Peele builds his most complex film to date by delivering a series of visually powerful set-pieces throughout. He also challenges the audience with an intelligent visual system which thematically links television, cinema, cameras, Hollywood, animals and a spectacular eye in the sky. Like Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) and Martin Scorsese’s religious epics, Nope (2022), is what I consider to be a big-budget, arthouse blockbuster.
The film, which is divided into chapters, establishes brother, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), trying valiantly to keep the family ranch from going under. Once thriving under their father’s management, the ranch would supply horses to the Hollywood conveyor belt of A-list and B-movie Westerns. With such work now in short supply, OJ is forced to sell horses to local theme park owner, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), however, he vows to get them back when business improves. But a bigger threat is soon looming over the ranch.
Kaluuya’s performance as OJ is laconic, invoking pure Robert Mitchum. Did I like and root for OJ? Sort of. Keke Palmer as Emerald brought the energy to the screen, but I never felt the two characters really gelled with the themes successfully. Peele’s intellectual leaps, while thought-provoking, barriered an emotional connection within Nope (2022). Likewise, Yuen’s Jupe is given a tremendously imaginative and powerful backstory which brings us into his character, but ultimately fails to pay off dramatically. In fact, these scenes felt like they were from a different film altogether. Indeed, Peele uses the sci-fi monster genre to hang his view of the world on, not always to maximum impact.
While the characterisations and themes arguably fail to gel within the screenplay, it is visually where Nope (2022) really soars. Hoyte van Hoytema should sweep he board come awards time. Further, Peele creates an optical banquet by juxtaposing the majestic vistas of the Californian landscape with modern camera and surveillance equipment, plus those colourful inflatable dummies. Then there’s the thing that is “Not Of Planet Earth”. What is it and what does it represent? Who is watching and controlling and feeding on us? Peele’s challenging concepts are to be applauded within the genre blockbuster, but I just wanted to be scared and care a bit more. On additional viewings, Nope (2022), may be considered a masterpiece, but at the moment it could be one of those great films which I kind of didn’t like. As discussed previously here.
Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) by William Indick
Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.Ingmar Bergman
William Indick’s excellent book takes us from the dream like world of the cinema to the pages of great psychoanalytical theorists, combining Freud with screenwriting in a most intelligent and approachable way. But his is not a how-to manual for writers, but an immersive experience mixing theoretical, practical, and thoughtful processes in regard to writing your next film.
If psychology and screenwriting are two sides of the same coin then this book is most definitely for screenwriters and filmmakers with an interest in psychoanalytic theory that enables them to explore archetypes, plot development, structure, and character building from the inside out. Moreover, the author provides an excellent framework with which to weave psychoanalytic theories into one’s writing. But not in a cookie-cutter style. This book is smarter than that.
While many of the theories are complex, the author writes with clarity and expertise. The useful bullet-pointed summaries at the end of each chapter crystallize the concepts with aplomb. Further, the various chapters also delivers ideas from a whole host of great minds of psychoanalytic and structuralist theory such as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Joseph Campbell. There were also theorists I was not too familiar with such as Alfred Adler, Rollo May, and Maureen Murdock. By utilising his expansive knowledge and examples from many classic Hollywood films the author places you into the heart of the character’s mind and motivations.
What I found most fascinating was the book provides an invaluable framework to build your characters with. I certainly could see myself applying various ideas from Freud and Jung within my writing. Indeed, I was certainly drawn to Rollo May’s theories about existential anxiety driving and increasing the complexity of my characters. One could argue though, the author overuses references to Hollywood cinema. I would really have found it intriguing how certain psychoanalytical theories may relate to cinema from, e.g. Japan, Spain, and France. Furthermore, psychological analysis of a particular director’s work such as Ingmar Bergman could also have proved so interesting.
In conclusion, to many an experienced writer the screenwriting theories, terms and structures covered are instantly recognisable, yet William Indick freshens up the study field with psychoanalytical language, breathing life into the saturated library of scriptwriting releases. Finally, each chapter succinctly bullet-points how a writer may utilise the theories within their work as the book concludes with three brilliant essays relating said theories to the Western, Fantasy and Sci-fi genres. One could even say this book is a dream to work with.
Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) is available here.
Michael Wiese Productions (MWP) was launched in San Francisco in 1976 primarily to produce films. Today, the company is known worldwide having published some 200 books. Some of the bestsellers have been translated into 18 languages, are used in over 700 film courses, in the Hollywood studios and by emerging filmmakers.
NETFLIX FILM REVIEWS: DAYSHIFT (2022), THE GRAY MAN (2022) & SPIDERHEAD (2022)
Along with fashion, football, and Formula One, the cinema is one of many capitalistic and cyclical industries which spends and makes money that seems to self-perpetuate its own existence. My lord though there are many more. But isn’t it a bit obscene that so much money is spent on movies while so many people struggle in the world?
Maybe I’m just old. Jaded. Drifting away from the dream factory where such large amounts of cash should be spent on film folly. People are starving, energy bills are rising and there are so many sick across the world, can we not divert some of that money to them? Some people may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Plus, I’m a hypocrite. Using film and alcohol to divert my mind from the world’s problems.
What has prompted this sober reflection? Netflix! Now, I have no idea about business and money and algorithms and subscription revenue. What I have read is that $370 million dollars have allegedly been spent on these three blockbuster films. Could the cash have been spent on more interesting and entertaining product? I mean, why not give $15 million to a whole host of up-and-coming filmmakers to produce thirty lower-budgeted films? Why not concentrate on script, characterisation and strive to explore more original concepts. Surely, the law of averages dictate that there would be a number of gems produced?
Blumhouse Productions and A24 both seem, from the outside, to have industry models which produce successful genre and arthouse films. One may not rate all of their releases, however, these studios appear to avoid burning huge sums of money on their cinematic offerings. Netflix, continue to invest in tentpole monsters which are NEVER released on a cinema screen and are of questionable quality. What of these films? Here are three short reviews of new Netflix releases I have watched recently. With the usual marks out of eleven.
Directed by J. J. Perry Screenplay by: Tyler Tice, Shay Hatten
Main cast: Jamie Foxx, Dave Franco, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Meagan Good, Karla Souza, Steve Howey, Scott Adkins, Snoop Dogg etc.
I’d say this is a cheap, photo-copied and terrible rip-off of Blade (1998) drizzled with John Wick (2014) style fight-scenes, but Dayshift (2022) isn’t bloody cheap. It’s a gigantic waste of money and the viewer’s time. Jamie Foxx, portrays a pool cleaner moonlighting as a vampire hunter, pitted against a den of uber-vampires threatening to take over Los Angeles.
An insult to my intelligence, the script plunders Men in Black (1997) and the execrable R.I.P.D (2013), with the villain’s plan making no sense at all. Dave Franco adds some humour as the unlikely buddy/partner, but this one of those films where the stuntmen get most credit for some amazing fight and vehicle work. It’s a shame the story, plot and characters are so anaemic.
Mark: 5.5 out of 11
THE GRAY MAN (2022)
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Main cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton etc.
The apparent reports that $200 million dollars were spent on this film makeThe Gray Man (2022) a crime against humanity. This is such a bad film.Nikita (1990) is the template as Ryan Gosling’s lifer is offered the chance to become an assassin for a secret US government agency. Flash forward a number of years and Gosling, who doesn’t look any older, gets screwed on a mission and psychotic Chris Evans has to take him down. Cue expertly choreographed death, explosions, shouting, shoot-outs, and zero emotional connection.
I like all the talent involved in this. Gosling, Evans and Ana de Armas are genuine stars. But were they trapped on a brainless rollercoaster that wouldn’t stop? Did it even have a script? And if it did who thought it was worth spending money on. The camera swoops around the globe like a maniac hoovering up the budget. Everyone takes a grand payday as the bullets fly and fire fills up the screen. I was with Gosling’s anti-heroic blank until they introduced the girl moppet and I deflated. Everyone involved is better that the $200 million spent.
Mark: 5 out of 11
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Based on: “Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders
Main Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett etc.
This is actually a brilliant film concept absolutely ruined by the miscasting of Chris Hemsworth and a director obsessed with filling the dark themes with inane humour and incongruous 1980’s music. Maybe these elements were all in George Saunders original short story from The New Yorker, but I doubt it. It’s a butchered adaptation from my instinct. By the way, Chris Hemsworth is a brilliant film star, but he cannot act.
So, imagine a Black Mirror episode done really badly with Miles Teller’s criminal being given certain freedoms within a prison as long as he tests drugs and adheres to the rules of the medical experimentation. The plot beats are impactful and Teller’s character arc is very moving. as he tries to escape his past wrongdoings and guilt, but Kosinski and Hemsworth piss over the potential with awful creative decisions that grate and drain all emotion away. It’s a character drama trapped in an insulting action comedy, which must be called out.
Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner Story by: Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner
Produced by: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss
Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, David Wenham , Kodi Smit-McPhee etc.
*** MAY CONTAIN HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***
Since 1992, Baz Luhrmann has directed only six feature films. Each of them, aside from the lower-budgeted, Strictly Ballroom (1992), is a gigantic and epic extravaganza, full of colour, imagination, verve, energy, music, poetry and larger-than-life characters. Even Strictly Ballroom contains many of the stylistic and formal elements which would become part of Luhrmann’s oeuvre. I pretty much feel this auteur’s excessive approach to filmmaking including the fast-cutting, opulent settings, big musical numbers, all-star casts, plus grandiose and melodramatic narrative delivery are always a wonderful spectacle to experience.
Arguably, adapting the American novel, The Great Gatsby (1993), in this periphrastic packaging, took away from the enigma and majesty of Fitzgerald’s classic. However, with Elvis (2022), Luhrmann and his incredible production team, marry such genius excessive style with the perfect subject matter: the King of Rock and Roll! Because in colliding the life, music and films of Elvis Aaron Presley with Luhrmann’s stunning methodology brings to the screen one of the best films of the year Indeed for Luhrmann, Elvis (2022), is evidently a stylistic, subjective and thematic labour of love, marking it as his best film to date.
I wasn’t even going to watch Elvis (2022) at the cinema. I’d recently seen Spencer (2021) on Amazon Prime and was happy to have streamed that. While that eerie adaptation was a valiant attempt to breathe life into the ghost of Diana. An elegiac attempt to explain the oppressive result of her naïve choice to land her Princess dream. With Kristen Stewart’s exceptional impression rescue breathing Diana’s tragic existence, I knew the story. I knew enough to care for someone whose mental health was discarded by the heartless Windsor’s. But the monarchy have been killing the working class for years, so why should I care deeply for one singular spoilt individual? Similarly, I pondered whether I wanted to watch another film about Elvis Presley. A God-given talented singer, heartthrob, actor, musician and legendary performer had a story I was already familiar with. But, I am so happy I overcame my ignorant prejudice because Elvis (2022) is a humdinger of a part-musical-part-biopic-part-drama-part-American tragedy.
Elvis (2022) is structured around the memories of shadowy manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He is suffering illness in his old age, close to hospital demise. Parker is a grotesque in a billowing gown, drifting around the nightmarish Vegas slot-machines as Elvis’ voice echoes within his mind. Is it the guilt or the morphine? The story flashes back to a younger Parker promoting country singers at a travelling Carny. Until that fateful day when he hears a miracle on the radio, a young singer who everyone thinks is Black. But he isn’t. In the markedly racist times of 1950s America (has it really changed in certain States or Police departments?), a Black singer won’t sell records like this white dude will. Seizing his chance Parker attends Elvis’ first gig and witnesses a phenomenon. An attractive, sexual, gyrating and angelic powerhouse with an incredible voice who sends shockwaves into audience, especially the teenage girls.
A star is born, and it takes a star to play a star. Take as many bows as you want, Austin Butler. He is a genuine phenomenon in Elvis (2022). Of course, the wardrobe, postiche and make-up artists work wonders to help recreate Elvis’ iconic looks as the narrative flashes through various stages of Presley’s devastatingly successful career, Yet, Butler just lights up the screen, producing acting fireworks in a physically, spiritually, emotionally and musically astounding screen presentation. It is not an impression, but a tour-de-force for a relatively unknown actor who has jettisoned his career to glory.
Butler, lives and breathes the King. This rendition and great direction from Luhrmann make you feel tragic empathy for a career which was manipulated and controlled by grubby gambling addict, Parker. Hank’s portrayal of the Colonel feels unnatural and theatrical compared to Butler’s organic turn. Perhaps that was the intention? Deliver a pantomime villain to boo and hiss at. Although, Hanks’ cigar-chomping and jowly make-up made me think the evil touch of Orson Welles’, Captain Hank Quinlan, had somehow been resurrected.
I cannot praise Elvis (2022) enough as a cinematic biopic and musical spectacle. While the choppy editing style is jarring at the start, once the film settles down into a groove, Butler’s stunning incarnation shines through. Overall, I was enlivened by, not only the constant remixing of Elvis Presley hits, but Luhrmann’s choice to alloy gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock, pop, ballad and protest songs throughout the scintillating soundtrack. Much, quite rightly, is made of how much diverse music influenced Elvis’s formative life and how he connected with Black musicians of the era. Luhrmann also ensures we are aware of how much of a threat Presley was seen by the establishment due to the sexual nature of his sang satanic verses. Sent to Germany to prevent him demonising America, his comeback special after seven years in movies is one of the finest cinema set-pieces I have seen in many a year. Funny, rocking, poignant, effervescent, beautiful and astounding, just like Elvis, the man and myth, and Elvis (2022) the film.
Screenplay by: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Based on “The Black Phone” by Joe Hill
Produced by: Jason Blum, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Main cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, Ethan Hawke
Cinematography Brett Jutkiewicz
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **
Halloween party-goers now have a new mask to wear on their faces in the guise of The Black Phone (2021) villain daubed, “The Grabber”. Although one must point out the mask is highly influenced by Japanese classic horror, Onibaba (1964). Anyway, the Grabber is a sick individual who prowls and abducts kids from the Denver suburbs in the 1970s, using black balloons and a creepy van as his signature. Portrayed by Ethan Hawke, he isn’t most subtle or interesting of killers, but his chilling behaviour drives this effective horror film from director Scott Derrickson.
The story is the essence of every parent’s living nightmare. Their child goes missing having been snatched off the street in broad daylight. The film takes the time to establish many of the children’s characterisations so we have time to bond with them and feel the horror of their plight. Central to the story are teen brother, Finney (Mason Thames), and younger sister, Gwen (Madeline McGraw). Even without the threat of the murderer, their mother has passed and they are brought up by abusive and alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies). To add further woe, Finney, finds himself bullied by older kids at school. Could things get any worse? Of course! Finney finds himself the next victim of the evil Grabber!
Plunged into a gloomy and sound-proofed basement, Finney, is trapped with no way out from the Grabber’s nefarious plans. Ah, but Finney suddenly gets assistance from, not one, but two supernatural sources. Firstly, the titular black phone which hangs on the wall of the basement and scares us half to death when it rings. Who is on the other end? Well, lets just say they are not of the living. The second magical helper for Finney is that Gwen has the second sight in her dreams. Over time she is able to conveniently assist the police at significant stages of the narrative. Much suspense is raised from Finney’s attempts to escape as time begins to run out for him. His conversations on the black phone are imaginatively delivered as he reaches some weird dimension beyond life and death.
The Black Phone (2021) is both a suspenseful and silly ride, efficiently directed by expert genre filmmaker, Scott Derrickson. The characters are nicely written and you really root for them as the kids deal with all manner of terror. Themes relating to sibling community, stranger-danger, and sticking up for yourself against bullying are intelligently explored also. However, I must say the film has, for all the emotional depth felt and evocative 1970s locations and costumes displayed, a number of serious plot-holes struck me as incredibly questionable. I also thought Ethan Hawke’s villain while visually striking, lacked intelligence and a proper characterisation. I get that he is masked symbol of evil, but a great actor like Hawke was wasted in such casting. Overall though, The Black Phone (2021) is definitely a cinematic call worth answering.
“CINEMA” REVIEWS: FRESH (2022) + WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)
Two entirely different types of film on the surface, one a black comedy-horror and the other a romantic murder-mystery. Although both feature examples of the female outsider fighting against variant elements of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy. What they also have in common is impressive acting performances from rising star, Daisy Edgar-Jones. Thus, I thought it interesting to review said films side-by-side. With the usual marks out of eleven.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Directed by Mimi Cave
Written by Lauryn Kahn
Main cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang etc.
Essentially a beat-by-beat replica of Get Out (2017) as the main protagonist finds themself under threat from a nefarious force as their best friend desperately seeks to rescue them from grisly danger. Rather than raising important points about racism within the horror genre, Mimi Cave’s deliciously directed horror story with comedic elements, explores the precarious threat of singledom, toxic masculinity, gastronomy and relationships.
Daisy Edgar-Jones portrays cynical twenty-something, Noa, who is sick of the dating game and feels isolated where romance is concerned. I empathised with her decision to remain single, but then she has a meat cute with likeable charmer, Steve (Sebastian Stan), in the supermarket. They go on a date and more than hit-it-off. Before you can say “no-don’t-go-away-for-the-weekend-with-a-man-you-hardly-know!” Noa goes away with Steve and the plot ingredients really come to the boil.
Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones have fine chemistry throughout and are attractive protagonists. The first half of the film builds raw suspense, before the revelation arguably over-cooks the central relationship on the menu. Providing excellent support to the leads is Noa’s bestie, Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs), who turns detective to locate Noa before the knives come out for her. Fresh (2022) runs out of steam toward the end as the plotting unravels with the characters making dumb horror movie decisions. However, I really want to see what writer, Lauren Kahn and director, Mimi Cave, deliver next as their debut feature Fresh (2022) is a very tasty starter.
Mark: 8 out of 11
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)
Directed by Olivia Newman
Screenplay by Lucy Alibar (Based on Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens)
Main cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer, Jr., David Strathairn etc.
Adapted from the best-selling phenomenon written by Delia Owens, I went into Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)cold without any prior knowledge of the story. I hadn’t read the novel and even the trailer, thankfully, didn’t give swathes of plot away when I saw it. But what’s it all about? Well, it’s a sprawling cake mix of genres including murder-mystery, court drama, period piece, romance, and rites-of-passage with a movie-of-the-week cherry on top feel.
Daisy Edgar-Jones sensitively portrays Kya Clark, a young girl living in the North Carolina marsh, dealing with all manner of drama and trouble throughout her life. Considered an outcast and weirdo by the town locals of Barkley Cove, the film quickly places Kya as the main suspect in the murder of a privileged jock, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Via flashbacks we are then introduced to the misery of Kya’s abusive childhood, with her father frightening away Kya’s mother and brothers with his drunken battery. When Kya is ultimately abandoned by everyone, she finds some solace in her fledgling romance with Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and her interest in wildlife and art.
There are many elements of Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)that felt extremely familiar, notably the Nicholas Sparks-inspired love triangle. Kya having to choose between generic good boy/bad boy types. However, it is integral to the character-driven aspect of Kya growing from a shy caterpillar and blossoming into a radiant butterfly. While the arguably patronising characterisation of the black characters did not convince, Kya’s character arc is certainly compelling, thanks to Edgar-Jones intelligent performance. Moreover, I enjoyed the locations and some wonderful scenery too. Overall, while it is undemanding and generic, I found Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)a pleasing diversion with a couple of obvious, but decent twists in the tale. The kind of film my mum would love.
[Book Review] Hollywood Game Plan – Carole M. Kirschner
The sniping words of despotic Hollywood executive, Buddy Ackerman, in the scathing film satireSwimming With Sharks (1994), echoed around my mind.
“Because there are no story-book romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, ‘What do you really want?’”
It’s a vital life question. What is it you really want? If you’re drawn to the dream factory, to Hollywood, that celebrated capital of mythmaking and stardust where do you start? Well, Carole M. Kirshner’s Hollywood Game Plan is definitely for you. In a fabled town where apparently nobody knows anything, I have to say I knew so much more after reading this.
Who is Carole M. Kirshner I hear you ask? Because, like me, you may be dubious of such Hollywood guides which offer to demystify the process of getting ahead in the film and television industry. Never fear as the author has walked the walk and talked the talk in Hollywood, grafting her way up to a senior-level Hollywood executive for CBS and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.
Yet, Hollywood Game Plan is not the work of a jaded burnt-out hack. Rather, it’s a dynamic and positive journey structured from start to finish to help you achieve the goal of getting a job in Hollywood. If that is what you really want then read on.
One of the book’s major strengths is a well-designed spine that teaches the reader the basics, getting us prepared for the long Hollywood road trip ahead, training our brains for obstacles that may come our way, and not filling one’s mind with dreamy possibilities. There is hard graft ahead through research, networking, pitching, phone calls, interviews, more networking, staying positive, facing rejection, and having a never-say-die attitude. As the author states finding a full-time job in Hollywood is a full-time job in itself.
The writing throughout is punchy and unpretentious. There is real honesty that leaps from the words on the page. Moreover, I was especially impressed by the goal-oriented aim of the book. If you’re like me and enjoy hitting targets then Carole M. Kirshner’s chapter exercises really build what she calls that “Los Angeles Armour.”
Indeed, how to write a killer C.V., perfect a covering letter, find a mentor, write, and pitch your own personal history, and even how long to wait before you follow up on a hot lead are just a suggestion of the priceless advice in this book. It will most definitely get you ahead of the competition during the Darwinist task of moving up the Hollywood food chain.
Because it is survival of the fittest in Hollywood. You’ve got to work to earn your lucky break. There’s rarely such a thing as overnight success. As well as the target-based exercises there are many testimonials from professionals within Hollywood, including those who have taken Carole M. Kirshner’s Hollywood Game Plan course. These and the informative appendices at the back of the book provide an invaluable set of tools for the journey ahead.
So, in conclusion, ask yourself what you really want? If it’s a job in Hollywood and you’re out of shark repellent, barbed spears, and a protective underwater cage, you could do worse than arm yourself with Carole M. Kirshner’s enlightening book, Hollywood Game Plan.
Why the canine is considered to be the appropriate animal to represent a character who overcomes great loss and adversity is fascinating. On further digging one will find that etymological history of the term, Underdog, derives from the second half of the 19th century, where its first meaning was “the beaten dog in a fight”. Two dogs fight and the losing one is the underdog. Quite simple and obvious really. It makes sense then that the term has also been used in sporting and filmic language down the years. Here the underdog is a team or individual who faces an insurmountable opponent where defeat is most likely. To then gain victory against the odds makes the winning oh so much sweeter and glorious.
So, for my occasional Six of the Best series I’d like to explore and list some of the finest underdogs from cinema. I’d also like to consider certain conventions from within this subgenre. Clearly, I could just choose six films about sport, so I am going to work a bit harder and provide some less obvious choices too. Hope you agree.
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **
ROCKY (1976) – The individual underdog!
The individual underdog is synonymous with sporting films.Cinderella Man (2005), Eddie the Eagle (2015), Rudy (1993) and The Karate Kid (1984) are just some of the fine narratives which have used the individual overcoming the odds to triumph. Obviously, though the greatest of all time is Stallone’s working-class journeyman, Rocky Balboa, rising up from the gutters of Philadelphia to seeing stars and finding love in the ring. Reflected in Rocky’s incredible journey is Stallone’s own underdog story of a struggling actor, who had to sell his dog, wrote a brilliant script, determined to play the lead, earned his break and became one of the biggest film stars of a generation.
REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000) – the team underdog!
Like the individual underdog sports film, cinema is brimming with crowd pleasers about a bunch of unlikely oddballs or losers joining forces to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Usually, the team underdogs will overcome singular divisions, while learning about themselves to find formidable communal fighting spirit. The Bad News Bears (1976), The Mighty Ducks (1990), The Longest Yard (1974/2005), Miracle (2004) and the aptly named Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) are but a few of these excellent team films. However, Remember the Titans (2000) is one of the most powerful sporting team movies featuring Denzel Washington as T. C. Williams High School coach, Herman Boone, whose team not only overcomes sporting obstacles, but political ones including institutional racism and widespread bigotry outside and within the school system.
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – the villain as underdog!
Here’s a character which is incredibly difficult to write and even more problematic to define due to the paradoxical nature of their personality. If you’re doing bad things can you be considered an underdog? I mean is the underdog’s victory earned and can an audience root for the villain? I think one of the greatest underdogs and most unreliable of protagonists is Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects (1995). But he was a trickster, genius and fake underdog. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom tops Verbal for me. At the start of the film, Nightcrawler (2014), he has absolutely nothing. But his conniving, planning and preparedness to go the extra mile and expand his media business via sabotage and eventually murder are an unforgettably dark underdog journey.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) – the superhero underdog!
The superhero genre staple for both heroes and villains often finds a character acquiring by accident, fate or design abilities which transform them into beings of immense and fantastic power. The likes of Superman, Thor, and Wonder Woman are god-like superheroes, however, the likes of Steve Rogers, as Captain America, grew from humbler beginnings. Rogers is an admirable underdog because he doesn’t like bullies, his character never knew when he was beaten, he comes from working-class stock and he’s an anachronism as character tension comes from not fitting into the present. Rogers is not a god or scientist or billionaire, but the little guy with a big heart who becomes a hero.
ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) – the legal underdog!
It’s a sad indictment of humanity and the capitalist system that there are so many films showing the evil wrongs corporations have perpetuated against people and the environment. Dark Waters (2019), Silkwood (1983),Class Action (1991) andErin Brockovich (2000) are but a few of such stories where individuals fight against an unjust legal system which strives to protect the rich and powerful from accepting responsibility for the heinous damage they have wreaked. Erin Brockovich is an especially positive example of an individual who, despite her lack of education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) involving underground contamination. Brockovich also overcame sexist attitudes in the workplace too which placed certain judgements on the way she behaved and dressed. Brilliantly portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film, Erin Brockovich is a true underdog hero of a generation.
SPARTACUS (1960) – the epic underdog!
Having recently read Kirk Douglas’ enlightening memoir, I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, I have to say it is one of the most excellent books about filmmaking and politics I have experienced. Douglas took up the cause of underdog screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who having served prison time for refusing to name names to the Joseph McCarthy led House of Un-American Activities Committee, was blacklisted in Hollywood. Writing under a series of fake names, Trumbo scribed the screenplay to the epic Spartacus (1960), with Douglas as the eponymous hero who rises up from slave to Gladiator to leader, defeating the Romans in many battles before dying a martyr. One can see Trumbo’s underdog fight reflected in Spartacus’ epic journey and the fact that Douglas eventually placed Trumbo’s name in the credits of the film was testament to his powerful writing and unjust treatment by the nefarious American government.
Two fascinating genre films I saw this month had virtually the same narrative set-up within the horror genre. Both have lead characters who lost their partner to violent suicide, prior to being propelled into a journey of psychological trauma, mystery and devastating enigmatic danger.
Also, both the arthouse horror of Men (2022) and psychological horror of The Night House (2021) are intelligent offerings within the genre, eschewing easy solutions while exploring themes relating to grief, domestic violence and toxic masculinity. Moreover, while both films are expertly made there are many frustrations to be had while watching them. Nonetheless, both deserve praise for challenging the audience and genre conventions while telling their twisted tales.
Here are my reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Written and directed by Alex Garland
Main cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Gayle Rankin, Paapa Essiedu
Would you “Adam and Eve it?” – after delving into ideas relating to men playing god with artificial intelligence in both the brilliant Ex Machina (2015) and genius of Devs (2020), Alex Garland returns with this surreal horror where men are very much cast as the devil in the garden of England. It’s a disturbing experience. So, be warned if you are faint of heart. Moreover, there are no simple answers as Garland births a succession of thought-provoking themes which occasionally baffled, and at times frustrated the hell out of me.
The always superb Jessie Buckley portrays Harper Marlowe who, after a tragic but visually shocking incident involving her husband, seeks solace in the countryside to process her trauma and grief. There she encounters a series of male figures, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear, who all exert negative thoughts, words, looks, and energy toward her. Is this all a dream or a fractured reality? Is Harper going mad? Do we care? Further, Garland drip feeds in flashbacks to Harper’s toxic relationship with her husband in several hard-hitting scenes. How this is connected with the many faces of Kinnear’s characters I could not quite work out. Well, other than the theme that all men are bastards, with little in the way of nuance to the contrary.
Alex Garland is an incredible writer and director and I have enjoyed most of his work. However, while Men (2022) has an incredible dénouement with body horror scenes Cronenberg would be proud of, I never really felt scared throughout. Moreover, despite Buckley’s absorbing performance I ultimately felt disconnected from her story as many ideas and moments, such as the scene in the tunnel lacked a real punchline. Similar to Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth (2021) – with the sparse cast and seemingly shot during lockdown, Men (2022) has some fantastic ideas and fascinating themes relating to grief and gender politics. Unfortunately, they didn’t all gel to create a satisfying whole. But maybe I am the one to blame. I am a man after all.
Mark: 6.5 out of 11
THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021)
Directed byDavid Bruckner
Written by: Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski
Main cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit
Like Jessie Buckley, Rebecca Hall is always never less than brilliant and here she gives a complex rendering of a character, Beth, reeling from her husband’s violent suicide and secrets from the past which literally come back to haunt her. Alas, Beth is a shell of a person who drinks constantly but pretends everything is okay. She has strange dreams or waking nightmares which propel her to investigate further why her beloved husband shot himself. While I empathised fully with Beth’s mourning, I found the edge and antagonism, Hall, under Bruckner’s direction is given undermined the fear factor for me. Some slight vulnerability may have raised the heart rate even higher during the expertly crafted plot.
Nonetheless, when Beth really digs into the past and begins to find mysterious and hidden places in the woods, plus evidence of her husband’s potential infidelities, the film really grips you. Is the figure that plagues her real or a psychosomatic vision of grief. But Beth is determined to find out what her husband was up to with a variety of women. When it is revealed it is a exquisitely delivered twist. It’s really tough to come up with something original in the horror genre, but the revelation was extremely horrifying and ingenious.
Bruckner gives the film a terrifically creepy atmosphere as the lakeside property is enveloped with shadows, fleeting figures, light and reflection colluding to trap Beth in the haunted space. Indeed, the finale in the woods, house and on the boat create palpable and clinging dread. But then it ends and deflation occurs as questions and loose ends remain unanswered. The script also suffers from back story overload. I mean major events which occur before the film starts have a strong bearing on the narrative as a whole and should have been shown in flashback. Overall though, The Night House (2021) is well worth a watch due to the clever plotting, creepy locations and powerful suspense throughout.