Screenwriting and Little Women


rant and rave second

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If you want to see what a difference a screenwriter and a director can make to a movie, it might behoove you to see all four versions of Little Women, 1933, 1949, 1994 and 2019.

 

The ranking quality of the films are generally thus: the 2019 version is the best, then 1994, closely, closely followed by 1933, with 1949 a distant fourth. And I think there are reasons for this, which lie in the areas of both directing and screenwriting. In the end, what makes the 2019 version the best is that it is the best directed combined with the best screenplay. The 1994 and 1933 versions are almost as well directed, but the screenplays are not nearly as strong. And the 1949 suffers from just not being that good in either category (it’s all right, but that’s about it).

 

One place to see the difference in the direction is to look at the first party scenes at the Laurence’s. In the 1949 version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this scene is incredibly limp and boring. It really sags. And it’s a reflection of the movie as a whole. It never really comes alive.

 

However, look at the same scenes in the 1994 version, directed by Gillian Armstrong, and the 1933 version, directed by George Cukor (who always had a knack for this sort of storytelling), and one can instantly see the difference. These scenes are far more alive and exciting.

 

At the same time, we then get to the party scene in Greta Gerwig’s version of 2019 (she both wrote and directed), and this scene soars. In fact, the earlier dance scene after the theater is the place where this version really takes off. But in the party at the Laurence’s, it is so exciting and riveting, it is a signal of the quality that is to come.

 

At the same time, I still maintain that in the end, what ultimately makes Gerwig’s version the best is the superb screenplay (without it, I suggest the film, though still enjoyable and well received, might not be regarded as the best of the top three-probably just as good). It is far richer with more vibrant and more deeply developed characters. Where characters like Aunt May and Mr. Laurence are sorely lacking in early versions, Gerwig has made characters like these pop out and stand on their own by giving them more time and development. She even introduces a new character, the crusty curmudgeon of a publisher that Jo has to battle to become the artist she wants to become, who also has a vibrancy about him.

 

Alas, or it may be inevitable, she is not able to do more with Mr. March than in any earlier version. He has no real character and doesn’t seem to have any real purpose in the story except to show up in time to preside over the marriage of his daughter (he’s a minister). After that, he seems to disappear. And not only that, he is never missed.

 

Gerwig has also taken the feminism of the 1994 version and gone much further with it. It is very modern in its psychology of women’s role in society and what they have to do to become their own persons and achieve each their goals.

 

And she has given it a non-linear structure which, for me, further deepens the emotions of the film (some didn’t like this aspect of the film, but for me it is one of the ingredients that raise it above the other incarnations).

 

The earlier versions have screenplays by Robin Swicord (1994); Andrew Solt, Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1949); and Sara Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1933)-I don’t know if Mason and Heerman actually worked on the 1949 version, or just get credit because much of their original screenplay was used. But of the group, Swicord is the next strongest, followed by Mason and Heerman (1933), and a the one in 1949 (the weakest, possibly because the directing is the weakest).

 

So for me, the real triumph of this new version of the Alcott classic is the superior and remarkable screenplay. And writers should perhaps take note of just how important they can actually be, if allowed, to projects like this.

MOTHER’S INFERIOR AND SUPERIOR: Lady Bird, Noviate


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Warning: SPOILERS
I think I will begin this review with a personal anecdote. Years ago, I was in the audience for one of the final previews for Stephen Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, a tale told in reverse about three friends who betray the ideals they had when just starting out. It was a disaster. An unmitigated one at that. And it closed, I believe, around two weeks after it opened, if it lasted that long.
It was so terrible, I though the songs, with a couple of exceptions, were not just Sondheim’s worst, they were just bad.
A year later, I was in the cutout section of a record store (remember those?) and I ran across a cast recording for the show. I bought it and listened to it anew and realized the songs were wonderful and that it had been the production that was, well, let us be kind and say…lacking.
Since then, I have seen two productions of it and I realized that it actually is a pretty good show. Continue reading

THE HOWIES or THE BEST IN FILM 2016


top-50-screenwriting-blogsFor questions: hcasner@aol.com
First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 
 
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013.  Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
 
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The movie seasons seems to now have settled into three periods of time. The first third is made up of the leftovers from the award season as the Oscars fast approach.
The second third is generally made up of tentpole/big studio type films with more and more counterprogramming for those more interested in independent and foreign films, and even more so as the distributors realize that there are still a lot of older filmgoers out there yet going to the theater (as well as growing niche markets for the diversity crowd).
This reverses in the final third, the months leading up to awards season, in which the distributors pull out their prestige pictures and Oscar bait films. This time the counterprogramming is for the more youthful market who tend to go to tentpole/big studio type films.
I don’t know how long this will last or what further changes will come about due to the rise of television and live streaming, but que sera sera.
And so to the point, my best of the year. Continue reading

WE ARE FAMILY: Toni Erdmann, Fences, 20th Century Women, Julieta


For questions: hcasner@aol.com
First, a word from our sponsors: I wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign for 15 Conversations in 10 Minutes. We did very well due to you folks. For those who weren’t able to give, keep us in your thoughts. And if you are able to contribute in the future, contact me and I’ll tell you how. I will even honor the perks on the original campaign.
I am now offering a new consultation service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 
 
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  FosCheck out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013.  Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
 
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
Warning: SPOILERS
rev-2Several movies have opened of late that revolve around parent/child relationships, especially a single-parent household. I don’t know if this is part of a zeitgeist or whether award season tends to topics that comic book movies normally don’t cover. But whatever the reason, it is what it is.
In Toni Erdmann, the German entry in the foreign language category at the Oscars, and the one expected to win, is about a retired father who decides to look up his consultant daughter who lives in another city. She’s in the middle of a major deal and really doesn’t have time for him (and the suggestion is that he’s never really had time for her), but instead of taking the hint and leaving, he sticks around, dons a wig and false teeth and pretends to be a life coach called Toni Erdmann, insinuating himself into his daughter’s life.
The odd turn here is that the daughter seems to decide to call his bluff and pretend that he is the person he is claiming to be.
The movie is overflowing with charm and has a certain quirky atmosphere to it. I can understand why it’s a crowd pleaser in many ways. And I can’t say I left disappointed. Continue reading

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST: Lion and Jackie


For questions: hcasner@aol.com
First, a word from our sponsors: I wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign for 15 Conversations in 10 Minutes. We did very well due to you folks. For those who weren’t able to give, keep us in your thoughts. And if you are able to contribute in the future, contact me and I’ll tell you how. I will even honor the perks on the original campaign.
I am now offering a new consultation service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 
 
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  FosCheck out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013.  Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
 
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
Warning: SPOILERS
rev-4About a third of the way through Lion, the new film from director Garth David (he worked on the TV series Top of the Lake) and screenwriter Luke Davies (Candy), the central character, Saroo, has a Proustian moment when he sees a plate of jelebies, a lusciously bright red sweet popular in India. He suddenly has a memory of being a boy less than six years old, deeply desiring such a confection while out working with his older brother in a remote Indian city.
This has a profound effect on him, because as a child he got separated from his brother and ended up on a train that took him to New Delhi where he ended up in an orphanage, subsequently adopted by an Australian couple.
He hasn’t thought about his early life much at all. He doesn’t even really consider himself Indian. But the rush of memory has a profound existential effect on him and he becomes obsessed with finding his way back to his birth mother and family. Continue reading

BETTER LATE THAN CRAP: The Innocents, Wiener-Dog and Hunt for the Wilderpeople


First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 
 
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013.  Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
 
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
 
Warning: SPOILERS
rev 2I know I’m a little late with reviews of the above titled films. I got behind in work and I wasn’t sure when I was ever going to get back to blogging and even thought of bypassing these movies since some of them have passed from the theaters.
But last week two major tentpole type films opened the same weekend, Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie and Star Trek Beyond, and both are crap. No, they are worse than that. They are crappity crap crap crap.
So I thought I owed it to the other movies to share my views. I mean, how can I justify passing up these three movies when I’m going to eventually review crap?
So, let’s begin.
In the early sixties Poland had, what was termed in the biz, a new wave, a group of emerging filmmakers who had something unique and fresh to say (or at least tried, the country was still a Russian satellite at the time). Directors and writers like Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi and Krzysztof Kieslowski burst on the scene with an exciting outpouring of new work like Knife in the Water, Ashes and Diamonds, The Contract and Camera Buff. Continue reading

YOU’VE EITHER GOT OR YOU HAVEN’T GOT STYLE: Mistress America and Queen of Earth


First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 
 
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
 
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
 
Warning: SPOILERS
mistress 2In Mistress America, the new comedy of manners directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and the actor playing the title role, Greta Gerwig, Tracy, a freshman in college who wants to be a writer, has trouble fitting in. She can’t get invited to a party. The snobbish college lit magazine rejects her story. The only person who has warmed up to her, fellow writer Tony, whom she hopes to date, suddenly shows up with another woman on his arm.
Desperate to find a way out of her slough of despair (to use a literary allusion), she finally does what her mother suggests: contact Brooke, the daughter of her mother’s future husband, who lives in New York. And when she does, Brooke takes Tracy under her wing and expands her horizons.
But Brooke is, well, quite a character, should we say. Which is good since, in many ways, Mistress America is a character study.
It’s also a very studied character study.
Critics have said that Mistress America is very quotable. And in many ways, they are right. Just like a play by Oscar Wilde, I could see almost every line possibly ending up in a Barlett’s.
But everything in the movie feels like it’s in quotation marks. The acting, the characters, the story, the mis en scene. It’s like a Restoration comedy that’s been produced within an inch of its life.
That sounds like I’m saying something negative about the movie. But I’m not really. Yes, everything in Mistress America seems punctuated, but still, it’s a thorough joy to watch. It is a rollicking good time. Continue reading

I LOVE THE NIGHTLIFE: The Overnight and Eden


First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
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Warning: SPOILERS
scoreFrom the 1960’s through the ‘80’s, the filmmaker Radley Metzger made a series of what was termed at the time soft core films. This was a period in cinematic history when just about anything went, and many of these films, movies like Metzger’s The Lickerish Quartet and The Opening of Misty Beethoven, found a cross over audience in the mainstream cinema.
They weren’t as graphic as adult, or porn, films, but there was plenty of pretend sex and nudity and usually was a celebration of the new morality and an encouragement to the audience to reject old mores.
One of these, Score, was about a couple that liked to swing. On a regular basis, they would bring home couples for a night of whatever comes up. But this time round, they invite a particular married couple not with the purpose of having an orgy, but with the goal of the wife seducing the younger woman and the husband seducing the younger man.
And they succeed.
And it ends with the younger couple running off in joy as they have discovered themselves free to more fully explore their new found sexuality. Continue reading