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Understanding Screenwriting #97: Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, Bernie, & More



Understanding Screenwriting #97: Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, Bernie, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Snow White and the Huntsman; Brave; Turn Me on, Dammit!; Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding; Safety Not Guaranteed; Bernie,; An Appreciation: Richard Zanuck; Two Semi-Appreciations: Andrew Sarris and Nora Ephron; The Conspirator; Bunheads, but first…

Fan Mail: Generally by the time Keith posts one column I have the next one written. I then wait a couple of days to read the comments, add my comments in this “Fan Mail” section and send it. On #95 I sent it off without yet having seen the very interesting comments by “DevilMonkey.” He had been sent a link to that column by a friend who thought that since DM didn’t like superhero movies, “it’s practically made to order for you.” DM thought that column was merely “okay,” but since he remembered reading my book Understanding Screenwriting, he decided to read some of the past columns and ended up reading all of them. That’s above and beyond the call of duty, and if I gave out medals DM would get one.

He particularly liked the Sturges Project and would like to see me do one on Billy Wilder. The advantage to doing Sturges that way is that he had that four-year period of great creativity, while Wilder was wonderful off and on for thirty years. But there are some Wilder films I really want to do. I got a DVD a couple of years ago of Ace in the Hole (1951) that I still have not watched and that I want to do in the column. What other Wilder films to pick? The list goes on and on.

DM raised the very interesting point that I have not done a lot of films from the ‘60s and ‘70s. He asks, “Is it a silent commentary on your sentiments about films from that era, a matter of personal taste, or just a question of priority and time?” I first wrote that the answer is all of the above, which is usually the best answer to a question like that. But I do like films of the ‘60s and ‘70s very much. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, and covered in depth in my Understanding Screenwriting book) and Fellini’s 8-1/2 (1963) are two of my favorite movies. And of course Coppola’s two, The Godfather (1972) and The Conversation (1974). I think part of the reason I had not dealt with the films of those two decades is that I dealt with them a lot both as a historian and writer (look at the Annotated Study list in my 1982 Screenwriting book) and as a teacher. At one of Coppola’s many bankruptcy auctions we picked up a gorgeous 35mm print of The Conversation, which I showed nearly every semester for thirty years. I covered several films from the period in my screenwriting class, showing them in sequences over the course of the semester and discussing them in screenwriting terms. So I sort of felt I had dealt with those. But I still have my notes. And scripts for some of them. Did you know that the “dream scene” of Harry and the wife (Cindy Williams) in The Conversation was a “real” scene in the screenplay? Or that Harry originally had a wicked sense of humor? So now that DM has provoked me, you may look forward to more films from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Oh, like any good writer, DM saved the punchline until last: it turns out he had not read the book Understanding Screenwriting at all, but something with a similar title. I assume he is making up for that lack in his life even as we speak.

And now, on to the comments on #96: Matt Maul had a different reading of the last scene of the season finale of Mad Men. Matt thought that Don was walking away from the commercial shoot unhappy rather than satisfied. I am not sure there is the visual evidence for that in the shot, but it’s perfectly possible to read it that way. Which is the sort of ambiguity that we love about the show. David Ehrenstein noted that they did give the black secretary a nice scene with Peggy. It was a nice scene, but I still wish there had been more of them. Ah, well, that’s what next season is for. Maybe she’ll become romantically involved with Don. Or with Joan.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012. Screenplay by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, screen story by Evan Daugherty. 127 minutes.)

This is the script Tarsem Singh should have directed: You may remember that one reason I whacked Mirror, Mirror in US#94 is that I did not think Tarsem Singh was the right director for it. He did not handle the comedy well, and the producers hadn’t provided enough production values to make it live up to his visual sense. There is hardly any comedy in this script, and the producers give the director Rupert Sanders the kind of production values Singh would work wonders with. Sanders works enough wonders that when I first saw the trailer, I assumed it was Singh’s film.

I mentioned in my comments on Mirror, Mirror that the Snow White tale is “one hell of a scary story,” and this script is true to that. Mirror, Mirror was trying to be true to its idea of Disney, but this one is determined to make it different. We start with a raging battle sequence (Sanders obviously loves Kurosawa), and then discover exactly how sick a puppy Queen Ravenna is. Unlike the queen in Mirror, Mirror, she is more a terror than a diva. She’s played by Charlize Theron, who brings the same kind of intense evil that she brought to her Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003). Sanders does let her get a little too Norma Desmond in a couple of scenes, but this is his first feature and he’ll learn better. The seven dwarves are very minor characters here and basically forest trash, neither cutesy nor Robin Hood-like thieves.

I got on Mirror, Mirror’s case because it turned Snow White into a warrior princess in a clumsy montage sequence. She ends up a warrior princess here, but we get no montage. She starts out smart. We first see the adult Snow in prison, where she has been languishing for years. She’s inventive and figures out how to escape from the castle, so we know right away she’s no wuss. At the end, she dons a suit of armor to lead the attack on the castle, but the armor is a mistake on the filmmakers’ part. As several critics have pointed out, it makes her look like Joan of Arc, which takes us out of Snow’s story. Like I say, Sanders will learn. He also lets Kristin Stewart play Snow with a little too much of her trademarked sulk. It’s well over an hour before she shows us she has a captivating smile, but then we don’t see it that often. Like Sanders, she’ll learn.

Brave (2012. Screenplay by Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi, story by Brenda Chapman. 100 minutes.)


Why discuss the ones that are only not-quite-so good?: When I was trying to get my book Understanding Screenwriting: Learning From Good, Not-Quite-So Good, and Bad Screenplays published, one publisher who does a line of books it would have fit very nicely into objected to my writing about less-than-good and bad screenplays. Why not just write about the good ones? As I told him, and subsequently added to the Introduction, “After all, that’s why medical schools study disease and why business schools study the Edsel and New Coke. Part of the purpose of including the less-than-perfect scripts is to train you to look for problems, so that you can do that in your own scripts.” In this case, the film is by the GAPS (the Geniuses At Pixar), whose batting average is incredibly high, mostly because they know how to develop scripts properly. See my comments on any of the Pixar films of the last four years. So what went wrong here?

The story begins with Brenda Chapman, who worked on the stories for Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994) and Chicken Run (2000), so we are not talking about an amateur here. She wanted to do a film about a mother-daughter relationship similar to her own with her daughter. OK, Princess Merida is a tomboy in Scotland in the Middle Ages and she defies her mother’s wishes that she femme up to try to make a good marriage. Merida would much rather be an archer, the occupation of choice this cinematic season. Merida breaks up an archery contest among the dweebish sons of the neighboring kingdoms for her hand by beating them in the contest and declaring that therefore she can choose her own husband. Queen Elinor is none too happy and they argue. The dialogue between mother and daughter is very generic mother-and-daughter stuff. I have no idea if it was that way in Chapman and Mecchi’s screenplay, which in spite of the order in the credits came first, or if it has been flattened out in the rewrites. Merida goes off into the woods, where she lets a witch smooth talk her into putting a spell on Elinor. Merida just wants her to change, but the witch turns her into a bear. Which given that dad, King Fergus, had a fight with a bear years before and lost part of his leg to it, may make for awkward moments around the castle. Things work out in the end.

Chapman, who became the first woman to direct an animated feature with Prince of Egypt (1998), started directing Brave. But she was replaced by Mark Andrews, whose major credit seems to be the screenplay for this year’s John Carter. I have seen no reasons given, since everybody at Pixar appears to have signed confidentiality clauses. We may have to wait twenty years until they all write their memoirs. If the mother-daughter stuff is Chapman’s, the subplots about the legends of the kingdom are probably Andrews and Purcell’s, and they don’t help. As the film develops, it becomes more and more unfocused. When we want more of Merida and Elinor, we get instead the mythology of the kingdom. I also suspect that a lot of the comic slapstick comes from the guys rather than Chapman. I love Billy Connolly, who voices Fergus, but a little of him goes a long way. The characterization of the secondary characters is not up to Pixar at its best. Usually the group efforts at Pixar work out, here they don’t.

It being a Pixar film, there are some nice things. The animators give Merida great red hair, and Elinor as a bear has some nice reactions. There are also some good lines of dialogue, as in Elinor’s instruction to Merida that “A princess does not chortle.” And the film is also subversive in that Merida does not end up with a man. So she can chortle all she wants.

Turn Me On, Dammit! (2011. Screenplay by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, based on the novel by Olaug Nilseen. 76 minutes.)

Turn Me On, Dammit!

A different take on mothers and daughters: This is a live-action Norwegian film, not an animated American one. So unlike Disney and Pixar, we very early on get Alma, a 15-year-old girl, masturbating while listening to a phone sex line. The scene is fairly explicit, as is the rest of the film. Because that’s what it’s about: Alma is a very horny teenage girl. She keeps having sexual fantasies about almost everybody she meets. Then at a party, Artur, whom she likes and fantasizes about in very romantic ways, comes up to her outside a party and nudges her with his penis. Alma makes the mistake of telling her two best friends, the sisters Saralou and Ingrid, about it. Ingrid, the blonde, tells everybody what Alma said, Artur denies it, and Alma is a social outcast among her peers. Eventually she runs away from her small town to Oslo, where she stays with Saralou and Ingrid’s sister. She gets some perspective on her situation and goes back and confronts Arthur, who has missed her. She tells him he had his chance with her and blew it. I would have been happy if the film ended there, but he apologizes publicly and she takes him back. Well, she is fifteen after all.

So what about Alma’s mother? She’s a single mom in her forties and just as fed up with Alma as Elinor is with Merida. Mom is really pissed when the phone sex line bills come in, but look at her reaction when she answers the phone and it is Steig, the phone sex guy, with Alma’s free call for the month. The mother-daughter relationship is much more textured here than it is in Brave.

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding (2011. Written by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. 96 minutes.)

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding

And yet another mother-daughter movie: I like movies that start off fast, but this is ridiculous. Mark tells his wife Diane he wants a divorce. We have no idea why. We see them at a dinner party, but without any indication of marital troubles. So Diane packs up her kids Zoe, who is in college, and Jake, who is in his teens, and takes them off to spend a couple of weeks with her mother, Grace. Oh, goodie, a visit to Grandma’s. Well, yes, but Diane has not seen Grace in twenty years. We learn later that Diane, an uptight lawyer, called the cops on her Mom for selling weed at Grace’s wedding. So why, of all places, does Diane go there? We have no idea. Diane, as written, is so opaque a character that even the great Catherine Keener cannot bring her to life.

Grace lives in Woodstock, New York, and is an unreconstructed hippie. And that’s all we get about her character. The film seems to admire Grace, so much so that it skims over Grace’s peccadilloes, which are many and varied. She is played by the great Jane Fonda, and there is not a lot she can do with the part. Jake is an obnoxious twerp who videos everything. We eventually see the film he puts together at a young filmmakers screening, and it is awful. I’ve seen bad student films, but this takes the cake. Needless to say, the audience in the movie loves it. Zoe is the only character given more than one dimension and the great Elizabeth Olsen runs with it.

This is the kind of script where every one of the three visitors almost immediately meets a perfect mate for themselves. There are some problems, but with one exception they are easily solvable. The exception is the guy Grace fixes Diane up with in a “what was she thinking?” moment.

The movie is relentlessly nostalgic about the ‘60s and about Woodstock in particular, but it has the feeling of a nostalgia created by people who were not there, but wish they had been. Created rather experienced.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012. Written by Derek Connolly. 86 minutes.)

Safety Not Guaranteed

Good up to a point: This is one of those films that got great acclaim at Sundance, and as we have talked about before, sometimes films play better at film festivals than they do in real life. This may be one of those, although it has opened reasonably well in a limited number of theaters. And it is delightful up to its final scene, although the final scene was apparently what got people cheering at Sundance.

The script was inspired by a joke ad the editor of Backwoods Home Magazine inserted, asking for someone to time travel with him. The ad not only went viral, but showed up on The Tonight Show in one of Jay Leno’s “Headlines” bits. So Connolly and director Colin Treverrow came up with a script. Jeff, a reporter for Seattle Magazine, spots the ad and pitches the idea of a story on it. Great, crusading investigative reporter at work. Not really. He wants to go where the ad was placed to make contact with a woman he had a fling with in high school. He leaves most of the heavy lifting to Darius, his intern. She is a twenty-something woman with no major goals in life—oh,crap, Lena Dunham’s been here as well. Well, no, and this is one of the freshest elements in the script. Darius is smart, does not mumble a bit, and is willing to work her tail off. And best of all, she does not whine. What Jeff has in mind is that while he tracks down his old flame, Darius can charm Kenneth, the guy from the ad. And you have to love Darius when she accuses Jeff of “dangling my vagina like bait.” Kenneth is strange, but we don’t know if he is just paranoid or if people are out to get him. He’s built a time machine, but neither we nor Darius have any idea if it will work. I had my suspicions, since I didn’t see any flux capacitor on it. It is well into the picture when we learn he wants to go back to save the woman he was in love with, who was killed in an accident. That means that Darius and Kenneth are probably not going to be an item. As in Salmon Fishing in Yemen (see US#94), Connolly has given them a strong reason not to fall in love. At least until we find out the truth about the other woman.

The film retains its charming quirkiness until the final scene, which becomes a very conventional Hollywood ending. The film has beautifully avoided anything conventional up until that point. I should let you know that the audience I saw the film with, unlike the Sundance audience, did not stand up and cheer. But they did not boo, either.

Bernie (2011. Screenplay by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, based on a magazine article by Hollandsworth. 104 minutes.)


Actors and real people: The story is a true-life tale. Bernie Tiede was an assistant mortician in East Texas (and the film has a wonderful explanation, part-narrated, part-animated, about the different regions of Texas) who became friends with cranky old widow Marjorie Nugent. They had massages together, took trips, and he waited on her hand and foot…until he killed her. And put her body in the freezer in her house. He told people she had moved to a retirement home, but since nobody liked her, including her relatives, nobody checked his story out. He was eventually found out, arrested and convicted of murder.

Which the small town he lived in hated. Just hated. They loved Bernie because he was such a sweet, caring guy, not only to Marjorie but to everybody. He was a pillar of the community. And there are still people in the town who do not think Bernie killed her, even though he confessed.

Linklater and Hollandsworth are Texans and understand the story and the people. They have created great characters for the actors to play. Jack Black gives the performance of his life as Bernie, and Matthew McConaughey comes close as the prosecutor. Shirley MacLaine does not have a lot to do or say as Marjorie, but nearly sixty years of experience means she gets the most out of it. And the rest of the cast is very good as well.

As are the real townspeople. Linklater and Hollandsworth have intercut interviews with people who knew Bernie, Marjorie and the others. Some critics thought it took us out of the story, but I disagree. The comments are so funny, so interesting, and so revealing that I kept waiting for more of them. We have talked several times before about how characters in documentaries are often more interesting than those in fiction films. That’s the brilliant part of the script and Linklater’s direction: the tone in the writing (and acting and direction) of the fictional characters and the townspeople match beautifully. In Steel Magnolias (1989), screenwriter Robert Harling and director Herbert Ross never managed to make the pieces fit. You were always aware of the difference between the STARS and the people from the town. Not so here. Everybody working on this movie was on the same page, which does not happen as often as it should. I was talking recently with Kevin Tent, a former student of mine and one of the great contemporary film editors. He was about to start doing some editorial doctoring on a feature. I told him I hoped everybody was on the same page. He laughed and said, “They never are.” In Bernie they are.

In the end credits we see not only the actors, but the townspeople, so we can finally tell who is who. Stick around to the end, since there is a shot of the real Bernie in prison. And then the camera pans off him and onto Jack Black. You can see Black studying Bernie like a bug under a microscope. Whatever Black learned in his prison visit, he put to great use.

An Appreciation: Richard Zanuck

Richard Zanuck

Producer Richard Zanuck, who died on July 13th, knew how movies are made. Well, of course, but you would be surprised how many producers, including some very successful ones, do not have a single, freaking clue how movies get made. Richard was the son of Darryl F. Zanuck, the legendary head of 20th Century-Fox. Dick grew up on the Fox lot, literally. He would hide out from his dad on the backlot. Dick spent his summer breaks from high school and college working in various departments at the studio. He produced his first film Compulsion in 1958, and four years later when Darryl returned to take over the studio after others had run it into the ground, he made Dick his head of production at the age of 28. And then fired him eight years later, partially to save his own job and partially because Dick had fired Darryl’s girlfriend.

At this point in his life, Dick could have turned into a bum and lived off his trust funds. But he didn’t. He worked as an executive at Warners, then went into partnership with David Brown, whose talent was spotting good material. Even though Dick went into the same business as his father, his talents were a little different. Darryl focused on getting the script right and crapping all over directors. Dick was less a script guy and more a supporter of directors. It was Dick Zanuck who took The Sugarland Express (1974) project into Lew Wasserman with a television director doing his first feature film. Wasserman did not like the project, predicting it would not be a hit, but he told Zanuck, “Dick, I’m not making this deal with you because I think I know more about producing than you do. Go make the picture. Why would I hire you if I didn’t trust your judgment?” Later Dick told the director, “Think of me as your bodyguard.” The picture was a flop but the director went on to make a number of films for the studio, including his next one, Jaws. (The quotes are from a Patrick Goldstein column in the Los Angeles Times.)

Jaws, which Zanuck and Brown also produced, was a troubled shoot, and the studio kept suggesting that they should send some executives out to the location to supervise. Zanuck showed he knew how to talk to studio people in terms they would understand. He told them, “If I see a single Lear Jet at the airport, I am closing down the production.” (Variations of this line show up in several of the Zanuck obituaties.) No planes arrived and they completed the picture.

In the item above on Bernie, I mentioned that it is essential in making a movie to have everybody on the same page. The producer’s job is to make sure that happens, and Richard Zanuck was a master at it.

Two Semi-Appreciations: Andrew Sarris and Nora Ephron

Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris and Nora Ephron died recently within a week of each other. As you may guess, I had my reservations about Sarris, and if you have read this column you know I had reservations about Ephron (see US#31 for my take on Julie & Julia).

Sarris of course was the American promoter of the auteur theory, which made everybody think the director was the only one who mattered on a film. Sarris was not quite as doctrinaire as many of those who followed in his footsteps. He did a nice preface to Richard Corliss’s 1974 book Talking Pictures, which tried to do for screenwriters what Sarris’s 1968 The American Cinema did for directors. Talking Pictures is interesting to look at in comparison with The American Cinema. Sarris rated directors in wholesale lots, with only a page or two at the most on each one. Corliss did fewer writers, but went into them in a lot more depth than Sarris did directors. The thing is that you can do that with writers because of all the nuances of content they provide. The Los Angeles Times had a quote in its obituary of Sarris in which Sarris says, “The art of cinema is the art of an attitude, the style of a gesture. It is not so much the what as the how.” But the what is more important than that quote gives it credit for. At the end of my Sturges Project, I noted that in the section on Sturges in The American Cinema, “like so much auteur writing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sarris spends more time writing about Sturges’s screenwriting (character, dialogue, structure, etc.) than about his directing. What does that tell you?” But at least Sarris began to get people thinking seriously about film.

Nora Ephron was the daughter of two screenwriters, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, whose credits include There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) and Carousel (1956). Their 1961 stage play Take Her, She’s Mine is about a daughter, based on Nora, going off to college. You could believe the character Mollie in the play (played in her dazzling Broadway debut by a very young Elizabeth Ashley) will grow up to be Nora Ephron. (Even though the 1963 film of the play is by my man Nunnally Johnson, it is not a patch on the play. Sandra Dee as Nora Ephron!? Enough said.) Nora first came to fame as a writer of essays, and then moved into novels and eventually screenplays. I must admit I generally liked her essays, at least the non-food ones, better than her scripts. Part of that was her obsession in the screenplays with food, and also her tendency to write neurotic women characters that we were supposed to love because they were neurotic rather than in spite of it. She could of course be very funny, both in the essays and the scripts. When a friend of mine, upon hearing of Ephron’s death, asked me what we would do without her, I replied that we would probably eat less well and definitely not laugh as much. Not a bad legacy.

And here’s another bit of her legacy. In spite of Sarris’ efforts to erase the work of writers, Ephron got a long obituary in the Los Angeles Times. And she is the first screenwriter I know whose obit made the front page of the Times.

The Conspirator (2010. Screenplay by James Solomon, story by James Solomon & Gregory Bernstein. 122 minutes.)

The Conspirator

The daughter of the prisoner of Shark Island: One day in 1935 Darryl Zanuck called Nunnally Johnson into his office. Zanuck handed him a magazine clipping about Dr. Samuel Mudd. Mudd was the doctor who had set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after Booth assassinated Lincoln. Mudd was brought up on conspiracy charges, and as Johnson said later, “The trial had brought in a kind of Scottish verdict, ’Not proven, but just for the hell of it, we’ll give him six years for being around there.’” Mudd was sent to a prison in the Dry Tortugas, and after he helped deal with an epidemic of yellow fever, his case was reopened and he was released. Zanuck asked Johnson, “Does this sound like a picture to you?”

Johnson replied, “It might.”

Zanuck said, “Why don’t you look into it and see if we can get something?” (The quotes are from the oral history interview I did with Johnson in the late ‘60s.) Johnson did and came up with the script for the 1936 film Prisoner of Shark Island. It was a good film and a substantial hit.

Dr. Mudd has a walk-on, well, more of a sit-in, in The Conspirator, which deals with the trial of another of the defendants, Mary Surratt. Mudd is identified as one of the prisoners, but the focus of the newer film is on Surratt, who ran a boarding house in Washington, D.C. where some of the plotting of the assassination took place. Her son, John, was involved in the plotting, but she probably was not. Her case is first taken by Reverdy Johnson, a Southern politican who sided with the Union in the Late Unpleasantness, as it is known in the South. His second chair is a Union officer named Frederick Aiken, but Johnson leaves the case entirely to him, figuring that Johnson’s southern accent will prejudice the case. Thanks a lot, fella, since the emotions are running high over Lincoln’s death and Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, is determined to hang as many of the conspirators as possible.

Johnson in his script gets through all of the setup very quickly and economically, which is true of the picture as a whole. It runs 95 minutes. It was one of the only pictures Johnson wrote for which he kept a copy of a review, and he kept it because the critic talked about director John Ford’s narrative quickness, mentioning several specific cuts. The reason Johnson kept the review is that all the cuts had been by Zanuck over Ford’s objections. The Conspirator gets off to a very confusing start. We suspect we are watching the lead-up to the assassination and other related activities, but it is very unclear as to who is doing what to whom. Johnson has a great sympathy for all the characters, even those trying Mudd’s case, whereas Solomon makes it quite clear the court is made up of bad guys. In several dialogue scenes Solomon is beating us over the head with the connections between the historical case and our contemporary handling of suspected terrorists. It makes the film a lot preachier than it needs to be.

Dr. Mudd is a much more sympathetic character than Mary Surratt, at least partly because he is innocent. With Surratt we never quite know. We are supposed to get deeply involved with Aiken’s attempts to get her as fair a trial as he can, but given how little we know about her, it is difficult. In dramatic terms, it doesn’t help that Dr. Mudd gets “redeemed” and she gets hanged.

Bunheads (2012. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino & Lamar Damon. Various writers. 30 minutes.)


What’s the franchise?: Amy Sherman-Palladino was the creator and showrunner for The Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite television shows of the last decade. So I was willing to give her a shot with this one. It began with a script by Damon about a high school drill team. By the time it made the air on the ABC Family channel, it was about a Vegas showgirl who winds up in a small town teaching at a ballet school. The pilot, with a story by Damon and Palladino, and a teleplay by Palladino, begins in Las Vegas where Michelle, a showgirl, is coming to the end of her career and for a variety of reasons marries a nice guy who has been sending her flowers. He takes her away from Vegas to the small town where he lives. With his mother. Whom he has not told about the marriage. She is not happy. So the series is going to be about the three of them learning to adjust. Nope. At the end of the pilot, Hubbell is killed in a car accident. Too bad, since he was played by Alan Ruck, who has a nice sweetness that played off well against his mother and his wife.

In the second episode, “For Fanny,” also written by Sherman-Palladino, the mother (Fanny) is focused on arranging the funeral service for Hubbell. Focused as in using it to avoid her feelings about her son dying. So the series is going to be about Fanny and Michelle learning to get along. Maybe, but at the end of this episode, Fanny and Michelle learn that Hubbell has changed his will and left everything to Michelle. Mom is not happy. In the third episode, “Inherit the Wind,” written by Sarah Dunn, Fanny yells at Michelle a lot. Fanny is played by Kelly Bishop who was wonderful as the mother-in-law on The Gilmore Girls, but only in relatively small doses. Here she is center stage and in full rant all the time.

Michelle is played by Sutton Foster, a Tony-winning star of musical comedies. She is terrific onstage, but she is a little overemphatic here. And to be blunt about it, the camera does not love her. At least not in the way it loves Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Melissa McCarthy. Her wisecracks could make her hold her own with Bishop, but she has not eased into the role, at least not yet. Folks, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

After I had given up on the show and written the above, I was talking with my granddaughter about the series. She continued watching after the first three episodes and thought it had begun to settle down. So I watched the fourth episode, “Better Luck Next Year,” written by Daniel Palladino, and half of the fifth, “Money for Nothing,” written by Amy Welsh. I love my granddaughter but those problems mentioned above are still there.

Tom Stempel is the author of several books on film. His most recent is Understanding Screenwriting: Learning From Good, Not-Quite-So Good, and Bad Screenplays.



Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!



Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.



Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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