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Er (#110 of 11)

5 on 24

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The May 24 finale of the political-action series 24 marks the end of one of the most stylistically fresh and politically controversial programs in broadcast TV history. The video essay series “5 on 24” examines various aspects of the show, including its real-time structure, its depiction of torture, and the psychology of its hero, counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer.

 

 

 

 

 

For Matt and Aaron’s written musings on the show over at Moving Image Source, start here.

Understanding Screenwriting #23: ER, Duplicity, Coraline, Sin Nombre, Tokyo Sonata, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #23: <em>ER</em>, <em>Duplicity</em>, <em>Coraline</em>, <em>Sin Nombre</em>, <em>Tokyo Sonata</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #23: <em>ER</em>, <em>Duplicity</em>, <em>Coraline</em>, <em>Sin Nombre</em>, <em>Tokyo Sonata</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: ER, Duplicity, Coraline, Sin Nombre, Tokyo Sonata, Pictures at a Revolution, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice, but first…

Fan Mail: For reasons that are too complicated to go into, I ended up not having comments in US#22 on comments on US#21, so here are a couple.

I may have given some people the wrong idea that I thought Sunshine Cleaning was better than Little Miss Sunshine. I don’t think it is, primarily because of the problems with the ending I mentioned. Joel thought that Little Miss Sunshine was just as dark as Sunshine Cleaning. I think it has its dark moments, but I think the overall tone of Sunshine Cleaning is darker. Tone seems to be a theme in this edition of this column, as you will see. I would agree with Adam’s witty equation: Sunshine Cleaning = In Her Shoes + CSI.

On US#22, Anonymous raised the question about the supernatural element of Saving Grace. I agree with him that those scenes seem unnecessary, but I read somewhere they are part of series creator Nancy Miller’s plan. I will deal with this a little more in the next column after the half-season ending episode.

Understanding Screenwriting #22: Race to Witch Mountain, Frost/Nixon, Two and a Half Men, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #22: <em>Race to Witch Mountain</em>, <em>Frost/Nixon</em>, <em>Two and a Half Men</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #22: <em>Race to Witch Mountain</em>, <em>Frost/Nixon</em>, <em>Two and a Half Men</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Race to Witch Mountain, Frost/Nixon, Millard Kaufman, Two and a Half Men, Saving Grace, 30 Rock, ER.

Race to Witch Mountain (2009. Screenplay by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback, screen story by Matt Lopez, based on the book Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key. 98 minutes): A Red Letter Day.

If you have read any of these Understanding Screenwriting columns, you will know that I think the heart of good screenwriting is writing in reactions. Therefore, you will be astonished that I think this film has TOO MANY REACTION SHOTS. I would not have thought that that was possible, but it is. The setup is that Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver, picks up two rather creepy teenagers who order him to drive them out into the desert. They are aliens looking to return to their mother ship, but we and Jack don’t know that. Right away the cab is chased by a bunch of black SUVs. We get a lot of reaction shots of the kids. But the writers have not written any particular reactions for them to have, other than a sort of general surprise. Jack has a bunch of reactions, at least partly because he thinks the SUVs are from a gangster who wants him to do a job, but nothing from the kids. Both the character of the kids and the actors playing them are rather inexpressive, but the writers and director do not take advantage of that to give the deadpan, Buster Keatonish reactions.

Understanding Screenwriting #21: Sunshine Cleaning, Everlasting Moments, The Mask of Dimitrios, ER, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #21: <em>Sunshine Cleaning</em>, <em>Everlasting Moments</em>, <em>The Mask of Dimitrios</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #21: <em>Sunshine Cleaning</em>, <em>Everlasting Moments</em>, <em>The Mask of Dimitrios</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Sunshine Cleaning, Everlasting Moments, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, Horton Foote, Teaching the Young: Take Two, The Mask of Dimitrios, Burn Notice, Castle, ER.

Sunshine Cleaning(2008. Written by Megan Holley. 102 minutes): Not Little Miss Sunshine.

Yes, it has “sunshine” in the title. Yes, it has Alan Arkin as a crusty grandpa. Yes, it has a light colored van. Yes, it is set the Southwest. Yes, the poster is similar. But does Little Miss Sunshine start with a man bringing a shotgun shell into a sporting goods store, asking to look at a shotgun and blowing his head off with it? No. Sunshine Cleaning is a darker film (in spite of what you may think from the trailer), further along the continuum of dramedy to drama than to comedy.

Understanding Screenwriting #19: Teaching the Young, Minsky’s, Captain Blood, In Old Chicago, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #19: Teaching the Young, <em>Minsky’s</em>, <em>Captain Blood</em>, <em>In Old Chicago</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #19: Teaching the Young, <em>Minsky’s</em>, <em>Captain Blood</em>, <em>In Old Chicago</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Teaching the Young, Minsky’s (stage musical), Definitely, Maybe, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,In Old Chicago, ER, Two and a Half Men, The Closer, Burn Notice, but first…

Fan Mail: A nice collection of comments on US#18.

I will bow to R.A. Porter’s expertise on the explosion in Burn Notice being a shaped charge designed to explode outward. I will not ask where he got that expertise.

Matt Maul and I are certainly on the same wavelength on Ride the High Country, which several critics and historians have called the unofficial last film in the Ranown cycle. I saw it twice in two days when it opened. I hate to tell you though that it may not “hold up pretty well even if you have no idea who Scott and McCrea are.” Several years ago I ran it in my History of Motion Pictures class, and it left the class cold. They had not grown up with Scott and McCrea. I can certainly see why Elmore Leonard liked Richard Boone in The Tall T, since he feels more like an Elmore Leonard character than any of the others.

Understanding Screenwriting #17: Slumdog Millionaire, Dodge City, Ride Lonesome, ER, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #17: <em>Slumdog Millionaire</em>, <em>Dodge City</em>, <em>Ride Lonesome</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #17: <em>Slumdog Millionaire</em>, <em>Dodge City</em>, <em>Ride Lonesome</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Slumdog Millionaire, Dodge City, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, His Nibs, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, CSI, ER, but first…

Fan Mail: Several interesting issues this time around. Both Andrew and Kevin H. raise the question of judging the script in comparison to the film and how fair that might be. Traditionally, criticism has dealt primarily with the art object (i.e., the final product), but more recently, criticism (particularly of the kind I do) has included an historical element of looking at the process as well as the object. We get exhibitions now in museums that look at the process leading up to the final object, such as a painter’s sketches and small scale versions as well as the final work. There has been a growing awareness that art is a process as much as an object. As someone who writes about screenwriting, which is the beginning of the process of filmmaking, I always take an interest in the earlier steps. I think it is perfectly fair to look at the materials created in the process to see the ways the film did, and did not, end up.

Understanding Screenwriting #11: Changeling, I’ve Loved You So Long, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, ER, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #11: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>I’ve Loved You So Long</em>, <em>Zack and Miri Make a Porno</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #11: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>I’ve Loved You So Long</em>, <em>Zack and Miri Make a Porno</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Changeling, I’ve Loved You So Long, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, ER, 30 Rock, Some Quick Sweeps Updates, and Trailers, but first:

Fan Mail: I can appreciate theoldboy’s disappointment that I did not deal with the opening monologue in Crash. I often have a similar reaction after I send off a column to Keith and suddenly think, hey, why I didn’t I mention that.

I think Max Winter’s take on Sidney in Rachel Getting Married is a very interesting one, and I know there are a lot of people who feel as theoldboy does that the energy of the actors and the music make that film more entertaining than a lot of what is around. So far it has not been all that great a year for films and we have to take our pleasures where we can find them.

Understanding Screenwriting #10: Synecdoche, New York, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #10: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #10: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Synecdoche, New York; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist; The Rape of Europa; Elizabeth:The Golden Age; Till the End of Time; 30 Rock; ER; Desperate Housewives; Mad Men, but first…

Fan Mail: Maura had the same problem with the character of Sidney in Rachel Getting Married that I did. Here are some of the reasons why. After I wrote the item on the film, I came across an interview with the director Jonathan Demme in which he talked about how the actors were allowed to improvise. Generally one should discount by 10% any claim by directors or actors that they improvised, and also realize that usually the worst scenes in a movie are those that actors are improvising in. Demme mentioned that he originally wanted Paul Thomas Anderson to play Sidney, but Anderson was busy directing There Will Be Blood. The character and his family were not originally written as black and while it might be considered a very liberal thing not to mention it at all in the film, it is also not particularly realistic and, as in this case, robs the characters of texture and depth.

Theoldboy took me to task for not mentioning Dennis Hopper’s long monologue at the opening of the Crash pilot. As I said in my first column, I am going wide, not deep, so there will be aspects of the scripts that will be left out. But I figure part of what I am doing here is trying to get you thinking about the writing of films and televisions shows, which I obviously did in theoldboy’s case. Yeah for me.

Understanding Screenwriting #9: Rachel Getting Married, Body of Lies, How I Met Your Mother, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #9: <em>Rachel Getting Married</em>, <em>Body of Lies</em>, <em>How I Met Your Mother</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #9: <em>Rachel Getting Married</em>, <em>Body of Lies</em>, <em>How I Met Your Mother</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Rachel Getting Married; Body of Lies; Beverly Hills Chihuahua; How I Met Your Mother; Boston Legal; ER; Crash; Mad Men; First Middle Passage of TV Season, but first…

Fan Mail: Just a brief word on Randy’s comment about Mad Men’s “recontextualizing” of the Carousel projector. Most good shows and films do that all the time. It becomes apparent when you watch something a second time and see how well the filmmakers (yes, I would include directors here) have set elements up that pay off in later ways, such as adding to the meaning of a later scene. See below for some examples in this column’s items.

Rachel Getting Married (2008. Written by Jenny Lumet. 113 minutes): An unpleasant woman shows up for her sister’s wedding and causes all kinds of—wait a minute, didn’t we see this picture last year and wasn’t it called Margot at the Wedding? Well, this one has more music in it. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

The good news is that Lumet has created a terrific main character, Kym, who has been let out of rehab to go to the wedding. She is played by Anne Hathaway. Yes, the cute sweety of The Princess Diaries. But there is nothing sweet about her Kym, and Hathaway tears into the part the way Halle Berry and Charlize Theron tore into their de-glamorized roles in Monster’s Ball and Monster, respectively. Maybe they should have titled this one Monster at the Wedding. What is it anyway about ugly that brings out the most ferocious sides of beautiful actresses?

Understanding Screenwriting #8: Eagle Eye, American Gangster, The Captive City, The Ex List, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #8: <em>Eagle Eye</em>, <em>American Gangster</em>, <em>The Captive City</em>, <em>The Ex List</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #8: <em>Eagle Eye</em>, <em>American Gangster</em>, <em>The Captive City</em>, <em>The Ex List</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Eagle Eye; American Gangster; The Captive City; 9 to 5 (stage musical); The Ex List; Mad Men; CSI, ER, The Starter Wife, but first:

Fan Mail: No, Anonymous, I do not think you were obnoxious for bringing up a grammatical point. As someone who writes about writing, I have always made every effort to write as well as possible. However, I am only human and bad stuff does sneak through, in spite of my best efforts and those of the various editors I have worked with. It is very disconcerting when I open up the first copy of a new book of mine and inevitably fall on the biggest grammatical error that slipped through. I try to keep up the quality of my writing, but I do depend on the kindness of strangers to keep me on my toes. I think what I meant by the line was that Gaby was getting shrill. A latter episode suggests the writers are finding a way to write the new version to Longoria Parker’s strengths.

I was delighted to see that my comments on the Biden-Palin debate entertained some readers. I must say that the comments on all the debates by the HND writers have been well above what I have read elsewhere. And now to this column’s haul of goodies.