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Two And A Half Men (#110 of 17)

Poster Lab: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

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Poster Lab: <em>A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III</em>
Poster Lab: <em>A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III</em>

In case you’ve been wondering what Charlie Sheen’s been up to, it appears he’s been busy portraying another Charlie: Charles Swan III, the womanizing protagonist of Roman Coppola’s latest, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Along with the wordy, head-trippy title, the film’s flagship poster suggests a very Hunter S. Thompson-esque romp, the sun beating down on a whole lot of hedonistic, ’70s-era elements. The ad deftly achieves a groovy, throwback mood, nailing that evocative cool that’s also been used to promote flicks like Jackie Brown. Its red-tinted characters back up against a hazy California sky, and their duds and hairstyles scream disco-day nostalgia (yes, that’s Jason Schwartzman sporting a Jheri curl). An accomplished music video director known for keen stylization, and for collaborating on the meticuolus work of his sister Sofia and friend Wes Anderson, Coppola no doubt hand a strong hand in the movie’s one-sheet development, bring artful verve to the push of a film that seems quite the hard sell.

Understanding Screenwriting #82: Contagion, Detective Dee, Drive, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #82: <em>Contagion</em>, <em>Detective Dee</em>, <em>Drive</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #82: <em>Contagion</em>, <em>Detective Dee</em>, <em>Drive</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Contagion, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Drive, Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s (book), Up All Night, Free Agents, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, Castle, but first…

Fan Mail: I was rather disappointed that none of you folks took the bait and commented on item in #81 on the Cirque du Soleil production Iris. I figured some of this column’s readers would feel strongly one way or the other on my whacking the Canadians, but as I have learned over the years doing this column, you never know what people are going to respond to.

For our Korean fans, the Korean language version of my book Understanding Screenwriting: Learning from Good, Not-So-Good, and Bad Screenplays has just been published in South Korea. Given the interest by some people in the North Korean regime, I am sure a few copies will drift across the border.

Contagion (2011. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes)

The (cough, cough) feel-bad movie (cough, cough) of the fall: There is no narrator here. Thank goodness Scott Z. Burns got that out of his system, for now anyway, with The Informant! (2009, see US #54). Here is he is telling the story with the same speed and skill that he brought to The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and it works for about the first three-quarters of the movie.

Understanding Screenwriting #68: The Fighter, Somewhere, Shanghai Express, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #68: <em>The Fighter</em>, <em>Somewhere</em>, <em>Shanghai Express</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #68: <em>The Fighter</em>, <em>Somewhere</em>, <em>Shanghai Express</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: The Fighter, Somewhere, The Other Boleyn Girl, Pirate Radio, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, Slave Ship, Two and a Half Men, but first…

Fan Mail: “Asher” raised a whole lot of very good, thought-provoking points on my comments about The Tourist and its relationship to Hitchcock. He is baffled that I seemed to think it was better than Rear Window (1954). I don’t think it is, but I do think The Tourist makes its point about voyeurism a lot quicker than the Hitchcock film. I brought that up to show how the filmmakers are going beyond what Hitchcock did, which includes doing things more quickly than in earlier films. Like the Coens speeding up the opening of their new True Grit, filmmakers now use for their own purposes what has been done in the past. By the way, I think Rear Window is infinitely better than The Tourist, mainly because the script is better.

What provoked my thoughts most in Asher’s comments was his standing up for Hitchcock dealing more with the emotions of the characters than I said he did. I do think that Hitch is not generally as interested in character as such directors as William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann and George Stevens, to name three of his contemporaries. Hitch is most interested in getting great scenes. John Grierson, the father of documentary and an early film critic, made this point about Alfred Hitchcock in the early ’30s, before he became ALFRED HITCHCOCK. But Asher makes a very good point that in some films Hitchcock does get into some emotional depths. Asher mentions Vertigo (1958), which I wouldn’t in this discussion, since while we do get Scottie’s emotions, one of the great limitations of the film is that we get nothing about the emotional life of the girl. I have for years encouraged screenwriters to do a remake of Vertigo from the point of view of the girl. But Asher is right on the money about Notorious (1946), which is as much a character study as a suspense film. The same is true of Shadow of a Doubt (1943). I am not convinced about Marnie (1964), which never quite goes as deep as it thinks it’s going. So thanks, Asher, for changing my mind, at least a little, about Charles Bennett’s Fat Little English Friend.

The Fighter (2010. Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, story by Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington. 115 minutes.)

If you are going to do this movie, this is the way to do it: I must admit I have never been a big fan of boxing or boxing movies. The sight of two sweaty guys in their satin underwear beating each other to a bloody pulp does not appeal to my brand of testosterone. Charlie Chaplin’s 1915 Essanay two-reeler The Champion treats the subject of boxing will all the seriousness it should be treated with, which is to say, not much. The original Rocky (1976) is interesting less for its boxing than for how inventively Sylvester Stallone steals from On the Waterfront (1954) and Marty (1955). Raging Bull (1980) is repetitive and over-directed. On the other hand, the great 1996 documentary When We Were Kings is about a lot more than just boxing, and Million Dollar Baby (2004) is a wonderful character study (with a sweaty girl for me). The Fighter fits in that “on the other hand” category.

Understanding Screenwriting #64: Unstoppable, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Boxing Gym, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #64: <em>Unstoppable</em>, <em>The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest</em>, <em>Boxing Gym</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #64: <em>Unstoppable</em>, <em>The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest</em>, <em>Boxing Gym</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: The Hero’s Journey, Unstoppable, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Wild Target, Four Lions, Boxing Gym, Two and a Half Men, Burn Notice.

Fan Mail: In the comments on US#63, “Juicer243” put an ad in for a site where he says that to “really understand screenwriting” you have to get the site’s take on the Hero’s Journey. No, learning about the mythology of the Hero’s Journey will not teach you a damned thing about screenwriting. It will only teach you what development executives think a movie has to have. The Hero’s Journey pattern of narratives in various cultures began in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which is generally considered to be a ripoff of Sir James George Frazier’s epic late 19th-early 20th century study of comparative cultures. Campbell’s book would have been forgotten by now, except that George Lucas, trying to convince people that the first Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983) was more than just sci-fi movies for kids, promoted the film as being influenced by Campbell. Campbell, being something of a celebrity whore, bought into that and kept popping up on PBS with Lucas to explain it all for you. The Lucas films a) made more money than God, and b) established the teen-fan boy audience as the audience primarily aimed at by Hollywood. So it is not surprising that Campbell’s ideas, especially as promoted in Christopher Vogler’s 1998 book The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, became the standard clichéd structure that Hollywood believes in.

The Hero’s Journey follows a young man as he is called to adventure, resists the call, gets supernatural help, goes through a bunch of trials, is tempted by Woman, wins out in the end, and returns to his world. It is more complicated than that, and you can look it up on Wikipedia if you want to. Needless to say, it is a rather limited view of what a movie can be, especially with its patriarchal, teen-boy fear of women. You may be able, of course, to fit several classic films into the archetype. Just off the top of my head, you can do it with Citizen Kane (1941), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) without breaking too much of a sweat.

On the other hand. Again just off the top of my head, here are some great or at least good classic scripts that do not fit into that paradigm: It Happened One Night (1934), The Thin Man (1934), Nothing Sacred (1937), His Girl Friday (1940), Brief Encounter (1945), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The Gunfighter (1950), The Narrow Margin (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), Some Like it Hot (1959), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Blow-Up (1966), Chinatown (1974), Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979), Terms of Endearment (1983), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Thelma & Louise (1992).

And here are some more I have written about recently in this column: The Town, Easy A, The Concert, Life During Wartime, Get Low, The Kids Are All Right, Please Give, The Secret in Their Eyes

And there are even more this time around, as you will see below.

Understanding Screenwriting #63: The Social Network, Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #63: <em>The Social Network</em>, <em>Inside Job</em>, <em>Capitalism: A Love Story</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #63: <em>The Social Network</em>, <em>Inside Job</em>, <em>Capitalism: A Love Story</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: The Social Network, Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Red, Two and a Half Men, CSI.

The Social Network (2010. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, inspired by the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. 121 minutes.)

…and the rest of the movie’s not bad either: The Social Network has the best opening scene in a movie since that great montage of Carl and Ellie’s marriage in Up (2009). What I said about that applies here: “Pay attention to the details in the montage; EVERYTHING in it comes back throughout the picture, sometimes in surprising ways. Meanwhile, it works because you are so caught up in the story and the characters.” Like the sequence in Up, The Social Network’s opener is fast and inventive. But unlike that montage, this is an all-dialogue scene. Mark, a Harvard student, and Erica, a Boston University student, are having drinks in a bar. Mark is putting down Harvard and especially its social upper class. Listen to the details he mentions, such as the sport of rowing, the A Cappella singing group, and the Final (secretive) clubs, all of which show up again. Mark’s brain and mouth work at warp speed, but he seems unable to control them both in a social situation like this. This will also come back into play in several different ways in the film. We may agree with some of Mark’s put-downs of the social elite at Harvard, but he has no concept of how obnoxious he is to Erica. He is not a nice person, but you can’t take your eyes or ears off him.

Understanding Screenwriting #60: Boardwalk Empire, How I Met Your Mother, Castle, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #60: <em>Boardwalk Empire</em>, <em>How I Met Your Mother</em>, <em>Castle</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #60: <em>Boardwalk Empire</em>, <em>How I Met Your Mother</em>, <em>Castle</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Boardwalk Empire, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly, Castle, Hawaii Five-0, Undercovers, The Defenders, The Whole Truth, 30 Rock, CSI, Blue Bloods, Desperate Housewives, but first…

Fan Mail: I figured David E. would provide his usual insight and perspective on Lord Love a Duck (1966) and he did. And, sorry David, but Black Narcissus is way over the top. And don’t call me Shirley.

Diego Sulic hopes that Nikita will stick around, but is afraid it will go the way of other shows such as Bionic Woman and Dollhouse. This is always a problem fans have with television. We may love a show, but if it does not get high enough ratings on the over-the-air networks or cause enough talk or win enough Emmys on cable, it goes away. I did not watch any of the new Bionic Woman and only one episode of Dollhouse, so I can’t say much on either one except that Dollhouse just didn’t grab me. See if any of the shows I cover in this all-TV column float your boat.

Boardwalk Empire (2010. “Pilot” written by Terrence Winter, based on the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City. 75 minutes.)

Mommy, do I have to watch this?: Yes, son, it’s not tv, it’s HBO. But mommy, we’re watching it on our— Son, it’s directed by America’s Greatest Living Filmmaker. Aw, Mom, after Gangs of New York (2002) not even Harvey Weinstein is still saying that about Marty. Well, son, it’s created by one of the Emmy-award winning writers of The Sopranos. Come on, mom, you know I could only get through one episode of The Sopranos. I just don’t care about gangsters any more. But son, it’s about America. No mom, it’s a regional— Son, I am going to wash your mouth out with soap if you EVER use the term “regional” about anything connected with the East Coast of the United States. You know that is the term we use only for the South, the Midwest, the West, and in the case of George A. Romero, Pittsburgh.

Understanding Screenwriting #34: Jennifer’s Body, Paris, Art & Copy, We’re Not Married!, The Good Wife, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #34: <em>Jennifer’s Body</em>, <em>Paris</em>, <em>Art & Copy</em>, <em>We’re Not Married!</em>, <em>The Good Wife</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #34: <em>Jennifer’s Body</em>, <em>Paris</em>, <em>Art & Copy</em>, <em>We’re Not Married!</em>, <em>The Good Wife</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Jennifer’s Body, Paris, Art & Copy, We’re Not Married!, The Good Wife, Community, The First Week of the 2009-2010 Television Season, but first…

Fan Mail: I need to catch up on comments not only from US#33 but a couple from US#32 as well.

In 32, Jamie suggested I try The Last Temptation of Christ again since I never watched the whole thing. Thanks for the suggestion Jamie, but when you get to be my age, you can tell pretty quickly that a picture is not going to work for you, so I think in my remaining years I will probably not get to Last Temptation. Jason Bellamy raised several problems he had with the script for District 9. I can see his points (and that’s the kind of comments and discussions I love), but with that film I found myself in a common situation: the writers had so hooked me in that I was willing to overlook the flaws. If the picture is working for you, you won’t be bothered by the flaws. A classic example: has anybody ever hated Jaws because the weather in every shot in the last half-hour is completely different from the previous shot?

In 33, Matt Zoller Seitz thought it was “great to see some love for Ghost Town.” That’s one of the reasons I don’t just write about new movies. Sometimes we pick up on earlier films that we missed, or are seeing again, and find something new in them. “Female geek” liked the Masterpiece Theatre version of Sense & Sensibility more than I did, although mostly for location, art direction, and acting reasons. Hey, we all like movies for a lot of reasons. “dfantico” wondered if given my comment about Amreeka “not being as good as it could have been” what my take was on Law Abiding Citizen. He thought the idea sounded interesting and wondered what went wrong. As with Last Temptation, I am pretty sure I am going to give this one a miss, so the following is just a guess. Most artists are delusional, which is what makes them interesting. Sometimes those delusions tell us stuff in entertaining ways and those delusions become our delusions. Sometimes the artists’ delusions are so unconnected to ours they don’t work for us. I gather from some interviews I have read with the makers of Law Abiding Citizen that they thought they were making a more serious film than viewers thought it was. The filmmakers apparently did not get far enough beyond the revenge elements of the story for at least the critics. Anyway, that’s my guess, and now on to movies I have seen.