Screenwriting Review of ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ and Update!

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Hey everybody! Been busy writing a lot since I want to try and wrap a few more drafts before the end of the year (in other words going to have sporadic absences but I am around – just not posting as much!) Also in-between all that managed to watch ‘Catching Fire’ last night!

From a screenwriting point-of-view, nonstop heart pounding conflict, a great ensemble cast and a solid story made this adaptation far better than the book… not to mention I will always like ‘Movie’ Katniss more than ‘Book’ Katniss. My only gripe was not enough interactions between K and Peet (WHY NOT? Aren’t they the twi-hard generation couple in this franchise? Waay better than the BEJ love triangle…if you are not sure what BEJ is, here’s a hint: it’s another famous book-movie franchise we are all too familiar with)

Not much spoilers to give really – except in my humble non-expert opinion, it was a much more imaginative, improved version of the book. If I were writing a book and getting it made, these are the guys I would be honoured to work with. Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Toystory 3, Little Miss Sunshine and formerly Star-wars reboot fame) are two screenwriters at the top of their game – Lionsgate certainly hired well! You can’t expect anything but the best from them.

Structurally flowed very well – no sleepy moment perhaps because ‘Catnip’ suffers throughout  – and any other actress would have made it obscene and want us to strangle her and put her on a lion’s dinner plate with all that whining, but Jennifer Lawrence pulls it all off with incredible grace and acting chops!  Not bad for an oscar winner and an all-around cool person!

I have a couple of fantasy stories I am working on right now and as a writer, once you fall in love with your characters, it’s hard sometimes to think about what would happen if you actually managed to pull off a production deal for your babies, especially when you think of all the misnomers and bad casting choices made by box-office-hungry studios in the past (a writer CAN fantasize, can’t they?)

That said, Suzanne Collins really lucked out! What’s better for an author than to have her books not only made into movies – but some of the better if not best book-movie adaptations currently out? While the books have their charm, no doubt, it’s incredibly gratifying to see how well the movies are turning out. Not to mention the incredible art direction and the costumes (Katniss as the ‘Mockingjay’! I almost peed!) Seriously awesome! Also accolades to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his wittily-engaging turn as ‘Plutarch’, the always flawless Stanley Tucci and Josh Hutcherson’s incredibly likeable and engaging turn as attractor Peeta Melark. Another great surprise was Jenna Malone’s turn as Joanna, Katniss’ prickly ally – totally nailed the bitchy-complicated factor!

Either way, if you are debating watching it – even if you are not a fan of Hunger games, you gotta like this movie for its incredible production value! I came home afterwards all jazzed and inspired (and need I say – proud! High-five Simon and Michael! Fan adaptations are a pain and you killed it!!!)

In other less exciting news, two days ago, Toronto had its first snow,  so looks like a nice white Christmas ahead! I should be returning with a post or two in the next two weeks! Till then, feel to browse and look through my journal of entries or just catch up with me anytime in comments! Seriously if you are reading, just write and say ‘hi!’ Blogging can get lonely so hearing from the other end even if it’s just typing two words or saying ‘You know NOTHING – you SUCCKKKKKK!’, always a pleasure to make your acquaintance;)!

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Screenwriting Thoughts on ‘Gravity’

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First off, I will admit that while I used to transport myself to the movie theater at least once a week in the past – life, kids, work responsibilities have dismally reduced this extravagance to once a couple of months… which is why, when I post these, you will get a sense that I covet this experience like the Cookie Monster covets his cookies (which in fact is true. Not that I don’t love my cookies…).

A few MINOR SPOILERS ahead – I hate it when other people spoil it for me, so I will do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. First, the basic premise, courtesy of IMDB:

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Were you one of those kids who thought you wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up? While there are a few space films that have been done before (Apollo 13, anyone?), I have to say this is the first one that will not only let you experience that deep subject of space, but transport you there…. or atleast put yourself in the shoes of protagonist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). While at first glance, she wouldn’t immediately come across as the protagonist – she is hurled, whipped, projected,  into the role — an underdog whose cold, broken-hearted negativity and despair is well contrasted with Matt Kowalski (co-star George Clooney), the other more charismatic, charming lead in the story.  Fear is something we can all relate to, as is the case here – she may not have much to live for, but as we discover, there are fates worse than death that can propel one to reconsider life as a better alternative, even in the worst cases.

While the story, the situation itself is a straightforward one, a space mission malfunctioning leaving astronauts stranded and forced to find a way home, the visual execution of this film is in a word: mind-blowing (especially in 3D). Stone herself, as we discover is a fairly complex character – and that’s the beauty of this film: space being a subject that’s vast, complex, ever-evolving, director and writer Alfonso Cuaron still manages to keep it simple as a contained thriller –  a vista explored and unexplored, beyond our wildest imagination. Diverging from the hollywood casts of thousands, endless blockbuster sets, here we have two major characters representing various character archetypes in a single location with the only nemesis being nature itself.

Who said movies only imitate reality? Cuaron, through ‘Gravity’ is a proven radicalist who changes this by making us abandon our theater seats to go into space, somehow juxtaposing us there and yet managing to keep us in the present without giving us a chance to relax.  Stone is alone but so are we… and while there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a script it seems (since much of it is an experience and improvised), Cuaron offers us some great lines as well (case-in-point, when Stone the seasoned astronaut says: “I hate space.”)  Everything is real time, saturating our senses- we are not only watching her, we are hearing her, feeling her – experiencing every jolt, every turn that by the time we get to the end, the whole movie has just speeded by.

To conclude, ‘Gravity’ is a testament to the ongoing saga of movies and oscar-contenders each year – that despite the marketing norm, the ‘tried, tested and true’ theory, doing something that no one has ever done before can still work when combined with brilliant execution  and in Cuaron’s case, an understanding of his audience, physically as well as emotionally.

So – what did you think of ‘Gravity?’ Feel free to post in comments.

Screenwriting Thoughts on Monsters University

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So in case I haven’t mentioned this about a hundred (thousand) times on this blog, I am a huge fan of Pixar movies and anything stemming from Disney – and being the five year olds that we are (and I say we are five not because of the whole Disney-Pixar kid association, but because this is how giddy we get when we go see movies) I finally had a chance to go watch ‘Monsters University’ with my sister and as I always like to do, I decided to dissect it.

First, judging from the marketing and the gags, I was guessing it would be something fairly average but it didn’t turn out to be. Pixar did do its trademark magic and the best thing I can say about it is that it is incredibly full of heart and didn’t cease to surprise. Without giving too much away, every scene was crafted with care, the dialogue was spot-on, the characters extremely well developed.  I can’t remember the first Monsters much but I do remember that Mike Wazowsky (the one eyed cyclops) was the more annoying of the two, but he is the protagonist here and an extremely likeable, engaging one at that. It was also a nice surprise, because somehow I assumed the focus would be more on Sulley. The first Act sets up the story really well – introduces Mike the starry-eyed, passionate ‘scarer’ and then the story continues introducing a new motley crew of characters. It’s a college movie, buddy movie-type with monsters – but an incredibly likeable and relatable one about our two favorite monsters and how they eventually come into their own. And then there is the creepy cockroach-dragon played by Helen Mirren as the main antagonist – though I will admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the character, scary yes, and somewhat unfortunately familiar as well. But the weaker traits of the story were balanced with the greater underdog elements, every scene and subplot mellifluously functioning in a coherent, unpredictable and hilarious unit. Not to mention Mike and Sulley’s rivalry and how they fit together: Mike, a wannabe ‘scarer’ who relies too much on smarts and bookish knowledge and Sulley, a natural talent who is unable to go by the book. Speaking of scenes, one of my favorites, without spoiling is the scene where they interact with the human world (though I missed Boo terribly here!).

Perhaps my only grievance with ‘Monsters University’ is that it’s not an ‘original’. It’s not Toystory one or two or three – all of which despite being sequels, were certainly stories of their own. Perhaps, and this was the first thing I thought when I heard plans for this sequel – there was no ‘real need’ for a prequel – something that seems very akin to Dreamworks’ money-making tactics with the Shrek sequels. Did anybody really need to know how the two monsters met? Wouldn’t a better sequel have been a continuation of the first saga? Not sure – however, I still really enjoyed it. Not a classic like the toystory sequels, but still worthily entertaining and well worth some time and money.

So go see it  (it’s 78% on Rotten Tomatoes) and let me know your thoughts if you have any!  For more movie rants or just plain ol’ curiosity, here’s my previous ‘Man of Steel’ review. New posts on drafts, where to learn screenwriting, and more coming up in the next two weeks. Have a great weekend!

Screenwriting thoughts on ‘Man of Steel’

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So, I finally had a chance to unstick my fingers from my laptop and go and see ‘Man of Steel’ yesterday – a movie I have been waiting for months to see, ever since that amazing third trailer with the Hans Zimmer score. I am not generally a huge superhero movie fan, mind you – but this is one I was dying to watch, simply because – at least in the trailer, it promised something more than the average movie experience. I have always thought it was time for Hollywood to reinvent some trends, especially in Superhero style movies (superheroes never grow old) and being a huge fan of backstory, ‘Steel’ promised something totally different – a Clark Kent unlike any Clarks in the past, his tumultuous, vulnerable childhood, that ever-important search to discover his true identity and why he is ‘different’ from everyone else. All themes that give a protagonist humanity and makes his journey to viewers relatable. Also, David Goyer and Chris Nolan were the scribes of the flick, the same who brought the ‘Batman’ franchise to a whole new level.

As I was watching it, I was aching – simply aching to post some quick thoughts. What the trailer promised and what the movie promised was something totally different.  A FEW SPOILERS AHEAD.

I will say this again: the-movie-had-promise. Which is why it was so frustrating watching it. First the non-linear storyline really drove me nuts – before we can grasp even one character’s emotional journey, it was onto the next. As a viewer, you need enough substance to invest yourself in characters – suffer with them, laugh with them, cheer with them, weep with them. The screenplay’s choppiness, moving from one time period to another (which works in some films, but not in this one) and its inability to stay focused made that more difficult than it needed to be. Some of the weaker scenes included the stuff in Krypton – got a bit too spacey after a while, especially in the second and third act with Lois’ involvement.

The characters, in my opinion, were mostly well cast, but in short, their material was just not given enough time to develop fully. The whole movie was a Zach Snyder puzzle – a puzzle with pieces meant to make one picture but somehow being placed to make a completely different one. Sounds brutal to all the die-hard fans out there? Yep.

This is not to say that the movie was altogether bad. It does have a fairly solid cast, tackles the right themes, certainly gave me personally, glimpses of the greatness it could have been. Henry Cavill certainly plays his role well as the tortured hero who wants to know why he is different from everyone else. My problem with it (and by the way, I only started watching the original Superman last night) is the revelations were not timed well – every scene came off as non-linear, leaving an odd sense of lacking continuity. Also, I found the script cumbersome in some places – Russell Crowe (Jor El) and Amy Adam’s (Lois Lane) speeches were a bit long and expository in my opinion.  Not to mention more sillier, less-significant inconsistencies: the fact that Russell had an accent and the others in Krypton didn’t (something which my sister bothered to notice).

And speaking of Adams (Lois Lane), there were certainly glimpses of a developing relationship between her and Clark, but she spent a lot of time spouting a lot of information rather than giving us a chance to visualize it/experience it emotionally – the result of which left her character cold, flat, lifeless.  As for antagonist-nemesis General Zod (Michael Shannon), he wasn’t bad – a character who thinks he is protecting his people and will do everything to preserve his view of the world, even if it means destroying everything including himself in the process.

So there I said it – my reaction to ‘Man of Steel’ was mixed (I feel like if they literally re-edited the whole thing and made it flow better, so it’s less choppy, I would be happier and rotten tomatoes would move up their rating to 80% – but that’s just me).

The good: Henry Cavill was a pleasure to watch (though his character traits were more endearing as a young boy.  The God complex takes over a bit too much at times as an adult, leaving him less vulnerable). Some of my favorite scenes also involved his dad Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Clark’s mentor figure, whose scenes were purposefully driven to enhance young Clark’s humanity, as well as some nice touches here and there (with the bully kid in Clark’s childhood being the kid that Clark saves, Jonathan’s lessons to his son – ironically less wordy and more heartwarming than Jor El’s, Clark embracing his powers, some cool visuals and action sequences).

Did the movie have heart?  Yes, though it still left a lot more to be desired thanks to all the choppy editing, something they will hopefully rectify in the newly announced sequel in the works.

The ending, which, I won’t give away, hearkened back to the whole humanity-vulnerability thing I mentioned about Clark, and at least managed to drive that point home – the hero inside everyone.

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Anyhow, what did you guys think of ‘Man of Steel’? Interested to hear your thoughts.