Get Over 100 Award-Nominated Screenplays!

Posted on September 7, 2018 at 8:00 am

Screenwriting Magazine is making available links to 100 Academy contender screenplays.  Whether you’re thinking of writing one yourself or just want to know your favorites a little better, this treasure trove is worth checking out.

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Leave No Trace

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:20 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material throughout
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Pharmaceuticals
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, injury, some disturbing images, family issues, military-related PTSD
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 29, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 1, 2018
Copyright 2018 Bleeker Street

Author Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment was inspired by a news story reporting that a father and daughter were living off the grid but in plain sight, camping out in a Portland, Oregon public park. Writer/director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) has now adapted the story in a quiet wonder of a film called “Leave No Trace,” starring Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie.

Foster, who spent weeks learning survival skills, has said in interviews that with Granik’s permission he removed 40 percent of the words in the script, which wisely lets the images tell the story. We first see Will (Foster) and Tom (McKenzie) companionably doing their daily chores, completely at home with each other and the woods. They do not need to speak. Each knows exactly what to do and each motion is as familiar as a morning stretch but as precise and synchronized as an intricately choreographed tango. When Will calls a drill, Tom knows how to hide. Their world may be Edenic, just two human creatures in tune with nature, but they are also constantly on the alert. If they are spotted, they will have to leave and go to places where there are rules and walls and jobs and school.

They make regular trips to the world outside to get provisions. “Need or want?” Will asks when Tom hopeful shows him a candy bar. “Want,” she admits. But he gets it for her anyway. Their devotion to one another is deep and palpable. She trusts him completely. She is everything to him.

And then they are spotted. They are suddenly in the system. Social services does its best to respect their wish to be isolated, using the diplomatic term “unhoused” instead of “homeless,” and finding a place for them to live and a job that is as unobtrusive on their freedom as possible. But Will, who is a veteran and may have PTSD, chafes at being told what to do. Tom, on the other hand, finds that the world outside the park has some intriguing possibilities. Will engages in that most fatherly of tasks, teaching Tom to ride a bicycle. Tom gets a chance to talk to other people. There’s a boy who raises rabbits and tells her about the activities at 4H.

Will tells Tom they have to leave. In their efforts to find a new home, they encounter some obstacles, but also some people who respect the need for privacy and living off the grid.

Debra Granik has a great gift for finding extraordinary young actresses (she picked Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone”) and guiding them through stories of subtle complexity and humanity. “Without a Trace” is on its surface a story of a father and daughter living off the grid, on the fringe of society. In reality, it is a heightened version of the relationship every parent has with a child, the irrational efforts we make to protect them from what we see as threats, and the bittersweetness of seeing them become their own people, with their own lives, destinies, and decisions. We see Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie’s character first as living entirely in the world her father has created for her, looking to him for everything she has to know. And then we see the small moments and realizations that lead her to believe in her own voice about her future. “Want or need?” is still the question, but they may have different answers.

Beautiful performances by McKenzie and Ben Foster, a compassionate screenplay co-written by Granik, and an intimate, naturalistic style of storytelling make this a thoughtful meditation on parents and children, on damage and courage, on communities we create, and on what we mean by home.

Parents should know that this movie’s themes include PTSD, family issues, loss of a parent, and some peril and off-screen violence.

Family discussion: What was Will trying to protect Tom from? If they had not been discovered, would Tom have made a different decision?

If you like this, try: “Winter’s Bone” and “Captain Fantastic”

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Interview: Rob Reiner on “LBJ”

Posted on November 1, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Rob Reiner’s new movie, “LBJ,” stars Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson, focusing on the months between the tragedy of the 1963 Kennedy assassination, which catapulted him into the Presidency, and the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964. The film opens in theaters November 3, 2017 and it is an illuminating and warmly human portrayal of a complicated man who was a genuine leader. In an interview, Reiner talked about how his own views of President Johnson have changed since the 1960’s and how he was able to bring about one of the most powerful pieces of legislation in history.

Copyright Nell Minow 2017

It’s an unexpectedly gentle portrayal of a President who was a polarizing figure when he was in office.

It’s an odd film for me to be making because I hated LBJ during the 60’s. I was of draft age and I was against the war, I marched in protests. So I hated him.

It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in politics, I grew up, I actually had a government job in California for seven years and then I got to understand what LBJ was able to accomplish. He was like a tale of two Presidencies. He was probably except for FDR the most successful domestic legislative president of all time and had it not been for Vietnam he would have gone down as one of the one of the great Presidents of all time.

So I wanted to look at this man and see what else there was about him that we didn’t already know because the image that we always had besides the fact that we didn’t like him because of Vietnam was this kind of bully, a bull in the china shop, arm-twisting crude guy showing his scar, picking the beagle up by the ears; was there more to this guy?

In doing the research aside from reading the Robert Caro books, in reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, it became very clear that there was definitely another side to this guy. There were two things that I teased out of that book. One is that he had this recurring nightmare of being paralyzed and the other was that he had a fear that his mother didn’t love him or at least conditionally loved him and only loved him when he was doing what she wanted him to do.

So it made for somebody who had serious doubts about himself; fears of not being loved, insecurity. If we can get that across, whatever his political legacy is we’ll at least capture who this guy is.

We decided to use a very small sliver of time which is to take it from Kennedy’s landing at Love Field in Dallas to Johnson delivering the speech about the Civil Rights Bill in front of the joint session of Congress. In that time Johnson has to assume the Presidency. That’s a pressure point that will bring out who this guy really is and we see it. He is paralyzed at first but then he’s able to move forward.

Was Kennedy’s death significant in pushing the Civil Rights Act to the top of the legislative agenda?

Many people think that. There were reporters at the time that were on the floor that worked on Capitol Hill who said that there was no chance that bill was getting out of Committee; it was locked up in committee. As we point out in the film, Richard Russell who was the head of the Southern caucus, the Democratic caucus in the South said, “I’ll stop this thing, I’ll make it so that it never reaches the floor.” But as events happened, the fact that Kennedy was assassinated which was horrible and made the country mourn and made us all so upset it also provided a legislative path forward. And Johnson was able to understand it because he had a consummate knowledge of how to move policy forward. He said, “You never underestimate the power of a martyr’s cause.”

He knew at that point he could move it forward and even then it was touch-and-go because he knew he was going to lose the Southern Democrats. He said, “We’re going to lose them for a generation,” and it’s been way more than a generation. It’s been over fifty years and the South is still controlled by the Republicans because of that Civil Rights Act, so he paid an enormous price politically to do that. He thought it was worth it.

Was he a true believer in the cause of civil rights?

Yes, but his belief was hidden by the fact that he had to say what was necessary to keep his seat. He never viewed himself as a Southerner, he viewed himself as a Texan and as a Westerner; he came from the West Hills section of Texas. He was raised in poverty, he understood it, that was the cornerstone of his Great Society and the War on Poverty. He taught in impoverished schools so he understood that, but it was buried and submerged for a long, long time until he saw the opportunity to let it come forward. There’s Head Start, there’s Medicare, there’s Medicaid and there is the Voting Rights Act; all of these things that he in a very short period of time.

As you show in the film, he was famously crude. Was he clueless or was that an intimidation tactic?

I think it was part intimidation but also part of the way he was. He was a very down home kind of guy. He was not a sophisticated guy and that’s one of the things that frightened him so much because he saw the Kennedys as being upper crust, Eastern, from great schools, loved, handsome, beautiful, and articulate. He thought they were show horses and he was a work horse. That’s who he was but he also knew how to show power and how to execute power.

Originally published on HuffPost

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Happy Eclipse Day!

Posted on August 21, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Stay safe everyone!

Best movie eclipse scenes? Well, “Twilight: Eclipse,” of course, but also “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” based on Mark Twain’s novel. There have been many versions, but I like the musical with Bing Crosby.

Best of all is the film from the great innovator of special effects and movie magic, George Melies, best remembered for another moon movie, “The Trip to the Moon,” (and for “Hugo”). This one is “The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon.”

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Rifftrax Meets Five Doctor Whos

Posted on August 4, 2017 at 8:00 am

Rifftrax will be in theaters on August 24, 2017 to present five Doctor Whos! The stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000®, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, are back on the big screen for a legendary riffing of the 1983 Doctor Who film “The Five Doctors.”

Someone is taking the Doctor’s past selves out of time and space, placing them in a vast wilderness – a battle arena with a sinister tower at its center. As the various incarnations of the Doctor join forces, they learn they are in the Death Zone on their home world of Gallifrey, fighting Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti and a devious Time Lord Traitor who is using the Doctor and his companions to discover the ancient secrets of Rassilon, the first and most powerful ruler of Gallifrey.

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