Movie Review: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!’

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By Conor White-Andrews

It is at the beginning of the sequence that ultimately closes Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” that Natalie Portman, our skeletal Swan Queen, sinks into madness. Returning to her dressing room after leaving the stage in a fit of despair, she finds a taunting Mila Kunis sitting at her mirror, retouching the makeup around her eyes, dressed as the Black Swan.

“It’s just,” says Mila, sickly sweet, black to Portman’s white, “I’m worried about the next act.”

At this point, the camera moves away from the face in the mirror to the body in the seat, and now the face confronting Portman is her own. The proceeding act of violence results in a stabbing with a shard of glass from a broken mirror—a shattered self—at which point the wounded reflection morphs back into Mila Kunis. Portman, now truly the Swan Queen—black and white—returns to the stage to complete the performance. What we see there is surreal; her slender arms sprout thick black hair and her eyes are blood red. Her return to the dressing room reveals no dead body, merely a smashed mirror and a bloody fragment of glass protruding from her own stomach. The scene confirms what we already suspect: that what we have been seeing entirely through the interior world of the character. This is a common theme for Aronofsky, who, in his films, often presents the outside world—the physical—as an aggressor against his characters’ interior lives. The two are shown to be at odds, to be utterly incompatible.

His latest film, “Mother!,” opens with a scene of ruin: a mass of simmering embers behind the closeup of a woman’s scorched face. At the time I did not think that it was Jennifer Lawrence, and after watching the film, it would make sense that it not be. We do meet her, however, almost immediately afterwards. The film, after showing a house destroyed by fire miraculously breathing back into life, suddenly cuts to our central character, the eponymous “Mother.”

Protagonist, I feel, would be the wrong term. Instead she is simply our lens, our filter, through which to experience the film, the camera constantly hanging on her shoulder, or directly from her POV. She jolts awake. This, now, is the beginning of the film, just as it is the beginning of the line for Lawrence’s “Mother.” Sitting up, looking clean and virginal, unspoilt and not yet tainted by the external world, she exclaims, fearfully, a single word: “Baby?” We watch as she rises and descends, alone, through a grand house with long wooden floorboards, a warm morning glow filtering in through the many windows, before being startled by Javier Bardem’s unironically biblical “Him.” They are husband and wife, we learn, and this grand house is their paradise.

The first half of “Mother!” follows a fairly conventional narrative line. We have our two central characters in their vast new home, a home that we soon gather Lawrence’s character has refurbished practically alone, her poet-husband preoccupied with “greater” things—but clearly, where life should be glorious, something is wrong. Her husband is uninterested, condescendingly dismissive, and Lawrence’s Mother is suffering. There is a strange, debilitating, high-pitched ringing in her head and the house, when she grazes a wall or touches a tap, presents itself to her as living being. She feels its heartbeat, sees the bloody veins protruding. Telltale signs of trouble, certainly, only furthered by the arrival of first Ed Harris, who is wonderfully unaware and equally painful, and then Michelle Pfeiffer, in what is perhaps her greatest ever performance. At no point does the audience believe, unlike the over-welcoming Bardem, that the entrance of these figures is an innocent occurrence—there are no adjoining roads visible at any moment. There is no reason for them to be there, and their very presence is laced with menace. By the time Pfeiffer and Harris’ sons arrive, rapidly playing out a deranged recreation of Cain and Abel, the tension is long past breaking point. Lawrence’s “paradise,” her Eden, has been fatally disturbed.

Yet at no moment is the film unaware of itself as film. At no stage is cinematic device unaware of itself as device. There is a constant sense of unreality, and the opening half plays out almost like theatre, accompanying heavy footsteps over the house-as-wooden-stage and all. Our characters’ behaviour rejects naturalism—in their logic, their speech, their questions asked—and we are never moved far away from the notion of illusion, of the curtain behind the stage, of that which is unseen. Pfeiffer and Harris’ husband and wife function as instigators, as weapons utilised to provoke questions and to create tension. They are foil to Lawrence’s anxious Mother and Bardem’s solipsistic Him. Their statements are comments on the movie itself, with Pfeiffer in particular:

“This is all just…setting,” she tells Lawrence, regarding the house. “You’re like a child, breaking things into little pieces to control them.”

The narrative does not feel real, but Lawrence’s interior life does; when she encounters Bardem aiding a naked Ed Harris as he vomits into a toilet, suddenly clasping a hand over a bloody lesion on his back, we do not know if this is actually happening. Her Kafkaesque nightmare is the films guiding light.

The murder of one son by another leads to chaos, and I have never seen Kafka so fully realised cinematically, as in the “wake” scene that follows. But it is from this that the film turns, as Lawrence becomes pregnant. A baby is made, and, not only this, but a book—a piece of art—is born.

“I know what to say,” says Bardem, furiously forcing pen to paper. “I just have to find the right words.”

Order, though in no traditional sense, is forged from chaos.

What is clear about “Mother!” is that it is operating on various levels at all times, and the viewer is forced to consider this multilateralism. Even the architecture of the house itself, which is symmetrical at every point, suggests this. Of course, the biblical aspect—which is hopelessly entwined with an aggressive commentary on Man’s treatment of the environment, of Mother Earth—is overwhelmingly apparent, but is perhaps the least engaging reading.

There is something depressingly tedious about a Hollywood condemnation of this sort: one only has to listen to the acceptance speeches at this year’s innumerable award shows to gauge quite where they’re at, with regards to the general population. But “Mother!” demands that you read it in a number of ways: as our relationship with the planet; as the newly christened mother within the home; as the artist’s internal struggle against the physical; as the individual within a digitised society that renders it impossible to avoid the external world, the constant bad news in the Age of Trump (something heightened by the fact that my two friends and I had to wait outside the cinema at Fulham Broadway before entering because of a bomb scare). There is something eerily "Rosemary’s Baby" about it, as well as shades of Katie Kitamura’s stunning 2013 novel Gone to the Forest. It is a movie inexorably linked to the problems of our time, and, in terms of idea along with its form, I cannot imagine a more modern film.

More stimulating is Aronofsky’s exploration of the ineffably complex nature of the creation of a work of art, and of our relationship to art as a whole. What occurs after Lawrence’s child is born is surreal, bizarre, and ranges from pure farce—with another nod to Kafka—to the impossibly grotesque. Bardem’s poet, in the first half, cannot write. He is out of ideas, and drained of inspiration. One of the reasons for his being so inviting to the obviously crazed Harris and Pfeiffer is that he is desperately searching for something, for anything, to spark him out of his funk. Soon, when it comes, he just needs “to find the right words.”

And in doing this Aronofsky makes a comment of his own, and does so remarkably. After a strong career with various successful films (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler,” and “Black Swan,” among others) it seems that he has turned the camera inwards. “Mother!” is the depiction of an artist’s desperate search for a new means of expression. If the true aim of art is to communicate, to express something, then ultimately it is only in the abstract that “Mother!” is able to achieve this.

The movie sinks into the abstract, after pursuing a more conventional narrative in its opening half, to tackle subjects, which cannot possibly be addressed in their multitude in any linear way. At all moments is Jennifer Lawrence’s virginal Mother a creation, a lens for the viewer. Her fate is inescapably attached to that of the house, our setting.

“Nothing is ever enough,” Aronofsky said in a recent interview. “I couldn’t create if it was.”

At the end of the movie, when the house is destroyed by fire and we see the process recommencing, now another woman awakening in place of Lawrence, this is proven to be so. It is the ultimate examination of artist as Creator, of man as God.

“Mother!” defies singular meaning. Instead the film embraces the many levels on which it operates, as great art should, and forces its audience to engage with, or to tackle, intense ambiguities. Aronofsky’s creation sees, shows, and illuminates topics where the general population refuses to open its eyes. As a film, it violently rejects the notion of binary. Ultimately it is an incredibly visceral experience—a vicious, unrelenting assault on our intellect as well as our senses, as I imagine its Creator intended it to be. Certainly, I have never seen a film like “Mother!”

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Expression and Understanding Are At the Heart of 'The Journey'

By Danny DeGennaro

For as long as people have existed, differences have inspired violence. The semantics of warfare and how it straddles the lines between terrorism and necessary revolution are gently probed in “The Journey.”

Set in 2006, “The Journey” chronicles the penultimate attempt to reconcile the cavernous rift The Troubles created in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) agree to meet in an attempt to end the bloodshed permanently. Paisley and McGuinness are sworn mortal enemies: Paisley is the founder of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, and McGuinness the former leader of the IRA. As the film puts it, the two “were forced by fate or circumstance to make an historic journey together.” Thus, the two set off on a drive to the Edinburgh airport.

Expression and understanding, or lack of understanding, are at the heart of the film. The lush, rolling backdrop underpins the tension between the two men and their attempts to come to grips with one another and themselves. McGuinness is initially the primary instigator and is most interested in striking up a deal that’ll manifest a peace between the two factions. Paisley is more unyielding, and steadfastly refuses any olive branches. Eventually, they begin to mine common ground. A chance encounter with a wounded deer introduces a newfound sense of humanity that neither man had considered about the other. They both riff on the way people from Northern Ireland add affirmatives to the end of sentences (“so they do”).

Spall and Meaney both turn in stunning performances that would become vaudevillian in the hands of lesser actors.

The film is resolutely neutral in its views of The Troubles—if all art is propaganda, then the primary agenda “The Journey” pushes is that of understanding. The film announces during the opening credits that the conversation “is imagined,” and it’s this precise poetic license within historical fact that allows the movie to venture into empathetic, surprising places. Spall and Meaney both turn in stunning performances that would become vaudevillian in the hands of lesser actors.

What the film is most interested in isn’t cause or justification, but reconciliation. Civil discourse has never been more vital to our collective well being as we enter into a post-Brexit world, where isolation and fear mongering are touted as patriotism and self regard. It’s an energizing and affirmative thing “The Journey” seeks to demonstrate. Change is inevitable. Progress is difficult. Our natural similarities far outstrip our constructed differences. Nothing can distill the awful machinations that make violence necessary, but “The Journey” can help us make sense of it.

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Meet America’s Evil Step-Uncle in 'Get Me Roger Stone'

By Sean Tuohy

One of the most common questions asked in our current political situation is: “How did we get here?” The provocative Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone” provides some answers.

Trump wouldn’t have secured the Oval Office without the help of Roger Stone, a brilliant, yet sleazy, political operative (whose love for Tricky Dick Nixon is so powerful that Stone got a tattoo of the disgraced President on his back).

For the better part of 40 years, Stone has been the unapologetic mastermind behind the far-right conservative movement in the United States. He's a firm believer in political dirty tricks, and his mindset is simple: win at any cost. He’s employed all manner of low blows to get people like Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump into office.

In “Get Me Roger Stone,” the “agent provocateur” is presented to the public like America’s evil step-uncle. He’s the man lurking in the shadows, preying on America’s worst fears and weaknesses. The documentary does a great job at allowing the subject to speak for himself. At no point do the filmmakers (Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme) try to paint a different, more flattering portrait of Stone. They allow him to stand on his soapbox and shout his views of how the world should look. Much like the shady politicians he’s championed, Stone is endlessly fascinating. Yes, when he smiles you feel a chill run down your spine and he dresses like a caricature of the devil, but he has a natural charm that keeps you watching.

Stone is a man who wants to be known; being hated doesn’t matter as long as you remember he exists.

You won’t like Roger Stone by the end of the film. The idea of seeing the man fail makes you giddy with joy. But you also learn that he gets off on your hate. Where most people want to be liked by the public, Stone is a man who wants to be known; being hated doesn’t matter as long as you remember he exists.

“Get Me Roger Stone” is a great piece of filmmaking. The Trump administration didn’t happen overnight. It was years in the making, and Stone was one of the few people to see it coming. The film may not help with your rage or depression, but it will help you better understand the America we’re currently living in.

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Remembering Director Jonathan Demme: 3 Forgotten Films We Love

Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme

By Sean Tuohy

Hollywood has suffered a major loss with the passing of legendary director Jonathan Demme. Known for smart films that changed the cinematic landscape—“Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia”—Demme was a filmmaker who pushed his craft to its outermost limits.

His films feature extreme close-ups, pop music scores, and expert Steadicam shots. He directed some truly memorable films during his 30-year career, including these three that may have been (wrongly) forgotten or dismissed by the public.

“The Truth About Charlie”

This charming and funny remake of the 1960s film “Charade” was Demme’s love letter to French New Wave films. “The Truth About Charlie” makes Paris a lively character in this strange spy story. It captures Demme’s ability to balance humor with heart-pounding thrills, as well as his talent for crafting artsy mainstream films.

“Married To The Mob”

In this film, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a widowed Mafia wife who is trying to restart her life after her husband is murdered. However, a lonely FBI agent and a Mafia kingpin fall in love with her and fight for her affection. Demme injected the right amount of heart and romance into this whacky comedy.

“The Manchurian Candidate”

This remake is one of the most overlooked and underrated thrillers of the past 20 years. It made great efforts to declare itself as a different film while paying respect to the original. Capturing the feverish anxiety of the post-9/11 world, “The Manchurian Candidate” keeps viewers on the edge of their seats while also creating a relatable world filled with conflicted, damaged characters. 

Nantucket and Eric Dane Anchor John Shea’s Romantic Thriller ‘Grey Lady’

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By Dave Pezza

The humble island of Nantucket is the true star of John Shea’s latest project “Grey Lady.” Shea—best known for his roles on “Lois & Clark: The New Adventure of Superman,” “Gossip Girl,” and “The Good Wife”—delivers a sturdy thriller that follows Boston detective Doyle, played by Eric Dane (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Last Ship”). Doyle retreats to Nantucket after the violent deaths of his sister and partner/lover at the hands of a serial killer that has pointed the crosshairs at everyone the monosyllabic cop loves. 

The island, though, stands out as a main character on its own. Shea forgets none of Nantucket’s gorgeous ocean vistas, quaint shoreline shacks, eerie fog, or beachfront storms. He uses the island’s best aspects to draw the audience into its insular community as Doyle returns to the place he cherished as a boy. The present-day Nantucket is marred in his eyes by the rogue investigation that has consumed his life, despite the good people he finds that want to help him both professionally and personally. Adrian Lester (“Primary Colors,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Hustle”) plays police officer Johnson, Doyle’s somewhat reluctant partner in crime, and Natalie Zea (“The Detour, “Justified”) skillfully inhabits the role of Melissa Reynolds, an alluring and enchanting local painter.

“Grey Lady” stays true to its genre. Packed with suspense between the island’s wide shots, Shea and his writing partner Armyan Bernstein touch upon mental illness, childhood drama, loss, alcoholism, family ties, and even managed to sprinkle in a little torture and cult-like ritualistic homicide. From start to finish, “Grey Lady” offers a dark ride that constantly leaves you not asking “who?” but “why?” 

With the exception of some awkwardly paced transitions, dissonant dialogue, and perhaps one plot twist too many, “Grey Lady” highlights Eric Dane’s formidable talent as an action/drama leading man, Natalie Zea’s uncanny range, and Shea’s masterful sense of suspense. Not to be undervalued are Chris Meyer’s haunting and remarkable performance of the gruesome and capable Perry Morrison, and the efforts of the beautiful and talented Carolyn Stotesbery, who plays Meyer’s shadowy and emotionally-damaged counterpart. All of these facets come to head in the film’s most accomplished scene: Doyle’s suspenseful game of cat and mouse with the murderer at a bed and breakfast as Melissa is held captive as bait.   

“Grey Lady” opens nationally on April 28 and is well worth a Friday night viewing for lovers of noir, a touch of poetry, and a dash of bittersweet romance.

Listen to our podcast interview with writer/director John Shea:

10 Movies That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2017

Much like our book series, "Movies That Should Be On Your Radar" aims to share indie darlings, worthy blockbusters, long forgotten gems, and rewatchable classics with aspiring screenwriters and authors alike. Feel free to share your own favorite flicks in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or by tweeting us @WritersBone.

“Kong: Skull Island”

Sean Tuohy: My father bought me the 1933 version of “King Kong” and it terrified me. The giant, landmark-climbing ape has a special place in my heart. "Kong: Skull Island" did it right. It was fun and exciting; it knew what it was and what it needed to be. The filmmakers added enough backstory for us to care about the characters, got into the action quickly, and kept it up. The biggest surprise was John C. Reilly as a World War II pilot stranded on the island. He was played up for laughs in the trailer, but he becomes the heart of the movie. The character has depth, and, besides a couple of expected jokes, he is a very heartfelt and wonderful character.

“Get Out”

Mike Nelson: “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

You should be picturing Drew Barrymore innocently throwing a Jiffy Pop on the stove right now. Her off-white sweater hanging loosely over the counter, a cordless landline phone pressed against her ear. That phone soon to be a symbol of terror, that well-done Jiffy Pop soon to be taken off the stove a moment too late by her childless parents, that sweater soon to be the only buffer between her flesh and a slashing blade.

The answer to that question, for me, was “Scream” from the moment I heard that line. I had heard “Get Out” would make me question that answer, so I bought into the hype and bought into the 7:30 p.m. showing on a Monday night that may or may not have begun at TGI Fridays. After abusing my senses with Oscar nominees for the previous month, I was excited to enter the theater with no hopes but to be entertained.

“Get Out” delivers. It delivers as a scary movie, it delivers as a comedy, it delivers as a social commentary. Would you believe me if I said I enjoyed it more than 75% of the “Best Picture” nominees from this past Oscars? Well, you don’t have a choice (I did). Forget all you think you know about scary movies. Forget all you think you know about comedies. Just know that for many people in the theatre, the answer to “What’s your favorite scary movie?” is being answered on the screen.

“Moonlight”

Daniel Ford: I watched “Moonlight” just before a couple of old people at the Oscars botched the film’s coronation.

Mike Nelson—who drunkenly (I’m assuming) sent me a slew of potential “Moonlight”-related tweets too provocative to ever be published—said on Oscars night that the first third of the movie might be the best movie of the year. I can’t deny that, especially considering Mahershala Ali’s breathtaking performance, but the third, and final, act in the film hit me just as hard. The grown up Chiron visits his childhood friend/crush Kevin at the diner where the latter is working in obscurity. Their troubled bond and unrequited love leads to a tense and tender finale, one that was filmed with a hint of potential violence and heartache.

There was plenty of great storytelling on display at this year’s Academy Awards (again, despite the bloated, inert telecast), but “Moonlight” glows far above the rest.

“Beauty and the Beast”

Stephanie Schaefer: I rounded up my #girlsquad and purchased my $19.25 ticket to see “Beauty and the Beast” in 3D well over a month in advance. Some would call that a steep price to pay, but can you really put a cost on the magic of kicking up your feet (reclining seats for the win) and feeling like a kid again? No, you can’t.

Disney’s latest live-action thriller was highly-publicized to the point where I started to wonder if it would live up to its hype (and this is coming from a former Disney publicity intern). Let’s just say I didn't regret dropping a cool $20 on the rebooted fairytale, or the $13 “glass” of movie theater wine for that matter.

The film was filled with everything I’d hoped for: catchy Disney tunes (that I can’t stop humming), standout costumes, modern special effects, and, most importantly, 2-plus hours of nostalgia. Plus, I appreciated the small updates that made this “tale as old as time” a bit more feminist and open-minded. 

“Logan”

Mike: When I left the theater after “Logan” there was something inside me saying I should feel sadder.

The thing about sadness is it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. The other day I was walking through the mall next to my office—on my way back from a standard-issue middle class 2 p.m. Starbucks run—and I saw a woman shoveling mall Chinese food into her face on a bench in the middle of the hallway (you probably envisioned this woman as overweight because I said “shoveling,” but she was not). To me, that would be a sad moment. For her, it may have been the highlight of the week. A forbidden treat in the midst of a “me” day at the mall, perhaps. Interpreting emotions isn’t an easy game to play. Trying to figure out how you “should” feel is even harder.

But interpreting greatness is a lot simpler. And knowing when you should think something is great is just about as easy as it gets. You don’t even need to justify it, you just need to think it and assert it. Proof:

Me or my friend Brendan and basically no one else: The McChicken is the greatest.

Some jerk loser: What, why?

MoMFBaBNOE: Because it is.

SJL: Oh.

That’s pretty much it. You just have to feel it and communicate it and then it becomes law.

“Logan” is a great movie. I know that. It takes the Wolverine character and spins him under a jeweler’s loupe while some guy calculates the worth of a diamond. The audience peers through and judges. The supporting characters peer through and judge. Logan peers through and judges. Time peers through and judges. What good is this man? What purpose does this man have? Did he do good things in his life? Might we have been better off without him? These questions aren’t just held up against Logan himself but against a handful of characters who have past actions to answer for.

Someday we’ll all have to answer for our actions or inactions, for better or for worse. Have to own up for who we are, who we were, and the future we may have put into motion by existing. You can scale that to something as grand as the world as a whole or to a small, close group of people in your life. The ability of “Logan” to not only show you that contradiction, but also make you think about it, is exactly what makes it one of the most brilliant “superhero” movies ever created.

Listen to Sean Tuohy's recent podcast with "Logan" screenwriter Scott Frank:

“This Is Spinal Tap”

Caitlin Malcuit: If you're scrolling through Netflix one evening and should happen upon “This Is Spinal Tap,” your initial reaction should be, "Oh my god, 'Spinal Tap' is on Netflix!" followed by watching “This Is Spinal Tap.”

For the uninitiated, "This Is Spinal Tap" is a rockumenatry mockumentary. It follows the titular heavy metal band along an anemic U.S. tour, churning out a million quotable jokes—and dead drummers—as everything falls to pieces. One doesn't have to be a metalhead to appreciate “This Is Spinal Tap” and its acerbic look at the music business and the pretentious, washed up players.

Technically written by stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and director Rob Reiner, the beauty in the movie's humor is that most, if not all, of the lines are ad-libbed and delivered with deadpan cluelessness by the Spinal Tap crüe (“They said the album cover is a bit sexist.” “Well, so what? What's wrong with being sexy?”). This is the style that set the precedent for Guest's future features, including “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and “For Your Consideration.”

A lot is crammed into a humble 85-minute runtime, so it's worth keeping “This Is Spinal Tap” in the queue to catch what you probably missed the first go around. It'll grow on you faster than the cold sore on David St. Hubbins' mouth. 

“Everybody Wants Some”

Sean: This (soul) sister movie to “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” will put a smile on your face and wistful memories in your mind. Following the first three days of a college freshman baseball player, the movie is filled with characters that you met in college. Filmmaker Richard Linklater is able to remind us of college: free-spirited days filled with no responsibility and with nothing but bright futures ahead.

“Shakespeare in Love”

Daniel: I held a long grudge against “Shakespeare in Love” because it won an Oscar over “Saving Private Ryan.” It turns out I’m stupid.

Pithy, rapid-fire dialogue, #writerproblems, and a sassy, curmudgeonly Queen Elizabeth makes this film a literary feast for the eyes and ears. While a pre-Goop, pre-conscious coupling Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar for her once-in-a-lifetime performance, Joseph Fiennes’ twitchy and tortured portrayal of the Bard of Avon is tops for me.

My favorite scene is when Shakespeare is directing on stage, and “the money” walks in and inquires of Philip Henslowe, The Rose’s manager,  “”Who is that?” Henslowe dryly replies: “Nobody. The author.”

We’ve all been there, amirite?

“13th”

Daniel: Ava DuVernay’s documentary will haunt you. And it should. It is the definition of a necessary film.   

An engaging, informed, angry, intelligent, and moderately sleazy (in the case of Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist) group of academics, activists, and politicians discuss the sordid (and racist) history of mass incarceration in the United States. You’ll see the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter in a whole new light. The documentary will force you to ask, “How far have we really come?” and “Where are we going?”

“Clue”

Adam Vitcavage: Recently, a subreddit I prowl asked redditors for their top five favorite films. Luckily, the hashtag #7favfilms was popular a few months back and I kept the note in my phone so I can share my list on a moment's notice. Of all of the films on that list—“Before Sunrise,” “Chasing Amy,” “Clue,” “Dark Knight,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Royal Tenenbaums,” and “School of Rock”—most people wanted to discuss “Clue.” It turns out not everyone on this planet has seen or even heard of the film. I was flabbergasted.

The 1985 cult classic comedy based on the board game came out at a time before Hollywood was out of ideas and making films based on board games (see Rihanna’s “Battleship”). This was a bold move that paid off. “Clue” has a stellar cast of comedic geniuses. Eileen Brennan plays a pretentious Mrs. Peacock while Michael McKean plays the neurotically hilarious Mr. Green. Everyone in between is equally top notch. There are so many one-liners that fill this movie—the best being the flames on the side of Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. White’s face—that I quote constantly.

Only a film based on a board game has the balls to produce three endings that were shown randomly in theaters. Filmgoers had no clue if they were seeing Ending A, B, or C when they walked into it. How outrageous is that? Luckily the DVD has all three that you can either play randomly or—and most recommended—watch all three unfold at the end of the film.

The murder plot of the film is just a red herring. You need to see this film to understand comedy at its most basic form. All you need is a group of genius comedians in a room, then watch magic happen.

Wait…it’s awful that I only mentioned three members of the cast. I’m giving a standing ovation to the rest now. Thank you Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren for this extremely rewatchable film that taught me how many bullets were in a revolver.

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Paychecks: Famous Screenwriters Working On Lesser Pictures

By Sean Tuohy

All writers want to be artists. They want to be respected. They want to be loved by the public. That’s all great, but nothing beats paying the bills. Sometimes even the best artists have to work for a paycheck.

Screenwriters are well known for this. A screenwriter can win an Oscar on Sunday, and by Tuesday is working on “Failure To Launch 2: Lifting Off Harder.”

Sometimes you need to pay the rent by writing an awful movie!

Kenneth Lonergan

Oscar-nominated writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has an impressive resume of films under his belt. “You Can Count On Me,” “Gangs of New York,” and, 2016’s critical darling, “Manchester by The Sea.” He is one of the most beloved screenwriters because of his in-depth character studies.

Paycheck Script: “Fool’s Gold”

Remember when Matthew McConaughey was the “alight, alright, alright” guy and not “Oscar-winning actor” guy (okay, maybe they are the same person)? Back in those days, McConaughey paid the bills by showing up in every rom-com he could he find. The gold star—this will be funny in a second—being “Fool’s Gold.” A married couple gets a divorce but then finds gold. That’s the plot line. And, yes, Lonegan did an uncredited rewrite on the movie that features Kevin Hart saying “fakade” instead of “façade.”

Joss Whedon

Simply say Joss Whedon’s name and somewhere within a 26-mile radius a nerd gets a boner. The man is a storytelling treasure on both the big and small screens. He has written some of the greatest episodes of television (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly”), and he assembled “The Avengers.”

The guy knows how to write.

Paycheck Script: “Waterworld”

Back in 1996, Kevin Costner was what we like to call a “bankable star.” During this time, he decided to make a film that took everything we love about “Road Warrior” and put it on water. Despite all the snickering, “Waterworld” was not a giant bomb. It actually made a profit, but it was panned by critics and, behind the scenes, it was considered a “hellish set.” Between actors almost drowning, a director abandoning the film, and the movie going over budget, it must have felt more like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Whedon was called in at the last minute to work on rewrites. He famously called this time period “seven weeks of hell.”

John Patrick Shanley

John Patrick Shanley—“JPS” as the cool kids call him—is considered one of the greatest American playwrights. His plays have won respect and awards. In Hollywood, his’ scripts have been called “fantastic,” and his 2006 film “Doubt” won every award under the sun.

Paycheck Script: "Congo"

A talking gorilla.

“Congo” features a talking gorilla. I know that isn’t the whole plot, but for the life of me I don’t remember the actual plot. I know the film was based off of a Michael Crichton novel, and I know that Tim Curry is awesome in it (when is he not awesome?). Otherwise, this a movie filled with awful stereotypes and a talking gorilla with lackluster special effects (even for 1995). There’s also this exchange:

*Shit hitting the fan*
Ernie Hudson’s character: “What about them?
Laura Linney’s character: “Put them on the endangered species list.”

Oof.

Somehow listed among the credits, after gorilla handler but before craft services, is John Patrick Shanley as the screenwriter.

There is one upside to this train wreck of a film. The great Ernie Hudson has stated that his character is his personal favorite from his career.

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8 Movies That Should Be On Your Radar: February 2017

Much like our book series, "Movies That Should Be On Your Radar" aims to share indie darlings, worthy blockbusters, long forgotten gems, and rewatchable classics with aspiring screenwriters and authors alike. Feel free to share your own favorite flicks in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or by tweeting us @WritersBone.

“Dope”

Sean Tuohy: I finally got to see this movie and it was worth the wait. I’ve got a soft spot for coming-of-age stories, and “Dope” was one of the better ones I’ve seen recently. The film is charming, funny, and original in its storytelling and images. It follows a high school geek who worships 1990s hip-hop, plays in a punk band, and is trying to get into Harvard while also growing up in gang-riddled Los Angeles. Everything changes when he gets mixed up in a drug deal gone bad. The last 10 minutes had more heart sewn into it than most films I’ve seen during the past two years. Also, the soundtrack is awesome.

“The Monster”

Sean: I recently stumbled on to his horror film helmed by ‘The Strangers” director Bryan Bertino. This film has two parallel themes: part horror/part survival story and part character study. The horror storyline is basic: mother and daughter are trapped in a car while a monster stalks them. Nothing special. But the underlying narrative features an alcoholic and abusive mother dealing with her guilt. Zoe Kazan (daughter of former guest Nick Kazan) gives a heartbreaking performance as a woman struggling with her own demons while trying to raise her daughter. The horror storyline is interesting but it is the character study that really keeps you on the edge of your seat.

“Deep Web”

Sean: Directed by Alex Winters (of “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure” fame) this sleek documentary follows the FBI investigation and downfall of the online black market website "Silk Road." Narrated by Keanu Reeves, (more “Bill and Ted” glory), the film moves at a breakneck speed without losing anything. Winters does a thoughtful job of quickly creating the world of the “deep web” and provides all the needed information the viewer needs while never hitting the breaks.

“20th Century Women”

Emili Vesilind: People are focusing on Annette Bening's incredible performance in this movie—and for sure it's amazing (her angry-uncomfortable face, among others, is heartbreaking!) But for me, the movie felt like a nuanced study and celebration of weird, fragile, everyday people. The characters and a relationships are fleshed out using every means possible—dialogue, music, set decoration, costuming. So you really feel like you stepped into a "scene" of sorts. The film also reminded me of "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" in that it explores how rock bands/clubs, music scenes and friends we sit around and do nothing with as teenagers can play a major role in who we become—and what we like—as adults. It definitely has its sad moments, so you don't leave feeling exactly buoyant, but it sticks like glue to your brain! Loved it.

“Under the Shadow”

Alexander Brown: A festival darling that never got a wide release, “Under the Shadow” was internationally co-produced between Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom, and directed by an Iranian by the name of Babak Anvari. Set in 1980s Tehran, during one of many Iran/Iraq conflicts, it somehow seamlessly tells a ghost story that also focuses on the horrors of war, depression, and gender politics—all without being heavy-handed or taking away from the scares. I have no idea how they pulled it off. Also the lead actress liked my tweet review, so we're pretty much pals now.

“Kubo and the Two Strings”

Mike Nelson: It’s Oscar season, so I’m ripping through every nominee I can get to over the next few weeks. I see any spare time as potential to check something off the list, which is a totally fun, unnecessary emergency situation I’ve created for myself to continually deflect the opportunity to separate happiness from achievements.

Now that I got you all riled up with that intro (“Man, would love to hang out with this guy!”), let’s talk movies. Let’s talk animated movies. Let’s talk Kubo. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not my pick for “Best Animated Feature” (that goes to “Moana”...handily), but it would be my pick for “Most Entrancing Animated Feature.” The story is pretty unique in itself, taking some unexpected turns and (no spoilers here) incorporating magic to create visual opportunities you just don’t typically get. Plus, you get tons of action and A-list actors…ummm...speaking. So that’s pretty sick.

If you want something a little different from the cookie-cutter animated film, and you’re looking for whatever the animation equivalent of “food porn” is (I can’t call it “animation porn,” and I can’t call it “eye porn,” so if you have a better way of saying this, please, god, help me…“feast for the eyes,” got it, my bad here), this is a great way to spend 102 minutes.

“Hell or High Water”

Daniel Ford: I made the mistake of watching "Hell or High Water" right before I went to bed one night. My heart rate quickened almost instantly, and it kept pumping long after the shotguns and rifles cooled. The premise of this film is Elmore Leonard-level simple. Two brothers systematically rob a West Texas bank chain to...pay back the same bank chain to keep their family's land. Jeff Bridges plays the crusty lawman hot on their trail.

If that's all the movie had been, I probably would have loved it just the same. However, to the filmmaker's credit, "High or High Water" features subtle and biting commentary about those struggling to make ends meet in today's economy, gun control laws, crime, punishment, family, and our current political climate. Bridges and Ben Foster play their roles beautifully, but Chris Pine is the real standout here. He can be typecast in "standard Hollywood white guy" roles, but he absolutely shines as a conflicted and desperate family man. It's no surprise that this film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. One of the best movies I saw in 2016. 

Manchester by the Sea

Adam Vitcavage: The logline for “Manchester by the Sea” sounds like the type of film a film student who takes himself or herself too seriously would want to make. “A mopey man battles his inner demons while juggling family obligations and a haunting past.” Okay, that’s not really the logline, but it's close enough. It would have been easy to take the idea of this film and make something that falls shorts. However, this film transcends a simple idea and produces one of the best films of not only this year, but of this millennium.

Kenneth Lonergan’s film is a nuanced look into heart wrenching moments of actions and reactions that unfold slowly over the course of the film. It would have been easy for the writer/director to fill the drama with a melodramatic score underlying long, drawn out artsy shots. The film could have easily been a realistic mumblecore affair for the millennial generation. But that isn’t what this filmmaker does. He provides a keen eye for beautiful shots that don’t stand out. It isn’t the type of film that has one breathtaking shot that will be memorable because it seemed different than the rest of the film; instead, Lonergan chose to subtly film the beauty of his subjects.

Everything hinges on the performance from star Casey Affleck. Lonergan creates a subtle, slow-paced study into Affleck’s Lee Chandler. What happened to him prior to the film and what happens during it is heart wrenching. There’s no other way to put it. [I’m going to leave the plot as much as a mystery, because that’s how I went into the film, and feel that it allows for the punches to hit harder that way.] Everything that Lee does is on the fringe of reasonable, but there is that slimmer of understanding that Affleck performs with that allows viewers to step into this character’s mind. He is a wreck, and by the end of the two hours watching him, you will be, too.

It would be a mistake to overlook the other performances in this film. Luckily, no one has made that mistake. Both Michelle Williams and slight newcomer Lucas Hedges round out a terrific core to bring Lonergan’s film to life. Because of the nature of the film, they will obviously take a back seat to many of the accolades being thrown at Affleck, but the film may not have worked without them.

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The Great Literary Accomplishment of 2016 May Have Belonged To A Film

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

By Alexander Brown

2016 is getting a lot of flack for being a lousy year. Yes, some lovely, talented people passed on (as they do every year), and an election didn’t go the way many Americans wanted (as it does ever four years), but really, I don’t think 2016 was all for not because how can 2016 be so nefarious when even amidst all the doom, gloom, and social media meltdowns, it also happened to give us Kenneth Lonergan’s "Manchester by the Sea," the best film I’ve seen in years.

(Full disclosure: Nothing in here can be considered a major plot spoiler. I want you to enjoy the film as much as I did, and the less you know the better.)

Saying something is the best anything tends to read like empty, click-baiting hyperbole, but as far as dishing out accolades is concerned you’ll find far greater praise heaped upon the film if you take a quick run through Rotten Tomatoes, or if you simply ask a kind, older moviegoer—my kind of moviegoer—if they have seen any good matinees recently.

It’s a movie that feels so lived-in that characters forget where they parked their cars, phone service drops during crucial moments, and no two people are ever having the same conversation at once. It’s as if you’ve parachuted into a strange but familiar town for a few short weeks, only you keep coming across the same people in their day-to-day lives.

Our protagonist Lee Chandler—played sublimely by the more talented Affleck brother, Casey—is even taken out to buy furniture when his older brother Joe helps him move into a basement apartment in Boston, at a time in Lee’s life where he is choosing to live in exile and in constant penance for his actions. (I’ve never seen someone be gifted furniture on film before. It’s not exactly a white-knuckle moment but it’s funny and sweet and they add up, I swear.)

Even the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea serves as its own character. The early-winter winds coming off the North Atlantic rip through the scenery. School children talk about a performance of "Godspell" that the audience will never be shown. We witness a terrible high school band warming up for a gig that, thankfully, we will never see them play.  

If that at all sounds dull it’s far from it. In fact, its main accomplishment may be that it takes what could be a rather traditional character drama and turns it into something much more profound. It’s so personal and honest it moves along with surprising inertia. It’s not so much a drama as it is a comedy. Not so much a comedy as it is an exercise in observational cinema, or cinéma vérité. Not so much an exercise in cinéma vérité as it is a stab at the Great American Novel.

There is grief but it’s not about grief. It’s sad without being melancholy. It’s funny without the jokes feeling crafted on. No grand transfigurations takes place, only those familiar little moments that make up a life set against the edge of the world overlooking the sea. We’ve seen stories like that before. Be it in a dog-eared copy of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, or, in a far more mainstream comparison, in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Late in the film we arrive at what traditionally should be the emotional catharsis of a film. Two characters meet and the stage is set for Lee to be unburdened, only he doesn’t want to have the conversation. He physically and mentally cannot do it, and you believe him. He leaves.

Nothing about that unique moment, or the dozens of personal, unpredictable encounters that came before it necessarily lends itself towards being a captivating viewing experience, but it is.

In my mind, that makes "Manchester by the Sea" far more than just a film.

That makes it literature.

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5 Movies I Loved in 2016

Sean Tuohy shares his five favorite movies from the past year. Send us your favorites by dropping us a line in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or by tweeting us @WritersBone.

By Sean Tuohy

“The Nice Guys”

This should be no surprise: I love this movie. I’ve been in love with it since I read Shane Black’s 2006 script for this dark comedy. The film, which ended up being directed by Black, is the movie that moviegoers were crying out for but didn’t know it. Smart, funny, and filled with enough gunplay and one-liners to bring out the movie hard on.

Read Sean Tuohy's interview with Charles Ardai, author of "The Nice Guys" novelization. 

Read Sean Tuohy's interview with Charles Ardai, author of "The Nice Guys" novelization. 

“The Arrival”

This sci-fi thriller penned by Writer’s Bone podcast guest Eric Heisserer was a stand out this year. If “Independence Day” is on the lowbrow end of the scale for “aliens invade Earth” movies, then “Arrival” is very much on the high end. Paced just right and filled with wonderful images, this film captured the spirit of modern sci-fi storytelling. The best part in this film was that the major action scene never happens. You never see a gun being fired, but you hear it. The film wisely doesn’t rely on action, but focuses all its attention on the characters.

Listen to Sean Tuohy's interview with "Arrival" screenwriter Eric Heisserer.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

I left the theater smiling with joy after watching this film. Harry Potter was in my life, but I was not a mega fan like some (cough, Daniel Ford, cough). This movie captured the wounded and joy of the original Potter books. I definitely had a tear in my eye during one of the saddest moments at the end of the film.

“Midnight Special”

“Midnight Special” was the perfect mix of science fiction and noir. Shot in muted tones, grounded in the real world with characters that peel off the screen, “Midnight Special” was overlooked by filmgoers. The heart of the story—a father protecting his son—is heartwarming, but the action in the story is believable.

“Triple 9”

Crime legends Ross Macdonald and James Ellroy would be proud to see that their tradition of dark storytelling, featuring criminals and violence, continue on in this thrilling heist film. A group of bank robbers indebted to the mob must kill a cop—a triple 9 call—to pull off their next heist. Character-driven, dark, moody, this movie was sadly overlooked.

Why I Rolled My Eyes Watching ‘Jason Bourne’

By Sean Tuohy

Editor’s note: Sean Tuohy loves actions movies. They are just built into who he is. When they are done well, there’s no one that giggles with glee more than the Tuohy Monster. When he hates a movie, or feels like a movie was lazily put together, I get a string of scathing emails. As you read this essay I cobbled together from a recent thread, imagine Sean foaming at the mouth and shaking his fist.—Daniel Ford   

I saw “Jason Bourne” the other night.

*rolls eyes* *shakes head*

The story was weak and forced. The dialogue was bland and just used to move the story along. The actors seemed bored. Tommy Lee Jones was just playing himself. Matt Damon was good, but there was no growth. It was a big let down from the first three, which were smart and featured great character growth. Apparently, this movie’s editor was not around either. Scenes started too late or ran too long.

I get that the first three films were so well done that it would be hard to be that good again. The thing is that the first three films are all about reaction. How does a man with no memory of himself react to learning he carries all these deadly skills? The second asked, how does a man react when you take away his life? The third, how does a man react when he has nothing left and has been pushed too far?

In this film, it was, "let’s see him hit people.” Bourne is shown to be some kind of bare-knuckle boxer living off the grid. Why? Because we can see him hit someone really hard. In the last film, he was given a chance to leave his life behind him and start anew. Why not have him being a farmer or something nonviolent? This way when he is pulled back into the world of violence there is a struggle. Instead, we just see a bland and broken character go chasing someone because of some half-assed reason. 

Bourne is not meant to be a fighter. He is a trained killer and is very deadly but he wants no part of that life. He doesn't like that part of himself. That is what the other three films were showing us. In “Jason Bourne,” he fights because he can. Again, he's a useful man and could get a job doing anything in any part of the world, but instead they strip away the human and just make it so he simply fights.

"Jason, your father something, something, something."

"Oh no. I must punch people."

There is barely any backstory given to any of the characters. The only one to get a backstory, and one of the few characters that I wished was shown more, was The Asset, a cold-blooded killer that Bourne unwittingly sold out years before. Tommy Lee Jones’s character is so paper-thin. He is the head of the CIA and is cold hearted. I've seen that before. We all have seen it. Give him something else. Make him lovable so when it turns out he’s bad, it hits us harder. Or make him a woman who is lovable. Just give me something else. I've seen this movie.

This is the film; this what they give us now instead of crafting a story around complex human beings. We had a man who struggled to understand himself and his deadly skills, and now we have a guy who has nightmares and punches people.

Thanks, Hollywood.

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Thank Tower Records and New York City for ‘Seven’

By Sean Tuohy

Remember record stores? Those big retail shops filled with CDs, DVDs, and the occasional poster of celebrities smoking pot? Well, if it weren’t for a disgruntled record store employee and the horrors of living in the Big Apple the world would have never gotten “Seven.”

Now considered one of the best American crime dramas of the past 30 years, “Seven” tells the twisted tale of a serial killer that murders based on the seven deadly sins. On the surface, it’s a straightforward whodunit. However, lingering under the thrilling plot is the dark story about how living in a city can slowly kill someone.

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was living in New York City trying to be a screenwriter while working in a record store. (By the way, how is that not a sitcom?!?!) In between walking around the soul-crushing city and going to his mindless job, Walker began to write a screenplay that reflected how he felt.

We ended up getting a film featuring a sociopath who makes an obese person eat himself to death.

Thanks, New York!

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How A Loaded Gun Motivated Screenwriter Paul Schrader To Write ‘Taxi Driver’

By Sean Tuohy

It’s pretty easy to tell from watching “Taxi Driver” that the person behind it wasn’t in the best mindset. Screenwriter Paul Schrader has become one of Hollywood’s most interesting filmmakers, but before the fame he was a broke, homeless, and suicidal writer.

During the 1970s, Schrader was going through somewhat of a rough patch. His girlfriend dumped him, he had no money, nowhere to life, and no career to speak of. Schrader spent his evenings driving around the city, thinking, and occasionally breaking into his ex’s house when she wasn’t around. 

Schrader wanted to share how he felt so he wrote a screenplay (this was pre-Twitter; a much simpler time).

Schrader needed to stay motivated so he hung up a poster of a cat hanging on a wire that said ‘Hang in there, baby” and then started working.

Just kidding, only Daniel Ford does that. No, Schrader came up a more…creative way to stay motivated. He left a loaded handgun on the table. Nothing says, “Stay at it,” like a .45 threatening you.

But it worked. Schrader finished the script in 10 days and then went on to have an incredible career (until he made “The Canyons”).

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Robbing Uncle Sam: How 'Die Hard With A Vengeance' Hit A Little Too Close to Home

By Sean Tuohy

One New York City cop must stop a bunch of machine gun-toting terrorists from robbing The Federal Reserve Bank of New York by using bombs and the subway system. Completely unbelievable. Would never happen. Could not happen.

Wait, what? Maybe it could…?

The third installment of the long-running action franchise “Die Hard” was one of the best. Following our hero John McClane as he tries to stop the brother of Hans Gruber—the guy who fell out of a window in the first one—as he tries to rob the New York Federal Reserve by bombing a subway stop and then using trucks to drive through water tunnels. 

Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh states in the audio community for the film that while writing the script he wanted to find out how to actually rob one of the world's most important banks. The best way to do that? Probably plan a daring heist for months, right? Nope. Just walk in and ask for a tour. Yes, the building that holds the most amount of gold in the United States allowed a screenwriter to walk into the vault, let him hold a gold bar, and even told him that the nearby subway messes with security system all the time. We assume afterwards they told him where they hid the spare key (Spoiler alert: it’s under the fake rock out front).

Later, while Hensleigh was trying to figure out how to get the gold out of the city, he read that a new water duct tunnel was being built. Perfect. He added that to the finished script and turned it in.

At this point, the FBI was able to read said script with all the spare time they must have. They discovered a huge problem… All of it was possible! While writing an action movie, Hensleigh had created a very plausible plan to rob Uncle Sam. FBI agents eventually showed up at the studio’s office and started asking questions. “Die Hard With A Vengeance” was allowed to move forward but only after major changes were implemented at the Federal Reserve.

The spare key has since been moved to a secret location (it’s now under the plastic frog).

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3 Directors Who Should Have Stayed in Front of the Camera

By Sean Tuohy

Sometimes something sounds like a good idea but it ends up being awful. For example, peanut butter and jelly mixed together in one jar or actors who think they should be directors.

Yes, sometimes it works out. Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks, and Jodie Foster have all pulled it off successfully.

However, as the 2016 Golden Globes taught us last night, it is way better to make fun of famous people screwing up than talking about how wonderful they are.

Here are a fewer actors/directors who didn’t quite make the grade:

The Fonz Directs “A Cop and A Half”

What happens when has-been actor Burt Reynolds and nice guy Henry Winkler walk into a bar?

A god-awful movie is born.

“A Cop and a Half” is a heartwarming story about a police-obsessed boy who witnesses a murder and then teams up with the city's most badass cop to save the day.

Yes, the guy who popularized, “Ayyyyy”, brought you this film!

“Why is the Fonz directing?!?!?!” Why was that not the first question that was asked by the studio head? Let’s hope he is no longer employed and that the studio went bankrupt.

The Artist Who Did It All for the Nookie Makes an Art Film

If your most well known song features you screaming about how you do everything just to get laid, why not direct a coming-of-age film that seven people will see.

This really happened. Fred Durst, the backwards hat-wearing lead singer of Limp Bizkit, directed a film in 2007 called “The Education of Charlie Banks.” Critics called the movie “uneven,” which is a nice way to say that it sucks.

However, I have to be honest…the film isn’t all that bad. The story isn’t awful. The characters are okay. It is nothing special but…it is watchable. 

They Call Me…The Guy Who Directed ‘Ghost Dad!’

Sidney Poitier is one of the most respected actors of his generation. He’s well spoken, charming, and could do no wrong on screen…

….that is until he decided to team up with Bill Cosby and make a family friendly movie about parents dying.

The 1990s were a simpler time, folks. Cosby starred in a film in which he died and came back as a ghost who helped his children. The person who directed this corpse of a film? Sidney “I Electrified Audiences in ‘In The Heat of The Night’” Poitier.

This film was so bad that is ruined Poitier’s career as a director. It is his last directing credit. He had directed eight other movies before this one in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so he had some chops coming into this film.

The fact that this movie wasn’t a hit is a shame because I wanted to see the sequel “Ghost Dad 2: Tropical Funeral. “

(Also, to be fair, this movie is the least offensive thing Bill Cosby did during the 1990s. Allegedly.)

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Why Shane Black’s Upcoming Neo-Noir ‘The Nice Guys’ Will Be A Masterpiece

By Sean Tuohy

Wild West gunplay, witty dialogue, a hard-boiled mystery good enough to make Raymond Chandler scratch his head, and Russell Crowe in bell-bottoms! These are just some of the things we have to look forward to look in script king Shane Black’s new film “The Nice Guys.” 

Set in 1970s Los Angeles, a down and out P.I. (Ryan Gosling) and an enforcer (Crowe) team up to find a missing woman who caught in the middle of a conspiracy. The Red Band trailer showcases Black’s poppy banter, cynic tough guys, and heart-pounding action. Penned back in 2003, “The Nice Guys” is a well-known script among script hounds and the project has gone through several changes (at one point it was planned to be filmed as a television show instead of a feature). However, we finally get to see the film on the big screen!

After watching the trailer 19 times in less than an hour and rereading the script at an equally feverish speed, it’s easy to see that “The Nice Guys” is going to become a masterpiece.

The Dialogue

Shane Black writes some of the best back and forth banter between characters. It’s lightning fast, but easy to keep up with (unlike Aaron Sorkin’s solid dialogue, Black’s never goes over the audience's head). The dialogue in a Black film, and this movie in particular it seems, is tough and spoken with a rough edge.

The Characters

The characters in “The Nice Guys” are broke, cynic, burnt out, and about ready to give up on life completely. However, they appear to have one good fight left in them.

Black’s characters are human; they are filled with fear and self-doubt but they are always able to pull off superhuman feats. Gosling’s P.I. is a troubled man who is awful at his job and has a daughter who doesn’t like him. Despite everything stacked against him, we want to root for him. Black tends to creates characters you should dislike but fall in love with in the end.

The Humor

Throughout the trailer viewers are treated to gruesome violent images, but we can’t help but laugh the whole time. Black performs an incredible balancing act between violence and humor that never feels forced or unnecessary.

The movie comes out May 20, 2016. 

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The Top 5 Films of 2015

By Sean Tuohy

Editor’s note: Sean’s 2014 list was an eclectic mix of Oscar winners and pleasure rides, and this year is no different. The man knows movies better than anyone and picked some great ones from 2015. I’m just thankful “Terminator Genisys” didn’t make the list. It was a close call everyone, but we dodged it!—Daniel Ford

“Top Five”

Chris Rock wrote, produced, and directed this perfectly well balanced comedy that fell under radar. The stand-up comic vet blended together humor, heart, and well-rounded characters. The film follows a flawed comedian during one day as a reporter questions him about his craft (as well as his love life). Brutally honest, but charming and loving, Rock’s “Top Five” offers a candid look into the mind of a comedian and what it means to be funny.

“Ex Machina”

Alex Garland, the writer of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine,” took his first shot at directing and created one of the most original and creepy sci-fi films in the last 20 years. A young computer programmer wins the chance to work with one of the wealthiest and smartest computer designers but discovers that he’s been pulled into an unnatural experiment with A.I. The imagery alone is jaw dropping, borrowing from Kubrick’s “The Shining” and "2001: A Space Odyssey." With one foot resting in reality and the other stepping into the realm of possibility, this film will keep you awake long after you finish watching.

“Spotlight”

Based on the true story of The Boston Globe’s investigation team’s uncovering of the Catholic Church’s sex scandal, “Spotlight” offers a look into the not-too-distant past. With Michael Keaton delivering a strong lead performance and a stellar Mark Ruffalo backing him, it is nearly impossible to pull your eyes away from the screen.

“The Martian”

Author Andy Weir’s surprise hit novel about a witty astronaut left behind on Mars had readers falling in love across the globe, but when directing god Ridley Scott brought it to the bring screen this year the whole world jumped on board. Even President Obama said it was one of the best films of the year! With Matt Damon playing the cheerful and resourceful Mark Watney, the film showcased the best of Hollywood filmmaking: remarkable sets, strong performances, and a well-written story. You could not ask for anything more.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

Nearly 30 years after bringing us to the wastelands to fight for gasoline, Aussie filmmaker George Miller brought us back and holy mother god were we thrilled to return. Simple, gritty, and turbo-charged, the fourth “Mad Max” film was a crowd-pleasing monster. This is not a film you’ll spend a lot of time talking about because you’ll be busy re-watching…re-watching…and re-watching it.

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4 More Movies To Watch Before 2014 Ends

By Stephanie Schaefer

Sean Tuohy inspired me to share my favorite films of 2014, and one I wish I never watched...

“Boyhood”

Hands down, Richard Linklater’s film takes the gold medal, not only because of its brilliant direction, but also because of the raw and real dialogue coming from the mouths of actors like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Filmed throughout the course of 12 years, the story follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) morphing from a shy child to an angsty teenager to a college freshman dealing with life’s hurdles. The coming-of-age film is one-of-a-kind, and I’m hoping to see it pick up some hardware during this year’s award season.

“Begin Again”

What do you get when you pair soft-spoken Kiera Knightly, scruffy Mark Ruffalo, hipster Adam Levine and the New York City skyline? The charming rom-com “Begin Again.” The indie film quietly stole my heart with its hopeful themes and poetic soundtrack. Plus, I love that Levine didn’t take a penny for acting in the low-budget flick.

“Gone Girl”

I’ll admit that I never actually read the book, but did see the movie on opening night. I was intrigued by all the hype of the film, and it didn’t disappoint. Although I’m usually not one to enjoy thrillers, it certainly kept my attention throughout. I personally believe that it was one of Ben Affleck’s most well-acted movies to date (even though I blinked and missed his “nude” scene), and Rosamund Pike gave a hauntingly good performance. The plot may have had a few holes, but if you’re one of the five Americans who haven’t seen it yet, I recommend watching.

“22 Jump Street”

Although this film probably won’t win any Oscars, I’m adding it to my list because defied all odds by

1. Being a good sequel (the list of good sequels is short). 

2. Being a comedy that actually makes you laugh.

Let’s face it, comedies these days tend to be lackluster, but not when Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are paired up. I laughed out loud numerous times in the theater, and have the Writer’s Bone crew Daniel Ford, Sean Tuohy, and Rachel Tyner as witnesses.

Bonus: The Worst Movie of 2014

I’ve walked out of the theater about three times in my lifetime, and one happened this year. Actually, I think I stormed out. When I hear the words, “That Awkward Moment,” the first thing that comes to my mind is misogynistic piece of crap. It may be too late for Zac Efron, but I hope that Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan pretend that movie never happened, and go on to show us their full potential in 2015 (à la “Whiplash” and “Fruitvale Station”).

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My 5 Favorite Films From 2014

By Sean Tuohy

Sadly, I missed a lot of movies this year. There were so many great films that I wanted to see and so many truly awful movies I wish I hadn't seen.

Despite all that, here are my top five films of 2014:

“Birdman”

I left the theater smiling ear to ear. This film was truly amazing and did not miss a beat. The juggernaut performances were moving, the writing was crisp, and it felt like the film was shot in long take. It’s easily one of the best written films of the year. It deserves all the praise it has received, plus much more.

“Guardians of the Galaxy”

I am not a huge fan of comic movies because I was a movie fan long before I was a comic fan. I love watching movies, but lately the theaters bombard moviegoers with nearly identical films featuring men and women in tights. Expect for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” This flick brought fun back to the movie world. It was funny, action-packed, had a good storyline, and produced a wonderful world to visit. It felt more like a true action/sci-fi movie than a comic book movie. James Gunn (“Slither” and “Dawn of the Dead”) crushed it.

“The Imitation Game”

A British movie about World War II? Boring. Oh wait, you have a fantastic performer in a bittersweet? I’m back in! Benedict Cumberbatch hits a homerun in this true-life movie about Britain breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code. The film follows genius Alan Turing (who designed one of the first computers and was punished later in life for being gay) and his code breaking team. It’s a truly well-made movie audiences should love.

“Chef”

This was the small movie with a big punch. Funny, charming, sweet, and heartfelt, this film follows an artist/chef embarking on a new path in life.

“Tusk”

Wow, this movie is…well…it’s dark, but wildly original. Only Kevin Smith (badass writer, host of “Smodcast,” director of “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” and “Chasing Amy”) could bring you a tale as twisted and funny as this. “Tusk” follows a young man held by a madmen who slowly transforms him into a walrus. You’ve never seen a scene like the last 10 minutes of this movie, and you never will again. 

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Why 'Die Hard' Is the Ultimate Christmas Movie

By Sean Tuohy

It’s that time of year again when you put on a god-awful sweater, drink booze-heavy eggnog, and celebrate an obese man breaking into your home and eating your offering of store-bought cookies and soy milk.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, unless you’re elf because those tiny North Pole slaves are working unpaid overtime to manufacture your ungrateful kids’ gifts. This is a time when we come together and watch movies about the Christmas spirit.  There are many Christmas movies out there, but the one film that sums it up the holiday best is a little classic called “Die Hard.”

It’s the classic Christmas tale of an off-duty cop getting trapped in his wife’s office building during a terrorist takeover. Barefoot, outnumbered, and truly hating Twinkies, John McClane must save the day and, in essence, save Christmas.

Here are all the reasons I could think of for why “Die Hard” should be your go-to holiday movie for years to come:

It Shows the Importance of Being Kind and Helpful

This time of year, you have to be nice or else…a fat man in a red suit will hunt you down. With that thought in mind, limo driver Argyle helps his fellow man by giving McClane a lift from the airport and….smashing his car into the terrorist getaway van and punching a man in the face. True holiday spirit.

Don’t Be Mean

Terrorist Tony learns you shouldn’t be mean during this time of year after he chases our hero under a table with a machine gun and then gets shot in the crotch. 

Be Creative

You could buy your gifts or you could handcraft them like some kind of Third World family. If decide on the latter, you have to be creative just like McClane when he uses a corpse and a Santa hat to mess with the terrorists’ leader. Don’t forget how to use tape to hide your pistol on your sweat- and blood-soaked back.

Be Grateful

You have to enjoy the little things, just like McClane enjoys climbing through an air duct. “Now I know what a T.V. dinner feels like.” See, that’s a grateful man.

Don’t Lie

Hey, tell the truth. No one likes a liar, mostly because their pants are always on fire. Hans Gruber, the mastermind behind the terrorist plot, is a liar. He lies right to Eliis’ face and then shots him in that face.   Don’t worry, he gets what he deserves…no, not a fair trial followed by a prison sentence, but a free trip out of a window. Still better than your pants being on fire.

Being With Family

The most important part of the holidays is spending time with your loved ones. Even if both of you are in shock after a traumatic event and soaked in blood, it’s good to reconnect with one another.  

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