Friday, February 28, 2014

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

"What makes compelling fiction or cinema is when you're basically taking the most intense moments of experience and you're creating a song or a narrative out of it". 
 - director/writer David O. Russell 

       Phenomenal screenplay writer/ director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo, The Canyons) once quipped -"When screenwriting, be prepared to drop your pants and show your dirty laundry. If you can't do that, better find yourself something more polite."  

  Screenwriting is extremely difficult and most writers will need to heed Paul Schraders advice to be successful. Many movie viewers or audience members arrogantly believe they could easily write something better than whats on screen. The truth is they have no idea how much time, effort and imagination it takes to create captivating cinema. What is a screenplay? A screenplay is the script for a movie, video game or television show (teleplay) which includes acting instructions and scene directions. The major components of a screenplay are action and dialogue. The "action" is written in the present tense. The "dialogue" are the lines the characters speak.

      Sunday, March 2nd during the 86th Academy Awards the Oscars will be honoring screenplay writers from two distinct categories, "original" and "adapted". What is the difference?  An original screenplay is a script not based upon previously published material such as a short story or novel. This category was first created in 1940 as a separate writing award from the Academy Award for Best Story. The nominees for best original screenplay 2014 are:
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club (view movie trailer above)
Spike Jonze, her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle ( Russell, pictured in the photo above is also nominated in the Best Director category for American Hustle)

Creating  the adapted screenplay is also a challenging process. Writers are often concerned with being true to the original work. On occasion the writer of the original book, story or novel has the power to exert considerable influence over the screenplay writing process such as editorial control.

The nominees for best adapted screenplay:

John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

     Although a memorable movie experience is largely subjective there are certain factors that film aficionados agree upon; an inspiring story, brilliant direction, incredible acting and gripping dialogue. All films begin with words on a page but the emotional impact of extraordinary cinema brands a deep impression on our hearts and psyche forever. A story never stops. What are some of the best movie screenplays of all time?  Here are a few original and adapted screenplays that seem to appear on every movie lovers list.

Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz,   Citizen Kane (1941)
Julius J. and Phillip G. Epstein, Howard Koch,   Casablanca (1942)
Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman,  Annie Hall  (1972)
Robert Towne,   Chinatown  (1974)
Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola,  The Godfather (1972)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz,  All About Eve  (1950)
Paddy Chayefsky,  Network  (1976)
Budd Shulberg, On the Waterfront (1954)
Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery,  Pulp Fiction  (1994)
Sidney Howard,  Gone With the Wind (1939)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here..."

“People speak sometimes about the "bestial" cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

         On Sunday, March 2nd at 7 PM EST on ABC, comedian and  beloved talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres will honor actors, writers, artists, musicians and film makers with the coveted golden Oscar statue at the 86th  Academy Awards ceremony. Among many competitive categories this year is the documentary film. The nominees for best documentary film include:

“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom”( nominees to be determined) and the overwhelmingly powerful,
     “The Act of Killing” produced and directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (see photo and clip above) with Signe Byrge Sørensen.

     "The Act of Killing" is the disturbingly raw documentary of the deaths of nearly a million opponents of Indonesia's political regime, the heads of the country's death squads celebrated as heroes. Challenged to  examine their brutal actions regarding the killings, the men produce elaborately staged plays and movies   reenacting mass slaughter.
     Anwar Congo, a former gang leader and his friends recreate surreal cowboy scenarios,  musical dance numbers, and film noir gangster vignettes.  Even though Congo and his band of mass murderers are scrutinized in the media their reign has continued ever since 1965 when the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military.
     Joshua Oppenheimer, the thirty-nine year old documentary film maker and Texas native studied at Harvard University and currently lives in Europe. His paternal grandparents were from Germany. His grandfather had left the country before Hitler's rise to power and was studying in America. Oppenheimer's grandfather returned to Germany during World War II and was able to rescue some family members, but most of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust.

  Oppenheimer is quoted as saying of the real-life murderers of  " The Act of Killing", 

 "within minutes of meeting me, they would tell me horrible stories, often boastfully, and would say, 'How about if we go to the place where I killed people, and I will show you how I did it?' And then they would often lament afterwards, 'Oh I should have brought a machete along to use as a prop,' or 'I should have brought friends along who could play victims, it would have been more cool that way.'

     Even though the haunting movie has been described as "terrifying" and "painful to watch", the human rights atrocities and complete lack of humanity captured need to be seen, heard and discussed by all generations. There are critical human rights offenses that have to be addressed and understood right now in the Ukraine, Venezuela and Uganda. "The Act of Killing" proves there is no other form of cinema as potent or compelling as the documentary film.



Monday, February 24, 2014

"let life be like music and death a note unsaid.."

" I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times- including my husband, my mother and beloved son. Yet life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate." - Alice Herz- Sommer

     "Music Saved My Life"- Alice Herz-Sommer,  who is believed to be the oldest Holocaust survivor, has died at the age of 110. On Sunday, February 23rd, 2014, her death was announced by a family member  in London, England where she resided. Herz-Sommer was an accomplished pianist whose death came a mere week before her incredible life story of surviving two years in a Nazi prison camp through an inspiring devotion to music and her young son is nominated for an Oscar.

       Alice Herz-Sommer is the focus of "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" a short documentary film directed by Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed. The film is expected to win in their category. The Academy Awards ceremony will air on ABC, March 2nd.




Friday, February 21, 2014

“Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up”

“  Dr. Claire Lewicki:  Tell me what you love so much about racing?
   Cole Trickle:   Speed. To be able to control it. To know that I can control something that's out of control."
                                                                             -Days of Thunder
      A surprising but true statistic about professional motor sports is that 80% of people who say they don't like racing have never even attended a LIVE race. Those who have an undying love for racing of any kind will tell you it's not only intense competition, its the entire physical and emotional package. What makes people want to go fast? Why do some of us feel the need for speed? Is speed or risk the real attraction for professional athletes?  Race car drivers undoubtedly experience an "adrenaline rush" while performing but professional motor sport athletes are ten times more likely than the average individual to be curious risk takers.
      Understandably,  the first time any of us try something new we may feel nervous and scared. Feeling a small amount of fear is actually healthy and essential for our own survival. There is good fear, keeping us alert and alive in dangerous situations and then there is crippling fear which causes us to remain frozen in our comfort zones. Eventually, facing and overcoming our fear builds a great sense of self-confidence. We feel stronger and more motivated. But for a few, biological factors cause a handful of human beings to constantly crave living on the razors edge. Being addicted to extremes, whether its a lifestyle of dangerous thrills or sports related risks is all about being an adrenaline junkie rather than a true competitor.

     If you want to increase your heart rate this weekend check out the Daytona 500- "The Great American Race" with Grand Marshall, Captain America- Chris Evans.
     The Sprint Cup Series race begins at 1:00pm EST on Sunday, February 23rd in Daytona, Florida.

      One family member who has been watching the Daytona 500 events unfold this week is my niece, Brianne Masirovits who is an aspiring sports public relations assistant. Currently, Bri is managing PR in retail. Her dream is to work as a public relations specialist in the field of professional  motor sports. As a recent college graduate with a degree in Communications,  Bri is truly a knowledgeable racing enthusiast and social media expert whose sincere passion draws others into loving the sport. Nothing would make me happier than to see her dreams come true. As she whole-heatedly proclaims of racing, "It's the best thing on the planet!"  See? No fear.


GO 99!  
Congrats 88!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"A reader lives a thousand lives."

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
― William Styron, Conversations with William Styron
         Do Americans read more than we think or are we just good at lying on research surveys?  According to data collected by the Pew Internet Research Project ( January 2014) 76% of American adults ages 18 and older have read at least one book in the past year, (69%) of adults have read a book in print in the past 12 months, 28% read an e-book, and 14% listened to an audio book. One potent combination we cannot deny is the love affair between books and movies. Either an unforgettable story inspires a fantastic screenplay or an emotional, compelling movie prompts the resurgence of a previously published book (2007) as is the case of the incredibly powerful eyewitness account of Operation Red Wing by former NAVY SEAL, Marcus Luttrell.  (Twelve Years a Slave and The Monuments Men are further examples.) 
 Stories are intended to be retold again and again. There will always be deeply penetrating glimpses of another life we want to reread or watch on screen over and over, allowing us to understand and share our humanity.

      So what are Americans reading? Specifically, in the non-fiction category, the number one best selling book in the country as of February 18th, 2014 (New York Times)  is Lone Survivor by former NAVY SEAL, Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson.

         2.) The Monuments Men, by Robert M. Edsel with Brett Witter. The novel based on historic facts   was the basis for the screenplay of the current movie The Monuments Men.

        3.) Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.  First published in 1853, the book Twelve Years a Slave is the narrative of a free man who was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and spent 12 years in bondage before escaping. The recently released movie which has garnered many film awards brought forth the  potency of the formidable journey.

       4.) Duty by former US defense secretary, Robert M. Gates

       5.) Killing  Jesus, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. The host of "The O'Reilly Factor" recounts the events leading up to Jesus' execution.

       6.) David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell is also the author of  the best-selling "Outliers" and "The Tipping Point".

       7.) Things That Matter, by Charles Krauthammer.  Essays spanning over thirty years from the life of the conservative columnist.

        8.) All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior. As a journalist, Senior examines how parenting has changed over the past fifty years.

        9.) Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan.  Corrigan's memoir explores the beauty and complexity of  mother and daughter relationships.

       10. ) Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand is based on the true survival story of an Olympic runner who was a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.


Friday, February 14, 2014

"butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.."

"Thank you, LL Cool J, for restraining a burglar in your house and not knocking him out despite what your mama said."
― Jimmy Fallon, Thank You Notes

             Jimmy Fallon brings The Tonight Show back to New York City starting, Monday, February 17th, 11:35/10:35 central on NBC.  For the first time since 1972 when Johnny Carson captured the hearts of an entire country, The Tonight Show will be airing from the  less pretentious, energetic East Coast. Staying alive, staying awake and staying in New York City will prove to be the edge Fallon favors to keep his current devoted hipsteresque audience while attracting a fresh crop of curious late night viewers.  Fallon appeals to a young diverse crowd who are just as familiar with Alt J and Imagine Dragons as Wiz Khalifa and routinely recognize which Twitter "hashtags" # are trending.  But don't worry. He is unlikely to alienate any late show demographic. Jimmy Fallon is a handsome, puppy loving, new father and native New Yorker who happens to be an accomplished actor, singer and musician as evidenced by the late night snack above.

     Another reason audiences will look forward to Fallon is his innate ability to interact creatively with his guests, so much so, many of his skits, hilarious conversations with ever amusing announcer, Steve Higgins and his multi-talented  house band The Roots go viral immediately. Being a former Saturday Night Live cast member he  understands the importance of keeping on top of current events, hot topics, trends as well as chatting up the latest actors and artists. Jimmy Fallon's most endearing quality is his amazing talent for unique musical compositions and live off the cuff performances. On a slow news day all Jimmy Fallon will need to do is improvise a song, giggle and smile at the camera. So stay awake. All is right with late night.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"One eye sees, the other feels.”

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell

     One point you must keep in mind while watching The Monuments Men is that the film wasn't intended to be a sweeping epic vision of World War II.  The Monuments Men is one small yet significant story taken from an almost incomprehensible history of  tragic events. As long as you remind yourself of the basic premise you will sit back and  imagine yourself traveling along with unsuspecting characters on a harrowing journey. Critics and movie fans whose reviews I've read should seriously refrain from unfairly comparing this film to the unflinchingly intense Schindler's List  or the brutal realism of Saving Private Ryan. The comparisons are trite and ridiculous.
     What you should know is that the film was directed by Oscar winning  actor/director George Clooney, is based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history. The screenplay was written by Grant Heslov and Clooney based on author Robert Edsels novels. The Monuments Men is a digestible entertaining action drama focused on a platoon of various art historians, museum curators and architects  performed with sincere reliability by notable stars such as Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. The actual historical "Monuments Men" was an unusual rag-tag crew tasked by president Franklin D. Roosevelt with sneaking into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves. Without this little known platoon and similar specialized forces the German army would have destroyed everything as the Reich fell. 
     Sentimental and nostalgic at times, the audience will be drawn into the seemingly impossible mission which becomes an emotional personal battle for each character involved.  Despite what other movie viewers may say; if you possess any true authentic feelings at all you will shed tears during The Monuments Men. The movie reminds us that there are no small acts of love and kindness. There are no small acts of spite or hatred. Author and Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel implores us to remember that the " opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”  

Friday, February 7, 2014

“The best way to predict the future is to create it."

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Hobbit

     Please, be a passionate supporter of music, dance and art programs in our public schools.  Learning to play percussion instruments, marching and concert band transformed my life as a teenager. My nephew who will celebrate his milestone 18th birthday soon plays the trumpet and has performed as drum major for his high school marching band. We come from a family of music lovers and band geeks. Do you know of the Blue Devils, Vanguard or Cadets?  Are you familiar with Phantom Regiment, the Madison Scouts or the Cavaliers? My nephew and I love watching the intensity and excitement of the (DCI)  Drum Corps International Championships each year. He has also had the amazing experience of attending the event live in Atlanta, Georgia.  The clip above is an inspiring taste of DCI's 2013 championship featuring, Carolina Crown.

 Over thirty years ago, Drum Corps International (DCI)  developed an incredible nonprofit, global youth activity of artistic, educational and organizational influence. Musicians, dancers and supporters work their ass's off to put on a hell of a show. Through the annual DCI Tour and more than 35 World Championships in 17 North American cities, Drum Corps International provides entertainment to millions through live performances and nationally-televised events. As their website states Drum Corps International is Marching Music’s Major League™.

     When I recall  my adorable nephew's performances in concert and marching band it sincerely makes me smile knowing how meaningful those performances can be for young adults. Our own emotions and music are so entwined. Memories of band camp, relentless practice sessions, travel, laughter and especially the bond with other musicians will live in my heart forever.  My nephew has the intelligence and charisma to succeed at whatever he chooses to pursue but hopefully he continues to embrace music and the performing arts in some capacity.  Music brings so much joy to the world and especially to the players on stage ( or turf). What better gift to bestow than the blood, sweat and tears of an exhaustively rehearsed yet thrillingly rewarding performance?  Then again, he excels at practically every subject and endeavor. What an adventure ahead. Whatever journey he chooses, whatever road he travels in life- he should know he will be loved. Happy Birthday, Jarebear!  Celebrate. Many hugs and kisses to you and to your very proud Mom and Pops! 


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Night and day. Day and night."

"The needle tears a hole.
  The old familiar sting.
  Try to kill it all away
  but I remember everything"
                       Trent Reznor- "Hurt"

      Most of us will never truly comprehend serious, life altering addictions. We may think we know the moment by moment struggle of an addict because we admit  to current or former battles with caffeinated  beverages, food or cigarettes. What is compulsion versus addiction? Why do some people turn into addicts and others don't?
     Addiction can be used to describe a physical or biological compulsion. There is an over reaction of the brain to specific stimuli. Overtime, addicts build up a tolerance for the substance which causes them to need more and more of a stimulant in order to create a high. Surprisingly, most addictive behavior isn't related to either physical tolerance or exposure to such cues. Human beings compulsively surf porn sites, gamble, shop or use drugs in reaction to being emotionally stressed. We do this whether or not we have a physical addiction. There is a compulsion to act out. Since these psychologically based addictions are not formed from drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. This type of behavior is disturbingly shocking for many but described perfectly in the short documentary clip above from  "A Deadly Dance"(2013), a film about modern day heroin addiction in the Northeastern US.
      The focus of the addiction isn't what matters but the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. For example, most people who smoke, smoke more cigarettes when they are nervous or stressed out. Smokers may begin to chain smoke under duress. When a smoker decides to quit, the stress of life doesn't magically disappear. After a smoker conquers their physical nicotine addiction they may turn to food and begin to eat compulsively. Stress is the psychological trigger. Treating this type of addiction requires an understanding of how addictions psychologically work. We become mindful of our triggers and habits.
     We need to move away from feeling that addictions are purely pleasure seeking
 and  hedonistic, are due to lack of moral fiber or strength of character and move more towards understanding how to truly help people who are clearly suffering. Shaming and guilt do nothing to help those with compulsive or addictive personalities. If we truly wish to help people with addictions we must allow them to express themselves freely. We need to observe what is going on inside and out. We need to understand why they act and feel the way they do. At this point there are still arguments for and against nature versus nurture. Experts continue to debate whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing. Effective treatment and compassion is key. Compassion is always key.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

“Let the games begin!”

 “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”- Vince Lombardi

           Smack talk, trash trading insults, scathing parody videos and over 4 million dollars in intensive advertising campaigns- the Super Bowl is all about hype and halftime shows. But we know this. By now most of us have placed our bets on a team we've barely followed all season. We will wager on a city, gamble on a quarterback,  pick a point spread as long as we have buffalo wings, beer and nachos, it's all good- for the love of the game. We are drawn into the pride of pageantry and riveted by the excitement of rivalry. Seattle or Denver? It's impossible to predict which team will reign victorious at the end of a black and blue bruising, bone crushing battle. Now the REAL game will be passionately followed by millions upon millions of fanatical fans tuning in to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. Sixty-six adorable adoptable puppies and kittens (cats and kittens provide the halftime entertainment) are ready to rumble on the grid iron.

     All of  the Puppy Bowl’s  tough yet tender competitors are indeed shelter dogs.  Due to the Puppy Bowl's October production but February airing, most of these puppies have already found loving homes. However, there is still a slim chance three or four puppies in the lineup could be available for adoption.  If you are interested you are encouraged to log onto during the airing.  If you see a puppy you'd love to give a forever home they may be adoptable.  If the puppy is not available the shelter may have more information about other puppies who are equally adorable and may even come from the same litter.
   Don't stop there. If your heart is truly set on rescuing a dog or cat go directly to for adoptable pet information in your specific area. Let the love and games begin!