To make it simple, your screenplay theme is the perspective your Main Character has after they’ve finished their journey.

Let’s look at a few examples:

In Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) goes from not wanting to be a single father to learning his greatest accomplishment is being a great dad. The theme? Divorced fathers can be excellent custodial parents. Remember in the 70s, this was a thing as courts always sided with the mothers.

In Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is a strictly by-the-book right vs. wrong kind of man who has to compromise these fundamental principles to allow people who’ve done wrong to go free. The theme being there are no absolutes when it comes to murder. Sometimes circumstances create killers from victims and vice versa.

One more. Black Panther (2018). A film that has so many important social and cultural themes it is hard to narrow it to just one. But the theme of self-identity reflects an African-American culture at war with itself and struggles to achieve in a divided America. This is from a great study guide by Grade Saver:

Writing about Black Panther for The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb describes African-American identity as “two feuding ancestries conjoined by a hyphen.” He posits that there is a fundamental tension in the very notion of being African-American because to be black on some level means being not totally accepted as an American by much of society. And yet they cannot reject this identity because it has been forced upon them by history and circumstance. 

Ryan Coogler was all over that shit in the movie.

So how do you thread your theme?

Watch movies. Compile a list of where the Main Character is at the end. What must they sacrifice? Is it their principles? Their former way of life? Their child?

Know where your Main Character is at the end of your screenplay emotionally. After taking a tumultuous ride for ninety pages, how are they doing? Once you take their pulse you can see their attitude about what’s happened over the course of the story.

In Big (1988), 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) becomes 30-year-old Josh (Tom Hanks) after wishing he was “big.” It takes his journey through an adulthood he’s certainly not ready for to realize he’d rather be 12. He has to sacrifice the grown up life including a mature relationship to return to his family and friends. His attitude is relief and gratitude about not being big. Lesson learned. The theme of appreciating where you are in your life cycle is also reflected in his adult girlfriend, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) who at the end when Josh asks her to become 12 so they can stay together, she refuses stating she was 12 once and that was enough.

Even action movies follow these thematic examples. Armageddon (1998) may be about the imminent destruction of the plant, but through Bruce Willis’s sacrifice it’s really about making sure his daughter gets married to Ben Affleck. His external goal to do his job dovetails with the inner goal to see Liv Tyler happy. The rest of the story serves that goal. Even if it costs him his life.

In addition to knowing your Main Character’s sacrifice and attitude toward it at the end, another key to finding your screenplay theme is to understand your character’s main goal. What do they want at the beginning and how does that goal change in the middle? If you’ve done your job correctly, by the last act, the original goal will have changed to something the character either rejected or did not know they wanted.

Romantic comedies are really great at this. Baby Boom (1987) is not about neurotic go-getter JC Wiatt (Diane Keaton) leaving corporate America to raise a baby she was given responsibility for in a relative’s will. It’s about finding true love with a compassionate, laid back veterinarian Jeff Cooper (Sam Shepard).

One of my favorite rom coms is French Kiss (1995). Kate (Meg Ryan) chases her fiance (Timothy Hutton) who’s fallen in love with someone else and broken the engagement. She tracks him down in France where with the help of a French louse, (Kevin Kline) she is able to lure him back only to realize she doesn’t want a sap so easily turned. She wants real love with a strong man who loves her. Oh, there’s Kevin Kline who fits the bill. Convenient.

That’s a primer. Learning your screenplay’s theme is a necessary evil when creating your outline. If you don’t have an outline, beat sheet, treatment, something, shame on you. You have to know where you’re going before you get behind the wheel.

If you establish the main character’s goal, how that goal changes, what they have to sacrifice to achieve it and the attitude at the end of the journey, you will not only have a solid theme to sell to producers, but a satisfying screenplay for readers.

Murder on the Orient Express has been one of my favorite Agatha Christie stories ever since I read the short story “Murder in the Calais Coach” as a kid. Sidney Lumet’s 1974 feature starring Albert Finney with Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for this) and Sir John Gielgud was so tonally perfect it scares the crap out of me every time I see it.

I ignore the TV versions. CBS’s rancid waste of time with Alfred Molina and Meredith Baxter and the ITV effort as part of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series where Jessica Chastain’s secretary was the mastermind. Blasphemy. Although I will shout out David Suchet. Best. Poirot. Ever.

Still, I was excited when the 2017 remake directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as the world’s greatest detective Hercule Poirot came out last fall. Then I saw it. And was disappointed. This month it is all over HBO and with the ability to watch it more closely… I am still disappointed. Despite all of the things I love– the diversity within the storytelling, the cast, the cinematography, it’s a sumptuous travelogue. And Branagh’s Poirot – that mustache is everything. However, there are some things that I t need to be understood and corrected before another mistake is made.

Memo to Mr. Branagh:  You don’t assemble an all-star cast and forget to let them shine. Now that a semi-sequel is a go, I hope your Death on the Nile is as successful as your train trip. By all means open it up, but still– don’t deviate from the theme or plot, especially if it changes the tone.

Screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) updated this version by opening it up visually and changing the focus from the all-star suspects to the detective. That’s where they lost me.

This is a murder-mystery not an action thriller. Claustrophobia is required to maintain the chills and thrills. The Lumet version stays mostly on the train and is grandiose and boxed-in without feeling stuffy or over-stuffed. The actors have fun with their characters bordering on camp without going full-blown farce.

SPOILERS ahead in case you don’t know the plot.

Here the filmmakers create an isolated Eastern European mountain atmosphere. Why? No idea. This is the freaking Orient Express. The granddaddy of luxury train travel in its day. And still has the romance and intrigue of something exciting about to happen. For the love of God, don’t get off the train. The entire plot takes place on the train. Sure, keep your stunning amber sunsets and icy mountain passes, but this movie should be cramped, atmospheric and moody. The audience should feel uncomfortable, not like they could make snow angels under shooting stars.

This update includes a change in theme. The American justice of trial by jury in the Lumet version is replaced by biblical justice of moral vs. right. Green opens his screenplay introducing Poirot in Jerusalem at the wailing wall with religious leaders from three big faiths as suspects. He couldn’t have hit us over the head any harder. Poirot literally steps in horse shit twice to symbolize his need to reach a balance of the two.

Green also added contemporary action scenes in an atmospheric mystery. That feels wrong. In 1935 Hercule Poirot only need his little grey cells and an innocent suspect as muscle. In 2017 Poirot carries a gun. I can only assume because Branagh wants to stress how virile and macho he is. Look, he can chase a suspect along dangerous train tracks. Listen, he had a girlfriend who haunts his memory. Why not just pose in a Calvin Klein underwear add and get it out of your system? Leave Poirot alone. He is perfect as written.

Memo to Mr. Branagh: (Sir? Has he been knighted yet?) the hairy beast resting spectacularly on your upper lip is the star. Keep that, but please, for the love of God, let us know all the characters, not just you and see all the clues to give us a chance to solve the mystery. Do not short change any of the suspects for your egocentric need to indulge the detective. We get it. He’s Poirot. He’s a one-of-a-kind genius.

Can you name any of the characters in this movie? Other than Poirot? Think about it. I’ll wait. Michelle Pfeiffer. What was her character? Are you sure? She was the American looking for a rich husband. Johnny Depp. Hmm. Yeah, what can be said about his acting? His recent characters appear as doppelgängers for his personal life. Which is a nice way of saying he’s become a cartoon and it is difficult to take his characterization of the villainous Ratchett seriously.

Monsieur Poirot’s playing up his OCD never has the fun that both Finney and Peter Ustinov’s (in Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun) immodest geniuses had and takes away from developing the other characters. If Branagh had instructed his actors to kick up the camp a notch then they all would have been in sync. Pfeiffer and Josh Gad, bless them, seemed to get the need to be sassy or droll as the scene permits. The others seem self-serious, or too deferential to Poirot. All of this would have been taken care of had the focus been on the suspects as Mrs. Christie intended. In this version, the stunning cast has nothing to do but occupy space.

We watch mysteries not only to see the detective solve the case, but to participate in solving it with him. This remake took that away from us. We watch the detective rather than join him on the ride. For example, when the body is discovered it is an overhead catwalk shot – are you kidding? This is the big ticket – the murder. I don’t want to see the tops of heads or a bloody sheet from a bird’s eye. Get that camera in there and give me a close-up on the blood-drained face and rigor mortis.

The information we are given is spoon fed as if the filmmakers don’t trust us to solve the murder so we never even get to try. As an emerging screenwriter, I look for the inner and outer story. Here, it’s the morality of murder and finding out who killed Johnny Depp, err– Ratchett. In order to do that the audience needs context. The backstory at the beginning gets the audience involved.

This is something the 1974 film understood very well. The Armstrong kidnapping information. Opening with the immediate consequences of the event then cutting to six years later gives the audience a foundation. When Finney learns Anthony Perkins’ father was the D.A. In the case you think – oh, he could have done it. Then when you learn Wendy Hiller was the child’s godmother, you think – oh, she could have done it. And so one. It gives one pause. And hairs raise as each piece of the puzzle falls in place. That is the spine of the story – not Poirot’s greatness.

One of the fails of Mr. Branagh’s version is the inability to relate to any of the suspects. Because we know nothing of the Armstrong kidnapping there is no way we can even guess their true motives. Not fair, sir. In this version, the context is not up front, but after the body is discovered. That is Poirot telling us, rather than the audience actively participating. We have no way of knowing anything related to the inner story– so it seems to come from nowhere.

Obviously Branagh and Green didn’t trust the source material and added a modern element of keeping the lead character involved. Poirot missed the opportunity to work on the murdered child case and has always regretted not receiving a letter from the child’s father earlier. The insinuation is if Poirot had worked on this case there would be no murder on the orient express because Ratchett would have been found sooner. Heavy sigh. The audience needs information that informs the plot. Poirot is not part of that context.

Mysteries are puzzles to be solved by the audience as well as the detective. Said detective is our representative on the case. He is not one of the puzzle pieces. He does not keep the puzzle to himself and dole out information as he sees fit. So when all the information comes at once from Poirot’s personal involvement. Oh and everyone on board has a connection? There is no mystery to solve. There is no puzzle because there are no coincidences. SPOILER ALERT*** They all did it because they are all connected.

The ending is truly troublesome. Branagh and Green hit us over the head again with a religious metaphor assembling the suspects at a long table arranged like DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”– with Pfeiffer as Jesus. For his Poirot it all comes down to “Thou shalt not kill” because the audience is not smart enough to handle the intricacies of revenge.

“You tell your lies and you think no one will know. But two people will know. Your God and Hercule Poirot.” Murder in all forms is wrong, check. But are these characters akin to Jesus and the apostles? Really, Ken? His revelation is less about how all of the suspects are working together and more about Christian morality, going so far as allowing them to confess. As in “Confession is good for the soul.”

In the 1974 film, the suspects allow Poirot to tell the story but never give it up. They are people with whom we identify as humans. They worked their morality to allow themselves to commit this crime, but Lumet has enough respect for them, Poirot and the audience to not make them say their guilt aloud. By the time Michelle Pfeiffer’s Christ-in-a-Marcel-wave-wig goes off on her “I did it. Punish me not them” rant, I’ve changed the channel.

Memo the Kenneth Branagh – it’s only a movie, darling. Solving the case is enough. Poirot does not need to be related to the past history that leads to the crime. I have no doubt you will do your next Agatha Christie ensemble justice but with Ordeal by Innocence coming out this year Christie stories are big business. For the gravy train to continue, Poirot needs to solve the case and the audience needs to feel like his silent partners. Give us the puzzle pieces to help put it together. Remember, it’s our box office dollars that keep you in mustache wax.

I am a positive person. On the outside, I may have a crusty hard shell, but if you tap me with a fork, I crumble like a delicious crème brûlée. So while I eschew the hearts and flowers sentimentality of the season – the Hallmark movies about a lovely but lonely single woman and the slightly reckless single dad who looks like he just stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog who hook up after fighting for ninety minutes over whose responsibility it is to save the town’s only church lost to a Grinch-like town councilman/rich old man, ugh! (And if I have to see one more commercial telling some man how special his woman is so he needs to buy her a diamond at Jared, I will put both my eyes out with a screwdriver) – BUT, I still have hope and optimism for the success of holiday movie screenwriting. That is why it is so disappointing when bad Christmas (apologies to my non-Christmas-celebrating friends/readers) movies happen to good writers.  Screenwriting is hard enough, holiday features are even worse because of the emotional points that must be hit.  We love classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol or the original Miracle of 34th Street.  But most holiday movies don’t reach classic or even cult status –  Black Christmas.  The writers are lucky enough to get it made and move on.

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Crystal Fish is the script supervisor for my next short film. She is a lovely, intelligent, highly focused young woman with a strange obsession. I mean that literally. For her Thanksgiving holiday Crystal has forsaken family obligations of pumpkin pie and unboxing winter clothes. Instead she is binge-watching Netflix’s Stranger Things  on a continuous loop.

Netflix has officially overtaken HBO as my go-to channel. Yes, it is a strange new world when the home of Game of Thrones, Veep and John Oliver is no longer the first button I push when I can’t sleep at three o’clock in the morning, but there it is. The reason is Crystal’s humbling little show called Stranger Things. I have written about the joys of binge watching and how easy it is these days over all devices, but this. I bow to the clever writing. I quiver at the way the underlying adult psychodrama captivates me while I’m watching a story starring children. Stranger Things is about the search for a missing 12-year-old boy who disappears under the watchful eye of a government research facility in a small Midwestern town. The boy’s family and friends team up to find him and discover mysterious and supernatural freaky happenings at the government facility. This nostalgic series set in the 1980s uses child protagonists as stand-ins for the grown up target audience whose own adolescence was during that era.

The cast is stellar from newcomers like Millie Bobby Brown as an escapee from the facility with Carrie-like telekinetic powers to 1980s OG Winona Ryder as the missing boy’s mother. thThe spookiness reminds me of The X-files while the pre-teen adventure/mystery is not unlike The Goonies. What a combination. This is not your teenager’s binge. The science fiction show is all grown up and ready to rumble. Each episode layers in the idea of fear and trust and government shenanigans (sound familiar) and pulls you deeper into the strange conspiracy and its literal monster. It’s not scary like a horror, but grounded in a realism that makes sense in our changing and uncertain world of unknown dangers.  The web is abuzz with all kinds of theories and prognostications for season 2.  Emerging writers please note: when forty-something fanboys and girls actually cut their workout time in half to argue with strangers online over whether a badass preteen bald girl with telekinetic powers will destroy your fictional town in  Indiana, you know you have a hit.

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Dear Gayle–

Between the 2016 Presidential election, Hurricanes Matthew & Nicole and the inexplicable success of Issa Rae with HBO’s Insecure I realize you are so busy assessing the damage that you may not have had time to see the new movie of your favorite book of 2015, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. I saw that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a shocking splat at 44%. What gives?

–E.G.

Dear E.G.,

Your observation is spot on. I do spend time contemplating how it is far more likely for an emerging screenwriter to be groped by Donald Trump than it is to become an internet cult sensation and handed a premium cable series as is the case for Ms. Rae. (Right time, right place, right message, right demographic. It ain’t rocket science, it’s lightning in a bottle). In between my seasonal preserve canning and frequent trips to the Wine Barn, I did manage to catch a showing of what I had hoped would be my favorite film of the year. In fact I don’t even know why anyone is talking about e-mails or tax loopholes – blah, blah, blah – Emily Blunt is terrific. Unfortunately, the film is not. I don’t think I am overstepping my bounds to say that director Tate Taylor (The Help) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) should be put into their own basket of deplorables for the disservice they did to such luxuriant mommy porn-ready source material.

The problem with The Girl on the Train is its partner in suburban chic chick-lit with “Girl” in the title – Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s electric 2012 mystery thriller. (Yes, it was my favorite novel that year). Both books center on the disappearances of beautifully bored icy blonde wives in good-from-afar marriages. As the pages turn and multiple narrators reveal what it is like to be inside these too perfect to be true lives, it is a reminder to the reader that the American dream of suburban bliss can become a nightmare. Especially if you are married to a bitch.

What makes most stories about middle class malaise work is the underlying social commentary. The grass isn’t always greener. We live that now. Upside down mortgages. Unaffordable health care. Student Loan interest rates that prevent a dream trip to Tuscany. Check out the people you went to high school with on Facebook. All those smiling vacation photos of happy families, you know at least one of them is self-medicating. The message in both novels is clear – what lies beneath the facade of Heaven is 3,500 square feet of Hell. And what better way to unleash hell than psychological suspense?

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The comparison ends there.  Both films are faithful to their sources.  However, where Gone Girl gets it right is the underlying context of women’s role in society. The illusion of who girls want to be when they grow up. As satire it is a biting indictment of the root of sociopathy in suburbia. Most women are not Cool Girl. Even Cool Girl is not cool. She’s twisted. Seriously – Amazing Amy is fucked up. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It is exactly what The Girl on the Train did wrong. The films can be described with adjectives like treachery, psychotic and murderous. All desirable for a thriller, but a good sociopath needs more than a few plot twists turned on unreliable narration. This movie doesn’t offer a surprising plot twist. It barely throws in a red herring suspect with the therapist, who we know is not guilty from the jump – so what was the point? A good thriller would have framed him like Flynn did Desi in Gone Girl to either keep us guessing or see who is truly twisted and how.

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I’m not sure why, but I can’t wait to see Suicide Squad.  Is it the costumes, or the actors, or the story?  I think it’s because for the past year and a half, Hollywood has been telling me that I can’t wait to see this movie.  You see, it is a tentpole movie.  A “tentpole” is one of those fancy industry exec terms having to do with financial investment.   According to script analyst and industry blogger J. Gideon Sarantinos,” successful tentpole films must generate around $1 billion in global box office receipts off production and P&A budgets of $200 to $300 million, they must be exhibited in theaters all year long (wide theatrical window), they must appeal to a four quadrant audience (men, women, boys and girls) and contain universal and culturally relevant themes.”  Whew!  Got that?  Because that is a lot to get.

Let me boil it down to one thing: Superhero saturation.  And I don’t mean only the traditional heroes in the comic book universe, I mean dinosaurs, aliens, vampires and animated fish (I’m looking at you Finding Dory).  Not to mention anything that comes from a galaxy far, far away. Aren’t you tired of it?  I know I am.  I’m not the only one.  Of course these films won’t fail.  They will make money, but maybe not as much as they could have say, ten– even five years ago.  Independence Day: Resurgence had a budget of $165 million USD and made $266.5 million domestically.  It topped the charts in its opening weekend overseas but still, for a film engineering to skyrocket on the Fourth of July, it certainly fizzled by box office standards.independence-day-2-poster-1-140886-320x480

What does that mean for the emerging screenwriter?  Quite simply, forget about writing a tentpole.  The screenwriters of these big budget, blockbusting, sequels and IMAX megaflicks are known to producers and executives.  They are not investing over one hundred million on action sequences and special effects alone.  They are trusting proven talent.  If you have a brilliant alien invasion concept set in the fairy tale sphere that you know Disney will chomp at the bit for, by all means write it– hey, always go for it, but I would put that spec in second or even third position in your sample case.  Your focus as a writer is on getting work, not getting a script made.  To get work, you need to be read and to have a script that a producer will buy.  Most producers do not buy screenplays from unknown, uncredited writers.  Once you are in the door, then promote the shit out of your tentpole spec and maybe you’ll get an assignment.  If your tentpole is set in a dystopian outback with a lot of car chases, George Miller might read it for the next Mad Max movie.  Maybe.

Tentpoles are the summer circuses studios hang their year on.  Sequels are the easiest to sell financially and blockbusters always bring the biggest box office.  In my thinking aloud, I’ve answered my question – yes, tentpoles are still a thing.  However, with the decline in returns and the sequel weary audience who is tired of been there, done that blow-em-ups from outer space, there is an opening in lower budget films and television projects.  These are where the emerging screenwriter will shine.  There is plenty of time to brand yourself as a sequel tentpole writer after you’ve gotten in the door, but get in the door.  With a whisper and great writing rather than a battering ram and box of popcorn.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the theater.  Suicide Squad opens August 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

christmas-1015342_1280It’s that time again.  The shoppers pushing through crowds to get $10 off on the newest whatever-you-call-it.  The music on an endless loop of gingerbread and treacle.  The nickel and diming over the price of a tree.   Let’s just cancel Christmas, shall we?  On the other hand, I happen to love the yearly Ghiardelli peppermint bark so that’s okay and I live in L.A. so snow is not an issue.  On TV, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Year Without A Santa Claus” numb the pain. Friends, parties – all know their gifts are from the heart if not from an expensive store and love me anyway. However, despite the fact that I am slightly better off this season than last, I’m still much too depressed to be all that festive, so this week’s post appears courtesy of the nice folks at The Playlist.

Here are 20 Christmas films that should be watched year round.  I hate that there are no entries dedicated to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Gantan-sai or any other end of the year holidays, but come on — Santa is so much fun. I changed the order slightly because of my tastes, and I probably would have swapped in The Man Who Came To Dinner, Love, Actually, maybe Black Christmas and though set at Christmas my favorite film of all time The Lion in Winter is not about the holiday.  Still, their choices are spot on. Watch the movies and I defy you to disagree.

  1. A Christmas Story (1983) – My favorite Christmas tradition, and this is sadly true, is the 24 hr. marathon on TNT.  From the Red Rider bb gun to the giant pink bunny suit and Chinese waiters singing “Deck the halls.”  A modern classic.
  2. The Ref (1994) – The bickering between Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis is priceless.  I think Denis Leary is probably playing himself which is a good thing.  But tune in for the great Glynis Johns as Spacey’s ruthless mother.  I wanted to be part of that family, imagine the therapy sessions.
  3. Home Alone (1990) – How can you not include this? Admit it, you wanted to be that kid, too.
  4. Bad Santa (2003) – Being bad is pretty good for Billy Bob.
  5. The Apartment (1960) – It’s hard not to root for Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine as they struggle with being alone and at the bottom of the corporate ladder.
  6. A Christmas Tale (2008) – A French film that should be better known to English-speaking audiences.  Don’t be a snob, French people have Yuletide family dysfunction, too.
  7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – The resurrection of Robert Downey, jr.  And we are all the better for it.
  8. Scrooged (1988) – I love the scene where Bill Murray is approached by the ghost from the future and he comments on his bad breath.  Updating the Dickens legendary tale with Murray’s snarky impudence was genius.
  9. Die Hard (1988) – I am on record that this is my favorite action flick.  Explosions, machine guns, smart ass one-liners.  Merry Christmas.  Pass the popcorn.
  10. Elf (2003) – I like sweet, not a lot, but some.  And this sweet hits just the right spot.
  11. The Best Man Holiday (2013) – Romantic comedy/dramas are a tough sell because they are so hard to pull off without being corny especially when you are laughing one minute and enduring a tragedy the next.  It’s easier for an ensemble where everyone gets their story in a few simple beats.  And it’s even easier when it’s a sequel because the audience is already familiar with the characters.  That said, this is the best of the ensemble holiday couples movies and worth a gander.  Curl up with your boo in front of the TV and enjoy.
  12. Gremlins (1984) – Don’t feed them after midnight.  But isn’t it always after midnight?
  13. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – Do I really have to say why?
  14. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – Watch this and you will forget “The Muppets,” that travesty of television that ABC has foisted upon the world.
  15. Scrooge (1951) – A challenge: compare all the versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and I think you will agree the Alistair Sim version is the one worth watching yearly.
  16. The Shop Around The Corner (1940) – First saw this when You Got Mail came out and I liked it.  Possibly the best of the romantic Christmas comedies.  James Stewart probably owned Christmas in the 1940s.
  17. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – This movie is a gift to the young and the young at heart.  The original is better.  There are some movies that can be mentioned and everyone agrees it is timeless and necessary viewing.  This is one of them.
  18. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Who doesn’t love Tim Burton?  This stop-motion fantasy flick has a soul.
  19. Babes in Toyland (1934) – Okay, not necessarily about Christmas, but I’d say it makes the cut because it is about toys.  Cinephiles appreciate seeing Laurel & Hardy in a movie made for the 1930s.  While I don’t find the story that great, seeing a movie in and of its time is heartwarming.  Not everything has to be elevated or re-made.  Some movies are just for little kids who want to laugh.
  20. White Christmas (1954) – Like fruitcake, eggnog and ugly Christmas sweaters.  Everything from the plot and songs and cinematography is shamelessly sentimental, but that’s what the holidays are about. This musical love letter to Christmas will live on long after the presents are unwrapped and the resolutions forgotten.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS,

From one emerging screenwriter to everyone.

Labor Day signals the traditional end of summer.  Was it good for you?  My co-worker Wilhelmina had an internship.  My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh got engaged.  Another friend went on a family road trip through Louisiana and Mississippi.  I did none of the these things.  I stayed home.  And watched TV.  Went to the movies a few times, but for the most part, stayed in and watched whatever was on offer that night.  I know you’re thinking what an exciting life I lead.  Well it is usually, but this summer, not so much.  It was like that in pop culture entertainment, too.  Witness:  The beginning of the end of the Kardashian Konspiracy (I hope) as the He-Wolf known as Ryan Seacrest slipped with Knock Knock Live and Caitlyn Jenner’s  I Am Cait  did not bring the horde of viewers of either gender as anticipated.  The misstep in the previously unassailable comic book universe was the Fox-produced The Fantastic Four reboot.  The what-the-fuck-was-that? was True Detective season two. (Liked it but don’t need to see it again.)  Gotta say, a little boring.

What gives?  Did Hollywood write off 2015 in favor of marketing for next year?  It seems as if “What’s now?” is not as important as “What’s next?” The excitement generated at July’s annual “I am why God created cosplay” convention known as Comi-Con International was for next year’s blockbusters.  Deadpool, Suicide Squad, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Apocalypse; Ghostbusters.  Well, that’s my 2016 set.  Only Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets a jump on the New Year opening in mid-December.

Don’t give up 2015.  There’s still the fall TV season and the prestige films coming up at the end of the year.  I refuse to stare at a blank screen.

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader on Documentary Now! (IFC); DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW); Miss Piggy’s and Kermit’s break-up should make The Muppets (ABC) worth a look; Scream Queens (Fox) will most likely have my heart; as will  the new series of Doctor Who (BBCAmerica).  With the shout out to Maisie Williams reminding me Game of Thrones is only nine months away.

Coming to theaters, M. Night Shyamalan’s long over-due return to form with The Visit  should be something I’ll try to watch with one eye closed.  Bond is back with Spectre.  Two words:  Daniel Craig.  Don’t forget (how could you?) the final installment of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, part 2.   My dance card will be filled.  Yippee!

Whew!  What a relief.  For a minute I thought I’d have to start reading.  Well, there is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates who has been compared to James Baldwin and Richard Wright.  This is a book about the brutality of our current cultural injustice that deserves a read.  And don’t get all racial on me, everyone should read it as a human being because it’s about humanity, regardless of your race, class and culture.

A lot to take in.  So say goodbye to the burnt hamburgers on the grill and the heat stroke and the crowd at the beach.  The leaves are changing and the weather is cooling and the TV and movies screens are just getting warmed up.  I for one, can’t wait.