Revenge as Entertainment
by Jeff Bowles
Quentin Tarantino isn’t necessarily known for subtlety. While his films are often genius—featuring nonlinear storytelling, irascible and energetic dialogue, and a certain unabashed love for B-movies and trashy 1970s grindhouse filmmaking—they are also incredibly violent and tend to feature characters who are more nasty than nice. That’s not really a minus in today’s entertainment landscape, nor was it especially considered as such in the 1990s, when Tarantino burst onto the scene with unexpected violent delights like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Yet something new has entered the 53-year-old filmmaker’s bag of tricks: history revision, the kind that allows him to brutalize some of the most notorious bad guys of all time.
In Inglorious Basterds (2009), Tarantino shot, burned, and blew up Adolph Hitler in a French movie house long before WWII ended in real life. In Django Unchained (2012), he took the fight to American slavery, unleashing a bloody revenge romp on a vile and inhumane southern plantation. There’s a certain catharsis to be experienced by, in some passing fashion at least, hurting old ghosts that hurt us still. Especially here in the United States, where as a collective, we’re still very much bound by the sins of the past. Tarantino, for all his faults as a filmmaker, has always been extraordinarily fearless in allowing audiences to exorcise our collective demons. Love him or hate him, he’s got a style and aesthetic all his own, and he doesn’t apologize for all his excesses and bloody genius madness.
Which is why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his 9th film and fourth in a row to feature a historical setting, hits so close to home. This time around Tarantino takes us on a trip to late-1960s Los Angeles, home of an American film industry churning out movies and TV shows in a hilariously fast and loose fashion. The streets are full of hippies, the soundscape is constant rock and pop hits and saccharine advertisements, and the personalities involved crave fame and public exposure like some people crave cigarettes dipped in LSD. Without spoiling too terribly much, the historical bad guys this time around are the Manson Family, and though Charles Manson himself only appears onscreen for a few minutes, his demonic presence is certainly felt.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an aging cowboy actor who hasn’t had a decent starring role in years. He spends most of his time drinking, lapsing into coughing fits, and playing mustache-twirling heavy of the week on any network TV show that will hire him. His best friend and stuntman Cliff Booth (a delightfully chill yet dangerous Brad Pitt) takes care of him as best he can, but he hasn’t performed any stunt work for the former rising star since Rick lost the lead gig to Steve McQueen in a little movie called The Great Escape. Rick has a house in the Hollywood Hills right next door to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate. Here’s where the alternate history kicks in, folks. Younger audiences who know nothing about the Manson Family murders will undoubtedly experience Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in a much different fashion than the rest of us. Needless to say, the film cruises along Sunset Strip with a heavy mind and an eerie sense of impending doom, even when the action is relatively light and comical.
After Cliff engages in an ill-advised backlot sparring match with non other than martial arts legend Bruce Lee, he’s got all the free time in the world. Cliff picks up a vivacious hippy chick he’s been eyeing around town and drives her home to an old Western movie shooting set a large group of young, creepy, dangerous beatniks have converted into their own personal crash pad/drug den. Dakota Fanning plays a particularly dead-eyed Squeaky Fromme, and her interactions with Pitt are devilish. It’s the little historical flourishes that really make this film sing.
To go much further into the plot would spoil the ending, but look, when Tarantino gets his hands on real-life monsters, he goes all the way. Which isn’t to say Once Upon a Time lacks heart. Tarantino is a seasoned, mature filmmaker, and his characters spend much of the movie dealing with the limitations of their own flawed humanity. You really have to feel for DiCaprio’s Dalton, who has long ago confused success for self worth. And Margot Robbie shines as Sharon Tate, an absolute vision of 1960s femininity and grace.
The only real question we’re left with after the credits roll is if it’s earnestly healthy for our collective culture to, say, blow up Hitler or bathe an old plantation house in blood. In brutalizing the villains of history, has Tarantino allowed us mass catharsis, or has he just developed his own brand of big-budget revenge? It’s a forgone conclusion, but realistically, we are in fact dealing with the Manson Family. The actions of three of their members one late August night still ring out as some of the most atrocious and disgusting of the 20th century. Like it or not, Tarantino seems to tell us, we live in a world full of hate and murder, and in the year 2019, when mass shootings happen almost every week, what’s a simple movie got to do with human decency and justice?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a masterful expose of the human psyche circa 1969. It’s funny, stylish, chock full of delicious old rock and pop tunes, and yes, it’s got a beating heart that ultimately outweighs the brief but vivid extreme violence that defines its climax. Tarantino has another winner on his hands, though the conversation about his impact on a culture reeling from gun violence will most likely continue.
Writing to Be Read gives the film a solid nine out of ten, but this movie reviewer has to wonder, will there ever come a time healing and revenge are not synonymous?
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Just say the word.
by Jeff Bowles
(Be sure to check out my video review of Shazam! on YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central.)
Shazam! is the kind of movie just about anyone can get behind. Film audiences segment into a multitude of groups, but when it comes to comic flicks, you’re either on board for the ridiculousness or you aren’t. Younger audiences tend to take a movie like this more seriously, whereas more mature viewers are often left scratching their heads. When science fiction and fantasy work best, they indulge in a certain real-world approach to emotionality, family, romance, regret, passion, and they do so at high enough levels that any and all nerdy accoutrements go down a little bit smoother, in that for many people out there, they’re extraordinarily hard to swallow.
Shazam! is a big, fun, friendly superhero movie with more heart and humor than just about any other DC Comics offering made in the last twenty years. During a time in which Superman is angst-ridden and Batman is a violent rage-freak, Shazam! understands home is where the heart is. Ask any comic movie fan the difference between the two behemoth companies, Marvel and DC, and you’re likely to hear Marvel is fun and DC is morose. Such is the genius of David F. Sandberg’s new movie. It feels Marvel-fun but engages the kind of deep archetypes and mythic dynamics DC Comics has been famous for since the 1930s.
Billy Batson is an orphan looking for a place to finally call home. He thinks finding his birth mother is the answer, but the truth is, if she’d wanted to be found, he wouldn’t have to break into cop cars and hack suspect ID computers for her deets. Enter the Vazquez family, genuinely supportive parental figures Victor and Rosa, and a full house of five other kids, all of them orphans. The dynamics at play in the Vazquez household expound in wonderful ways when Billy expects disaffection and dysfunction and finds hardcore familial love. And the other kids are all great to watch onscreen, always eager with another funny quip or charming character quirk.
To wit, Billy’s roommate, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), perhaps the best personification of a sympathetic sidekick you’re likely to see all year. He’s disabled, hilarious, and he’s got a keen geek obsession. Superheroes, after all, exist in this world in spades. In fact, one of Batman’s famous baterangs is a star narrative prop, and Freddy’s knowledge of said-comic-isms comes in pretty handy when Billy gets his powers and then has to figure out what the hell to do with them.
Off world or in another realm, or wherever/whenever else you prefer, the ancient god of right-makes-might, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), searches for a suitable replacement after millennia of tireless service. Unfortunately, the forces of evil are on the hunt for a successor, too. The clock’s seriously ticking, so in a spray of CG pyrotechnics and unexpected altruism on Billy’s part, Shazam summons our would-be hero to his mysterious throne room and endows the kid with strength, speed, flight, and of course, killer lightning powers. All Billy has to do is say his name, and he’ll transform into a musclebound adult version of himself in a red suit and sparkly white cape. Zachary Levi plays the god-like, full-grown superhero with all the adolescent joy, immaturity, and zany recklessness we’d expect from a teenager stuck in a man’s body. This is the where the movie kicks into full Tom Hanks’ Big mode, and Levi is the perfect choice. You get the sense this kind of thing is a walk in the park for him. It’s almost criminal how much fun he appears to be having.
Just as Billy begins to feel confident in his new dual identity, the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong)—similarly endowed with incredible power, but by monstrous avatars of the seven deadly sins—arrives to threaten his heroic dominance, his life, and all the wonderful new people he’s come to love. The real joy of Shazam! is that it takes for granted how crucial it is to have people who care about and support you. So when Mom and Dad and all the other kids are in danger, we really feel the urgency. The filmmakers value them and what they mean to Billy, and we can’t help but do the same.
Billy Batson may not be a groundbreaking addition to the world of comic movies, but he does offer us a glimpse at a different kind of pop superhero psychology. There’s not much tragedy, horrific scarring, or trauma in his makeup, no more or less than in you or me. It’s almost a relief that the film only sparingly engages in world-ending theatrics. An interesting paradigm emerged in March and April, 2019 when Marvel Studios released Captain Marvel, and Warner Bros./DC released Shazam! As any fan will tell you, Shazam was also originally called Captain Marvel, and years ago, the two companies settled the branding dispute out of court. Apparently, Marvel was dead set on maintaining a character that carried their moniker and DC, well, maybe they realized Shazam is a better name for a boy-in-man combo that literally cannot do anything cool unless he, as the advertising declares, says the word.
But whereas Captain Marvel was a movie about finally realizing the power that always dwelt inside, Shazam! is about a sudden overwhelming change of fortune. Sometimes the thing you need most is right there in front of you. It is also admittedly the ultimate adolescent boyhood fantasy to wake up one day and find out you’ve got super powers. Shazam! won’t win any awards for exploring gender, sexuality, or race, but its heart is in the right place, and lest we forget, we could still be watching scowling Superman beating the crap out of growling Batman for no discernible reason other than MUSLCES! ANGER! KA-POW!
Billy Batson is enormously relatable, the perennial loner and outsider who has so much more to offer people than he knows. Who hasn’t felt unloved? Who’s never been lonely? Yet isn’t there always just a bit of hope in all the neglectful crap we have to put up with? Someday an amazing person will recognize me, and I’ll finally come home. It’s the emotional psychology of a movie like this that makes it so effective. Yes, the world is a terrible place sometimes, but when we take off our costumes and put away our utility belts, all we really want to do is laugh and dream.
On the surface, Shazam! is just another silly superhero movie in a sea of nearly identical offerings. But it’s also a fine example of comic book storytelling done right, supremely enjoyable, heartwarming, surprising, in fact more than enough to redeem the brooding misanthropy of other recent DC films. It rivals the very best of Marvel, and what’s more, it recognizes when a cape is just a cape. You don’t need to wipe out half of humanity or destroy the globe to bring out the hero in people. When the chips are down, all you have to do is say the word.
Am I … am I still here? Still just a slightly overweight yet lovable, handsome, and humble author/movie reviewer? I’ll work on that. We’ll get there, folks.
The new Shazam! movie gets 9 sparkling red tights out of 10
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The Marvelous Mrs. Marvel
by Jeff Bowles
(For more on Captain Marvel, be sure to check out my full video review)
As far as Marvel movies go, Captain Marvel feels refreshing, if a bit familiar. It carries with it little of the eccentric energy found in other recent Marvel flicks like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but it also requires less of audiences who have yet to drink the Marvel Kool-Aid. Much like 2018’s box office behemoth Black Panther, the hero in question is not a white male, and as the star of a major Hollywood production released in the #MeToo era, that makes all the difference.
Which isn’t to suggest Marvel Studios’ latest doesn’t give plenty of nods to what has come before, and perhaps in a more lucrative vein, to what’s still headed our way. We finally learn how Nick Fury lost his eye, for instance, but filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are also thrilled to butter us up for that big late-April showdown called Avengers: Endgame (check your calendars, kids. Don’t forget to pre-order all the toys, and oh yeah, maybe a movie ticket or five).
If superhero tropes and comic-isms are as indecipherable to you as Kree battle language, odds are good the scope and scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rings hollow. Some of us have been on board since we were kids, leafing through our favorite monthly Marvel comics like little back-issue hording zealots. But if your speed is less Captain America and more … well, any other movie ever made, really—it’s safe to take heart. Captain Marvel is a pretty good jumping on point.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is an Air Force fighter pilot with super-powered amnesia. A strange event in her past wiped her memories clean and granted her incredible abilities, the sum total of which she’s dutifully employed freedom-fighting for a race of intergalactic warriors known as the Kree (best personified by her squad leader, Yon-Rogg—played by master geek-movie thespian, Jude Law). When the Kree’s deadliest enemies, a race of green shapeshifters known as the Skrulls, capture Carol and bring her back to Earth, the nascent Captain Marvel must team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (an impressively de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to discover the secret behind the pivotal accident. Plus, you know, she’ll get to rock out to an unquestionably righteous and eclectic 90s soundtrack.
The fact that this movie takes place in 1995 only adds to its charm. There are era-specific nods and in-jokes aplenty, including a fun Stan Lee cameo that’ll tug at your sense of nostalgia. The film’s setting also means that most of the super-heroic hi-jinks found in the other 20 MCU movies have yet to occur. It’s a prequel more than anything else. Rounding out the cast are an unexpectedly funny Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull commander Keller, Lashana Lynch as Carol’s best friend, Maria Rambeau, and a de-aged Clark Gregg, happy to take a break from playing Agent Coulson on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to play … a younger-looking version of the exact same character.
Additional highlights include a cute but vicious orange cat named Goose, though I won’t spoil the big reveal here, and the marvelously named Air Force marvel, Mar-Vell (a somewhat spaced out and liminal Annette Bening). For the most part, Captain Marvel gets by on its charm. It’s best described as an above average superhero origin story, but unfortunately, there remains a certain amount of roughness in its narrative. Big chunks of exposition get belted out from behind scads of green creature makeup, and the grand finale carries enough logic gaps you may find yourself wondering, “She was just fighting that guy. So now who are these people?”
A lot of early buzz surrounding this movie included controversial comments made by Larson herself, but really, if a storytelling medium largely created by boys for boys can’t come to grips with a few girls getting in on the action whenever they damn well please, there’s less hope for this world than any of us could have ever imagined. Captain Marvel as a character has been blasting across the universe since the late sixties, but it was only in recent years that a woman donned the suit. And Larson does a fantastic job portraying Danvers on film. She is cocky, self-assured, funny, compassionate, caring, and once her full powers get unleashed, wonderfully formidable. A certain kinship evolves between her and Samuel Jackson’s Agent Fury, and moments spent in the Louisiana home of her best friend Maria prove that an intergalactic badass can be all about family, too.
Audiences are likely to get more out of the experience if they possess a running mental lexicon of all things Marvel, but unlike last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel is likely to be a fun time no matter what prior knowledge you have going in. If you’re burned out on films featuring god-like people beating the holy Skrull out of each other, you may be better entertained elsewhere. But as Thor Odinson once famously declared to the world-eating demon Surtur, “That’s what heroes do.”
It’s a very geeky multiverse we live in, people.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Captain Marvel an 8 out of 10.
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About as unbreakable as a piece of ill-tempered… well, you know.
Glass (2019) – Not Much Super, Not Much Hero
by Jeff Bowles
During the closing moments of Glass, I couldn’t help but think director M. Night Shyamalan had squandered the opportunity to build something both timely and unique. In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which dozens of bigger-than-life characters exist concurrently and pop into each other’s movies like those annoying neighbors from down the street (you know the ones), it’s not unusual to expect some pretty big stuff from the superhero genre. And after all, Shyamalan began laying the groundwork for this trilogy of his long before The Avengers or The Guardians of the Galaxy had ever graced the silver screen, so it’s safe to say he had the market cornered on expanded comic book universes.
Shyamalan teased an unexpected and suitably epic showdown in the end credits scene of 2016’s Split, and while that movie was the best flick he’d made in years, the director who finally seemed to be getting his groove back has… well, lost his groove again. Glass is a lopsided mess, a film in search of a reason to exist. The only thing that saves it from complete mediocrity is the strength of its performances, chief among these being James McAvoy’s continually stunning, though in no ways realistic, portrayal of a man with so many personalities his personalities have personalities have personalities.
Really, McAvoy is an exceptional actor, one of the best of his generation, so casting him in a role like this takes a certain level of calculated genius. In his latest turn as mental patient Kevin Wendell Crumb—also known as Patricia, also known as Hedwig, also known as Barry, also known as The Beast, etc.—the Scottish-born actor gets to strut his stuff in some pretty bombastic ways. Scenery-chewing has never seemed so dignified, though. Shyamalan is clearly as in love with Kevin as audiences have become. He garners most of the film’s run time, which begs the question, why not just make a Split 2?
Glass of course acts as the capstone to a three-part story that began in the year 2000 with Unbreakable, the follow-up to Shyamalan’s debut masterwork, The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis made for a pretty inert “superhero” all the way back in Y2K, and not much has changed. David Dunn still spends most of his time brooding and behaving like a working-class Bruce Wayne—a Bruce Springsteen Wayne, if you will—minus the car, the cave, and the Born to Run.
After a brutal encounter with Crumb, who’s been extraordinarily busy kidnapping and murdering young women since we saw him… kidnapping and murdering young women in a different movie, Dunn finds himself taken psychiatric prisoner and locked up in a dank, hopeless mental health facility somewhere in Philadelphia (no Philly Eagles jokes, please). Imagine his surprise to learn his arch nemesis has suffered the same fate, the eponymous Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Willis mostly seems bored with his role here, but he’s seemed bored in the majority of the movies he’s made in the last fifteen years. Jackson, however, clearly enjoys the opportunity to dust off an old fan-favorite and add another franchise notch to his belt. Mr. Glass spends too much time on the sidelines in this, his own movie, but once things really start cooking, he’s just as nerdy and evil as ever. Glass makes for an excellent counterpoint to Crumb, and in a surprisingly subtle performance, Jackon proves he’s still good for more than an eyepatch and the odd credit card commercial.
Back when Shyamalan released Unbreakable, good comic book movies were a rarity. Rarer still, mainstream acceptance and veneration for what is America’s oldest visual storytelling medium. Everyone likes comics these days, it seems, but in Glass, an overreliance on played-out comic-isms comes off as cheap, laborious, and self-conscious. Even the dastardly lady who’s thrown these colorful weirdos together, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), can’t tell if she should balk at the notion of real-life superheroes or wipe them all off the face of the earth.
The movie sports a larger supporting cast culled from the other entries in the series, including Mr. Glass’ mother and Dunn’s still slightly unhinged son, but none of them are served particularly well, and in fact, the heroic Casey from Split (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) suffers a puzzling reversal of character that all but nullifies her prior life and death victories.
In truth, Glass struggles to find a beat, content for the most part in giving us context and backstory for everything we’ve already seen. Plot development is kept to a minimum, the classic Shyamalan botched twist ending is still classically botched, and the big final showdown concludes in such a disappointing and franchise-killing fashion, I had to ask myself why the entire exercise was even necessary. In my opinion, it wasn’t. M. Night Shyamalan is not a director’s director by any means, but even he knows obfuscation and bad timing are the deaths of tension.
Mr. Glass himself believes comics are a secret history of the world. And I suppose they are in a way. As a popular media artform, comic books have a long history of extraneous filler material. It’s just too bad Shyamalan capped off his grand trilogy with a story destined for the bargain bin.
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It’s my pleasure today to be able to interview JS Mayank, who is not only a screenwriter, but also a director and producer of films in the wild and crazy world of Hollywood. Originally from England, Mayank has been in the screenwriting world for more than a decade and seems to thrive in the world of film making. He currently has four films to his credit, and his short film SOMEDAY just premiered in New York last month. Please help me welcome him as he shares some of his thoughts and screenwriting and film making experiences with us today.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be a screenwriter?
JS: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was two and a half. I would draw pictures and then get my parents, grandparents, or any other grown up to write it down– dictating corresponding stories to go along with the drawings. So I’ve always been a storyteller. But for screenwriting specifically, I remember I was in highschool (in India), when I came across the screenplay for THE SIXTH SENSE. It was the first script I had ever seen, and I read it before seeing the movie. When I finally watched the film, I was astounded by how closely it mimicked what I had read on the page. That was a moment of epiphany for me, and I fell in love with the medium.
Kaye: Would you briefly share the story of your own screenwriting journey? How did you go from writing your first screenplay to becoming not only a screenwriter, but a director and producer as well?
JS: Wow. That’s quite the sprawling canvas. I suppose the short version is – I always loved movies and TV. I was obsessed with Hollywood filmmaking in particular. After my undergraduate degree in Economics, I decided to take a year to work with a not-for-profit organization in India, where my boss was making documentaries for the UN, WHO, UNESCO etc. That’s where I fell in love with the form. From there, I came to the US, did a Masters in Communication at Wake Forest University (NC) – finishing the two year course in one year, and taking the second year to just watch movies. I saw over 1500 films in one year. It was the most intense education ever. After that, I got into the MFA program for Directing and production at Loyola Marymount University (CA), and moved to LA. That’s where I trained in the actual craft of directing and producing.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next movie?
JS: The Dead Wives Club – it’s a British dramedy.
Kaye: Which screenwriter, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
JS: A few years ago, I would have said Damon Lindelof (the creator of LOST/THE LEFTOVERS), but he’s now my mentor, and I can already do that. I think I’d like to go with someone who’s not alive. Probably my favorite female screenwriter – Nora Ephron!
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a screenwriter?
JS: I suppose it’s the same as the challenges of trying to make a living as any other kind of writer. Self doubt. Procrastination. Crippling self doubt. Lack of certainty. No job security. Did I mention debilitating self doubt?
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a screenplay? What’s the least fun part?
JS: To me, breaking the story – creating the world, characters, scenarios – that initial spark of the idea is the biggest rush ever! Pure creativity. I suppose, rewriting is the least fun – though absolutely one of the most important parts of the process.
Kaye: What is the most important quality in a screenplay for you?
JS: Voice. A writer’s unique expression. The way they see the world. Quentin Tarantino is totally different from Nancy Meyers, who’s completely separate from Diablo Cody, who’s miles apart from Donald Glover.
Kaye: As a screenwriter, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?
JS: When I’m writing a script, I immerse myself into every aspect of that world. There’s a TV project I’m developing that I’ve been researching for almost 10 years. Others, I’ll talk to experts, read books, watch documentaries… whatever it takes. I love learning, so research is actually one of my favorite aspects of the job. Sometimes I feel like I enjoy research more than writing… But that’s probably just because I’m procrastinating.
Kaye: Your movie SOMEDAY had its US premiere at the Dominican Film Festival in NY (DFFNY) on July 29th, and won best short there. Would you like to tell us a little about that movie?
JS: SOMEDAY started as a collaboration between an actress friend of mine (Katherine Castro), who said something interesting happened to her, and that it’d make a great movie. Usually when someone says that, it’s really not all that fascinating, but I’ve been a huge fan of hers, and so gave her the benefit of the doubt. When I heard the story, I absolutely knew it was a film. She had an encounter on a plane with someone who was very famous, and she had no idea. They simply conversed the entire way, and had an immense connection. I knew there was a story in there I wanted to tell. So I wrote it, sent her the script, and wished her the best with the project. A day later, she called me saying she loved it, and wanted me to direct it as well. It was a dream collaboration from start to finish.
SOMEDAY: Written & Directed by J S Mayank
Two strangers meet on a 14 hour non-stop flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Adam is a world-famous composer, but Melody doesn’t recognize her flight companion. Along the way, they laugh, flirt and pour their hearts out… a connection made more beautiful precisely because of its fleeting nature.
Here’s a trailer for it: https://vimeo.com/268517195
Kaye: You are both a screenwriter and the director for Someday. Is there a secret to balancing the dual roles?
JS: Realizing that the script is just a blueprint. A template. A roadmap. Once I’m the director, I have to have a singular overarching vision for the movie, but also realize that I have a great team around me – cinematographer, production designer, costumer, VFX supervisor, editor, composer… and of course, my actors. Each of these collaborators bring their own expertise, ideas and opinions, and sometimes that demands alterations to the screenplay. My job as the director is to ensure each change is for the better.
Kaye: What’s it like to sit in a theater and watch the premier for a movie that you have created?
JS: Nerve-wracking, panic inducing, and absolutely one of the greatest feelings in the world. Seeing an audience reacting to your work is beyond words.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
JS: Two pieces. First, from Bruce Cohen (producer of American Beauty, Big Fish):
“Always lead with your best foot forward. It’s good to be humble in your personal life. But for work, have a healthy sense of ego in what you do (as long as you have the goods to back it up).”
Second, from my mentor, Damon Lindelof (LOST, The Leftovers):
“Keep doing the work. It will save you every time.”
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
JS: Write every day. Write what you’re passionate about. And don’t take no for an answer. Also, be kind (but that’s just general life advice).
Kaye: What is the one thing in your screenwriting career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
JS: It’s a new project, and something that will probably take my career to the next level, but unfortunately, I can’t talk about it. I’m under an NDA. Keep a look-out for something in September, though.
Thank you JS. You’ve definitely piqued our interest. I know I can’t wait. I want to thank you for joining us here today on Writing to be Read. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you. You certainly offered some insight into the world of film making.
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Although the Harry Potter movies were geared toward a young audience, adults enjoyed them as well. But as Harry Potter grew older throughout the series, so did the main viewers. The 2016 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them expands J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World for an older audience, leaving Harry and his friends waiting in the England of the future. Even if you haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies, you can easily follow the events of this movie, as it easily stands on its own merit.
The creatures in this movie are fantastic example of creativity, and the imaging is awesome. The story is crafted in a way that draws you into the story subtly. You’re so involved with the fish out of water story of Newt Scamander and his suitcase full of marvelous creatures in 1926 New York, that the A story line almost escapes notice in the background until Newt solves the mystery of what kind of beast is terrorizing the city.
I found Fantasic Beasts and Where to Find Them to be thoroughly entertaining; a fresh take on a fascinating and beloved world. I give it four quills.
In last month’s memo I talked about ways you can use flashbacks in stories and it led to a discussion about flash forwards and a request from Kaye that I do a post about them, so I decided to focus on the difference between flashbacks and flash forwards. I’m going to primarily use films and TV shows for examples as the film/TV examples are easy to visually show what I mean.
(Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to any of these video clips or shows. I apologize in advance for some of the quality of the clips but they were the only ones I could find at times. Many of these shows mentioned are on Netflix, so I recommend watching there if possible.)
A flashback is almost any moment when a story jumps from the present time of the story to show you something that happened in the past. It’s not just talking about the past, but actually showing the events that happened. The flashback can be just a quick glimpse, or it can be a very long section of the story.
Flashback Example 1 – The Usual Suspects:
This film opens with the explosion on the ship and then moves forward to Kevin Spacey in the police station being interviewed. When he starts telling the story of how all the “usual suspects” were rounded up the film flashes back to show this happening, and the story continues in the flashback time period until the end of the film when we return to Kevin Spacey in the police station again.
Flashback Example 2 – Forest Gump:
This one is pretty straightforward that it’s cutting to a flashback. Forest is in the present moment talking about things that happened in his past from his childhood to adulthood, and we constantly hear his voice over and see him in present day on the bench talking about his past.
Flashback Example 1 – Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 1:
Again, we start in the present time where Walt is crashing the RV and already cooking meth, then we very clearly jump back after the opening credits several weeks in time to when he was a normal school teacher. The main story of this first episode is all flashback with the opening and ending being the present moments.
Flash forwards are tiny glimpses of the possible future within a story. Basically you get a glimpse of the future and then return to the present afterward. This future glimpse doesn’t have to be true, and it doesn’t HAVE to happen, it’s just a glimpse of what COULD happen and the audience has to keep watching to see if it does.
This technique is often used in stories involving anything with psychics. The key is the events haven’t happened yet, and may never happen depending on how the present continues to unfold. It’s a glimpse of the potential future, but the story is still taking place in the present day and will return to present day once the future glimpse is over.
Flash Forward Example 1 – The Dead Zone (film)
When Christopher Walken shakes Martin Sheen’s hand he gets a vision of the potential future. We see clips of what Martin Sheen may do, but we don’t know if it will happen or not because it hasn’t happened yet, all we know is that it’s possible to happen. Once the flash forward is over we return to the present moment where Christopher Walken is.
Flash Forward Example 2 – Scrooged:
When Bill Murray leaves the elevator he gets several glimpses of the possible future he will encounter if he doesn’t change his ways. Again, these are all brief flash forwards showing potential future moments. It’s a little different because it seems like Bill Murray is in the flash forwards, but he has no ability to change them while he’s there so it’s still a flash forward to a potential future if he doesn’t change his ways in the present.
Flash Forward Example 3 – Terminator 2
When she lays her head down, Sarah Connor has a dream vision of the future if machines are allowed to get out of control. This vision is a potential future and is the motivation for her to try to stop this outcome with her actions in the present.
Flash Forward Example 4 – FlashForward TV Show Season 1 Episode 1:
This episode actually has a flash forward AND a flashback in it. I’ve started this clip right before the flash forward moment where the protagonist gets a glimpse of his future and then wakes up after the accident, but if you scroll back to the very opening of the episode you’ll see that the story starts with the accident, then there is a flashback to 4 hours earlier leading up to the accident again to show what caused it (which was actually the flash forward). Are you confused? I know, it’s a lot.
The flash forward is the glimpse of the potential future that the main character may experience at some point later on, and then you return to the present moment. The opening sequence at the start that shows the accident is NOT technically a flash forward because it’s not a glimpse of the future, it’s where the story is NOW. Then we flashback to 4 hour earlier to see how we got there and how the accident happened.
Flash Forward Example 5 – Sherlock Holmes (film)
This fight scene is a type of micro flash forward because it tells us what will happen moments before it does, even though it’s in verbal form. It’s more of an abbreviated flash forward because it’s verbal and it’s similar to how flash forwards are often used in fiction. The narrator gives the reader a glimpse of what will be to come, but we’re still in the present moment of the story where it hasn’t actually happened yet.
Distinguishing Between the Two:
Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell whether something is a flashback or a flash forward because it’s in the middle of the story and the story either jumps forward or back for a short time before returning to the present. However, the one area that seems to cause the most confusion is when the flashback or flash forward is used immediately at the opening of a story. Is the story starting in a flash forward? Is the main story all in flashback? What is happening? To figure out whether you’re seeing a flashback or a flash forward, think about where the scene is currently taking place and where the protagonist is in the present.
If you look at the openings of Forest Gump and Breaking Bad, both are happening as we watch and we’re not seeing a future possible event, we’re seeing the events as they happen to the protagonist, then we (the audience) jump back to see how the protagonist got to that present moment, but all of it has already happened and the protagonist is still in the present at that opening scene waiting for us to catch up to him.
Flash forward scenes are events that have NOT happened yet, and may not happen, and when they end we are returned to the present moment where the story is taking place and the protagonist is currently. Everything between that present moment and the future event we saw has not happened yet, and may not happen, but that is why we’re watching to find out. The present moment may eventually lead to that flash forward moment, but there’s no guarantee.
One of the few times a show can open with a flash forward is if it opens with a psychic event such as a dream or prophecy where we get a glimpse of what may or may not happen before a character pops awake or something and reveals it all was a vision or dream. Then the rest of the show builds to reveal whether it is something that is going to happen or not.
Neither Flashbacks nor Flash forwards:
There are a few other story methods that some people confuse with flash forwards and flashbacks but one of the main ones I want to mention is time travel such as in the Back to the Future Series. This and other time travel stories are tricky areas because it is easy to say we’re flashing back because we’re going back in time, but that’s not true in most stories I can think of.
A flashback involves looking back at past events that have already happened exactly as the person remembers them happening, while most time travel stories involve a character physically going back to these past events such as Marty does, and having influence on those events. This makes it not a flashback because Marty has the ability to change things if he does something wrong. That means the events aren’t set and aren’t just a memory of what happened, they’re fluid and changing. Flashbacks are memories of what happened prior to the present so they can’t be changed unless someone is misremembering something or lying. Marty is physically there and it’s his present time even if he’s physically living in the past, and he can make mistakes (and does) that change the future, so it’s not a flashback.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that just because a story goes forward in time doesn’t mean it’s a flash forward. A flash forward is a glimpse into the future but it doesn’t move the story TO the future. When your story jumps forward in time to a future point, if the story continues from that point on and isn’t just a glimpse of that future time, then what you have is a forward time jump and not a flash forward.
Every now and then you’ll see someone define those opening scene moments where we start the story at a major event as a flash forward because it shows a “future” event and then immediately goes back in time after to where a huge chunk of the story takes place. But these stories that start with a major event and then go back in time almost always say something like “x time earlier” which establishes that the first scene is the present time period and everything afterward is in the past, making everything after that opening scene a flashback.
Ultimately, if you’re asking “what happened to get us here?” then you’re probably about to see a flashback to find out. However, if you’re asking “what WILL happen to get us here?” then you’re watching a flash forward and you will return to the present to find out as events unfold.