Category Archives: film reviews

Why Pride and Prejudice (2005) is absolutely perfect

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Because this movie rocked my socks off as always, even on the millionth viewing, I want to break down why it works. It is one of the few “I hate you, but by the end of the movie, I love you” movies that work.

I’m going to use notes on rom-com structure from this fine tome. 


Set up – what are each of the protagonists missing?

What he is missing is more readily apparent. He is obviously miserable. Perhaps lonely. A number of walls between his true self and his outward appearance. He doesn’t converse well with strangers, by his own admission later in the film.

What she is missing is more problematic to think about. She seems happy. But she isn’t like her sisters. She doesn’t like performing for strangers. She is constantly demeaned by her mother and others for being headstrong, bookish and plain (plain in Hollywood is Keira Knightley). Perhaps what she unconsciously looking for is a place where she can be herself and be loved anyway. But for that, she’ll need to give up her peace and quiet and that of her family’s as well. Something she, like her father, values far too greatly.

Cute meet

For him, it is practically love at first sight. It is obvious. Even to her. But he insults her instead. Like a damn fool.

Negging doesn’t really work in the real world, bruv. Just so you know. (I think he knows.)

What I love about this scene is that it’s apparent how vulnerable the falling in love has made him feel. How the walls almost immediately start to crumble. And he immediately armors up by insulting her.

She of course never lets him off the hook for his behavior. Not for the entire film.  Which is great fun to watch.

This is her usual teasing behavior but this time, it causes much more trouble than it usually does.

Sexy complication

This is either Jane getting sick.

Or Elizabeth finding herself attracted to Wickham, who is Darcy’s sworn enemy.

Jane getting sick leads to a very sexy hand-holding moment.

I always find it unbearably charming that he stands every time she enters the room. And doesn’t join Bingley’s sister in finding fault with her ‘wild’ appearance (that’s my girl). And did you see the way he starts when the footman says her name? Gah. It’s the little things, dudes. The little things.

And you see in this moment? Ms. Bingley is making pretty obvious plays for him, but he chooses with his eyes.

The city girl/country girl dichotomy is apparent here. Though is it the virgin/whore dichotomy? That’s less apparent.

Wickham is definitely a complication. Though not particularly sexy. Like most of us, she’s looking for love in all the wrong places.

Hook (midpoint) – stakes-raising bonding moment. 

Oh but this is the clever bit.

Darcy proposes; she rebuffs him in no uncertain terms. And accuses him of ruining both her sister and Wickham’s life.

He writes a letter telling her the truth; about Wickham’s deceit of Georgiana Darcy, and his own mistaken view of Jane Bennet’s affections for Bingley.

Why does this bond them? It is after all a deeply painful moment.

Well a good argument is always rather sexy. Meanwhile an exchange of truths, even in very heated terms, is still a deeply intimate conversation, particularly for the walled-off Mr. Darcy. She tells him about her relationship with her sister; he tells her of his relationship with Bingley. And later his history with Wickham.

This shakes our Elizabeth to her core. What Darcy has said to her would shake her sisters to the core as well, but she prefers – not unlike her father – to keep the peace. A choice she will pay for later.

There are more small moments that show the gradual breaking down of Darcy’s defenses.

He admits her, in the most goshdarn endearing and adorable manner, that he is bad at talking to people.

He tries in an awkward but sweet way to have a conversation at dinner with Elizabeth. His aunt immediately cock-blocks him. He shows many signs of visible irritation as she lays into Lizzie. Something she could not have missed. Though Lizzie, always our girl, holds her own.

Swivel – Second Act turning point decision that lays tracks to climax. 

She and another aunt and uncle go to Derbyshire. Their carriage breaks down near Pemberley. Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle want to visit; Lizzie doesn’t want to, but decides to anyway. Against her better judgment.

In the course of visiting, she finds herself in the family’s private chambers where she spies Georgiana playing the piano. And Darcy come home to surprise his sister. They spot her; she’s embarrassed. He’s very gracious. But her heart has already been softened towards him.

Did the dirty great big house change her mind? The lake for miles? The tons of naked statues? More likely, the view of Darcy as a man begins to melt Lizzie. He is unfailingly generous, according to his housekeeper; plus, much like her, he dotes on his sister.

And here again is another one of my favorite scenes.

What I like best about this scene is the numerous times he says “I love you still” without really saying it.
Going after her in the first place instead of letting her go.
Asking if she had a pleasant trip.
Upset that she’d be leaving the next day.
Reassuring her that she hadn’t intruded.
“May I walk you to the village?”
Trying every which way to prolong the conversation.
Reaching the inn even before she gets there to invite her family to dinner, so that she might meet his sister. Lizzie is deeply troubled by this invitation.

Which leads to an exchange between the two, the only civil conversation they have the entire film. And also the only time Mr. Darcy smiles. My heart is mostly mush anyway, but this made it goo.

Dark moment

Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. Darcy tries to comfort Lizzie but is a man of action more than words. He leaves immediately without telling her what he intends to do.

Lizzie’s keeping of the peace has led to the precise opposite. Her family is almost ruined by scandal and her heart is broken by her own sister.

Joyful defeat 
When Lizzie finds out that her sister’s marriage is bankrolled by Darcy, well….not much left to say or do really. Other than propose.

There is a clash between two titans. The aunt and the prospective niece-in-law. Lizzie holds her ground and refuses to refuse to hook up with Darcy.

Note here – he didn’t stalk her. He didn’t try to convince her to marry him. He backed off UNTIL his aunt probably came home in a puff and said that that blasted Bennet girl must have the hots for him.

And then of course, is the best proposal ever.

The End.

Except in the US version, there’s this wonderful ending scene. Darcy is smiling. Elizabeth is teasing him but also at peace and in love. And you have that first kiss we’ve all been waiting for. Or is that just me?

I’d have to find the script to see if it was in the screenwriter who wrote in these gorgeous moments or in fact if it was fabulous acting and innate understanding of rhythm on the director’s part.

I must read the books again. And I must watch the mini-series. But I refuse to watch Lizzie kill zombies. I refuse.

Should I? I don’t know. I’m punch-drunk on Jane Austen.

The journey to Wakanda

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Going to see Black Panther was quite a trial. I needed someone to watch Isa (my son) and my husband had a constantly shifting phone call with a tax accountant that ate up every evening of the week. Gah.

Finally we settled on Saturday afternoon. Not ideal to take an afternoon away from my family but I was so so so keen to visit Wakanda.

Almost out the door, I checked the train schedule. Track works!! Not having any faith or experience in buses and thinking my 10:30 a.m. showing was far too important to miss, I decided to drive. I hate driving.

Spoiler alert: I should have taken the bus.

I didn’t get a parking ticket at the mall – which confused and terrified the crap out of me and caused me to jump in and out of the car looking like a right booby at the parking meter on the way out.
I banged my thumb in the car door. It was sore for two days.
And the traffic was in-freaking sane! I hate driving.

Have I mentioned that I hate driving? #luxuryproblems

But you know what? Wakanda was worth it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much during an action movie. Certainly never a Marvel movie.

I found myself missing my dad deeply. My flawed human dad.

I have such a huge girl crush on The General who burned up the screen every time she showed up. In the first scene, she corrects the Black Panther. And as the fight scene progresses, it turns out she was right to do so.

The Black Panther’s closest advisers were pretty much all women. Silly, stubborn, traditional, modern, frightened, furious… a real study in how to write complex female characters. I was surprised and delighted by just how feminine the movie was.

Oh yes and African-ness. That is, non-Whiteness.

Like a lot of first-generation immigrants, I’ve had my language taken from me. In an effort to please people who will never be pleased, our parents systematically drummed English into our heads. We spoke only English at home. We consumed only English media; we read only English novels. But they spoke Tamil to each other. They also spoke it at their shop to their staff who were mostly from South India and could understand it. But for us, they were content for us to be ‘coconuts’ – brown on the outside, white on the inside.

It does something to you, constantly consuming media that treats you as ‘the other’, letting the colonizer take what’s left of you even after the empire doesn’t exist anymore.

Because I spent most of my life in Dubai, I never really connected with my culture. The Emirates will never claim me for their own. And the meaning of that little passport cannot be denied. Sri Lanka is weird as all heck. And it thinks I am too. Still those are  my places. If not my homes. Those places are familiar to me.

Culture, specifically pop culture, is where I find home. Where I try to piece together an identity. And Wakanda has shown me what a poor and toxic home it’s been. It’s all white. Down to the seams. And mostly American.

In my early 20s, I found myself getting what I used to call ‘homesick’. Really what it was is that I wanted to see a nuanced portrayal of a non-white face. I would watch Bollywood obsessively but still couldn’t run away from the stench of the colonizer, the colorism, the consumerism, the modern-day capitalism.

In Black Panther, it was such a delight to see African culture explored and celebrated with such unbridled joy. I wanted to pause the film so I could drink it all in. Though I am neither Black nor African, it gave me an insight into what home might feel like.

Still, I can’t deny my privilege i.e. knowing where I come from For me, I know that Tamil is my language. If I made an effort, I could learn. I could go home to Kandy, poke around my ancestral home, ask some questions, get an idea of where I came from.

Descendants from enslaved peoples don’t have that luxury. They’ve had their identities ripped away from them. Maybe through Black Panther, they can have in fantasy what is far more difficult to grasp in reality. It’s a poor substitute but it’s one step on the path to healing.

May we all find home, wherever that might be.

5 ways to write a blockbuster movie

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

So last night, me and the hubsters went to see Captain America: Winter Soldier. It struck me while I was watching it (among the many things that were striking but not hurting Captain America) was there was a formula (who woulda thunk it) to action movies.

  1. Get yourself a superhuman hero. Only nominally human. Impenetrable by any substance, man or alien-made.
  2. Set up a world-ending conspiracy theory. The perpetrators can be any of the Western world’s favorite bogies from the past century, ze Germans, ze Russians or ze Muslims.
  3. Slap on an emotional arc for the character because heck, we do want the audience to ‘identify’ with him.
  4. Sprinkle liberally with the stuff people come to the cinema for (according to the conventional wisdom) – explosions, spectacle, fight scenes, shoot-outs, running fast and getting away. Or not. I got no beef with that. This is after all an action movie.
  5. Bonus points – people of colour, women kicking butt too. But not permitted to steer the ship!

As I was thinking about it, I also realized this formula could be applied to many genre movies and could guide my rewrite process on my upcoming comedy scripts.

Retooling it to be more appropriate to comedy and my humanist sensibilities:

  1. Character arcs are always the first order of business. Refine and define those character arcs. The plot should be a chain of consequence that derives from the character’s actions. Flaw, goals, motivations, internal desire. However I want to slice it.
    1. People outside the mainstream – gosh, this is a tough one. Make my choices specific so that they can’t be man-washed or white-washed. I’m still grappling with this and how not to make it about how awful it is to be not a white straight young man.  As usual, I’ll share what I know when I know it God willing.
    2. Make villains textured. Identify with them. Even love them. Have an I-Thou relationship with them.
  2. Genre elements then must arise organically from character. Make sure the comedy rings true for the characters and not just funny.
  3. Do a pass for set pieces. What are the trailer moments?
  4. Do a pass for reader reactions/expectations. How can I refine the experience of reading this script?
  5. Do a pass of audience expectations. What would my target audience expect coming into one of my movies? This could extend beyond genre expectations. It might be fun to imagine what it would be like to actually already have a signature, much like superhero movies or Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky or Lena Dunham.

Of course, I have had to go over some of these steps more than once. Two comedy passes for example and a few readability passes, depending on where I am in the submission process.

A number of other passes might be added to the list above as well.

This are the passes I intended to do with Whose Wife is It Anyway. Though with the deadline fast approaching, I’ve only managed to do a few of them.

  1. A number of character rewrites.
  2. A number of structure rewrites – which became much easier once I had a firm handle on motivations, goals, unconscious desires, etc and therefore the point of the scene.
  3. One last character pass for each character, from major to minor. This was mostly to polish their voices.
  4. A comedy punch-up (what I’ve just completed now).

Now here follows what I wish I had time to do but might return to in the future:

  1.  A visual pass.
  2. A pass for each important element specific to my story:
    1. The progression of my main character’s illness.
    2. Culture – would it translate with someone who isn’t South East Asian?
    3. The reveals of the mystery threading through the screenplay.
  3. First ten pages
  4. Last ten pages – yeah I know these two are super important.
  5. Theme.
  6. Rhythm and pace.
  7. A sense of place.
  8. An emotional graph.
  9. Audience expectations
  10. A craft pass or final edit.

Hope  this has helped.

I really did like Captain America. The movie, that is. The dude is an insufferable martyr.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. May God always give you a harbor in the storms of life.

The Happy Muslimah.

My notes on 1-location movies: Part 1 of probably many

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

So. I’ve been working as much as I can on a comedy punch up for Whose Wife is It Anyway. My plans have often been punctured by doctors’ appointments and moving plans.

It’s frustrating but necessary.

Yes, yes. I know that I only have 2.5 weeks till my Nicholls deadline. You don’t have to give me that look.

Guess what? We’re going to Rhode Island for a few months God willing! Yaaaay!

Why? Husband’s project ended. New one in Rhode Island. But only for a little while.

I’ve also been studying – as I very much like to do – the structures of 1-location movies, seeing that I am hoping to write and direct my own micro-budget movie soon.

I present to you in this post my findings.

The most high-profile 1-location movies are the horror and thriller varieties – your Saw, your Buried, your The Purge.

I can’t watch horror movies. Like, physically cannot sit through them. They are so traumatizing that I can’t sleep for weeks.

So I enlisted that help of the amazing people at #Scriptchat to help me find movies that aren’t horror/thrillers (thrillers I can tolerate, but it’s not a genre I’m interested in.)

This is the list so far:

  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. The Breakfast Club
  3. The Big Chill
  4. Conversations with Other Women
  5. Death at a Funeral
  6. My Dinner with Andre
  7. The Big Kahuna
  8. Clue
  9. 8 women
  10. Carnage
  11. Sex Lies and Videotape
  12. Tape
  13. Dogville
  14. Venus in Fur (not yet released).

Thrillers I want to see (some for the second time):

  1. Signs.
  2. Alien
  3. Exam
  4. ATM
  5. Hard Candy
  6. Die Hard.
  7. Buried.

It makes sense that I’m gravitating to 1-location movies. Three of these movies count among my all-time favorites:

  1. Signs
  2. Death at a Funeral
  3. Alien

So far, I’ve watched and analysed these movies:

  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. Exam
  3. The Breakfast Club

These are my findings:

  1. These three movies are all group adventures.
  2. Instigator causes the conflict – White in Exam, Bender in The Breakfast Club, Davies in 12 Angry Men.
  3. Conflicts bring up information, NOT instigator. Instigator, while he might be the most high-profile actor, is not the star of the show. In 12 Angry Men, Davies starts the ball rolling and helps it along once in a while, but the other jurors also make significant shifts in the narrative (within character, of course)
  4. Each person has a tipping point. Each person at one point or another will unravel.
  5. Sometimes one person does not unravel for very specific reasons which I won’t spoil here.
  6. Rather than scenes, these tipping points can be used as journey markers. The voting in 12 Angry Men. The ejection of candidates in Exam. The Breakfast Club beginning to question their identities one by one.
  7. Revelations can also be used as journey markers as the whole meat of the movie is interpersonal conflict and not much else.
  8. Of course the most notable emotionally charged tipping point is left till the end. [SPOILER ALERT!] Brian confessing that he wanted to kill himself with a flare gun. And Juror #3 breaking down because he misses his son. And we realize his anger all this time is because he was holding onto emotional pain. And White realizing that he’s sold his soul to win. [END SPOILERS]
  9. Characters interact with their surroundings as much as possible but again, the meat is in interpersonal conflict not in the usually ordinary setting.
  10. The rules of the space however do impact on the way the group conflicts spool out. In 12 Angry Men, the movie is structured by the repetition of the voting. In The Breakfast Club, the kids seem to be in a space outside of the usual high school rules so they work together in a way they might not have ever had a chance to experience otherwise. Exam, of course, is set in an exam room – the candidates are desperate to ‘get the answer’. That desperation triggers and dissolves alliances.

These are my thoughts so far. As I work my way God willing through the above list, I’ll get back to you with more.

Peace and God’s protection. Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.



12 Qualities of Great Film

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

Hello and happy weekend!

Though it’s almost over.

My head is splitting so this one will be brief, I’m afraid.

Ted Hope said that we should all have a list of things we love about film. To avoid chaos and confusion. To elevate our work from good to great (this link via the Black Board. Discussion of it here). To know what to fight for and what to let go.

I’ve been struggling (yet again) with my rewrite for Mr. Wonderful. I hope – Ted Hope – this exercise will help me figure out how to fix it.

It’s a rookie screenwriting mistake, but I love it too much to let it go. And really, really, really – I do think there’s something there worth saving.

I’ve been collecting a list of films that just make my heart sing. Movies that made me sad when they ended.

This is the list and I hope it continues to grow.

Science fiction:

  1.  Alien
  2. Prometheus
  3. Blade Runner
  4. Star Wars: A New Hope
  5. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
  6. Back to the Future 1
  7. Signs
  8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Drama (mostly):

  1. Half Nelson
  2. Fight Club
  3. Inglourious Basterds
  4. The Future
  5. Me You and Everyone We Know
  6. The Dark Knight Rises
  7. The Prestige
  8. Michael Clayton


  1. Crazy Stupid Love
  2. Tootsie
  3. Lars and the Real Girl
  4. The Odd Couple
  5. Billy Elliot
  6. In Bruges
  7. Death at a Funeral
  8. Manhattan Murder Mystery
  9. American Beauty

Just off the top of my head, this is what I perceive are some of the common traits of these movies. I’ll unpack the movies and the traits they contain one by one and add to them.

  1. Adults acting like children (not really bad adolescents)
  2. Looking at the true ugliness of human nature and not looking away.
  3. Looking at the true beauty of human nature and not looking away.
  4. Subverts expectations. Weird, freaky, disturbing.
  5. Love
  6. A dark, even disgusting, sense of humor.
  7. Understated.
  8. Ambitious
  9. Deals with questions about the nature of human existence.
  10. Beautiful to look at.
  11. Joyous.
  12. Funny

Now I’m off to rest my head.



Trends in teen movies – an ongoing study

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

‘Sup, peeps.

I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL. I finished up a third draft – dropped 70 pages on a 185-page script. I’m going to say that’s a good indication that I have learned something about screenwriting.

I’ve also been researching and prepping a teen movie tentatively titled:


A retired general creates a fake Facebook profile to snoop on his teenage granddaughter, only to have his mission compromised when she falls in love with him.

What do you guys think?

I have been taking in as many teen movies as I can. These are the ones I’ve seen so far:

  1. Off and Running (documentary)
  2. Clueless
  3. Daydream Nation
  4. Can’t Hardly Wait
  5. Billy Elliot
  6. Attack The Block
  7. Battle Royale
  8. The In-Betweeners (TV show and movie)

I’m sure a lot of people will decry the lack of John Hughes movies in the above list. The reason: I’ve already seen most of them and I’d like to get a fresh perspective before re-watching them.

I’ve seen a few trends.

  1. Divisions are the main engine of conflict –jocks, beauty queens, geeks, stoners, band geeks, etc .
  2. The dork is always lusting after the prom queen. Rarely if ever gender-bent (Princess Diaries being a notable exception.)
  3. Unusual genres – noir (Brick), sci-fi (Attack the Block, The Faculty), slasher (Battle Royale)
  4. Common genres – drama (Daydream Nation, Perks of Being a  Wallflower); comedy, often frustration comedy (Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait).
  5. The geek often gets a dance scene and in so doing, impresses all the chicks.
  6. The jock (or villain) often gets his come-uppance.
  7. Customary last kiss.

I’ve written extensive notes on each of the teen movies I’ve recently watched. But I’ll try and distill them into a few sentences.

Off and Running

Verdict: Loved it.

What I liked:

  • Liked that their family was non-traditional (lesbian parents, trans-racially adopted kids).
  • I liked how the camera stayed with her as she went through perhaps a severe identity crisis.

What I didn’t like:

It all seemed too neat. It seemed like there was real conflict there but the filmmaker was too scared to put that in the film. But then I don’t know what goes into documentary filmmaking – perhaps there were privacy concerns. So I can’t really criticize.

Daydream Nation

Verdict: Hated it.

What I liked:

  • I loved the way this movie started. Great set-up of the town with the industrial fumes wafting in. The serial killer. The handsome teacher. The out-of-town loner and the pothead.
  • I love the alternative structure and the use of titles and flashbacks.

What I didn’t like:

  • Essentially this movie is about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sure, she’s the main character, but she is also still reduced to her sexual function. In this case, she has sex with two men and in so doing, changes both of their lives.
  • There is no indication that she is actually in love with either of them, even [SPOILER] Thurston, though she claims it by the end.  Just because a sex scene is filmed lovingly with a beautiful soundtrack, it doesn’t mean I believe the two characters are in love. [END SPOILER]
  • And that’s another thing. The whole blasted movie was like one long music video.
  • I got gosh-darn sick of shots of Kat Dennings looking beautiful riding a bicycle. What is up with the director and bikes? Either he loves bikes or he loves Dennings.
  • The flashbacks I initially loved just turned out to be lazy writing so that the director could conveniently horse-shoe in an explanation for Caroline’s need to ‘reinvent’ herself this summer.
  • The serial killer angle is never fully explored.  [SPOILER] I was hoping that they were going to fulfill the promise that Barry was/could be/might be the serial killer. But no, he’s just a screwed up dude. I think the writer looked at that possibility and decided to look away. Weak, weak choice, in my opinion.  [END SPOILER]


Verdict: Didn’t like it.

What I liked:

  • Very 90s! God, the music, the fashion and the wonderful Paul Rudd who had not even come into his own yet.
  • The kids acted weirdly privileged like they owned the school and could do whatever they wanted – an interesting stylistic conceit.

What I didn’t like:

  • The very thing that I liked ultimately alienated me. It was too stylized. Too ‘90s.
  • The characters were un-sympathetic and the story-lines unrealistic. A major character change from driving on the freeway? They’ve obviously never driven in Dubai.
  • And everything was just too obvious. I could see what was going to happen a mile away. Maybe because this was the ‘90s.

Can’t Hardly Wait

Verdict: Didn’t like it.

What I liked:

Can’t think of anything I liked.

What I didn’t like:

  • The divisions. It’s always about the divisions. Jocks, nerds, stoners, etc.
  • The teenage wish fulfillment. By a bit of movie magic (lazy writing), What’s-His-Face’s letter came to Hotty McHotty Pants a.k.a Jennifer Love Hewitt.
  • As usual, never any nerdy girls.
  • Could see most things coming a mile away, except perhaps the Seth Green hook-up. Though as soon as they got locked in the bathroom together, I knew they were gonna get it on. Sigh.
  • Utterly boring and predictable characters.
  • Everybody alive in the ‘90s was in this movie.

Billy Elliot

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  • The ‘save the cat’ moment right at the beginning when he guides his grandma back home to tea.
  • How intensely visual the film is – we already know he’s motherless from the state of the kitchen and the quietness of the house.
  • The gruff heart-broken working-class men – my dad’s a bit like that. It made me bawl. Gosh, it’s bringing a tear to my eye now.
  • The quiet grief Billy had – he wasn’t heartbroken like his father. He just missed her. And that was bad enough.
  • The artistic spirit – have you ever seen anyone dance like that, like their lives depended on it? When they’re sad, happy, angry, frustrated?
  • The amazing subplots – the frustrated teacher, her cute little girl, his friend Michael.

What I didn’t like:

  • Really very little not to like. But if I had to pick on something, it would be the stereotypical snooty upper-class who judged him when he went to the Royal Ballet School. But even with that, I’m nitpicking really.

Attack the Block

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  • The unusual cultural milieu – you would think from sci-fi movies that there’s no other city in the world except LA and New York
  • The first alien died quite easily – usually it takes forever to kill one of these things. But this one died quite easily and came to play a pivotal part in the movie.
  • An expertly planted expert – usually the expert just ‘happens’ to be there and that restricts the number of milieus you can have an alien attack on – military, academic, etc. Here the expert character rose quite organically from the environment. Clever stuff.
  • An interesting protagonist set up as a mystery box – We learn about the families of the other kids, but Moses’ door closes quite pointedly in our faces. Later when we learn his history, it’s not schmaltzy or overwrought. It’s just satisfying and again, a necessary revelation for the task at hand.
  • Teens, not adults.
  • Wicked action sequences.

What I didn’t like:

Could have been more background on the other kids, but this is Moses’ story, obviously, so I’ll allow it.

Battle Royale

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  •  Exaggeration of high school dynamics
  • Specificity of character histories – dad killed himself, he played guitar with his truant best friend.
  • Multiple stories told.
  • Non-violent message, though it’s a really violent movie.
  • Couldn’t tear my eyes away, even though I was sleepy and it was the middle of the night.

What I didn’t like:

  • Not enough characterization of the lead girl.

The InBetweeners

Verdict: Loved it.

What I liked:

  • Very disparate band of dudes, but with pretty much a one-track mind – booze and girls. But mostly girls.
  • The characters didn’t change – everyone from the major to the minor characters had rules of behavior that remained very consistent. Neil’s father was a very polite cultured and therefore gay man. Neil’s sister was a rude bombshell. Simon’s father and mother had a bonkers sex life, one his father never stopped talking about. Etc.
  • When there were changes – for example, when Jay got a girlfriend – it was shocking and rather sweet.
  • For all of their crudeness, they were, all things considered, rather sweet young men. Far too few of those in the adult world. Quite enough jocks.
  • Their desperation to be loved and accepted pretty much came to a head in the movie.

What I didn’t like:

  • There are never any nerd girls. It’s as if women are born looking like Pamela Anderson and are never awkward.
  • The only slight bit of characterisation oddly enough was given to Charlotte Hinchcliffe when the jock James Donovan angrily tells Simon that she’s ‘fragile’ or something of that nature. That suggests a relationship that went beyond the physical and a heart underneath the pot ash for Donovan. An angle never explored though. Which is a bit disappointing.
  • And don’t get me started on the movie’s ending. Dude. I mean, yes, the boys have to grow up at some point. But just because they’ve matured a bit, it doesn’t mean that they are going to get ‘fit birds’ the next minute. Which is exactly what happened in the movie.  Again, geeky girls just don’t exist in this universe, though Neil’s second girlfriend, the slightly vapid one, seemed a little geeky and awkward. The happy ending seemed like a sop to an American audience. Or maybe they just wanted to give these poor guys a break. Sigh. Didn’t seem consistent with the characters though. And I loved the consistency.

Questions I’d like to ask of my own concept:

  1. How do I take them away from the irritating clichés of teen movies?
  2. I seem to really love genre movies. What kind of genre experiments could I make with this concept?
  3. I also seem to love movies with heart. What’s the heart of this movie?
  4. This is a trend I’ve seen in all my writing and all of the movies that excite me. A group of people in a pressure cooker situation. How do I best explore that dynamic in this concept?

I thoroughly recommend this process to anyone tackling a new project. It’ll give you unexpected insights and help you steer away from the beaten path.

The Black Board has been instrumental in helping me choose movies but I would welcome any more suggestions.

Fee Amanillah and wassalam. Peace and love to you,


5 things that make The Newsroom work

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu. (This is one of my favorite things to say. It is essentially a prayer hidden in a greeting. It means May the peace, blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you. Beautiful, right?)

So I watched the first season of The Newsroom.

Rarely has television ticked me off that much and fascinated me at the same time.

What ticks me off the most is the utter daftness of most of the characters. I’m trying to acknowledge their complexity but utter daftness is about as far as I can get.

The youngest member of that newsroom seems to be Maggie, who is 26 (same age as me by the way). She has no idea what she wants out of her life. Other than to impress her professional ‘parents’, Mackenzie and Will.

And she is being tossed like a cricket ball (or football, in this country) between Jim and Don.

Don says, “I want to move in with you. Even though I cheated on you. Even though we’ve broken up 50 times in as many days.”

And she says, “Okay.”

Jim says, “You should try and make things work with him.”

She says, “Okay.”

Jim says, “I want to kiss you in the middle of the street.”

She says, “Okay.”

What? Seriously, woman? I  mean seriously?

I just want to smack her upside the head and tell, “Figure it out yourself! Would you prefer to be dating Don or Jim? That’s not a simple yes or no. Why Jim and not Don?”

Girl should be single till she can get her stuff together.  And gain control of her life.

But what upsets me more is that freaking everyone – short of Sloane – has exactly the same neuroses. Even if they know what they want, but they don’t have the gonads to reach for it.

Mackenzie got stabbed in the stomach during a revolution but she can’t go up to Will and tell him she still loves him.

Will has to get high to tell the woman he loves the truth.

After planting a big wet one on Maggie in the middle of the street, Jim has the utter GALL to mew, “I’m with Lisa.” No, you’re not! You just chased Maggie down the street and kissed her!


And I love that Will McEvoy is almost a deity to everyone in the newsroom. By love, I mean puke.

That said, Aaron Sorkin does some things rather well.

I want to roll up my hard-won academic sleeves and take this thing apart.

Note: A lot of the below might seem quite obvious to some of you but I’m still diving into screenwriting so watching some of these rules in action has been a revelation to me.

  1. Call-backs within a scene.

I tried to find the scene where Will invites Mackenzie’s ex Brian to write a feature on Newsroom 2.0, since there was a great Camelot metaphor that occurred at the beginning and the end of the scene.

But this one will have to do.

In this scene, Mackenzie leads with a quote from Cervantez (or the lyricist from the Man of La Mancha) about Don Quixote. The scene ends with her bringing it back to Quixote by calling their shared mission ‘quixotic’.

These can also frame entire episodes.   The movie “Rudy” frames one whole episode. Watch the brilliant set-up and pay-off below:


In this clip, Sloan is teaching Mackenzie about the Glass-Steagall Act. Mackenzie’s mind however is elsewhere – why she ever cheated on Will.

That conversation intrudes briefly into this one.

The two converge at the end of this scene. Parallels between Mackenzie’s infidelity and the repealing of Glass-Steagall are drawn.

It’s downright genius, in my opinion. But I told myself to keep the unqualified praise to a minimum.

3.Per scene, characters act according to a certain rule.

Again this might be awfully obvious. But it isn’t to me.

In the above scene, Sloan is the dry emotionally challenged professorial type. Mackenzie is the distracted, distraught, doesn’t-know-jack-about-economics type. Within the scene, they stay faithful to these rules to a tee.

These characters have obviously shown other sides of themselves. But in this scene, this is all they are. Making Sorkin’s scenes very coherent units by themselves. And making analyzing them quite easy.

4. Character rules become character intentions.

In more active scenes, character intentions remain constant throughout the scene and clash violently with each other.

Such as in the scene above when Mackenzie is trying to motivate Will to make a better news show, whereas Will is trying desperately to protect his ratings at the expense of a well-informed electorate.

Two conflicting intentions + two very verbal characters = juicy dialogue.

The intention in the scene matches the intention in this block of two episodes, which shows Will including a piece in the night’s broadcast about Sarah Palin, just to get ratings up, angering Mackenzie enough to ask him, “Are you in? Or are you out?”

All that jawing and TWO EPISODES ultimately reduced to one simple question.

Will’s arc closed. He’s in. Mackenzie locked in too.

This is all starting to sound very cinematic…

5. Characters inform all of the above.

If I don’t know their rules, or their intentions, I don’t get to write that juicy dialogue or…

6. Great scene buttons!

I really really LOVE the way Aaron Sorkin ends his scenes.  Always on exactly the right note.

Like a concert violinist.

Gah. Okay I’ll stop gushing.

Valentine’s Day frames the conversation.

Maggie’s dialogue rule: Diss Valentine’s Day.

Maggie’s scene intention: Build up Jim by tearing down Lisa.

Scene button: Don comes in with flowers, making her look silly.

If anyone has any other observations, would be thrilled to hear them.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,


Bee in my bonnet – Mama

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu, sisters and brothers,

So I recently saw lauded horror movie Mama at the cinema with my hubby. It was a much-anticipated event for him, a much-dreaded one for me. See, I don’t like horror movies. I don’t like being scared. The better the movie, the worse trouble I have sleeping.

Anyway I went because I love Guillermo del Toro and I wanted to see what his protégé had learned.

Apparently not very much. Here is my review from a screenwriter’s perspective.

The Good:

Beautifully shot. I’ve never seen death and desolation treated so lovingly. Two gorgeous kids that anyone with a heart would root for. Most of the characters had clear histories and clear motivations.


There’s some great usage of the good ole horror movie staple, the vagina indentata – if you don’t know what that is, I’m not sure you want to look it up.

I can’t fault structure or pacing. But as always, there are a few things that I can fault.

The Bad:

To reference Blake Snyder, this is one of those Monster in the House movies. The house in question could be a nation – as Independence Day. It also could be a spaceship, as in Alien. The Monster could be a jilted lover, as in Fatal Attraction. Or a shark, as in Jaws. Many variations, but the plot points tend to be the same.

I said above that most characters had a clear motivation. The one exception was Mama. Did she want the children for herself? Did she want her own baby back? We, of course, never get a chance to sit down and chat with the woman but various characters in the movie misdirect us – and that’s really irritating.

However the biggest bugbear I have with this movie is the fact that Mama, the MONSTER, has our sympathy right from the first five minutes. She saves two adorable little girls from having their heads blown off by their not-so-adorable father. We’re immediately on her side.

Later she shelters and feeds the children. Again, we’re with her on that one.

We can’t possibly be frightened of a thing that has a five-year-old giggling. However ugly she is, she can’t be that bad a ‘person’ – so to speak.

Yes, there is a sense of gathering dread as she becomes more and more violent. But we still jolly well don’t know why. Again, super-irritating!


Towards the end of the movie, Mama has a chance to kill both human guardians, something that Victoria, the more expressive of the two kids, keeps warning against. She does not. She simply roughs them up a bit.

We sympathise with the monster – she has a heart still, however long ago it stopped beating.

We also lose the prime element that makes a horror movie a horror movie – namely the horror. If we don’t fear for the protagonist’s lives, there is simply no primal identification with the story.

That made the ending quite weak when it could have had so much power.

Towards the end of a movie, we figure out what she might have wanted, too late and too ambiguous to add potency to the previous 80 minutes.

And another irritating thing – why did that stupid psychiatrist go into a haunted wood cabin all by himself in the night-time without an extra torch? Hasn’t he ever watched any horror movies?


Anyway, I came out of that film feeling mildly dissatisfied. What was great about the short was the insinuation that two little girls were fending off their actual mother who had turned into a zombie/cannibalistic creature.  There’s nothing more primal than your mother wanting to eat you.

In this movie however, the girls were only mildly scared of Mama, if at all.

Will try and review some movies that I actually liked soon.


Khayr insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah