Scribes Peer at 2017 Screenplays

Variety, December 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Scribes Peer at 2017 Screenplays


Renowned writers pen appreciations of this year's most thought-provoking scripts

Jonathan Ames on 'I, Tonya' 1

Neon

Written by: Steven Rogers

We always hear in this country about this notion or fantasy known as the American Dream. What "I, Tonya" traffics in so brilliantly, though, is the shadow side to the American Dream: the American Nightmare, the rags-to-riches- to-rags story, the public fall from grace, the kind of American life, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, for which there is no second act. And while the Greeks had just one Icarus, we've had countless Americans whose flaws have propelled them too close to the sun, including Tonya Harding, the first American woman to fly high enough, as a figure skater, to land a triple axel in international competition.

Anyone who was a teenager or older in 1994 knows something - through modern media-osmosis - about Tonya Harding. And what Steven Rogers, the writer of this film, does so ingeniously is take this real-life story and turn it into a figure- skating "Rashomon" in which the primary players try to make sense of what happened, of what the truth may be. And the language they use - the dialogue in this film - is truly superb; it's caustic and real, funny and heartbreaking. This is a movie that succeeds on every level - writing, direction, and performance. If this were a skating competition, I'd give it a 10.

Ames is an acclaimed author, essayist, and screenwriter, whose latest thriller-novella, "You Were Never Really Here," was adapted as a film, which premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and will be released early next year. He previously created the TV series "Bored to Death" and "Blunt Talk," and is the author of nine books including "Wake Up Sir!" and "The Extra Man."

Kurt Andersen on 'Logan' 2

Fox

Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green (screenplay) and James Mangold (story)

I almost never hate a superhero movie, but I seldom love one, either. Which is part of their megamass- appeal point; they're the Burger King Double Cheese Whoppers of cinema. And over the last decade, since "The Dark Knight" (love), I'd started thinking they really worked for me only when they veered deeply into comedy - "Iron Man," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Deadpool," the new "Thor," all those 21st century descendants of "Men in Black." But "Logan" made me revise my theory: hardly a joke in sight, but nonetheless a very fine, impressively peculiar example of the genre.

It's superhero movie as unglamorous noir realism, and not just because of the southwestern location shooting and bare minimum of CGI. Within the fantastical imperatives of an "X-Men" vehicle, the writers - Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold - committed to real-world cause and effect from the get-go: "Should anyone in our story ... fall offa roof or out a window," the script explains on page 2, "they won't bounce. They will die." The premise and mise-en-scène are dark and sad: an alcoholic, middle-age, working-class loser caring for his elderly, demanding, bedridden de facto father in the desolate Texas-Mexico borderlands, both waiting to die in their grungy DIY hospice. The title character also has a damaged daughter, and a main plot device amounts to at least an allegorical version of dementia. An unorthodox pitch for a $100 million franchise picture, but as it turns out a perfect end-stage extrapolation for "Wolverine's" angrybrawler character and grisly lo-fisuperpower. The relationships among the three main characters are written in more plausibly human and tragic fashion than I've ever seen in such a movie.

"Logan" is like a magical- realist Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver," "Blue Collar") or Clint Eastwood ("The Outlaw Josey Wales") film from the 1970s. In fact, the big opening fight scene, in which the white hero butchers a whole gang of Mexican- American criminals, struck me at first as shockingly retro, like something borrowed from "Death Wish" or "Dirty Harry. …

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