Outlaw King (2018)

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In 1306, after a long and bloody war against the English, Robert Du Bruce and his fellow Scottish nobles surrender to King Edward I, and swear their endless, undying allegiance to him. Of course, Robert isn’t exactly enthusiastic about this, seeing as he views Edward as his mortal enemy, but he is pragmatic, and so accepts the latter’s rule, as well as a political marriage to the English noblewoman Elizabeth de Burgh. All seems well at first until news reaches Robert that William Wallace, a major leader in the rebellion who never surrendered, has been tortured and executed. Realizing that he must avenge the latter’s death, and gain Scotland’s independence, Robert sets about planning another campaign. In order for his plan to succeed, however, he must unite all of Scotland under one banner, and so declares himself King of Scots after, ahem, removing his chief rival for the throne. This leads to the English labeling him an outlaw, and even some of the other Scottish nobles turning on him. But Robert is determined and continues to fight for Scotland’s independence, even when he is seen as nothing more than an Outlaw with a crown. Will he succeed? Don’t ask me. Just watch the movie. Continue reading

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Glorious, Buffalo Trail & Silver City (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game. Continue reading

Boy, Snow, Bird (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Don’t you just hate it when adaptations of beloved stories take huge liberties with their source material? No? Well, some people must, because critics everywhere went nuts over the fact that the subject of today’s review, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, a supposed re-telling of the Snow White story, didn’t follow the plot of the original fairy tale. But, here’s the thing: if you actually read this book, you realize that it’s not really Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Sure, it’s got elements of the Snow White mythos in it–there’s a “wicked” stepmother who dislikes her beautiful, fair-skinned step-daughter, and frequent references to mirrors and apples–but it is ultimately its own animal. It’s got its own story, its own universe, and its own resolution. I honestly think that the only reason it got marketed as a Snow White re-telling is that the publishers didn’t know what to make of this surreal, highly original work, and decided to give potential buyers a categorization they could understand.

But, all that aside, you’re probably wondering what this book is about, and more importantly, if it’s any good. Well, concerning plot, the novel begins with a young blonde white woman named Boy–trust me, the color of her hair and skin are actually important–running away from her abusive father in New York, and moving up to a small town in New England. There she meets Arturo, a jewelry maker with a daughter from a previous marriage, they court, fall in love, and get married. Everything seems hunky dory until Boy has their baby, a little girl named bird, who is born Black. Boy doesn’t know what to make of this until Arturo explains to her that he and his whole family are actually fair-skinned African Americans who have been passing for White in order to avoid discrimination. This whole story takes place back in the 1960s, so race is a huge deal here. Now, at this point, you’d think the story is going to be about Boy overcoming her prejudices, and learning to love her husband and step-daughter, Snow, who, like her father, is White passing. BUt it isn’t. We just jump ahead 12 years, and find ourselves being told the story from the perspective of Bird. Apparently, Boy sent Snow away to live with her Black family, and Bird doesn’t know her sister because her mother doesn’t let Snow come back. All this seems like good material for conflict–maybe Bird will run away to be with her sister, maybe Snow will come back and kill Boy–but, once again, the author does nothing with it. We just read some of Bird’s diary entries, as well as some letters she and Snow exchange, and then the narration switches back to Boy, who explains that Snow is living with them again, and that she and her step-daughter have made up. But what is perhaps the most infuriating about this novel, besides its wasted dramatic potential, is the last fifteen pages. They throw in a brand new story element that, while it does, admittedly, explain some weird aspects from earlier in the book, changes the tone and themes of the novel completely. Imagine if you were reading a book that, up until the last ten pages, seemed like a straightforward murder-mystery, but then, in the very last section, was revealed to actually be an Alien invasion thriller. If you can imagine the amount of shock and frustration you’d feel at something like that, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how nonplused I was at the end of “Boy, Snow, Bird,” because that’s basically what the author, Helen Oyeyemi, did. She took a seemingly straight-forward drama about race and identity, and just flipped it on its head.

Now, before I go any further, I just want to be clear and say that I don’t think this novel is all bad. The characters are interesting, and you get to know the three women of the title pretty well. In addition to this, Oyeyemi has a unique and quirky voice that I find very enjoyable to read. The problem is that, very often, it feels like she is focused more on showing us how quirky, off beat and original she is than telling a story that makes logical sense. For instance, there are several scenes in the novel where characters describe not being able to see their reflections in the mirror, as well as conversations they had with spiders. (I’m not kidding about that latter part.) And while you could make the argument that the mirror bit is in keeping with the overall theme of identity being a fluid concept that isn’t always clear, the spider part contributes nothing to the overall narrative, and never gets explained. So, when you combine these odd, unexplained story elements, with the completely out-of-left-field ending, you get a novel that is entertaining to read, but ultimately frustrating.

For that reason, I have decided to give Boy, Snow, Bird a 6 out of 10. It’s not the best thing out there, but it isn’t half bad either. If you can accept the strangeness, you’ll probably like it. If you can’t, well, do your best to avoid it.

The Big Short

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And why is anyone going to see this movie? Seriously. Why is any person in their right mind forking over their hard-earned cash to pay to see a movie about racist, sexist, foul-mouthed rich guys who got even richer when the economy collapsed and millions of people lost their homes and jobs? Yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what this film is about. It’s the true story of a group of Wall Street brokers and hedge fund managers who predicted that the economy was going to collapse back in 2008, and, rather than try to warn the government, or the thousands of people who stood to lose the most, just did some tricky buying and selling, and got super rich when everything went down the tubes. I HATE this movie. For several reasons!

For starters, the characters are all assholes. To give you an idea of how disgusting these people–the “good guys” of this movie–are, in one scene, Ryan Gosling is trying to convince Steve Carrell that the Housing Market is going to crash. When Steve Carrell asks how he can be sure, if his math is accurate, Ryan Gosling points to his numbers guy, an Asian-American man named Zhang, and says, “look at my numbers guy! Look at his face; his eyes! He doesn’t speak fucking English! He came in first place in a national Math competition in China! Yeah, I’m fucking sure my fucking math is right!” And as if their racial stereotyping isn’t bad enough, there’s a scene later on in the movie where two hedge fund managers, Charlie and Danny, realize that, by betting against the Housing Market, they’ve become super rich, and begin to celebrate. They’re so selfish and self-absorbed that they have to be reminded that, in order for them to get rich, millions of people have to lose their jobs, and their homes, and possibly even their lives. But do Charlie and Danny give a shit? Nope!

The second thing that bothers me about this movie is the cinematography. My god is it ugly! Virtually every shot in this film is taken from a hand-held camera, so all the images are shaky. And as if that’s not annoying enough, there’s also hardly any moments where the camera itself isn’t panning, zooming, tilting, or just making your eyes bleed with its sickening motion. Why don’t directors use steadicams, tripods, or wide shots anymore? Those things are all great! Filmmakers, you don’t need to set yourselves apart from other people by shoving cameras up your actors noses and jiggling them at every conceivable second.

The third thing I hated about this movie is the fact that it’s BORING, and unbelievably CONFUSING! It’s boring because there’s no rising action, and no climax. The economy is shown collapsing at about the halfway point, so it’s not like you can say that’s the climax. And the whole movie is just rich white guys in suits talking to each other. How riveting! Except no, no that isn’t riveting! Stuff needs to happen in a movie for audiences to be invested. Even The Wolf Of Wall Street, a movie about brokers that I really didn’t like, understood that. There, at least, the filmmakers showed the characters doing drugs, riding boats through storms, and lots of other crazy stuff that can be described as interesting. The Big Short doesn’t have any of those things. It’s just rich, racist, sexist assholes spewing financial jargon at each other. And though the filmmakers do try to make this all a little less confusing by having cut-aways to people like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez, where they try to explain the terms, these cut-aways ultimately prove to be distracting, and just make things even more confusing.

The only things I can honestly say I like about this movie are Steve Carrell, and the soundtrack. Steve Carrell’s character is one of the few nice, likable people in the whole movie, though he does get a little annoying at points. And the soundtrack features lots of songs from the early 2000s that I really love, like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” But, beyond these two things, there’s nothing in this film that I like. This is a 5 out of 10. I’m honestly quite shocked that this movie about selfish, racist assholes has an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and The Flowers Of War, a heartbreaking movie about sacrifice and redemption in The Rape Of Nanking, has a mere 42% approval rating. Guys, if you want to see a well-made, underrated picture with beautiful visuals, great performances, and well-rounded, likable characters who grow and mature as the story progresses, watch The Flowers Of War. As for this garbage, don’t give it a second thought.

The Revenant

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

If you’ve ever read any works of literary or cinematic criticism, you’ve probably noticed that the phrase “style over substance” gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time, the expression is used to describe sci-fi, action, or fantasy films that are more interested in looking nice than having coherent stories, or likable, well-rounded characters. Well, having just seen The Revenant, the latest film from writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, I can assure you, the same principle holds true for artsy movies.

Set in the 1820s, on the Missouri River, The Revenant is a very loose re-telling of an actual event concerning the famous Mountain Man, Hugh Glass. In both the movie and real-life, Glass gets mauled by a bear, left for dead by his men, and then sets out on a path of vengeance. That, however, is where the similarities end, because this movie takes SO MANY liberties with history, it’s not even funny. In real life, Glass constructed a raft, floated downstream until he reached his men’s fort, and then FORGAVE them for leaving him behind. In the movie, by contrast, Glass not only gets left behind, but he’s also forced to watch one of his men, Fitzgerald, murder his son. This causes him to embark on a deranged, blood-soaked voyage, which involves him killing more or less everyone and everything he comes into contact with, and ends with a climactic battle between him and Fitzgerald by a riverside. Now, to my knowledge, the murder, and existence, of Glass’s son, as well as the battle between him and Fitzgerald at the end, are all completely fictional. But, as many of you will no doubt point out, this movie is not a documentary. It is a work of fiction. It is, therefore, not obligated to tell the whole truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. So, historical inaccuracies aside, is it any good?

Well, on the one hand, yes it is. The acting in this film is beyond superb. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom plays Glass, does an absolutely astounding job in this movie. There’s so much dangerous, physically-demanding stuff that he has to do–including getting mauled by a bear, thrown off a cliff, tossed through rapids, and sleeping inside the carcass of a dead horse–that I’m honestly kind of shocked he’s still alive. In addition to this, the cinematography is astounding. Much like his last film, Birdman, González Iñárritu includes a lot of long takes in this movie, where he moves the camera around the whole location so you can see everything, instead of just cutting to different objects or characters. Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Shot on location in British Columbia and Southern Argentina, the film contains some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon. What makes it even better is that none of the images are artificial. The director stated that he wanted to make this movie seem as natural as possible, and so they didn’t use any CGI or artificial lighting. They used sunlight, moonlight, firelight, and the wilderness around them to tell the story, and that level of ambition from a mainstream Hollywood director is extremely impressive. Watching this movie reminded me of the early works of Werner Herzog, like Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, where the director really demanded a lot from his cast and crew, and basically put them through hell to get the best possible product. It’s both good, and frightening, to know that there are still some artists out there willing to sacrifice anything for their craft.

But, all it’s artistic ambition and visual tricks aside, The Revenant still suffers from an excessive amount of violence, overly simplistic characters, and a lack of a clear moral center. Lajos Egri, author of The Art Of Dramatic Writing, wrote that all great stories must contain a premise, a theme or hypothesis that the author has to prove with his or her narrative. Romeo and Juliet’s premise is “Great Love Conquers Death.” Macbeth’s premise is “Violent Ambition Leads To Its Own Destruction.” Without a premise, Egri asserted, stories lose focus, and it becomes harder to get invested in them. Keeping this in mind, it becomes easy to understand why I never felt fully interested in The Revenant. Yeah, it looks pretty, but I don’t learn anything from it. I just watch a guy get screwed over, do everything in his power to get revenge, and that’s it. No themes are ever established, or touched upon throughout the story. You also don’t learn anything about any of the characters besides Glass. They’re just kind of there, and so you don’t really care when they die or get hurt. And it’s not like I can write this movie off as idiotic, “turn your brain off” entertainment, because when you watch the movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers are too smart and too ambitious to make a picture like that. The fact that they used all these complicated shots, the fact that they chose not to use CGI or studio lights, and the fact that they include a lot of really surreal imagery–like a bird rising from a dead woman’s chest, and Renaissance paintings on the walls of caves–make it clear that they wanted to create something meaningful and lasting with this. I just don’t think they did.

So, in the end, should you go see The Revenant? Honestly, I think you should. The camera work, the performances,and the imagery are all amazing. Just don’t expect great writing, and be prepared to see a lot of really disturbing violence. It’s a 7 out of 10.

The End Of The Tour

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Today I’d like to talk to you all about The End Of The Tour, or as I like to think of it, what The Social Network would look like if you took out all the sex, drugs, and drinking, and actually made it somewhat realistic. Yes indeed! This drama/biopic is one of the few films out there that, in my opinion, does a very good job of representing the lives of artists and intellectuals accurately. It’s able to do this because it doesn’t portray our existences as glamorous, dramatic or sexy–we don’t see the protagonists sleeping with groupies, going to elaborate parties, or snorting cocaine off of hooker’s bodies, as we do in The Social Network, or Midnight In Paris. What we see them do is, well, what they actually do–write; talk; think. As a writer myself, I found it very refreshing to see a film that actually showed us for the simple, mundane, and even somewhat lonely people that we are, and not the pretentious, hedonistic assholes that Aaron Sorkin and Woody Allen imagine us as.

But what, you might be wondering, is this realistic film that does such a good job of representing writers about? Well, it’s essentially just a cinematic adaptation of Dave Lipsky’s memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which recounts the few days he spent following the late David Foster Wallace on a book tour. 90% of it is just two people–Lipsky, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, and Wallace, portrayed by Jason Segal–sitting around and talking about stuff. And yet, it never once gets boring. There is some very well-written, thought-provoking dialogue here, and the performances are SUPERB. This is the kind of film that actors who want to show off their talent, or expand their repertoire, yearn for. Why? Well, for starters, it’s quiet. It gives the performers the chance to say a lot, and to express a wide range of emotions. It’s the kind of movie that really depends on its stars to carry the film, because it doesn’t have any explosions or eye candy to distract you. And, let me tell you right now, both Segal and Eisenberg do terrific jobs.

But, it’s not just the dialogue, the acting, or the realistic portrayal of writers that I like. I also like the fact that, when you watch this movie, you can tell that the person who wrote it really did his homework on David Foster Wallace. Very often when you see biopics, it becomes clear that the filmmakers didn’t do much research because they either wanted to tell a juicy story, or they wanted to glorify the people and events they’re talking about. Not here. Little details from Wallace’s life–like the fact that he played tennis in High School, or that he once dreamt of opening a shelter for abused animals–make their way into the script, weaving a nuanced, multifaceted portrayal of the man. They do talk about some of his flaws–like the fact that he was once an alcoholic–but they don’t dwell on these things, or make them the primary focus of the story, as with The Social Network. They do what all good writers should do when discussing real people–show him as a real, imperfect person.

And that, loved ones, is why I’ve decided to give The End Of The Tour an 9 out of 10. It’s well-written, it’s well-acted, and it does an excellent job of representing one of the most fascinating and thoughtful writers who ever lived. It’s a welcome departure from all the mega-blockbusters of the summer, and I know you all would enjoy it if you gave it a look. Check it out!

From Screenplay To Screen: John Logan’s The Last Samurai

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

 

As some of you might already know, my all-time goal is to become a screenwriter in Hollywood, and as some others of you may well be aware, the first step to becoming a successful screenwriter is learning the structure of a good screenplay. How, you might ask, does one do that? Well, just as aspiring authors might look to Pulitzer, Man Booker, or Nobel Prize winning texts for inspiration, the up and coming screenwriter examines Best Screenplay winning scripts for hints as to what made these pieces successful. It is a practice I myself have employed, and one that I have found extremely helpful over the years. And yet, it is also one that has made me far wearier of the film industry in general, for as I read these beautiful works, I couldn’t help but notice something troubling they all had in common. Rarely, if ever, are the films that get produced the same as the scripts on which they are based. Now, to some of you, this might seem like a pretty trivial matter. After all, isn’t the practice of writing really all an exercise in revision? Isn’t it a given that the final product won’t be identical to the first draft? Yes, writing is all about revision, and yes, the end product does differ greatly from the original work, but you see, its different for screenwriters because, unlike regular authors, who just sell their final pieces as is, we have to sell our scripts to directors and studios, who can do whatever they want with our babies, if we want to get paid. Plus, there is a substantial difference between making alterations to a text, and flat out transforming it into something else, as is often the case with screenplays. Doing so can drastically alter the tone, meaning and themes of the story, and in some extreme cases, turn a touching and profound piece of work into generic Hollywood junk. Case and point: Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai.

 

Now before any of you fan boys out there feel the urge to crucify me, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I do NOT hate this movie. I am, in fact, a HUGE fan of it. Everyone’s got that one movie that changed their lives–either it opened their eyes to a whole new imaginary world, or else motivated them to do something. For my father, that film was Ridley Scott’s Alien. For me, it was The Last Samurai.

 

For those of you who don’t know what it’s about, it’s basically Dances With Wolves set in Japan. In 1876, the Japanese government recruits alcoholic American soldier, Nathan Algren, to train the newly formed Imperial Army. Japan has just emerged from centuries of isolation, and is now hoping to modernize and learn from the West. As such, the country is caught between the new–embodied by the greedy businessman Omura, who manipulates the young emperor Meiji to increase his own wealth–and the old–represented by the samurai lord Katsumoto, who, while loyal to the emperor, believes the nation is changing to fast. While he’s there, Algren gets captured by the samurai, who decide not to kill him, and spends several months in their village, sobering up and learning their way of life. As you might expect, during his time there, he grows attached to them, particularly to the family of Taka, Katsumoto’s sister. Eventually deciding that he can no longer fight these people he loves, Algren dons red armor, picks up a sword, and rides into battle against the very Imperial Army he trained. Unfortunately for him, the samurai, being both outnumbered and going up against canons and machine guns, get massacred, and he is the only one left alive. The film ends with Algren appearing before the emperor, offering the latter Katsumoto’s sword, and urging him to respect tradition. Touched by his pleas, the emperor accepts the blade and refuses to sign an arms deal that would vastly expand both Omura’s wealth and America’s sphere of influence in Japan. Satisfied, Algren returns to Katsumoto’s village and the home of Taka, where he finds, “some small measure of peace. One, which we all search for, but few of us ever find.”

 

The first time I saw this film, I was truly blown away. It was every nerdy, pre-teen boy like my self’s dream: young man goes to distant country, becomes fluent in a new language, acquires bad-ass skills, learns important life lessons, and even finds love with a beautiful woman. I feel no shame when I say that this picture was the single greatest reason why I took three years of Japanese and studied Aikido. (I guess I deluded myself into thinking that somehow I could make what had happened in it real). Anyway, for years I watched it over and over again, finding something new to enjoy about it every time I did. And yet, even in the midst of all my adoration, I began to question some of its odder aspects. At first, it was little things like; If Japan has only just opened up to the West, how is it that so many people–Omura, Katsumoto, the Emperor–are fluent in English? Over time, this curiosity expanded to other, larger things like; why is the conflict, which is clearly a civil war, characterized as a tribal uprising? How could Graham, the British interpreter, have lived in Japan for decades if the Land of the Rising Sun only just opened up to foreigners? Why is it that the White guy, Algren, is the only one to survive the war? And if the emperor wasn’t willing to preserve tradition at the behest of Katsumoto, a native Japanese who’d lived his whole life by the book of Bushido, why would he suddenly agree to do so when a foreigner, the exact kind of person that’s threatening Japan and that Katsumoto wouldn’t want him to associate with, tells him to? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the film was seriously lacking in the way of logic. This, as you might expect, seriously decreased my enjoyment of the picture.

 

But by far the greatest factor in changing my perception of the film was the reactions of Japanese and Japanese-Americans who saw it. Many, like my Japanese teacher, Yukiyo Mormon, felt that the movie inaccurately portrayed the period in which it was set. As she was quick to point out, the emperor did not, as the film portrays it, have any real political authority at that time, and more importantly, there was no major uprising by samurai during the Meiji Restoration. Many of them, as I was shocked to discover, willingly set down their swords and happily joined modern Japanese society, becoming powerful businessmen and government officials. By far the most troubling thing to her and other Japanese people was how the film excessively glorified and simplified samurai culture. See, throughout the movie, Algren, as well as the people who hire him, characterize the conflict as a tribal uprising. In one scene, for instance, the characters even liken the samurai to Native Americans, whom it is revealed through flashbacks Algren has fought in the past. What this does is cast the samurai as an ethnic minority–noble savages living in harmony with nature; struggling to preserve their way of life in the face of outside encroachment. This portrayal, as my teachers were desperate to point out, is just about the polar opposite of the truth. Not only did the samurai belong to the ethnic MAJORITY of Japan, they were also the country’s RULING CLASS for centuries. So, if they ever were to rise up against the central government, it wouldn’t be because they thought the rest of Japanese society viewed them as a sub-human scourge that needed to be eradicated, but rather, it would be because they were rich old fogies who didn’t want to lose all their power to the nouveau riche. Also, many Japanese people I spoke to found it kind of insulting that it was the White guy, Algren, who manages to convince the Emperor to respect tradition. To them, this was a classic example of Orientalism, of Westerners attempting to keep Eastern societies from modernizing. In short, I was hard pressed to find a single Japanese person who liked this movie. This, in turn, got me thinking about it in a whole new light, and, as result, led to me liking it a great deal less.

 

But what, you might be wondering; does any of this have to do with screenplays? Well I’ll tell you. See, after hearing all the complaints from my Japanese friends and teachers, I didn’t watch this movie for ages. Then, around junior year of High School, when I realized that I wanted to be a screenwriter, I decided to take another look at it. See, I thought it would be a good idea to read the screenplays for the movies that I’d loved growing up, or had been successful, in order to understand what worked about them, and since The Last Samurai had been both financially successful AND a huge part of my life, it was only natural that I should include it. Anyway, I looked up the original script by John Logan–who also wrote such films as Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo–and discovered some shocking things about it, namely that it was almost nothing like the film that was produced. How different was it? Well, why don’t I draw you up a list of all the details that were either changed, or just plain omitted, from the original text?

 

  1. In the screenplay, Algren is shown as a Civil War Vet, not an Indian fighter. This is precisely why Omura and the other Japanese officials want to hire him–because they’re in the middle of a Civil War, and he understands these kinds of conflicts.

 

  1. The screenplay explains how Katsumoto and Omura learned to speak English so well–Katsumoto, as an Imperial official, was given orders to study the language so as to negotiate with foreigners, while Omura learned it at Princeton, no doubt to get ahead in the area of international business.

 

  1. Much more back-story is given on the Meiji Restoration, the Samurai Code, and the structure of Japanese government. Also, the script points out everything that my Japanese teacher told me–that the emperor was a figurehead, that most samurai and daimyo set down their swords willingly, and that the samurai were not an ethnic minority, but rather, an old aristocratic class dissatisfied with the prospect of losing power.

 

  1. The conflict is shown as a civil war, and not a tribal uprising. This, to me, makes the story much more respectful to the samurai and to Japanese culture in general, because when Katsumoto is described in the movie as a “tribal leader,” and likened to a Native American rebel, it’s not only inaccurate, its kind of condescending.

 

  1. In the script, Bagley–Algren’s old commanding officer, and the one who convinces him to go to Japan–is portrayed as a cowardly old buffoon, and not a heartless young psychopath. There’s a whole subplot in the movie where Algren hates Bagley because, years before, Bagley had his men massacre an entire Native American village. This was what caused Algren to become a depressed alcoholic, and is the reason why he feels so reluctant to train the Imperial Army. Even when I absolutely adored the movie, I never really understood why the filmmakers chose to include this part. If you think about it, it doesn’t add anything to the picture, or make sense given the larger narrative. I mean, if Algren hates Bagley so much, and doesn’t have to listen to him anymore because he’s no longer in the Army, why would he agree to travel across thousands of miles of ocean, and adapt to a strange new culture, just to fight for a man he despises? It just doesn’t come off as all that logical. If, on the other hand, Bagley is just a guy–not angelically good or devilishly bad–it becomes far more plausible that Algren might want to work with him again.

 

  1. The character of the Emperor is considerably more nuanced in the screenplay. He’s shown as an intelligent, curious young man caught between two worlds, and not a weak-willed boy easily manipulated by his advisors. There are several scenes that were not included in the film where we see him talking with Omura and the other officials, trying to strike that balance between traditionalism and modernity. All this makes him a far more complex and interesting figure, and I think it’s a real shame that, in the film, he only ever got to be a cardboard cutout.

 

  1. There’s a scene in the movie where Katsumoto’s village is under attack from a group of ninjas hired by Omura. In the screenplay, however, the assault takes place on the road back to Tokyo. This makes more sense if you think about it, because if Omura already knows where Katsumoto’s village is, and is even able to send mercenaries there, why bother building up a huge army to crush him? Why not just solve the matter quietly, as opposed to spending millions of dollars on military equipment and training?

 

  1. The screenplay gives us a much more concrete reason for why Omura is so hell-bent on removing Katsumoto; if he can build a railroad through Katsumoto’s province, he’ll have access to the sea, and from there his Zaibatsu will be able to trade with China.

 

  1. In the script, Algren is shown as having lost a wife AND a younger brother, and it is implied that it is his sorrow over their deaths that caused him to become an alcoholic. I’m personally glad that they chose to omit this part in the movie, because it felt kind of contrived to me, but that’s beside the point. This is still a major difference between the two pieces.

 

  1. The differences between Japanese and American society are explored much more deeply in the screenplay than in the film. Yes, they do show Algren experiencing some culture shock in the movie–like in the scene where he watches a defeated general commit seppuku, or ritual suicide–and yes, he and Katsumoto do have a couple conversations about the differences between their countries and peoples. However, on the whole, the film’s Algren seems much less put off by the strangeness of his new environment, and adapts to it far more rapidly. In the screenplay, by contrast, he’s shown as reacting far more negatively, and in some cases, violently, to his surroundings. There’s one scene early on in the story where he and his friend get thrown out of a Geisha house because they mistake it for a brothel, and when he arrives in Katsumoto’s village, he regularly argues with, and even insults, the people around him, calling their culture savage and bizarre, and asking them why they can’t act in a manner that’s more comprehensible to him. This behavior, while obviously making him come off as far less likable, is considerably more realistic if you think about it. Even in today’s world, where people from different nations interact with one another on a regular basis, many Westerners who visit Japan find its culture rather perplexing, so imagine how confused an American from the 19th century, a time when most people never left their town, let alone their country, would be if he were suddenly dropped into a samurai village. It would be shocking, to say the least.

 

  1. The screenplay explains what happens to all the major characters, and not juts Algren. This was always something that bothered me about the movie–that we never got to see what fates befell The Emperor, Omura, or Graham the Interpreter. In the screenplay, however, we’re given full closure on each of these individuals. Omura is stripped of his wealth and position, and sent to an island up in the far north. The Emperor grants equal trading privileges to all nations, and lives to see his country surpass China, Korea, and even Russia in military, technological, and economic might. And lastly, Graham returns to England, where he publishes a book entitled, “The Last Samurai,” based on Algren’s writings.

 

  1. It is made abundantly clear in the script that “The Last Samurai” is Katsumoto, not Algren. What this does is make him out to be the main character, or at the very least, the moral and spiritual pillar of the story, neither of which he is in the movie.

 

Phew! That’s a lot of changes!

 

Anyway, after I read the screenplay and saw all the alteration that had been made to it in the film, I had an epiphany. I realized that, if you want to work in Hollywood, there are certain rules that you, as a writer, must abide by. First, you can only have white people be the heroes of your stories. Why? Because the largest demographic that goes to see movies in this country is white people, and white people are still uncomfortable with the idea of having a person of color, who’s not Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman, in the lead. Second, if you’re writing a period piece, don’t bother throwing in too much historical detail or accuracy, because 1) popcorn chewing audiences won’t notice how much effort you put into making your story authentic, and 2) because these same audiences will find too much history boring. And thirdly, you’ve got to have a romance in there somewhere. Even if what you’re writing is an action movie or war epic, you’ve got to include at least one scene with sex or kissing in it. Why? Because boners speak louder than brains. (Sigh).

 

Anyway, after discovering all this, I started to question whether or not I actually wanted to be a screenwriter. The more I thought about it, the more the profession didn’t seem like a logical choice for me. After all, I’m a person who loves history, who believes Americans should be better informed on current events and global issues, and who’s long fought to end the stereotypical portrayals of certain groups in the media. So, did I really want to be part of an industry that, in addition to controlling what content I could put out there, very often exploits minorities, rewrites history, and thrives off the public’s love of sex and violence? The answer I inevitably came to was “YES!” Yes, I do want to be part of that industry. Why? Because how else, except from within, can I make the films that Americans watch more accurate, more educational, or more respectful? How else can I make the dreams I have come true? Yes, Hollywood and the movie industry are flawed, but neither of them is beyond saving. My generation, the Millennials–the most highly educated, international, and Tec savvy generation in global history–is taking over, and I have no doubt that we will bring about substantial changes in the content that gets put out there. Together we will usher in a new Golden Era of filmmaking, one with new rules, new standards, and new techniques that surpass anything our forebears have done.

 

So, fellow writers–do not despair! Continue to hone your craft. Don’t be afraid of the supposed restrictions of Hollywood. The people enforcing them will be gone soon enough, and together we can create new movies and works of art, unbound and unblemished by anything!