Iconic screenwriter-director-producer James L. Brooks, whose acclaimed films include Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets, has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America West’s 2018 Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement in recognition of his extraordinary career and body of work. He will be honored at the 2018 Writers Guild Awards West Coast ceremony on Sunday, February 11, at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
“James L. Brooks looms large for writers in our business. His movie scripts walk a razor’s edge; they are comedies that are tinged with tragedy, they have moments of absurdity mixed with sharply observed truths. The beauty of his work is that you never hear the writer behind it, his characters talk like real people and his scripts feel like life. We at the WGAW Board of Directors consider it our honor to give him this award,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman.
One of the most revered and influential creative artists in film and television, Brooks is a three-time Academy Award winner, an 18-time Emmy Award winner, and four-time Writers Guild Award winner.
Brooks launched his TV writing career during the mid-’60s, landing a gig writing for CBS News broadcasts based in New York, before moving to Los Angeles to pen several episodes of The Wolper Specials documentary series. He then segued into scripted programming, writing for numerous TV series, including Men in Crisis, My Mother the Car, My Three Sons, The Andy Griffith Show, and That Girl, which earned him his first WGA Episodic Comedy nomination in 1968.
A WGAW member since 1965, Brooks soon emerged as a major force in television, going on to create or co-create, write, and produce numerous hit television series that helped define an era, including the ground-breaking The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77, Created by Brooks and Allan Burns) – one of the first primetime TV series to feature an independent working woman at its center – and its trio of hit spin-offs, Rhoda (1974-78, Created by Brooks & Allan Burns, Developed by David Davis & Lorenzo Music), Lou Grant (1977-82, Created by Brooks and Allan Burns and Gene Reynolds, Developed by Leon Tokatyan), and Phyllis (1975-77, Created by Ed Weinberger & Stan Daniels) – as well as Taxi (1978-83, Created by Brooks and Stan Daniels and David Davis and Ed Weinberger).
After an extensive and prolific career in television during the ’60s and ’70s, Brooks made the transition to the big screen at the close of the decade, penning the screenplay for 1979’s Starting Over, based on the novel by Dan Wakefield, which he co-produced with Alan J. Pakula, which earned Brooks a WGA screenplay nomination (Comedy Adapted from Another Medium).
He went on to write, direct, and produce the acclaimed 1983 dramedy classic, Terms of Endearment, adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry. The film, which garnered eleven Oscar nominations, earned Brooks three Academy Awards, including Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), Best Director, and a Best Picture Oscar, as well as a Writers Guild Award for his screenplay (Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium) and a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. Terms co-stars Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine also earned Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars for their performances.
Next, he wrote, directed, and produced 1987’s Broadcast News, a sharp, incisive behind-the-scenes glimpse of a network TV news room based on his own experiences, which won the New York Dramas Critics Award for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, received Oscar noms for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and earned WGA and Golden Globe screenplay noms.
Through his own Gracie Films production banner, established in 1984, Brooks executive produced the feature film Say Anything…, which was Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, produced The War of the Roses (screenplay by Michael Leeson) and produced Big with Robert Greenhut, which was Anne Spielberg & Gary Ross’ first screenplay.
Brooks made a leap to the stage, writing, directing, and producing his debut play, “Brooklyn Laundry,” which premiered in Los Angeles in 1990. That same year, Brooks’ production company, Gracie Films, inked an overall deal with Sony Pictures. He produced two new series for ABC – primetime animated series The Critic and Phenom – as well as directed the innovative musical dramedy feature film, I’ll Do Anything. In 1996, Brooks executive produced, Bottle Rocket, the debut film co-written and directed by Wes Anderson, and produced Jerry Maguire, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, sharing a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
In 1997, Brooks co-wrote, produced, and directed the box-office smash, As Good As It Gets (Screenplay by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, Story by Mark Andrus). The well-received film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), as well as Best Actor and Best Actress wins for co-stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Brooks also earned a Writers Guild Award (Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), shared with co-screenwriter Andrus.
Following up the critical and commercial success of As Good As It Gets, Brooks wrote and directed the 2004 dramedy Spanglish, and in 2007 Brooks co-wrote and produced The Simpsons Movie, the big-screen version of Fox’s hit animated series, the longest-running scripted series on television to date. In 2010, Brooks wrote and directed the romantic comedy How Do You Know, and most recently produced the 2016’s Edge of Seventeen, written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, making her directorial debut.
Brooks’ other TV writing credits include creating the trail-blazing high school drama Room 222, which aired from 1969-1974 and was notable as one of the first TV series to feature a black male in a lead role, as well as co-creating The Tracy Ullman Show (Created by Brooks, Jerry Belson, Ken Estrin, Heide Perlman), a boundary-pushing comedy-variety series which ran from 1987-1990 and debuted The Simpsons characters in a series of inspired animated shorts, which ultimately led to the launch of The Simpsons animated TV series (Created by Matt Groening, Developed by Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon) that would leave an indelible mark on pop culture, and the telefilm, Thursday’s Game, which he wrote and produced. Brooks was also part of the writing team for TV’s Stand Up to Cancer telethons in 2008 and 2010, which raised millions to combat cancer.
In addition to his acclaimed film career, Brooks has received numerous accolades for his work on television: In addition to multiple Emmy noms for his work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, including noms Outstanding New Series and Outstanding Comedy Series for its debut season, and WGA Episodic Comedy noms for MTM in 1973 and 1978, Brooks earned an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy (shared with Allan Burns) in 1971, a trio of shared Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1975, 1976, and 1977, as well as a ’77 Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for the series’ memorable final episode, “The Last Show” (shared with co-writers Burns, Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels, David Lloyd, and Bob Ellison). In addition, MTM spin-off shows – from sitcom (Rhoda) to drama (Lou Grant) – earned Brooks Emmy noms for Outstanding Drama Series (Lou Grant, 1978) and Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (Rhoda, 1975).
Brooks followed his MTM run by garnering three Outstanding Comedy Series Emmys for the critically acclaimed comedy series Taxi in 1979, 1980, and 1981. In addition to multiple Emmy noms, Brooks shared an Emmy win for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program for The Tracey Ullman Show in 1989, as well as an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program in 1990. As a co-developer and executive producer of Fox’s The Simpsons, Brooks has received numerous Emmy noms over the show’s decades-long run and earned ten shared Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program between 1990 and 2008.
In 1998, Brooks received the WGAW’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement, the Guild’s highest honor for television writing, shared with his frequent TV writing partner Allan Burns. In 2006, Brooks received the WGAE’s Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence, given to a writer who “embodies the spirit, commitment, and comic genius” of the late Sargent.
In 2007, he received the Gold Derby TV Award for lifetime achievement, in 2015 he received TCA’s Career Achievement Award, and in 2017 received the PGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Television for his prolific career.
Next up, Brooks is in the home stretch to finish his latest screenplay.
The WGAW’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement is awarded to a Writers Guild member who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter. Past recipients include Elaine May, Oliver Stone, Harold Ramis, David Mamet, Robert Towne, Tom Stoppard, Paul Mazursky, Lawrence Kasdan, Eric Roth, and Steven Zaillian.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.