• Revenge ! – Part II

    Revenge ! – Part II

    When revenge is based on a personal trauma – whether it be a shooting, rape, kidnapping, or torture – these films often veer into ‘extreme’ or ‘exploitation’ cinema, ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ and ‘Ms. 45′ being two examples. John Boorman’s ‘Point Blank’ is a great take on the singular minded criminal who has been double-crossed by his partners, and one by one hunts them down. This was re-made in the 90′s with ‘Payback’ starring Mel Gibson, also very engaging in it’s own right.
    The ‘Kill Bill’ films from Quentin Tarantino tells the sordid tale of a woman betrayed, shot, and left for dead. When she awakens from her coma, her focus on taking out all involved is so clear, so motivated, and so entertaining in a way that only Tarantino can deliver.

    In Roman Polanski’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ he plays with a protagonist who personifies the ‘un-reliable’ narrator. Sigourney Weaver portrays a character who was tortured at the hands of a Military Junta many years ago, and through a chance encounter her husband has, thinks she has found her tormentor. He is kidnapped, bound, roughed up, and put through a sort of ‘Court’ with her husband playing the defense for this man who may or may have not been her torturer so many years ago. All she has is her memory – what he sounded like, what he smelled like, and what music he played in these torture sessions, and we as an audience are constantly questioning if she has the right man or not. Her husband is the voice of reason in the beginning of the ordeal, “No matter how sure you are, no matter how terrible the accusations are, he has a right to defend himself”, but even he starts to doubt whether this man is innocent or not. This constant questioning of what is right and wrong, what is justice and what is revenge, what is the truth and what is the lie, is what drives this great story from beginning to the end.

    Two of my favorite films that play off the revenge fantasy to an extreme end are from the U.K. – ‘Dead Mans Shoes’ directed by Shane Meadows , and Australia – ‘The Horseman’ directed by Steven Kastrissios. Both have protagonists that are driven from the beginning of the film all the way to the end to make sure the people who hurt their loved ones suffer a great deal before they die. Both also use the visual storytelling of ‘flashbacks’ to great effect, and really help the audience understand the anguish the protagonist is suffering as these scenes are doled out throughout each film. ‘Dead Mans Shoes’ starts the film with flashbacks in home-movie fashion, showing two brothers growing up together, and contrasts these scenes with current ones of them older walking together, and within minutes you understand they have a close bond. Clearly something terrible has been done to the younger brother, and the older one (played with great menace by Paddy Considine) has come back to the deal with the drug-dealing bullies who did his brother wrong. “God will forgive them, and allow them into heaven. I can’t live with that”. This is one of the first lines said by Considine in the beginning of the film, and sets the tone for the stalking, terrorizing, and brutally vicious ways he kills off these men one by one.
    In the Australian ‘The Horseman’ there is a grieving father dealing with the death his daughter, and he goes on a path of destruction to deal with all the men involved. Flashbacks in this story do a wonderful job of showing the audience not just the loss of his daughter and how he feels, but also the loss of innocence in general. The story has a wonderful dream-like quality at times as the editing takes you from the past to the present, from flashback to reality, all against a haunting score with a wonderful melancholy tone throughout. ‘He can’t bring his daughter back, but he can send her killers to hell’ is the tagline of the film, and he does just that, in one brutally bloody scene after another.

    So in the end, is it worth it ? All this mayhem, violence, retribution ? For these characters, there is no other choice, they are driven to push themselves to the limit, in ways that you & I would only dream of. This is the sheer entertainment of it all though, watching these people go too far, and you ask yourself “What would I do ?”. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite characters, who consumed by rage and revenge, is the cause of his own undoing – Khan Noonien Singh from ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’.

    “Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish best served cold………it is very cold in space”


    - Nathan Stanton


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  • Revenge! Part 1

    Who doesn’t love a good revenge film ? Whether it be a jilted lover, a double-cross, or the murder of a loved one, the protagonist in a good revenge based story often has a clear singular vision, and it can be a great drive for the audience to grab on to. The recent ‘Gone Girl’ got me thinking about these kinds of stories, as this tale boils down to a disgruntled wife who creates an incredible web to get revenge on a husband she clearly despises. How elaborate and sinister her plan manifests itself is what is so enthralling about this film.

    Now, there are many films that could fit into this category, and many various ways any protagonist will go about to get their revenge. It might be as silly as the premise of  ’John Tucker Must Die’ where several high school girls realize they are all being cheated on by the same guy, and then they hatch a scheme to get back at him for his philandering. Yes, it’s petty, but in the end it’s all about getting revenge plain and simple. The other end of the spectrum is a tale based in history, and one of the better recent examples of this is ‘Munich’, the Steven Spielberg directed film. This deals with the true incident of Israeli athletes who were taken hostage & assassinated during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The retribution that follows by the Israeli Mossad agents is brutal, but as an audience member you understand completely why these men and women are doing it, and some might even consider it a noble cause. Vengeance for fallen countrymen fuels their efforts.

    The most effective and best told stories of revenge I find are ones that involve a very close friend or family member, where there is a personal connection with the protagonist. In the film ‘Unforgiven’ directed and starring Clint Eastwood, he plays William Munny, an aging outlaw killer who loses his dear friend Ned in their attempt to earn money as hired gunmen. His confrontation with Ned’s killer is electric, and is one of the best scenes in the film, especially after you’ve spent the bulk of the story enjoying the history and friendship these two had. “I’ve killed women and children, killed just about everything that walked or crawled at one time or another, and I’m here to kill you Little Bill”. This act of revenge has a transformative effect, and by owning his past, he becomes the cold-hearted killer he once was. The more recent U.K. film ‘Harry Brown’ deals with an older man who also loses a dear friend, but the circumstances are entirely different. Taking place in the modern era, this is just as much a social commentary on the rise in crime as it is a classic revenge story. Harry Brown, played by Michael Caine, is dealing with his older age, the loss of his wife to ill health, and the loss of his dear friend to the rising criminal element which is brazen and extremely violent. Pulling from his past experience as a soldier, Browne systematically takes down his friends killers one by one, in a most violent fashion, and with no mercy. The tag line for the film is appropriate – “Every Man Has a Breaking Point”.

    In ‘X MEN: First Class’ Magneto is arguably the most interesting character in the film, and not just because of the great casting of Michael Fassbender. He has the clearest and most emotionally charged goal in the story of finding his mothers killer, and the film opens with his backstory interned in a Nazi concentration camp. When he finally catches the ex-Nazi Sebastian Shaw, the tool of his revenge is brilliant – a coin. His inability to move this very same coin decades ago with his un-formed magnetic abilities (after being ordered to do so by Shaw) is the reason his mother is killed. So the cause of his mothers death, becomes the instrument of Shaw’s death, and the scene plays out beautifully. ‘Mad Max’, the first in the trilogy of films, is another great tale of love lost  amidst the decay and moral breakdown of society just before the Apocalypse engulfs the world. Much of the film is spent with Max Rockatansky and his police cohorts trying to stem the tide of anarchy and crime, but you also get to see him spend time with his wife and baby son, the anchor and stability in his life. Once those two worlds collide, and his wife and child are killed, Max is cast adrift. He has nothing to live for and revenge plays a corruptive all engulfing force – once  he sets down this path, there is no turning back. Mad Max becomes “A shell of a man, a burnt out desolate man.”

    - Nathan Stanton

  • Horror Films

    Hey there folks, Nathan Stanton here , very happy to be joining the SplineDoctor group. I’ve been at Pixar for over 18 years in the story dept. and have worked with great directors in that time. Some of the films I’ve worked on include ‘A Bug’s Life’, ‘Toy Story II’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘WALL-E’, and ‘Brave’ amongst others.

    With Halloween approaching in a few days, I thought  I’d share this great post on Horror storytelling , breaking down 13 scenes from some great films. These  highlight good directing, editing, sound work, and story choices that  make all them worth watching if you haven’t seen them already. Enjoy.


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  • More New Doctors

    We have 2 more story GURU’s joining us to contribute. More news this week and hopefully a post.

    thanks for listening….


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  • New Doctor!

    Nate Stanton, Story Supervisor at Pixar and brother to Andrew Stanton will be contributing to the site. Nate was one of the first to do a podcast with us.

    We really want to focus on storytelling and Nate has so much experience. Welcome Nate! Look for more people coming soon that will be focused on Story and Direction.


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