08 December, 2006

Word of Mouth

Big Nothing

This is an enjoyable crime comedy about a man who gets led into helping with blackmail but it all gets complicated. The difficulty with black comedy is how to kill people but still have the audience on your side. After all death is serious and not particularly funny. Early on, there was one character who I liked but who, in my opinion, had to be killed for story reasons but didn’t know how it could be done. Luckily the screenwriters knew and I was impressed as we still had sympathy with the heroes.

Similarly I liked the twists and surprises as the film carried on. I shouldn't really say anymore about the plot but it's a recommended film. I was also impressed by the fact that it was set in America but filmed in the Isle Of Man. At first I was trying to catch them out looking for cars driving on the wrong side and red phone boxes and post boxes but then I just got lost in the story. A good story and a good script will always triumph over a lack of money in my opinion.

Box Office #12




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Deck the Halls


Deck the Halls? I wanted to deck the screenwriters. What makes it worse is that in the film, It's a Wonderful Life is playing at the cinema and Miracle on 34th Street is playing on television as if the mere mentioning of those true Christmas classics would make us like this Xmas excrement any better.

Writers tend to have strengths in one particular area more than another and in this the dialogue is quite good with some funny lines but the plotting is lame, unconvincing and finally just way too sentimental. This film is an argument for cinemas to follow aeroplanes and provide sickbags. And me hating Christmas has nothing to do with it. I'm convinced that if crimbophiles see this film they would turn into crimbophobes.

Box Office #5


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Flushed Away

I'm not sure what the kids thought of this but I wasn't all that impressed. The usual Aardman trademark detail and background gags were good - although I think the rat/mice character designs made them look too human. There's some nice lines and some funny stunts but overall I just wasn't all that bothered.

I think it's down to the lead character. He undergoes a change during the film but he starts off as too much of a fool to be likeable. More emphasis on his subconscious desire would have helped him get sympathy during his development.

A few flicks ago in a review I suggested I had animated animals fatigue. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animaton, has clearly read my blog because he too suggests that the animations this year have been too samey and that’s the reason for their relative failure.

He also said that because of the disappointment of Flushed Away and Wallace and Gromit, they are unlikely to work with Aardman again. I'm not that surprised as those films seemed very parochial and not universal enough, appealing mainly to upscale anglophile adults (unlike Chicken Run for instance).

Trying to work out the credits, they had the top UK screenwriters involved (Clement and Le Frenais) , and then a couple of American A-list sitcom vets ( Lloyd and Keenan) punching it up with gags and then William Davies of Alien Autopsy and Johnny English was also involved at some stage with an additional four or five writers trying to punch that final draft up.

Ideally the story should be the joke. To use an extreme example Groundhog Day is funny because of the story and didn't need a team of writers trying to crowbar gags in. When the story is as underdeveloped and lame as Flushed Away then you do need a lot of gags but as the gags don't arise from story they also tend to be lame. Like the jokes about the French and the Americans. Racial gags just seem a bit desperate and last resort to me as they are so easy and lazy and old. I could not be more bored by thick yank tourist gags and cowardly frog gags.

Box Office #2


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Hollywoodland


I try to avoid reading reviews until after I see a film, for the greater learning experience, but you sometimes can’t avoid the buzz. And the buzz around Hollywoodland was bad.

I didn’t see their problem, as I loved the period detail of 1950s Hollywood and the ironic debates about the nascent television industry. It was a lovely structure in that it started with George Reeve’s apparent suicide and then we followed a gumshoe as he investigated the death along with the parallel story of Reeve's life before the death.

A murder mystery is a good way to explore the society and the characters and also of adding conflict and intrigue to what might be a run-of-the-mill dull biography. I felt however that too much was made of it - considering we knew it was all made-up toss. The private detective imagines possible alternative scenarios to the suicide which were confusing at first and then just plain annoying. It turns out, reading the interview with the screenwriter, that it was the studio's dumb idea to make it more about the PI then Reeves which he didn't agree with but he was over-ruled and re-written.

Box Office #12



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Pan's Labyrinth

This is an amazing cinematic and storytelling experience that is not to be missed. Ofelia straddles the grim reality of fascist Spain and the grim fantasy of her other life. With the former she is without hope but with the latter there is the hopeful possibility of a better life. I really want to talk about the ending and how it made me feel but I shan't. I suppose the main thing is that the film did make me feel something and did get an emotional reaction.

This is ultimately a positive parable but you may need to see it more than once to get beyond the characters and their fates to a more intellectual interpretation.

Box Office #8



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Stranger than Fiction

This high concept comedy-drama about a man who finds he is a fictional character is excellent and a must-see. It is an unlikely premise but because the characters take it seriously and react like normal people would react if it really happened we are taken in by it.

I like that it's a gimmicky story about a fictional character coming to life but the underlying theme is a positive one about real people and how we live our lives.

Box Office #7



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Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny


There’s a Tenacious D song and video called Tribute where they tell the story of the game they played with the devil to see who could write the best song. I enjoyed this expansion of the story to the big screen and the bigger budget.

However, although they do their best, padding out that story while always interesting wasn’t always funny enough. You can’t help making comparisons with Borat, another road movie. While the big comic set-pieces were very funny there wasn’t really enough of them.

What I learnt was how funny playing with the audience’s expectations can be. This is especially true with the Tenacious D origin story when JB meets KG. They could have just done the familiar cliché scene and add funny gags to make it funny but instead they did the opposite to what we expected and the surprise made it very funny. In addition the lines arising from that were funnier than gags because they were organic to the scene.

I reviewed a Torchwood episode (number 3) where two healthy young people were threatened by a slow old sick man with a knife and didn’t run away (or walk away) but stayed close to him, cowering in fear, so someone could get stabbed to death for dumbass lazy plotting reasons. Please bear that in mind when you watch this film, I won’t say why but it will make a very funny scene even funnier.

Box Office #4

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