11 January, 2007

Word of Mouth

Apocalypto

Some of my fellow pinko liberals are boycotting this film because it’s written and directed by a fascist creep but I saw it. Not because Mel Gibson said ‘sorry’ for his racist rant, I didn’t believe the apology. No, because I can separate the person from the art. Wagner was another fascist creep but he wrote some groovy tunes.

Gibson’s original writer’s voice is clear here with the conscious main theme being ‘the importance of family’ and his sub-conscious sub-theme of ‘violence is good’. The film starts with a quote about how society is destroyed by those within before those without can destroy it. You can see that as an exhortation for us to defend our society against non-Christians or simply justification for what the Catholic invaders subsequently did. Or both.

All that said, this is a brilliant film and a must-see. The main characters are established with skill, speed and humour and although writers can guess the ending from the opening scene it’s still relatively surprising. Some terrible things happen to people we’ve grown to care about but Gibson doesn’t milk it or obviously manipulate.

The film moves very fast and people who hate subtitles can probably watch the film without bothering to read them and still understand what’s going on as the characters are archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on your point of view) and a lot is told visually. For those that think action films don’t need character motivation, imagine how dull that last chase sequence would be without that motivation being set up so beautifully.

Box office #3

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A Prairie Home Companion

Garrison Keillor’s radio show and gentle style of humour doesn’t appeal to everyone and gets some people violently riled up. I kind of like it though and have been a fan for years.

The problem with this film is almost everything outside of the radio show performance itself - especially the bizarre angel of death character who died while laughing at the show so much and crashing the car or something.

I understand the problem they were trying to fix in trying to give the film some kind of arc and theme as wittering on without a story is dull even when it’s legends like Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin doing the wittering on. But I would have preferred some compelling conflict that was reality based .

Box office #15

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Employee of the month

This is at times very funny but is let down by the over-familiar plot. That wouldn’t matter so much but with plot points like the ‘car sale’ incident it also stopped being real and therefore stopped being funny.

Also, traditionally the main character is a dick until he learns the lesson but I realise that there is a danger of making him too much of a dick so we don't care if he learns a lesson or not.

Box office #4

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Flags of our Fathers

As with Casino Royale, Paul Haggis comes to the re-writing rescue and inputs sufficient quality to get a film made. I suppose you can’t have too many reminders about the stupidity of war but, like most people apparently, this didn’t really appeal. It’s interesting how if the deaths were supernatural or in the horror genre then the youngsters would be queuing around the block but show horrific deaths in the context of war and telling us something about our historical past and they stay away. It’s understandable but I expect the film-makers were surprised so many adults also stayed away but in the current political climate a film about the raising the American flag isn’t going to be a priority.

However, this is still a brilliant film from start to finish. It has a nice structure where it flashes back to the war and switches between the famous raising of the flag on Iwo Jima and those same soldiers back home treated as heroes (although they don’t feel like heroes) as they promote war bonds

We know Clint Eastwood, the director, is right-wing but this is no jingoistic celebration but an authentic examination. Haggis said he just shot the script. The main theme is truth and it has similar deliberate echoes with the current war.

But while the theme and story is important it’s about the characters; rather than being a history lesson we are closer to what happened because they are feel real.

The follow up, Letters from Iwo Jima, tells the story from the Japanese point of view.

Box office #12

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It’s a Boy/Girl Thing

Considering there is nothing more predictable than the body swap romantic comedy, I think Geoff Deane has done very well. The critics slagged it off but word of mouth has kept it in cinemas as it’s entertaining and never too annoying.

To be honest I was going to slag it off without seeing it in my TV Guide as it opened on the same day Freaky Friday aired was I backed off as that would have been stupid.

I try to avoid reviewing reviews but in his review, Mark Kermode called it a Freaky Friday rip-off when body-swap comedies pre-existed that film and several years ago there were about five of them released in the same short period. Also most of Kermode’s review was based on the fact that David Furnish (Elton John’s partner) wrote it when he only produced it. He also condemned the casting of Sharon Osborne as she’s English and what would an Englishwoman be doing married to an American and living in America. Because that never happens. While that casting was bizarre on paper, on celluloid it works. The truly shite should always be pointed out but this isn’t.

To be less positive though, they get confused about the gender swap with one character saying things only a woman would say when he is still a man. Not all the gags work and there are fake moments but not enough to mess things up too bad as enough gags work and there is enough truth.

To say it’s undemanding and unambitious would be an understatement but it achieved what it set out to do for its target demo and that's what counts.

Box office #5
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Night at the Museum

This is a fun family film that manages to avoid too much sentimentality but still gets across themes like responsibility and learning is good. Although a couple of strange story choices at the beginning and at the end almost ruin it.

Larry is temping while he tries to get his business underway. His money troubles means he’s about to get evicted from his apartment and then his ex-wife says that because he keeps moving she’s going to stop him seeing their son. Rather than telling the cold-hearted cow to frack right off he takes a permanent job as a night-time security guard.

Yes, he did need some push to take the job but the mother’s threat and the kid saying something like, “you’re not going to move again are you, dad?” with tears in his eyes and his voice quivering was a bit unconvincing. It’s not as if he’s moving every week and the kid has stability for most of the week anyway. What he should have said to the kid was “Look, so what if I have to keep moving and can’t afford nice presents like your new step-dad, do you only care about goods and luxury living or do you care about being with me, you snotty little brat? I bet you’re not even my kid anyway.”

Anyway, once he’s in the job, the film works fine and is fast, funny and entertaining as Larry tries to escape from and deal with the exhibits. It is reminiscent of Jumanji but more inspired by it than a direct rip-off. I actually thought it was going to be a night at the museum and wondered how it was going to do a good story in just one night but it’s actually cleverly structured over a few nights with a surprise for the last act.

One of those weirder story choices involves the baddies being allowed to get away with it at the end which is outrageous but they were extraneous to the neat ending they had thought of. I’m sorry, but they should have spent a bit more time trying to think of another neat ending which can incorporate the baddies getting what they deserve.

Box office #1

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Miss Potter

This subtly feminist fable based on Beatrix Potter’s life is entertaining if slightly low-key.

The screenwriter sold the script to a production company but bought it back when he didn’t agree with the changes they wanted to make. He had to pay about an extra third to account for the prodco’s expenses.

This is a very good film for a biography. The period is recreated very well not just in costumes and scenery but also the attitudes and mores of the time. For instance Beatrix always had to have a chaperone with her even though she was a middle aged woman. If I have any doubts it is regarding the animation and Potter talking to her characters and calling them her friends - she comes across as more living with schizophrenia rather than sweet and lonely - which I suspect is the intention.

The screenwriter cut down on the amount of animation he initially wanted in the film because it would suggest it was a children’s film rather than an adult romance. But there were loads of kids in the screening I was at, bored out of their tiny tweeny minds. But word of mouth will ensure that those mothers will tell friends to get a babysitter and leave the kids at home.

Once you’ve seen it, check out this article on what liberties were taken with Potter’s life story.

Box office #2

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Perfume – A Story of a Murderer

This is a brilliant film and a must-see. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is sentenced to hang for a number of deaths and then we flash back to how this could have come about. We have sympathy for the character born into poverty and slavery but that turns to empathy as he begins his deadly quest. We may no longer like the character but we understand why he’s doing it and that makes the story fascinating. As an audience we connect our own particular obsession – whether its Take That as a teen or apple alcopops as an adult - and simply imagine it if taken to extremes. Which is what we need to do as writers.

My expectation, from the publicity, was of a film about a perfumier who begins killing but he doesn’t get that job for ages as we deal with his early life. While that is authentically re-created it perhaps could have been cut. But I would probably miss anything that was cut. Tom Tykwer, is one of my favourite writer-directors and I trust him to have made the right decision

Box office #9

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White Noise 2 – The Light

I tried to watch the first one on TV but EVP was just such a stupid idea that I gave up, although it was hugely popular amongst people wanting to believe that ghosts are trying to contact us that way. This film may be more of a cheapo cash-in than a proper sequel but it is much better.

My first impression was how tight and well constructed the screenplay was. There was the odd jarring contrivance but as maybe only screenwriters would spot them, there’re not worth mentioning really. The science isn’t gone into too deeply, fortunately, but it has just enough to set up the story. The important thing is the mystery of that first shocking incident and why it happens, and then the brilliant story turn later on. I actually said, “so he’s going to do that all film? Where’s the dilemma? Where’s the conflict?” but then we got the mother of all dilemmas and conflicts.

The dialogue and the actions of the characters felt true and made it easier to accept the fantasy as true. It’s no masterpiece but whether you believe it is fiction based on fact or fiction based on fiction it should keep you entertained.

Box office #7
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