26 January, 2007

Word of Mouth

Babel


It’s been said that a sign of a good movie is how much you think about it after you leave the movie theatre. Well, I thought about Babel a lot. But that was less to do with the themes and more to do with the melancholic mood. Actually, I even dreamed an alternative ending - not that there’s anything wrong with the ending.

Babel, I suppose, is about childrens' place in society and how increasingly they are not allowed to be just children. It’s also about fear of the other and of course language and communication. It’s not polemical as such and it does leave a lot to be interpreted. Some have interpreted it as anti-American and anti-European but I didn't see it myself.

Arriaga carefully crafts a compelling story but I’m not one of those who automatically confers genius status on any film with multiple storylines and an unusual time-frame. Arriaga however has probably earned the title properly with his trilogy.

Box Office #7

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Black Book (Zwartboek)



Black Book (oh, I’ve just realised where the title of the film comes from - any slower and I’d be an Aston Villa striker) is a brilliant movie. Surprise is a difficult thing to do because it means anticipating the audience reaction and doing something different. Sometimes we don’t know enough about story or seen enough stories to know that the story we have thought of is too familiar and obvious and unlikely to surprise.

In this film when you think you know what to expect, something else happens. A lot of that is down to characters who are believable and make natural choices for themselves rather than what is required for plot purposes. There is one unexpected romance in the film for instance but it makes sense and is psychologically true.

Although it holds up very well with the twists and turns, there is one plot hole where Ellis gets some information useful to the resistance but doesn’t pass it on. As a writer I know why she couldn’t in terms of keeping the plot together but as a movie-goer I was disappointed. There is also one moment of unlikely character behaviour when a man chases an assassin through a crowded square. Why? In hindsight it was the right thing to do but at the time the man had no way of knowing that and would have thought the assassin was doing him a favour.

Despite those moments this is highly recommended.

Box Office #14


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The Last King of Scotland



Nicholas Garrigan, the main character here, is loosely based on Bob Astles’ life. I think comparing the fictional with the factual counterpart reveals a lot on how to make compelling characters and drama out of reality.

Making the character a doctor instead of ex-soldier, gives us so much, both in terms of character development and in terms of plotting. Making him Scottish and not English gives an easy connection to the Scotophile psycho, Idi Amin. Making him single and not married, young and not old makes him horny and naïve which in terms of the story has potentially very dramatic possibilities.

What the original author and screenwriters have done can be done by any of us. Not necessarily a biography of a real person (Peter Morgan’s monopolised that particular avenue, even having an hand in this) but being inspired by a real life person or incident to create our own stories.

It was fascinating watching Garrigan's character arc as he becomes best buds with Amin and gets seduced by power and how he deals with it. Having a white person the audience can identify with to help guide them through the third world is a legitimate tool in the toolbox as, let's face it, not enough people would see the film if it was a black doctor in the same position, but Garrigan is a three-dimensional character and not the typical hero saving Africa.

The dickhead dictator is also shown as a real human being - as he was. Amin shows hints of what was to come very early on which is chilling, but all the way along you understand why he does things. He's not a monster, he's human.

As a film it is very well made with a multi-award winning performance from Whittaker.

Box Office #4

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The Pursuit of Happyness




This is a brilliant film that you may find inspirational or, if you are particularly cynical, may find yourself reaching for the sick bag. But they have done a lot to reduce the risks of the latter occurring.

This tale of a man whose marriage falls apart under financial pressures and his struggle to bring up his son and become a success is packed with emotion but is devoid of sentimentality, which is amazing considering what happens. It’s based on a true story and is grounded in reality. The father feels like a flawed real person who gets pissed off and angry like the rest of us, but is able to focus on his goal and self-belief.

Box Office #1

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The Return



I had low expectations of this but it easily exceeded them. This supernatural mystery creates a good atmosphere and it was resolved satisfactorily enough in the end, although I feared it wouldn't be.

It’s fine having something supernatural happen but it needs to be explained. I’m not saying it has to be a scientific explanation and explained in depth. I’m perfectly prepared to believe Joanna is haunted by something and it creates some nice visuals and mood but I needed to know why it was happening to her.

It has great use of locations and I liked its spare, simple, stripped down style.

Box Office #12

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Rocky Balboa



I’ve always rated Sylvester Stallone as a screenwriter but because he had a working class accent it was assumed he was thick which really bugged me. Thankfully Rocky Balboa doesn’t change my opinion of him as a screenwriter.

The idea of bringing Rocky back did seem about as pointless as getting Mike Tyson a subscription to Ms magazine but in the end it was convincingly done and topical.

It addresses the problems in boxing today and cleverly uses the hypothetical debates matching up boxers from different eras to set up a possibility of Rocky making a comeback.

Rocky is still mourning Adrian and can’t move on. While this could be overly-sentimental, Stallone cleverly undermines it by conflict. Paulie keeps telling him to get over it.

The theme is self-respect and you can see how it plays out in the main story and the sub-plots. There's this quote from a Stallone interview: "So Dixon in the movie, his trainer says, until a man, and this means a woman too, has been through a real baptism by fire, when you are scared, when you are hanging on, when someone’s hurting you, then you are going to see what you are really made of and then you are going to get the only kind of respect in the world that matters, it’s self respect."

I think that is something we need to remember in general: that we have to put our characters through it, no matter how much we like them, as that is how their character is revealed.

Due to the later Rocky films, I was a bit worried but within the first ten minutes I felt assured I was in the safe hands of someone who can write and who can direct.

Box Office #1

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Smokin' Aces



I’m a fan of Narc, Joe Carnahan’s previous film but I hated this. It’s the worse film I’ve seen for a while, although to be fair I did have higher expectations, partly because of the awesome cast he managed to put together.

Putting it simply Smokin’ Aces is about lots of characters you don’t care about killing each other. That would be acceptable perhaps as there is an audience out there for that sort of thing, but the plot is over-complicated, stupid and insulting. At one point most people are dead and we think we can finally go to the pub, but no, they spend ages explaining the twist, when I was beyond caring. Audiences like twists, sure, but not stupid twists which don’t make any sense.

Carnahan is technically proficient and the action and dialogue will ensure positive word of mouth with undemanding kids but it felt like a wasted opportunity as the problems were easily fixed in the screenplay.

Having lots of characters of equal importance is a newbie mistake because you don't have time to get the audience to care what happens to them. The film starts with introductions of who all the characters are and what was going on which was the first warning sign of a bad movie as rather then help me follow the plot I just got more bored and confused. I've just realised that Babel also has lots of characters but that was brilliant. The difference is perhaps that Babel was three short films loosely connected while Smokin' Aces was servicing a single story.

Box Office #3

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