Thursday, August 31, 2006

Capes Fear

(Not a misprint; I'm talking in plural, like the womens).

Continuing Marie's psych studies to garner psychological themes from movies, we saw Martin Scorcese's 1991 remake of Cape Fear (1962).

Both of these movies are so well-made, and Scorcese's version (or let's say writer Wesley Strick's version) so deeply layered, that it was very disappointing for me to feel that, despite being expertly crafted, the story is ultimately unprofitable on a philosophical or personal level.

It was certainly exciting, terrifying, plumbed the depths of the human psyche, but ultimately it had nothing to redeem it, not even a protagonist we can sympathise with.

In the behind-the-scenes featurette, Nick Nolte says that it's about stripping away the masks we wear, and sometimes violent suffering is the only way to do that. I guess so, Nick, but I'd prefer to get that message from a film like Sideways, which talks about masks in a much gentler but still powerful way.

Strick's version of Cape Fear is achingly empty of hope. Danielle's voiceover at the end is a message of stoicism, a message of just pressing on.

From the how-to-make-a-movie department, there were some great touches. Layering the Max Cady character as a psychotic, Bible-quoting avenging angel was an interesting touch that made his character really, really scary.

Using the original music from 1962 was inspired, but also made the movie idiosyncratic, perhaps too much for mainstream audiences in 1991. However, Scorcese says it was the movie that earned him the most money of all his films.

Psychological themes aplenty here, though:
  • Fear
  • Obsession
  • Sexuality
  • Repression
  • Deception
  • Dysfunctional families
That's just a few.

Because we were so dissatisfied with the remake, we thought we'd check out the original. What a difference 30 years makes! The original can't even say the word "rape", yet the remake shows some pretty gruesome verbal and visual violence (nothing explicit though, except Robert de Niro taking a bite out of Illeana Douglas' cheek).

That brutality then combined with Cady's charm as he tries to seduce Danielle is truly creepy. Climbing the walls creepy.

As you might expect, the original was much simpler and more straightforward than the remake, but the acting was top notch. Robert Mitchum especially was such a great actor, offering a very convincing combination of charm and animality (is that a word?).

However, again with this one I wondered why? It's another entertaining, terrifying wild ride, but at the end the only message I get out of it is that some people are so bad they should be locked in a cage forever. What gives?

Maybe the thing I'm missing with movies is that they ask a question rather than offer a statement. Maybe this story - in both its incarnations - is asking how do you confront relentless evil? How do you beat it? Do you take the moral high ground, or play the bastard at his own game?

What neither Gregory Peck's nor Nick Nolte's character did was attempt to show kindness and grace - a powerful weapon against evil. Of course, that would make it an entirely different film, but one I would be more interested in seeing. Showing grace tests the strongest of us.

Maybe I should stop looking for the transcendent or the uplifting in every movie, and just see how well they've designed their roller-coaster ride. In both cases, these story creators have done a superb job. It's just not the kind of ride I would choose.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kiwi journos are french-speaking chicks

...except for me and the others, of course. An interesting survey of journalists in the latest newsletter from the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation.

Finding Forrester

Part of Marie's Psychology course, Finding Forrester was a neat film to watch on a Friday night.

High concept at work here: J.D.Salinger-type author meets 16-year-old basketball-playing Bronx black literary prodigy.

Some very witty dialogue and great double-entendres here, as you'd expect from a movie about writing. As well, some good advice on the art of writing itselt ("Write first, then think. Write from your heart; rewrite with your head.")

Sean Connery is good as this grumpy old man with a gift, but he didn't hit the highs and lows to my complete satisfaction. I wonder, given the other roles Connery has taken on which all tend to be pretty outgoing, whether he was right for this reclusive role. I don't know.

Rob Brown is amazing in the role of Jamal. Especially amazing considering this is his first acting role ever! Great to see he has carried on in the film world.

F.Murray Abraham made a good baddie in Professor Crawford, but I wondered if he wasn't too easy to hate. I always like a baddie that we kind of feel for. None of us is completely good or bad.

Great story, though, and thoughtful direction from Gus van Sant. This didn't wow me like Moulin Rouge or School of Rock, but the story and its lessons will definitely stay with me a long time.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Unashamed Hero Worship

I sat next to Oscar Kightley on Friday. Or how about this, I had lunch with Oscar Kightley on Friday.

And about a few hundred other people.

We were at the Marketing Association's Northern Luncheon where we heard Oscar, along with Elizabeth Mitchell, creator of Bro'Town, and her brother Tim talk about product placement.

Bro'Town has an amazing backstory. Basically New Zealand On Air - which funds the vast majority of NZ television - wouldn't give them initial funding, so they had to think of other options. This is where Tim's expertise in investment came in - he developed a proprietary plan for product placement.

In America, product placement is very familiar. In New Zealand, it's kind of a new thing, particularly for fiction (reality shows have a bit of contra deals going on). So it's really exciting to see a pioneer in this industry take such an integrated approach.

The story creators, the producers and the advertisers work together to create something that works well for everyone. None of the adversarial stuff you hear about in the US. Great story.

Anyway, I actually was sitting next to Oscar, and was trying to think of something really insightful to ask him.

I came up with:

Me: "Do you miss being a journalist?" (Oscar and Elizabeth met while working at the now-defunct Auckland Star newspaper)

Oscar: "No. But I'm glad I did it; it helped me to write succinctly."

And this:

Me: "So I guess you'll be doing the old Joseph Campbell three act thing? Must be a big adjustment from doing half-hour episodes" (They're making a Bro'Town movie)

Oscar: "Yes, it's basically starting from scratch. It's a big difference."

So cool to talk with Oscar. He's a bit of a role model as a Samoan, even though I'm only Samoan by marriage... still, someone who has broken through a lot of barriers to become very well-known - and still very humble. Most of all, someone who does what he loves for a living.

Really good to meet Elizabeth and Tim, too. At last I will know some other people when I go to the Writer's Room on Tuesday! :)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Strange Bedfellows

How's this for high concept: Crocodile Dundee and the guy from The Castle pretending to be a gay couple in a small Australian town.

That's the premise of Strange Bedfellows, a really good Aussie comedy I watched on the weekend.

At first this film seemed full of cliched Aussie small-town characters, plot exposition through lengthy dialogue, and story twists you can see coming a mile away.

Sure enough, you can see what's going to happen but you can also see the likely reaction from townsfolk. The real twist for me came when the blokes go to King's Cross in Sydney to research "how gay people act" - and discover warm human beings, who also like working on motorbikes and are fairly normal people, despite their clothes.

This setup is handsomely paid off in the film's denouement ... which I won't give away. But it is touching.

Good overall message - that we are all human beings, and need to see each other as such rather than stereotyping each other.

As a Christian who sees gay people as just people like everyone else, but still believes what the Bible says about homosexuality being wrong, I hope that maybe one day a filmmaker will be courageous enough to portray the difference between accepting people, and endorsing their behaviour as normal.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beresford to write Long Tan battle film - 22 Aug 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure

Beresford to write Long Tan battle film - 22 Aug 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure

Cool. I've read the book about the Battle of Long Tan - in fact, that's the title. A harrowing battle, and interesting to read about what the soldiers went through after the war.

Should be interesting to see this film when it comes out.

Taxi (2004)


Taxi really made my wife and me laugh, but I couldn't escape the strong feeling it could've done better.

The opening stunt sequence is masterfully done, yet the story development after that is deeply unfunny, even with Queen Latifah.

It only starts to get funny when Jimmy Fallon arrives on the scene. He is an extremely funny guy, able to make the commonplace comic. His behind-the-scenes stuff are hilarious.

Trouble is, it's very hard to believe that such an incompetent could ever become a cop! Monk I can understand, Washburn I cannot.

That aside, it's a fairly enjoyable story - my wife is the acid test of story predictability and Taxi was either unpredictable enough, or funny enough that it didn't matter.

Special features on this are good, especially some of the technical stuff about the "Russian crane arm" that enabled some of the amazing driving stunts in the movie.

Monday, August 21, 2006

School of Rock

Not many people know this, but I wanted to be a rock star in my youth. (I know, I know, such an unusual thing for a young guy to want to be!)

So School of Rock (officially prefaced with a "The" which was endlessly debated in behind-the-scenes features) really pressed my buttons, but I think it pressed a lot of people's buttons! A box office winner, and a critical success.

Jack Black is so so funny, and director Richard Linklater gives him the freedom to just be funny. A lot of ad-libbing in this, so it really helped that the writer, Mike White, was one of the actors as well. Sarah Silverman has a very small role, and she jokes about that in the behind-the-scenes docos - but she's quite right. However, too many cooks spoil the kitchen when it gets too hot ... or something ... so good on her for going and making her own movie.

Full props to the casting people in School of Rock. These kids - all talented musicians as well as actors - had to appear not-good at their instruments before their own inner rock hero could shine forth.

A completely feel-good movie, worth a second watch. And my estimation of Richard Linklater has gone even higher because of his obvious versatility.

Moulin Rouge!

Believe it or not, last Tuesday was the first time I saw Moulin Rouge! (2001).


This brought back my days in High School shows - particularly the heightened, stagey experience that you just didn't want to end.

For me, Moulin Rouge! is up there with Citizen Kane, The Third Man and The Wiz - films that took me to a different world, and eventually made me want to make films like them.

Interestingly, I don't include sci-fi films in this category, even though Star Wars and the Star Trek series certainly took me to other worlds - but they were still very naturalistic. Films like Moulin Rouge actually take you further.

The DVD edition of this was just fantastic in terms of special features. Director/writer Baz Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce talk about the origins of the story (though perhaps not in as much detail as I'd like) and throughout the docos and commentaries talk about their struggle to put spectacle in its place - beneath Story.

The only downer about Moulin Rouge was its down ending. For such a spectacular (Spectacular!) performance, you kind of want to go out with a bang. But in terms of the story - which I understand was based on the opera La Boheme - the sad ending fitted.

Just an amazing film; I hope I get to meet Baz Luhrmann one day to say thanks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Patch Adams (1998)

It's a tricky thing, making a serious drama with a renowned comedian doing clownish things.

I put Patch Adams in the DVD player expecting something light and easy-going. Boy was I wrong!

Not that I was disappointed. In fact, Patch Adams had a similar impact on me as did Shadowlands. A very powerful story about embracing the negative and discovering joy in the midst of it all.

Some good features on the disk as well, like a commentary from director Tom Shadyac (Liar, Liar; The Nutty Professor et al) including this memorable quote: "Mental illness is all about me, me, me." I think he was quoting Patch Adams himself.

And that's another thing, this is so based on a true story. Some characters and events have been fictionalised, but there is a real Patch Adams and a real Gesundheit Institute. He's a great guy with some really interesting things to say.

Having said all that, the combination of drama and comedy felt very strange sometimes. Shadyac talks about this on the commentary. It works, but in a hard-to-explain kind of way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on Mr and Mrs Smith

Creative Screenwriting has more on Mr. and Mrs Smith. A good read, particularly if you want to understand how these things start (often what they don't really cover in special features).

In a nutshell, it's this:

"For a project that started out as screenwriter Simon Kinberg's thesis for his Columbia University graduate film school class (based on what a friend told him about the intricacies of marriage therapy), Kinberg developed an amusing assassin/marriage flick, structurally alternating between an action-based narrative thrust and act-break fragments from the couple's counseling session. When Kinberg came to the attention of screenwriter/producer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), the two teamed up to pitch the project around town and eventually set it up into the star-driven summer vehicle Mr. & Mrs. Smith has now become."

I've come to the answer for a question I've had for a while about some movies: "Why would someone write this?"

When I'd only seen the trailer, it just looked like violence, mayhem and beautiful people. It looked pointless except for a cheap thrill.

I can understand why there's a demand for that, but knowing a bit about the writing process, I can't understand why people put the time and effort in to make some movies.

Mr. and Mrs Smith is not in that category any more. It's got a message worth telling, and that is that marriage is worth fighting for.

That's what I like about movies: the truth is usually out there somewhere.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Shadowlands (1993)

Anthony Hopkins is sooo good.

He can be the epitome of evil in Silence of the Lambs, and in Shadowlands he can be the absolutely believable aging bachelor professor CS Lewis.

I've seen this film before, about nine years ago, before I was married. I remember being deeply moved. In fact, literally straight after seeing Shadowlands I read CS Lewis' A Grief Observed from cover to cover.

Watching it now, as a married man, the message rings even truer. Life - and love - is inevitably associated with pain. Enjoying life - a theme of Lewis' real life - comes from acknowledging, and even celebrating, the pain in life.

From a filmmaking point of view, this is Richard Attenborough. This is classical style filmmaking. Very simple and straightforward, not very multi-layered, and visually beautiful. The change in atmosphere from stuffy, traditional Oxford to the brightness and vividness of the natural scenes later in the film reflect the journey Attenborough is taking us on.

Also interesting to see this was developed from a stage play, which was itself based on a book. Always interesting to see how these things develop.

By the way, Debra Winger is absolutely amazing too.

Monday, August 07, 2006

James Cameron chooses Weta

This here story tells how the James Cameron - Aliens, Titanic - has chosen New Zillund's own Weta Digital for his next movie.

I love being a kiwi sometimes. When one of us wins big, on the sports field, in business or in the arts, we tend to celebrate. Kind of quaint and it only reminds us of how small we are, but quite grounding nevertheless.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gribblehickey progress

It's been such a busy time with magazine and newspaper work, I almost forget what I'm "doing" this year - writing a screenplay.

After joyously raving about the nice feedback I'd been getting, I started to get the really helpful stuff - the stuff that really, really needs work.

I'm yet to get a respite to gather all the feedback, but when I do I'll be building a mind-map of it all, and paying close attention to the stuff that more than one person has noticed.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mr & Mrs Smith

I saw approximately 90% of this movie on ... ahem.. pirated DVD at a relative's place last year. The world is a just place and, being a pirated DVD, it froze at the very end, denying us the last 10 or so minutes. Ha.

So I saw the whole thing on the weekend, complete with two fantastic commentaries (one from the writer and director) and a great little featurette about the making of a complicated scene.

Some fantastic stuff to learn from these commentaries, particularly about shaping a story even when the ball is in place, getting the feel of the film right (not easy!), and deciding on the genre (it's a romantic comedy, in case you didn't know - a romantic comedy with bullets and explosions).

Very good stuff. I didn't like the trailer, but the film is really growing on me, particularly the summing up that the director, Doug Liman, gives it:

"Action is easy; Marriage is really really hard."