Monthly Archives: June 2012

Under the Influence – Charlie Kaufman

Kaufman is, far and away, one of the best and most original screenwriters of his generation, and one of my all time favourites. His influence on me comes through more in what I endeavor my writing to be more than what my writing would be on a page, which perhaps sounds redundant, but I feel it makes some sense.

Originality

I couldn’t think of a better image than the above one to show quite how original Kaufman can be. The image shows a scene from Being John Malkovich, which, along with Adaptation served as my introduction to Kaufman’s work. The scene is simple – John Malkovich travels through a portal into his own head, and everyone around him has his face, and can only say the word “Malkovich”. Yes, it’s slightly… Odd, to say the least, but it’s also staggeringly original, especially when compared to saturated studio fare that comes out with such frequency. Original writing is inspirational for a simple reason – it allows one to aspire to be original, which, as a writer, is one of the best things you can do.

Metaficition

In both Synecdoche, New York (left) and Adaptation (right), Kaufman explores metafiction. It’s a difficult concept to describe (having a story within another story I guess you could say), and even more difficult one to write. For instance, Synecdoche… tells the story of a playwright (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) writing a play about life. His life, everyone’s life, just… Life. And it’s done masterfully, the play is not just a subplot, but a reality, a fully fledged story of its own. And metafiction is inspiring for a handful of different reasons, it’s originality (something that’ll be revisited several times I imagine), its intelligence and such. It is also a testament to the skill of the writer in question, and Kaufman does so masterfully. For its breadth, complexity and countless reasons, metafiction inspires me as it simply gives a window to explore something else entirely through what it is that’s also being written.

Characters playing the writer


I’ll admit that it seems vain and, yes, narcissistic to be influenced by such a concept, but I can’t help but be fascinated it. After all, it’s been done before in films like  All That Jazz, and Kaufman captures it just as well as someone like Fosse does. With Adaptation, Kaufman presents a bizarre, almost semi-autobiographical account of his attempts to adapt The Orchid Thief with his (fictional) twin brother. However, where Fosse use an author avatar, Kaufman takes it a step further uses the author – literally. Charlie Kaufman is a character in Adaptation. I’ve already admitted its an arrogant point of influence, but I can’t help but wonder, hyperbole, false modest, arrogance and all of that aside – how would I write myself? Not an avatar of myself, but literally myself. Adaptation showed it was more than possible, so, only time will tell if I find myself as a character within a script of my own.

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My Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie Wishlist

Yesterday, I finished reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I liked it a lot. Certainly more than I was expecting to, and in fact, the more I think about it, the more I liked it.

And so, since the film is coming out this year (I’ll admit that the upcoming film partially inspired me to buy the book a few days ago), I figured I’d create something of a wishlist for what I’d like to appear in the film that’s in the book.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the cult musical, is referenced several times throughout the novel, complete with descriptions of how character’s go to movie theaters to see the film and act it out, complete with Patrick (Ezra Miller) playing the infamous Frank ‘N’ Furter. It’s not a major plot point or anything (in fact, I doubt much on this list will be, it’s mainly the little things I’d like to see, since the little things tend to get lost in the translation from book to film) but it’s just something I’d like to see.

The fight in the cafetria

In the later section of the novel, there is a fight between Patrick and a handful of other characters (for reasons I won’t delve into here). Something like this would be good to include because it’s one of the perhaps ‘grittier’ (for want of a better term) sections of the novel, and those kind of things would be well served to be in here so the film doesn’t lose any of punch that the book had.

The lights downtown and the pickup truck
 

From the looks of the trailer, they kept this, which is good, because it was one of the bits of the novel that I liked the most. It is, unfortunately, a difficult one to describe here. Essentially, when Charlie (Logan Lerman), Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick are out driving in Sam’s pickup truck, they go through a tunnel to go downtown, a sea of tall buildings and bright lights. And then of course, as in the trailer, Sam stands up on the back of the pickup truck and screams. It’s hard to describe exactly why I enjoyed this moment in the book, especially as it seems so insignificant in the scheme of it all, but it seems like it could be quite well done, and simply put, I’d like to see it in the movie.

Graduation presents

It’s not a spoiler to say that, since Sam and Patrick are seniors, that they’ll graduate near the end of the movie (as in the novel). And the graduation gifts that Charlie gets them, along with the little notes in them, were actually quite excellent, and the section was well done in the book, and if well done in the film, has the potential to be quite moving. But I won’t say what the presents are of course.

No epilogue

The one thing from the novel I don’t want in the film is the epilogue. It’s not exactly a bad epilogue, I just feel like, as in the novel, it distracts from the impact of the end of the narrative, especially when the end is so good.

And on that note, my film adaptation wishlist for The Perks of Being a Wallflower will now draw to a close.

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Review – Cosmopolis

After last years rather restrained A Dangerous Method, Croneneberg’s latest film, Cosmopolis, returns to his older body of work more so than any of his last three efforts, all of which featured Viggo Mortensen in major roles. The film presents an unrestrained Cronenberg and has some wonderful elements and performances, but some parts just feel a bit… off.

Cosmopolis tells the story of an obscenely rich man, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he journeys across Manhattan in his stretch limousine, looking to get a haircut. Of course, the haircut is secondary to the narrative, and what matters itself is the journey.

Packer is played surprisingly well by Pattinson, who is distancing himself away from his breakout franchise in a way that is interesting, to say the least. His performance is strong, as he brings great charisma to the role and a surprisingly strong screen presence. His movements are slow and methodical, his voice very matter of fact. He captures surprisingly well the essence of a character who has been perhaps brainwashed by capitalism.

On his odyssey, various supporting characters, played by the likes of Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti are shown with him, either as associates, relationships, or obstacles. While the ensemble is uniformly solid, they are, with one major exception, nothing to write home about. That exception is the aforementioned Giamatti who, in limited screen time, absolutely steals the entire film, delivering by far my favourite performance of his entire career. His words are dripping with venom, and his explosions of anger are utterly spellbinding. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of him whenever he was on screen.

Like Croneneberg’s last film, Cosmopolis also contains an awful lot of dialogue. But the dialogue here is different, it is less cold and expository as it was in perhaps too many places during A Dangerous Method. Here, the dialogue is always shrouded in a layer of mystery, and it’s enigmatic nature makes it fascinating to a degree, although, ironically, you can’t help but wish a little more had been exposed during the film’s last act.

Because that leads to one of the major issues with the film – it seems to be almost ‘missing’ bits and pieces. A lot of location changes and character introductions seem to abrupt, and you can’t but wonder ‘why’. The issue is that the film’s almost episodic nature slightly weakens the narrative, and it seems like a problem that could have been so easily remedied too.

On the plus side, while Croneneberg’s writing seems lacking in places, his direction is assured and solid. His aforementioned return to some of the older themes of his work, his use of sex and violence is done very well. Detractors of his last film will likely appreciate this a great deal, as thematically and visually, his work here is almost something of a stylistic homecoming. And a damn fine one at that.

With Cosmopolis, Cronenberg returns to some of his more visceral and sexualised work, and he does so very well. The provocative auteur has once again created an intelligent and intriguing piece of cinema. Pattinson is starting to show that he’s much more than a sparkly, brooding eternal teen, delivering a strong performance here. It suffers from the almost episodic structure, which hampers the pace and narrative strength. Damn fine cinema, and it’s always good to see an intelligent film so close to the beginning of blockbuster season. 

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Review – Rock of Ages

The thing with Rock of Ages is, first of all, it’s a musical. Yes, it’s an obvious thing to start off with, but as with all musicals, that means if you don’t like the music, avoid this film. The music in question is 80’s rock ‘n’ roll, hair metal and the like, with standards from the likes of Bon Jovi, Journey and Poison all making appearances.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the film.

Rock of Ages, based on the audience favourite stage musicals playing in New York and London (which I can confirm is excellent, having scene it twice, once in each location), is a story of rock, love and fame. The story of the film diverts from the stage show, which works in some places, but less so in others. The focus of the story becomes that of Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) and their romance as they pursue Hollywood fame in the music business. Alongside these two are a star studded groups of supporting players, from Alec Baldwin and a surprisingly tolerable Russell Brand as club owners Denis and Lonnie, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the fanatically religious Patricia Whitmore, and the cast highlight, Tom Cruise, as the burnt out, drug addled rock star Stacee Jaxx.

Cruise really brings his all to this performance, giving one of my favourites of his more recent turns, with energy, amusing melancholy, and a surprisingly good voice to the table. You can’t help but be reminded of Frank T. J. Mackey from Magnolia when you see him in this. He manages to upstage everyone around him, with all audience memebers focusing entirely on him whenever he’s on stage, particularly when he’s giving rousing renditions of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’.

Of course, not all of the renditions work on film as well as they do on stage, particularly when you consider the predilection the film has of Hough walking down LA Streets singing power ballads (some of which work, others not so much). This leads on to one of the flaws of the film – the two leads. They’re not bad by any means, but their acting talent and chemistry is called into question when you compare them to some of the people around them. Boneta in particular, while fairly well cast physically and having a solid voice, seems very flat in his acting, and this really weakens his chemistry with Hough, who, while admittedly having one of the strongest voices in the company, does begin to grate on occasion.

The music, for me at least, was of course of the highlight of the film. While not being of my era, it is music that I love, and so many of the choices that aren’t in the stage show work so well, particularly the medley of ‘We Built This City’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, filled with energy, a surprisingly vocally competent Brand, and Zeta-Jones, who is a vocal powerhouse, also knocking ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ (complete with church/gospel style opening), right out of the park.

The issue of altering the focus of the story so much, is that the subplots that worked so well on stage seem a bit out of place here. While Zeta-Jones’ plot works well, that of her characters husband, Mayor Whitmore (played well by an underused Bryan Cranston) seems irrelevant. And of course, the pacing is something of an issue. No, the film is by no means too long, at just over two hours, and, let’s face it, musicals tend to run for at least a couple of hours. The issue is, the dialogue lacks the energy that so many of the musical numbers have, and it can’t help but make the film lag. The script is by no means weak, it has some excellent laughs, some of which are achieved through musical numbers, particularly ‘I Can’t Fight This Felling’.

The film’s best asset is that it’s simply entertaining. Some of the performances are over the top, particularly Zeta-Jones, but in this film, they work perfectly, whereas in others they’d be slammed. It’s by no means for everyone, and those who haven’t seen the stage show may not ‘get it’, but it’s two hours of fun.

Flawed, and with underwhelming leads, it could be easy to write off Rock of Ages as a missfire, especially given some of the other reviews that weren’t as fond of it as I. But, if you like the music, give it a chance. It’s an enjoyable rock and roll romp with some excellent supporting performances and musical numbers you’ll have to restrain yourself from singing along to. 


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Under the Influence – Ingmar Bergman

Oh, where to begin when discussing the incomparable Bergman? My introduction to foreign cinema with The Seventh Seal, after seeking out more of his work, particularly Persona and The Hour of the Wolf, I fell in love with his work, and a great deal of it has naturally played a role in shaping me as a writer, so I’m going yo try my best to articulate just what it is about Bergman that makes him so strong and so influential. After all, as a friend of mine said to me, he “had it”. This is the part where I try to articulate exactly what “it” is.

Cinematography

I could happily show a host of wonderful stills from Bergman films and hope that articulated my thoughts on it, and while there will be some stills, I’m going to try and explain it with words.

First of all, Sven Nykvist is my favourite cinematographer of all time, and with Bergman, created some of the most wonderful images that have embedded their way into my film related consciousness.


The Hour of the Wolf

To start, something painfully vague. There’s just something… About black and white shots, not just in Bergman films, but in cinema, from The Hour of the Wolf to Eraserhead and even Sunset Boulevard. They have a powerful, almost primal quality, that can evoke something real. Concentrated colours can do that, from black and white to the stark and powerful reds of Cries & Whispers.

Cries & Whispers 

Simply put, the imagery of Bergman films made me realise just how important imagery could be in cinema. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true. From the colours (or the lack of colours), to exactly how actors are positioned in a shot, like the one above from Cries & Whispers. In Bergman films, particularly Persona and Cries & Whispers the camera almost becomes a character unto itself, tracking and focusing on these people, revealing the truth about these people, or can shroud them in mystery.

And then there are his closeups. Bergman uses closeups wonderfully, from the agonizing opening of Cries & Whispers to the enigmatic blurring faces of Persona, these closeups are wonderful throughout all of his work. They examine the characters wonderfully, all of their pain and emotions.

Writing women

For me, Bergman is one of the two directors I hold in high esteem when it comes to writing female characters (the other being Woody Allen). Across his films, there are wonderful female roles masterfully acted, from the Strindberg style Persona, to the women in Cries & Whispers and, perhaps my favourite performance in a Bergman film, Liv Ullman’s emotional, powerful and utterly stunning turn in Scenes from a Marriage.

Ullman and Josephson in Scenes From a Marriage

It is difficult to explain exactly why the women in Bergman’s films are so good. It is everything from the way he explores their psyches to how he has them stand their own against, or in some cases overpower so many of the male characters, another thing best shown in the shattering ‘Illiterates’ section of Scenes From a Marriage.

Bergman’s writing of women  had a simple influence on me – to consider all ways to explore characters of different genders and psyches, not just write mostly men because I am male.

Imagery

Anyone who’s seen it will remember the iconic chess with Death scene in The Seventh Seal, something that has stuck with me since I first saw it. And this was, along with the wonderful shots in Bergman’s films, showed the power and wonder of imagery in film. 

The Seventh Seal’s iconic ‘Chess with Death’ scene

Bergman, who has stated in some interviews that he was not religious, despite his upbringing, uses religious imagery wonderfully to communicate his themes, from the almost empty church that opens Winter Light to his use of a religious confession in The Seventh Seal.

Perhaps the best thing about the imagery of Bergman films is their lasting power. So many images from his work have embedded their way into the back of my mind, from the iconic moments of The Seventh Seal and Persona to the strange scene in Hour of the Wolf where Von Sydow is covered in makeup and mercilessly mocked. In simple terms, the sheer power of imagery was shown in Bergman films, and that is something has stayed with me.

The thing with Bergman is that, the emotional cores of his work often makes it difficult for me articulate exactly what it is about them that had such an influence on me, from the enigmatic Persona to the raw power of Cries & Whispers. Perhaps it’s exactly those things that had such an influence, the mystery, and the unrestrained power he uses. After all, Bergman, for want of better phrasing, “had it”.

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20 Inspiring Cinematic Images

Film is of course a visual medium, and so it is only natural that the visual side should be so creatively inspiring, and that a chiefly visual film is the one that got me thinking about the long road to filmmaking.

So here, I will show 20 different images from 20 different films that inspired me creatively and added to my desire to make movies. However, just to (hopefully) make it a little more interesting.

drifting-smoke.jpg

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My Top 5 LGBT Themed Films

This post is part of the 2012 Queer Film Blogathon hosted by Caroline at Garbo Laughs and the folk over at Pussy Goes Grrr. In honour of it, I’ll be writing about my five favourite films that are classed as having LGBT themes.

5 – Black Swan

Aronofsky’s unsettling psychological thriller, a tale of drive, obsession and psychosis, with the classic ballet Swan Lake masterfully used in the background, was one of my favourite films of 2010. From the incredible performance from Portman to the expertly crafted suspense and the bizarre sex scene (that didn’t seem at all erotic to me), where Nina, perhaps in a dream, is sleeping with Lily, and in a moment that shows the decline of her sanity, and perhaps the rampant nature of her ego, pictures herself where Lily is. Used to wonderful effect as a character device and a shocking moment. If you haven’t seen this film already, do seek it out, so much about it, from Portman’s performance, to the stellar opening scene, this is something that simply should be seen.

4 – Midnight Cowboy

One of my favourite Best Picture winning films, Midnight Cowboy is nothing short of excellent, from the gritty script to it’s iconic moments, like the much parodied, oft-imitated line, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!”. It tells the story of a young male prostitute, played very well by Jon Voight, although he occasionally emphasizes the wrong elements of his character too often, and his sickly friend Ratso, played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffman, giving one of his best performances ever, as they try to survive in New York together. The chemistry the two of them share is wonderful, and truly elevates the film, and adds, what feels like a very subtle homosexual relationship, although it is never shown explicitly, these elements seem present throughout the film. From its opening scene to its devastating final moments, Midnight Cowboy is a true classic.

3 – All That Jazz

My favourite movie musical of all time, All That Jazz, the film everybody class Fosse’s 8 1/2 is a visually arresting, masterfully choreographed tale of drive, drugs, women and work, with Roy Scheider giving a stunning performance as Fosse’s self confessed author avatar – Joe Gideon. Perhaps not explicitly LGBT, a case can be made for it, considering things like Gideon’s rampant affairs (which can of course be read as overcompensation). All That Jazz also boasts one of my favourite finales in any film, as Gideon gets a final sendoff, singing an excellent last duet (but to say anything else would spoil it). From its choreography to its performances and excellently used soundtrack, All That Jazz is a wonderful tale of an artist caught in a free fall.

2 – Brokeback Mountain

The greatest romance film I’ve ever seen, and the only film that I almost cried at, Brokeback Mountain is one of my favourite films of the 21st century. Ledger is at the top of his game and Gyllenhaal delivers his best performance yet. The story is simple – it is a story about a love between two men. And it is a wonderfully crafted, understated film, for which Ang Lee rightly won an Oscar. I struggle to write about this film, I can’t really articulate my feelings towards it as I’d like to, but it is wonderful in every respect. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

1 – Mulholland Drive

Lynch’s labyrinthine masterpiece, and one of my favourite films ever made, is rather difficult to explain, with a complex non-linear structure, and the thematic depth and deeper levels one expects from the master auteur. Watts gives an Oscar worthy performance as Betty/Diane, who changes, throughout the course of the film from a perky Hollywood hopeful to a bitter, devastated woman, jilted by her lover Rita (played excellently by Laura Harring), who has all of the fame she so desires. The mind and subconscious of Watt’s characters are explored in abstract and literal manners, from her love scenes with Rita to the excellent scene in Club Silencio. This is not a film for everyone, but if you like it, you will love it.

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