Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Silver Linings Playbook - a lookback

My favourite film of 2012 was David O Russell's eight-time Oscar nomiated 'Silver Linings Playbook'.  I had no preconceptions about the movie beforehand, and if I did they were likely to be negative based on the rom-com title, posters and leading actor Bradley Cooper. 

Mild spoilers follow...

I haven't been so surprised by a movie in a long time.  Cooper is a revelation.  He is an acting talent and unafraid of putting himself out there on screen, baring his soul for the part.  I no longer think of him as the pin-up from The Hangover.  He's the real deal in my opinion. 

Jennifer Lawrence won her Oscar for Best Actress and deservedly so.  She is brilliant as the grieving widow, struggling with life as much as the next person. 

Where Silver Linings excels is in its depiction of how people nearly always choose the wrong way to deal with their problems. 

The script is deceptively clever.  Most protagonists have a clear goal, a want, that they strive for throughout the course of the movie.  Most of the time, this want is a good thing.  Luke wants to save Leia and rescue the Galaxy.  Liam Neeson wants to get his daughter back.  Wreck-It Ralph wants to be the good guy.  And so on. 

In Silver Linings, Pat wants to get back with his wife, from whom he is seperated following his meltdown.  She had an affair and he lost the plot.  However, for the majority of the film, Pat wants to get back with his wife.  Everything he does is designed to get him closer to achieving this objective.

The audience is sitting there screaming at Pat to stop with that!  He's a top guy, lovable because of his honesty and his positivity.  We don't want him to go back to a woman that clearly doesn't love him.  We don't want to see him repeat the same mistakes over and over. 

When Tiffany comes into the film, it amps up the stakes even more.  Here's a beautiful, funny girl who seems perfect for Pat.  Neither of them are perfect, they accept their failings for what they are.  The audience can't wait for them to get together. 

But it doesn't happen till the final scene.  Pat maintains his stance, pursuing his wife till the final dance, even though he knows deep down that he loves Tiffany. 

A brilliant script can hold an audience with a strong concept like this.  It doesn't need contrived scenes of break ups and reconciliations.  People often do the wrong thing, follow the wrong avenue and believe in the wrong relationship.  In this way I felt the script was authentic and more engaging than 90% of films out there. 

Silver Linings Playbook was the most heartfelt film I saw during 2012.  It contained true emotion and relationships based on more than basic attraction. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Excelsior

Healthy body, healthy mind. 

Feed on the positive, reject the negative. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Skyfall, Dark Knight and other thoughts

This blog post contains SPOILERS for the Bond movie SKYFALL. Please do not read on if you haven’t see it yet.


---------------- ----------------- ------------------

Halfway through Skyfall, Bond finally meets Javier Bardem’s super-villain Silva. There is some interrogation with gay undertones, a Golden Gun-esque shooting competition and a miraculous rescue. It’s a good introduction to Silva, in a cool location with his chillingly-nonchalant murder of a beautiful woman. It says plenty about the bad guy, but little about Bond (except that he may have been tortured with gay undertones before).

Bond, often a superman and impenetrable throughout his many and varied ordeals, never seems troubled or pushed in this sequence. The audience never delights in the classic Bond twist where he gets out of that inescapable situation. His radio signal to bring in the reinforcements is too easy.

In that moment, it’s a dead giveaway that Silva wants this to happen.

Silva is taken to MI6, held against his will and questioned. The tension, the celebration, the pay-off for this capture is… non-existent. That’s because it’s a set up in itself and lacked the urgency of being part of Bond’s story. This is potentially because the stakes of the undercover agents being exposed are never explained dramatically. By that I mean, tied into the plot so the audience cares about them as characters. If Bond was going to lose a friend, another 00 agent say, maybe he’d be more motivated.

As it was, the whole design felt like a copy of a seminal action film of recent times.

As the radio signal goes up and Silva lets himself be captured without a fight, thoughts immediately turn to the Joker’s similar plot in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Villain gets taken into the heart of the good guys lair in order to complete his master plan. Only, the Joker had already been set up as a villainous force by the time he gets himself captured. The stakes are clear. He’s holding all the pieces. People’s lives, the people closest to Bruce Wayne, are at stake. Batman needs to pulverise the Joker to get information. And yet the Joker still comes out on top.

In my opinion, The Dark Knight has changed the face of modern action/ thriller films more than any other movie. It put the villain’s journey on equal footing with that of the hero. The Joker goes into the darkest cave – the flipside of the hero going to the criminal’s lair – by getting caught and taken into the police station. He is surrounded by police, organisation and captivity. The things he fears and hates most in the world. Yet still he drives the plot. He is in control. He raises the stakes.

In doing so, the villain raises our hero’s game. Always one step behind, Batman has some real work to do in the third act to catch up and overtake. It makes him more worthy of hero status. For Nolan’s Batman, he learns that he’s not an all-seeing force of good and that to beat the Joker he will have to take steps to darker, morally-ambiguous places he has never before visited.

It was a game changer and has inspired many TV and film projects after it. It was an intelligent blockbuster that treated the audience to the thrills of a classic action movie.

Having said all that, I enjoyed Skyfall’s third act. It took 007 to a different level and came good on the promise of a back to basics Bond using his skills and know-how. Perhaps not to every Bond fan’s liking, but a change nevertheless. At least it was an original idea in a film that looked beautiful but lacked a real biting edge. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Moment of clarity

I have one clear goal and that clear goal is to complete a screenplay that I'm proud of. 

I want a script that I can re-read and enjoy.  That is done to the best of my ability, that I enjoyed writing, that gives me a sense of achievement. 

That is all I can ask of myself and all that I need. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

My 50 Kisses entry

Unfortunately, my script for the 50 Kisses movie was not selected.  I'm disappointed but not killing myself over it.  Script Punk sets out what the selectors were looking for here, whilst giving a good overview of what the project is all about.

I'll take the opportunity to congratulate the winning writers and wish the project every success. 

You can view my script, A Professional Love, here.  It's 2 pages of an intense love affair set in deep space.  With a twist!

Enjoy... any comments would be brilliant.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Love it or hate it

Everyone has an opinion on it and it’s brought on a wild Marmite effect. People either love it or hate it.

Plenty of criticism, plenty of praise. Lots of questions, discussion and arguments. Testament to the quality of the film and the sheer scale of its ambition.

Here’s my contribution. I love it.

**** SPOILERS****

Characters

Some people seem to have a problem with Bane. From his incredible entrance in the airborne hostage attack to the first sight of him walking – that swagger, that knowledge he’s king of the hill – to his random quips, he stamped his authority on the movie. The audience yearned for his action. He’s formidable, a fighter, but no fool either.

Bane’s motivation is explained through the personal interaction with Talia and the end-game plan of the League’s destruction of Gotham. No villain is likely to top the Joker for outright mesmerising brilliance, so they didn’t try. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a different beast altogether. He is motivated by his heart. The Joker wouldn’t cry in a million years. Bane did and in that instant showed us a human side to the monster that got us feeling sympathy for him.

Anne Hathaway did a fantastic job with Catwoman. Sexy, sassy, badass and beautiful; she amazingly blew Marion Cotillard out of the water in the femme fatale stakes. Her story, from desperate cat burglar to Batman’s saviour (and then Bruce’s saviour), is gripping and expertly mapped out. Compare to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and tell me Nolan doesn’t do female characters any justice. Selina Kyle has a similar play acting woman in distress scene to the Black Widow, but it’s not the only memorable scene she’s in. The audience is dying to see her again, to see her hook up with Bruce, for him to shun the too good to be true Miranda Tate.

A lot of complaints have been made about Bruce’s decline, rise, decline and ultimately successful rise. This has been confused by too much online venting. The film opens with Bruce in decline. Batman is no longer needed. He feels empty, his life no longer has purpose. He has let himself go because he no longer needs to don the mask. He is living out a life of an aged billionaire way before his time.

Catwoman gets his attention, then Bane gives him the shock necessary to reawaken Bruce. But it’s a false dawn. And if there’s one thing we know about Nolan’s Bat-universe, the night is always darkest before the false dawn. He’s not ready physically or mentally. He believes he can win with his suit, Lucius’ technology and his old scare tactics.

Bane sees right through this immediately. He welcomes Bruce Wayne to his cage, acknowledging the aged billionaire he’s going to fight (and beat), rather than the frightening Batman figure that tore up the underworld in previous years. Bane breaks the Batman and throws him into prison. Bane wants to see him suffer the killer that is hope.

In prison, Bruce begins the long process of finding himself. He no longer fears death, his life is meaningless, he wishes it would end and matter-of-factly asks Bane why he didn’t; but without this innate, primal fear, he can’t be fully driven to achieve his ambitions. He is spiritually awoken by his memory of Ra’s Al Ghul talking to him, as he did in Batman Begins. He must suffer watching his beloved city being torn apart by forces of evil.

As he trains his body, his anger and fear escalates. The words of the sage-like mentor ring in his ears. He needs to use that fear (the leap of faith) to get himself back in the game. It makes him stronger, more primal, more in tune with the people he’s trying to save.

It’s not about ups and downs. These serve the overall journey; that is the most important thing of any story.

Theme

The theme closest to Batman’s heart over the three movies has always been Gotham’s wellbeing. It’s about community, morality, governance. It’s about crime, fear and beating demons. It’s about finding a reason to live, not just to exist.

It’s not simply one man taking on the responsibility, it’s about one man using his enormous wealth, skills and passion to inspire a better place for its people, by its people. Batman only ever wants to clean the streets of Gotham in order to give the good people of the city a chance to run it in a decent and moral way. He is prevented every step of the way not only by the main villains, but also by the corrupt officials and law enforcers posing as decent people.

That’s why there’s so much subterfuge and disguise in Nolan’s movies (and not just the Batman franchise either). Everyone puts up a disguise in one way or another. We can’t trust what we see. How can Batman trust anyone when he has been betrayed by everyone? And if they didn’t betray him, they were complicit in bending the rules for their own gain.

And how can everyone trust the Batman? A vigilante cleaning up the streets according to his own set of principles.

Only Alfred knows the big picture. He is the moral compass of the movies as a whole and knows that Bruce is a good man struggling with his world. Alfred needs Bruce to make something of his life, to experience more than solitude and pain. He’ll never give up on him, never stop hoping.

Books could be written on all aspects of the movie, its place in the trilogy and Nolan’s vision. As I always tell people who are put off by the Batman tag, they’re not superhero films as such. They’re crime thrillers, built on a realistic infrastructure. Intelligent blockbusters.

Movies that excite you like a child again.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Something Different - Memento

Last night I enjoyed a welcome repeat viewing of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Of course, his films aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea and Batman flicks aren’t ever going to convince some people of his credentials, but to me he’s a master story-teller with a fantastic outlook on movies.


The logline, from IMDB, reads: a man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife.

Basically, a man hunts for the murdered of his wife. A generic story we’ve seen in various guises a thousand times before.

Nolan uses two devices to create a unique spin on his revenge tale. Firstly, the film goes backwards. It’s such a simple device yet so fitting to the story that it’s effective on more than one level. The viewer is thrown into the world of the protagonist, not knowing what came before each scene, increasing the confusion and empathy for our hero. The tension builds to the climax which packs an emotional punch along with surprising revelation.

Secondly, Nolan’s protagonist has short-term amnesia. He hasn’t been able to create new memories since the death of his wife. This works hand in hand with the structure of the story, creating a character we haven’t seen before.

This is key to any genre film. What sets your story apart from the rest? What makes it jump off the page and demand to be made?

A protagonist that stands out is a good place to start. How can you turn that generic capable male protagonist into someone who’ll make an audience sit up and take notice?

Take a look at gender, profession, interests, physical features, spirituality, sexuality, disability – all aspects of life! – for inspiration. Go beyond the stereotype, which as I know only too well, is generally the first idea that enters the mind.