Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I'll tell you what's showing at the Roxy ...

Photo: Fin Fahey.
Writers are terrible people to watch films with. Or television dramas. They may even hiss messages to you in the theatre. In fact, if novel-reading were a more sociable activity than it usually is, they would be loud and annoying fellow-readers. The thing is they know how plots work and they see things coming.

I have recently been watching (or trying to watch) lots of DVDs with a friend, another writer, who is much more into films than I am. Some have been more successful than others as choices to satisfy both of us. And there are several reasons for not enjoying a film, not all of them to do with the quality of the film itself.

However, we have recently given up on three films and I am trying to understand why. The first was Jackie Brown, not in itself a bad one (and it had Oscar nominations). But as soon as I knew what Samuel L. Jackson had in mind for his first victim, I felt I knew more or less how the story was going to play out. (The plot summary on Wikipedia has confirmed this more or less).

The second to fall prey to the Eject button was Water for Elephants and we gave it two chances over two nights. It didn't help that Robert Pattison should really not play roles where he is required a/ to smile or b/ to show any emotions beyond "moody vampire." Or that animal cruelty was involved. But I found myself predicting that he would heal the dwarf's antagonistic dog of an illness, that the elephant would kill the cruel ringmaster etc etc. (as well as the obvious R-Patz falling for Reece Witherspoon who is married to cruel ringmaster - anyone could have seen that coming).

"Right," said my friend. "We'll watch John Carter. It's got Taylor Kitsch in it."

I've got no objection to watching less-than-marvellous films with handsome young men in them but really we could not abide it and back in its Love Film envelope it went.

What was the problem? The film-maker had completely forgotten the art of storytelling and the arc of story. It had FOUR beginnings, to start with - a framing device that went out with Heart of Midlothian and Wuthering Heights. Once into the story proper (based on the first of a series of eleven books by Edgar Rice Burroughs), we were on Mars.

Cue tall aliens with four arms and our hero bouncing ridiculously high with each step because his bones are too light for the atmosphere or some such taradiddle. Add a pleasingly martial beautiful princess in regulation Leia-type gold bra and harem pants, a lovable monster, some spooky villains and elaborate space craft and you have the full panoply of SF tropes and clich├ęs to play with.

But oh the names! I invented the term Erg of Slerg for that brand of fantasy or SF which majors on long, awkward or plain unpronounceable names and they were here in spades. Dejah Thoris is the princess (who might just as well have been called Deja Vu) and there was Tars Tarkas, Sab Tharn, Tal Hajus, Tardos Mors ... are you chewing your own arm off yet?

Where was Jabba the Hutt when you needed him? Or Obi-wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker? At least George Lucas could do names. And he knew that you mustn't linger over a spacecraft in proportion to the money it cost to build it. He also knew - at least when he made the first Star Wars movies in the 1970s that what really mattered was story (he seems to have forgotten all that in the second trilogy).

"Doesn't Taylor Kitsch have a beautiful mouth?" said my friend hopefully. But no-one could really have made anything remotely fascinating out of this pig's ear of a plot and script.

It had Dominic West too. And Ciaran Hinds. And Mark Strong. I even glimpsed Art Malik. And lots of CGI.  But someone had forgotten TO TELL THE STORY! No amount of fireworks and 3D and hot blokes with their shirts off and special effects can make up for it if that one basic essential is overlooked.

Someone please tell me a good recent film we can watch on DVD next time. Somebody tell me something good that's showing at the Roxy. I won't even moan if I can guess what's coming. That's a given.


Kelly Robinson said...

"Erg of Slerg!" I am SO stealing that. Hilarious.

maryom said...

It's not recent but try 500 Days of Summer - much better than lots of romantic slop and currently working its way onto my Top Ten List alongside gems such as Con Air. Or if in doubt, pick a Jude Law film - Alfie, the Talented Mr Ripley, Closer, Enemy At The Gates - there must be something to fit your tastes.

Liz said...

Oh definitely one of my favourite movies of all times: Shawshank Redemption - it is my go-to movie for great storytelling. 500 Days of Summer as Mary suggested is good but with Manic Pixie Girl in the lead, I just couldn't watch it to the end. A movie I enjoyed was Anonymous - the whole Shakespeare thing, but watch it from the point of view of a writer and you have so much empathy for Oxford when he exclaims to his wife about why he as to write - if you ignore the insane historical inaccuracies, it's a thoroughly enjoyable movie and the costumes were lovely.

adele said...

Couldn't agree more. Most movies these days are made for 10 year old boys or silly grossout things. I've tweeted a few I liked recently. Also loved WINTER'S BONE. And anything by the Coen bros is always good. TRUE GRIT, their latest, I loved. Best of luck. Have you seen The Lives of OThers? That's great...

And as for Taylor Kitsch, he is my all time most fancied young man but I only know him from the divine Friday Night Lights in a tv box set. That's probably the way to go: with box sets of nice tv things. I do sympathize!

michelle lovric said...

I shall out myself as said friend and hopeful admirer of Taylor Kitch's mouth. (But Adele would have guessed that already.)

Yes, please tell us some more good films. We are starved!

Susan Price said...

Sorry, but I find Shawshank Redemption comically unbelievable. The nasty brutal guards spend how many years trashing the poor innocent of any crime convict's cells? - and yet never, in all that time, brutally tear down the Rita Hayworth poster which is the flimsy cover... As Bugs Bunny so often observed, it is to laugh...
Ever see a British film called Pretty Dirty Things? - Very good.

Mary Hoffman said...

Thanks, Sue! We are deep into Mysteries of Lisbon now, which is very superior storytelling.