Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game. Continue reading
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
I just realized something, my reviews of movies I enjoy tend to be a lot shorter than my reviews of films I don’t. I guess it’s because, when you don’t like something, you look a lot harder for things not to like. And as for the movies you like, well, you like them. You’re therefore willing to overlook certain flaws they might have, and are left with simply saying, “It was good.” That’s the case here with Trumbo, a film that tells the true story of a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, who ended up being able to circumnavigate the system by using pen names. I like it, and, well, I don’t really have much to say other than that.
It’s well-acted, the costumes and sets are period appropriate, and I actually think the writing is quite good. This is ironic because, most other reviews of the film I’ve read praise the acting and sets, but say the writing is the weakest part. I don’t think that’s the case. I personally believe they’re just saying that because the man whose life this film is based off of, Dalton Trumbo, was such an extraordinary writer that nothing can really compare to his work. But, with that said, the screenwriter who penned this biopic shouldn’t be short-changed. There are some very witty, very well-written lines in this movie. My absolute favorite scene is when a guy from the government comes to the Z-grade production company that Trumbo has been secretly working at, and threatens the owner, played by John Goodman. Goodman, to show this fed how little he cares about the blacklist, pulls out a baseball bat, begins smashing up his own office and says, “You wanna call me a pinko in the papers? Go ahead! My audience can’t read!” This, and many other scenes in the film, possess a wit and craftiness that can only come from the efforts of a talented writer, so, don’t believe what other reviews tell you. The script of this movie is solid.
The only problem I might have with this film is the fact that certain characters–particularly the women in the film–feel a bit like tokens, fulfilling archetypes like the nagging daughter, the supportive wife, and the bitter ex-actress who never got to be a star. And yet, I can’t really fault the movie for that either because the script contains scenes where we learn the backstories of all these women, and we see them as more than just “wife” and “daughter.” Trumbo’s wife, Annie, used to be a Circus performer, and his daughter, Nicole, is an advocate for Civil Rights. And they’re not the only characters given a respectful amount of history and depth in this movie. Virtually everyone on screen is given a name, a history, and motivations for acting the way they do. All this is a sign of strong craftsmanship, and further evidence that this movie is worth watching.
So, once again, Trumbo is a well-acted, well-written, and well-designed film that I deeply enjoyed, and that you all shouldn’t hesitate to watch. It’s an 8 out of 10. Try and catch it if it’s still in theaters.
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, and Views Are My Game.
As many of you already know, my all-time goal is to work as a screenwriter. And as some others among you might also be aware, in order to hone my craft and achieve this objective, I enrolled in the Dramatic Writing Program at NYU Tisch. I’ve had a great time here, and learned a lot, and today, I’d like to share one of the many valuable pieces of information I gathered with you all. That being that all drama is conflict.
In a dramatic work, be it a play, TV show, or movie, there has to be some kind of disagreement or dissatisfaction. Without it, there is no story. If characters are agreeing with each other, or are completely happy with their state in life, they have no reason to act. They have no reason to embark on dangerous, life-changing adventures. Walter White would never cook Meth if he weren’t poor and dying of cancer. John McLane would never go to the Nakatomi Plaza and fight those terrorists if he and his wife weren’t at odds with one another. Even in comedies, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the characters are acting out of some kind of pain. Steve Carrell’s character has never had sex, and now he has to take action in order to address his own feelings of dissatisfaction. The bottom line is, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.
But, with all that said, stories can’t just be conflict. There also have to be consequences in order for a narrative to be both compelling and realistic. No one likes watching people yell at each other endlessly. It’s much more interesting to have two people get into an argument, and then have one of them storm out of the room, or get convinced by the other’s point. The reason is that, in those cases, the character’s actions yielded consequences. Which is far more realistic. In real life, when we yell at, or hurt, our friends and loved ones, they get angry at us, and we suffer as a result. We experience the consequences of the conflict we created. So, if you want to make your plot and characters believable, have your protagonists act out of some form of dissatisfaction, have there be some kind of conflict between them and other characters, and finally, have that conflict yield some kind of consequence.
The reason I’ve given you all this brief lesson in drama is that, I just watched Steve Jobs, the latest film from acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and it is literally nothing but conflict without consequence. It’s a story about the late Apple Inc creator, Steve Jobs, launching three different products on three different occasions, and all the backstage drama between him, his ex-wife, his boss, and his old colleagues. There’s lots of yelling, lots of arguing, and lots of conflict, but there are absolutely no consequences, no repercussions, to it all. He argues with his ex about whether or not their daughter is even his, and rather than have the girl be outraged and saddened by the fact that her own father doesn’t want her, Sorkin has her constantly hanging out with Steve, saying she loves and wants to live with him, and asking him important life lessons. Jobs is shown disavowing his old boss and business colleagues, and yet, for some odd reason, Sorkin has these people he betrayed come to each of his launches, and wish him good luck. I’m honestly kind of shocked that such a talented writer made such a basic story-telling error. In most of his earlier works, such as The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War, the characters suffer as a result of their choices. Mark Zuckerberg is left alone and friendless because of his selfish actions, while Charlie Wilson is forced to watch Afghanistan be consumed by radicalism because of his short-sighted policies. Here, there are no consequences to Steve Jobs’ actions. He behaves like a jerk, and yet, still has all his friends and loved ones by the end of the movie.
The hell, man?
Look, I realize that maybe Sorkin was trying to be respectful since Steve Jobs passed away recently, but come on! There’s no drama here! None of the character’s actions make sense. Yes, the dialogue is still snappy, and the performances are great, but the story makes so little sense in terms of realism, and is so painfully boring, and utterly lacking in tension in some places, that I can’t give the movie anything higher than a 6.5 out of 10. And that makes me sad. I’m a writer, and a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s. I wanted to like this movie. But, alas, Steve Jobs was not all that it was built up to be. Such a shame. Such a waste.
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
Today I’d like to talk to you all about The End Of The Tour, or as I like to think of it, what The Social Network would look like if you took out all the sex, drugs, and drinking, and actually made it somewhat realistic. Yes indeed! This drama/biopic is one of the few films out there that, in my opinion, does a very good job of representing the lives of artists and intellectuals accurately. It’s able to do this because it doesn’t portray our existences as glamorous, dramatic or sexy–we don’t see the protagonists sleeping with groupies, going to elaborate parties, or snorting cocaine off of hooker’s bodies, as we do in The Social Network, or Midnight In Paris. What we see them do is, well, what they actually do–write; talk; think. As a writer myself, I found it very refreshing to see a film that actually showed us for the simple, mundane, and even somewhat lonely people that we are, and not the pretentious, hedonistic assholes that Aaron Sorkin and Woody Allen imagine us as.
But what, you might be wondering, is this realistic film that does such a good job of representing writers about? Well, it’s essentially just a cinematic adaptation of Dave Lipsky’s memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which recounts the few days he spent following the late David Foster Wallace on a book tour. 90% of it is just two people–Lipsky, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, and Wallace, portrayed by Jason Segal–sitting around and talking about stuff. And yet, it never once gets boring. There is some very well-written, thought-provoking dialogue here, and the performances are SUPERB. This is the kind of film that actors who want to show off their talent, or expand their repertoire, yearn for. Why? Well, for starters, it’s quiet. It gives the performers the chance to say a lot, and to express a wide range of emotions. It’s the kind of movie that really depends on its stars to carry the film, because it doesn’t have any explosions or eye candy to distract you. And, let me tell you right now, both Segal and Eisenberg do terrific jobs.
But, it’s not just the dialogue, the acting, or the realistic portrayal of writers that I like. I also like the fact that, when you watch this movie, you can tell that the person who wrote it really did his homework on David Foster Wallace. Very often when you see biopics, it becomes clear that the filmmakers didn’t do much research because they either wanted to tell a juicy story, or they wanted to glorify the people and events they’re talking about. Not here. Little details from Wallace’s life–like the fact that he played tennis in High School, or that he once dreamt of opening a shelter for abused animals–make their way into the script, weaving a nuanced, multifaceted portrayal of the man. They do talk about some of his flaws–like the fact that he was once an alcoholic–but they don’t dwell on these things, or make them the primary focus of the story, as with The Social Network. They do what all good writers should do when discussing real people–show him as a real, imperfect person.
And that, loved ones, is why I’ve decided to give The End Of The Tour an 9 out of 10. It’s well-written, it’s well-acted, and it does an excellent job of representing one of the most fascinating and thoughtful writers who ever lived. It’s a welcome departure from all the mega-blockbusters of the summer, and I know you all would enjoy it if you gave it a look. Check it out!
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
With it’s bizarre visuals, odd, non-linear narrative structure, and hard to pin-point characters, it is very difficult to say for certain what kind of a film Bronson is. It’s about a real person, but it’s not a documentary. It’s main character is an extremely violent individual, and yet very little blood is seen throughout the movie. It’s set up like a morality tale, and yet absolutely no morals are imparted in it. In fact, the film becomes so absurd in some scenes, like the one where the main character kidnaps his art teacher, paints himself black and then puts an apple in the hostage’s mouth, that one starts to wonder if it’s really worth continuing with this rubbish. I will say this, though. For all it’s confusing features, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is still a highly enjoyable, highly original audio-visual experience. I’d heard various critics describe it as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” and now, having seen it for myself, I can understand why they’d say that.
For those of you who don’t recognize this picture, Bronson is a 2008 fictionalized biographical drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring
Tom Hardy. It tells the story of Michael Peterson (aka Charlie Bronson), a convicted felon who has earned a notorious reputation as Britain’s most violent prisoner. I’d never heard of him beforehand, but now, having learned something of his various escapades, I can understand why he might be thought of that way.
The film is set up in a rather unusual manner. It presents several assorted points from Bronson’s life, intercut with him on stage before an audience in several stages of performance make-up, and speaking directly to camera while seemingly behind bars. Like A Clockwork Orange, the film juxtaposes highly intense, violent imagery with gentle, classical-sounding audio. You’re constantly reminded that what you’re watching is a movie, and never led to believe that any of what’s happening is real. In fact, were it not for the tagline, “based on a true story,” and my own research into Charlie Bronson’s existence, I would have sworn to you that this film was pure fiction. And you know what, I actually feel like that worked to the movie’s advantage. Most biopics try extremely hard to make themselves believable, and in so doing, set themselves up for criticism when they inevitably portray events or people inaccurately. Bronson, by contrast, exults in the fact that it is fiction by being extremely outrageous, which is actually quite fitting, since it is telling the story of an extremely outrageous man. Likewise, the movie’s lack of a moral center makes it more enjoyable. With it’s prison setting, violent main character, and classification as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” one might be led to believe that Bronson is a searing condemnation of society’s attempts to get everyone to conform to a certain behavioral standard by breaking the human spirit. And I will admit, there were several points in the story where I felt as though the movie was going down that path–like the scene where a fellow inmate says, “You’re no more mad than I am, and that scares them,” and the fact that the final shot shows a weak and wounded Bronson standing in a phone-booth sized cell–but the film never falls pray to the “look for the hidden meaning” monster. No one in the film ever tries to “change” Bronson, at least, not in the way that they tried to change Alex in A Clockwork Orange or McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The main character never seems disheartened by his situation. If anything, he seems to rather like it. He declares, numerous times throughout the film, his absolute love for prison, likening it to a hotel room, and even going so far as to strangle a sympathetic asylum inmate in order to ensure his return there. If there is a message to be taken from this film, it is that some people are just crazy, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So, is Bronson really worth taking the time to watch? Absolutely! From it’s unique cinematography, to it’s enthralling soundtrack, to its self-aware absurdity and odd narrative voice, Bronson is a highly unique audio-visual experience that’s extremely enjoyable. Even if you don’t like prison movies or actors like Tom Hardy, this film is still a triumph, and on many levels. Some other critics might beg to differ, but I would go so far as to give this film an 8 out of 10. Hands down, one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year.