“Based on a true story” is a very slippery turn of phrase. I find I’m always wary when I see it, sidling up to any book, film or hip new series toting the words with my eyes narrowed, no matter how much they promise to give me an insight into the life of a great artist or public figure or make history cool and fun and bring it to the Kids of Today (ugh).
Not to say, of course, that I’m a villainous and harsh critic of all biopics, because a lot of them have won awards, gained huge fan followings and been generally accredited to be good pieces of art. But as to how much that art imitates life, well, that you have to take with a grain of salt.
At least most of them have the sense to say “inspired by” true events, because that’s closer to the truth in an industry that exists for playing with the truth. The truth is, most of the time it’s phenomenally difficult to make a story out of real things that have happened fact-for-fact because, even if most religions are in some way correct and the world as we know it was brought into being by some divine author, He, She or They did not plan every detail of every life out with a conventional narrative structure in mind. At least for most people, real life doesn’t move the way a story does.
Does real life have foreshadowing, character development arcs, coming of age stories and hella rad car chase scenes? Yes, that is all valid, but not always fitted so neatly. Even if someone lives the most gloriously dramatic and structured life, eccentric and outstanding enough that people exclaim “You could write a book/TV show/movie about this guy!” there’s still an inherent amount of iffiness in treating them and their lives like fiction. Continue reading →
Let’s talk about utopias, giant robots and pop culture.
There’s been much talk surrounding the recent hit Pacific Rim, and how, in all its giant-alien-clobbering awesomeness it was very quick to be dismissed as a shallow creation by critics. Fair enough, I suppose, Pacific Rim isn’t exactly an award winning struggle with the Great Themes and overall the movie was pretty simple, especially in terms of its black and white morality (humans = good guys, giant poisonous aliens = not so much). It’s a lot of fun, plain old monster fighting fun, not exactly gritty, dark or deep. But here is the question: must it be, in order to be accredited any artistic merit?
Apart from, of course, the awesome characters, worldbuilding and immensely creative design of the whole thing, you could argue that one of the big appeals of Pacific Rim is that it’s an optimistic science fiction, where humans and their inventions and relationships actually end up saving the world instead of trashing it. Raleigh and Mako, the main Jaeger team, could be given the title of the heroes of the movie and could convincingly hold onto it, being heroes in the regular sense of wanting to save people, do good and being genuinely likeable characters along the way.
They aren’t twisted or cynical or even snarky, and they don’t have fathoms of shadowy depth and inner turmoil. Neither of them is Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne in terms of dark, brooding complexity, but rather than making them immediately seem shallow and boring it made them part of the overall enjoyability of the movie. Perhaps, if nothing else, it’s because they stood out of the crowd. Continue reading →
[PSA: This post is about plot twists. It may contain spoilers the way packs of salted almonds may contain nuts.]
This week, in the groggy overlit haze that only traversing time zones in midair can bring on, I watched three movies. Dozing on and off with a starchy airline-provided pillow propped awkwardly under my head, this blogger half-dreamed half-pondered about twist endings.
For some perspective on that segway, the first movie was Cloud Atlas. I read the book earlier in the year—it is split between six seemingly unconnected storylines in different eras, genres and styles, my favourite of which I have to admit (almost a tie with the science fiction awe and terror of Somni’s) was the story of Robert Frobisher, a delightfully snarky, poetic, most likely manic depressive young composer in 1930s Europe. His story is told through his letters to his friend and highly implied lover (note: the movie doesn’t even bother with ‘implied’, but goes the full monty. Bless it), and the final instalment and crushing ending is his suicide note.
I finished Frobisher’s section on the bus, and was caught gulping back the kind of embarrassing shocked tears that will only attack you when you’re inescapably in public. The same thing happened on the plane, but at the start instead of the end. The adaptation, it seemed, began Frobisher’s tale with a foregone conclusion, leaving the rest of the movie to the business of seeing how he got to making that decision. I thought this was an interesting device, caught between thanking the film for some kind of mental preparation for the tragedy and wondering if it was really a good idea to reveal one of the most heart-wrenching shock moments in the book from the get-go.
Either way, this is one of those character deaths I will never be okay with
Once upon a time, in a faraway enchanted kingdom called Holly Wood, there was a group of writers and producers who gathered, like a council of wizards, around a round table in the depths of their mystical headquarters. Together they talked for many days and nights, toiling away as suns set and moons rose, searching and racking their brains for a solution that would save the kingdom.
Suddenly, one of the wizards sat up straight, his hands hitting the table. “I have it!” he cried. The others gathered around him, shuffling excitedly and wearily in their robes. The wizard looked at all of them. “What if we take classic fairy tales,” he exclaimed into the hush that had befallen the room. “And make them… badass?”
There was a silence, then the wizards threw up their hands and cheered. They clasped their faces and laughed hysterically, they embraced and danced. They had done it. They had come up with something new and exciting. The kingdom would rejoice.
And they certainly wouldn’t notice if they repeated their new spell again and again…
So Skyfall has just been released, coming in as the 25th James Bond movie and expecting to make, as is traditional, the official measurement of an ass-tonne of money. What’s your secret, people may ask the Bond directors as they look adoringly up at them, sitting on their Roman lounges fashioned entirely out of 100 dollar bills? The secret is the secret agent, who is in fact not so secretive, as his name doesn’t even need to be attached or emblazoned on any of the products for them to be devoured by the public.
People love a James Bond movie. Myself, I haven’t watched that many in their entirety: for me, 007 exists in prime time movies on commercial TV, glimpsed but never quite grabbing me. My parents, diligently overseeing my television experience and training me in the eloquent art of channel surfing and belittling department store ads, would always make note that it was a cultural phenomenon. I don’t remember much from these younger evenings, except a lot of swanky cars and pretty ladies, horror at the abject pointiness of 1960s swimsuits and bras, and a sense of unending confusion at how the lead character seemed to be played by a new man every time I looked.
The Bond movies have somehow struck the right chord in the hearts of the viewers to be able to get them to willingly suspend their disbelief far enough to accept that every few films James Bond gets a new face. The same logic as Doctor Who, though that makes much more sense in the context of the story. In any case, it’s worked magic on the series and is what has enabled it to go on for half a century. Continue reading →
What a program! We sure are going to be remembered as the Golden Age of Superhero Movies.
No, really. In the last few years we’ve seen two different Spiderman incarnations, a revamped trilogy for Batman, a Superman movie, a trio and prequel for the X-Men, a film for both the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, not to be confused, and an adventure each (and more!) for each of Marvel’s Avengers crew: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk (more than once); the first three with parades of sequels lining up behind the release of the blockbuster The Avengers, which featured the whole damn crew and tied together all the individual films.
Never to be outdone, their competitor DC Comics is setting up a parallel set of movies for the Justice League, starting with Man of Steel starring the big S-Man himself. But Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy defies the canon of the DC Universe with its tone and lack of supernatural/overtly sci-fi elements, so they won’t really fit into a combo set like The Avengers did… guess someone will just have to redo the Batman franchise then…
To utilise the official scientific measurement, that is a crapload of superhero movies. Continue reading →
There’s just something infinitely interesting about evil.
Heroes are all well and good, but let’s face it, if they are merely heroes (and not anti-heroes existing in a story of skewed morality or reformed villains themselves) their one layer of goodie goodness can appear a bit flat. They may be the most lovable, honourable character to ever set foot upon a page, but that doesn’t make them intriguing. Also, the story will often be told either from their own perspective or centring around their workings. The bad guy looms on the edge as a menacing shadow. They’re a mystery.
And people love mysteries.
Like, why is this guy such an asshole? Was he/she made this way by some trauma of their childhood? Or is he/she merely inherently evil? What inspired them to want to take over the universe and/or cause the general unhappiness of other people? Or are they just an unthinking agent of chaos? Or perhaps an Eldritch Abomination?
It’s an experience we’ve all had: sitting down to enjoy a few hours of G-rated fun with friends or family, and then bam — you find yourself staring at the screen with your mouth agape, and this cry seeps from your slackened jaw:
“How is this in a kid’s movie?!”
Take DreamWorks’ Shark Tale: the plot kicks off when a car wash employee is left to die by mafia hitmen when he loses the money he owes them on a horse race. He then witnesses the accidental death of the mafia boss’ son and claims fame for it, leading us into a story of greed, fame, violence, revenge, kidnapping, a tense and emotional love triangle, and the internal struggle of a shark who wants to be a vegetarian. (minus the last bits, that sounds like the freaking intro to Chicago!)
The mafia, and gambling. In a children’s film. Granted, the mafia are sharks and the hitmen are jellyfish (and the racehorse was a seahorse, badum tss) but the point remains. Continue reading →
Note: I would like to credit this comment from Tumblr user spastasmagoria as the inspiration for this ramble, state that I mean no disrespect to anyone who actually enjoys these shows and these character types, and apologise because by the end of this ‘quirky’ will no longer look like a real word.
Oh look, who’s that over there, looking adorably awkward with glasses on her nose and the out-there clothing? Oh, she’s a fictional heroine! One of those new, more approachable ones!
What a funny, peculiar girl! It’s so good that writers are straying away from the notion that love interests and heroines have to be shallow and perfect and normal! The Quirky Girl likes nerdy things, is imperfect in appearance, socially awkward, and not afraid to be a tomboy. How refreshing!
Except it isn’t. It’s the same tonic in a different, more colourful bottle. A problem with the Quirky Girl archetype (read: every Zooey Deschanel character ever) is that she is often written as a way of making a character approachable and likeable to the female audience, reassuring them that it’s okay to like non-mainstream things and be a bit eccentric and dress the way you want, and to ~be yourself~. In fact, doing all the things that would usually make you deemed weird will make you seem cute, and some boy out there is just dying for you to come along and liven up his life with your adorable weirdness!
Remember when superheroes were wholesome and happy-go-lucky? Good, innocent comic readers could sleep at night in the assurance that Superman would never fail to leap those tall buildings and that Captain America was punching Nazis and Communists in the face on their behalf and keeping them safe. They were created as a beacon of hope and a showcase of the power of simple white over black morality.