Category Archives: Films

Films. We British say films, not Movies, and in any case, films can be more broad – short works, non-cinema releases, or long film-length pieces might come under this. Usually it is cinema-released material.

Mystery Man on Film

(Yes, I’ve been back from Paris for a while, I’ll post my notes from the AI conference shortly…)

In the mean time I’ve also been reading recently Mystery Man on Film. I’m no film buff (I’ve got a lot of good films to see still! still rooted in games myself), but it is great to read about the creative process and what works and doesn’t work in film, which is applicable to other linear things – animation, TV series etc.

The “Art of…” collections are great (written not just by the elusive blog writer, who moved to his own site by the way for slightly newer things). It is great to see some things brought up as good I never appreciated quite as much such as really good verbal exposition – although of course I know some greats there were some nice surprises.

Also is the great way some “rules” are entirely deconstructed, and is something game critics and anyone being creative can take away. I certainly liked Charlie Kaufman‘s views on it in an interview on the Synecdoche, New York DVD. He pretty much explained that there were no rules or they all could be broken, and he had only “vaguely heard of the 3 act play” – it sums up perhaps why there is the fact you only need one exception to break any silly rule, and those exceptions can be plentiful.

If you are interested at some of the screenwriting and other things that are done in films and why (and a lot of criticism to boot! something that isn’t exactly widely forthcoming in games), it’s well worth a read. I highly recommend it, but it is a big time sink too – too engrossing by half!

In relation to games (why not?) the figuring of a lot of things in film can be applicable for the protagonist-based games – not that they should be films however – there is a still growing vocabulary and set of best-practices (let’s not use “rules”!) where games still both fall flat by ignoring films, or worse, emulating them too much. I think I can look at some of this a bit more in the future – got a lot of good games to play (or finish playing), and even the bad examples at least show you what not to do.

Hancock – Nice Idea – Shame About The Implementation

Inspired by Nice Video – Shame About the Song, there are a ton of things which simply have one brilliant gem embedded in them, but the rest of it is just a shame. It basically means a middling film, game or book.

Hancock personifies this for me (at least recently). The film itself starts really well; a flying brick superhero; but one who doesn’t care and simply is an asshole who gets drunk and breaks things. Why is he like this? Why doesn’t he care? Where did he come from? Why are there no others like this? Lots of somewhat interesting questions!

It then leaps to trying to get him to improve after randomly meeting a PR person; The PR angle alone is actually quite fun; him going to prison was pulled off okay; the bank scene was fun and also made sense in a “superman can’t be killed but hostages can be” way, give or take the issue with a bank robber thinking he’d get away somehow.

You then learn his past a bit (amnesia, no one coming for him) then it really goes to pants – I’ll just ignore the rest here – the whole “duo demigods” (with silly fights)/”plot device of him being vulnerable” (with silly conclusion) and so forth. His past could have always been unexplained too; a real John Doe superhero, and just focus on the present. Shame it just went to pants exactly when the woman throws Hancock through the wall – like Hancock I was like “waaaa?” for all the wrong reasons (not just because she can’t act).

The gem is having a rather real anti-superhero (a non-caring one, not just one who kills bad guys) and actually pulling it off quite well in the beginning. It could have been an interesting dissection of why someone who is invincible wants to help people (and in fact it is never reached in the film the reason why he does help people apart from it possibly being rewarding in unto itself!), especially when he has no past and possibly might not even be human.

In fact how he even came to be actually absolutely terrible but at least trying to help is never really covered – he could have just as surely just bummed around doing next to nothing but stealing liquor for the rest of his life! Seeing his past would have been an interesting way to take the film – flashback or just actually seeing him start out trying but failing and just being terrible at it. After all you have to wonder after 80 years what happened? How long has he been trying? and so forth. It’s quite Disney overall despite implied violence; no moral questions about not saving anyone one day because he was hung over, or if in fact he had issues doing everything right so turned to drink or whatever. I mean, it is quite comically both serious (in a way; with hostages, C4 and so forth) yet just not serious at all (silly demigod fights and over-the-top fights in general, silly badguys, redemption-in-a-week montage, no actual questions asked about morals and fuzzy silly PR, etc.).

Anyway, enough rambling words on Hancock. I hope some future films look into the more meta-side of superheroes. I’d certainly find it entertaining 🙂

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton Title
Michael Clayton Title

I’ve had a one-sentence review of Michael Clayton before on my site but re-watching it on the BBC iPlayer really makes me want to say some more about the thriller – although if you’ve not seen it I’ll say it’s worth seeing, again I might as well say it has some great performances and some really well paced drama which is quite a lot more intense then people shouting or running around or being shot as thrillers sometimes are.

Watching it for a second time (this is probably my third time watching it in fact) really does help bring forward just how well told the story is, with a massive amount of unsaid dialogue portrayed just by physical acting. There are no triages of moral justifications or outbursts of people bent on revenge, which is what made it so fascinating to watch.

The way it did start into the story, and how it kept certain scenes outcomes hidden or off screen works well to make you think and piece together things, and also be surprised at times what is done. I think the choice to show Michael Clayton’s car blowing up was a fascinating choice but does make you immediately interested in how on earth that happens to a seemingly low-key lawyer. You never see any of them in court, so it is refreshing to see the actions without a gavel going down.

Tom Wilkinson
Tom Wilkinson

Tom Wilkinson is bar nothing the most amazing part of the film, especially how his character actually is portrayed as mad, clinically unbalanced – and is said to be on medication, yet once the truth is revealed it was almost exactly as he said and he was entirely morally justified and that he only came to his senses by seeing what happened to one of the plaintiffs. Seeing such a character die was pretty a sad point, especially since you know it wasn’t suicide. It was very easy to take his character seriously once you know why he was thinking as he did, which is good since such characters usually are unintentionally funny and unsympathetic.

Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton portrayed the antagonistic legal council well too. You do not need a lot of reasoning behind why she goes so far – it is set up extremely well that she is overworked, stressed, in a tough job working a tough case, and also fairly paranoid once the plot begins. Her breakdown at the finale is well justified – she’d already called hitmen to take two lives, something that makes her more human then just “being evil” is that she does have to think before making it happen (and interestingly don’t ever hear her make that final decision on screen, but that helps make it more unknown what will happen).

George Clooney
George Clooney

George Clooney also played a great part; a thriller lead who simply isn’t perfect and who does need to think about what he is doing. It’s not black and white – owing money to the mob from a failed bar, gambling issues, having a broken family (divorced obviously, and having a dead-beat brother who didn’t hold up to helping him get a bar going). Then selling out his friend both when he was alive by not believing him and especially when he was dead by taking the cheque is a situation I hope I’d never have to think of in any capacity (in a “Wouldn’t you do the same?” kind of way). He also has his past – turning his back on a past of District Attorney work and going into dubiously ground fixing issues, mentioned a few times in the film.

His moral turning point was really nicely done, with him realising his bar wasn’t worth selling out for (after being called on it in his poker game and perhaps just then noticing his relapse into poker because of meeting the same guy who previously beat him) and going about doing what he is paid to do isn’t the same, obviously thinking it all over (and the way they frame his twitch at the comment “you’re any good at it” towards his performance as a fixer, near the end) – thus needing a break and seeing the horses (a nod perhaps to the earlier discussion on his sons fantasy book). You do wonder if he made the decision before or after his car blew up, but quite likely he’d already made up his mind but that by far settled it.

Taxi Drive
Taxi Drive

It was also interesting seeing the conclusion film being him just taking a taxi ride, to nowhere (which I rewatched a few times, it is interesting). Perhaps he felt the same as Tom’s character, more purged and certainly hopefully free from the burdens of his past work, but most certainly he was thinking hard about the decision. There was no immediately happy ending of characters congratulating him, a rosy sunset or even a corny newspaper report on the case – life does go on, despite his moral victory and obviously doesn’t bring back what was lost during the plot – his friend, his job and the people affected by the U-North poisonings, nor the time they’ve spent fighting it, nor his time spent in such a job that in the end he didn’t enjoy doing. However he did make a massive decision on what to do.

Taxi Drive Smile
Taxi Drive Smile

I think you do see him hint a smile towards the end of the clip. A nice reminder he can smile – you barely ever see him do so, hopefully he’s felt his redemption was worthwhile and can go on, since he seems to relax more as the drive goes on.

All in all a great film for having all the characters not be completely black and white and actually needing to think now and again. Redemption in the film is hard to find, especially with such a focus for the plot being poisoning of humans intentionally by a company and the lawyers defending them. Seeing it a few times has it make a lot of sense – not just the pacing or the characters inner thoughts (many of which you can sort out by the end of your first viewing thanks to the great presentation) but how the plot is pieced together and why the characters act the way they do and simply how tough it would have been for them.

Still full of thrills, again I’d recommend watching this (it’s on the BBC iPlayer after all!). It is much more interesting and deep then some cursory glance might portray.

Avatar

I need to post more! I will do shortly now I’m on Xmas Holiday 😀 Anyway, Avatar, the film – let it be known, I have not seen a film more packed with cliché, plot rippoff and tropes (or to put it more nicely, “Homages”, “inspired bys” and “reused plot devices”). The actual avatars were a bit unique at least, and in some places it was much better directed then the rest even if the dialogue script was terrible, and I had fun plotting out what would happen in advance, I guess – kinda cruel in a way though to the film, which was hard to take very seriously. Kinda average, and that’s that I guess – Moon is still my Sci-fi film of the year, actually my favourite film of the year in general. See that instead if you haven’t! 🙂

Saw it in 3D, and not massively disappointed, just in this case wasn’t much special. Oh well!

It’ll be (is?) a hit and miss film for sci-fi fans that’s for certain. At least this is a spoiler-free review 😉

The Truman Show

The Truman Show
The Truman Show

I got The Truman Show for my Birthday – a film I’ve wanted to re-watch for a long while now. It is certainly a film that matures, at least so far as I was quite young when it was out (and I saw it only on TV later). There are many amazing bits of detail the film contains that you only see on a later showing, much like other films I enjoy watching again (The Usual Suspects for instance).

Continue reading The Truman Show

Reading Watchmen

I finished Watchmen today (thanks to a friend lending it to me), having already seen the film this year. I must say I’m thoroughly impressed by most of it – certainly is likely the one graphic novel worth reading if you read no others. I found it more interesting comparing bits of it to what I remember from the film – having read other posts when the film came out about the differences, I do pretty much agree – both are somewhat flawed in their ways, I think, but still highly entertaining (warning, spoilers ahead, skip to “So…” at the end to miss them all, um, and read I guess a one paragraph end. Discussing this book, well, almost anything you say would be a spoiler since it gets into the story really well really fast).

The Detail!

I loved the nuanced detail in the Watchmen graphic novel. Interlinking and overlapping narratives, lots of analogous pieces set side by side (such as the meta-comic-in-a-comic, the look at the normal lives of people in the alternative reality 1980’s and so forth work really well). You could skip the extra book material – I found it interesting to have the standard panels broken up by having book excerpts and news stories, something that would just be a boring set of strips but is fascinating to read. The film does a reasonable job of just keeping the normal comic sections, which do enough for the plot to make it comprehensible.

Certainly I’m pretty impressed by it all, enough so to write about it. You get the dealings of each person, usually in turn, little bits of detail coming forwards about the past – and frankly, the story in the present is pretty boring compared to the history presented in the book. The fall and rise of characters, their reasons for doing what they did and some very dubious actions by most of them really put into light the vigilante nature of it.

A shame the film can’t emulate most of this, although it does have a good stab at the main present-day plot.

The Ending

One way however the film is better, is it doesn’t involve psychics and alien excuses, sigh. I think the best way to describe this is, even with a big blue nuclear-accident superhero walking around, going into the realm of psychics and monsters is very, very cartoony. I guess it fits in some way (and the monologue is done much better then the film in the novel) as it is a comic (and might be just a jab at such superhero events), but is a bit like a crap punchline on an otherwise in depth joke. It was disappointing, I’d have felt disappointed reading that even not seeing the film.

I was told of this in advance, and briefly skimmed a plot synopsis, but man, it was frankly a little silly end to it all.

So, the film does end it better – a reasonable excuse for why Jon had to disappear, since he was portrayed as causing the destructions in several cities – and a better reason for the entire world to put down their nuclear missiles – ie; it isn’t just New York under attack in the film. There is a lot of detail missed out, but even with the monologue being much shorter, it still adds the mark that perhaps Adrian Veidt’s plans will not bring ever-lasting peace, and that work will have to go on.

I think the work is pretty inspiring at the end too – Super Heroes in general don’t have moral dilemmas, they simply are pretty rubbish in that regard (perhaps the most moral dilemma being “who to save and who to let die”). Therefore I am entirely enthralled by Rorschach character, and moral supremacy over even the god-like Dr Manhattan. His death was an amazing force of character. The others were all middle-ground, and seeing the “necessity” of it. I also love the hint that, even though he’s dead, his journal might just be picked up as a new story in the political newspaper he loved.

Which first?

I guess I should have read the novel first, to be honest. The film misses out, but doesn’t conflict with (most) of the backstory and extra bits in the novel, but has a better ending by far. However, the film does two things really badly away from the book (I’m just repeating this, everything I’ve read about the film pretty much says this) is that almost all the actors are terribly, terribly young (too young to be in their 40’s by far), and that Adrian Veidt is pretty much never given much backstory – he’s instantly shown as a big businessman who has that sly hint of “something’s not quite right here”. Entirely too suspicious, although the novel does give enough clues even before half way that he’s not entirely perfect, which are interesting to note later when it’s explained.

So…

Read the novel! The film has however excellent moments (and a better ending as I’ve said), and Rorschach is portrayed by an excellent actor. I think it’s a book I’ll re-read in the future, there are bits I am sure to get more out of a second time. If you haven’t already, go check it out, certainly it won’t take too long to read, and the story is fascinating. I suppose since there are so few self-contained superhero books like this (such high quality, and surprisingly doesn’t contain sound effect captions, which is great), I won’t be picking up many comics, but some are getting more tempting now…I just need to find some recommendations 🙂

Videogame Movies…Entirely Forgettable

I watched two films on the way back from America a few weeks ago…one was a reasonably okay drama called “A Bunch of Amateurs“, pretty standard plot by my reckoning but good enough to watch. Then there was…some other film. I am pretty sure I watched two anyway…I am sure it was something…had action, must have been action…ummm…

So it went when I returned and tried to remember something I had watched not the previous day.

The film? Max Payne… Continue reading Videogame Movies…Entirely Forgettable