Sunday, March 15, 2009

Movie Rundown - March 9 to March 15

Eraserhead (***)
There's something to be said about black and white movies, and ironically this movie rundown contains more of them than most. This is a strange horror movie by David Lynch about ... well, I'm not sure, exactly. About the hell of parenthood and children, about the terrors of industrialism. It's hard to say. The movie itself is quite beautiful, but it all seems to lack context, turning it into a bit of a mess. I enjoyed my time with it, but I think that it lacked coherent message.

The Visitor (****)
This is an absolutely beautiful film starring Richard Jenkins, who everyone probably would recognize but nobody knows the name of. He carries a film about a man who's detachment and apathy with his life is all-encompassing until two illegal aliens show up at one of his apartments. His relationship with them turns out to be both a touching character piece and a good examination of what it means to expand outside of ones comfort zone into new experiences. Well worth the time.

Pi (****)
Darren Aronofsky's first film about a mathematician obsessed with finding a number that could unlock the key to the stock market, religion, the universe, you name it. This is also the story of obsession and genius, and the destructive nature of each. Well-shot, with an eye for tension and disturbing imagery without going for the cheap scares. The main problem with the film is simply that the story seems a little light on substance. The end result was guessable from nearly the beginning. But the presentation, on the budget the film had, is second to none.

The Man Who Laughs (****)
This movie's a German expressionist silent film based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. The story is about a man who is the heir to a place in the House of Lords, but was abandoned and disfigured to have a hideous, permanent grin. He makes his living as a clown, but is tortured because of his appearance. The film itself is everything you want out of German Expressionism, beautifully haunting, with a decidedly moody bent to the story. A joy of a film, the only thing I didn't care for was the very, very end, which seems to go out of its way to provide a typical Hollywood ending, way back in 1928.

Brazil (****)
I'm a big Terry Gilliam fan--The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is one of my favorite films of all time. It would stand to reason, then, that any big, giant film of his that turned out to be a disaster I would absolutely love, right? Well, yes and no. While there were parts of Brazil that I liked, there were other parts that I thought dragged on too long. This was the director's cut, so I might have been hampered by getting the overblown wank job version of the film, but it just seemed a bit too long for what it was.

Then again, the parts that clicked were, as always, absolutely brilliant. I would recomment Baron Munchausen over this one to ANYBODY, but this is also worth a viewing.

And that's all, folks! I'm not sure what will be up next week. I have Australia sitting here, so I'll probably watch that. Outside of that, I'm kind of focused on my writing projects, so I'll likely be a little less dedicated to the movie watching thing. But you never know. I tend to grind through a lot of movies on the weekend.

This Book Is... Save the Cat

Save the Cat
by Blake Snyder

This is one of those that is going to be hard to review, because it's a book on screenwriting. Most of that probably doesn't apply to 95% of the people who are ever going to read this, because I only know a handful of people who even care about screenplays in more than the most passing of fashions.

That said, if you're ever going to write a screenplay, I heavily advise taking a look at this book first. This book is one hell of a primer in organizing a story, figuring out how a movie works and what's necessary to make the screenplay fire on all cylinders before you even begin.

For a book on writing, there's very little fundamental writing advice. This book is all about the setup and the organization, all about getting everything in a row so when you sit down and pound out your story, you know exactly how to do that in the most efficient manner. As such, it's not a book for someone who doesn't know how to tell a story. You have to figure out your story, this book is just going to tell you how to turn that story into a workable idea.

I've always stood by my 'shoot from the hip' approach to storytelling, but this is the one book that's illustrated for me, unlike any other, the benefits of outlining. So compelling was the argument, and so clear and concise were the examples, that as soon as I had finished reading it I outlined my own script. That kind of result is absolutely stunning, in my estimation.

My major problem with the book stems more from the writer than his advice. The book is written for people trying to break into the big studio hollywood system, and as such it has more than a whiff of "we're in this for the money, not the art" to it, which goes against my ingrained sense of artistic self-importance and genuine respect for the medium.

Be that as it may, anyone who's going to try writing a screen play could do worse than giving this book a look see. What's in here is a treasure of solid, practical advice without any obfuscation or ornamentation. It'll clearly lay out what works in a story and what doesn't, and then challenge you to go out and see if you don't agree. I did, and I do.

This Book Is... Solid. (****)