November 2008

Let Them Chirp Awhile

Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

The title basically means “It’s okay to have a little bit of unproductive fun in your youth, even though you will eventually give in to the inevitable sorrow and entropy that is endemic to all life, and die.”

Trailers for this sort of movie aren’t about describing the plot, or even particular characters. The only goal here is to express just the right balance of sincerity and cynicism, so that the target demographic will feel touched and understood.

Some obvious predecessors:

Kicking and Screaming (the Noah Baumbach film, not to be confused with that soccer movie) is about a group of college seniors who have insulted themselves from adult life in a bubble of intellectual self-referentialism.

These attractive wet people in Garden State are contemplating death and stuff like that.

Drama

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Yonkers Joe

Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

Story: Good Guy does Bad Thing for Good Reason.

Some other examples:

In Guys & Dolls, heart-of-gold gambler Nathan Detroit plays a game of craps to save an orphanage, or something.

In Rain Man, pompous entrepreneur Tom Cruise uses his autistic brother to count cards in Vegas. Notice the casino scheme/retarded family member connection to Yonkers Joe.

Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher with leukemia, who becomes a meth cooker in order to provide for his wife and a son with cerebral palsy. Notice again the needy family member with a debilitating mental condition.

In The Trap, a nice engineer down on his luck due to the poor Serbian economy has to raise 30,000 euros to pay for an operation for his cute kid. A gangster offers him the money in exchange for the murder of a rival. He takes the deal, and heartache ensues. Note again the debilitated family member, the morally conflicted protagonist, and the larger conflict between loyalty to those most dear and allegiance to the rules that hold society together.

Can you think of any more?

Bonus anecdote: In my first screenwriting class, one of my classmates worked a mentally retarded character into her script because “a movie has a much better chance of getting nominated for something if there’s a ‘tard in it.”

Drama

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Duplicity

Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

All intense relationships vaccilate between passion and doubt, love and distrust. Movies like this comfort us with the idea that this duality is both completely natural, and also inevitably experienced by the the sexiest, most glamorous among us.

The story of two assasins, simultaneously in love and at odds, is not new.

In Prizzi’s Honor, Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner are mafia assasins assigned to kill each other.

In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Pitt and Jolie are… well, I haven’t seen it, but it obviously fits in here somehow.

Spy Kidsuses this idea as exposition. The parents start out as spies assigned to kill each other, but they fall in love and have kids. But then, their exciting and difficult lives come back to haunt their children. Which reflects the fact that, while reproduction often seems like the end game, it only creates another universe of problems for a new human being, who isn’t so different from you, and whose problems aren’t so different from yours.

Adventure

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Yes Man

Very few of us actually have trouble saying Yes to the thousands of solicitations we receive every day. What we have trouble with is saying No. This movie sets up a straw man argument, designed to make the audience feel better about the fact that they say Yes as much as they already do. The first level of subtext - that we actually don’t say Yes enough - is ridiculous. The second level - that it’s ok to forgive ourselves for how often we say Yes, because it could be a lot worse - is far more palatable.

Quicktime trailer

Comedy

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Watchmen / Special

Watchmen is a superhero story that focuses on the type of normal human beings who want to become superheroes so badly that they actually do. Special is the story of a normal guy who is deluded into thinking he has special powers, so he becomes a superhero.

Watchmen Quicktime trailer

Both movies are about people who see in themselves, or want to see in themselves, a closer personal connection to the myths that inspire them.

Special Quicktime trailer

Historians like to say that the early Egyptian pharoahs were “open behind,” meaning that they were both god and man at once. The god was a sort of magic shell that could be inhabited by many people over time. It wasn’t seen as a trick or a deception; that’s just how it worked. Unfortunately, being a god/man meant that you could only reign for a short period of time; after that, your subjects would ritualistically kill you in order to demonstrate reverence for the natural rhythms of nature. Eventually, the pharoahs changed that ritual to keep themselves alive, but they were no longer open behind; they were simply men claiming to be gods.

The point is: Everyone wants to connect with the supernatural. Everyone wants to be the supernatural. If you don’t have a myth that breaks the fourth wall and invites us inside, then we are going to find a way into it ourselves.

Adventure

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JCVD

Jean-Claude Van Damme will soon be too old to be an action star. He’s got to reinvent himself, or fade away. It’s common for typecast actors to break the mold by doing something strange that makes fun of their image. It’s less common for the story of that vehicle to actually be the actor’s change.

On the other hand, as much as I’d like to believe that this movie represents a more sophisticated facet of Van Damme, I don’t. It has the feel of something that was put together by an agent trying to re-infuse their client’s career. Van Damme doesn’t seem to be acting any more than usual here… he’s just been stuck inside a self-referential indie movie.

Does the fact that he made a career decision to do something that would make him seem more interesting, actually make him more interesting? He didn’t write it or direct it. He probably just agreed to be in it.

Here’s the quicktime trailer.

Also pictured: Boris Karloff, Jerry Lewis, and Peter Falk as characters based on themselves, in Targets, King Of Comedy, and Wings Of Desire.

Uncategorized

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The Reader / Valkyrie

The Reader quicktime trailer

Valkyrie quicktime trailer

There are two types of movies about the Holocaust: those that offer to take us back to a simpler time, when it was easier to distinguish between good and evil; and those that offer to comfort us for our own modern sins with the knowledge that Nazi Germany contained just as much moral ambiguity as anywhere else.

This second idea is more palatable as we gain more and more chronological distance from the events themselves. But it also has increasing appeal for Americans who have the disturbing feeling that they are living in the belly of a beast that has the potential to do a lot more damage than Hitler’s machine. The fact that Berlin, is becoming a thriving cosmopolitan cultural center, doesn’t hurt either. People want to convince themselves that it’s okay to like Germany again, and movies like these help.

Adventure
Drama

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The Unborn

The point of this movie is to provide a cathartic experience that will enable viewers to process their feelings of guilt and fear about abortion. At a deeper level, it’s about processing our innate (though often quashed) understanding of the connection between birth and death.

Yes, there’s nothing about abortion in the trailer, and there probably isn’t much about it in the movie, either. But that’s the way of things… you can’t touch someone’s true feelings on a hotly debated topic without abstracting it away to the point where it’s possible to deal with the primal as separate from the political.

Quicktime trailer

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Johnny Got His Gun

This play about a guy trapped in his own mind is obviously being brought back to the stage and on DVDs to capitalize on the success of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (and popular anti-war sentiment in the US).

The most interesting part of this trailer is “Live on stage, on film.” This is not really possible; the audience is either in the same physical space as the performance, watching it unfold in real time, or they aren’t. Sure, you can listen to a CD of a live concert event, enabling you to hear the audience respond to the music, to hear any accidental or deliberate variations that took place on that particular night. But films of stage plays don’t work that way. The audience (if there even is one) is quiet. The camera angle changes to give you the best view. But most of all, you simply are not sitting there breathing the same air as the performers, supporting them with your respectful silence, feeling that by being in the room, you are helping to make the magic happen, which is what live dramatic performance is really all about.

The difference is especially important in the case of a story about a guy trapped in his own mind, literally unable to share a room with another human being. His whole inner life is about the impossibility of reconciling live participation in human events with an inner movie that goes on forever, always referencing life, but never becoming it.

Drama

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