Competence…Freude.


The last, and arguably the most important, aspect of character: competence.
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Reported on 3rd of July, 2011

You see a movie like À Bout portant (Point Blank) and the first thing you want to do is start ruining it for other people.

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This is the way of pleasure for movie critics, that if you don’t have the Schadenfreude of tearing down a movie with the unlucky, unlucky, Kate Hudson, you are left with explaining why you liked a good film, which risks indulging your Kapitalherrschaftfreude, roughly translated here as ‘joy in creating other people’s displeasure over knowing things about the ending’. You want to talk about the cool things that you liked, but the Verlangengewissheitfruede is strong, and it usually leaks out. One critic thought it would be smart to explain that Inglorious Basterds ‘cleverly rewrites history’. Thanks, jerk, mock gratitude that I must extend to myself for repeating it. But even the more subtle suggestions can be damaging: the fact that we knew that there was a ‘big surprise’ in The Crying Game led us all to guess that the late 1980s Irish Revolutionary Army had severe financial difficulties which would lead to internal power struggles (you could tell by the guy’s adams apple).

Technically speaking, we're only going to actually talk about three movies, two of which I just made up, all in service of the purpose of not talking about one. Confused? You will be!

Spoiler alert: there will be no spoilers, which spoils it for all of you who are reading this to avoid going to the movies. I mean, who has the time? Even if sequels to The Hangover weren’t two and half hours long these days (the publishing equivalent of value through pages: who would buy Harry Potter 7 if it wasn’t three times heavier than the HP1? That would mean that it would cost three times as much to weigh down a duffle bag containing Stephanie Meyers), there’s time spent worrying about what to wear, wearing it anyway, worrying about traffic, getting through traffic fine, worrying about finding a parking space, finding a parking space, worrying about getting a ticket, getting a ticket, worrying that the trailers will never end, having the trailers end, and then suddenly realizing you forgot what the hell it is you came to see. Lucky you: the titles come at the end now.

Á Bout Portant

21 June 2011 @ Cineworld Haymarket


or, if one must be prosaic, and one must... 

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I can say, without giving anything away, that I should have known that it was going to be good since the translation of À Bout portant actually is ‘point blank’, and a correctly re-titled French movie is extremely rare. In what may be unique to the French-English relationship (this may happen in other languages, but French is the only other language I know. The word ‘know’ is defined by being able to speak just enough French not to understand what French people are actually telling me is to stop speaking French), there has been a long standing reciprocity war between translators on both sides of the Atlantic, or English Channel, or la Manche, depending. Well, it’s like a war, only much, much more serious. After all, each side, absolutely convinced that they knew what the filmmakers actually meant, change the titles (as well as the subtitles) to what they ‘should have been’. A light dispersal hand-carry bio-weapon transforms Season of the Witch to Le dernier des Templiers (‘The Last of the Templars‘), as who wouldn’t want to cash in on the previously untapped Templar market? But this becomes especially odd when English titled films become re-titled, always without sense, into English (please see: http://www.topito.com/top-titres-films-anglais-traduits-anglais).A Really Bad Trip gets high marks on the confus-o-meter, but it was always Sex Friends that cheered me up the most. Until I found out it was an actual term, that is. How did I get so out of touch with the English idiom? I’m going to have to move to France.

Rejected titles include: A Country for Sex, Close to Your Face, and Don't Open That Box!

Rejected titles include: A Country for Sex, Close to Your Face, and Don’t Open That Box!

It makes sense that Francophones would pre-emptively send troops disguised in Polish uniforms across the border to fire back on their own side – figuratively speaking, of course – having lost the language war, but it seems that Anglophones are just as insecure having won it: it was the native English speakers who detonated their firebomb with ten times the power of a Hiroshima Mon Amour, this time on poor Prête-moi ta main, a cute little Alain Chabat and Charlotte Gainsbourg (I did say ‘cute’) vehicle about a bachelor faking being married to get your family to leave you alone. It would make sense, and save time, to have simply translated it literally as Lend me your hand something that works in both languages. But war is bad for children and other living metaphors, and so it becomes instead both instantly forgettable and thematically incorrect as I do. I’ll admit a film like L’arnacœur (about an agency that breaks up bad relationships for family members) presents more of challenge, since it is a pun on arnaqueur (‘con man’) and cœur (‘heart’); the attempt to literalize this pun became the generic, and also incorrect, Heartbreaker. Incidentally, the solution to these mis-translations, like the solution to war itself, is easy: ask me. In this case, the title would be: The Matchbreaker. How did you come up with that title, I force the hypothetical ‘you’ to ask? Well, it just so happens that this was the title of a script I wrote years ago with the exact same premise. Don’t believe me? The poster was to read: ‘What God has united, let one woman tear asunder’. I know: blogs are a waste of my talent. I should be writing taglines.

But let’s get back to giving everything away without giving anything away. My initial solution was to invent an imaginary movie; after all, I’m talking about the way in which À Bout portant is great from a narrative point of view, so why not just impose its structure on a movie that takes place in, say, Space-Paris, between space-cops and space-criminals. But even coming up with that scenario was exhausting. So I’ll just steal from the spectacularly unoriginal Stake Land, which imagine what the world would be like…if it had vampires! Oh, I’m sorry. Were you waiting for the ‘twist’? That’s it, ladies and gents. And you thought I had trouble with the imagination…thingie.

Stake Land

23 June 2011 @ Cineworld Crawley


-$4.50 or, if one must be jejune, and one must... 
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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There is no need to contain my Bezeichnungendingefreude for Stake Land. Giving things away will only punish those who have seen it and reward those who haven’t with a bonus of 240 minutes of having to worry about what their hair looks like, washing it…oh, you get the picture. To summarize: there’s the actual Stake Land, the actual À Bout portant, the imaginary Stake Land as if it was made correctly à la À Bout portant, and the imaginary À Bout portant as if it was made by idiots à la Stake Land. If you’re need to exhale, please pronounce it ‘À’. When run through our automatic French-English-French translator the former emerges as Country of Wood (the good version of Stake Land) and the latter, inexplicably (in that I will provide no explanation) as Sex People! (the crappy version of À Bout portant). Technically speaking, we’re only going to actually talk about three movies, two of which I just made up, all in service of the purpose of not talking about one. Confused? You will be!

On one hand Cineworld Crawley is still the only place you can see Stake Land.  On the other, it's also the only place you can see The Raven.

On one hand Cineworld Crawley is still the only place you can see Stake Land. On the other, it’s also the only place you can see The Raven.  This makes sense to me; I’m the only person who’s seen both.  At the Cineworld Crawley.

What makes Country of Wood (and by proxy À Bout portant) great is what I should have done three paragraphs back: it gets to it. Like Speed, it starts with action, takes a very short break, and then just goes all the way to the end. This is somewhat the opposite of Stake Land, which despite having vampires all over the place eating people and stuff, never invokes the slightest sense of danger. Since we’re remaking it, let’s focus on an event in the real Stake Land, where Kelly MacGillis is kidnapped and held prisoner by the evil vampire worshipping cult. This would be where Country of Wood begins. Likewise, Sex People! opens as the real Stake Land, with lots of exposition. It’s not enough that our protagonist’s pregnant wife is kidnapped, the powers-that-be would need to add twenty minutes where we’re informed, step by tedious step, that she’s lost her first child, and that her husband lost his first wife to a kidnapping, and that the unborn baby was the kidnapper. Who lost his first wife. To an unborn kidnapper.

This invokes what I call, or will call as I just made it up, the need-to-know rule of character, that is to say, despite Hollywood conventions to the contrary, we generally don’t need to know. In theory, it should make us more tense to know that the characters are reliving a familiar situation, but 1) it doesn’t, and 2) it takes a bunch of time to explain, during which nothing can happen. In fact, the more we know about a character, the less we have in common with them; while the less we know, the more we are able to project onto them. If we can feel sympathy for Claude Reins at the end of Notorious, it’s because the situation that creates the tension and not the character yammering on and on about what kind of character he is.

Getting to it, counterintuitively it seems, also leads to more interesting characters, since the revelation of personality through action is a truer view of character. Just like in real life, people often lie about what type of people they are, desiring to be seen a particular way. In films, people lie about what type of characters they’ve created, desiring to have their lack of talent be seen in a particular way. In Country of Wood, we’ve made the kidnapping of Kelly MacGillis the centerpiece of the plot. In Stake Land, the character of ‘Mister’ who have been told over and over is super tough and brave, simply leaves Kelly MacGillis to be raped repeatedly by the cult. Don’t worry, they meet up and later, and never discuss it. Later, in Country of Wood (I hope you’re keeping track of this, because I’m going to need a biographer to explain it to me), the cult drops vampires on a township, which sets up the spectacular action sequence taking place in an abandoned three story office building. In Stake Land, this also happens, and the very brave Mister…runs away and hides, letting the town be slaughtered. Don’t worry, the narration told us that he’s super tough. Who are you going to believe?

Me. You’re going to believe me.

Which leads to our last aspect of character, and arguably the most important: competence. If we imagine the vampire cult, the vampires, and the township, each with their motivations, each acting competently, we get what we should get in all movies: one side setting up a puzzle for the other, the other cleverly defeating that puzzle, which in turn sets up a puzzle for the other and so on. In my spectacular (and totally invented) action set piece at the end (remember this is me not giving away À Bout Portant), office cubicles are transformed into a maze of traps, as the characters move up and down the floors, transforming the once familiar space into a three dimensional playground. The cult, having anticipated this, attaches small explosives to the weaker vampires, blowing holes in walls, allowing the stronger vampires to bypass the traps. Mister sees this and acts, shooting off the leg of the point guard vampires, sending into the helicopter blades of the cult, and so on.

Or maybe he just runs away. That’s pretty interesting.

What we get in Stake Land, as we often do in films, is characters acting like idiots in service of the plot. In Stake Land, and I’m almost embarrassed to repeat this, Mister is left out to die in the Vampire no-man’s land by the cult à la Goldfinger. That he got away from this ‘symbolic’ punishment (here, you may read ‘symbolic’ as ‘convenient’) surprises no one, especially Scotty Evil, who has admonished in the past to, you know, just shoot him. It should especially surprise us, if the feeling of surprise can be boring, that the main character, having escaped the in no way inescapable, does the exact same thing to the cult leader. Nick Damici, the co-writer, has written an impossible part for Nick Damici the actor:Daniel Day Lewis could spend half his life preparing for the part in an alternative vampire world created via wormhole by the large hadron collider just for this reason, destroying this version of reality in the process, and still not pull off ‘surprised’ when he gets away. Insanity may be doing the same thing and expecting a different result, but bad screenwriting is doing the same thing and expecting us to care about the result.

Stake Land

Profits!

Um…the ticket stub?
$0.50
Total Profits
$0.50

Losses!

An unoriginal concept…
$2.00
Dully executed! Go, independent cinema, go!
$3.00
Total Losses
$-5.00

$-4.50

À Bout portant is not perfect. The denouement is especially weak, considering the way in which the rest of the film is so strong. Like Unbreakable and Dawn of the Dead (remake), leave right before the ending. But what makes the first 90 minutes so entertaining is that all the characters rely on their intelligence and resourcefulness, which creates both a fun film, and engaging characters. Yes, I’m aware it’s hard to write. That’s why I can tell you how smart my characters are in Country of Wood are without having to figure out the specifics, the difference being that I’m not charging you £8 to read this. And think of all the time I saved you. All you have to do is flip open the computer, wait for it to awaken from sleep, be annoyed at how long it’s taking, consider writing a very sharp note to Steve Jobs, having the computer awaken only to find out it can’t connect to the internet, consider whether or not to get up to turn the modem off and on, taking into account exactly how many steps it is down to the next room…

Good Christ! How long did that take? Ten seconds? Screw it. I’m going to see a movie.

THE FILM

Profits!

Characters that want things. Have I mentioned how rare this is?
$5.00
A clever new way to disarm criminals. Come on, don’t you want to see it now?
$4.00
A clever new way to escape the police. How about now?
$5.00
Pregnant-foo. If that doesn’t do it, I give up.
$4.00
Total Profits
$18.00

Losses!

As mentioned, leave before utterly mysterious and mood-spoily last two minutes. Because you’re seeing this in the theater, of course.
$2.00
Total Losses
$2.00

$16.00

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