Everyone Has Reversals

Story Lessons, Big and Small (Warning: Spoilers!)

May 31, 2006

Lessons from the Incredibly Obvious File, #2

I'm back! Thanks for all your good wishes. The tour was wonderful. Books were sold. Even when people knew there was poetry in them.

And now, a post. This installment of "Lessons from the Incredibly Obvious File" might be subtitled "The P(l)ot-holed Premise".

The premise of the comedy Last Holiday is: shy, department store employee Queen Latifah learns she's got three weeks to live. The surgery that could save her life is extraordinarily expensive and her HMO refuses to cover it. So Latifah cashes in her substantial savings and heads to the opulent Grandhotel Pupp to spend her last days living a life of luxury and adventure.

Did you spot it, gentle reader?

Latifah's going to die because she can't afford to pay for the surgery that will save her life. The surgery costs $340,000. A hopeless situation for someone working in retail, perhaps. Except she cashes in her savings that must, given the holiday she's taking, amount to six figures. (I believe the cost of her room alone was several thousand a night.) The movie even has Latifah winning $100,000 in a casino on her holiday.

Yet at no time does she consider scrounging the money together for that darn life-saving surgery?

Sometimes a premise is far-fetched and you just have to suspend your disbelief 'cause, well, it can't be done any other way. But if you can answer the question? Answer it! If you have the option to make the brain tumour inoperable as opposed to operable but the operation would be expensive? For crying out loud, go for the inoperable tumour!

Don't leave us going over pot holes when there's a smooth, scenic detour.

(If you're wondering, it was playing on the plane.)

May 13, 2006

A Meta-Post and a Mega-Mess

When I don't post over the next few weeks, I'm not ignoring you. Or my precious blog. Or movies. Promise.

I'm away until the end of May on a book tour-- my first. I hope you'll think of me: I'll be reading poetry to the three grannies in the book store who actually came in to
(finally!) get a paperback copy of The DaVinci Code. That whippersnapper Dan Brown is so dreamy.

But lest you think your visit here is all for naught, I will leave you with this discussion topic: why was The Aviator so very terrible? I will get the ball rolling: in biopics, it's not wise to suggest that everything about a person can be somehow explained by one single back story incident (in this case, Mommy compulsively washing little Howard to keep him safe and clean). That's just silly.

Your turn, legions of fans.

May 08, 2006

Death Be Not Proud

...nor predictable, nor predetermined...

I have a little crush on
The Towering Inferno, having seen it for the first time a few weeks ago. I naively thought it'd be campy fun, like pretty much every other disaster movie (even the many I love).

Instead, I got some good lessons. Mainly how to kill people --er, characters-- in ways that keep an audience surprised, worried, unsure... you know,
caring. Here are my top few:
  • In Inferno, the characters who die do not know they’re going to die. They do not foreshadow their own deaths... they simply act like anyone else under siege. In fact, what seems like a major character (and a top-billed name) in this film is in post-coital bliss when he and his lover realize the fire’s right outside their door and there’s no way out. And then? There's no way out. Bye-bye big name.
  • The characters in this film who do not die act like they could die at any moment. The characters do not seem to know that the actors playing them have last names like McQueen, Newman and Dunaway, and are therefore less likely to be burned to death.
  • When a character dies, the movie doesn’t take a moment of silence for them... doesn't stop in its tracks... it’s busy dealing with the other people who aren’t dead yet.
  • The movie is completely willing to follow a character through a lengthy life-and-death ordeal with a happy ending, only to kill them unceremoniously forty minutes later. Them's the breaks.
  • Finally, The Towering Inferno doesn’t seem to believe that “someone must be sacrificed”-- this is about a fire. Who cares who's responsible for it right now? The fire doesn’t know a martyr from a villain, and no death is played as more tragic (or more deserved) than any other.
Oh, Towering Inferno. I just can't stop thinking about you. (Call me.)

May 04, 2006

Heaven's in the Details

The premise of 50 First Dates is really fun: boy meets girl, boy meets girl the next day and she can't remember him, boy must keep meeting girl for the rest of their lives. This one's right up there in the high-concept department, particularly for a rom-com.

Sometimes a film like this trailers well but turns out to be lifeless or thin. 50 First Dates remains entertaining and full because of its carefully chosen details. Case in point: the mural Drew paints every single day (and that her father and brother paint over every night, so she has a clean slate in the morning and remains unaware of her condition).

The mural fulfills many functions: the painting and repainting of the mural is very visual, and it's a device that reinforces the concept-- we see those white walls bloom with colour time and time again, and have to watch as Drew believes she's doing it for the first time. We feel both drawn to her and sad for her... not unlike the bittersweet feeling created by the film's favourite song, "Wouldn't It Be Nice". The mural painting is also perfect for her character and the theme-- Drew's an artist who throws herself at life and who, along with our hero Adam, creates the world anew every day.

It's worth figuring out not just suitable details for our scripts, but the best story details.

Also, I understand people love penguins, and there's a penguin in this movie.