Everyone Has Reversals

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

June 24, 2007

Dramedy or Comedy-Lite?

2006 saw the release of both The Breakup, a mostly unfunny, almost-too-authentic tale of a couple splitting up, as well as Stranger Than Fiction, a mostly unfunny, but sweet, gentle story of redemption and what it means to really live. I don't dislike either movie, but I have to say, I'm a little surprised that two of the classier (read: attracted great casts 30+ and were clearly targeting grown-ups) pictures of the year would walk this tonal line.

The kicker is, both of these movies have comic premises. They've just got great comic hooks. Instead, each movie went for something that was, perhaps, more interesting... but definitely less funny. What is this, as a genre? Unsuccessful comedy? Successful dramedy?

I was disappointed by both films, because to me, many a dramedy is just a comedy lacking self-esteem. Imagine if these films had kept their story structures, and their great characters, and their strong thematic threads, and been funny.

They'd be elevated from "might rent" to "must own".

It can be done. Groundhog Day. 40 Year-Old Virgin. Sideways. Little Miss Sunshine. About a Boy. Any one of them could have had their comic teeth extracted, and a solid story would remain. Instead, they reached higher.

With their comic teeth. Or something. You know what I mean.

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June 17, 2007

Going Off the Parody Rails

There are a lot of ways for movie parodies to go wrong. Not funny enough, not on-target enough, not creative enough, not enough story to last for 90 minutes, the characters aren't real so we get bored of them fast. Or, sometimes, the whole thing just feels like it's trying too hard.

This is not a post about those things. This is a very specific qualm with Hot Fuzz.

I really liked Hot Fuzz. Its pedigree was amazing-- the creators of Shaun of the Dead, taking on cop/action flicks? How could that not be fun?

And it is fun. Except when the movie overstays its welcome and forgets its genre.

Now, I know some of you are starting to think I'm a bit of a fuddy-duddy. "Anything longer than 100 minutes is just too darn long! I missed Jeopardy! for this?!" Honest, if a movie earns its length, I'm totally there.

But Hot Fuzz is a fun, light, cop-movie parody with a 3rd act that is, I swear, 40 minutes long. There's a moment when our guys realize who's behind the deaths in the town, and then there's seriously about another 40 minutes of action. It's action with gags, and a few cute moments of redemption, but ultimately it lasts wayyyy longer than necessary.

The real, deep-down problem is, a parody can't be so in love with the thing it's parodying that it stops being a parody and turns into homage. It just doesn't work.

Why? 'Cause I came to laugh. I did not go see Hot Fuzz for car-chase action.

Imagine if Airplane! had ended with 40 minutes of high-stakes disaster-movie moments, with some gags thrown in.

Enough said?

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June 10, 2007

Size Matters

So I just finished watching the original Poseidon Adventure for the first time. It'll surprise no one to learn that I dug the heck out of it.

Do you know how many things happen in this movie? We quickly grow to care about some imperfect but loveable people. The wave hits, and the ship capsizes. A small group of survivors led by a (self-described!) "renegade" Reverend makes its way through the ship, trying to maintain hope while hitting obstacle after obstacle. Throughout this journey, there are small plots and threads and jokes and conflicts... and, of course, action o'plenty. This is a big, popcorn blockbuster of old.

Do you know how long this movie is? 117 minutes.

To put that into perspective, here are some recent movie lengths:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - 168 minutes

Zodiac - 158 minutes

Blood Diamond - 143 minutes

Babel - 143 minutes

Spider-Man 3 - 140 minutes

Knocked Up - 129 minutes

Lucky You - 124 minutes

Reign Over Me - 124 minutes

Now, quality and genre aside, may I humbly submit that the vast majority of movies do not need to be this long? And may I further humbly suggest that crossing the two-hour mark for a movie remain the exception, and not the rule? Why is it taking us longer to tell our stories?

Our stories? Yours and mine? Can mostly be told in 100 minutes. Let that be our goal henceforth!


June 03, 2007

Title Round-Up

Inspired by the comment by Monikerr on last week's post, here's a post that's been brewing awhile. Titles: the good, the bad, and the inexplicable.

1. Titles With Colons.

Saw a preview the other day for Rise: Blood Hunter. But... why? Why the colon? This doesn't appear to be a sequel, or a game franchise, or anything else that would require differentiation between the "Rise" and the "Blood Hunter". And then there's the problem of the whole thing not quite coming together linguistically... is Rise the name of a Blood Hunter? Is this a command being given to a Blood Hunter? Do the folks involved in this film not realize colons are walking a very cheesy line to begin with, given their association with movies-of-the-week (e.g. Against Their Will: Women in Prison, or its alternate title, Caged Seduction: The Shocking True Story... I'm not even kidding, here)?

On the other hand, there is such a thing as a well-played colon. All of the Pirates of the Caribbean titles (Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest, At World's End) make the colon work. There's something dramatic, fun, and old-fashioned about them, and they imply the serialization aspect-- like a Hardy Boys book might. Or Sherlock Holmes. Plus, how cheeky were they to have the colon and sub-phrase on that first one, without even knowing if the franchise would be serialized?

2. Titles that are Inappropriate to the Movie and Therefore Hard to Remember.

Another preview I saw the other day: The Kingdom. It's not a fantasy film. Nor a medieval action flick. It is, in fact, a big-budget action-thriller set in contemporary Middle East. It's got a killer cast and was directed by Peter Berg, for whom I wish nothing but happiness and success, but what are the odds I will remember the title of this movie? Maybe by September, 2007 the title will finally be branded into my brain courtesy of over-promotion.

3. Titles that are Actually Song Titles, and More Specifically, Song Titles by The Cure.

I get it, I guess. Song titles already exist. They're already taking up space in our brains. Why not just grab a song title and slap it on your movie? I'm not for it, but I do get it. And some have worked really well-- Boys Don't Cry is a great title for that movie. The words themselves work well, even if you don't know the song. The movie takes the original meaning of the song and adds an extra layer. Our boy, in this case, has a lot to prove, and really, really doesn't want to cry...

And then there's Just Like Heaven. The movie weakly purports to maybe have something to do with heaven 'n' ghosts 'n' stuff. It's a super-saccharine phrase when used in such a literal way.

4. The Blanking Blank Title.

My personal pet peeve. I understand that an active verb implies something active. And Chasing Amy was a great title. Especially because you had to watch the movie to figure out who Amy was, and who was Chasing her, and when you have seen it, you realize "Chasing Amy" is completely metaphorical-- a kind of state of mind. Some people are forever Chasing Amy.

But this title structure is frakking everywhere, and I don't think I can take much more of it. There's Educating Rita and Saving Silverman and Courting Courtney and Losing Isaiah (and Toby, and Julia, and Jerry, and Lois... seriously, people, go IMDb "Losing"!).

5. The Character's Name Title.

From Donnie Brasco to Donnie Darko, this is easily one of the biggest titling cop-outs ever. Unless you’ve got a made-up word like “Darko” as part of the character's name, there’s pretty much no way to ensure the tone of this title will be right for your movie – or that anyone will have a clue what your movie’s about. Remember Vera Drake? Charlotte Gray? Exactly.

So there you go, a few title dos and don'ts and tread-lightlys.

Next time on title talk: The Vaguely Literary Title (Matchstick Men), The Prosaic Title (World Trade Centre), The Stock Phrase Title (It Could Happen To You), The Impossibly Generic Title (Next), and The Double Entendre Title (Adaptation). Yep – all can be defined via Nic Cage movies.