Archive for March 2009

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Some Things that Annoy Me in Most Movies

Too often the characters have way too much free time to devote to the plot. Don’t they have jobs? Dirty laundry, dirty dishes, tax reports, dentist appointments? When do they eat, shit, shave, shower? I’m not against condensing for the sake of the pace of the story. I just don’t like total absence of every-day realism. A movie that incorporates some of these things, like shopping, working, peeing, is Imagine Me & You, which – as you probably know – I adore (also for other reasons).

Most movies rely on some sort of antagonist: the evil genius, the pretty rival, the big bad corporations that are all about money and don’t care about the heart/town/puppies. Disguised antagonists include family, society, love, diseases, and nature. They’re driving the plot and pretty much essential to any movie. Improper development of the dark side drives me crazy; point in case: The Devil Wears Prada. Clear-cut antagonists can be helpful, fun, and good (the Darth Vader paradox). Yet easy moral judgment is often a matter of one-dimensional characters (Bill Pullman) or dubious morality. The latter comes into play when a big firm wants to exploit whatever the hero holds dear; yet the hero gives his money to banks that finance such firms; or he keeps eating the hamburger made of cattle that was fed with the soy that was grown cheaper on slash-and-burn rainforest soil than on his grandma’s farm he seeks to sustain. Again, I’m not against supervillains in movies (Lucy Diamond!) – I just wish there would be more stories like Lights, Camera, Amalee, which feature “real-life” antagonists. Gone Baby Gone is different example of subverting antagonist expectations, which leaves you agitated for quite a long time after the movie’s over. My Name is Earl deserves an Honorary mention, because (a) it’s main theme is making the world a better place (b) it was the initial inspiration for this post (before it turned into this verbouse rant).

Movies are way too pretty. Beautiful people don’t suffice to turn movies into good movies. Sure, I like to watch movies like Closer which are all about beautiful people’s problems. But I also love Clerks, because you get an immediate sense of reality. You can see the shop, you can hear the rustling of the movements and the street noise. That’s so much more convincing than the CGI cities and the ADR kissing noises in Attack of the Clones.

On Editing

There are way too many cuts in modern movies for my taste. On the other hand, the narrative of people in interviews and similar bonus material often found on DVDs would profit a lot from an omission of pauses and fill words. But let’s focus on the editing of actual movies. Things are completely out of control in action scenes, leaving me rather confused every time I watch modern blockbusters from the front row. Sadly, things don’t look much better in scenes with ordinary dialogue.

I never got the two-camera shot of dialogue. If the point of view of one of the actors is supposed to be underscored by the visual angle, then please note the word one. One person’s view, one angle. 1 + 1 = 2, I know. But by intercutting a dialogue with both perspectives, you actually lose half of the whole. You end up with 0.5 + 0.5. If both characters are important, go for a two-shot; leave it to the viewer to attend to one character at a time. In case you want it all, you need to double your efforts; Fingersmith and 11.14 are examples that come to my mind.

Hank Green rocks, too

Hank Green is so much more suited for this world than I am. Not only are his entries for the current Song Fu challenge great. His recent plea for more vegetarianism is so eloquent and so appropriate that I have nothing of importance to add. He also mentions a Piper Perabo movie (not in a favorable way, but I’ve yet to see it, so I’ll remain silent for now) and advocates logarithmic age, which I think is a brilliant idea (though maybe I’m biased because as a statistician I already use way too many logarithms).