Talking Movies

December 9, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XXI

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-first portmanteau post on matters of course!

Move over Chekhov, here’s Gresham: bad writing drives out good

I was very late in catching up with Westworld given that I loved Jonathan Nolan’s previous TV show Person of Interest. However, if I had watched the pilot of Westworld unaware of who was behind it I would have never have guessed Nolan, J. I was stunned at how humdrum to lousy so much of the dialogue was, and floored by the immediate and lasting awfulness of the British writer character. Indeed to critique Westworld I find myself digging into the Talking Movies archives for my review of Safe Haven, where I complained “one-note characterisation is far too prevalent,” and find myself grimacing that yes, one could level the same charge against the most acclaimed, epochal, cerebral TV show of our age. But then we come to my complaint regarding Cobie Smulders’ character in Safe Haven: “Indeed the shallowness of the writing is such that it allows an infuriatingly connived third-act reveal, infuriating because it relies on one particular shallow characterisation without realising that hiding it behind shallow characterisation all around hurts the film.” Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy clearly thought they were doing an awesome job of hiding two cards up their sleeves, but dropping hints. The problem being that if your hint that Bernard is a host is that he seems to be unconcerned about the whereabouts of his deputy then you as showrunners should probably be more concerned about the whereabouts of your characters. Why on earth should I worry that Bernard doesn’t seem worried that his deputy has gone missing when this show left two technicians at knifepoint by Thandie Newton’s character, and then never came back to them for the bulk of an episode? If forgetting about characters afflicts the writers of the show who’s going to notice it in one of their creations? What’s worse is that jumping a scene almost with Thandie Newton leaves it very unclear why the techs continue to play ball after they’re no longer at knifepoint.  But as that’s vital to the season arc, it’s just glossed over. And so I end up drawing comparisons between the writer of Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Person of Interest, and Nicholas Sparks…

October 6, 2017

The Mountain Between Us

Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are stranded in the Rockies in a two-hander that feels like it was scripted by Bear Grylls and Nicholas Sparks.

Ben (Idris Elba) is stuck at an airport due to bad weather. He needs to get back to Baltimore to perform life-saving brain surgery on a young patient. Alex (Kate Winslet) is stuck at the same airport. She needs to get back to NYC to get married. She comes up with some ingenious lateral thinking. They should charter a small propellor plane to do the short hop to Colorado where they can make connecting flights. Walter (Beau Bridges) flew missions into Vietnam with people shooting at him, what’s the worst thing that could happen in a bit of bad weather? I mean apart from Walter having a stroke at the controls? And even if you do crash, what’s the worst that could happen? Get seriously menaced by a cougar? I mean Kim Bauer got through that. Yeah, book that plane guys!

There is some fantastically captured scenery in The Mountain Between Us, and some very nice shots by cinematographer Mandy Walker locating the actors in the middle of a vast snowy wilderness. But that’s about as far as you can go with anything approaching unqualified praise. I was genuinely astonished during the credits to find the score had been written by Ramin Djawadi as it had made no impression whatsoever. Indeed the abiding impression was that this film was long, in particular its final 20 minutes make this 104 minute movie feel about 134 minutes, as the inevitable point is hummed and hawed at before being reached. And the point should equally inevitably make Speed fans think of a certain repeated line of dialogue.

Too often this feels like a bad Bones episode, except for tiresome faith v science arguments you get Ben needing to stop trying to control everything and just take risks like the free-spirited photographer who got him into this mess in the first place. And there are painful screenwriting 101 conceits piled up higher than some of the snowdrifts they encounter – of course you wouldn’t tell anybody where you were going and what you were doing before you got stranded, of course you wouldn’t assume you can get cell reception atop the Rockies, of course you wouldn’t eat Walter’s dog for food, of course you wouldn’t let Alex’s injured leg imperil chances of survival, of course Ben wouldn’t be so colossally stupid and unaware as to not wear his gloves and endanger his fingers by frostbite leading to losing his ability to perform brain surgery and so have to relinquish control over his life to fit the neat thematic statement the movie is apparently attempting to make.

The moment you might remember most from this underwhelming romance/adventure is when Idris Elba announces that he’s from Britain but now lives in Baltimore.

2.5/5

February 28, 2013

Safe Haven

Lasse Hallstrom directs his second Nicholas Sparks adaptation after Dear John, but this film about a fugitive  combines some thriller action with its soppy romance.

safe-haven-julianne-hough-josh-duhamel-640x427

The movie opens dramatically with blood-soaked Katie (Julianne Hough) running  from a stabbed body to a neighbour for help. Some quick dyeing of hair and  changing of clothes and she’s on a bus out of town, despite the frantic attempts  of cop Tierney (David Lyons) to find her at the terminal. At a brief stop in  small town coastal North Carolina Katie decides to ditch the bus and take a job  as a waitress at a seaside restaurant. The presence of hunky widower Alex (Josh  Duhamel) in the general store being a major factor in her thinking, not that  she’ll admit that without some prodding from helpful neighbour Jo (Cobie  Smulders). But even as Katie bonds with Alex’s children Lexie (Mimi Kirkland)  and Josh (Noah Lomax), and embarks on a relationship with Alex, dogged detective  Tierney is on her trail…

Another year, another awful Lasse  Hallstrom movie to review; although in this case I suspect he may have had  considerable help from Nicholas Sparks. I excoriated Hallstrom’s disastrous  adaptation of Salmon Fishing in the  Yemen but this underwhelming flick offends less because nobody’s ever  accused Sparks of writing wonderfully. Hallstrom traffics in sentimentality;  and, this somehow being my first Sparks adaptation, that seems to fit well with  what I assume here is Sparks’ approach to romance – which is distinctly Mills & Boon in its major set-pieces. Except that this plot, as Hallstrom has  boasted, incorporates a strong thriller element into the usual sappiness. I’m  not sure that’s something to boast about as this feels like uncannily like Tess  Gerritsen’s novel Girl Missing, her  final entry in that horrible sub-genre of suspense romance, where each intrudes  on the other’s turf irritatingly.

Hallstrom pulls out all the stops visually for the climactic 4th  of July showdown, with fireworks in foreground and background, and some  efficient suspense. Footloose star Hough  on auto-cute makes less of an impression though than Smulders, despite having  acres more screentime as the heroine. Duhamel is a reliably endearing presence,  but he can’t carry a romance solo, while Lyons’ performance as the pursuing cop  decays throughout the film from subtle obsessiveness to pantomime villainy. Red  West as Uncle Roger essays some nice comic gruffness, but one-note  characterisation is far too prevalent, and is incredibly grating in the case of  Kirkland (adorable kid) and Lomax (sullen kid). Indeed the shallowness of the  writing is such that it allows an infuriatingly connived third-act reveal,  infuriating because it relies on one particular shallow characterisation without  realising that hiding it behind shallow characterisation all around hurts the  film.

Safe Haven is a competently made  film, that has some amusing moments and a memorable ending, but it’s impossible  to say that it’s good.

2/5

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