I have to restrain myself in talking about Dennis Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy’ because… it’s quite possibly my favourite film of all time. That’s a big call to make, and as soon as you do make it, people will scrutinize the film in a different way and instinctively try to tear it down, moreso than they would if you’d just said ‘yeah. It’s good’. Not that I don’t think the film holds up, but I hesitate only because I want everyone to see this film and experience it for all it is. Enemy is so well made, so well done and so amazing – it’s something that you need to let yourself be absorbed into.
Every element of Enemy has been planned to the nth degree. Every scene, background to foreground, is deliberate, all the pieces fit perfectly into where they should be. What might seem like nothing is actually carefully positioned to achieve best effect and the cinematography perfectly captures the feel of the film. The performances are great, and the way the story builds and shifts drags you further and further into the rabbit-hole-type story. Some have criticised the film’s heavy handed use of metaphor, but I think it’s exactly what it needs, at exactly the right times, in order to let you know there’s more happening than what you see. I can’t talk about the story, but I will say that it expands a whole different way of viewing it, outside of the film itself.
Enemy is exactly what I look for in a film. It’s storyline is intriguing, the film construction is thorough and it has an extra layer to it that forces the viewer to think about its meaning and subtext. It’s more than the sum of its parts, and while it won’t work for everyone, it was definitely one of my favourite viewing experiences of all time. Writers, in particular, can learn a lot from the story’s clever construction.
When I was a kid living in Kinglake – about an hour or so outside Melbourne’s CBD – the most exciting trip we ever took was the one into the city to visit Minotaur. Minotaur’s a comic store, the walls of the store covered in latest editions of The Punisher, Ghost Rider, X-Men, etc. The place is amazing, I’d to be able to spend hours wandering around, taking everything in. Even before that, I remember the first trip my brother and I ever took to the city without my parents. My brother was two years older than me and he wanted to go to a comic convention. This involved getting driven half an hour to the train station in Hurstbridge, then catching a train in to the unfamiliar surrounds of the city, all by ourselves. I didn’t want to do it, I was afraid to go in without the security of my parents, but my brother couldn’t go if I didn’t, so I caved. It was the one of the best days of my life. We went to this convention, which was mostly just market stalls of comics and comic related merchandise, all of it pretty well priced. There were back-issues as far as the eye could see, all those ones in the series you missed, right there, for $3 each. We bought as many as we could, got comic artists to draw us pictures, got free showbags with an array of random merchandise inside. It was amazing.
Being around comic books was so exciting back then, finding that one section in the newsagents where the comics were filed away was like discovering gold, and I remember curling up in the corner of the couch, reading through the latest adventures of Wolverine – his epic battle with Mojo was a standout. And even though I couldn’t understand the full context of the storylines, I was so drawn in, so enveloped inside those pages. Reading comics was such a great part of being a kid.
Every time a new comic book movie comes out I get a hint of that same excitement. Whenever Hugh Jackman flicks out his Wolverine claws, it takes me back to that time, just a little bit. Even when the films haven’t always lived up to the hype, there’s still that nostalgic allure, something that ties me to it, just seeing those characters come to life. This is, of course, part of the marketing strategy, the reason you see so many old toys being made into films is because people like me are gonna’ watch them, because of that nostalgic link, and definitely, it’s a strong selling point – I even went and watched G.I. Joe at the cinema. There’s always that link, that moment that reminds me of the smell of fresh comic pages and pulls me in, but for the most part, that feeling has come and gone in moments, in great sequences in comic book films. The Wolverine cage fight scene in X-Men. When Collossus appears in X2. These moments make me remember what I loved so much about comics, but overall the films are their own entity – like the comics, but different. The storylines don’t quite relate, the characters play out in their own way. The film versions are made with compromises, alterations to translate the comic book world to a mainstream audience. This makes perfect sense, I understand the producer negotiation and marketing input aspects of how films are made, but inevitably, that’s going to mean some things are altered in adaptation process, which means there’s always going to be a separation. While the films bring with them moments of childish excitement, they’re overall not what I want, not as engrossing as I dream they could be.
X-Men: Days of Future Past has changed that. It’s been coming for a while, we’ve seen the shift in focus from The Dark Night to The Avengers to X-Men: First Class – comic book films have become less about mainstream audience and more about adhering to the original sources themselves. Darker storylines, deeper characters, the things that had been watered down or altered in previous film-versions are starting to come out, with studios putting more trust in their creative teams, letting them build the stories they want. Chris Nolan’s Batman series was the catalyst – these films took a serious edge, a dark turn, and they were so much more successful for it. They weren’t trying to sell toys or win the hearts of kids and adults alike – they were telling a story, and Nolan was given more creative licence than ever before to tell it his way. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was another, highlighting the value of telling a story and creating a real-world superhero film, and how, given the budget, these films could produce amazing box office results. Joss Whedon’s Avengers was the pinnacle – Whedon not only wrote a great script, but the studio went all in, allowing him to utilise amazing special effects unmatched by any other super-hero predecessor. In these days of declining movie audiences and internet piracy, people need a reason to go and see things on the big screen – massive super hero films provide just that, and the revenue numbers for Avengers had every studio scrambling to buy up every super hero franchise they could find. This movement is what set up Days of Future Past – a film that delivers on every level, over and over again.
The storyline of DOFP is the one I always wanted to see – The Sentinels was such a great series in the comics, the most epic X-Men battle of all time. It frustrated me that they were making these odd storylines in the first X-Men films when they were sitting on such great material in The Sentinels saga. It’s possible that budgetary constraints meant they couldn’t do it – but there are no constraints in DOFP. The film is epic sequence after epic sequence, tied together with a storyline that works – there’s no gaps in logic or hastily introduced plot devices. After the opening sequence, I was happy, I thought ‘this was worth the price of admission alone’, but that was only one of the many amazing scenes in the film. The special effects are the best I’ve seen in a super hero film, and the bad guys are so bad, so frightening, that they raise the emotional stakes with every sequence. Just wait till you see the terror inflicted by The Sentinels. I could go on all day about the scenes – Quicksliver in the Pentagon, Mystique’s transformation’s mid-action, Magneto’s defiance and single-minded obsession – to say anything more would risk ruining it, and this is a film you really don’t need or want to know much about going in. Just go watch it, take it in, and revel in it’s excellence.
DOFP is everything I’ve ever wanted a comic book film to be. It took me back to Minotaur, back to reading in the corner of the couch and being totally engrossed by the world of the X-Men. It felt like home, like being with friends from your childhood. DOFP is a superhero film without compromise. That is what puts it over the top and makes it so amazing. There’s one scene where they’re waiting for The Sentinels and Blink comes through a portal in the background – that special effect wasn’t necessary to the main storyline and added little to what was happening, but it added a lot in terms of overall depth. Those sort of things usually get cut out because it’s too expensive to put in a special effect like that for no significant purpose. The fact that Bryan Singer has been allowed to go all out, to add in things like this that build the world, this is what makes DOFP so deep, so real and true to the comics.
As you can probably tell, I could go on about DOFP for hours, but my words won’t ever do the film justice. Go see it at the movies, don’t wait, don’t think you can just grab it when it comes out on DVD. DOFP is amazing, the best super hero film I’ve ever seen. Everyone should go check it out.
I recently watched ‘Dom Hemingway’, an unusual, energetic and excellent film by writer director Richard Shepard. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it – I’d heard Jude Law’s performance was great – a cockney, over-the-top, gangster-type, like Ben Kinglsey in Sexy Beast. But the character of Dom Hemingway had much more to him than that, more than stereotypical characteristics and quotable lines. Shepard’s character had a real life to him, a real heart – definitely, Jude Law was great and this added to the character (also, no one owns male pattern baldness like Jude Law), but there was so much more to him, more than what was presented on screen. He felt larger than cinematic life, a character that demanded to exist – at times affable, other times offensive, all the time a risk, a liability unto himself. A time bomb with a blood alcohol level as a countdown. As such characters are in real life, he’s both frightening and exciting, making him fun to be around, so long as you can handle the inevitable crash.
In the first scene I wasn’t sure where it would go, an opening monologue paying tribute to his own masculine prowess. I thought it might go down the path of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Bronson‘, which I was not a fan of (while many were, I felt it rode too close to being over the top a little too often). But the scene ends perfectly, and you immediately get the title – the ill-educated but articulate street crim, hence ‘Hemingway’. The scene captures the essence of the character, the passion, the anger, the verbosity – then the charm and the carelessness that follows. I was definitely intrigued, but it was the next scene that was so great, yet so shocking – I can’t even talk about it without ruining it. It’s symbolic of the juxtaposition that underlines the whole film – yes, it’s funny, but there’s also serious consequences to being the guy who doesn’t care, who can’t keep his emotions in check. For every laugh, there’s a sorrow, and the depth of that emotion is what really brings the film into it’s own. Shepard could have made it lighter, could have played down the impacts of these moments, but he allows the viewer to dwell in them, just long enough each time, just enough to sink you beneath the water with no hope, seeing the sunlight shivering above the surface – and then we’re back, Dom moves onto the next option, taking the audience along for the next chapter of the ride (and speaking of chapters, I liked the text on screen dividers, which can sometimes fall flat or be pretentious).
The thing about Dom Hemingway is everyone wants to be him. Everyone wants to be as charming and witty and be able to say what we really think, just unleash with no consideration of the consequences. Even in the face of death, Dom still can’t resist telling it like it is, and it’s refreshing and awakening. We’d all love to be able to just let it go like Dom does and go on three day benders with no concern for our everyday lives. But we can’t. That’s why Dom exists, he’s the embodiment of that escapist streak. But to be Dom comes also with the downside, the failure, and Dom certainly feels that, over and over. In the end you just hope he’s taken in the lessons, that he’s going to stay on the level enough to remain present. But you know he won’t. And it’s heartbreaking, but beautiful at the same time. Dom Hemingway is the epitome of ‘larger than life’, the personification of rebellion and good times, and a reminder of why that lifestyle is something most of us leave behind.
It’s a complex, intelligent and thoughtful film and it’s stayed with me for days after as I’ve mentally noted the depth and the art of it. It has style, skill in it’s execution, and I can’t fault it on any level. The only criticism I have is that I wanted more – which is the probably best way to end a film about such a character. You’ll always want more Dom Hemingway, but you know, after everything, how it’s going to end. Maybe best to get off before the real tragedy starts to kick in.
Spike Jonze sets himself a tough task in his first feature film screenplay. He needs to make the audience believe that a man can fall in love with a voice. In ‘Her’, he succeeds, but goes even further than that. This is the best film I’ve seen in dealing with the heartache of breaking up and the wandering of loneliness. The attention to detail is amazing – the film is set in a not-to-distant future, but that’s never the focus, it’s the backdrop for the characters’ every day life. There is no time wasted on exposition, explaining the future, it just is. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent and is really coming into his own as an actor since that weird mockumentary film that never really worked. Amy Adams, too, once again proves herself to be a major talent worthy of significant roles.
I noted after I’d seen Her that ‘if you’ve never been in love and had your heart broken, this film might not be for you. For everyone else – must see’. I felt every emotion that main character Theodore Twombly felt, it had me from the start. And the subtle way Jonze plays the emotional notes, without ever overplaying or getting caught up in the scenery is pure genius. Jonze has a great sense of the romantic and can find simple, beautiful moments in the mundane. Just like real life, if you have a moment to take it in. His preceding short film ‘I’m Here‘ had similar moments that captured that perfect feeling of being so lost in love that you’d give anything for this person (literally, in that film). There are moments in Her that I found extremely moving, moments that made me want to be more open to the world. That’s the most any art can do, move you to open your mind and want to experience more of life.
I can’t recommend Her enough, an amazing film, well written, well acted, well executed. You should go see it, as soon as you can.
It’s the dream of almost every writer to have a book published. But close behind that is the dream of having your book turned into a Hollywood movie. I got somewhat close to having this, sort of. Here’s what happened:
When my novel ‘Rohypnol’ was published in 2007 we were contacted by a couple of groups interested in the film rights. I had no idea about this stuff, I still had stars in my eyes about having my book in Borders, so I took the advice of my publishers on what to do, who to listen to, etc. There were four groups trying to buy the rights to ‘Rohypnol’, which was awesome, and in my head, it meant it was definitely getting made. But the film world is incredibly complex, there are so many variables when seeking film funding – you’re asking investors (producers) to put up millions of dollars on the promise of a return, I can understand why there are many hoops to jump through.
I met with one producer and director combo in Melbourne. The director was Amiel Courtin-Wilson, who has gone on to do some fantastic short and feature film work in recent years. Amiel was a really cool guy and seemed really into the project, had a good vision, I liked everything about him. But there was one other group who had got in contact with us late in the piece which were pretty much the winner as soon as we heard them mentioned. The group was Seed Productions. Seed Productions was owned by Hugh Jackman, his wife, Deborah Lee Furness and their business partner John Palermo. They were working on a a couple of major films (Deception and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) so they had the contacts – and it was Hugh Jackman, of course he knew people who knew how to get a film made. Seed were the safest bet to go with – they had a clear funding plan, they wanted to get moving on the project straight away. They were the ones. So I signed the film rights over to them.
I started working with John, who had asked me to take a shot at writing the screenplay. I hadn’t written a screenplay before, but I’d read all the books and who’s going to say no to having at writing a Hollywood screenplay? We went through a few drafts, with John giving me regular feedback and sending me reference books and DVDs to help get the story down. By the end of that process I was reasonably happy with the screenplay. I was pretty sure it needed work, but it felt okay as a starting point – it didn’t feel way off. Seed then signed up a director for the project, Kris Moyes. Kris was best known for his music video work, but he’s always working on major art projects, amazing stuff. I was a big fan of his video for ‘Are You The One?’ by The Presets. In fact, when I saw that video had won the ARIA award for best video I thought it would be awesome to get that guy as the director of ‘Rohypnol’. And there he was. Kris is one of those guys who’s way cooler than you. Not in a bad way, he’s one the most down to earth, easy going guys you’ll ever meet, and I really liked him, but he’s cool in that he can, say, wear some outlandish kaftan in public and totally pull it off without looking like a douche. The sort of guy who you’ll run into in the strangest of places and it’ll seem completely normal that he’d be there. ‘Cause he’s cool, he can just do whatever and make it cool. His ideas were great, he was keen, everything was moving in the right direction.
Of course, this is over the course of a year or so by now. John was based in LA wo we’d go back and forth via e-mail and I’d write and re-write and wait for his feedback, like everything in publishing, things take time. After probably a year and a half we got to a point where we needed to get an expert to go over the screenplay and fix it up. Andrew Bovell was one of the names put up as someone who might be able to go over it, which was great – Andrew wrote the screenplay for Christos Tsiolkas’ book ‘Loaded’ (the film was called ‘Head On’) and ‘Lantana’ which was a great film. But that never came about, Andrew was working on something else and wasn’t able to do it. I met with Kris and John at Seed’s offices in Fox Studios in Sydney and we went over where everything was at then things got real quiet for a long time. ‘Wolverine’ was getting close to release so I figured they had a heap on, so no problem. Both Kris and I got VIP tickets to the cast and crew screening of ‘Wolverine’, which was pretty cool then after that nothing. For ages and ages.
Kris and I stayed in contact for a little bit, but he had other projects overseas so that sort of faded out and I’d heard nothing from Seed for months and months. Then one day I read on a news website that Seed Productions had shut down. The guys had decided to part ways, with Wolverine being their only major production credit. After I read this, I sent an e-mail to the Seed guys saying I guess this means the film is no go, and thanking them for their time and efforts and for giving me a chance to be a part of the process. Hugh sent me a polite e-mail back, wishing me all the best and that was it. By now the book was a few years old, no longer in stores – the ‘heat’ of the book was gone and the film offers had died down. It’s been under offer a few times since, but it’s never gone any further. It’s disappointing, but that’s how it is with film stuff, so I’m told. A whole lot of things have to align for you to get the green light, even if you are working with a major company or a company with major contacts. I still hold onto the dream that it might one day get made, but it’s pretty unlikely now. I never met Hugh Jackman. People always ask this, but no, I never met him. I think one time I was in the Seed offices just after he’d left, that’s the closest I got, other than via e-mail.
So despite the disappoinment, I really did enjoy the process. Being able to work with John and Kris and just the excitement of working on the possible film adaptation was amazing. John went on to produce the excellent ‘Drive’ with Ryan Gosling – which was interesting to see because after reading the book of ‘Drive’ I could relate the transition from book to screenplay to some of the advice John had given me as we went through ‘Rohypnol’. Kris is always working on something ridiculously amazing, living a life of creativity we can only dream of – you can see his stuff here. And Hugh Jackman is doing something, somewhere, I don’t know, he faded out a little bit after that.
And that’s the story of how my book nearly, almost got made into a real movie. I’d already imagined myself in a tux on opening night too. That’s how it goes.
Here it comes – we’re nearing year’s end so get ready to see list after list of top tens. Rather than fight it, I’m going with it (though I’ll only go five to save you from fatigue) – here are some of the best films I saw in 2013:
I’ve written about Mud briefly here, but definitely Mud was my favourite film of the year. It was released in 2012, but only made it to Australia in 2013, so I’m counting it. For people who think traditional film storytelling is being pummelled into submission by visual effects, a never-ending number sequels and movies based on board games, you should check this out. McConaughey is great in this.
The most tense, gripping film I’ve seen this year was Prisoners. The story was clever and compelling, forcing the viewer to question not only which character was behind the crime, but what lengths would be acceptable to obtain the answer (reminded me of the also excellent ‘Unthinkable‘ which is definitely one to check out also). Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman are so good in this movie – Jackman’s best performance ever, in my opinion (yeah, he is Wolverine, but in a dramatic sense, this is a better performance).
3. The Kings of Summer
So good. I’d read some of the buzz about this film and it definitely lives up to everything promised. As a comedy, it’s pitch perfect and the dramatic elements are weaved through, so you’re not quite sure which way it’s going till the conclusion. The lead actor, Nick Robinson, is someone we’re going to see a lot more of in future films, no doubt.
4. Captain Phillips
I only saw this recently, but it’s right up there with the best things I’ve seen for the year. Going in, I wondered whether they would be able to sustain the tension of a whole film (as this is based on a true story), and early on I had my doubts (Tom Hank’s accent seemed odd in the first scenes and the pace takes a moment to kick in), but it’s an amazingly well done film. Director Paul Greengrass knows momentum and story has become such a good film-maker. Captain Phillips continuously raised the stakes as the film moves along and Hanks gets better and better, till the final scenes, where he delivers five minutes of pure acting brilliance.
5. Monsters University
When I head Pixar were doing another ‘Monsters’ film, I thought they might be coming off the rails. ‘Brave’ was good, but not up to their usual brilliant standards and ‘Wreck it Ralph’ the same, entertaining, but just some flaws that you usually wouldn’t get from the perfectionists at Pixar (note: a reader has corrected me on this, Wreck-it-Ralph is not Pixar). The first time I saw Monsters Inc, I thought it was okay, but in subsequent viewings (I have two young kids, I’ve watched it a lot) I’ve come to really like it. Even if you stop seeing it as a Monsters film, as a college film, it’s right up there with the best. And I loved the message in the end, that life is what you make of it. Great film.