Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pyjama Girls

Directed by: Maya Derrington

Rating: 7/10

Anyone who frequents Dublin’s inner city knows to whom this title refers; a particular social group who walk the streets wearing obnoxiously brightly-coloured pyjamas. These girls are not from one particular area of Dublin but often seem to be found near Dublin City Council flats. Maya Derrington’s intimate documentary chooses one such girl and follows her for a few months in2009.
The wonderful thing about Pyjama Girls is that it does not try to be shocking, it doesn’t try to attack the culture that bred these girls, it doesn’t try to condescend to anyone; the film merely shows, very personally, the lives that these girls lead. Our leading lady, Lauren, while not always likeable, is brave and honest and clearly never allows the camera to influence her actions and reactions. She proves a perfect subject as she hides nothing, nor is she ashamed of anything. Her reasoning for wearing pyjamas is slightly odd though, as she claims they wear them around “the flats” because they are like one big house and it feels normal to just wear your pyjamas around. So why wear them into town? Who knows? That question was left unanswered, but the film alludes to the idea that society cares little for these girls so they care little for society’s norms.  This may be a rather grandiose claim, but one that may, in some way, be true.
Personally I was expecting a documentary about the phenomenon of the pyjama girls and how widespread it is, but what this film does is far more intimate. Perhaps my questions about these girls who swarm all over my local Spar were left largely unanswered, but the content itself is sincere and touching enough to make up for that and this is ultimately and engaging and enjoyable human drama.
-          Charlene Lydon


Written by: Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone

Directed by: Jorma Taccone

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillipe, Val Kilmer

Rating: 2/10

Saturday Night Live may be responsible for some of the greatest comedy of our generation but for every Wayne’s World there’s a Night at the Roxbury and for every Blues Brothers there’s a Coneheads. Unfortunately, MacGruber is strictly in the latter category. Based on the popular Will Forte MacGruber sketches, which parody 80’s classic action TV show McGuyver, this is one stinker of a movie that truly fails to stretch out the sketch to feature length.
A bad start is stealing your opening sequence from Hot Shots: Part Deux and Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls. This says it all about the film. It is infuriatingly contrived and the jokes fall flat as pancakes. The plot sees revered renegade hero MacGruber called out of retirement after a nuclear warhead is stolen by the evil Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer). There’s a silly back-story about Von Cunth killing MacGruber’s bride and some crap about seeking revenge on a driver who disrespected him. This is a very stupid film.
Having said that, there are some funny moments mostly due to the tremendous Kristen Wiig. Val Kilmer doesn’t quite work as the evil Von Cunth and for the record, the Cunth joke was funny the first time but it got old very quickly. However, there are some good moments of banter between the two and Kilmer does look like he’s having great fun. Unfortunately, despite a few laughs, the character of MacGruber is not very likeable and unlike a character like Austin Powers, he isn’t very clever. This makes it very hard to care about anything that happens in the course of the film.
A huge part of the problem is the casting. Will Forte is just not a leading man. He is smug and arrogant and lacks the charisma to make that charming. When movie stars show up as guests on SNL we all laugh at the outrageous performances they give and go along with their mannered comic timing for the good of it all. Here Kilmer and Phillipe feel just like that. They feel like awkward guest stars out of their depth. Kilmer has done comedy before, and done it well. Here, however, he just doesn’t pull it off. Ryan Phillipe is just a victim of poor casting. He plays the straight man to Forte’s lunatic but he is not able to rise above the fact that he just doesn’t have the chops for comedy. The female cast do much better as Kristen Wiig proves yet again that she is a force to be reckoned with and the lovely Maya Rudolph is suitably campy as MacGruber’s wife’s ghost.
You might find a few things to laugh at here and there in this action comedy but overall this film is a big waste of time. MacGruber is boring, unoriginal and suffers from an inexplicable awkwardness throughout. Not worth the price of admission.

- Charlene Lydon


Written by: Bob DeRosa, Ted Griffin
Directed by: Robert Luketic
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara
Rating: 7/10
In this day and age, the standard of fluffy rom-coms has sunk so low that any film of that type that doesn’t leave me fuming and offended as I leave the cinema gets a tremendous amount of goodwill from me. It sounds like the easiest thing to do; make a silly piece of brain candy that is so fun and silly that you forget that it has no cultural or artistic value whatsoever. Well, unfortunately, if recent memory serves me (and believe me, it does, vividly) there have been some absolutely horrific examples of the genre in the past year.  Killers, fortunately falls into the former category of inoffensive nonsense that provides giggles, thrills and a good spirit.
Killers opens with lovelorn Jen (Heigl) on holidays in Nice with her parents, disturbingly comic alcoholic Catherine O’Hara and protective and stern Tom Selleck. As they check into their hotel she meets half-naked Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) and, as any woman would, falls head over heels in love with him. What she doesn’t know is that he is a CIA hitman who is in town on a mission to blow up a helicopter. However, soon after he meets Jen he decides he wants a clean slate and quits the CIA forever. Soon they are married and loving every minute of each other and their life. However, it isn’t long before Spencer’s old life catches up with him.
This film is not very inventive, nor does it tickle the funny bone as much as it could but it really is an enjoyable romp with a genuine sense of good intentions. The chemistry between the leads is great and, as a couple, the characters match well enough for the audience to engage with them. Heigl is a bit bland as always but she is likeable enough as the vulnerable and fastidious Jen. However, it is surprisingly Ashton Kutcher who provides the warm heart of the film. We all knew he could achieve levels of comic genius at time with his portrayal of lovable moron Kelso in That 70’s Show, but who knew he could give an underwritten character like Spencer some depth. There is a pleasant mix of heroic integrity and underlying sadness to Spencer, and this lends the film some subtle but much-needed poignancy. I suppose one of the most admirable things about this film is that it allows the audience to feel for Spencer but without falling into the third act sap trap.
This is a silly film, with nothing much to say. It is 100% fluff and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. But Ashton Kutcher proves a likeable leading man and a pretty cool action hero, which raises this to the status of decent popcorn movie. Do not expect anything inventive with this film, but take it for what it is and you might just have a great time!
-          Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Melissa Rosenberg Interview

Melissa Rosenberg is one of U.S. television’s most prominent writers with credits such as Ally McBeal, The Outer Limits, The O.C. and most recently Dexter. However, these days she’s more well-known as the poor soul who must adapt the Twilight novels into screenplays. This month sees the release of Eclipse, the third in the series and a considerably darker film than its predecessors. Melissa spoke to TD about her work on the Twilight series, why she loves Dexter so much and the reason why US television drama is so damn good nowadays.

The Twilight franchise is outrageously popular. Is it daunting to take on the challenge of adapting the novels?

Well I’m thrilled to be a part of it, that’s for sure. It is daunting. And its also surreal. It’s so separate from my day to day life. I wake up, I go to my office and I sit at my computer and I have to come up with the next idea which is a very humbling experience. It’s very grounded, day in day out. It’s just me and my dog hanging out in my office every day and then you go out and you see this frenzy that surrounds the movies and all this connection and you think “wow, I wrote those”. It’s very divorced from reality for me.

What approach do you take to the material in terms of making it cinematic?

Film is a visual medium, the direction, the actors can tell so much more than dialogue can so very often what I’m doing is actually taking dialogue away so that the actors can tell the story with a look or a visual representation. It’s really about letting the visual tell the story and not just dialogue. I think a lot of people think writing screenplays is about writing dialogue but that’s just a very, very small part of what the screenwriter does.

Each film has had a different director? Has this had any effect on your work?
Catherine (Hardwicke) was the only director who was onboard before I was. I worked very closely with Catherine on Twilight because I had a very short period of time to write that one. I had the very definite deadline of the writers strike that was looming. She was a very close collaborator on that but the other two I was onboard before the directors.

Eclipse is much darker in tone than the previous two novels. Did you embrace the darkness of Eclipse?

I completely agree. It is darker. And the stakes just continue to grow and I completely embraced it. My job is to really bring the novel to the screen. There have always been dark undertones to all the Twilight movies but this one gave me the freedom to go even darker. It’s kind of my natural tendency anyway. I like dark. I like edgy.

Why is the Twilight franchise so popular?

I would say its two-fold. One, you have the character of Bella who is such a universal character. She is the “everygirl”. Everyone can see themselves in her. So you have a character that brings you into a world and everything is told from her perspective so you have a very intimate guide into the world. And then you place this character into this very epic romance. It’s so evocative for older people of their youth and the rush of  first love and for younger people its just everything you could hope for. So, it’s a combination of these two things. This very intimate, real character to invest in and then placing her in a world that is the ultimate situation we all yearn for…the ultimate romance.

Your background is mostly in television. Do you think adapting a series of books is more comfortable for you than a standalone film?

I think adapting a movie as rich as Twilight is a different kind of challenge than producing a standalone film. It’s such rich material to play around in. Writing this series of books is not unlike writing for television because of the continuing storyline and the same characters and there are four books and serialised storytelling is what I have been doing for many years so I ended up playing to my strengths. When I first signed on to do Twilight I approached it as a standalone film. I didn’t read the other books because I wanted to experience it as the audience experience it. Coming into this world from Bella’s perspective and not knowing more. So as soon as I finished writing Twilight I went home and quickly read the other books, delved into the thick mythology. So Twilight started out as a standalone film. It’s a challege, you’re kind of writing in a vaccuum. You’re inventing everything anew for the screen. There’s something freeing about it, you’re not locked into any voice or character but there’s also something very challenging about it writing for characters you know really well, pushing them into new places.

There’s a rumour that the next film Breaking Dawn is to be split into two parts. Do you have a preference between one film or two films?
Well, I think its still up in the air. My preference would be for two films. it’s a really dense novel. There’s a lot of story in there.

Your career has mainly been focussed on TV, with shows such as The O.C., Ally McBeal and Dexter. People say TV is going through its best and worst time ever regarding quality. TV drama is better than ever but there’s a lot of terrible reality TV out there too. Do you have any thoughts on this?

I honestly feel that some of the best writing in the film industry in general is going on in television. And that has a lot to do with cable coming to the forefront. Cable is a very creative place to be. On network television you’re writing twenty episodes per season. You’re lucky if you get to write a second draft of a script. The time limitations are not particularly conducive to good writing. So when you have a successful, high quality network show its amazing. I’m always in awe of the people who can pull that off because it’s very difficult. With cable, you’re doing only ten or twelve episodes and you have time. On Dexter, we have four episodes written before we even start shooting. And quality has everything to do with rewriting and time. Yes, you can pop something out quickly and it can be good but the more time you get to spend with your script the better the work. I’ve had more time on the last couple of Twilight movies so they keep getting better. Quality is rewriting.

The cable shows, from HBO and Showtime are wildly popular over here on DVD. Your theory translates well…
They’re extraordinary. They can tell really, really intricate stories and really unusual stories. They don’t have the censorship guidelines that the network have. They have to be pushing the envelope or they don’t stand out. And, as a writer, its just heaven. For me the possibilities of television, as a writer, has become wonderfully expansive.

So, Dexter is a cable programme. Did you find that a positive working experience.

Dexter is my favourite working experience of all time.

Why do we love Dexter so much? What is it that makes us root for him, in your opinion?

I always approach Dexter like he’s an alien and he’s landing on the planet and he’s exploring what it is to be human and there’s such an innocence about that and a vulnerability. He really doesn’t know what it is to be human, he’s just so dissociated and damaged. So he’s gone through life making a study of what it is to be human so he can pass as one. But he also, over the course of four seasons become more and more human with each episode. It’s very, very gradual. So we root for him to reach there and then he surprises us by showing us the monster inside him. This is not a vigilante. This is a beast! That’s what I love most about Dexter. The audience is invested in him and we’re shouting “yeah! Kill that guy!” and he kills him and then we see the evil in it, we see the monster in him and I think its reflective of the monsters within ourselves. Its really also an allegory about the death penalty in a way. Are we willing to pull the switch?

Is it easier returning to a character each week than writing for all new characters in each feature film?

Well, its interesting because each situation presents different challenges. On one hand you know the voice of your character. You know how this character that you know so well is going to respond. On the other hand you have to push the character into new territory. Where can you go with this character? It really forces you to push your own limitations and to really go places you wouldn’t normally go.

Have you got any other TV projects in the works or is it going to be Dexter and Twilight for the forseeable future?

Actually I am sorry to say I have left Dexter. After four years working on my favourite show I thought the time had come to move on. I’ve loved my time over the past few years working on the Twilight series and Dexter but its been pretty intense, seven days a week. I left with a very heavy heart because its been my favourite working experience to date. But I am by no means leaving television. I will always work in television. I love working in television. Its definitely a much happier place for writers than feature films.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Tracing the Roots of "The Killer Inside Me"

Film Noir and sexual violence have gone hand in hand since the genre’s inception in the 1930’s. Battered molls, stolen kisses, emotionally abused wives; they are part and parcel of what we love about film noir. From a time when it was ok to shut a brazen woman up with a sharp slap to the face, film noir was rather cavalier in its treatment of women. However, in its heyday the notorious Hays Production Code was brought into effect, which was a censorship bill which enforced the strictest possible guidelines for “appropriate” imagery in film. This is where film noir started to get really naughty. All of the sultry glamour that has become synonymous with the genre is due to the art of allusion.

While film was finding it difficult to express itself, pulp fiction novels were at their trashiest.In 1952, Jim Thompson published his novel "The Killer Inside Me" which caused a sensation due to its graphic depiction of sex and violence and most importantly, the blurred line between the two. The protagonist is Lou Ford, a sunny, charming small-town cop who moonlights as a sadomasochist and a vicious murderer. The content of the book was shocking and also seemed to be making rather grand accusations about society's attempt to gloss over the darker aspects of life and art. The character of Lou Ford acts acts as narrator and, although a completely unreliable voice, he sounds as innocent and as wholesome as Forrest Gump. The reader figures out soon enough, through his actions, that he is in fact an evil psychopath who takes pleasure in torturing the women who love him.

As a piece of literature, "The Killer Inside Me" says a lot about the era it came from. It comments on the supression of the dark side of life and the dangers of this darkness leaking out in the most unimaginable ways. The book has some very graphic examples of sexual violence and these are particularly troubling because each event is described in the first person, and even justified in a very unconvincing way by Lou. Hollywood in the 1950's was not averse to violence. In fact, violence was seen as spectacle and very popular, but it was always suggested violence, never explicit. Sexuality on the other hand was not tolerated. These restrictions are what created Film Noir. Over the years, as censorship lost its grasp, Noir has become something altogether different. The sexuality that burst from the films of the 1940's
was suddenly visible for all to see in films such as Blue Velvet and Body Heat. Although we always think of wide-brimmed hats and femme fatales and monochrome cinematography, film noir has taken on a life of its own in modern cinema. Films such as "Fatal Attraction" and "Basic Instinct" mirror the eroticism and somewhat emotionally detached sensibilities of Film Noir. More recently, films such as "L.A. Confidential" and "Brick" have embodied Noir more explicitly, openly recreating the genre and paying homage to it.

Finally, almost sixty years after its first publication, Thompson's novel is finally getting the adaptation it deserves (the rather dull 1976 film doesn't count) and it is wreaking havoc on every festival it screens at. Starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of "The Killer Inside Me" pulls no punches in its depiction of sex and violence and, sexual violence. There have been walk-outs and storm-outs and accusations flying that even the filmmakers are ashamed of themselves for creating such a nasty piece of work. Nasty is actually a fair accusation towards this film. This is a film with a dark heart, if it has one at all. Casey Affleck, perfectly cast, has created a character so believable, so hideous and so likeable (I use that term as loosely as possible) that it is easy to understand how women fall for his charms. His demeanour is so unassuming that nobody would ever suspect he hoardes so much darkness.

It took Hollywood sixty years to catch up with Thompson's book, and out of the darkness of the 1950s leaked a story that is so shocking that it can still cause uproar in our desensitised, media-savvy world.Investigating the blurred line between a little kinky fun in a sack and actual sexual violence is surely the best way to land yourself with a bunch of picketers outside your film (short of making a film with any sort of allusion to the Catholic religion). "The Killer Inside Me" is far more cavalier in its portrayal of sexual violence and because our narrator has little, if any, idea that he is a psychopath, there is nobody to condemn him. The only voice we hear is the voice of reason from Lou Ford and although any idiot can see he's not your typical hero, or even anti-hero, the violence portrayed is so frank and cruel that there is a distinct lack of judgement or condemnation going on within the film.

Despite the controversy there is much to admire in this film, most notably the impressively dark character of Lou Ford. He is a presursor to Hannibal Lecter, to Patrick Bateman, to Dexter; he was the first of the gentleman killers. When you consider this character came out of the early 1950's it is difficult not to admire him and fall in love with the story, however gruesome it may be. Sex and violence are what makes film noir, it is what shimmies off the screen and slinks into our hearts when we watch Film Noir. With "The Killer Inside Me" it could be argued that Noir has come full circle, finally rid of allusion and showing audiences all the darkness they can stomach...and even more in some cases.

 - Charlene Lydon