Sunday, 28 September 2014

About Time

I am really embarassed to say I only watched this Curtis film for a first time around ten days ago. About time huh? I have no valid excuse other than I have been trying to catch up on watching all of Hugh Grant's films and TV series (except for the really scary ones!), dating as far back as 1982 (finding to buy Privileged is proving frustratingly difficult if not impossible).

Now I do love to tear a film into all its little bits and pieces and it was a joy to do so with this one. Its familiar writing, English setting and typical Curtis characters had me in dreamland for two hours (or more actually, as I kept pausing the film to take notes!). Now I don't usually do that (stop a film at all on a first viewing) but there was just so much to take in, so much also that I wanted to jot down, that it was necessary and also fun to watch it with my notepad in hand.

From the very start, the film drew me into Curtis' world with the familiar voiceover, this time by Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Tim. Not only is this a repeat of the way in which Love Actually and Notting Hill start, but it is very close to the Notting Hill scenario in that it is used to convey the main character's view of the little world that makes up his every day. Even the accent is decidedly similar to that of Hugh Grant. Only Tim is a red-haired guy of average looks and shy demeanor and reminded me more of Curtis himself when younger than the thirty-eight-year-old Hugh as William Thacker. In fact, this got me thinking. I have heard Richard say in a clip that Four Weddings and a Funeral was inspired by a real-life incident where he did meet a girl at a wedding who was staying at the same pub as him and like Charles he had decided to crash at some friends' instead. Unlike Charles, he went on to his friends' and sat there thinking 'what if'. So now I ask, what if this was his take on that night? Tim goes back in time over and over to chance dating the girl he likes.

But the similaries between Tim and Richard are nothing compared to the multitude of similarities between the script of this film and those of Curtis' other big titles. There are so many phrases that took me back in time. "I'm so sorry" (allusive to the spilt orange juice scene in Notting Hill and yet another sorry from William after the paparazzi scene), "the love of my life" (Billy Mack in Love Actually), "there is this one thing" (PM David to USA President in Love Actually) and "see what happens then, shall we?" (Bridget Jones to Daniel Cleaver) might be easy enough phrases to find time and again and so also in About Time. But not so the more elaborate "I just wondered, whether by any chance" which is quite the kind of stuttered phrase you would expect of Charles in Four Weddings and A Funeral. Also not easy to forget that "it was the day that would change my life forever" in About Time is comparable to William's "this was the day that was going to change my life forever" in the 1999 Notting Hill.

As I focus on wording and so on Tim's phrase "It was the summer of suntan and torture" I toy with the idea that torture in love also seems to be a recurrent trend for Curtis' main characters. Charles is made miserable by the thought that he is yet to find a girl he can settle down with and marry. Meanwhile William is in agony over Anna's very existence whenever they are apart. Also, in Love Actually, the Prime Minister is distressed in his original intent of ignoring Nathalie and Harry is constantly tortured by the guilt and desire of seeing Mia. The one divergence I find in Richard's style of script as compared to his older ones is his non-use of monologues. Despite that Richard finally took Hugh Grant's advise that no one in real life does that, I must agree with Richard that people do speak to themselves when alone (or at least I do!).

There are many other things in this film that had me grinning and lapsing into flashbacks of other films. Tim crashes at Harry's place at one point in the film and in his very first conversation with Harry, the latter mentions Warhol (Anna Scott and William discuss Chagall, another painter, in Notting Hill). Maybe an indication that Curtis is, like me, a lover of art that's full of bright colour? Also Harry's scruffy unkempt kitchen screams 'bachelor' and reminds me of the one used in the set that makes up W. Thacker's 'house with the blue door' (sorry if I ruined your image that there actually is a house in Notting Hill behind whose closed doors dashing Hugh acted his parts).

I could go on forever with the comparisons but I will leave it at just this last one before delving further into the plot and what makes this film tick. Right after their second 'First' date, Tim and Mary walk along a street in London in the same kind of spirit, mood and with the same interest that sees William and Anna down the road from Honey's birthday dinner to their 'whoopsidaisy' literal gatecrashing moment.

Now whilst Tim does not use Thacker's endearing phrase, his life seems full of whoopsidaisy moments that has him rushing for his dark-place time machine over and over from the very moment he is told of its existence. Curtis loves long films and good thing too, given this one would not work as a shorter version. It takes time, you know, to get your character to go back in time. And for all those of us who've said, at some point or another, how much we wish there was a time machine to take us back in order to avoid those dreadful faux-pas we've made in life, this is the film that shows us that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Isn't it lovely to go back in order to save your sister from a dreadful accident? To keep repeating those days you spent with your dad before that cold word cancer stripped him away from you? Now what if, in doing so, you lose not only the bad but also the good things that have come your way since?

This film is a lesson in gratitude. Maybe that is why the wedding here comes in the middle and not the end. This is not a romantic comedy first and foremost. Life, it seems, is more important than romance. Through love, all other things will then follow. The video montage that sees Tim and Mary forever hanging out at Maida Vale Station to the tune of 'How Long Will I Love You' might be beautifully presented (and remind me in some ways very much of the seasons sequence in Notting Hill) but it is also a hint of what is to come. They will love each other forever and therefore, not only through a wedding but also through births and deaths. Which leads me back to the film's creator who I am guessing not only believes in Love (regardless of whether marriage should be a key word) but also in Life and living it to the full, as I would hazard thinking that even the three pregnancies/babies that Tim and Mary have might have been conceived from Richard's own delightful family experiences? Which is why Tim chooses first to relive each day to make the most of it and later understands that what is important is not to go back but to make the most of what is.

This is essentially a film with a plot but that does not mean it is not also a masterpiece of writing and direction. It takes a witty person to make the conversations work here, especially in view that Tim must often blunder in order to have an excuse to go back to relive his scenes. (Which does not mean he won't blunder again!!) It also takes experience in order to direct a film that will span long years in the character's life whilst making the transitions seemless. And last but not least, it takes a good actor with impeccible pronunciation to bumble along from the start to the end of what is essentially a positive and artsy take on Life.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Procrastinating Sleep

It's a week since my last entry so I didn't want to go to sleep without at least posting something, however small. I have no long complicated article ready to upload so I will have to come up with something else interesting. Like what I did today, which wouldn't be at all interesting would it? Who cares that I set up my son's Playmobil farmhouse with a kitchen ready for breakfast and a bedroom with slippers ready by the bedside and a Playmobil girl's hat on the bed ready for her to wear? Or who would want to know that as soon as I looked at the shelf that houses our DVDs I immediately noticed something was amiss despite it looking like all was in order? I proved myself right when I found the 'About A Boy' DVD had fallen to the back of the shelf leaving a smaller amount of white on the front (I'm a bit obsessive about my DVD collection and have lately been putting all the ones with a white spine next to each other).

What you might be interested to know, however, is how long my son's bedtime ritual took! It was a hair-tearing experience (it seldom is not!) and this time he took all of ninety minutes to finally calm down in bed and accept sleep! Apparently bedtime is a nightmare for most parents and I must admit that despite having been an angelic obedient little girl myself, I always did have a problem with going to bed. Erm, truth be told, I still do! There is always something else to do, isn't there? Like read a few more pages of that book, think up the next conversation in my novel, a long bath that lasts forty minutes rather than the intended twenty... The list is endless and helps steer me away from my looming sleepy time. But what I don't get about my son's aversion to sleep, is that he does not even try to find an excuse to remain out of bed doing something. He is quite content lying in bed and calling me every minute or two to tell me he needs yet another pee, then some water, followed by milk, and then again he has a secret he must share with me despite it being one he's told me many times before and which is not a secret at all, given he tells it to everyone. So really, any excuse is a good one to avoid closing his eyes for his ten-hour sleep which he does need and complains if he doesn't get. But enough said, I must now off to my own bed in a room that will doubtlessly feel much like a sauna given the current heat, stickiness and humidity of a typical September on the Maltese islands. And with this small grumble I leave you, for I will otherwise turn this blog entry into yet another excuse to keep away from sleep. Goodnight all.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

An Awfully Big Adventure (1995)

I am writing this less than forty-eight hours after watching the film for the first time so that the impressions I got upon viewing it are with me still.

Unfortunately the DVD I bought is an Italian version so that whilst I could still watch it in English, I could not do so with English subtitles. Seeing as the film is British and lots of the actors spoke in a thick Liverpool accent I did find it difficult at times to follow which made it a little frustrating, given how I love to examine films and tend to pull each phrase in a script to pieces. However, despite this minor hiccup, as well as that I must have been expecting something a little different, I have to say the film delivered. Not only that, but it also proved to be one of those haunting ones that last with you long after the credits come up.

This one had been on my 'to watch' list for ages but it got prominence after I heard Mike Newell (the director) mention it during a commentary about 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' (also filmed under his direction) in which he was talking about Hugh Grant and praised him for his acting in this particular venture which shows, he said, how Hugh can really act and not just do the stereotypical bumbling act. And I must say how right he was, for in this film Hugh plays a disgusting villain who not even I, try as I might, could justifiably like his character. The one thing I did notice, however, was that whilst his slicked down hair, unflattering spectacles and the expression most present on Hugh's face throughout the film do correspond with his character, any fan on looking closely can still see past that at his flawless white skin, the sculpted jawline and his very light-coloured eyes, and it still pained me when he got a good blow on the face.

But away from girly fantasies and back to the film, this is one like I'd never encountered before. The story focuses on the girl Stella (Georgina Cates), who I am yet to decide whether I could call a heroine. She is thrown into a world unknown to her innocence, where I believe both the men in her life are villains. There is no knight in shining armour in this script. P.L. O'Hara, played by Alan Rickman, is portrayed in reviews and articles I'd read before watching the film as the honourable man with true intentions. But whilst that could be considered true, I found his character also hypocritical and less to my liking than Meredith Potter's (Hugh Grant's sleazy character) for with Meredith, at least, you know where you stand.

I do love to look up information about films both before and after I've watched them and it bothered me to read that Rickman admitted to the film suffering comparisons to 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. This film is so decidedly different to Newell and Hugh's 1994 romantic comedy that putting them on the same table to examine is not only a bad idea but also undeservedly puts this dark comedy in a bad light.

I have never read the book by the same name (by author Beryl Bainbridge) on which this film is based, so I cannot comment on how closely or not the original story was followed. However I will now have to look it up. For there are a lot of  things in this film which are implied rather than spelt out and whilst this makes for a more-interesting film, right up to the disillusioned end, I would now love to probe deeper into the plot, the sixteen-year-old Stella and both the men in her life.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Morning Musings and a Happy Birthday mention

I had one of those heavy dreams last night, the kind which then accompany you even after you've woken up, though at times it all seems hazy by then and not much left remembered to think upon. Maybe it explains why so many thoughts flashed through my head on the ride to work this morning. It first started with the weather. The sky is overcast, the breeze chilly, the weather has overall turned as of this morning. And so I found myself talking about it to my husband. Now the weird thing is, I never talk about the weather! Not even when it could get me out of uncomfortable situations, not even for something to say, I am not good at talking about trivialities (to my husband's dismay who is not exactly a morning person!). Then my thoughts, after this cliche, started tumbling one on top of the other willing to come out of my head as processed comprehensible thoughts. But there were too many of them to make sense out of. Maybe it was the panic at not having an entry to write this morning. For after the series of film-related articles I found myself very much dismayed at knowing there would only be real life to talk about today. But that's what it is and what I have so I'll just try to make sense out of the jumble of notes I keyed into the IPad before stopping at this cafe' for my writing session.

Firstly, it is today a very important day. Not only is Apple giving a Keynote speech this evening (or evening in Malta time I should say) but it is also the fifty-fourth birthday of a very special someone... The one person I have never met and who has yet impacted my life so much that he is worth a mention. I am talking about none other than the person who is to me the greatest, and the dearest, personality (for I wouldn't call him just a celebrity). So Happy Birthday to the lovely Hugh Grant!

Now on to a less dreamy subject and yet the subject of dreams... One thought that passed through my head fleetingly today was how dreams seldom are translated well into real life. As soon as I thought this I had a vague impression that this subject of truth versus fiction was one of the themes from one of my Sixth Form literature books. It only dawns on me now that the exact subject had been Appearance versus Reality (in the much-hated King Lear). Back then I never understood how big a deal this was for the plot to work but now life itself shows you such things. I realize many things now that I didn't back in Sixth Form. Because I was a teenager back then. What teenager truly tries to make head or tail of life's greatest truths? I was more concerned at the time with my fashionable jeans, dying my hair the right colour, and keeping my stormy relationship going.

Next up for today and my last piece of knowledge before I bore you out of your wits completely, is the idea of permanence. This too, flashed into my head today, leaving me with its bitter aftertaste. I think it is most of us that crave normality in life to a degree and trust in permanence (that niggling feeling that things will never change) helps us make decisions based upon our current way of life, living arrangement, the people currently in our life. Without these constants (be they constants for a while or forever) there would be nothing to base assumptions on, nothing on which to make informed decisions, nothing on which to base our truth. Because life is, first and foremost, a truth that might be stranger than fiction, though not always so. Whether they think about it or not, everyone has priorities that set everything else in perspective to them. Be it a dream target, a little boy who calls you 'mama' or that belief you have that will condition you on everything else, it is the things that prove permanent in our life that help us make our decisions, for better or for worse.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Geniuses at work - Part 2 of 2 - Paul Weitz

I am back, with the second part of my critical analysis of favourite film directors, this time focusing on American director Paul Weitz and my interpretation of what makes his works stand out.

American Pie and About A Boy... that sounds so wrong! And yet yes, they are two films by the same directors, the brothers Weitz, who only later split ways and started directing films separately. I have to admit teenager-geared comedies were never high on my list of impressive films, not even back when I was a teenager! So 'From the directors of American Pie' did not spell good news for an unbiased viewing of About A Boy (2002). Add the fact that I had read the book by Nick Hornby and was already decidedly against the film directors when I read they'd changed the last third of the story - THE STORY - that I regarded as a masterpiece of our time and you had a recipe for a bad review at the least.

So when I reluctantly braced myself for the first watching of the DVD I was ecstatic (yes, I am not exaggerating) that the film delivered. A story that deviates from the book, but a story that still made complete sense when not compared to the plot in the book. I also found out that Nick Hornby himself had a say in the divergence from the original. But what impressed me most, I think, was the interpretation of the characters and the wow shots that helped greatly in making this what Hugh Grant (who plays main character Will Freeman) once called "an artsy fartsy one". Maybe that's what won me over, I am a sucker for artistic rather than mainstream productions.

In Will, the Weitz brothers could mould a drastic person who is distanced not only from love (cool sequence the one featuring his breakups and his obviously cringing face) but also from life itself. Will's voiceover at the very start of the film is testament to this, this lack of a bridge between his life (his island) and other people. He later even describes life as a TV show, his particular show being "the Will show", which he points out was not an ensemble drama. Granted that this character is an invention of author Hornby, I still give credit to the Weitz team for their interpretation and the correct use of voiceovers here and there in the story to present to us the real Will and what goes on in his mind, regardless of how he is acting with the people around him at that same moment. They must have had a field day brainstorming about what this character might do and how he'd do it. Even their unendless choice of cool-laidback-guy tshirts shows the kind of person Will is (and I must say I loved the Underground map tshirt, must see if I can get one!)

The real turning point for Will in the story is the Christmas lunch and so it was right of Weitz to put in the shot on the bridge just before that Christmas scene. Will the cool guy walks along a bridge in London, not only oblivious to all around him but also literally and figuratively walking against the sea of people (who interestingly enough were not extras but people going about their day as the shooting took place without closing off the bridge).

Fast forward a few years from the release of About A Boy, quoting here a poster that says "This may be the biggest British film ever made" and Paul Weitz teamed up once again with Hugh Grant, this time for the very different and very American 'American Dreamz' (2006). I had no qualms this time about watching something by the director of American Pie AND About A Boy. In About A Boy, the Weitz team had the opportunity of dealing with an extreme character and that very extremety is one thing that drew me to the film and made it, to date, the one I would nominate for 'best book character interpretation on screen'. When it came to American Dreamz, Paul Weitz wrote the script himself, and even directed it solo, though Chris Weitz helped with the production. (And it is here that I separate the two brothers and their works, with Golden Compass being the one directed by Chris Weitz which I saw and rated in one of my previous blog entries as a horror to watch. You can find my reasons explained in said blog entry entitled 'A Horror To Watch' dated 24 May 2014).

But back to Paul and his satire about Americans (reviewed in an earlier entry entitled 'American Dreamz (2006)' dated 16 August 2014 in which I have nothing but praise for the project). If in Will Freeman he had the facility of dealing with what I would call 'the edge' that a character can tread on only carefully unless he wants to fall off, then in the stereotypes that make up American Dreamz he had free reign with 'beyond reason'. Granted, it is difficult to imagine a young woman so obsessed by fame it would top her list of priorities over love (or at least romance) and even more unreasonable to present a President of the US who seems not to have any charisma or even adequate speech skills. And yet such people do exist.

Ironically, whilst presenting stereotyped characters, Paul seems fascinated by human thoughts, reactions, the real 'them' beneath the mask. Maybe that is why he presents (albeit being a caricature of the real person Simon Cowell) a main character in Martin Tweed who despite appearing to be someone sleazy, self-absorbed, egotistical and all other things negative, has enough depth of character to really mind the fact that he is not 'lovable', this being the key word he not only uses during a conversation of sorts with his assistants, but also apparent in his eyes (amazing acting as always by Grant) and actions as he first chooses to meet up with, and later think about, Mandy Moore's character Sally Kendoo, all the while showing a self-loathing and revealing that he'd had a mother who cruelly suggested he was not talented and no one would love him. I believe this to be one of the best scenes in the film, not because Tweed mentions his mother in the same sentence as obscene language (though she truly deserved it for her cruel words to Martin which created a person who must truthfully admit that he doesn't want "the fake bullshit that passes for love in this world") but because the dialogue here has to be among the best lines of the whole film. Through not-so-friendly banter between just-met Martin and Sally, Paul is able to bring out Sally and Martin's relationship-type for future reference. What character before this one openly admits to someone's face that they're not sure whether they like them? Even the character Sally herself is shocked as soon as she's uttered the words.

If About A Boy had fascinated me into rewatching it many times in the space of a week, so did American Dreamz, for a totally different kind of likeability, have me watching it over and over. In fact I watched it through three times in the space of five days. However whereas About A Boy is the one about character development and makes for good rewatching, the stereotype-full American Dreamz does follow a plot which, once known, removes the fun out of watching it again. And yet I will always keep it fondly in my DVD library, to go back to whenever I don't mind seeing once again the tragic end that befalls Martin Tweed at the end of the film. Because for all Weitz' effort at creating a character you should love to hate and making Martin Tweed a character who knows that, I myself was bewitched by Martin Tweed and in this case, it was Paul Weitz' drastic ending to the film that was, for me, more shocking than the character he made up.

It is certainly the case that I love Weitz' work for his 'big bang' (even literal in his film from 2006) and the way he can deal with characters that are, as opposed to those of Curtis' writing, not the ones you would love to meet.