The Sea Beast

My daughter has correctly identified Moana as possibly Disney’s greatest film. (Possibly anyone’s greatest film, in fact. Come on, fight me.) So we were looking forward to seeing The Sea Beast, Chris William’s new Netflix backed animated picture. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be in the same territory.

Spoon feeding the audience, when they are quite capable of feeding themselves…

Well, it’s in exactly the same territory, of course – the water.  If you don’t watch the whole movie, everyone should at least see the first fifteen minutes, which features maybe the greatest sea battle ever filmed, full of wonderfully detailed and nuanced animation and clear, spectacular action.

What was that? Moby who?

The script, on the other hand, is where nuance went to die. Here is a film that demonstrates that writing children is hard. Orphan stowaway Maisie Brumble is sweet, but she has a lot of terribly on the nose dialogue.

In her scene with her protector Jacob, she tells him, ‘All you have is me and all I have is you. And that don’t sound so bad. What do you say? Shall we give it a go?’ ‘You mean like a family?’ he asks. ‘Sure,’ she tells him.

Cute enough for you?

It’s a nice sentiment… but if you’ve watched the film you’ll know that this emotional landscape has just been far better expressed and explored using the body language of the two characters in the previous fifteen seconds. We can read everything we need to know about the feelings of the people in this scene from the way they hold their shoulders and move their eyes.

Adding all this talky-talky-talking simply diffuses the power of the moment. This film is full of wonderful character animation, facilitated by software that allows incredible, painstaking detail. Early in the movie the way that Captain Crow carefully turns his shot glass on his tabletop tells us more about him than two pages of dialogue. So could we please retain the confidence to tell more of the story that way?

Episode 19: Hammer Time

Ancient gods meet the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this episode, as Thor: Love and Thunder clashes with 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts. Join us for epic tales of the Quest for the Three S’s: swords, sandals and semi-naked men.  But it turns out there’s more than just escapism on screen, as the two films also tell a parallel story about how ideas of empowerment and responsibility have changed over the last sixty years…

Marie Antoinette and the Suspended Plot Point

We watched Sofia Coppola’s feature Marie Antoinette (2006) this weekend. Goodness knows what inspired the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola to make a film about how hard it is being the offspring of a great emperor.

Never Mind The Hairdo, Here’s the Queen of France

The costumes are doing the heavy lifting here, supported by some great hair and the easy charisma of Kirsten Dunst. The eclectic soundtrack certainly catches your attention, but also underlines that incongruous music programming isn’t as easy as Stanley Kubrick makes it look. (I bet Sofia Coppola met Kubrick when she was a girl, didn’t she? According to John Baxter’s biography he approached Francis Ford Coppola about funding A Clockwork Orange.)

But if there’s one big problem the film suffers from I’d call it The Suspended Plot Point.

Hold it … and resolve

If you play guitar or piano you’ll know the power of the suspended chord. That sus4 that hangs in the air begging to be resolved. The chord naturally makes you will it to move on, begging to turn into a triad. It’s a well used, simple musical trick. But if you play the same chord in the same song for fifty five minutes, even if the drums and the bass are still hammering along, people might be inclined to press skip.

Pretty vacant

For more or less the whole middle hour of Marie Antoinette, the story teeters on the issue of when and whether her husband Louis-Auguste will consummate their marriage and seed her with an heir to the throne of France. They aren’t doing it, and they continue not doing it for a long, long time. We get the same urgent encouragement from Marie Antoinette’s counsel, the same plaintive letters from her mother, the same pained expressions from the Countess of Noailles again and again and again, and still, nothing happens. The whole film rides on this plot point for a very long time, and while such a device doesn’t have to bring the whole film to a stop, here it does. Character development, sub plots, they all just feel like they go into a holding pattern while we repeat the gags and enjoy looking at shoes. Eventually Louis-Auguste gets a quick sex-ed lesson and things get going again, but that feels like it leaves half an hour of the film to get the rest of the story done.

Sometimes characters can feel like they’re stuck. It’s a part of life. But that doesn’t have to mean the audience needs to do the same.

Episode 17: Elvis the Baz Singer

We’re All Shook Up this episode by the frenetic gyrations of Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic Elvis, another example of style trumping substance. But it’s hardly the first Hollywood film about white people making money out of black music – that might be The Jazz Singer, famously the first talkie (except it isn’t…) from 1927. Has cinema or the world changed as much as we hope in the last 95 years?

Show Me, then Tell Me, then Tell Me Again

So I saw the trailer for the new DC picture Black Adam the other day. I don’t know much about the character, he’s played by Dwayne Johnson, he looks bad-assed, a bunch of things blow up. But one thing about the trailer really stuck in my mind as a potent symbol of contemporary cinematic story telling.

I don’t like rockets

Towards the end of the trailer, Black Adam is standing next to a Jeep, or a kind of SUV type car, you know the sort of thing, and some third party launches a rocket at it. So, here we go, Jeep, rocket, something’s going to blow up. But no! Black Adam catches the rocket. We see him catch it. He’s clearly holding it in his hand. He caught it. Well, that’s bad assed. Guy caught a rocket.

Then the guy who’s in the Jeep says, ‘Did he just catch that rocket?’ Slowly and clearly. Just in case any of us watching the trailer weren’t able to understand what the action of seeing a rocket launched through the air and then ending up in the hands of bad-ass-guy meant. Underlining it, you know. Or just pointing out the bleeding obvious, as we sometimes like to say. Pretty annoying.

THEN the woman sitting in the Jeep, the same Jeep, sitting next to the ‘I like to say things out loud’ guy, SHE says, ‘He just caught that rocket.’


I think Black Adam is going to struggle at the box office if the final cut comes in at six hours long, but I don’t see how they can avoid it with this new screenwriting strategy of having two different people vocally describe every action as it happens.

                                   Page 705.
Black Adam opens the door.
Did he just open that door?
He just opened that door.
Black Adam looks around the room.
He’s looking around the room.
Yeah, he seems to be looking around the room.

Episode 16: Popcorn Counter: Monsters

Don’t believe what your parents told you, monsters are definitely real. After watching Godzilla and Jurassic World, we talk at the Popcorn Counter about a few of our favourite monster pictures, explain why we’re wary of swimming in three feet of water and lament the end of the broadcast television late night scare movie.

Father of the Bride (1991)

We sometimes struggle to find family films to please everyone in our house. My children really dislike violence on screen, and it’s only when watching older films through their eyes that I realise how very violent many of the films I watched as a boy were. Roger Rabbit? They dissolve the cartoon characters in acid like a scene from Breaking Bad. Star Wars? Luke returns home to find the charred, smoking corpses of his family littered across the ground. Raiders of the Lost Ark? The face melting, the guy chopped up into pieces by the aeroplane propeller, it’s endless. Oof, there’s so much terrible violence that it’s astonishing now to recall that it was all considered perfectly acceptable family entertainment at the time.

All good family fun

So last Saturday night we gravitated, as we have a few times before, to one of mainstream cinema’s true safe houses: a Steve Martin film. Has he not been the poster boy for wholesomeness for most of his career? Here is actor who seems to have been far more careful about his choices than most, and as a result his name on a poster feels like a code word for … well, I’m going to say cosy. I could say safe and unchallenging, but I think that would be unkind, and rather missing the point.

Wholesome, wholesome, wholesome

Father of Bride was our pick. It’s a sweet 1991 remake of a Spencer Tracy picture from 1950, and it retains a lot of that 1950s white-bread fantasy-land feel. (There’s a new HBO re-remake this year that apparently gives the story a bit more of a 21st century update, but I haven’t seen it.) The script was written by Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers, previously responsible for Private Benjamin (I wonder how that movie looks these days?).

Have you ever played Resident Evil?

For all the middle-class-wealthy-white-people-problems that haven’t aged spectacularly well (very rich family goes to visit even richer very rich family, oh how we feel their pain…) there is some tremendous, laugh out loud physical comedy in this film, with one scene that stands out above all others.  Steve Martin is snooping through his prospective son-in-law’s parents’ house when he gets caught by the parents’ dogs, climbs out through a window and ends up in the pool.  It’s perfectly paced, with some wonderful, understated clowning.  But what makes it stand out in 2022 is that at no point does Martin do what far too many movie protagonists do currently: talk to himself.  It seems like no-one could write a script now that wouldn’t have the character nosing through the prescription drugs in the bathroom cabinet and mumbling to himself, ‘Hmm, what drugs are they taking?’ before then moving on to the desk and saying, ‘Ah ha!  A cheque book!  I wonder what his bank balance is?’ and then turning to the door and telling himself, ‘Oh, no, the dogs!’  

I’ve said this before, but many people I talk to think that screenwriting is dialogue writing.  Really it’s almost the opposite.  You know you’ve written the scene well when there’s no need for dialogue at all.

Episode 15: The Jurassic Error

We’ve been to see Jurassic World Dominion for this episode, the sixth movie in a franchise that now feels a little like it dates back 65 million years. There’s a lot of stuff on fire in this film, but can it hold a candle to 1954’s Godzilla, the original Jurassic monster movie that stamped out the template for resurrected dinosaur flicks with its enormous, three toed foot?