Romantic comedies are to men what science-fiction is to women: part mystery, part cautionary tale. Men do not “get” rom-coms because they are not aimed at men. A good rom-com is about sympathy, tears, good clothes and sisterhood. Like sci-fi, it offers enjoyment based on strict adherence to convention. There must be: a woman (age 25-35) who is torn between two prospective husbands; a best friend who is slightly less attractive than the lead; a sing-along scene; much falling over and a happy ending (in sci-fi you replace the humans with aliens and the sing-along with a space battle). 27 Dresses (if you follow this scheme) is The Wrath of Khan, with weddings.
Ever since John Woo realised two guns were better than one, Hong Kong has been the Sorbonne of action movies. Exiled, the latest offering from relative neophyte Johnny To, is a fine and bloody addition to a pantheon that includes: A Better Tomorrow, Bullet in the Head and, of course, the incomparable Hard Boiled (or Boiled Egg, to borrow a friend’s malapropism). Whether Hong Kong movies are any good is almost a moot point (look at Wong Kar Wai; he’s been cranking out nonsense for years). Hong Kong gave movies adrenaline, a try-anything infusion. Gangsters need two guns in Hong Kong, almost because (in Hong Kong) there’s more to shoot.
Anthony Minghella was Britain’s best director. Bar none. Don’t come to me with your Mike Leighs, your Ken Loachs. British cinema, as I’ve said in the past, is bloody miserable for the most part. Our celebrated directors make movies only a paltry number actually watch… full of drab minutiae, dampened hopes… Timothy Spall. I know there are those who thought Minghella made chocolate-box movies, that his every shot screamed bourgeois. But to his critics I say: bite me. Who else makes such movies? Good movies based on literature are, as Dr. Johnson said: “Like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Movie love stories are about memory, mostly. Think of Love Story, Annie Hall… even Titanic is about a recollected love affair. Why? Because we’re idiots, frankly. Most people can’t go five minutes without fondly remembering the previous four. In love, it’s times a million. Are we wrong? In what we remember: yes. But misremembering is part of what makes us human. If we all thought the same, we’d be ants. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind asks the age-old question: if you had your life to live over, would you live it differently? Its characters decide they wouldn’t. Their bad memories fade… Who’s to say what makes a “bad” memory anyway.
Once upon a time there was a movie called The Princess Bride, and it flopped. After it flopped, it became a big hit on home video. Ever since then, movie producers have toiled to recreate The Princess Bride formula, to little avail. “Why did it flop first time around?” you ask. Well, it flopped because (and I preface this by saying I’m a fan): it looked like a TV movie; it had the worst score ever committed to film; and because no-one had heard (or ever would hear again) of anyone in it. But, as I say, in hindsight, everybody loved it. Will everybody grow to love Stardust? It’s well-made, it stars stars, it’s funny and romantic, but… is it the new Princess Bride?
This could be great. I realise “could be” is a phrase loaded with doom in Hollywood; that every movie could be great, if only it had the right director, the right star, the right luck. But here is a great novel that paints a world as you read it. It is beautifully written, and at the same time (this is rare) it’s filled with moments that would work equally well on film. The Brief History of the Dead is – it’s true – not easy to categorise; it wouldn’t fit neatly into any one genre, but with its viral Apocalypse, its city of lost souls and its Antarctic survival story, it reads like everything What Dreams May Come could have been, if it hadn’t stalled in heaven… if it had grasped life.
As cruel and venal as Hollywood is, the bastards still love fairytales. No matter how great the influence of corporate America and corporate thinking, Hollywood, at heart, still roots for The Little Engine That Could. That’s why the Sundance Festival is made to feel important. That’s why Jim Jarmusch has a career. And that’s why Once became such a phenomenon with the insiders… because by believing they could make it a hit. If it had cost fifty mill and starred Catherine Zeta it would have been that cookery movie, and you’d never have heard of it. As it is, it cost three grand, starred a busker and some Czech girl… and won an Oscar. As it is, it’s a wishing well.
Try this for a movie premise: a stroke victim dictates his autobiography via a system of blinks. We almost never leave the hospital setting. The patient does not recover from his illness. And our hero is an adulterer. You wouldn’t get past a studio exec.’s dog with that pitch in Hollywood. You might make it in Britain, if you took out the sex, the brio, and the joie de vivre. But if ever there was a quintessentially French movie premise, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is it. Our hero, editor of Elle, adulterer, intellectual, gourmand… is France. He has an ineffable, intoxicating French-ness that makes some of us (ok, me) root for him immediately. Call it je ne sais qua.
Nietzsche doesn’t sit well with movies. Cinema likes happier philosophers. Der Wille zur Mach, or “the will to power” isn’t a popular notion when writing movie heroes. Audiences don’t generally want men of will. We like men of the people, friendly guys. What will distress most people about There Will Be Blood isn’t the violence, it’s the egotism. Daniel Day-Lewis plays an anti-hero like no other (save Scarface); a man driven to succeed not by greed, or ambition, but by will. It is a performance, and a movie, that takes a singular approach to tragedy. Because Daniel Plainview isn’t flawed. He is perfect. He is the apotheosis of godlessness; a man possessed by his self.