Tag Archives: film review

6 pitfalls of genre movies

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum!

How goes it, friends?

I watched a movie last week that infuriated me.

So much so that I pretty much gave up screenwriting.

Thankfully that only lasted a day.

The movie I watched was I Give It  A Year.  Watch it on Netflix here.

After much thought, I realize that it infuriated me because it could have been GREAT. But was content to be GOOD. And instead came out BAD.

In trying to figure out why it didn’t work, I learned some common pitfalls of genre movies.

  1. The conclusion cannot be inevitable.

The characters’ fate has to be in real jeopardy.

In an action movie, it’s particularly hard because we’ve seen heroes escape all kinds of peril and our expectations have inflated. But I’m sure it can be done. Don’t ask me, I write comedy.

In romantic comedies, the central question is “Will the main characters find true love?” The answer to that question CANNOT be easy. The obstacles CANNOT be easy to overcome.

In I Give It A Year, however, the answer to that question was very easy. The filmmakers set up the ending far too obviously with soundtrack choices and weak plot choices. The obstacle (there was really only one) was, in my view, non-existent. At one point, a supporting character even challenges the main character as to why he can’t reach out and grab happiness. Tellingly, he is unable to answer. The obstacle in this movie was a straw man.

That’s no fun. I want to care. I want to be gripped by a movie by characters I care about in real peril. If I already know the ending, what’s the point in watching?

The only reason I did honestly was because I’m a comedy writer. And I regret that because I made myself rather upset.

2. The characters have to be real and interesting.

In I Give It A Year, a ‘lovable loser’ marries an ‘uptight career woman’.

And that’s as much characterization as either character is given in the entire movie. I’m not even joking.

The comedy came mostly from the supporting characters, who were miles more interesting, had gallons more depth, yet infuriatingly were obviously given less screen-time.

Again, if I don’t like the main characters and/or if I’m not interested in them, why should I watch this movie?

More importantly, why should I care if they are happy or sad, alive or dead, in the end?

3. The characters have to be consistent.

At one point in the movie, the ‘lovable loser’ turns to his ‘uptight’ wife and chides her for getting the words to popular songs wrong.

Now if he was such a ‘loser’, why would he care? His best friend, and best man at his wedding, never gets anything right. Why should his wife?

And come to think of it, if she is really such a perfectionist, why is she getting the words wrong in the first place?

But I laughed out loud – and I’m still laughing – at this moment because I thought, finally, we’re getting some depth from these characters. We’ve all got contradictions, so that moment made the characters seem more real.

But that was as far as reality went with this movie.

4. Please, God, please write some real women! And give them something fun to do!

The ‘lovable loser’, by dint of his ‘lovable-ness’, got some pretty funny moments in the movie.

The wife however was uptight and continued to be so the whole movie. She didn’t get to cut loose, break out, be the butt of a joke or tell one.

The two main female characters were so so boring in this movie. And unrecognizable as human beings.

Anna Faris’ character? “Badly dressed social justice type.”  Stuck on the ‘lovable loser’, of course.  Since why would any woman want to be with someone worth her while?

5. Completely useless interstitial element.

The film is framed by the couple going to a number of therapy sessions (with a bonkers Olivia Colman) when their marriage hits the rocks at 9 months.

The sessions don’t show us anything other than the fact that the therapist is bonkers. It sets up the pointless Act 3 struggle. Pointless because we, and the filmmakers, already know the ending. So the characters’ struggle is a waste of time and energy.

6. Don’t just string together set-pieces with no connecting tissue.

It felt like the script was made out of someone’s ‘spilt jam’ notebook. Like someone just thought about all the funny things that could happen to a couple and made a script out of them. Regardless of whether those situations could arise organically from the characters or the story the filmmakers set out to tell.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie was hysterically funny. But the funny bits often seemed completely out of character.

And ultimately, the movie didn’t have any emotional DNA. There was no theme. A string of events unfolding before us with no meaning.

Frustrating. Infuriating.

I wanted to like this movie. It’s just up my alley. But I hated it.

I was super upset. Simon Baker! Rose Byrne (from Bridesmaids)! How’d they get such great stars with such mediocre characters?

Time to write some real comedy.

And friends, if I go to production with a script that’s anything less than stellar, you have my full permission to shoot me. Or at least, tell me what the matter is.

If I don’t listen, then you can shoot me.

Lots of love,

Sabina, The Happy Muslimah.

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Bee in my bonnet – Mama

Image

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu, sisters and brothers,

So I recently saw lauded horror movie Mama at the cinema with my hubby. It was a much-anticipated event for him, a much-dreaded one for me. See, I don’t like horror movies. I don’t like being scared. The better the movie, the worse trouble I have sleeping.

Anyway I went because I love Guillermo del Toro and I wanted to see what his protégé had learned.

Apparently not very much. Here is my review from a screenwriter’s perspective.

The Good:

Beautifully shot. I’ve never seen death and desolation treated so lovingly. Two gorgeous kids that anyone with a heart would root for. Most of the characters had clear histories and clear motivations.

 

There’s some great usage of the good ole horror movie staple, the vagina indentata – if you don’t know what that is, I’m not sure you want to look it up.

I can’t fault structure or pacing. But as always, there are a few things that I can fault.

The Bad:

To reference Blake Snyder, this is one of those Monster in the House movies. The house in question could be a nation – as Independence Day. It also could be a spaceship, as in Alien. The Monster could be a jilted lover, as in Fatal Attraction. Or a shark, as in Jaws. Many variations, but the plot points tend to be the same.

I said above that most characters had a clear motivation. The one exception was Mama. Did she want the children for herself? Did she want her own baby back? We, of course, never get a chance to sit down and chat with the woman but various characters in the movie misdirect us – and that’s really irritating.

However the biggest bugbear I have with this movie is the fact that Mama, the MONSTER, has our sympathy right from the first five minutes. She saves two adorable little girls from having their heads blown off by their not-so-adorable father. We’re immediately on her side.

Later she shelters and feeds the children. Again, we’re with her on that one.

We can’t possibly be frightened of a thing that has a five-year-old giggling. However ugly she is, she can’t be that bad a ‘person’ – so to speak.

Yes, there is a sense of gathering dread as she becomes more and more violent. But we still jolly well don’t know why. Again, super-irritating!

[SPOILER ALERT]

Towards the end of the movie, Mama has a chance to kill both human guardians, something that Victoria, the more expressive of the two kids, keeps warning against. She does not. She simply roughs them up a bit.

We sympathise with the monster – she has a heart still, however long ago it stopped beating.

We also lose the prime element that makes a horror movie a horror movie – namely the horror. If we don’t fear for the protagonist’s lives, there is simply no primal identification with the story.

That made the ending quite weak when it could have had so much power.

Towards the end of a movie, we figure out what she might have wanted, too late and too ambiguous to add potency to the previous 80 minutes.

And another irritating thing – why did that stupid psychiatrist go into a haunted wood cabin all by himself in the night-time without an extra torch? Hasn’t he ever watched any horror movies?

[END OF SPOILERS]

Anyway, I came out of that film feeling mildly dissatisfied. What was great about the short was the insinuation that two little girls were fending off their actual mother who had turned into a zombie/cannibalistic creature.  There’s nothing more primal than your mother wanting to eat you.

In this movie however, the girls were only mildly scared of Mama, if at all.

Will try and review some movies that I actually liked soon.

Bah.

Khayr insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah