Two animated films concerned with mother/daughter relationships. Brave is the new Pixar animated movie and true to form, it is gorgeous, simply gorgeous, really gorgeous (did I remember to mention how gorgeous it is) with magnificent animation and breathtakingly beautiful visuals. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being amazed by what can be done with animating the tiny movements of animals or even things like the hair on one’s head. The story, on the other hand, was not quite as impressive for me. What can I say? It’s about a princess who doesn’t want to get married being forced by her mother (and father, but he’s bit whipped in this area) into an arranged wedding. Really? After Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Snow White and the Huntsman (not to mention the TV series Game of Thrones), the central dilemma for a heroine of an action/fantasy movie is whether she’s going to get married or not? I mean…really? The character is named Merida and she’s the daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. They have informed her that three clans are coming to vie for her hand . Naturally, she petulantly bristles at the idea. She has no interest in wedded bliss, but would rather roam the woods on horseback, her hair flying in the wind, while she shows off her prodigious talent in archery. But fate, symbolized by little blue lights of whippoorwills, has other plans in store for her. They lead her to a witch (voiced by an amusing Julie Walters) that enables Mirada to cast a spell on her mother in order to change her (though Merida, to her misfortune, and like some politicians, is a little too vague on what the repeal and replace should be). At this point, the logic of the story gets a little odd. What the mother is changed into is, well, so arbitrary one almost suspected the writers (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell—who all co-directed—and Irene Mecchi, who did not) just threw a dart at a dartboard. True, they had to do something, anything, to keep the story going, but one would have thought something a bit more logical and connected to the basic set up would be more appropriate. But, hey, that’s the way it goes sometime and maybe I just missed something. The result is a long sequence that was just passing time for me until we got to the end and the mother changed back (with a catalyst being equally as arbitrary for me) and everything was resolved with an all is forgiven, I understand what you’re going through attitude on the part of the Queen (not a “Little lady, you are so grounded for a year”, which seems a more appropriate response to me, but what do I know, I don’t have kids). Except, things aren’t resolved. True, Mirada no longer has no choice in who she marries. But she still has to marry. The only difference now is that the three suitors will have to woo her and she’ll get to choose which one it is—yeah, I guess that’s progress, though in a sort of pre-The Mary Tyler Moore Show sort of way. Mirada is voiced by Kelly McDonald who I could listen to all day; does anyone have a sweeter and more charming lilt? The parents are Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, who also do very well. In fact, all the voice work is exemplary. But in the end, the most interesting characters are Mirada’s three little brothers, absolute terrors who are so cute, you just want to hug them. I smell a sequel.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, in A Cat in Paris, a police inspector tries to find the mobster who killed her husband while her little girl becomes involved with a cat burglar. That’s more my speed when it comes to mother/daughter conflicts. It’s a loopy little film made all the more loopy by using hand drawn animation that results in odd looking breasts and feet that are oddly shaped and too small to support the bodies they belong to. But it’s a lot of fun and the energy almost never flags. The plot is clunky at times and depends on a ton of coincidence, and I’m not sure the story holds up any better than it does in Brave, but in the end, I didn’t really care, it was so much more enjoyable. I also felt much more relaxed after watching it; Brave seemed to want to impress you and force you to think it’s great, while A Cat in Paris just padded along on little cat’s feet like Sandburg’s fog. The screenplay is by Alain Gagnol (who also directed) and Jacques Remy-Girerd; Gagnol also shares directing credits with Jean-Loup Felicioli. I saw a dubbed version with voices of Marcia Gay Harden, Mathew Modine and Angelica Huston. It is one of the five animated featured nominated for a 2012 Oscar (it lost to Rango).


The new Oliver Stone movie.  I think it is safe to say that this is what one would call a misstep in Stone’s oeuvre.   I could be wrong, of course.  I often am.  But to be ruthlessly honest, I would have to say the movie simply doesn’t work.  An indication that things are not going well shows up fairly quickly.   In a voice over, O (for Ophelia—yes, you read that right), a post modern flower child, is having passionate sex with her boyfriend Chon.  He’s a standard character in a Stone film, the war veteran forever haunted by the memories of what he went through.  O describes it more or less as: He has wargasms, while I have orgasms.  The screenplay (by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow who also wrote the book it’s based on) doesn’t get any better, and often gets a bit worse, sorry to say.  Savages is a story about some drug dealers.  Guess whether this is going to go well; go ahead, I dare you.  To paraphrase Captain Renault from Casablanca:  I’m shocked, shocked to find out that people who deal drugs get into trouble.  And in fact, the whole movie feels a little late, like it should have been done ten years ago (though even then it might have felt just a tad frayed around the edges).  I’m not sure why Stone made this film.  It’s unclear he has anything to really add to the many drug films that have come before.  Well, I sort of take that back.  There is something, though I have to believe it’s totally unintentional.  The basic conflict is between three idealistic and semi-naïve friends (O, played by Blake Lively; Chon, played by Taylor Kitsch; and Ben, played by Aaron Johnson); they’re all white.  The homophobic, racist, corrupt, vile and sadistic bad guys are played by Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir and Salma Hayek (guess what ethnic background they are).  I don’t know if Stone is trying to make a political statement here, but I’ll give him a benefit of the doubt and say it was all accidental.  At the same time, he may have tried to even everything out by casting the three innocents with actors who can’t quite, I’m afraid to say, keep up with the Joneses.  This is especially emphasized in a scene between Del Toro and John Travolta, the finest scene in the movie, in which they have a pax de duex over what they’re going to do next while bewailing what it’s like to be middle aged (I’d like to say this scene was worth the price of admission alone, but I can’t quite).   From a structural standpoint, what probably went wrong is that the opening and ending suggest that this is O’s story; and then the movie leaves her for huge chunks of time, so there’s no dramatic arc for her character (and it basically boils down to “it’s not my fault, it’s my mommy’s for not loving me enough”).  There’s also something a little ironic in Stone’s use of Chon’s haunted military past.  It’s awful what Chon had to go through; but without it, none of the characters would have survived.  It’s unclear that Stone purposely intended this irony.  In the end, the only daring thing in the movie is the menage a trois relationship between O, Chon and Ben (with the suggestion, from Hayek, that the two bros are only having carnal knowledge of O because they can’t bring themselves to have it with each other).   But this presents its own problem.  Though O is the central character, this suggests her only purpose for existence is to have sex with the Chon and Ben.  She has no other reason to be there.   After thinking it all over, I believe I’ll just go back to my original statement and say that, unfortunately, the movie doesn’t work.


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Moonrise Kingdom is very wittily directed by Wes Anderson in a somewhat over the top style that constantly calls attention to itself.  It has an amazing look: there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.  In the end, it’s the cinematography (Robert D. Yeoman) combined with the overly bright set decoration (Adam Stockhausen, Gerald Sullivan and Kris Moran) that is the cleverest aspect of the movie; everything looks real, but only more so.  It begins with a long title sequence that goes from room to room in a home that looks so much like a doll’s house, you keep expecting to find out that all the humans you run across have been CGI’d in.  But that’s the style of the whole film.  The humans are treated as much like Barbie dolls as the set pieces are treated like miniature toys that can be placed at the careful whimsy of the filmmaker.  It’s beautiful to look at and very arresting; it all has the feel of a Norman Rockwell painting, but again, only more so.  But how well it all works for you will probably depend on how well the actors work for you.  The ones who handle Anderson’s style the best, the ones who manage to be real, only more so, are Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, sometimes Edward Norton and a frighteningly effective, only more so, Bill Murray.   All the other adults are fine, but Francis McDormand and Bruce Willis don’t quite make it as far as I’m concerned and Harvey Keitel isn’t given that much to do and proceeds not to do it.  But everyone does come across as feeling a little trapped by the limitations of a style that wants to have developed characters, only less so (it would get in the way of the filmmaker’s vision, a vision that seems to think that how far apart tents are placed and how brightly they are colored is more important than character).  But it’s the kids that are the central issue for me.  Either Anderson isn’t as deft with child performers as he is with the adults, or it’s just more difficult for young actors (really young actors) to handle the stylized approach used here (whenever I saw Jared Gilman as the orphan Sam and Kara Hayward as the rebellious Suzy, I kept thinking of movies like A Little Romance and Rich Kids and the performances turned in by the “star crossed “lovers” there).   The story (by Anderson and Roman Coppola—yes, Coppola) is a sweet romance about two troubled pre-teens who decide to run off together.  Why?  Well, because they don’t fit in and nobody likes them.  How do we know that?  Well, we’re told it when it comes to Sam, and there are some vague scenes when it comes to Suzy.  You either go with it or you don’t.  I didn’t as much as I would have liked and from the sound of things I’ll probably start getting a ton of hate mail for saying so.  But in the end I wanted more, only more so.


Ridley Scott’s Promethes is a movie that explores the deepest existential, theological and philosophical questions of mankind’s existence.  Ironically, the only way to really enjoy the film is if one doesn’t think about it too much.  The plot revolves around an expedition sent to find evidence of a group of aliens that came to earth and gave birth to humans.  What the expedition finds is not quite what they expected, though it has to be admitted, what they found is probably more interesting that it would have been if it did meet expectations.   Unfortunately, I have to state for the record that I never could get emotionally involved here.  The dialog and characters (screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof) were bland and dull and the plot a tad boring as well.  About halfway through I just gave up trying to figure out the back story as to what happened to the aliens and what it meant for mankind.    There’s a ton of talent in the cast, many recognizable faces and award winners.  Charlize Theron basically plays the same character she does in Snow White and the Huntsman, the woman who does the man’s job and therefore has to be a bitch (poor Charlize, her second movie of the year where the audience is going to leave basically humming the tech design).  Noomi Rapace, without the dragon tattoo, plays the nurturing mother role (she has a scene where she has a C-section that I guess was supposed to be gut wrenching—pun intended—but I thought was a hoot and a half—not the reaction Scott was going for, I suspect).  She has a strange accent, mainly in that it seems to have little connection to her father’s, played by Patrick Wilson.   Guy Pierce, that popular Australian star of such films as Memento and L.A. Law, was given the plum role of playing Mr. Burns.  But when all is said and done cast wise, all I could think of is the remarkable line up in the movies Alien and Aliens, two films where, for all their adrenaline soaked plot lines, one comes away remembering the actors just as much or more than the special affects; it’s unlikely that will happen here.  It ends with what seems to me to be a ridiculous and even immoral choice on the part of Rapace; at the same time, it does set up a question as well as a sequel that does kind of intrigue me.   In the end, Prometheus is a CGIer’s wet dream.  But it did very little for me.


By now, I had meant to do more entries in my series about issues I’ve been running across while reading screenplays for coverage and script consultation, but I got behind and am only now doing my second one. So, so sorry to be so sluggish. This particular column might seem a tad trivial, but it will focus on the use of two words I’ve seen crop up over and over again over the past couple of years, the use of which strike me as rather odd (if not maddening). The first one is “ironic” or “ironically” and the second is “smirk”.

I am constantly running across dialog in which the actor is instructed to say something “ironically’. I have to be honest. I have absolutely no idea what that means or how you say something ironically. I suspect that they mean “sarcastically”, “tongue in cheek”, “dryly” or something akin to that. This may be a generational thing and perhaps those younger than me have an idiomatic or slang use of the word that I’m unfamiliar with.

However, that is not the only use of the word that puzzles me. More and more, I’m running across narrative in which someone is described as “wearing a shirt ironically” or “has an ironic hair style”. I really, truly have no idea what this means. But even more importantly perhaps when it comes to writing a screenplay, that is not an action. From an audience stand point (and certainly from a reader’s standpoint), a character can’t do something or wear something or have a style of dress that is ironic (in the opening scene of The Social Network, when Zuckerberg is accused of wearing sandals and socks ironically, no one in the audience would have come to that conclusion without the line of dialog).

The second word is “smirk”. I have seen this crop up for a number of years as a synonym for smile. At least I think that’s how it’s being used. But “smirk” is a smile that is derisive or superior in some way. All smirks are smiles, but not all smiles are smirks. But when I see it used, it is used by a character in which the attitude isn’t remotely derisive. At first I thought “smirk” was being used in this way because English was a second language for the author of the screenplay since the stories took place in another country or were about characters who were immigrants. But more and more, it’s being used anywhere and everywhere.

It is possible that it is being used because of the recent advice that is constantly cropping up about not employing “neutral” or “bland” words in the narrative (i.e., not “run”, but “dashes” or “zooms”—I will have a column about this in the future). Maybe some writers feel “smile” is too bland and want to spice up their narrative. But whatever the reason, it really causes a disconnect when I read since it is constantly being used incorrectly.

So in conclusion, don’t use “ironic” or “ironically”, ever. If you mean to use it in place of “sarcastically” or a word like that, don’t; use “sarcastically”. In the same way, don’t use “smirk” unless the person is giving a smug, derisive smile. Otherwise just use “smile”.


The Intouchables is the based on a true story drama about a wealthy paraplegic (only his face can move and feel anything) and the man on the dole who comes to take care of him.  Written and directed by the duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, it’s moving, inspirational, entertaining and very well done.  For those of you who loved The Help, you will also love this movie.  It has the same plus and minuses.  On the minus side, it’s about how a wealthy white person teaches an irresponsible black man who only wants to game the system how to take responsibility for his life.  At the same time, like in The Help, after awhile one forgets about the racial basis for the movie and just becomes involved in the character interplay.  Omar Cy plays Driss, the caretaker, and he’s wonderful.  He needs to be.  His character isn’t that interesting; it’s the generally familiar street thug character one sees in thousands of movies like this.  But it’s easy to see why he beat out Jean Dujardin for Best Actor at the Cesars.  He really throws himself into the part and runs away with the movie.  Equally compelling though is Francois Cluzet as Philippe, the paraplegic, a much more nuanced character, someone who has accepted his situation with little pity (that’s one of the reasons he hires Driss over all other applicants—he knows Driss won’t treat him like an invalid).  It’s an equally impressive performance, but since it’s less physical (how can it not be), Cluzet is a bit overshadowed.  The story is rather predictable; it’s that old warhorse about how each character affects the other and how each is changed by the end of it.  There are no real surprises here; anyone who goes to movies or watches TV on a regular basis will be able to write the screenplay from the opening scene.  But try as you might, you can’t really knock the movie.  It does work and I seriously doubt anyone’s going to be disappointed if they see it.


The new French movie about the lives, loves and tribulations of the CPU, the Child Protection Unit, of the French police.  It’s half procedural and half soap opera, though the soap opera half seems to take the lion’s share.  The procedural is quite interesting.  The soap opera less so—in fact, it’s deadly (to riff on Woody Allen in Annie Hall, the food is terrible and the portions are so large).   My guess is that one of the points of the movie is that these people are doing their best in a hostile world; that no one gives them proper respect; and they have the same problems as everyone else.  Unfortunately, because of that, the movie tends to come across as created by people with an inferiority complex (the single named Maiwenn is the director and co-wrote the script with Emmanuelle Bercot, both of whom are also in the movie).  It’s also unclear that the characters come across the way Maiwenn and Bercot would like.  All the characters have anger management issues; show the same contempt for the bad guys as the victims (there’s one scene where they laugh and make fun of a victim right in front of her); and no matter what they say, don’t seem that interested in the truth (they come from the perspective that kids never lie).  A few months before this, I saw a French movie, Guilty, also based on a true story, about a man who was falsely accused of pedophilia and spent years in jail without a trial.  For Polisse, crimes against children lack any such ambiguity.  The cast is filled with tons of familiar faces from French films, both young to old; I can’t say it’s all star, but at times it comes to feel something like a Woody Allen film as the familiar faces parade by.  Everyone gives a solid performance and they all act the piece as if the life of the real CPU depended on it.  There’s nothing to complain about there; I mean, it got seven Cesar nominations in acting alone for God sakes.   And some of the things happening to children are horrifying.  It’s unfortunate that the movie as a whole didn’t focus on that aspect of the script rather than the home life of the officers.