End Of The Movie

End Of The Movie

I've lately become somewhat obsessed with a particular type of movie ending.

You know the one.

Our protagonist/antagonist has overcome whatever it is Joe Campbell said they must overcome. Happily ever after feels imminent, as underlined by perhaps the opening riffs of a familiar pop-tune. But our hero, they've still got one final punchline to drop, whether verbal or otherwise, right before a cut-to-black.

And that music? It plays. We hit the chorus, or an ironic line, or something that makes us smile almost as much as the punchline, hitting its stride just as the first names appear.

It's a very specific type of ending, and to be honest, I have no idea if there's a particular cinematic term for it. But you know what I'm talking about, right?

In case you're unclear, here's one - the final scene of the Wachowski's paranoid red pill, The Matrix:

At this point of the movie, we've just seen the protagonist literally return from the dead, a god reborn. The new, subversive king of an artificial world populated by human slaves spending their entire life asleep as part of the plot's major twist: as our evil robot overlord's organic power supply. Seeing Neo fly up out of shot like that for the first time, it's a real moment. People do superhuman things inside the Matrix, but nobody's ever flown. And to suddenly drop an entirely fresh twist like that, literally a few frames before the cut to black? The effect it has on the average nerdy viewer is close to orgasmic. But then consider the tune itself : Wake Up, by Rage Against The Machine. One of the seminal anti-establishment protest songs of that odd late-90s era, with no accident that it both matched the subversive themes of the film itself, but also that it quite literally has a title matching the central demand placed on all the major characters (and presumably the millions of sleepers) as the film closes - an awakening this new god will hopefully bring about.

It all works. All a bit obvious, perhaps, but in the heat of the moment, if you're too caught up in the action to ponder it, the resulting end-of-the-movie moment is electrifying.

Though this technique does not necessary have to be a high-powered fist-bump, of the likes of Fight Club ('Where Is My Mind?') and Iron Man (though does that one count, the music starting arguably a touch late?) There's also the softer, smoother exit via the exact same route, often creating as evocative and energetic a moment as the punches-in-the-face.

Take the final scene Wes Anderson's classic, Rushmore:

While our protagonist doesn't actually do much more to advance the plot here, he does succeed at taking the hand of the woman he'd attempted to woo so unsuccessfully throughout the film. And perhaps in that final moment as the music begins to play, by hearing the mature way Max accepts his defeat, in taking his glasses off, Rosemary's finally looking at him as a man, not the ridiculous young boy he'd been throughout the film. And the song itself… well, that says it all. As the verse swells, the film slows to almost a halt, as we see all major characters assemble for one final photo, our couple still very much the focus of the frame. And just as the cut to black (or in this case, the curtain close) finally occurs, the music reaches the chorus: "I wish that I knew what I know now"; a line whose relation to everything else one can hardly ignore. But are these the character's thoughts, or that of the director himself? With Anderson's name revealed immediately as the line is sung, perhaps this busts the fourth wall for us slightly, the director having said on occasion how much of his own past he threaded into the film's central character.

I love these moments, and yes, I've become obsessed.

Taking note of them for months. Collecting them. Stashing them away for some unknown purpose, unknown even to me at this point. The novel I'm currently developing has accidentally wound up with moment like it winding through the narrative and tying up the ending. Part of me even thinks there might be an idea buried amongst this odd collection to form the premise of an entire story in itself. Perhaps a tale about someone bound by a collection of endings, the same way the protagonist in High Fidelity (another great end-of-the-movie play-out moment) seems bound by the songs and playlists of the women in his past.

Or is that just too obvious? Would it be more appropriate for a literary tie-in of this device to be something more down the 'random swing track' path Die Hard treads, or merely a stretching of the final mood as per the much-drooled-at Gosling-fest, Drive? Or is it foolish to even be trying to force this round cinematic peg into square literary hole?

I don't know. And if I'm completely honest here, I have no idea why I'm collecting these. And yes, I am collecting them. Check out these sweet puppies on Spotify. Each one of them one of these very deliberate end-of-the-movie music moments (if you can guess them all). Well, not this one, which I kept on the list for no good reason than… well… who doesn't think every playlist deserves a little Backstreet? And no, it really doesn't count as one of my obsessional types. Party tracks, such as the play-out at the end of Dirty Dancing, or the odd moment at the end of 40 Year Old Virgin; this type of ending isn't quite the same. They're literally just playing the track, delivering a performance. Where's the irony, the punch-in-the-face, protagonist's final punchline? No, not quite as magical, no matter how awesome or appropriate a party playout can be as an ending.

My search shall continue, but until I reach whatever the unknown destination is, let me know if you think of any more.

And like, don't you… forget about me…

 


demislw.com - rushmore

All-Time Top Five : 'Rushmore'

There’s a certain insight which comes from being of the generation whose feet are flirtatiously planted in both the modern, online world and the one that came before.

I get technology. My home is on the Internet, I haven’t read a paper book in years, am social-media-saturated to the teeth, and definitely the first to complain about getting crampy every time I’m asked to clutch an old-school pen for longer than a signature. Like so many of my thirtysomething age, despite having watched life and technology transform so drastically over our lifetimes, it’s become almost impossible to remember much of what things were like before. Like, as teenagers, how on earth did we ever get by without mobile communication, Instagram, and an unlimited supply of porn? It’s been a brave new world, one we stepped boldly into it without hesitation.

Every now and then, a remnant of that returns. A random memory of childhood. An old music video. Finding a random box of personal crap in a forgotten corner of that battered box full of our personal possessions. It’s those times that it all comes back, bringing with it a sudden sense of loss. I’m not talking about stock-standard nostalgia either. For me it’s specifically that other thing: remembering what living analogue was like, and missing — albeit briefly — what getting my hands dirty feels like.

I’m not knocking progress — all power to it. But in an age where there’s an easy online template for everything, where your interests, life and hobbies are all tagged and broadcasted, where it’s so easy to manufacture your own miniature Warholian fifteen minutes in the virtual, viral limelight, there’s something to be said for still knowing how to move people (not pixels), work with your hands, getting out there in the sweaty old world, and doing stuff.

Perhaps that’s what has always drawn me to Wes Anderson’s 1998 film, Rushmore.

All technical, creative, and filmmaking differences you may have with this aside, it’s the central character of Max Fischer (artfully portrayed by Jason Schwartzman) which has always summed up that part of me that doesn’t want to be stuck at a desk all day.

Max Fischer is a doer.

Trapped in the body of a spotty 15-year-old loser is a man of rather extreme passions, who, despite living in the greyest urban drab, manages to punch well above his weight and do things, not just dream and talk.

During the course of the film, his plan to successfully woo a young pretty teacher, Miss Cross (played by the lovely Olivia Williams) is ultimately doomed to fail. However it’s the way he goes about his day-to-day which appeals to the doer to me, even at a first viewing instantly rocketing the film to my ‘All-time Top Five’.

We see Max direct epic plays, occasionally involving on-stage dynamite and full-size replica helicopters being flown in. Though academically an extreme underachiever, Max chases, instigates and runs practically every extra-curricular activity or hobby he can think of (everything from Go-Karting, Fencing, Kite-flying, and a Mock UN Club). When he notices his beloved teacher, Miss Cross, has a fondness for tropical fish, he sets about finding funding from a local businessman (Bill Murray) to establish a multi-million-dollar aquarium, complete with architects, contractors a fanfared ground-turning ceremony on his school’s baseball pitch (without permission).

Even once things get nasty — Bill Murray’s character naturally swooping in on Miss Cross — Max still manages to carry out his rather inventive maliciousness with style. The sequence of the film where both characters go head to head trying to destroy one another is still my favourite, bringing everything from falling trees, cut brake cables and large-scale character assassination into the mix. (I can still recall choking on my popcorn the first time I saw Max emerge, slow-motion from a hotel elevator, framed like a guilty assassin, an empty Beekeeping box in his hand, having just delivered his weapon of buzzing destruction.)

The entire Rushmore universe is devoid of computers or anything online. Instead, it’s one filled with delicious physical props, battered typewriters and plenty of explosives. Anderson’s mix of charactured, melodramatic characters with comforting, ordinary ones only serves to make you want to be part of Max’s enthusiastic world all the more.

For my money, the modern world needs more Max Fischers.

Something of a doer myself, I’ve noted that in recent years I run into less and less of my proactive kin; people as passionate about their personal projects as they are about their jobs, social media profiles, or their favourite television shows. Worse, how few have anything resembling ‘personal projects’ in their life these days at all.

It’s so easy to enjoy the wonders of instant community and online content consumption that people are forgetting how to create, explore and innovate in the real world. I love that there are a whole lot of new techs that have sprung up that bridge the divide — the Makers, 3d printing, robotics — but those are hardly shaking loose any more than the types of boffins who would have been doing regardless of what era they were born in.

The excuses are always the same. Too busy. Too tired. “…[Something-something-something], but I really want to next month”. That’s not to say people don’t have dreams anymore, or good intentions. Many do, but so often, those dreams get over-run before they go anywhere, either through their priority not being high enough to matter, or by folks being just too tired to get inspired.

And hey, I get that too. The difference is, I’ve always got Max nagging me in the back of my head. Once every year or so, whenever I’m feeling flat, I dust off my old copy of Rushmore, and try to let his drive infect me. Max is the perfect tonic for feeling uninspired and digitally drained. Sure, we’re not always going to win at everything, but getting out there, getting sweaty, rolling with the punches, and never taking no for an answer when it comes to realising our dreams. That maybe, if you’re going to get stressed out and busy and caught up in something, why not let that be pursuing what you love? And while you’re at the dream-catching, how’s about bringing as many people along with you for the ride while you’re out there punching above your weight?

Rushmore is far from a perfect film for many. Most I mention it to wouldn’t consider it Anderson’s best, given how strong the rest of his directorial history has played out since 1998. But for me, it’ll always win out over all the rest, purely for being a film that continually, year after year, gets me up off my butt and away from the screen. Whether or not whatever mad scheme comes from it is just as doomed to fail as Max’s sometimes were, there’s never a good excuse not to try something once simply because there isn’t a default box for it on your Facebook profile?


Big Smashy Things

To cut a long story short, while I've had a great couple of months edging my novel forward after a successful and revealing round of beta-reading in Dec, other areas of life have intervened, and suddenly - a change of plan - I'm back for another round of vfx madness with my buddies at DNeg.

A sideward step for the novel perhaps, but not a backward one - the past couple of months I have also been quite busy setting up the additional business arms I have been hinting at over the last several months, now fully up and running (despite not having officially launched), paying clients and all. Even with a return to VFX, the virtual businesses are a solid step toward future-proofing my writing career; whenever the time comes to step away from the film stuff even further, there'll be something to keep food on the table besides the gamble of hoping a successful book might do that - from here on in I can focus on improving at the craft without necessarily needing treat writing like 'a job', something I always hated as a musician.

2014 is shaping up to be an interesting year. I've set up a company, had a pile of people read and critique my book, about to move into a (bought and paid for) new flat in East London, and somehow already squeezed in a movie or two... January has most certainly not been an unproductive month. (Side note: I could always do a little better on that 'blog more' New Year's Resolution...).

For now, I'll leave you with a little taste of the movie I've started working on this week :


Top 10 Reasons Why 'Die Hard' Is A Better Christmas Movie Than 'Love Actually'

There comes a point during every Christmas holiday where an inevitable war for the remote is fought - a battleground nobody wants to speak about at any other time of the year, one which divides families, ruins relationships, and regularly results in bloodshed. You know what I'm talking about: The Die Hard vs Love Actually Christmas Movie Stand-Off. Naturally, I have my own feelings on the matter, and despite you likely having yours, I've decided it's time we all put this matter to bed for once and for all, proving (most decisively) that Die Hard is by far a more superior Christmas film than Love Actually:

 

Two very different Rickmans...
Case in point : the two very different Rickmans...

1. The Rickman Factor

Both films are blessed by the inclusion of Alan Rickman, but he’s WAY cooler as Hans Gruber than as weak, womanising Harry. Also, Hans is far more Christmasy - he even performs a memorable Santa impersonation at one point.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

I can't even... I just can't...

2. You (Mostly) Get A Break From Ridiculously Insipid Child-Actors

Christmas entertainment is vicious time where practically everything on television is packed full of horrible child-actors. There are only a few insignificant seconds of terrible child-acting in Die Hard, as opposed to Love Actually, with entire sub-plots, musical numbers, and several minutes packed full of children dressed up as cute animals. Eww.

 

3. Die Hard Embraces Multiculturalism

In McTiernan's opus, characters with English as their second language went to a lot more effort to ensure they could directly communicate with people of other cultures (even if it happened to be down the barrel of a gun). In the Kurtis film, the same rely on shrugs, sheepish grins, and don't seem to care about blatant mistranslation and the significant cultural offence this may or may not cause those around them. I'd call that "naughty" not "nice", as opposed to Die Hard's foreigners who took the time and came prepared.

 

4. "The Quarterback Is Toast"

The only toast you ever get in Love Actually involves cheap, miserly-poured sparkling, often accompanied by depressing moaning or attempts at infidelity.

 

5. Die Hard Has Better Retro Value

While Love Actually may have Bill Nighy, it does not contain any actors from legendary 80's classics including The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters and Magnum PI. It doesn’t even try. That's just not in the spirit of the season.

 

6. Love Actually Isn't Actually A Christmas Movie

The complete chronology of events in Die Hard take place during the one, long Christmas Eve. Love Actually is spread all over the calendar, some of the earlier scenes quite possibly taking place closer to Halloween than late December, the final airport montage obviously taking place the following Easter*

( * I can't back this last point up, though I swear there's someone holding a toy rabbit in one shot.)

 

7. Die Hard = Less-Questionable Casting

The producers of Die Hard managed to cast actors far more believable at playing authority figures and Americans. Also, the new associations between Hobbits and pornography invoked by Love Actually doesn't sit right with me at all - Christmas gets enough midget action as it is.

8. More Explosions

There are no explosions in Love Actually. Not one. There isn't even a helicopter crash.
Seriously. It's like they've completely forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

 

 

9. Stronger Female Role-Models

Love Actually is brimming with old-school 1950s female stereotypes, whereas 100% of Die Hard’s major female characters represent a much more modern approach to gender roles (eg. Holly and her high-powered executive position within Nakatomi, versus Natalie who doesn't fight back at all after being sexually harassed and unfairly dismissed from her job).

Okay, okay... to be fair, while there is only one major female character in Die Hard, she still kicks more ass than half the Love Actually women. Further, I'll put $50 on the table right now that says Bonnie Bedelia would beat Keira Knightly in a straight-up fist-fight. Think about it.

 

10. Die Hard Has A Better Ending

In its closing minutes, Love Actually (disrespectfully) brandishes a Denise Richards cameo, a terrible non-Chrismas Beach Boys song and truly horrendous and tacky heart-shaped graphic montage. A travesty, as opposed to Die Hard - a classy 'Let It Snow' Christmas play-off as the camera pulls out over the mist, mere seconds after this shot :

 

In Conclusion...

I think that's all settled then, don't you?

###


10 Epic On-Screen Music Moments

Someone recently asked me if I could name my favourite musical moments in film - a classic all-time top ten. Tough call. There are so many to choose from, and even if we tried to narrow things down by saying "only films which aren't musicals", we'd still be left with a fairly solid list to start culling down.

For now, I'm not going to bother with the 'all-time' tag. Too tough. Plus, this is the Internet, and even though by next week my list will have completely changed, I'll still be tried and executed by the court of Google for crimes of bad taste I'm unknowingly committing today.

So my list for today, in no particular order:

1. Wayne's World : Bohemian Rhapsody

It's iconic, it's a cliché, but honestly, what is there not to like about it? The mark this one scene left on an entire generation still stains this killer Queen track to this day, none of us likely to ever hear the smashy guitar solo without feeling the urge to headbang. The film may have dated a bit now, but the epic opening is timeless. Even better in French...

2. Buffy - They Got The Mustard Out

There's far too much back-story to explain here (like, six seasons plus six episodes preceding) but in short: a demon has come to town and is sucking everyone's lifeforce by making the townspeople involuntarily sing and dance 'til they burn up in a ball of all-singing all-dancing flame. I know this isn't a "movie" by any stretch, but in the stand-out episode of this classic Whedon series, this small interlude still makes me laugh. Quintessential 'if life was a musical' moment if ever there was one.

3. Magnolia - It's Not Going To Stop

A couple of hours into this fine, multi-threaded film by Paul Thomas Anderson, at arguably the bottom of the rollercoaster for each character (of which there are many, their pitfalls very dark and deep), they suddenly break into song. I found it an odd, uncomfortable moment when I first saw the film, but have come to love the craziness of it. That, and I'm totally down with Aimee Mann as a rule. Great movie. Tom Cruise was robbed of an Oscar that year (the only thing I'll still defend him for).

4. High Fidelity - Let's Get It On

Say what you will about Jack Black and his music career nowadays, but when High Fidelity came out and he got up and belted out this classic Marvin Gaye track, not many in the audience knew he could even hold a note. The setup throughout the film is perfect - the boisterous all-talk music-snob, getting up at the make-or-break moment for John Cusack's character, then nailing the shit out of the song to everybody's complete surprise. We all know Black can belt, but every time I watch this bit I still buzz.

5. South Park Movie - Uncle Fucker

You have to remember that when this film came out, nobody had *ever* heard the South Park kids swear. After sitting through a fairly lame, tame opening scene or two (wondering why the hell I'd paid to see it on the big screen)  we were all suckerpunched by this sweet puppy of a song. I remember laughing so hard a little bit of wee came out.  What still gets me to this day is how superbly overdone and polished everything else (apart from the lyrics) is about the track - a fantastic arrangement littered with nods to many famous musicals, perfectly executed. And farts.

6. Beetlejuice - Day-O

I was torn between this song and the one from the closing scene (which I think I honestly prefer), but I think this has to win out on style points, memorability and the fact Tim Burton managed to combine both demonic possession and Harry Belafonte in the same scene. Another song I cannot hear in any other context without thinking of plates of shrimp grabbing people by the face and beating them up.  

7. Donnie Darko - Head Over Heels

I love a good "geeks and jocks" scene in any high school movie, but because Donnie Darko isn't your average teen flick, its G&J gets an equally special treatment. The kick-ass Tears For Fears track introduces the viewers to practically every character in the film (we haven't met yet) in this glorious steadicam sequence, wordlessly telling us everything we need to know about them all. Brilliant. (UPDATE - had to change this clip over to someone's remix of the music video and Donnie Darko clip because of a copyright notice from FOX - alas, you'll have to watch the movie to see this scene in full!)

8. Reservoir Dogs - Stuck In The Middle

Who doesn't like a spot of easy-listening while they're maiming tied-up policemen? Not much to say about this that hasn't been said elsewhere before, except that it's another song forever linked to this gruesome visual...

9. The Big Lebowski - Just Dropped In

Fine, okay, so I'm getting quite 90s heavy on this list in general, but hey, you promised you wouldn't judge!  Just shut up and watch the clip. It's Kenny Rogers for crying out loud - show some respect! This movie moment is so full of awesome I don't even know where to start.

10. Muppet Movie - The Rainbow Connection

Awww... Kermit sitting on a log all by his lonesome, strumming on a banjo, singing that song. If that's not a perfect way to round out this list, I don't know what is...

 


Books : The New TV?

I got caught in a conversation this week about the increasing amount of back-turning on traditional cinema in favour of well-constructed television. Good TV isn't a new thing - shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, West Wing, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and more recently House of Cards and hell even Girls have each either pushed a boundary or two, or cemented the art of television as a serious creative medium. Of all the disciplines that go into producing this stuff, the bar raised the highest since the crappy sitcoms of the 80s is arguably the writing. Snappy, intelligent dialog, multiple seasons planned out with meticulous care, characters three dimensional and/or well-researched (certainly a big part of the reason so many big name actors have answered the small-screen's siren call).

It's that writing part which I'm getting at. Whenever I've ended up in discussions about favourite (intelligent) television shows, it always comes back to the characters or the story or the dialog or the way people relate to these manufactured worlds on such a deep, emotional level. Who hasn't slammed through entire seasons of their old fave on a rainy weekend, or marathoned multiples? Found themselves committing eight or twelve or twenty or fifty hours to the cause? 

During one of these recent discussions, throwing awesome programme after awesome programme into the ring and discussing the various merits of the writing and characterisation, I felt a sudden stab : why is it so hard to get (most) people as thirsty and engaged in the same way regarding books? And moreso, as television becomes more and more sophisticated, the layers piled on, much more care taken with the planning and writing of a series, aren't we sharing (and raving about) an intellectual experience that is deliberately heading in the same direction and complexity of good literature? And as viewers, so many of us choosing this meatier, chewier programming - aren't we just crying out for the sort of brain-workout that books have and always will do better? When someone says to me "I don't read much", but then watches hour after hour of meaty television, saying things like "I wish there were more shows just like it" or "it's totally the smartest show on tv", aren't they just gagging for a good book?

When I pose the questions, the common excuse is that of time. Long-form takes too long. Not enough hours in the day. I call bollocks to that. Slamming an entire series of Game Of Thrones - one series covering as much ground as one book, with all the same punch but skimpier on the depth and details - would take me about the same time to read as it would to watch. Even a poor reader could slam through a chapter or two in the time it would take to view a single episode. "Too expensive" is another; buying a book is cheaper than buying a season on DVD, and a public library is cheaper than a Netflix subscription. For the pirates, eBooks are just as free as pirated tv shows, take much less time to download, and can be emailed to your buddies instead of lumbered around on drives. 

Of course the mediums are vastly different, and the benefits of television can't be ignored - slightly more passive, you can "switch off", and new material is often more regularly at hand than new books (i.e. you switch the tv on, the new shows are there ready to go, as opposed to a premeditated trip to the library or bookshop, or an online shopping experience - all more energetic than mindless-passive). I wouldn't try to argue against these things if that's what drives your choices, as particularly the switch-off, I'm totally down with. Nor would I argue against the teleplay itself as being a completely valid art form in it's own right, and that the dramatic/cinematic/televisual arts can be just as stimulating and satisfying as your nightly entertainment without bringing literature into it at all.

But what I will stick with is that when many people will actively praise the complexity of a show's writing, characters, story arcs and high level of intelligence, but then not generally read a lot of books, it's hard to not see this as a total /facepalm. Good literature does do this stuff better. Particularly in series-long story arcs, a book will take up less of your time, offer more detailed characters, provide interior monologue without relying on an actor to bring out those nuances unspoken (or potentially not, if they suck), and give you a far richer amount of the details and layers than you can squish into a few hours of television. You see it all the time in adaptations, especially if you've read the book first. 

And on that thought, it's hard not to jump one step further: if modern television has progressively been getting closer to the intelligence level and complexity of good fiction, where does that path end? Perhaps the rising popularity of the Audio Book format answers this? While being more expensive than both tv and paper or e-books, it does afford (those who can tolerate the slower-than-thought pace of spoken word) the same passive experience television offers, while at the same time giving your brain the same higher-level workout as a good book.

I don't understand why books so often stay on the shelf, why, in this age of highly-intelligent programming, people still think that reading requires you to be more switched-on than your average smart-show, that it's less of an unwind to read when you get home from work. Really? Sorkin's writing for example.... can you really stay switched off with that dialogue? And as for passive, isn't watching an extremely tense episode of, say, a silent, knifey stand-off in a basement meth-lab where barely no words are spoken for 40 minutes but the tension is thick you're nearly pissing your pants.... you call that added stress in your day "passive"? I'm not saying books are smarter, less intense, or any of that, but I'm just saying I could make the same excuses about most of the first-rate shows out there as its viewers often accuse of books.

Each to their own, but if you do like the chunky stuff, try a bit of balance. Trust me - if you haven't picked up a book at all this week but you're currently counting down the weeks for your favourite show to come back from the mid-season break (filling the hours you normally would with repeats, classic series-slamming) then you're kinda missing out...

Now: where's that remote....