I don’t hate movies!

This may sound like an unimportant statement, but as a newly minted screenwriter, I was starting to worry that I seemed to dislike every movie I watched in theatres or via Netflix.

Now, I must admit that I have spent much of my life as a hypercritical asshole, a picker of nits most egregious, so it perhaps came as no surprise that a movie had to be pretty solid to impress me…but when you go through dozens of movies and find all of them meh, you start to worry. Or at least, I did.

You see, I slowly began to doubt my own understanding of what makes for a good film, or more importantly to me, a good story. And as someone who has decided to be a professional storyteller that is a worrisome doubt to have.

Movies that I have found lacking despite their acclaim

Movies that I have found lacking despite their acclaim

The recent fare that I had heard wonderful reviews of or that had won awards:

  • Blue Jasmine – good performance by Cate Blanchett in a completely forgettable movie
  • The East – incredibly slow melodrama in which none of the characters was note-worthy and a moral dilemma on which the screenwriter and director refuse to take a position
  • Life of Pi – hated the book, bored by the movie…would have been more likeable as a Disney flick
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona – boring people with no ties to the real world (like a need for money) screwing
  • Noah – missed opportunity to explore the more interesting character of Tubal-Cain
  • Dom Hemingway – a wonderful portrait of the eponymous character, a terribly flawed story (my thoughts)
  • Enemy – 2014 Cdn Screen Award as Best Picture, thief of 90 minutes of my life (my thoughts)

I have many colleagues who will defend some or all of these movies to the hilt and yet I found each of them somewhere between seriously flawed and downright insulting.

Clearly, I was the problem. In my zeal to craft my own stories, I had become myopic on what a good story is, what good characters are.

And then I watched The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.

Wow. I was blown away, not just by the subject matter, but by the story itself, the unique perspective and the richly drawn characters.

Sure, there were one or two small moments where I tilted my head askew, but they did not linger. Nor did they snowball in my consciousness as they were few and far between.

Movies that have renewed my faith in storytelling

Movies that have renewed my faith in storytelling

Last night, I watched The Reader.

Not as blown away, but still enthralled. Rich characters, slow revelations, palpable conflict both within and without.

I don’t hate movies.

I have no time for movies that fail…and more importantly, I aspire to and am inspired by movies that succeed.

Doubts remain, but thankfully, they have diminished.

Dom Hemingway – A Review

CN_DomHemingway

A redemption story of a career criminal who has played the game by an unwritten code, who has done his best to do right by people within the criminal world and been screwed at every turn. The only people he hasn’t done right by, in fact, are his ex-wife and daughter, whom he completely screwed over. (Trailer)

Written and directed by Richard Shepard, who brought us The Matador, Dom Hemingway works on so many levels—from its amazing opening soliloquy (no better way to describe it), through astounding montages of decadence that can only be described as balletic, to tender moments of friendship punctuated with foul language.

But sadly, because it works on so many levels, the places where it doesn’t are glaring. And there is perhaps no bigger failure than the actual story.

There is no doubt that Shepard can write. His use of words to express universal ideas and human frailty are musical. Unfortunately, those skills only serve to create islands of poetry in a story that slowly drowns in conflicting tides. The movie bogs down into little more than a series of fortunately/unfortunately vignettes that ultimately don’t go anywhere.

Likewise, the moment we leave the criminal aspects of the story and Dom has to face the wreck that is his life and relationships, the dialogue becomes wooden and cliché.

Even the redemption angle is eventually undercut by additional scenes that suggest Dom has learned little. Not sure what Shepard’s thought was here—that people don’t really change, perhaps—but it might simply be an unverbalized acknowledgement of Shepard’s own limitations.

The performances of Jude Law and Richard E. Grant cover for many of the story flaws. Law’s Dom is a man who can’t get out of his own self-destructive behaviours long enough to actually succeed and let his skills prove himself. Grant, meanwhile, plays the long-suffering conscience who just wants his friend to be happy, but doesn’t have the energy to watch Dom implode in his own fear yet again. Unfortunately, the minute these amazing men leave the screen, the movie flat lines.

(Side note: Just before the movie started, the theatre screened an ad for Filth (trailer). It was amazing how similar the lead characters of the two movies appear, as Law seemed to be channelling his inner James McAvoy at times.)

Perhaps the best way to describe Dom Hemingway is to say you will feel energized watching it, but a little empty of dissatisfied as you leave the theatre.

I wanted this movie to be better. I wanted it to be the best movie I’d seen all year, the most complete movie. Alas, it wasn’t.