Tag Archives: films

WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES

WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES

While reviewing the entertaining HBO show Barry, it struck me that I have an irrational dislike of film and TV programmes which resort to using people’s singular names in the title. Why, though? Let’s be honest: it’s not a big deal. So, why does it bother me? To answer this question I decided to a hold a brief whimsical exploration of such titles.

Titles are important. They create the first contact for the audience. They pull you in or push you away before you even know who made the film or who stars in it. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a film called: Jaws (1975) or Alien (1979) or The Terminator (1984)? Conversely, who wants to watch a film called The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (2008)?

Obviously, big decisions are made at the title-naming stage of any works. Or are they? I think naming a film after a single name, on the surface, just seems a tad lazy. But, on reflection, using single names for the titles of a film or TV show can be impactful and to the point.

It’s weird, because I don’t mind place name titles at all. In fact, Fargo (1996), is one of my favourite films. The singular title just works. Similarly, so does Chinatown (1974). Fargo, especially, names both a place and the two syllables within the place — ‘far’ and ‘go’ — suggest the actions of the characters in the story. Chinatown, on the other hand, is more poetic; naming a place but also hinting at something exotic and mysterious. Either that or a cultural area where you can visit and perhaps get a certain kind of food.

I also don’t object to personal names being part of the title. For example, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), is such a great title because it’s better than just plain old ‘Rosemary’. What does the singular Rosemary tell us? Very little. But add the ‘baby’ element and you conjure up suspense and a desire to know what will happen to Rosemary and her child. Similarly, When Harry Met Sally (1986), is a simple yet delightful title which tells you the character names, events and we’re most likely to witness some form of romance.

It may be that the film is an adaptation and just named after the original source material. Rebecca (1940), by Daphne Du Maurier is a good example of this. Rebecca works for me though as the name has a haunting feel; and this is certainly confirmed once you read the book or watch the film. On the other hand, the film Carol (2015), feels benign in comparison. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s literary classic, it’s a sumptuous and touching romance, however, the title did not draw me in. It was only when I saw the cast and that it was directed by Todd Haynes, I decided to watch it.

The best singular name film is Rocky (1975). Here is a classic underdog story of a boxer who is Rocky by name and rocky by nature. He’s streetwise but lacking intellect and seems to have literal rocks in his head. He’s scrabbling around trying to make ends meet with a head as hard as rock too. But, because of this he can take the blows and punches and still come back for more. We love the character because he never gives in; he literally rocks!

In conclusion, like everything, there are good and bad examples of film titles. Some singular named titles work way better than others. Titles like: Barry (2018), Dave (1993) and even a fine film like Carol, seem weak to me. Meanwhile, a title like Rocky just works perfectly. Anyway, here are eleven singular named film titles which also fly against my pet annoyance and mostly work really well.

Top Eleven “Single Name” Films

  1. Rocky (1975)
  2. Carrie (1976)
  3. Jezebel (1938)
  4. Lolita (1962)
  5. Amelie (2001)
  6. Tarzan (1932 etc.)
  7. Rebecca (1940)
  8. Leon (1994)
  9. Matilda (1996)
  10. Marty (1955)
  11. Nell (1994)

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #3

UNDER-RATED FILM CLASSICS #3

Eight years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too bad: www.whatculture.com

Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise or viewings. The first list and subsequent list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988), Tremors (1990), Locke (2014), Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) and many more.

My rules are simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:

  • Must not have won an Oscar.
  • Must not have won a BAFTA.
  • Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  • Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  • Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  • Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

So, with these criteria in mind I present a further sequel to my previous article with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BEFORE I WAKE (2016)

Before I Wake tells the moving story of an orphaned boy fostered by Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth’s grieving parents. This was a dream-like and touching tale with a powerful element of horror which benefits from great performances by Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay. I imagine I’m the only person who actually rates this film but I think, despite some plot issues, it remains a beautiful hidden movie gem.

DREDD (2012)

After the mostly horrendous Sylvester Stallone starring Judge Dredd adaptation, Karl Urban subsequently stepped into the boots of the ruthless cop hell-bent on bringing justice to Mega City One. It’s a lower budgeted, but tremendous action thriller with Dredd battling nefarious druglords in a fortified tower block complex; led by a grand turn from Lena Headey. Violent and darkly humorous, Dredd was not a box-office success, but it was short, sharp and loud with Urban, keeping his visor firmly to his face, giving a steely performance as the grizzled, veteran law-keeper.

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2017)

This British independent period drama is not something I would usually go for. It’s a period drama and biopic about Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne and while these films are often by-the-numbers, this rendition of his life post World War I is a touching and emotionally heart-warming narrative. Thematically it is very strong with evocation of the post-traumatic stress Milne suffered after returning from war, plus the negative effect fame had on his family when his books became bestsellers. Domnhall Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald and Margot Robbie shine in their respective roles, but Will Tilston as young Christopher Robin/Billy Moon is a revelation as Milne’s young son.

THE MIST (2007)

Frank Darabont had tremendous success with a number of Stephen King adaptations, notably the now revered The Shawshank Redemption (1994). But, his rendition of King’s The Mist is an equally powerful movie. Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden and Darabont regular, Jeffrey DeMunn, the film centres on the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm in Bridgport, Maine. As townsfolk get trapped in a supermarket, any attempt at escape is prevented by a monstrous presence in the mist. With the supermarket representing a microcosm of humanity, the film poses the idea that religious fanatics are as much a threat as the aliens outside; with Marcia Gay Harden on ferocious form as the lead zealot. Thrilling and dark, The Mist is relentlessly frightening with a jaw-dropping ending.

THE OTHER GUYS (2010)

Adam McKay’s silly genre movie is an entertaining comedic cop film parody, thrilling action spoof and, on occasions, full of smart social commentary. It begins with an incredible chase sequence involving hero cops played by Samuel L. Jackson and Duwayne Johnson; only they are NOT the main protagonists because they are soon dispatched very early in the story. Enter the mismatched duo of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous anti-heroes who pursue Steve Coogan’s crooked CEO. Further, McKay has digs at money-men who manipulate the stock market to save their dishonest hides. With a twisting narrative, brilliant running gags and Wahlberg and Farrell’s stupendous double act, this is a highly memorable comedy full of stupidity, hilarity and style.

PHANTASM (1979)

Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction.  Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Director Don Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.

PUSHER II (2004)

Pusher II is even more relentlessly grim than the original featuring all manner of dumb, lower-class hoods trying to scrape gold from Copenhagen streets paved mainly with heroin and blood. It’s an unglamorous and honest realisation of criminal-life as low-level drug pushers fuck one another over on a regular basis. Mikkelsen’s Tonny is a tragic character, who is left rudderless by a manipulative father and just cannot cut a break due to both his own lack of intelligence or positive role models.  Never has there been so much sympathy for a movie thug like Tonny as Mikkelsen extracts every bit of humanity he can from the poor beast.

RUNNING SCARED (2006)

This Paul Walker starring crime thriller is a proper B-movie and arguably isn’t even that good. Indeed, it does seem to fall into that sub-Tarantino narrative bracket. However, every time I have watched it I have been glued to the twisty plot and violent gun-play. Walker is the low level mobster in New Jersey, who, after a drug deal goes wrong, must locate an incriminating and missing hand-gun, or face a violent death. I think it’s the frantic pace and action that’s full of surprises and punchlines which kept me enthralled; and despite the generic nature of the story I really rate it as a proper guilty pleasure.

SNOWPIERCER (2014)

Cruelly buried by the Weinstein studio on initial release, this under-rated graphic novel adaptation is absolutely brilliant. Set in an apocalyptic future, the train becomes an analogy for class struggle between the haves and have-nots. The action is relentless as it depicts the working class struggle. Their revolution occurs with Chris Evans’ character leading the hungry poor to the top of the train where the rich and privileged live a life of luxury. Bong Joon-ho directs Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton expertly, as the film marries social commentary and blistering action with aplomb.

STOKER (2013)

Written, surprisingly enough, by Wentworth Miller, the lead actor from Prison Break, this is a subtle and bleak contemporary Southern Gothic tale. Directed by genius filmmaker Park Chan-wook, it stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and the under-rated Matthew Goode as a dysfunctional family unit who all have secrets to hide. While the film moves slowly it creepily spreads a steady flow of dread as we never quite know which character holds the biggest threat. Inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), this psychological thriller is full of death, grief and mystery and if you prefer slow-burn suspense this is definitely a film for you.

BIRD BOX (2018) and ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS 

BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS

Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so many visitors in a saturated online market.

For my final reviews of the year I have decided to double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add them to my 2018 favourites.

So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in January. Happy 2019 in advance!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BIRD BOX (2018)

Directed by: Susanne Bier

Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN!  I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.

The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

ROMA (2018)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged danger of the era; however, Roma is more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.

Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His direction on both Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal; utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise, in Roma his stylistic choices are fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone. Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking, Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a simple, slice-of-life story.                                           

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #14 – SALLY HAWKINS

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #14 – SALLY HAWKINS

Sally Hawkins is such a formidable actor. She is likeable, bright, and funny; possessing an expert ability to bring pathos and emotion to every role. Having first really noticed her in Mike Leigh’s compelling period drama Vera Drake (2004), it’s mainly in the last decade she’s getting the leading roles her talent demands. Thus, here are five of Sally Hawkins most impressive performances that are well worth watching again and again.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

FINGERSMITH (2005)

Yes, I know it says “cinematic romance” and Fingersmith was a two-part British TV programme, however, Sarah Waters’ novel was also made into a film by Park-Chan Wook called The Handmaiden (2016), so it kind of counts.  Hawkins portrays Sue Trinder, raised to be a thief in Victorian England, who enters into a scam to rob an heiress. However, her relationship with the ‘mark’ becomes very complex indeed as the twisting complex plot becomes a veritable joy. Hawkins is a sympathetic criminal faced dealing with the sexist oppression of the day and she delivers thoughtful acting combining vulnerability and romance. One of Hawkins early starring performances shows what a great talent she is and will become.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008)

When I first saw this film I really did not enjoy it. Perhaps I was in a bad mood or just not up for any kind of positivity. I was also surprised Mike Leigh had delivered something, in comparison to Vera Drake (2004), a film so inconsequential. However, having re-watched it in the last year I must admit I was a total fool and wrong. Sally Hawkins character work and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy. Her character is very natural, optimistic and care-free. She enjoys her job as a primary school teacher and drifts through life happily. Hawkins imbues Poppy with a light comedic touch and her timing of a look, little giggle and innocence gags just make you feel better about life. If everyone was like Poppy the world would be a far better place.

BLUE JASMINE (2013)

While Woody Allen’s work has been re-evaluated in light of his very questionable personal choices, there’s no doubting his casting selections are absolute quality. It’s becoming more and more difficult to separate the creative from his apparent sins this in no way impacts on the sterling work of Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in an excellent family comedy full of barbed wit and conflict. Hawkins performance as Ginger, an every person just trying to get by, sparks and conflicts with Blanchett’s neurotic socialite in effervescent comedic fashion. The two actors excel and Hawkins was nominated for an Academy award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ as Blanchett took away the main prize.

MAUDIE (2016)

Perhaps overshadowed by the success of the big budget monster/love story The Shape of Water (2017), the low-budget Maudie features another stunning Hawkins turn. She is quietly powerful in the role of Nova Scotia painter Maud Dowling who came to prominence for her painting in the late 1960s and became somewhat of a cult treasure. Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal the acting honours as the unlikely husband and wife, as Aisling Walsh directs a fine tribute to a small woman with a massive artistic talent. Hawkins is just brilliant though as the bullied and beaten women who refuses to break as the performance demonstrates a human being small of stature but big in spirit.

THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

Sally Hawkins plays mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, who works at a top secret U.S. army base. Silent from birth, what she lacks in voice, Elisa more than makes up for in courage, compassion and confidence. When a mysterious “Asset” is delivered to Elisa’s place of work she suddenly becomes entwined in an incredible story of sacrifice and love. Hawkins and Doug Jones performances are entrancing as two silent characters are able to say more with a look, hand signal and touch than a thousand words could achieve.  In any other year Sally Hawkins would have walked away with all the Best Actress honours; yet she was up against the incredible Frances McDormand. Nonetheless, Hawkins gives us such a nuanced and heart-rending performance you forget that she cannot speak.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

I have found  it’s difficult to find an original angle when reviewing certain films i.e. franchise movies or sequels. Indeed, unless they are absolutely brilliant I tend not to review them. Therefore, I had no major intention of writing about the new Tom Cruise produced Mission Impossible release, as these films, despite their technical movie-making brilliance, follow a very strict and safe formula. I mean what can I really add critically other than say I enjoyed it or I didn’t. However, it really is such a fantastic blockbuster movie I accepted an impossible mission, of sorts, to create something interesting while reviewing it.

So, here we go: Mission Impossible BINGO! It’s both recognition of the formula but also praise for the latest instalment which had me on the edge of my seat, heart in my mouth and biting my nails throughout. In the context of story it’s very generic but in terms of action, thrills and stunts it gets a Mark of 9 out of 11!

tom-cruise-mission-impossible

McQUARRIE directs Fallout which is essentially a direct sequel to Rogue Nation. We know his track record as a writer but he’s now proving himself a fantastic director too. I enjoyed Rogue Nation but Fallout raises the stakes with a witty, double-crossing, high octane and explosive movie, which actually improves the clichés of the formula in wonderful fashion.

INGENIOUS double-crossing is at the heart of the original Mission: Impossible television series and the film franchise. This is done through identification theft, impersonation, lies, deceit, scene-shifting, fake walls, and the famous face and voice changing technology.

STUNNING locations feature throughout the franchise. Changing the scenery is a means of tricking us into thinking we haven’t somehow seen this car-chase, foot chase or air chase before. Yet, what Mission: Impossible does brilliantly is take us into existing locations like the CIA Langley Headquarters, The Vatican City and even the Kremlin.

STUNTS and extravagant set-pieces dominate the whole of this franchise. From the original 1996 film’s wire-from-the-ceiling-hanging set-piece downloading a CIA encrypted agent list to the current Fall Out nuke-ticking-time-bomb denouement, Tom Cruise’ has committed some of the most breath-taking and technically brilliant action stunts ever.

ICONIC soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin has been often imitated but never a bettered. Those simple but effective notes fire up and immediately you know the action is about to start.

OPPOSING government agents are rife in the original show and film series, as inspired by the devious nature of the East v West “Cold War” from the 1950s onwards. In M: I you’ve got good agents, rogue agents, double agents, triple agents and ghost agents pretending to be good, bad and all of the above.

NEFARIOUS villains, like the Bond films, are necessary to precipitate some evil doings and kick off the plot.  My personal favourite was Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I 3 – as he really was evil. Solomon Lane as played by Sean Harris is cool too and is given some great speeches. His plan to blow up the world isn’t the most original but he has a blast trying it.

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IMPOSSIBLE missions are at the heart of the film franchise. I mean the characters are mainly paper thin and the narratives are mainly empty so the gadgets and all manner of ticking time bombs, impenetrable garrisons, bad guys shooting and blowing stuff up; plus the covert interrogations and switcheroos provide the substance to the cinema experience.

MACGUFFIN-LED plots are not the strength of the franchise and on occasions the narratives a threadbare with Ethan chasing something called a “rabbit foot” or stolen nuke heads being the target. But who cares as long as we get to see things blow up.

PLAYFUL humour and one-liners dominate the scripts as a means to punctuate the action. The first three arguably had less gags but with Simon Pegg joining the cast in M:I 4 the joke quota increased and it settled into the a more humour-led vein. Personally, I prefer the serious espionage stuff, but the gags punch up the entertainment value nonetheless.

OUTSTANDING casting always brings a raft of class to these movies. Indeed, despite the style-over-substance nature of the narratives casting heavyweight actors such as:  Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson and many more raise the quality of the productions no doubt.

SUBTERFUGE and double-crosses are a major part of the plots. Often we never quite know whose side certain characters are on at any one time. In Rogue Nation and Fallout the troubled spy Ilsa Faust is simultaneously batting for three teams in order to keep herself alive. Such devilish plotting keeps the stories bouncing along, which is why they are never dull.

SPECIAL effects are a major part of M:I, however, what is incredible to that Tom Cruise will strive to make the stunts as real as possible by actually doing them himself. The opening of Rogue Nation and the end of Fallout are absolutely stupendous feats of daring which I would never contemplate. Similarly, bungee jumps, rock-climbing, free-jumping and many other effects-free actions give a very realistic feeling to proceedings.

INCREDIBLY talented directors who have worked on the franchise include: Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, John Woo, Christopher McQuarrie and JJ Abrams bringing their own inimitable styles to the various films and while Woo’s is pretty weak the franchise abides as each film has its own identity, look and feel.

BIG budgets are required to drive the Mission: Impossible film behemoth and while they continue to make the studio billions of revenue long will they continue. The first film cost a whopping $80 million dollars while the Fallout cost a mere $178 million. Although, given Fallout absolutely rocks it’s already made that back and much more besides.

LEAPING, running, driving, diving, swimming, crashing, disguising, fighting, flying, biking, parachuting, moving – you name it the IMF do it at incredible speeds and heights!

ETHAN HUNT as presented by Tom Cruise is a righteous dude fighting the good fight against the evil wrongdoers in the world. His commitment to the cause is unwavering and in defending the innocent against the corrupt goverments, villains and agents of evil. We all root for him as an aspirational action man of the people.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF META-TEXTUALITY WITHIN CINEMA

A BRIEF HISTORY OF META-TEXTUALITY WITHIN CINEMA 

**CONTAINS FILM & LITERARY SPOILERS**

With the multitude of means of telling stories from video-games, literature, television, plays, songs, poems and of course, cinema, we have collectively become very sophisticated and experienced in our ability to understand fictional representations. Indeed, storytellers have, for centuries, attempted to find more complex and interesting ways to structure a narrative. One such way is the “story within a story” framing device. This could be: a play within a play; play within a film; TV show within a TV show; book within a film; film within a film; and so on. Indeed, Christopher Nolan’s incredibly complex science-fiction heist thriller Inception (2010) blew the audience’s mind with a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream concept; creating an array of stunning framing devices.

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The history of storytelling as illustrated by the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory shows that as far back as the likes of: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights, Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, narratives are framed from various narrator perspectives either through the devices of flashbacks and flash-forwards; stories within stories; or simply changing the narrator. In regard to stories within stories my first clear memory of such a framing device was in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the drama the Danish Prince attempts to shock a confession from his Mother and Uncle by getting the players to re-enact his father’s murder within their own play. Conversely, films within films have been a staple too of Hollywood and non-Hollywood film productions. Examples include: the classic musical Singing in the Rain (1952); Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), Altman’s The Player (1992) to name but a few, are examples of filmmaking actually being the subject of the movie. As storytelling has further evolved, Harold Pinter’s adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) shows both events of John Fowles original text, but at the same time, the author of the novel involved in a love affair thus reflecting events of the book. Lastly, postmodern films such as: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1984) and The Last Action Hero (1993) even have characters from the on-screen cinema world enter the “real” world and vice versa.

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Narrative, postmodern and semiotic theorists gather plays, stories and films which quote from other texts under the umbrella of meta-fiction. Indeed, many studies, including those by post-structuralists Julia Kristeva, Gerard Genette, and subsequently by academic Daniela Casellis, assert intertextuality or meta-textuality is a shaping of a text’s meaning by another text, as well as a production within texts. Meta-textuality often involves: allusion, quotation, pastiche, parody, homage and translation. It also enables the writer or director to differentiate their product and make it somehow fresh and contemporary. For example, Quentin Tarantino’s characters, while fictional, will make all kinds of references to: television shows, films, characters, hip-hop music and even fast food joints because that’s what real people talk about every-day. While his films themselves work on a meta-textual level within: War, Westerns, crime thrillers, Kung Fu and many other genres, his characters exist in the now with their strong knowledge of popular culture.

While meta-textuality is a complex cultural theory with many different strands, I have identified four interconnecting levels within texts such as films and television.  The first level of meta-textuality is structural. Incorporating flashbacks, dreams, imagination, narration and other textual framing devices, structural meta-textuality allows the filmmaker to play and bend linearity to create a fascinating means of telling a story. Moreover, it also asks the audience to question the very nature of storytelling itself. A simple example of structural meta-textuality is in The Princess Bride (1987) where the wonderful fairy-tale stories are based around a Grandfather telling his sick grandson tales of adventure and romance. More complex is Christopher Nolan’s structural representations. His early noir classic Memento (2000) is famously told in reverse chronological fashion, thus subverting the very nature of linear storytelling. His anti-hero, Leonard Shelby, has no means of making new memories thus via tattoos and Polaroid photos he constructs a present day movie of his own life in visual form. As the story unfolds we flash back and forth to a film within a film about a character called Sammy Jankis. Yet it turns out that Sammy is an imagined character used to suppress a terrible event in Leonard’s life and the film within a film is in fact the imagined vision of an unreliable narrator.

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This second level is diegetic meta-textuality. This, on a basic level, refers to texts within texts which while featured within the story do not really comment on the text. These could involve the characters visiting the cinema, reading a book or watching a television show. The third is thematic meta-textuality where the texts within the texts directly impact the narrative, characters and themes. For example, any number of films about filmmaking or film distribution process could be classed as thematically meta-textual. Cinema releases such as: the Scream (1996) franchise, Bowfinger (1999), Boogie Nights (1997), Ed Wood, Living In Oblivion (1995), State and Main (2000), Berberian Sound Studio (2012), The Disaster Artist (2017), to name but a few, are great examples of films about filmmaking which exhibit thematic meta-fictional tropes.

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The Disaster Artist (2017) takes great delight in paying homage to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003); a film which is often hailed as one of the worst ever made. The film shows how Tommy Wiseau came to make The Room (2003) and the disaster he encounters. Meta-textually, comedically and entertainment-wise this film is a highly satisfying cinematic experience. Even as the credits roll the sequence which shows scenes from The Room and re-enactments from The Disaster Artist are a joy to behold. Also thematically strong is Scream. It is especially clever because the characters are aware of the fact they are under threat and attempt to avoid death by making reference to various horror film tropes. Likewise, Tarantino’s uber-meta war film Inglourious Basterds (2009) features the fictional film Nations Pride, which both satirizes the German propaganda machine and the violent nature of war films in general. Tarantino is so obsessed by cinema that his wish fulfilment bloodlust even sees the Nazi hordes burned and shot down in an actual cinema.

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The final level is emotional meta-textuality. This idea is slightly more open to interpretation because one could argue that all aspects of storytelling are intended to illicit emotion in the audience. However, I am referring to films where the meta-fictional aspects have a deep emotional or dramatic impact on the characters. Such examples include the intriguing Will Ferrell dramedy called Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell portrays Harold Strick who suddenly finds his life is being narrated by an omniscient storyteller, who turns out to be Emma Thompson’s author. Here the narrator is presented as a God-like power dictating what she thinks is a fictional character in Strick. Ultimately, fiction and the “real” world collide in an emotionally satisfying meta-textual story of discovery and mid-life crises. Similar, but even darker in its representation of emotional meta-textuality is Tom Ford’s adaptation Nocturnal Animals (2016), from a novel by Austin Wright. Here Amy Adams character, an Art gallery owner is sent a novel by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. As she reads the manuscript a film within a film opens up which shows events that symbolise the wrongs he feels she has done to him. In the final revelatory scenes the emotional impact is damning to her life decisions and she is left alone, in the dark, with her own guilty thoughts.

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In keeping with historical and literary modes of storytelling many films will deliver their stories in a meta-textual fashion using structural, diegetic, extra-diegetic and emotional methods. Furthermore, some films will utilise these all at the same time. One such screenwriter and filmmaker is Charlie Kaufman. His works such as: Being John Malkovich (1999), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Adaptation (2002) offer mind-blowing meta-textuality. Adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage, for example, features a screenwriter called Charlie Kaufmann trying to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief but suffering writer’s block. Instead he begins to write a screenplay about a screenwriter struggling to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief. Did he I also mention he has a twin brother called Donald who is also a screenwriter. Now, I could begin to analyse Adaptation but that would be a whole different story within and story within a story. . .

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SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

Sometimes it’s not necessary to go on and on about a film so here’s a rapid-fire round-up of films I’ve seen over the last couple of months. It’s like speed-dating for films but without the crushing romantic disappointment of mass rejection in one evening. As usual I accompany the reviews with marks out of eleven.

**SPOILER-FREE**

1922 (2017) – NETFLIX

Thomas Jane excels as a scheming farmer haunted by death, greed and rats!    (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

An OCD-assassin portrayed by Ben Affleck wreaks havoc in a very tidy fashion.    (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ANDY AND JIM (2017) – NETFLIX

Schizoid-meta-textual-yet-intriguing Jim Carrey / Andy Kaufmann documentary. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

ANTHROPOID (2016) – NETFLIX

Gripping WWII story concerning Czech resistance fighters assassinating Nazis.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ASSASSINS’ CREED – SKY CINEMA

Stunning production values and cast are let down by a bemusing plot and script.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)

THE BAR (2017) – NETFLIX

Spanish comedy-thriller has selfish occupants trapped in a bar all turn on each other!    (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BLEED FOR THIS (2016) – NETFLIX

Miles Teller excels as boxer Vinny Pazienza battling for survival in and out of the ring.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

DEATHNOTE (2017) – NETFLIX

Hamstrung horror film throws away a brilliant concept via hopeless script and acting.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

FREE STATE OF JONES (2016) – AMAZON

Watchable American Civil War historical drama with McConaughey on good form.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GOLD (2016) – AMAZON

McConaughey again shines as a modern day gold prospector in compelling drama.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

LIVE BY NIGHT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Affleck as gangster anti-hero in stylish but empty “Roaring Twenties” adaptation.   (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE MEYOROWITZ STORIES (2017) – NETFLIX

Narcissistic family members talk at each other about life in pretentious drama.    (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SNOWDEN (2016) – NETFLIX

Oliver Stone brings the famous whistle-blower’s story to life in a well-shot drama.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

TRUE STORY (2015) – NETFLIX

Franco and Hill sleepwalk through a compelling real-life murder case narrative.   (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE WAILING (2016) – NETFLIX

Incredibly rendered yet abstract Korean horror centring on Shamans and viral death.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WAR MACHINE (2017) – NETFLIX

Tonally haphazard mix of war satire, biopic and drama with Brad Pitt hamming it up.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)