FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #10 – CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016)
Written and directed by Matt Ross
Produced by: Nimitt Mankad, Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor
Cinematography: Stephen Fontaine
Music: Alex Somers
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Ann Dowd,
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Have you ever thought about living “off the grid?” Maybe you already do. It’s something I have considered from time to time. Get out of the rat race and stop punching the clock. I don’t think I have the abilities or desire to do so though ultimately. Moreover, I would probably miss my television and home comforts like baths and central heating. Having said that, it’s always fascinating to watch films or TV programmes about characters or people who have tried to live outside conventional societal rules. Films like: Together (2000), The Commune (2016), Leave No Trace (2018) and Into the Wild (2007) are all excellent narratives which represent characters who, to varying degrees of failure and success, have eschewed civilization. Matt Ross’ excellent recent release, Captain Fantastic (2016), is another darkly humorous and poignant movie to add to that list.
I’m not sure why I missed seeing Captain Fantastic (2016) first time round at the cinema, but I am so glad I caught up with it on Netflix. It stars the ever-brilliant Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, the father-of-six children, ages ranging from seven to late teens. Their mother, Leslie, alas, has suffered long bouts of depression linked to bipolar disorder and is currently in a mental health facility. Having established Ben and the children’s unorthodox living arrangements in a forest dwelling, the script throws them the tragic curveball of Leslie’s suicide. The family leave behind their strict hunting, education and exercise routine, as well as their self-built huts, shacks and wooden dens, to drive cross-country on their transformed mobile home, a bus called Steve, to attend Leslie’s funeral.
While grief and sadness hang heavy over the family unit, Matt Ross’ brilliant screenplay structures the film around that great American film genre — the road movie. As the bus, Steve, carries them away from the wilderness into civilisation, the clashing of the Cash’s alternative lifestyle and socially eccentric behaviour with society, provides a rich vein of comedic and dramatic moments. For example, Viggo Mortensen eating breakfast naked at a campsite while people pass by, and oldest son, Bodevan (George Mackay), romantically declaring his love to Claire (Erin Moriarty), who was just expecting a random hook-up, are both hilarious scenes. Similarly, Ben and Leslie, having tutored their kids at home quite impressively, have not factored in their apparent lack of socialisation in the outside world. Lastly, Ben’s candidness in matters of sex is shocking too and he conflicts with his sister, portrayed by Kathryn Hahn, who believes the children should have a more “normal” life.
Amidst the humour and hilarious culture clash punchlines, the director, Matt Ross, expertly weaves some heartfelt drama in their too. Ben fights with his father-in-law, Jack (Frank Langella) over Leslie’s funeral arrangements. Jack then attempts to take the children off him via legal means. Throughout all this Viggo Mortensen’s majestic acting performance anchors the film with searing emotional depth. His character must deal with the death of his wife and whether he has made the right decisions for his family. I mean, the kids have cuts and bruises from hunting exploits, possess strange invented names, wear unconventional clothes and do not celebrate Christmas at all. Furthermore, they eschew all organised religion in favour of celebrating academic philosopher, Noam Chomsky’s birthday. With the death of his wife and pressure from her family, it’s no surprise Ben feels cornered. However, Matt Ross’ film, Captain Fantastic (2016), lives up to the positive title and overall gives us a sense of warmth, community and love, proving that family unity is often an impossible bond to break.
Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard
Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram
Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson
US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix
**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
“Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre
So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.
Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.
Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.
The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.
Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.
SISYPHEAN REPRESENTATIONS IN CINEMA AND TELEVISION
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”Winston Churchill
Have you ever just thought: what’s the point in carrying on? Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus which I read when I was in my teens; and while failing to understand it I felt cool and superior to everyone else who hadn’t read it. I read it again a few years ago and it is a fascinating analysis as to whether life has any point.
Camus deemed life an exercise in the absurd and one should never give up but rather laugh or revolt; something like that anyway! He offered mythological character Sisyphus, who, if you didn’t know, was punished for his deceitfulness by the Gods. His penance was to forever push the same boulder up a hill over and over. Camus opined Sisyphus’ struggle gave life meaning despite the immortal repetition.
I have in my darkest hours of life’s disappointment thought about relinquishing hope. However, I agree with Camus as I feel NOT giving up is in fact success enough; and persistence is reward enough whatever the outcome. So, to celebrate characters overcoming adversity, abject failure or seemingly insurmountable odds, I have picked out some “Sisyphean” characters from TV and cinema who just didn’t know when they were beaten even if the odds were stacked against them or they’ve suffered defeat after defeat.
**MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD**
NUMBER 6 – THE PRISONER (1967)
Bond meets Kafka in this unique 1960s spy-thriller-with-a-twist. The brainchild of TV star Patrick McGoohan, this unique and psychedelic show found our anti-hero Number 6 attempting to escape from an idyllic “prison” called the Village. He could just settle back and give in to his captors’ questioning but Number 6 refuses to be filed and indexed; preferring to fight against the authorities despite being thwarted week after week.
ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
Patience is a virtue they say and Andy Dufresne shows it in spades; tiny little digging spades he uses to chip away at a tunnel over many, many years. This prison film benefits from a gem of a Stephen King story, plus Frank Darabont’s brilliant writing. Everyman Dufresne could be battered into submission by the rape, beatings, and incarceration he endures but his stubborn survival instinct pays off in a wonderful pay-off at the story’s end.
CAROL PELETIER – THE WALKING DEAD (2010 – )
Don’t you just hate the darned Zombie Apocalypse!! I could have chosen a number of characters from other zombie films or shows but to me Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) is one of the great survivors. She began as an meek character abused by her husband, but having seen her young daughter turn she eventually grew into a formidable “Sarah Connor” archetype kicking zombie butt with aplomb. Arguably, her mental breakdown in the last season was a disappointing but no doubt the Carol we love will be back; hopefully.
HUGH GLASS – THE REVENANT (2015)
Bear with me on this one! DiCaprio got the Oscar for his nature-versus-man-survival-fest and deservedly so for his physical endeavour. His character Glass just refuses to shatter as he firstly suffers a vicious Grizzly attack and then is left for dead by Tom Hardy’s mumbling mercenary. After which the terrain, natives, climate, and most terrifyingly, men, conspire to force Glass into all manner of gruelling trials as he seeks revenge for the murder of his son.
MATTIE ROSS – TRUE GRIT (1969)
I loved this John Wayne classic pursuit Western when I was a kid and have seen it too many times to mention. The Duke won the Oscar yet the standout performance was from Kim Darby as Mattie Ross; a feisty, motor-mouth irritant who nags and cajoles and chases and fights after vicious murderer Tom Chaney. My favourite scene is with Rooster Cogburn, who when finally realising she just won’t give up, laughs and proclaims in his classic laconic drawl, “By god – she reminds me of me!”
MAX ROCKATANSKY: FURY ROAD (2015)
Mad Max is one of the great existential action heroes. Adorned in battered leather and wearing life’s scars on his face and heart he continues to live and survive in a hopeless world full of punk maniacs with death in their eyes. I guess he carries on because there’s a flicker of hope in his marrow; even if danger and pain are often his only companions on the Fury Road!
SOLOMON NORTHRUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
I could never begin to understand the suffering individuals went through at the hands of slavers. Yet Solomon Northrup’s memoir and latterly Steve McQueen’s film version of the story encapsulated the pain of such an existence with such power. Chiwetel Ejiofor excels in the lead of an innocent man stolen from his family and forced into bondage by nefarious examples of humanity. Throughout, Northrup retains his dignity and strength never to surrender; and is ultimately rewarded with freedom despite a horrific twelve years of agony.
SCRAT – ICE AGE (2002 – )
Scrat is a big-toothed-long-suffering-squirrel from the Ice Age franchise whose comic vignettes involve him attempting to transport a huge acorn to an unknown hibernation location. Following Murphy’s Law adage that “what can go wrong will go wrong” to ad infinitum the pain and mayhem for the prehistoric squirrel makes for hilarious slapstick. While we revel in Scrat’s misadventures the blighter never gives up on his prize suffering blow after blow yet never relinquishing that nut whatever the weather.
SUE HECK – THE MIDDLE (2009 – )
Benefitting from an effervescent performance by young actress Eden Sher, the character of Sue Heck is a socially awkward yet committed individual. She tries out for EVERYTHING: spelling bees, cheerleaders, competitions, after-school clubs and pretty much FAILS every time. However, she views eschews failure and rejection and the fact teachers don’t even remember who she is as a mere trifle. She is a terrific loser whose enthusiasm knows no limits and for that I salute her spirit and passion. We can all learn from Sue Heck!
WILE E. COYOTE (1948 – )
Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese original animated tortured soul IS Sisyphus incarnate. Doomed to pursuit and abject failure Wile E. Coyote just absolutely won’t give up chasing the Roadrunner. Slapstick violence and near-death pummels the damned creature’s soul; yet he comes back for more and more punishment without ever seeking an alternative food supply. I found the cartoons hilarious as a kid and still do now. Wile E. Coyote is the “living” epitome of Churchill’s quote which begins this piece and I love the character for his sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and refusal to yield.
GOD & TARGETS: TWELVE SCREENPLAYS BY CHRISTMAS from PAUL LAIGHT
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Frederic Nietzsche
I have over the years always wondered why I am alive. I mean: what’s the point of life? Why are humans here at all? Are we just animals or are we meant for something more? God or faith is one such thing that has papered over those cracks for some people. However, I am not a religious person as I prefer to believe in my own eyes, ears and experience. I am open to theories and hypothesis but do not require ideological brainwashing to help me get through the day.
Blasphemy it may be but much of my spirituality is gained from worshipping movies, music, sport and other cultural interests. Of course, family and loved ones are the priority and quite rightly give my life meaning and structure. But what keeps a person going from one day to the next? Money, work, exercise, drugs, travel, hobbies and the sheer desire just to stay alive are up there. Indeed, fear of the abyss can be another powerful reason to keep going; death is a great motivator!
Generally speaking my philosophy is be good to others, don’t be a cunt and if you can’t be positive make sure your negativity is either funny or interesting. I don’t need a God or a set of spurious ideologies to live my life. But, what I do like though from year-to-year is some kind of creative or personal target with which to propel me through the months. It gives me focus and takes my mind off death. There’s also a delusion in my psychology that perhaps one day my creative ability could get rewarded either in some form of employment or financial reward. You never know! Miracles do happen.
Targets of late have included:
Lose weight and get fit.
Start a diary where I record my events and thoughts through the year.
Write and produce a cultural blog reviewing films, shows and events.
Give up smoking.
Write and perform comedy at one of the Fringe Festivals.
Write, film and edit my own short film productions.
To train and achieve a 10 mile distance run within a 12 month period.
Do something for a Charity.
I can honestly say I have achieved these targets over the last ten years and in 2015 I decided to set myself another goal. On top of continuing my blog and diary and fitness routines I decided I would set about writing TWELVE short film screenplays in a year. Given I have a full-time job and am a parent this is quite a big ask. But on December 21st 2015 I hit this target! Good for me!!
So, for my own benefit I have listed the short screenplays I have written and the ideas behind them. Here’s to 2016: small victories are the way forward!
WAITING FOR GODDARD – DRAMA
PAUL MORRIS is owed money by his so-called friend GODDARD and desperately needs it back. However, he’s in for a very long wait.
This is a snapshot story of friendship and betrayal. I wanted to write something that was simple to shoot and also a kind of homage to the opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in America.
SCREENWASH – COMEDY
Comedy short satirising film shows incorporating reviews, clips and trailers of classic and upcoming film releases.
METRO LIVE is a bold, colourful and fun new TV channel serving London. It’s youthful and energetic and punchy and its USP is many of the shows are presented ‘LIVE’. SCREENWASH is its ‘LIVE’ weekly movie review show.
The show takes the structure of new movie release reviews; classic DVD/movie reviews; articles on featured movie director/actor; an artistic strand where he champions a gay/lesbian/black Eastern European filmmaker etc.; movie news and forthcoming presentations including trailers; competitions etc.
I basically wanted to embrace my love of movies through quick fire comedy sketches structured within a review show format. I also wanted to satirise the contemporary hipster styles and pretentious nature of arthouse reviewers. It’s probably my most ambitious script as it also incorporates a crumbling relationship between the presenters of the programme.
THE STAIRWELL – SURREAL COMEDY-DRAMA
Postman, JOHN MILLER, gets trapped in a spatial loop on a building stairwell and can find no way of escape.
This story is classic-one-location-short-film-low-budget-territory with a Postman trapped in a spatial-time-loop unable to escape. I was inspired by my love of Dr Who as well as the notion of characters being trapped by circumstances and a dead-end job.
SOUND WOMAN – COMEDY
MARTHA FOLEY wakes up one day and finds her every sound, movement and action is replaced by a movie sound effect.
When I was editing my comedy documentary The Rock ‘N’ Droll Experience I used some sound effects and I got the idea from that. I just liked the idea of experimenting with the form and content of sound effects. It’s a simple, silly idea with which to have fun with so for example our protagonist yawns and it sound like a duck quack. There’s no depth involved just a one-joke short.
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS – COMEDY
At the cinema ALICE and her boyfriend JOHN are terrorised by the noises made by fellow filmgoer, DARREN. When an argument ensues between them the characters from the film also take umbrage as chaos ensues.
This was inspired by my own experience of rude crisp and popcorn munchers at the cinema. So I set out to write something ridiculous and funny that deals with that particular pet hatred of mine. The idea of the characters on the cinema screen coming to life and interacting with “real” people is not new and clearly influenced by Woody Allen’s classic Purple Rose of Cairo.
SAMARITAN – DRAMA
Two strangers reach out for each other on Beachy Head.
This is a very heavy drama about the desire to commit suicide. My filmmaking partner Gary O’Brien suggested I write something about an older man and younger woman but without any suggestion of anything sleazy. On TV and film older males are often characterised as “dirty old men” and he wanted to portray something nobler. Lastly, I had visited Beachy Head recently and found it to be a beautiful place tinged with a suggestion of tragedy as it is apparently a suicide spot for people in the UK.
C’EST FINI – EROTIC DRAMA/COMEDY
HOSTAGE and KIDNAPPER find themselves attracted to each other in twisty crime drama.
Essentially an extended sketch I wanted to write something that was risqué and a little bit saucy so utilised oft-used kidnapping scenario for a dark story with a twist in the tale.
THE SHREDDER – COMEDY/HORROR
Workaholic JONATHAN LAKE finds himself terrorised by a Shredder while working late at the office.
As someone who has spent long hours missing their family at a dead end job I wanted to do a simple morality horror story. Here the main character is committing more time to work than his family and the Shredder is a necessary evil to remind of what is actually more important. The horror genre is always good for symbolism of this sort and this film is silly but with a serious message.
RE-CYLE – POETIC DRAMA
The up-and down journey of a bike from the United Kingdom to Africa.
In Britain, millions of bikes are thrown away or lie unused in sheds, whilst many people in Africa have no access to transport of any kind. So, I wanted to chart the story of a bike from the UK and follow its journey to a new home in Africa. A bit of a preachy one this one with a serious message as in the UK and Western world we take so much for granted and chuck things without making proper use of their potential.
TOLERANCE – HORROR
SADIE CORT plots evil revenge on the sex-addicted boyfriend who did her wrong!
Good old-fashioned revenge story here with a little twist. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl this is a sweetly plotted two-hander which I really enjoyed writing because it’s funny and involves bloody death.
FAMILY TIES – HORROR/COMEDY
Having killed his father and made it look like a suicide, SIMON BORG is hunted down by the tie he strangled GERRY BORG with.
Similar to The Shredder this finds an inanimate object – a Tie – taking on anthropomorphic powers and wreaking havoc. It’s obviously ridiculous but I like the idea of an object representing an emotion or feeling; and in this case it is guilt. Also, I love the idea of playing this one straight with heavy drama and homage to Jaws (1975) thrown in.
YOU HAVE A NEW FOLLOWER – DRAMA/MONOLOGUE PITCH
Following a mysterious time-slip, KEVIN MANN’S life is thrown into flux when he finds out he has a double.
This idea was inspired by the many doppelganger films and stories around and I wanted to have a go at one of those. I also wanted to write something about a really normal, “boring” person and how they might react to having another version of themselves in existence.