Archive | November, 2013

Editor’s Column #3

22 Nov

Almost every film has it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s plain ugly. Actually, that could be referring to any number of cinematic elements, from music to actors, but this week’s column is all about exposition.

Some sort of exposition, or background information, is present in most film, regardless of where or when it was made. It is often used to convey backstory or as a tool to revisit a character’s past and expand on their persona.  From sci-fi to film-noir, everyone loves a bit of backstory that fleshes out the plot; the hard part is doing it right. Dialogue, narration, flashbacks, a TV news story, text, photos, mise-en-scene, music – exposition is a chameleon that comes in many disguises. The more naturally it blends in with the film, the more seamless (and hopefully better) the final picture.

Think Star Wars and everyone will remember the opening of all six films. The iconic, yellow text that crawls up the screen before vanishing into the darkness of space. Thousands of years of (fictional) history and tons of backstory all crammed into a quick read at the beginning of every film in the Star Wars series, the classic theme music in the background tops off the textbook example of how to do exposition brilliantly.

Not forgetting Mr. DNA too, the talking DNA strand that condenses a lot of potentially boring science into a quick animated clip that sets up the premise for Jurassic Park. Or the tattoos of the local man at the tavern in Puss In Boots that tell the story of the ancient treasure of the golden goose eggs. These are just some examples of how to do exposition memorably and rather subtly.

However, badly done exposition can stop a film in its tracks when a massive info-dump occurs, characters narrating or spouting out tons of information is a common problem and is often done badly, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy films where the audience needs to know how the world works. Apart from notable examples such as The Matrix, most similar films are guilty of dumping in a load of exposition to set up the film but this tactic actually takes you out of the film and its created world.

The character Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers series parodies the ‘M’ role in the James Bond series perfectly and indeed the spoofs the whole idea of exposition. I am sure he loved Star Wars,Jurassic Park and Puss in Boots because if anyone knows exposition, it’s Basil.


Gravity – Review

5 Nov


Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, directed and co-written with his son Jonas, pits medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) together alone in space after Russian satellite debris destroys their shuttle. Alone in space, cut off from Earth, they find themselves fighting for survival with oxygen running low. The film begins with the simple statement that “Life in space is impossible”, a phrase forever on the mind of the audience and astronauts Stone and Kowalski.

Much like Cuarón’s previous work (Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También), Gravity has its bleakness, interspersed with moments of unbridled hope; this creates the framework upon which a true masterpiece has been built. Visually, Gravity  looks absolutely stunning; every frame could be frozen and framed above the mantelpiece. The velvety blackness of space smothers all, it is absolute, a vast void that has rarely looked so beautiful.

Space is just one of the aspects that the 3D element amplifies; as in Avatar and Hugo, the addition of 3D certainly adds to the experience. The tension steadily rising as each minute passes by, the claustrophobia of the space suit and the spinning disorientation as astronauts, random objects, space debris weightlessly float across and towards the screen – all enhanced by the use of the much-maligned 3D format. The performances and chemistry of Bullock and Clooney are the perfect complement to Cuarón’s ambitious vision, understated yet powerful, the transformation of Bullock’s character is one of the many seamless layers that create this extraordinary feat in filmmaking.

Gravity is not afraid to tackle important issues; this is no shallow, CGI driven, popcorn blockbuster, it explores rich themes that are relatable on an existential level to humanity as a whole. Communication, or the lack thereof, religious subtexts, the (in)significance of man and life itself are all profound questions raised using techniques such as masterful camerawork and the poignant composition of shots – the white speck of an astronaut floating through the all-consuming darkness of space, just one of countless spectacular images which deserve analysis over pages not sentences.

Cuarón asks the characters to let go, asks you to let go , embrace the unexpected; this is not an easy journey for either party. Earth is always in frame throughout, even reflected in visors, always taunting; Stone and Kowalski can almost reach out and touch it yet they are many miles away. Gravity, a force in nature binding us to Earth, a force in cinema binding us to the screen, open mouthed in wonder as Cuarón delivers one of the most remarkable films of the 21st century.

Space has never looked so good, Earth has never looked so mesmerising, cinema has rarely been so magnificent. Gravity reminds me why I love films and is undoubtedly the film of the year.


Editors Column #2

5 Nov

The particular phrase in question has been uttered a surprising amount of times, in hundreds of films across numerous decades.

Overused lines such as “You just don’t get it, do you?” are not the only scriptwriting clichés around but are perhaps the most prevalent. From classics such as Hud (1963) and The Terminator (1984) to barrel-scrapers such as Norbit (2007) and Cliffhanger (1993), the quip in question certainly gets around. However, unless the film is a bad egg or merely just plain insufferable, clichéd lines go by unnoticed or can at least be brushed aside through the sheer joy and entertainment that great films can provide. If the narrative is interesting and the acting good, then characters spouting off clichéd lines such as “It’s gonna blow” and “We’ve got company” can be forgiven.


Clichés in general have always been a hot topic, from film critics’ reviews to students discussing the latest film down at the local pub. Villainous henchman with useless weapon proficiency, training montages, and faulty ignitions in vehicles – all clichés that are scattered across films regardless of their genre or release date. Many people, most perhaps subconsciously, don’t mind clichés as they provide comfort and enjoyment through a certain predictability, the film can be easily compared with others that follow a similar clichéd path. Films from the James Bondfranchise typifies these ‘clichéd comfort’ films where the audience can be entertained by the film with the term and very notion of the ‘cliché’ all but forgotten with the suspension of disbelief.


However, many do view clichés in a strictly negative light. Indeed the term ‘cliché’ does conjure up pessimistic thoughts and will crop up in critiques as an undesirable aspect of the film. If clichés are a key component in their structure, films becomes predictable and even dull and will drag the film to movie-hell, ready to be savaged with criticism. The point is that any film that uses overused lines or clichés in general has to be pretty darn good for the audience to overlook them; some of the greats in recent years (The Dark Knight Rises) can be scrutinised and clichés uncovered, but their sheer brilliance blinds the majority of the audience to this fact and leads them down the path of ‘forgive and forget’.

So next time you watch a film, keep an ear out for the infamous line “You just don’t get it, do you?”. It makes an appearance more often than not.