Tim Burton and Cinematic Rehabilitation

tim burton Is this finally the end of the rocky road back to genius?

Recently I found myself with a free day to continue going through recent film purchases. This brought me to the position of rewatching the 1994 Tim Burton film Ed Wood. Now in the past I have been guilty of insulting Tim Burton’s work, I’ve never been a fan of his newer films that have been released in recent years, however it is in this act of stupidity that I neglected to talk of how much I admire Burton as a filmmaker. It is films such as Ed Wood that remind me is a very talented man with a great eye for cinema. This only leads me to ask the all important question: what happened?

When I was a child I remember so clearly watching Burton’s films and loving every second of them. Edward Scissorhands has remained with me as a film I really like, it managed to capture such beauty that stays in the mind without diminishing. Then there were films like The Nightmare Before Christmas which everyone wrongly attributes Burton to as the director when actually he was the writer, but still it proves itself as such a wonderful story with disturbingly funny characters. I think the highlight for me of his work when I was a child however was The Corpse Bride which is such a wonderfully dark film I can just keep coming back to and fall in love with it a little bit more with each viewing. Even some of his more questionable work was a part of my childhood, such as Batman Returns which was good but somewhat overlooked since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and even films like Big Fish that I never really understood the big fuss about but I’m aware I need to rewatch it now that I’m older. He was just a brilliant filmmaker who made beautifully haunting films that you would rewatch countless times no matter how much they creeped you out, but it was all a terrific experience.

If I had to pick one film of his back catalogue that I would say is a favourite for me, it is a tough choice, but ultimately I do know what it would be. Ed Wood and The Corpse Bride would both fall a very close joint second place, but the top spot has to be filled by his 1988 masterpiece Beetlejuice. I am fully aware that the film is not perfect and it is looked down upon by many, but every element of the film pleases me. From the outstanding performance by an energetic Michael Keaton, right down to the makeup and the obscure creatures and locations the film offers us, I just find myself smiling every time I watch the film. I’m aware that Burton was not involved with the writing of the film but I think his directing for the film is unparalleled with the rest of his back catalogue, a truly weird and nonsensical film that stands strong in the test of time.

Considering those films previously mentioned, along with others that I have left out, it is a real shame to see that Burton has slipped off the mark with his newer films. He once stood as a director praised for his gothic visual style and obscurity, but now he seems to be someone who is trying to hard to be the weird one in Hollywood. I have to admit that with a lot of his new films I have not seen eye to eye with them at all.

Firstly if we consider Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the 2007 horror musical… thing. It was a project that seemed perfect for Burton, with the dickensian atmosphere and the unabashedly dark subject matter it looked like if anyone was going to master it then it would be Burton. However for me there is just something about the film that does not work. It is a film that feels as though it should have stayed as a stage production, it’s very theatrical. This doesn’t necessarily work when mixed with Burton’s gothic style because it feels too forced. It is as if Burton was trying to go darker, trying to make it more gothic than it already is, but we already know the story of Sweeney Todd all too well and so it just makes the whole experience unnerving. It’s not a film you can sink into as much as something like Ed Wood. With films like Ed Wood they’re a presence that settles into the room. Sweeney Todd enters the room like a bluebottle, flies around without ever settling, makes an annoying sound in your ear, before leaving two hours later and amounting to quite frankly not a lot. I admire Burton for making the film he wanted to, but ultimately it didn’t quite work for me.

Next we have to consider the 2010 annoyance that was Alice in Wonderland which really did not need to be made. It’s not just because the screenplay is hugely unamusing and the acting is resemblant of that in a primary school production, but it’s because Burton tried to make it his own. The thing with Alice in Wonderland is that the world created by Lewis Carroll is so distinctive enough as it is. If someone mentions the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat or Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee people automatically think of Alice in Wonderland because it has characters and locations that we all know so well. So having Burton come along and try to make this his own was never going to work, and I don’t think it’s Burton’s fault because no director would be able to make it their own. If anything even talented fantasy directors like Guillermo del Toro would be unsuccessful in such a venture, so I don’t think this is solely Burton’s fault. It is as if the book is a piece of material suspended between two poles. In some cases the book is like clingfilm and is easy for the director to push through it with their own style. In this case the source material is made of leather, and so no matter how far Burton tries to push through it he is never going to get through it. I admit the new narrative structure featuring a near adult version of Alice was interesting, however it was not utilised properly and so resulted in the film resembling a balloon with no air in it.

Finally, although there are others I could mention, I don’t think I could forget to mention the problematic 2012 reboot of Dark Shadows. I’m aware I have talked about this film numerous times on my blog and I have thoroughly ripped it to shreds, so basically all there is to to say is that it is rubbish. It is absolutely awful. Not only in an upsetting way but in an infuriating way too because I sat watching it thinking “this is the man that made Corpse Bride, we know you are better than this so just get it together man!”. It just feels like segments from different films that have been sewn together, and sewn together badly may I point out, so as soon as it starts walking it falls apart piece by piece like a patchwork zombie. First the nose falls off, then the ears, then by the time you reach the final act of the film you’ve got limbs falling off, before this steaming pile of shit eventually stops painfully crawling and reaches and ending that should have happened immediately after it began.

Up until this point it is evident that Burton’s new additions to cinema have not been up to scratch. His body of work up until a certain point was so impressive and it built the pathway to everyone viewing him as the auteur we all know and love. Because the standard was set so high with films like Ed Wood it is understandable that anything that falls short of our high expectations would be viewed less positively. However I have a strong feeling that this is changing. You see I have not yet seen Burton’s latest film, Big Eyes, and I have to say I have a very good feeling about it.

The main reason I am so excited is that Burton’s heart is clearly in the right place, he is making this film because the true story that inspired the film is one that means a lot to him. Burton was part of the generation that grew up with the art of Margaret Keane, featuring in houses and business all over the place, finding this unique style haunting but beautiful. At the time he was obviously unaware of what actually happened concerning her husband Walter, much like a lot of people nowadays, so it is admirable that Burton wants to spread awareness and inform people of this shocking story.

There is something about Burton making a film from a true story that makes me feel so relaxed and unworried about the project. After his triumph with Ed Wood it is clear that he can apply his style of filmmaking appropriately to make a film that is nicely balanced between artistic and informative, between style and substance. That’s what I want from Big Eyes. I want a film that has a sound and informative narrative, wrapped in the visual style that Burton masters wonderfully. I know he is capable of it and I am feeling increasingly optimistic about the film. I’m not expecting it to be as good as Ed Wood because that was a level of filmmaking that is hard to parallel, but I at least want this to be a solid piece of film that shows Burton heading back in the right direction.

What was always brilliant about Burton’s older work is that each piece meant something. Of course they were visually intriguing and created humour in the nonsensical, but then at the core they all meant something and had a beating heart. Think about it. Corpse Bride, when you take out the singing skeletons and eyeballs that pop out, the film presents a powerful message about love and how greed inevitably leads to self destruction. Edward Scissorhands delivers a wonderful message of letting in the unknown and finding beauty in it. The Nightmare Before Christmas in it’s most basic form is about respecting other people’s cultures that differ from your own, the list goes on! It is obvious they all meant something, they were rich in substance. This was lost in newer films like Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland which focused way too heavily on style. It’s a real shame when you consider how much I love Tim Burton as a filmmaker and how impressive his back catalogue is. But I think if any film were to bring him back to making good films that mean something, it’s going to be this one.

As I said before I have not seen Big Eyes yet but I intend to watch it very soon. Once I have watched it I will probably write a follow up analysis, just to see if it met my expectations and did, as I hope it will, bring Tim Burton back to top form.For such a talented filmmaker he deserves to be one that I hold as one of my favourites. For the time being he has slipped away from this, but I am hoping Big Eyes will be the film to bring him back. I know he can do it, I just need to see it happen on screen.

The Golden Age of Music in Motion Pictures

87th Academy Awards - Show

We are currently living in a time where composers are making their mark on cinematic history

It is with great relief that I can finally say that gone are the days when I attempt to talk about film scores and someone mentions the name Hans Zimmer. It used to be that upon asking someone who their favourite composer was I would often hear Zimmer’s name in response. He may be one of the most popular film composers and a name that everyone is familiar with, which is perfectly understandable as he is a very talented man with an incredibly impressive body of work. However, we are living in time when other film composers are biting back against this and making their mark, putting their flag firmly in the ground and showing that they are a force to be reckoned with. I love Hans Zimmer and the work he produces, but he has healthy competition in his field, and it is beautiful.

Pictured above is the composer Alexandre Desplat, taken this year upon receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a terrific film with an outstanding score. I remember so clearly walking out of the cinema after seeing the film last March and purchasing some of the tracks from the score when I got home because they were just so utterly brilliant. Incidentally however Desplat received a double nomination this year, one for the film previously mentioned and one for his score produced for The Imitation Game. As much as I loved his work for The Grand Budapest Hotel, personally I feel that Desplat deserved the award for his work on The Imitation Game. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s score was very upbeat and jolly and suited the theatricality and style of the film perfectly, but for me the score for The Imitation Game carried more emotional weight. The scenes in which we see Alan Turing running through fields, or running from building to building once he has made a breakthrough with his work are accompanied beautifully by such powerful music that really adds to the cinematic experience. The one scene in particular that stands out for me is the scene in which Turing and the other minds that worked at Bletchley Park are burning their work in a huge fire, with focus on sheets of paper floating in the breeze and the flames rising higher, the music of the scene was just utterly sensational and it is a genuinely moving moment of cinema.

I have to say it was fantastic to see Desplat winning the award this year, having been a fan of his for a number of years now I am fully aware that his body of work speaks for itself and he does not need an Academy Award to show how talented he is. However it was wonderful to see him take to the stage and have an entire building of people applauding him and celebrating his talent in such a manner. He is honestly one of the greatest film composers this generation has seen, having been a short running collaborator with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox which I liked very much and Moonrise Kingdom which again he did wonderful work for. Aside from that he has worked on other large projects such as the recent Godzilla film, The King’s Speech and Argo, all of which were fantastic films with Desplat composing beautiful unique music to accompany them. The man is an unprecedented genius and I cannot wait to see what work he will produce next.

I’m aware some readers may not be familiar with his work, so if I was to name the films most people will have seen that allowed them to experience his work I would draw your attention to the final two Harry Potter films. In particular I would draw your attention to the first track on The Deathly Hallows Part One score entitled ‘Obliviate’, one of my favourite songs composed by Desplat. It manages to capture perfectly this idea that the story is reaching its darkest point and the characters are no longer children, they are facing death directly in the face and it is thanks to Desplat that the opening to the film is so weighted and dark.

While still vaguely on the topic of the Academy Awards I feel I should briefly return to Hans Zimmer for just a moment. As many will know he received a nomination this year for his score composed for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. He was tipped very heavily to win, but, and I am not alone when I say this, it was not his year. The score for Interstellar was good and it does hold some fantastic tracks such as ‘Mountains’, ‘Imperfect Lock’ and ‘S.T.A.Y’, however it was clearly not consistent enough to win. It was a score that was too loud in places and did feel somewhat out of place. The thing about Interstellar is that it is a film that contains shots that are accompanied best by silence. Seeing such a tiny spacecraft travelling through the vast infinite parameters of space is more haunting in silence as it makes you contemplate just how small mankind is in our universe. Zimmer has produced some fantastic work in the past and has unfortunately had more questionable work such as the much unwanted big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s tedious work The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, both of which are ludicrously bad. So I do not have a problem with Zimmer, I have a lot of respect for him and his work, but people of my generation are finally realising he has healthy competition consisting of equals and indeed betters.

Obviously in any year of cinema only one person can win the Academy Award for Original Score but it is interesting to see those nominated. Usually it is a category that manages to capture some of the best talents of the year. However they do on occasion completely overlook certain individuals. For example one of the biggest disappoints this year was seeing that Antonio Sanchez was completely overlooked for his work on Birdman, a fantastic score consisting of haunting short tracks with only a drum kit playing pieces that mirror the twisted mind set of Riggan Thompson as he descends deeper and deeper out of contact with reality and into the mind of his onscreen alter ego, as his lust for fame consumes him. The score works perfectly with director Alejandro González Iñárritu­­­­’s vision of the film being one continuous shot. It is the perfect accompaniment for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s work as the score guides us through the labyrinthian set of the theatre, twisting around corners and from floor to floor, through doorways, out onto the streets, it was just outstanding. The rhythmic structure of the score mirroring footsteps or elevated heartbeats or just the nonsensical noise of the character’s madness was something that was captured brilliantly by Sanchez as a first time composer and it was a real shame to see him overlooked, but still an absolute pleasure to appreciate his wonderful work.

Whilst on the topic of composers who are overlooked one cannot possibly fail to mention Jonny Greenwood. He was overlooked by the Academy shockingly back in 2008 for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and has again been overlooked this year for another Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice. Greenwood is an exceptional talent and his work for cinema has been genuinely fantastic. There Will Be Blood’s score was of course some of his finest work as he manages to delve into the mindset of Daniel Plainview and follow him on his journey from loneliness, to success, then onto greed and eventual madness. His scores often feel like they are part of the individual characters which works perfectly with PTA’s film as they are very heavy on character and substance. Greenwood has unfortunately been overlooked consistently, however he is a talent that does not need to step onto that stage to collect a golden statuette; his work speaks volumes that the Academy will never be able to comprehend.

It is difficult for me to talk about music composed for films in terms of favourites because I have so many composers that I hold close to me. I think if I absolutely had to pick one favourite, it is a tough choice, but ultimately I would have to say Howard Shore. Not only has he produced beautifully indescribable work for the Lord of the Rings films but he is also a long-time collaborator with David Cronenberg, one of my all-time favourite film makers. This means he has composed wonderful scores for films such as The Fly and A History of Violence, the recent Cronenberg hit Maps to the Stars, and even less known films like Cronenberg’s 1996 masterpiece Crash that has such a haunting score that really lingers in the brain and resonates in a way that makes you feel so uncomfortable, but in a really good way. For me his body of work is unparalleled and when he collaborates with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra it is enough to knock someone as dogmatic as me into a state of stunned silence, as the beauty of the music just completely takes over and obstructs my capacity to verbalise efficiently. He is a wonderful man and stands in my mind and one of the greatest talents of cinema.

One final note on this topic that I feel has to be mentioned, it would unforgivable for me to discuss film composers that are writing their names as the greats without mentioning what was one of the best film scores of last year, the phenomenal first time composer of the score for Under the Skin, Mica Levi. The Academy completely overlooked her work, but this was expected. This does not undermine the fact that ­­Levi composed one of the best scores I have heard for a very long time, a chilling mixture of sounds that really crawls underneath your skin and feels like it’s trying to turn you inside out. Often it is hard to distinguish between the score and sound effects of the film because they merge together at points to sound like clunking machines or noises from technology and beings that are not of this world. It was one of the most bizarre and non-conventional scores that really works to contort the mind and bend your brain into a new position and relocate it elsewhere in the body, but this is an utterly fantastic experience. A dark science fiction film that explores what it means to be human and the destruction of the human body, accompanied by a score that scrambles your mind. Mica Levi is undoubtedly a talented composer and this was an unbelievable breakthrough, I honestly cannot wait to see what she produces next.

The main point I am trying to make here is that while making film composers competitive is silly because they are all so unique, it is oddly functional. It allows us to see just how many talents there are working in cinema at the moment. It presents brilliant ground for discussion as we are given the opportunity to look at numerous composers and examine their work in more detail. I do not feel that the competitive nature of the awards is functional in terms of looking for a winner, but it is healthy because it allows us to talk about the big names we all celebrate and the up and coming names such as Antonio Sanchez, thus strengthening our value of important fragments that build our culture.

And then there are wrecking balls such as Mica Levi. Composers that turn things on their head, transcend our expectations and give us an experience that cannot possibly be replicated.

Mica Levi is the type of composer that really says

“audiences watch this space, and Hollywood, watch your back”

Fast & Furious – stop making action a stupid genre


Why is modern cinema so insistent on drowning us in waves of tedious action films?

I remember when I was a lot younger (and cuter) I was always excited by the prospect of new action films. I was raised on The MatrixIndiana Jones and various superhero films, all of which still stand as good films. But what seems to have happened to action films is that they are substituting substance for style. Well I say “style”, I mean more bulk, more explosions and set pieces, and it is incredibly annoying to see the genre being ruined. One of the main culprits in this movement is the increasingly tedious Fast & Furious franchise.

It’s strange to think about what has happened with this film series because it appears to have died and then been reanimated. You see the first Fast & Furious film came out, it wasn’t particularly important but everyone just seemed to accept it as something different, fine. Then the second film was released and we see the stupid dial being turned further towards eleven but we could still abide this. By the third film it was turned fully to eleventy-stupid and it was all going to Hell in a handcart, looking like the franchise was dead in the water. Then somehow they bounced back from that, making the action louder and more stupid, yet people still flocked to see them. It just makes you ask that all important question: what the fuck is happening to the human race?

The problem I have with the films is that they have very little substance. They have set piece after set piece of badly directed action, crashes and explosions left right and centre, and it just doesn’t mean anything. It is all just stuff. Not only that but badly directed stuff. It’s like CRASH, BOOM, WHACK, KABOOM, end credits. It’s not interesting in the slightest because the plot (and I use that word loosely) is so thin. They attempt to add substance in the screenplay by overusing the word “family”, by constantly saying “we’re family, he’s family, yeah family” but this doesn’t add to the film in any way. It doesn’t aid characterisation and it certainly doesn’t make me feel more engaged. It’s a futile attempt by the screenplay writers to make it seem like it all means something when it really doesn’t. It’s a series of films where the second unit director has more input than the first unit. It’s just silly nonsense for the easily pleased, for people who go “look! Look at the cars! They’re dropping out of a plane! Oh and there’s a tank too! Tanks go boom!” as they wait for their mother to finish warming their milk.

I think one of the bigger problems with the franchise can be attributed to two separate outcomes, but the general point is the scale.

Firstly, because the franchise has continued for so long the films have grown bigger and so consequently the stunts have grown bigger. So what you have is a franchise that has advanced from half decent street races to absolutely ludicrous set pieces featuring tanks, planes and God knows what else. This results in a cinematic experience that gets even more boring with each new film, and action sequences with countless civilian deaths that we’re not meant to care about. It’s just absurdity.

Secondly the scale of the franchise has changed the purpose of the films. They used to be made for entertainment purposes, but now it is purely financial. They know they can pump out any horse shit they can manage and people will still flock to see it. It is a franchise measuring success by how much money the films earn, as opposed to the quality of the films. By this point they’re just squatting down every two years and shitting out a bad film then waiting for the millions to roll in. What you have to consider is that Box Office figures don’t equate to quality of film. Think about it, in 2009/2010 Avatar took more money at the Box Office than Inception. Which is the better film? Inception. It’s the same with Fast & Furious. Earlier this year Furious 7 took more money than films like Whiplash and The Theory of Everything. Is it a better film than either of those? Not even close.

Fans of the franchise try to defend it by saying it’s not all about the money. But as the film critic Doctor Mark Kermode pointed out, the studio aren’t evening hiding the fact it’s all about the money.

Kermode attended a press screening of Fast & Furious 6 before it was released, and as per usual being a film critic he received the press notes. Now, normally the press notes are used to say what the filmmaker’s vision was, what the film means, why it was made etcetera. In the case of Fast & Furious 6 the press notes consisted of three paragraphs about money and one small paragraph at the end attempting to persuade the reader that the film means something. So their intentions were made clear. The press notes pontificated about how much money the film cost to make, how much money the previous films took at the Box Office and how successful they feel the franchise is based on how much money it takes, and so it was clear that money was their primary focus, thus explaining why the film was so rubbish. It’s a typical case of a franchise just pumping out sequel after sequel because they know that people will pay to see them regardless of how awful they are, like Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio is well aware that each sequel will take more money than the previous film which is why they will keep watering the money tree for as long as they can.

So as the ludicrous stunts are taking place and all the gunfire and explosions are happening on screen there is one thing that works in the franchise’s favour. The only feature that works to an extent, but still needs improving, is the gender equality. It is refreshing to see an action film with strong female characters who kick arse as well as any of the men do. I like that Michelle Rodriguez is still looking to play the female action character that is a challenge for any man on screen, much like her smaller roles in older films like Resident Evil and Avatar. However this is still not enough to make up for the ill-disciplined action sequences that account for a considerable amount of the screentime.

It’s not that I’m a film snob who doesn’t like action films at all. On the contrary I really like action as a genre. I’ve grown up with Marvel films which often make very good action films, such as the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m also a big fan of Matthew Vaughn who directed Kick Ass, which still remains one of the best films of recent years. The problem is that action is a genre that slips into stupidity very easily, so with films like Transformers it’s incredibly boring seeing building after building get smashed for two and a half hours. Thankfully, it is a genre that is mastered brilliantly by certain people.

If you want to watch a really good action film then I cannot recommend highly enough the Indonesian hit The Raid, directed by Gareth Evans. It is the perfect example of an unabashedly bold action film that has a beating heart and an intelligent brain. It is a brutal film about a SWAT team attempting to clear out a tower block inhabited by criminals and gang members, and for such a simple premise they managed to make a fantastic film out of it and transcend everybody’s expectations. The action sequences are directed with such pinpoint precision, and it’s shot in such a fantastic manner whereby the camera moves like liquid from floor to floor and the action looks and feels real. You can feel the weight of every hit, every kick, and because the narrative takes its time to develop you genuinely feel scared for the main character and establish an emotional connection with him. Most importantly this means that the events of the film matter to you as the audience. It is genuinely a fantastic film and proves that action does not have to be stupid.

However it’s not just the smaller action films that impress me, the big blockbusters can often be good action films. Just recently I finally got around to watching the new Godzilla project, which I thought was very good. It was a relief to see the talents of Gareth Edwards growing after his success with Monsters. I also got around to watching Robert Schwentke’s RED which I was well informed was a good film by my friend Molly and indeed it was. And of course I have to mention how some franchises are still holding their dignity, most notably Star Trek which J.J.Abrams has done wonders for, and James Bond which Sam Mendes completely mastered with Skyfall and whom has everybody’s support with the follow up project Spectre.

Unfortunately not every director thinks like Abrams or Mendes. There’s a common rule among filmmakers, particularly action filmmakers, that the way to make a film a success is to be more stupid than the audience. Fast & Furious sticks to this rule, with every film being bigger and louder and more stupid than its predecessor, and they’re more than welcome to do this. However this will never stop filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, making films like Inception and The Dark Knight, filmmakers who treat the audience as intelligent sentient beings, and most importantly who understand that small arthouse films and big blockbusters don’t have to be exclusive. The Fast & Furious team can keep churning out sequel after sequel, but there will always be filmmakers out there proving that action films do not have to be stupid.

Interestingly Vin Diesel has been promoting Furious 7 rather ruthlessly this year, paying various tributes to Paul Walker in the process, for which he has my utmost respect. During this period Diesel revealed that there is an eighth film in the works. Which wasn’t a surprise to anyone because we all live on planet Earth and know it will take even more money than this film.

He also was quoted as saying that Furious 7 could win an Oscar. That’s the same attitude adopted by the studio that brought us Transformers: Age of Extinction, the same studio that actually gave it to the Academy for consideration in the ‘Best Picture’ category.

Check the nominations, see how well that went.

The Mediocrity of Modern Romance


For some time now I have been thinking about why exactly I struggle to connect with modern additions to the romance genre. I haven’t been able to explain it in an adequate manner. However, I believe I finally know why I cannot connect with these films, and the main fault lies in the writing.

What I have often found with newer romance films is that I do not like the characters. They are meant to be people I can connect with and furthermore sympathise with when things go wrong, and yet they just annoy me. So the problem that comes from them annoying me is that I lose interest; I do not care about what happens to them. If they are unhappy then I’m not particularly bothered, it’s a fitting consequence of them being an annoying little shit. That may sound unreasonable but if the writers want me to engage in a film I need to do so in my own way without them telling who I like.

In the past I’ve written about romance films I didn’t like, and upon examining all of them it is evident that this rule applies.

The first example I should draw your attention to is the recent over hyped but underperforming schmaltzy pile of nonsense The Fault in our Stars. Now already I can hear the sound of people saying “oh you didn’t like it because you’re a boy” WRONG! My gender has absolutely nothing to do with it. I love romance, it’s one of my favourite genres and actually for me it’s one of the most important genres in cinema. The reason I didn’t like TFIOS is because it genuinely is a really bad film. A dull, self indulgent, appallingly written and poorly acted piece of cinema that had an excessive running time and characters that are beyond irritating. I don’t have any moral qualms with Hazel, she is a strong willed realist whom I think is an interesting character. But Augustus.

It is a shame that Hazel’s love interest has to be such an annoying arsehole. Not only is he a dull, arrogant and unfunny idiot who blames his disability for his failure in losing his virginity, but he also relies on this absurd little hipster metaphor in attempt to parallel his cancer with smoking cigarettes. He keeps a cigarette in his mouth without lighting it, allowing him to be arrogant of the fact he isn’t giving it the power to kill him, the same as if he sat in his car without turning the engine on and then claiming he’s not giving it the power to kill him in a collision. This is meant to be like his cancer, until you consider the multiple reasons as to why the metaphor does not work. Most notably because his cancer is out of his control and does eventually kill him (thus rendering the metaphor redundant) but also because smoking is a choice, cancer is not. It’s little quirks such as this, and his annoying habit of using Hazel’s first and middle name, that make me dislike him. As soon as this happens I start to lose interest in the character and so I become less engaged in the film.

This is not the only culprit however, I couldn’t possibly write about this topic without discussing a film I have slated on numerous occasions: 500 Days of Summer. In the past when I have discussed this film I made it quite clear that the main reason I didn’t like the film is the characters. I can’t stand the character of Tom because he’s an idiot for placing his happiness entirely in one person’s hands despite this person expressing clearly that they don’t  want a relationship, and on the other side of that coin I found Summer to be cringeworthingly annoying with her disorganised approach to life and ‘anything goes’ attitude. Together they were clearly dysfunctional and yet I’m meant to feel bad that things don’t work out? Absolutely not, it’s their own actions that lead to their unhappiness. They need to grow up, stop kidding themselves by hammering mismatched jigsaw pieces together, and accept they’re not meant to be. By the end of the film I don’t care if they’re happy or not, I don’t feel sad that they’re not together because it is glaringly obvious that they do not work as a couple, so the writer needs to stop attempting to make me feel bad for Tom.

I’m not trying to say that everything should be completely functional in a romance film, because obviously that would be boring and would indeed undermine my argument from a few weeks back. What I am instead suggesting is that I dislike it when romance is covertly dysfunctional, when it doesn’t have the courage to tell us that the characters are written for a certain audience and won’t be liked by everyone else. This my problem with TFIOS, the young couple are meant to be happy and I’m meant to feel pleased for them but it doesn’t work because Augustus is so bloody annoying. If the writers of the film stopped trying to make him seem like a nice guy and to make me like him and actually admitted how annoying he is then I would connect more with it. I would be able to accept his flaws there and then and continue developing an interest in the film. If they made it so he wasn’t such a flat surface, such a two dimensional character without depth, then I might find it easier. Hollywood writers need to stop trying to make my like their characters.

If you look back at some of the best writing in romantic films you can see that the characters are not perfect because they’re not meant to be, they reflect how people are in real life. We see every element of them, the good and the bad wrapped in a three dimensional package so we can make up our own minds without being forced to like or dislike them. But in these cases the writers aren’t trying to make them seem like decent people, they are showing us how people can be complete wankers or bitches beyond belief, and yet we can still connect with the film because they are giving us the truth, they are giving us every angle of realistic characters that could be real human beings.

Take for example one of my favourite films, Ruby Sparks written by Zoe Kazan, you’ve got a main character called Calvin who is very conflicted. At the beginning of the film he appears to be a very solemn person who is distant from those around him. He is rather lonely but what he really wants is a functioning relationship, and so we do somewhat feel sympathy for him because deep down every human wants to be loved. But then as the film progresses and we see him developing the ability to control Ruby just by writing down a statement on his typewriter we see a darker side to him. We begin to see how controlling and manipulative Calvin can be in the sense that he wants Ruby to be absolutely perfect for him and for her to meet his every desire. He wants to control who she sees, how often they see each other, how happy or sad she is, and it does turn the circle into a sphere and develop who he is. It does take a rather psychotic turn towards the end as we see his actions take a more serious turn, but he is still a character we connect with. Kazan was not trying to make us like him, she was showing what a human would do if they had this power and then leaves it for the audience to make up their own mind. It is as if she is saying “right, there’s both sides to him, you decide” and I actually feel that it is one of the most admirable scripts of recent years.

I’m about to sound like a stuck record with this next point but I couldn’t possibly be talking about characters in romance films that we’re not meant to like without mentioning the work of Woody Allen. It seems to be a recurring element in his work that we are presented with main characters we are not meant to like. With Annie Hall the character of Alvy is shown as his most neurotic self and Allen is clearly not trying to make us like him. Alvy is given to us as someone who has never quite gripped reality properly, who talks too much and ruins things in a relationship by making sex one of the most important elements, and yet we are in no way distant from the character. We see how Alvy is a tender person and he genuinely cares about Annie. One of the most hard hitting scenes of that film is when Alvy goes round to see Annie at three in the morning, long after they have broken up. She is in tears and yet he still goes round to listen to her and comfort her. It’s one of the most human moments you will ever find in film. It may be a surreal comedy that relies on the nonsensical and absurd, but Alvy is still a three dimensional character that the audience can engage with through developing their own opinion based on what they see.

This thread does run throughout Allen’s work, for example in Hannah and Her Sisters the main characters are not the most likable. It is made clear from the start that they are a conflicted bunch. Mickey is shown to be a hypochondriac who is annoying as hell with his constant health scare nonsense, and then Elliot is someone who is falling out of love with his wife and in love with his wife’s sister. They are not likable characters and Allen does not for one minute attempt to make us like them nor dislike, which makes the film more engaging because we are able to develop our own individual connection with the characters. We find other ways to connect with the characters without the need to try and fool us into thinking they are decent people. The same goes for the main character in Manhattan, a character whom is often looked upon with untrusting eyes due to the fact he is a middle aged man in a relationship with a young girl, who then falls for someone else, only to realise he still loves the girl and then has to attempt to win her back. He is not a likable character and it is clearly a dysfunctional romance film, but this is made clear from the outset and so we know where we stand. We’re not fooled into initially thinking everything is fine and these characters are nice people, to later find we were deceived. Allen is very good at writing characters that are incredibly annoying or just plain nasty and yet the films are still engaging and we are still somehow connected to the characters on screen.

Obviously it is quite a tough argument because I don’t think there is a set way romance films should be written. What I don’t like is having a character rammed down my throat and then being told to like or dislike them. I don’t want to be judged for not liking a romance film when the characters were so annoying they ruined it for me. I would much rather make my mind up for myself. In some cases I like the characters and the film is better in my opinion, in other cases the characters are more annoying as so the film doesn’t work. Either way I am still an open minded film fanatic and so I am more than willing to give every film a fair chance.

Unfortunately I am never going to see eye to eye with TFIOS, let’s just keep it that way.