Cheesy Dialog in Contemporary Film

I wish they had had better conversations.
1. James Bond & Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006)
Vesper: Now, having just met you, I wouldn’t go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard…
Bond: No, of course not.
Vesper: But it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine. You think of women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits. So, as charming as you are, Mr. Bond, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money and off your perfectly formed arse.
Bond: You noticed.
Vesper: Even accountants have imagination. How was your lamb?
Bond: Skewered. One sympathizes.
2. Bella Swan & Edward Cullen in Twilight (2008)
Edward Cullen: I can’t read your mind. You have to tell me what you’re thinking.
Bella Swan: Now I’m afraid.
Edward Cullen: Good.
Bella Swan: I’m not afraid of you, I’m only afraid of losing you. I feel like you’re gonna disappear.
Edward Cullen: You don’t know how long I’ve waited for you. And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.
Bella Swan: What a stupid lamb.
Edward Cullen: What a sick, masochistic lion.
3. King Leonidas & Persian Messenger in 300 (2007)
Messenger: Choose your next words carefully, Leonidas. They may be your last as king.
King Leonidas: Earth and water?
Messenger: Madman! You’re a madman!
King Leonidas: Earth and water? You’ll find plenty of both down there.
Messenger: No man, Persian or Greek, no man threatens a messenger!
King Leonidas: You bring the crowns and heads of conquered kings to my city steps. You insult my queen. You threaten my people with slavery and death! Oh, I’ve chosen my words carefully, Persian. Perhaps you should have done the same!
Messenger: This is blasphemy! This is madness!
King Leonidas: Madness…? This is Sparta!
4. Dimitri & Vladimir in Anastasia (1997)
Dimitri: No, no. No, you don’t know. I was the boy in the palace. The one who opened the wall. She’s the real thing, Vlad.
Vladimir: That means our Anya has found her family. We have found the heir to the Russian throne. And you…
Dimitri: Will walk out of her life forever.
Vladimir: But…
Dimitri: Princesses don’t marry kitchen boys.
5. Wolverine & Cyclops in X-Men (2000)
Wolverine: Hey, hey- it’s me!
Cyclops: Prove it.
Wolverine: You’re a dick.
Cyclops: Okay.

Save Animation!

Animation, 2D and 3D, works best when it has a distinct visual feel to it, a recognizable palette that forever after becomes synonymous with its name and characters, an array of shapes and motifs that help make it distinguishable from other features. Disney’s 1997 ‘Hercules’, for instance, had ancient Greece etched even into the chins and shins of the characters. In that remarkable work of art, if a pot broke, the puff of dust would be a series of lines right out of a Grecian Urn.

Disney's 'Hercules' (1997)

‘Pocahontas’ also had a very marked sensation of its own. Think ‘Pocahontas’, think bold symmetry and rich texture, think elemental forms and dramatic colours lifted from totemic masks. Inspired by a beautiful culture that strikes me as shy and strongly individualistic at the same time, its straight, heavy oaks and thick beams of sunlight provide a stunning backdrop to the story. These are animated films that my memory stored more in terms of the strong visual impression that they left than anything else. This is not to say that the plot or characterization were weak, it’s just that the first jolt of remembrance usually brings back the most basic, overall feel or flavor of anything. The details unfold only subsequently.

Concept Art from Disney's 'Pocahontas'

Where most animated features of today fail is this domain. They give you fast-paced action, smart-talking characters voiced (and completely possessed!) by celebrities, one-liners, fancy slow-motion sequences, sultry acoustic songs playing where, in the Disney tradition, a whole musical would have taken place, CGI gloss and crispness, a gazillion references to pop-culture, mini-parodies, mini-commercials…almost everything under the sun except for a good ol’ dose of defining, hard-to-forget visual imagery. Take ‘Shrek’, take ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’, even ‘Up’ to some extent. Entertaining. Not exactly memorable. You forget them like that Coke you just had.

And no, their being 3D has nothing to do with it. Hardcore animators like Glen Keane prove that; Disney’s forthcoming ‘Tangled’ is a 3D animation but as grounded in fine art as the 2D films from Disney’s golden age. Its entire feel is determined by Fragonard’s painting ‘the Swing’, a Rococo landmark, fresh and pretty like bright cream squiggles on a sunset-pink cake. From what I’ve seen of ‘Tangled’ stills so far, it’s apparent that this inspiration is never lost. There’s something of ‘the Swing’ in every shot. And, thankfully, the animators have not felt it incumbent on them to interpret 3D as realistic. There is a degree of stylization that has been missing for far too long from the screen!

'The Swing' by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. 1767

Production still from Disney's forthcoming 3D feature 'Tangled'

In order to set a tone to a story and bring about any kind of coherence, you need to draw your colours, costumes, makeup, props and sets from the same well. If your story is set in Arab, your characters and architecture, even your skies and trees and flowers and bees need to assert that. If it is China, your tableau needs to have negative spaces as pregnant with force and mystery as those in the most familiar of Chinese watercolour landscapes (makers of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Mulan’, kudos!). If your tale has its origins in Celtic lore, you need to get that across unrestrainedly to your audience. You need to not just talk about the designs from a Celtic manuscript, you need to mould the stage and the actors in their shape (hail ‘The Secret of Kells’ for doing precisely this).

Animated films, like their live-action counterparts, need to really be set aside from each other in a world that is growing irritatingly reliant on second-hand storytelling and disturbing computer-generated realism at the expense of artistic achievement.

‘Rest in Peace’: Missing in Buffyworld

Reasons why I miss hearing from Buffyworld
Angel. The original Angel in Seasons 1 & 2 was half of the reason for the popularity of the show. He was the best ‘good’ vampire in all the vampire lore. The new ones are just copycats.
Giles. The show wouldn’t have been half as good without Giles in it. Why does Joss Whedon always fit in a Brit somewhere in his shows? I don’t care why. I love that he does it, and those are some kick-ass Brits (Adelle Dewitt from Whedon’s Dollhouse).
Spike. Of course, I’ve written an entire post on Spike previously. He filled in the gaps after Angel and Cordelia left. He filled in the gaps when the show turned sticky, and he twisted it around somehow, always unpredictably predictable. He also brought a whole lot of ‘cool’ to the Scooby Gang.
Mythology. Buffy’s screenwriters used a lot of really good, really researched mythology, and turned it around Buffy-way. A Preying Mantis schoolteacher, an Egyptian mummy-girl, Inca gods, Native American lore, different worldly dimensions and witchcraft, werewolves- it was all there- in a good way.
A Good Bout of Buffy-whining. Buffy was a whiner. Yes, she always saved the day, but most of the times she was the one who got the day in trouble (turning Angel into Angelus). An episode wasn’t complete without Buffy whining, and I loved that.
Evolution of Willow. That was a roller coaster in character development- it started in innocence, wide-eyed, went into heartbreak, and headed straight toward ‘Dark Willow’.
Xander’s Loyalty. He deserves a spot here. He never left Buffy’s side. Not even in the comics. Not even when nobody remained.

Prince of Persia: One Jump Ahead?

What’s princely about it:

  • the hoppity-hop-hop chase sequences. They’re something right out of the earliest, platform-game version I remember playing as a kid. At times, I swear I could almost hear those neat old video-game sounds that accompany a leap or a fall or Mario-gobbling-up-a-coin moment.
  • all that sand! There’s a bronzed glory to all the places and faces. In the absence of strong concept art, the distinctly dusky gold colour palette is the only thing that leaves an impression. By the end you feel like you just dismounted a camel that had been running hysterically across the dunes of Persian deserts in a sandstorm.
  • that winning smile. I don’t know if the resemblance was a deliberate move on Disney’s part, but Jake Gyllenhaal, with his big, round cartoony eyes and disarmingly boyish smile came close to being a live-action Aladdin (or, as the Genie would have said, ‘Al’). He’s absolutely likeable, and pulls off the greasy-haired look almost as well as Viggo Mortensen in Lotr (and that’s saying something!)
  • the selfless-sacrifice-syndrome. Yes, there’s one of these in almost every flick. There were more of these than were necessary in this one.  However, Seso’s heroism in the chamber where the dagger is being guarded by a Hassansin with super-cool-pointy-throwy-things is effective.

What’s not:

  • that wretched dagger! A button? A red button? Really? They could have taken the dagger one jump ahead of the LED toys being sold at sunday-bazaars by maybe going for a more dignified mechansim, like a handle that had to be twisted. And the anything-but-discreet glow that the dagger emitted…well, let’s just say the dagger-seekers wouldn’t ever have had to say ‘Is this a dagger i see before me?’ (‘Macbeth’ fans say ‘Aye!’)
  • the clumsy gaurdians-of-the-dagger lore. You really cannot give a tale epic dimensions just by introducing a vague, scrappy creation-story into it. Mythologies are not spun overnight. If the filmmakers were indeed looking for grand old roots for their story, they should have dug deeper into Persian literature and not just skimmed over it like a seagull in a hurry, fishing out only a couple of names like ‘Dastan’ or ‘Alamut’.
  • Elizabeth Swann cloned (as if one wasn’t enough!) Princess Tamina is a less skinny but equally shrill and scatterbrained version of Elizabeth Swann who, too, starts out as a dignified young lady with her head held high, and ends up as a pile of dirty rags that nags.

Tales from Persia

Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Dastan- the adopted prince, is probably the best thing about Prince of Persia. Dastan’s character seemed reminiscent of Disney’s Aladdin. His ‘street rat’ fervor, his ability to ‘dodge’ royal guards, and his heroism in the marketplace rescue- did anyone else see the resemblance to the street fight Aladdin has in the 2D Disney animation from 1992? Dastan has a very pretty smile- the first few seconds in the movie he appears, his character totally wins you over, and you keep waiting for that smile to come again, along with one of those solo-action, slow motion sequences. Then, there were those Hasassins- although they were quite annoying at parts, they still had some pretty cool moves with the whips and the metal stakes- they made quite formidable enemies.
The technicalities, for instance, the direction, cinematography, graphics and special effects were all quality- they were good. There is a little list however, of all the stuff that was pretty bad… [SPOIIER ALERT]
1)Princess Tamina
Was she the regal princess we saw in the beginning of the movie? Or was she the spoilt, talentless, annoying, shrieky damsel-in-distress? Unfortunately, she was the latter for the better part of the movie. And what was the point of her being chosen as the guardian when she obviously did not even have standard fighting capabilities? What a way to let all women down- her sword wielding was pathetic, the only moments she managed to run away she did such a shoddy job of it, and as far as protecting the Dagger- well, she couldn’t do that anyway and ended up dying instead.
2) The secret sanctuary of Guardians
Let’s see, the point of appointing guardians is so that the thing they are protecting remains safe from getting into the wrong hands. However, this specific guardian colony was pretty bad- apart from their obvious disability to choose a guardian (they chose Tamina), they pretty much did not have any fighting skills or an army or force of some sort that could actually fight. I wonder why they thought taking the Dagger to the secret sanctuary would protect it when it wasn’t much of a secret or much of a sanctuary.
3) The storyline
You could tell that the theme was picked up from a video game- the characters were lacking on backgrounds and development- all except Dastan and most of that was because of the superb acting. Same goes for Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina who made up for the ‘blah’ character development through really excellent acting. I would have really liked to know more about those guardians of the Dagger though, that really irks me. Or maybe some history about Alamut, as that was the focal point of the movie.
4) Concept art
Lastly, I think the concept art could have been better. The Sandglass is one big, burning sandglass, funnily enough. It couldn’t have been something less literal? The Dagger too is pretty mysterious- what did the inscriptions on it mean again? Well, we don’t know. I don’t think the writers know.
So once again what we have here is a pretty great theme for a movie, botched up just like other so-called epics- Transformers, for instance, that nobody will remember it a month down the timeline, except maybe for Alfred Molina and Jake Gyllenhaal- destiny, anyone?
Images courtesy of Disney.

Dialogue. I

Time is a surgeon, old and wheezing. He sews you up and fills you in. Your cuts and craters are cleaned and mended. The clinging words pulled out of you, your nostalgia amended. The losses and stories you held dearer than gold? They’re tweaked out of you like a bit of mould.

Your image belongs in a storybook, a play. A Goya painting perhaps, a scene from Wilde. You cannot describe Time like a child. A graph would do, solemn and straight. Precision is Time’s only trait. Time is cold, agreed, but give it not a guise. Dressing it up in robes is not too wise. It deserves a representation true to its form. A graph, a clock, to which we all conform.

Why replace the costume with a sober chart? Does not role-playing appeal more to the heart? There was a beauty to it when the pagan gods were assigned, the power to be cruel, the power to be kind. The planets were attuned with their tantrums and whims, not with a science sung in numeric hymns. Time fixed me up as good as new. I see him more as a surgeon than a numbers few.

Then it is not Time but a poem that you see. Time transcends every image, every simile. Time is colourless, don’t colour it in. Time is a spectre, don’t give it skin. Time has meaning, but not a part to play. It points and marks but has no words to say.

Sharp surgical tools arranged on a tray…?

No. Just mechanical fingers pointing away.

Oompa-Loompas and that Role-Switching

Mr. Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory claims of having visited a land called Loompaland, from where he has conveniently ‘imported’ these interesting natives called Oompa-Loompas. The Oompa-loompas used to live in thick, dark jungles faraway, they fed on caterpillars, poor things, and were being systematically eaten by wicked creatures with a weirder name than theirs when Willy Wonka, of course, saved them, bringing them back to England and his chocolate factory, promising them an unlimited supply of cacao beans and the security of the factory walls. The Oompas complied, for no one can resist that benign face of civilization, beaming like a sun that never sets over the wilder races of the world (the Oompas, by the way, have unkempt hair and are scantily dressed in animal skins and leaves- by way of consideration, Mr. Dahl adds the information that they are never dirty…they change into a fresh coat of leaves everyday).

The Oompas laugh at the foreigners who visit the factory, and have a keen interest in singing and dancing. Drums are mentioned casually as part of the preludes of their many songs. And one image at once innocently drawn and disconcertingly historical is of the humungous pink toffee boat of Mr. Wonka pulling up the chocolate river, a hundred Oompas driving the oars. And though the Oompas are giggling at the visitors and in no way seem burdened, it is a funny way of arranging transportation…using a populace of living beings, however short and pixie-like, to weave in and out of the waters by exerting their small strengths on the cruelly long, wooden oars. Children who read the story are obviously always too enthralled by the wonder of it all to even pause at the image, and their imaginations, of course, do not include stray references ever made to slave-trade, or glimpses from a darker literature, a sadder literature, or paragraphs from history books, elucidating how grim and not funny this business of people ‘importing’ people actually was. Yet something that pleased me particularly is an alteration usually made in the modern editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concerning the Oompa-Loompas: they now have skins that are a rosy-white, and hair that is a golden-brown.

The original description of the Oompas seemed problematic to Mr. Dahl’s publishers. It smacked too much of the Heart of Darkness, perhaps. But now, giving them fair skins and fair hair has led to an interesting amalgamation. The Oompas are, for the first time in history, uncivilized whites. They may seem to take on, now, the position of the white other, the funny little (literally) man that exists even inside the whites, for Mr. Wonka tells of how he could not communicate with the Oompas in English and had to speak in Oompa-Loompish to make himself understood. But that he trains this rosy-white other inside him is clear when he adds that now, however, the Oompas can speak and understand English perfectly.

It is, on the whole, a lovely story, complete with morals, cleverly hidden beneath hilarious incidents: how stoicism during poverty pays off, how good, little kids never starve for long, how bad, little kids are paid off for greed and obstinacy and disobedience. But, coming back to the argument, I must admit that I was expecting the Oompas to be black. Sad, isn’t it, how years of Imperialism alter your thinking and create stereotypes in your mind, so that when you read of a mass of people pulling ship-oars, your mind unhesitatingly throws up this image of black skins for you to catch? And you do catch it and hold it tight, not because it’s dear to you but because you can conceive no other. So it is that when the text distinctly tosses rosy-white skins at you, you’re taken aback. I was taken aback. But since then, this question has been both haunting and slightly gratifying me (haunting, because it threatens to rattle all history that has been grounded into my mind and gratifying, because I, too, am colonized and coloured): what if the universal role of white-over-black supremacy had been the other way round, and slaves through history, like the Oompas, been ‘rosy-white’?