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Old 7th Dec 2006, 9:31   #1
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Default Stranger than Fiction

Stranger than Fiction -

Harold Crick, IRS auditor, wakes up one morning, after ten years of monotony, where nothing in his life has moved forward, and while brushing his teeth realises that he can hear a narrator - his narrator. This, rather understandably, is somewhat distracting to the normal progression of his monotonous life, the narrator is correct in all her details, her calm English accent with a vastly superior vocabulary to his own, describes what he is doing, how he hears the sound of his filing as ocean waves upon a long empty shore, and then informs him that, little does he know, he is facing his imminent death. From this point on, Harold’s life begins and his story unfolds.

Harold visits a psychiatrist. She informs him that he has schizophrenia - he tries to explain, no no, the voice is not telling me to do things, it’s describing what I am doing… what do you think I should do? Response: Take prescription medication… The psychiatrist’s last suggestion (if he really doesn’t believe her that he has schizophrenia) is that he visit a specialist in English Literature who might be able to establish what will happen next in his story line. And so the film continues, to it’s close, where the characters meet the narrator and the end of the book closes on the end of the film - which I will not divulge.

I went to this expecting a three star film, I had heard mixed reviews, that it tried out a clever premise but didn’t quite make it, that it was too long, that the all star cast (and there are many) were great but that didn’t quite raise it, that it was bubblegum cinema’s attempt at making art-house movies. Well, they may all be thoughts and opinions but I loved this film. It was made up of so many small clever, well played moments that as soon as I left the theatre merged into one happy feeling that I can’t pick them all out. It is terribly sad when Crick has spent a day auditing the smart funny baker Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) - who has refused to pay those taxes that go to national defence - while at the same time trying to work out whether his story is a tragedy or a comedy (at the suggestion of his literature professor, Dustin Hoffman) takes out his notebook and marks down yet another tragedy tick on a whole page of them, Ana is trying to make his life difficult. But this is mirrored when, having decided that he wants her, and that he will live his life - despite the imminent death of his narrator - he takes her flours. Lovely moment.

The film is filled with such moments, the dialogue is witty and clever without being pretentious and overly so. The filming and sets are lovely, Bot and I thought perhaps San Fransisco, but the city is quite anonymous so we couldn’t really decide. The whole cinema laughed throughout, not deep belly laughs, but that fine gentle ‘I can empathise with that’ laughter. The acting is great, Will Ferral - Harold - usually annoys me beyond belief, but he was just right for this role, a character waking up, green and slightly incompetant and an excellent foil for the smart quick quirky Ana. Hoffman is fine, and Emma Thompson plays a fabulous slightly eccentric author trying desperately to get over 10 years of writers block with the assistance of Penny, Queen Latifah.

The film is a clever premise, I was struck with the similarities of theme to that other favourite of mine Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, action off screen is action on screen for someone else, who in a film has control, do characters, or us, have free will and, given knowledge of our own deaths can we change the course of our lives? Of course, we do not all hear our own narrators but if we did? I won’t even go close to revealing the end of the film, you’ll have to watch it, and I recommend you do, I loved it, I still can’t really think of a down point - I’ve had a good run of films lately!
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 9:53   #2
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Digger
I had heard mixed reviews, that it tried out a clever premise but didn’t quite make it, that it was too long, that the all star cast (and there are many) were great but that didn’t quite raise it, that it was bubblegum cinema’s attempt at making art-house movies.
Me too. The idea of this thrilled me - Muriel Spark's The Comforters in film form! - but then the reviews started referring to it as Charlie Kaufman-lite, not having the courage of its convictions, ending up steeped in sentimentality etc. They put me right off.
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:03   #3
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

Yes, all of those things. It's certainly not Kaufman, it's not that kooky, and it does have a sentimental end but I didn't feel tooo steeped in sappy. One character 'wins' where you thought they might not, but at the expense of another, there is a loss and compromise.

I did think a lot of Palimpers might like this for it's literary content, themes whatever, although it's not a heavily erudite film. It is a bit like Eternal Sunshine but it's not as odd, still good, but not odd.

As to the convictions thing, well, I had heard that one too, but really didn't notice it. The film was very consistent I thought, it didn't start with one exciting premise and then tail off into uncertainty giving me the feeling that they hadn't quite had the guts to see it through, it felt pretty complete and well concidered to me.
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:06   #4
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Me too. The idea of this thrilled me - Muriel Spark's The Comforters in film form! - but then the reviews started referring to it as Charlie Kaufman-lite, not having the courage of its convictions, ending up steeped in sentimentality etc. They put me right off.
Actually, I'd agree with all those points - Charlie Kaufman Light was exactly what I told someone directly afterwards. But it's still a worthwhile movie, IMO; not QUITE as smart as it would like us to think it is, but I think that's intentional; it doesn't really WANT to be anything more than just a life-affirming, warm fuzzy comedy that for once doesn't completely dumb it down to the lowest common denominator (even if it's hardly Adaptation). Skips out on the more obvious laugh-out-loud gags, and instead just made me smile throughout. Plus, Emma Thompson truly is God. Up until the too-cute ending I thought it was a solid , but it's still a nice - and let's face it, life is too short to only watch masterpieces.
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:20   #5
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

Arr, the bot chimes in with another top-marks rating.

Now I absolutely love Kaufman and Spike Jonze and their like. Their imagination and quirk has made me gawp with wonder in cinemas like nothing else. The nice thing about this movie, though, is that it tells the story without having to baffle the audience. My mum could follow this film - and it's a definite strength.

Okay, so it doesn't stretch your mind to breaking point, but it's nice that such an odd storyline doesn't have to baffle you to get its ideas across. Having read early reviews I was pre-emptively thinking 'well, they should at least have got Kauffman to write it', but having actually seen it I'm glad that they didn't - it's lovely to have another take on this kind of storytelling, and with any luck this highly imaginative yet easily more accessible film will actually have some knock-on effects on a movie industry which had been perfectly happy to largely ignore the wild imaginations of the Jonzes of the world.

It's wonderful in the same way that The Shawshank Redemption is wonderful - it doesn't challenge you at all. You sit down and you watch it. It's a story, well-told, well-acted, with imagination and wit. Oh, and the little graphics which pop up throughout the film are just brilliant.

Most pleasant surprise in the cinema of the year.
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:21   #6
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

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it doesn't really WANT to be anything more than just a life-affirming, warm fuzzy comedy that for once doesn't completely dumb it down to the lowest common denominator (even if it's hardly Adaptation).
I was glad of this, would rather have it this way than it start out too high and fail.

Beer good, would you rather have had the intended ending, if you see what I mean? I think I would, even though I didn't mind the one we get.
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:21   #7
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

Well-acted? With Will Ferrell in it????
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 10:23   #8
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

You'll be pleasantly surprised ono - I was, Ferrell was a serious concideration for me not going at all, I'm absolutely glad I did!
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 11:49   #9
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I was glad of this, would rather have it this way than it start out too high and fail.

Beer good, would you rather have had the intended ending, if you see what I mean? I think I would, even though I didn't mind the one we get.
Well, I didn't really mind that he survives, though I think more could have been made of the writer's dilemma about it - not the decision itself, but what it COST her. Hoffmann's character's response that the book is now "adequate" or whatever word he used could have been made more of. But still, I didn't mind that so much. However, I thought the closing monologue was just TOO MUCH. Come on, we would have gotten the point if they had just shown Ferrell and Gyllenhaal snuggling, and some pictures of a beautiful city morning, the boy and the bus driver going about their day... instead we get this voice-over by Thompson which falls just short of "GET ON YOUR KNEES AND THANK GOD FOR YOUR LIFE! NOW!"

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Well-acted? With Will Ferrell in it????
I loved Will Ferrell in this, and I'm not much of a fan normally. He dials his performance down a lot, becomes the straight man to the comedy of the situation rather than trying to force laughter down our throats. Of course, he's out of his league against Hoffman, Thompson and Gyllenhaal, but who wouldn't be? He's not a great actor, but he's excellent in this role.

And can I just say that the mere idea of having Maggie Gyllenhaal serving me milk and cookies is better than actually eating milk and cookies?
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Old 7th Dec 2006, 12:20   #10
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Default Re: Stranger than Fiction

Thanks BG, yes I see what you mean, but I took that section the end voice-over script as the actual new end of her book, and assuming that she is still narrating, I thought it showed more effectively what the author had lost. As you found it, it is overly sweet, we've lost the tragic ending, and in rewriting so that Harold is saved because she can no longer face killing him off - no matter how poignantly, her work was compromised and only 'adequate' instead of being her finest work. Viewed in that respect I liked the ending, it kept the narrator telling her character's lives in a now less than brilliant story and kept the film true to its premise.


apologies to those who haven't seen this yet for the huge black patches, but once you see it, these things will become clear!
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