Review of In Like Flynn

Recreating the sort of film Errol Flynn used to star in, In Like Flynn by Aussie director Russell Mulcahy (whose last work was 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction), tells the story of the Tasmanian-born adventurer’s days before Hollywood claimed him. Australian actor Thomas Coquerel (how’s that for a name!) plays the lead, giving the naughty Errol a lanky boyish hat- tipping-much-obliged-Ma’am charm. It’s the ‘mostly true story’ of a self-aggrandising character.

Four writers, including the subject’s grandson Luke (also an executive producer), created the breezy script based on the Tasmania-born Casanova’s long out-of-print seafaring memoir Beam Ends, published in 1937 in the wake of Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Flynn’s highly successful collaborations with director Michael Curtiz.

In Like Flynn recounts the tale of the 21-year-old Flynn’s expedition from Sydney to New Guinea with three mates – Canadian Rex (co-writer and producer Corey Large) and an Englishman mockingly nicknamed “Dook” (William Moseley). Joel Swartz (Dan Fogler) makes an early appearance as the film producer who became so influential in Flynn’s later life.

The female characters are given agency, even the woman Flynn has apparently abandoned, Rose (Isabel Lucas), gets a chance to get her own back but this comes across as the film doing the right thing, kind of tokenistic. Grace Huang has a lot of fun playing piratical criminal mastermind Achuan, with all the glamour you could wish for.

David Wenham’s deeply unpleasant Traversmayor of Towsville/priest/pimp/fight-rigger is as stand-out performance. Wenham does an icky creep very well and this character with his verbal quirks and ill-concealed lechery is a cracker.

UK actor Clive Standen plays a salty seadog Captain, a character with a secondary story thrown in to add emotional resonance 

Coquerel’s pleasing to the eye and looks like the original but it’s hard not to compare his Flynn to Corey Schultz’s memorable turn as Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – a similar hard-drinkin huntin, fishin, shootin, rootin and tootin, all-cojones womanising character – yet Schultz’s Hemingway stays with you in a way Flynn does not. As it happens, Flynn and Hemingway were friends and fought alongside each other in the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

In Like Flynn is a boys’ own movie, not meant to be taken seriously. The bone-crunching violence is hard to take. Men being idiots is hard to take. Flynn’s notorious womanising is toned right down, alluded to with cheeky winks. Perhaps I’ve lost patience with the idea of celebrating this kind of thing. For me,  the film would work better had it contextualised Flynn’s films with his real-life, contrasting the unreality of swashbuckler movies with the brutality of Flynn’s previous lawless life where thuggery reigned supreme. That would make it a different film and less fun for some, but one might care. 

Flynn’s real-life machismo exploits don’t seem to be in the service of anything other than the hunt for gold, ego or women. Perhaps he was shallow. We don’t know cos what the film doesn’t do is actually dive in like Flynn. Perhaps, rather than a rollicking action movie, a Warts-and- all might’ve done the trick and given us a chance to see Flynn’s famous charisma put to the test? 

In Like Flynn enjoys lovely lush settings and a nice recreation of the era (in background shots of Sydney, the unfinished Harbour Bridge reaches into the sky). The closing scene shows an apparently tamed Flynn posing on deck against a sunset, while the director outlines a scenario for the actor to engage with emotionally, a scene reminiscent of the sort of thing Flynn went through in life. A nice touch which should have opened the film.

Three and a half stars

Cast: Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen, Corey Large, William Moseley, Isabel Lucas, Grace Huang, David Wenham, Costas Mandylor
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Screenwriters: Steve M Albert, Luke Flynn, Corey Large, Marc Furmie (based on the book Beam Ends by Errol Flynn)
Producers: Corey Large, James M Vernon
Executive producers: Felipe Dieppa, Jeff Harrison, Luke Flynn, Joan LeSeur, Gary Ousdahl
Cinematographer: Peter Holland
Production designer: Nicholas McCallum
Costume designer: Glenn T
Editor: Rodrigo Balart
Composer: David Hirschfelder

 

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It’s not ‘elitist’ to expect writers to know how to use English correctly.

My  frustration increases with ever-declining literacy levels. There’s no excuse for not getting it right: Word pulls you up when you make spelling mistakes or use wonky grammar or overloaded sentences. It takes seconds to google the meaning of a word. Many writers are so desperate to get their precious stories out there, they don’t care about whether or not they’ve used the tools of English correctly.

Why is this so important? Because if you’re expecting readers to spend their valuable time reading your writing, it should be easy for them to understand what you’ve written.  Spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes impede clarity. They mean your readers need to pause and think to make sure they’re following. If I’m sufficiently interested to read your words, don’t make it necessary for me to hop out of the imaginary journey you’ve invited me on.

Recently I read a  passage in a memoir where the writer mentions listening to the ‘bloodcurdling hot water system’. Does she mean the bloodcurdling sounds of the hot water system? I guess so, because she says she was ‘listening’. Even so, I had the briefest image of someone being scalded. It’s possible ‘the bloodcurdling hot water system’ means the hot water system produces water so hot that it’s bloodcurdling. How can a hot water system itself be ‘bloodcurdling’? Up to the point where I read this sentence, I was mentally enjoying the scene the writer had evoked. That pleasure’s part of the joy of reading. Then I was distracted and some of my delight in reading her words was diminished.

Well, it’s not all about you, I hear some people thinking. Yes, it is! It is always about your reader; your reader’s granting you their attention. In return, you give them your best, not a half-arsed first or second draft; you give them sentences you’ve developed and refined and made sure are correct so your reader enjoys the reading experience unhindered by confusion.

This isn’t about being old-fashioned or formal in your approach to writing: English changes every day. You can use unconventional language or unconventional spelling, as long as your meaning is clear. When you’re writing in English you have a vocabulary of half a million words at your disposal and conventions of grammar that allow for meticulous nuance in meaning. English is so powerful. Why not use the language to its fullest extent?

I’ve seen the phrase ‘bear witness’ written as ‘bare witness’ often lately, which tells me these writers don’t understand the meaning of the words they’re using.  If you don’t know what you want to say, why should anyone bother to read you? It’s rude and self-indulgent to expect anyone to care.

 

Check and Check Again

Have just finished reading UK writer Zadie Smith’s fifth book, Swing Time. I found it interesting but unmoving. A myriad themes are left flapping about in a circular and aimless wind. The novel is (amongst many other things a love letter to dance), written like a memoir on the part of an (annoyingly) unnamed narrator.  There’s a flatness to the storytelling plus an earnest tone to the whole thing, creating a sense that everything should mean more than it does. The social and political detail is interesting but I didn’t care about any of the personalities in the book. Too many parts and not enough whole.

I don’t intend to review Swing Time here; I mention it only because there is a glaring and quite astonishing mistake in her portrayal of one of the minor characters.

The themes Smith touches on this book include racial and socio-geo-political inequality. Despite writing in so much complex detail when it comes to ethnic subcultures,  Smith’s characterisation of Bahram, the Iranian owner of a pizza parlour, is right out of whack. He’s an unpleasant character, this Bahram. He’s bad tempered and racist. But that isn’t the issue. My problem is that he identifies as an Arab. At one point Smith even has Bahram waxing lyrical about Arabic culture.

Smith, who you’d think would surely know better, has conflated Persians with Arabs, a remarkable mistake. Persians are not Arabic: they are different ethnically, culturally and linguistically, although they share a religion and an alphabet.  All the Iranians I’ve ever known (I’ve taught English to many Iranians and was married to one) spend half their days explaining to people how they are NOT Arabs, in the same way Belgians spend their lives pointing out to everybody else how they’re neither French nor Dutch, or Portuguese that they aren’t Spanish.

There’s a complex tangle in the small segment of  Swing Time featuring Bahram,  around some convoluted, racially inspired loyalties on the part of the ethnically diverse staff members at the pizza joint while they’re watching Wimbledon. There’s something I missed at the point where the narrator takes umbrage and walks out of her job, but who cares?

Smith has another, African, character, later on in the book, chasten her narrator for casually implying in a conversation that small African countries are inter-changeable, which makes Bahram’s identifying as an Arab even more anomalous. I also don’t understand how this inaccurate characterisation got past all the readers, editors, proofers and so on in the book’s final stages.

I have a fantasy that Smith herself once worked for an awful Iranian boss and that writing him up like this, profiling him in the most offensive way possible, is her revenge.

It’s the sort of thing I’d do.

 

Note to self: Check, always check.

This morning I felt like sending a snippy superior message to someone advertising greeting cards. They’d made a card – aimed at gay boys and girls – with the text saying something like Recycle. Reuse. Repurpose. Rihanna.

Which is funny. Except all I could see was the ‘mistake’ in the spelling of her name.  Bloody hell, they can’t even get her name right, what is wrong with young people these days…  I’m ancient, you see, and haven’t listened to contemporary music since 1992. I have heard of Rihanna but if she knocked at my front door, I wouldn’t know who she was. I don’t know any of her songs.

Anyway, a small voice said Folks get creative with spelling nowadays; let’s just check if that’s not how she does spell her name … Glad I did. Had I not, this would be a snooty blog about people ruining good jokes by bad spelling. And I would have looked stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

copywriting practice is simply good writing practice

I like writing to a brief. There is comfort in knowing your boundaries, and mental stimulation in ascertaining exactly what tone and approach a client wants and actually needs. They might not know that themselves. Copywriters are often creative types with too many ideas rather than too few; a brief reins you in.

Taking notes as you read a brief, knowing not to run with your first ideas … Not throwing out any ideas … ‘Talking’ to one reader,  rather than everyone. Good practice.

As a writer, I tend to complicate things. As an artist I tend to complicate things; in fact, complicating things is what I do, full stop. I’m being truthful now: it comes from a desire to look clever. Wooo! You still with me?

Trying to look clever is usually disastrous in any form of writing, but the nice thing about copywriting is that occasionally smart-arsery is what’s called for. A bit of wit, a cultural reference thrown here and there, an oblique nod to something that’s like a secret between writer and reader. That’s what I enjoy about good copy. For a millisecond you contract to enter a joke together. I’m trying to find an example on the web right now to link to, but I keep getting bloody Bing coming up instead of google so all I get are ads! Too annoying!

Writing for someone else means throwing your creative ego out the window and running with your professional ego. Nothing wrong with taking pride in doing the best job possible; ego isn’t a dirty word when it’s in service to doing good work.

I wrote a whole play to a brief once. An elderly lady had an idea, she had a theatre booked, she’d gotten some funding and she had a team of actors ready to perform. What she didn’t have was a script! I was called in to write one for her. We put together a drama of sorts and she was pleased.

A good piece of copy is like a play – it performs, and after hooking you in and getting your imagination engaged,  a bunch of words should take you on a wee trip, give you a wee thrill. If the writer’s been really smart, the work will make the reader feel smarter than the average bear.

Readers are your audience.