Tag Archives: Big Fish.

Top Ten: Father and Son Stories

The relationship between father and son has been the basis of storytelling as long as stories have been told. Shakespeare was rather fond of this particular riff himself, and so are the movies. I’ve always had a soft spot for these tales. In fact, the best screenplay I ever wrote, which won the BAFTA New Writers Forum in 2008, was a father/son story. It was also the most fun to write. The story of a father and son can be tragic, inspiring and often hilarious. It can take in redemption, discovery, reconciliation and ponder the age-old question of whether we are destined to become our parents.

Here are my favourite ten movies which explore these themes. Please, feel free to suggest your own. Or, indeed, any mother/daughter stories you feel resound with the same emotions. Enjoy!

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10. Frequency

It may be cheesy as hell, but there is something genuinely touching about Gregory Hoblit’s tale of a man who discovers he can talk to his dead father through a time-travelling ham radio signal. Jim Caviezel is the cop communicating with his fire-fighter father Dennis Quaid on the same radio, in the same house, 30 years apart, attempting to alter history in order to save his father’s life. Naturally, it all goes wrong before it all goes right, and despite the rather ordinary serial killer sub-plot, Frequency throws in some neat time-travel tricks as father and son work together across a generation.

Issues resolved: Dead father (twice), murdered mother, new appreciation for father’s hobby.

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9. Finding Nemo

Hey, fish are dads too. After losing his wife and all his unborn kids, save one, over-protective Marlin is relentless in his search for Nemo, his only child. Pixar have a flawless way of portraying the complexities of human emotion through the use of toys, monsters or cute animals, and they don’t disappoint here. Marlin’s single-minded pursuit of Nemo, with no thought of ever quitting or assuming the worst is something that any parent could probably relate to. Just as Nemo’s exasperation with his over-bearing father is something that any child could equally relate to.

Issues resolved: Father learning to let go, son learning to appreciate his father’s love, mutual appreciation of those with crap memories.

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8. Field of Dreams

Phil Alden Robinson’s adaptation of the novel Shoeless Joe is rooted in a father/son relationship, despite the fact that the two never interact until the closing minutes of the picture. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is an inexperienced farmer, living with his unresolved estrangement from his dead father. When he starts to hear voices telling him to remove his crop and build a baseball field, Ray begins a zig-zag journey towards reconciliation. Everyone thinks Ray is insane but, let’s face it, voices that say ‘build it and he will come’ are a lot better than those that say ‘kill them all’.

Issues resolved: Son’s resentment of his father, never playing ‘catch’, imminent bankruptcy due to the farm not actually having any farmland left.

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7. Return of the Jedi

And you thought your dad was bad. Poor old Luke Skywalker has the kind of father issues that no amount of therapy will cure. Aside from finding out that his dad is not dead, as he was told, he also has to deal with the fact that the old man is an intergalactic despot, murderer and looks like a badly boiled egg with eyes. You have to wonder if you’ll turn out the same, right? Luckily for this galaxy, Skywalker Jr. has a heart the size of a death star and is able to turn his father back to the light. Not that this brings back the countless hundreds Skywalker Sr. force strangled on a whim.

Issues resolved: Father being a psychotic mass murderer, finding out the girl you lusted after is actually your sister, the embarrassing fact that dad looks way better in black than you.

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6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Keen to further the character of Indiana Jones for his third outing, Spielberg and Lucas pulled off one of the casting coups of the century by securing Sean Connery to play the archaeologist’s estranged father, Henry Jones Sr. The pairing is inspired. Bookish, uptight and pompous, Henry is the polar opposite of his adventurous offspring and their bickering is thoroughly entertaining. Well aware of the irony that we all end up like our parents, Ford integrated some of Connery’s mannerisms into his performance of the older Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Issues resolved: A remote and inattentive father and discovering you’ve both slept with the same woman.

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5. Transamerica

Possibly the only father/son story where the father is played by a woman. Felicity Huffman is astounding as transsexual Bree, forced to bond with the son she didn’t realise she had as a prerequisite to being granted a sex-change operation. Toby, her son, has had a traumatic childhood and simply wants someone to connect to. Bree is reluctant to tell Toby the truth, instead telling him she is a Christian missionary. The developing relationship between them, though complex and difficult, is handled with such charm, honesty and wit that you cannot fail to be drawn in by them as they embark on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles. Magical.

Issues resolved: Father is almost a woman, son is a male prostitute, the list is extensive in this one.

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4. The Godfather

Essentially a father and sons story, The Godfather is almost Shakespearian in its tale of a King and his three vastly different heirs. Central to the story, however, is the relationship between Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). While Sonny and Fredo have followed their father into the ‘family business’, Michael shuns his father’s attentions and ambitions for him, determined to follow his own path. This, of course, makes him far more his father’s son than the others will ever be and Michael’s subsequent descent is both inevitable and tragic. Rinse and repeat with Godfather III.

Issues resolved: Resentment of father’s interference in son’s life, acceptance of inescapable destiny to inherit father’s crown.

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3. Back to the Future

Marty McFly has never really looked up to his father, a weak-willed man who, by his own admission, is ‘not very good at confrontations’. Fortunately for Marty, his crazed friend Doc Brown inadvertently gives him the opportunity to build a better dad when Marty is sent back to 1955. Befriending the teenage McFly Sr., Marty sets about trying to teach his feeble patriarch how to truly win the heart of his mother. Further incentive is added by the fact that the other options are incest or ceasing to exist. Marty chooses the easy option and George McFly discovers that, sometimes, punching someone really hard in the face is the right thing to do.

Issues resolved: Lack of respect for ineffectual father figure and threat of being erased from history.

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2. Road to Perdition

There are multiple father/son stories running through Road to Perdition. Irish gangster Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks) is forced to flee with his eldest son after the rest of his family are murdered by Conner, the son of his boss, and surrogate father, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Aware that Michael Jr. looks up to him, Sullivan is aloof and reserved, fearing that the son will become the father. Their journey toward mutual acceptance is both warm and moving, but the relationship between Michael Sr. and John Rooney is heart-breaking, building to one of the most poetic and beautiful gunfights in modern cinema.

Issues resolved: Accepting your father for who he is and still loving him and protecting your son from all dangers, especially yourself.

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1. Big Fish

Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor) is a great teller of tall tales, much to the frustration of his son, Will (Billy Crudup), who feels he’s never really known who his father is. When Edward discovers he is dying, Will comes to see him with his pregnant wife Joséphine (Marion Cotillard). Edward tells Joséphine the seemingly outrageous story of his life from his deathbed while Will tries desperately to reconcile with his father. With flawless performances from all, Tim Burton’s Big Fish has a big heart and the final scenes, as Will comes to understand and appreciate his father for the first, and last, time are incredibly moving.

Issues resolved: That sometimes the details of the journey don’t matter as much as the destination.

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Top Five: Original Movie Soundtracks

They say the best movie soundtracks are the ones that you don’t notice are there. They feature music that enhances a film but never tries to compete for your attention. That’s all well and good, but personally I like the soundtracks that do both; the music that you find yourself humming later on and then buy because it is good enough to survive on its own.

I’ve been listening to soundtracks for as long as I’ve been watching movies, and that’s a long time. Sometimes I’ll listen because the music is excellent in its own right, sometimes because it’s just great music to daydream to, and sometimes because a particular score is the perfect inspiration for the writing of a screenplay. I once wrote an entire script around the music to a single scene in Aliens. Thanks for that, Mr James Horner.

Selecting a paltry five soundtracks from the plethora I admire was no easy task but eventually, after much hand-wringing and begging for forgiveness from the aforementioned James Horner, I settled on my Top Five. These are the soundtracks which I believe best represent the art in all its forms; as beautiful music in its own right, as the perfect enhancement to the story and visuals, and as examples of craftsmen at the top of their game.

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Alien – Jerry Goldsmith

1979

Long considered one of the most successful and enduring movie composers of all time, Jerry Goldsmith has been around since the Fifties and continues to work sporadically today. The story of his music for Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of disagreements and disappointments, but there is no denying the beauty of his work for the classic Sci-Fi/Horror movie. Hired by Scott at the ‘suggestion’ of 20th Century Fox, Goldsmith and the director clearly had differing ideas about how the movie should be scored. As a result, much of the music Goldsmith wrote was omitted from the final cut of Alien. The romantic, sweeping and eerie theme originally written was rejected by Scott and replaced by the composer’s second effort; a simple series of unnerving sounds which, it must be said, are extremely effective. Scott also chose to use a pre-existing piece of classical music for the end credits, further alienating Goldsmith. The original score is available in its entirety, but what remains within the film is deeply unsettling, beautiful and dark. Elements of his original opening theme survive in scenes where the Nostromo lands and takes off, making the process of landing a spaceship seem like an adventure in itself. And, taking the title of the movie to heart, Goldsmith creates ugly, unnatural sounds whenever the creature appears. Don’t ask me what they are, I prefer not knowing.

See also: Chinatown, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Omen.

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Edward Scissorhands – Danny Elfman

1990

The fourth collaboration between composer Elfman and director Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands remains one of the most influential scores of the last twenty years. Elfman began his career in film by scoring his older brother Richard’s movie, Forbidden Zone, and soon after began his creative relationship with Burton working on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Utilising a 79 piece orchestra and a choir, the music for Edward Scissorhands is rich, dreamlike and perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet themes of Burton’s most personal film to date. In addition, Elfman creates a hilarious tick-tock theme for the bland suburbia into which Edward appears, and a signature bombastic march which touches on the near insanity of the inventor (Vincent Price) and his bizarre machines. Elfman and Burton represent a perfect understanding between director and composer, and even if Burton’s work isn’t always accomplished, Elfman’s usually is. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and it is a measure of this soundtrack’s success that its music-box chimes and soulful choral voices have become the signature sound for fairy tales and Chanel advertisements ever since. It has even been adapted into a ballet.

See also: Midnight Run, Batman Returns and Big Fish.

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The Fog – John Carpenter

1980

John Carpenter has always been a curious rarity as a filmmaker. Not only does he direct and, more often than not, write his movies but he also composes and performs the soundtracks. Not even Spielberg can do that (all praise His name). So, as sole creator of every component, Carpenter’s synth-based scores have always been the perfect accompaniments to the action on the screen. Often using a heartbeat thump as the base, Carpenter’s soundtracks heighten the tension considerably. His most famous is probably Halloween, but my personal favourite has always been The Fog. Carpenter uses very little in enhancing the eerie atmosphere of his coastal ghost story, but every fog horn sound and every light stoke of piano key burrows deep under the skin, priming the viewer for the experience. The thumping sound as the fog rolls into Antonio Bay mimics the pounding on doors, the noise which announces the spectres before they strike. It is one of the greatest horror movie scores of all time, by a composer who fully understands the genre. Carpenter’s band, The Coup De Villes, also provided the somewhat cheesy tunes which play on the radio, or serve as jingles for the KAB Radio station.

See also: Halloween, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China.

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Jaws – John Williams

1975

If you mention Jaws in conversation, one of the first things that will come to mind is the theme tune. Dum dum dum dum, etc and so forth. Effective and iconic as that theme is, it sometimes results in the rest of the soundtrack being overlooked. This is a shame because, beyond the ominous strings which more than compensate for the killer shark’s rather rubbery presence, Jaws enjoys one of the most accomplished scores in cinema history. John Williams has been working in the industry for half a century, and is responsible for some of cinema’s most recognisable theme tunes, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Jaws marked Williams’ first collaboration with Spielberg, a collaboration that has now spanned 35 years and 19 movies. By turns haunting, joyous, foreboding and terrifying, Jaws is a master class in writing music to accentuate the moving image. Williams’ strings make the ocean seem filled with dread, he quietly adds atmosphere to Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis, and the cheerful sea shanty which accompanies the Orca’s doomed pursuit of the Great White strikes a gloriously upbeat note in the midst of the peril. It was the perfect start to such a successful collaboration.

See also: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and Schindler’s List.

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The Mission – Ennio Morricone

1986

The chances are there is at least one Ennio Morricone score that you love, and probably more. Morricone has been producing music for film for over 50 years, across a diverse range of genre and language. He gained wide acclaim for his work with Sergio Leone on the Spaghetti Westerns of the Sixties and managed to write a score for John Carpenter’s The Thing which sounded like a Carpenter score. However, when I hear the name Morricone I immediately think of one movie: The Mission. Roland Joffé’s story of Spanish Jesuit missionaries in 18th century South America, and their struggles with the Spanish and Portuguese colonial governments, was graced with some of the most beautiful music ever composed for film. Morricone mixes classical Baroque orchestra, South American Guaraní instruments, Spanish guitars and haunting choirs to magnificent and often heartbreaking effect. The emotional punch of Morricone’s work even filters down to the simple tune which Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays on his oboe, a tune later reprised with full orchestra for the track On Earth As It Is In Heaven, which is breathtaking.

See also: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Untouchables and Once Upon a Time in America.

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The Also Rans:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – James Horner, The Bourne Identity – John Powell, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, Psycho – Bernard Herrmann, Solaris – Cliff Martinez.

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