Category Archives: Films

Downtime

So, after over a year of daily posts on here, I had a couple of days off. It felt good. And also a bit weird. This blog has become nailed on as part of my routine, and so going to sleep knowing that I hadn’t written anything was both liberating and disappointing. Indeed, I think that I’ll still write a blog most days, but try not to beat myself up when I don’t.

Today was a good day, despite it being the start of the week of hell when it comes to my paid work and the consequential tax returns. My (allegedly) near-miss literary agent from back in August asked for the full manuscript of my redraft, and another was happy to be emailed the newest version. But there was also a massive coincidence, which was certainly enough to make me think that the world was having a bit of a nudge and a wink at me today. Way back when, another agent asked for my full manuscript and I heard nothing. Months and months and months passed. Amazingly, he chose today of all days to get back to me. He rejected me, of course, and that wasn’t surprising as the draft he had simply wasn’t good enough, but it was very strange to have that happening on the same day as everything else.

I’m not finished yet, much as I’d love either of the agents who currently have the novel to represent me – both are great. I’ll be making other, limited approaches just as soon as I can find the time – I should maybe wait until after the tax returns mayhem is over. This draft feels like it could be going places, but only time will tell.

In other news, I saw Black Swan and met some cool new people last night. I’m still formulating my thoughts on the former and may stick a review up in due course. Suffice to say, it’s another Aranofsky head-fuck. And Natalie Portman’s performance is simply astonishing.

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Harry S. Plinkett

Video phenomenons on the internet usually pass me by. I don’t have anything more than a passing interest in Youtube, and so rely on others (particularly on Twitter) to link to things that I might find enjoyable. I really should try to seek out more of these, as the ones that are brought to my attention are usually damn, damn good, belying their low-budget nature.

It’s rare, however, that I find something that’s laugh-out-loud funny, extremely clever and insightful, and refreshingly ‘new’ into the bargain. Enter Harry Plinkett, a misogynist, 100-year old psychotically senial serial killer, who is the narrator character behind a series of film reviews by American independent filmmaker, Mike Stoklasa. Using a combination of film footage, comparisons to other works, and a whole load of dark humour, Stoklasa’s Plinkett character deconstructs a series of movies on the Red Letter Media website.

Starting off quietly by reviewing the later Star Trek movies ‘in character’ – supposedly because he thought his normal voice would be too boring – Stoklasa first found notoriety with his epic review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Demolishing it in hilarious fashion while making a series of well thought out points that had serious critics nodding in agreement, Plinkett was a hit. Stoklasa went on to review Attack of the Clones, and a few days ago, in a calvacade of publicity, Revenge of the Sith. I only meant to watch the start of his latest video, but barely saw my wife last night as I couldn’t help but be pulled into the nigh-on two-hour extravaganza of George Lucas’s prequel climax being utterly mutilated.

Stoklasa’s greatest asset is his ability to combine absolutely brilliantly editing with hilarious lines and killer points. It’s a one-two-three combo that frequently left me open-mouthed, as his Plinkett character pointed out numerous things in the prequels that I had never noticed before. The montage of couch scenes in the movies, for example, was eye-opening, as was his deconstruction of exactly how blue/green screen affects acting, and the contrast between the ‘we’ve got to get somewhere NOW!’ pace of what should be very similar scenes in 2009’s Star Trek and Revenge of the Sith. His explanation of why every character in the prequels is a total fucking idiot was priceless, too.

While it could be said that slating the Star Wars prequels is as difficult as Luke Skywalker bullseyeing womprats in his T-16 back home, I don’t recall it ever being done with such panache before, and Stoklasa’s skills not only reveal a whole load of new and surprising insights about the prequels, but are great entertainment along the way. I’m certainly going to be catching up with the entire back catalogue. If you haven’t caught any of his reviews yet, then make sure you rectify the situation immediately by visiting here.

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Legacy

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Tron Legacy. My history with the franchise runs thus: the original was one of my favourite films as a child, and the utterly stunning trailers for the new one had me expecting greatness, before some ho-hum reviews brought me back down to Earth. So I went in expecting a visually amazing, aurally astounding FX spectacular… with a dodgy script.

That’s pretty much what I got. As a couple of hours of entertainment I had a good time, and there was nothing ‘wrong’ with it per se – the action scenes were really imaginative and great fun, for example, particularly the Light Cycle battles – but I couldn’t help feeling that before spending $200 million, Disney might have thought to get the script a bit more up to snuff. It didn’t help that the lead guy was bland Captain McBland from the Planet Bland, and Michael Sheen in his role as a nightclub owner gave a completely bizarre OTT performance that was completely tonally different from the rest of the film. The reinvention of the first film’s Flynn character as a God version of The Dude wasn’t entirely successful, though Jeff Bridges is always good value, and the quasi-religious themes present in the digital realm were often presented more than a little heavy-handedly. Some weird decisions were made here, not all of them for the better.

What did work, apart from the action sequences, were the touches of fan service to the original – in particular, the continuity from the appearances of Bruce Boxleitner, Flynn’s Arcade and Encom in the real world, the updated design of the identity discs, and the iconic vehicles such as the Recognizer and the aforementioned Light Cycles. All of these things had my inner geek grinning from ear to ear. So while the movie was far from perfect, and could have done with as much time being spent on the writing as everything else, I didn’t feel short-changed upon coming out of the cinema (other than over the opportunistically insane price hike to see 3D films, of course).

What puzzles me about Hollywood is that they spend so much money on making something look out of this world, a ton of dough on the cast, and then blanket-market the hell out of their big films, but what often seems to be forgotten in the process is what should be the first essential ingredient of any project, which is a screenplay that makes the most of the film’s concept. This black hole leaves us with a number of recent films that are arguably less than they could and should have been. Having said that, though, I’m one of those people who exacerbates the problem by going to see, and enjoying, movies that I already know are going to be simple popcorn audio-visual extravaganzas. But never mind. I’d love for someone to look into the relationship between reviews for blockbusters and their subsequent box-office receipts, and compare the results when there has been the same marketing spend but vastly different critical reaction. I’m sure there’s a link to quality there somewhere.

Incidentally, I obtained Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron Legacy as soon as I got home from seeing the film. It’s bloody amazing. Could well be new music to put on while I’m writing action scenes. I’ve listened to the Bourne soundtrack way too many times now, and this could bring some different energy to things.

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Predators

Just a very quick entry tonight, as time is running away with me. I’ve seen Predators this evening, which is unfortunately a disappointing sequel to the original Arnie classic. There was precious little suspense, and I rarely felt even slightly tense while watching it. Something went wrong with the direction, methinks.

It’s a shame, because the setup, which involved the characters being transported to an alien planet and waking up in freefall, was a rather good opening and a great idea, but the rest of the film didn’t live up to the premise. Adrian Brody was okay in the lead role (though he’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger), but the main problem is that I couldn’t tell you any of the names of the characters, which seems to be standard practice for this kind of film these days. Time was, when you could watch an action film and be able to reel off the names of everyone in it. Die Hard, Commando, the original Predator – the supporting characters were all interesting and had something to say, which made them memorable. Nowadays, though, characters in such movies are ciphers, simply there to be killed off. But because they don’t mean anything, there’s no sadness when they’re offed. All we can hope is that the method of execution is inventive enough to keep us interested.

Predators is a film that’s well shot, but the script simply isn’t good enough. And I have to say that I was rather annoyed by the fact that the best shot from the trailer (where Adrian Brody is smothered by multiple Predator laser sights) wasn’t even in the movie. Looking around the internet, it seems that this shot was filmed specifically for the trailer alone. Now, that’s just not cricket. False advertising. Not impressed. Bad form.

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Network

Just a very quick hello this evening. The Social Network has immediately leapt into my rather exclusive category of “this is absolute fucking amazing” films. A fabulous script by Aaron Sorkin, bravura direction from David Fincher, and compelling performances from all the leads. Justin Timberlake – yes, that Justin Timberlake – is a revelation. More on this tomorrow, but you have to go to see the film.

Before The Social Network, I played minigolf with my wife, brother-in-law and one of my friends. A shocking start (as usual) saw me dead last at the turn, but then something clicked and I started winning holes and posted the best score for the last nine. This wasn’t enough for me to win the strokeplay, where I came third, but I did win the matchplay quite comfortably, which after the awfulness of the beginning was a very good result.

So, a nice evening out and now I’m off to bed. Night all.

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10:10

Sense of humour failure! Sometimes Internet controversies get a bit tedious. Is it genuine outrage or simply wimpy, over-egged stupidity? In this latest episode I’m not entirely sure. Judge for yourselves:

There’s no question that this film is provocative, but there’s something rather interesting here: Richard Curtis wrote it. That’s Richard “not-even-remotely-provocative-for-ages” Curtis. The rom-com guy. Him. The environmental message is a strong one, but what’s most interesting is the black-or-white attitude. Either you’re with us, or you’re against us. It’s an authoritarian stance, but it has to be said that I think it’s a pretty cool one. “No pressure.”

The film was withdrawn soon after its appearance, due to some viewers finding it tasteless and unnecessarily violent. Now, it plainly is both those things, but that’s what makes it interesting. It has a personality. It has a purpose. So I’m sorry that the makers chose to fall on their swords and chickened out of standing up for it, because it’s plainly the most intriguing thing that Richard Curtis has done for a while. Frankly, I like its ballsiness. “Either you’re against climate change, or you don’t deserve to live.” It’s overblown but it’s passionate and I found that its sense of humour fit in with my taste. So withdrawing it was silly and cowardly, in my opinion. But hey, at least it got to publicise its cause, which is a good thing.

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Insurrection

Writing is cool, but reading about the process of writing is something that I’ve always found interesting. It’s true that I probably discuss the process of writing as much as actually doing it, but when I read material from successful writers about their trials and tribulations I always learn something, and it’s often quite inspiring.

So, following my love of Russell T Davies’ “A Writer’s Tale”, which outlined his experiences while showrunning Doctor Who, yesterday I took possession of Michael Pillar’s manuscript regarding the writing of Star Trek: Insurrection, which always seemed to me to be a rather troubled, muddled project. Indeed, Paramount Pictures blocked the publication of Pillar’s experiences, and following the appearance of the manuscript on the internet, Pillar’s family themselves asked for it to be removed.

Despite this request being adhered to the work was already out there, and even though I’ve only read the first third of it, it’s a fascinating insight into the process and likely, in the remaining material, to lay out the vagaries of the studio system in Hollywood.

What is already clear is that the initial premise for Insurrection was very different from what eventually ended up on screen. There were originally flashbacks to the early Starfleet experiences of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and a relationship between two best friends that ultimately turned sour only to be picked up again many years later; descriptions of pretty cool action scenes and agonising over the execution of plot points that never made it. The journey from initial premise through various treatments (basically, documents that outline the story of the film) shows the evolution from early ideas, through producer and studio notes, to the final product. I have a feeling that there’s soon going to be details of a crisis of confidence and massive studio interference, as the cinema version of the finished film bears little resemblance to the early thoughts.

Anyway, more on this once I’ve read the rest. But it’s already a more than compelling read.

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