Monday, 24 December 2012

"You boy! What day is it?"

It's Chriiiiiiiistmaaaaaaas!

To paraphrase Joey Tribiani, it's a time for giving, a time for receiving, a time for sharing etc...
It's also a time for sitting in front of the tv!

A 'classic' Christmas line-up, for me, would feature the Raymond Briggs holy trinity of The Snowman (Possibly one of my all-time favourites), The Bear and Father Christmas. And in about two hours, the brand new 'Snowman and Snow-dog' will be unveiled: Here's hoping it meets the previous high standards!

Bill Murray or Kermit: Scrooge ponders his future yet-to-come...
Time is an issue for all of us for most of the year, but what do you do when you have the choice between
The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version)? They're all the same, but different. Maybe you should just watch 'Blackadder's Christmas Carol' and save time? Burning questions indeed.

Then there are the Christmas movies that aren't exactly Christmas movies, but have somehow become seasonal staples, like Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Gremlins, Narnia, Edward Scissorhands, Lethal Weapon, Planes Trains & Automobiles (Alright, that one was Thanksgiving, but seeing how we don't do Thanksgiving in this country, we'll call it Christmas!).

... Ho. Ho. Ho. *Delivered in the style of Alan Rickman.
Today is Christmas Eve. Arthur Christmas and Santa Claus: The Movie will be off-set (once the nipper is asleep) by the Christmas episodes of Stella Street (David Bowie and Roger Moore swapping Christmas presents: "What's in here? It's a little large for an After Eight mint... oh, a book token for ten pounds." Genius.),as well as some classic Buster Crabbe-tastic Flash Gordon episodes. The Beeb used to show these every morning, years ago, in the run up to Christmas, along with the likes of Laurel and Hardy. No wonder I wrote a script this year called 'Nostalgia'...

We may not be typical seasonal fayre, but we're as camp as Christmas.
Here's to all our Christmas's - I hope you all have a peaceful, safe and happy time.

God bless us, one 'n all!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

End of Year Review 2012!

A reflective John Cusack looks back on the year..
Well, that just about wraps up 2012... And I would've gotten away with it, had it been for you meddlin' kids!

Whilst 2012 was a marginally better (slightly less chilly/watery) version than Roland Emmerich's, for me it was a somewhat bumpy year, personally and creatively.

The year began with a rip-roaring start: Six episodes of my comedy/murder-mystery TV series "Backstabbers" were written, and were probably the most fun I'd had writing for some time. Writing a 1970's-set whodunnit to the backdrop of Thatcher's rise to power brought some hilarious, unexpected parallels!
Did I mention that "Backstabbers" has comedy AND drama?
The idea had been knocking around in various forms since 1998, but it was so easy to write that I almost went straight into Season 2... but let's not put all of one's eggs in one's basket, hey?

I struggled with writing for a few months due to severe nerve/jaw pain, but I worked mainly on ideas and short film scripts during this time (as much as the pain would permit). One of which - "Nostalgia" - made the long list for "50 Kisses", but alas not the short list. But, a script is a script is a script, so I put it on Circalit for the world to read - and it received glowing feedback. Absolutely blow-your-socks-off feedback! Go. Me.

In preparation for the London Screenwriters Festival, I wrote a feature length screenplay 'adaptation' of "Nostalgia", which took on its own life through the process; turning from bleak sci-fi thriller to a sort of "A Christmas Carol"-meets-Groundhog Day-meets-Eternal Sunshine tale, with lots of heart, emotion and a nice 'What-if' scenario:

"What if you could see inside other people’s memories? Heartbroken Jasper must venture into his ex-girlfriend’s memories to solve an unanswered question: Did she ever love him?"

(For more info, check out

Which brings us to LSF 2012! It was a great weekend of catching up with old friends and making new ones, and listening to some excellent talks: The best of which were held by Luke Ryan of Disruption Entertainment, which was the equivalent of having warm honey poured over your brain for a few hours. Actually, I've no idea what that feels like, so let's just say it was a damn fine cup of coffee with a slice of cherry pie to boot.

Luke Ryan tells it how it is...
Luke spoke about transmedia/multi-platform projects, which was informative and motivating. By the end, about a billion light bulbs had gone off in my brain. Being a writer who either seems to write low-budget quirks or mega-budget blow-the-crap-out-of-everything swagger, I repeatedly heard over the course of three days NOT to aim for low budget. There IS money out there, and investors WANT big ideas and they don't always want the cheap option. Hallelujah! (And I hope this is true!)

I managed to catch up on some talks that I missed post-LSF: "Just Effing Entertain Me"'s Julie Gray was inspirational, whilst the Jonathan Newman-helmed "I Wrote the Part with You in Mind..." talk with Sally Phillips and Ralf Little was hilarious and insightful; both left me kicking myself that I'd missed them live.

Sally Phillips, of 'Smack The Pony', 'Miranda' AND 'Justin's House'!
The "Speed pitching" session was an inspired improvement on last year's session: Whilst it was a mad free-for-all, I managed to pitch to those who I wanted to, rather than being allotted random folk. The results were:

Scott Free: Interested in the concept, took my one-sheet.
Ned Dowd: Warm, friendly feedback - He "got it" (to the point of suggesting casting options) which was great! Took the one sheet. Nice guy too!
Bad Hat Harry: Got the concept for 'Nostaglia', didn't really get 'Backstabbers' - but that was down to my last second 2nd pitch.
BBC Comedy: Got the idea of 'Backstabbers', but warned me off of taking it further due to a similar-themed episode of 'Psychoville'. (Even though I 'got' what he was saying, it's all in the execution)
Sky TV: Loved the idea of 'Backstabbers', said he could easily see it playing on Sky. Go figure.

"That's me in the corner..." Actually, I'm in the middle. Tall dude. Yeah. Hello.
And here we are in December: I'm currently working on a one-location/minimal cast project which has a rather neat concept. Currently the idea runs as a mixture of Assault on Precinct 13/Sleeping With The Enemy/The Quiet Earth/Half-Life/The Fly/The Keep, possibly with a bit of Die Hard chucked in for good measure! It'll all make sense soon, right?

"An agoraphobic conspiracy theorist fights for her sanity and life when she suspects the world is being invaded by a mysterious enemy."

And that's the end of that chapter. But, before I toodle off for two weeks of Christmas indulgence, here's my film round-up of 2012. Skol!

Recommended movies of 2012 (Scoring 3.5 or higher out of 5; some DVD's released theatrically in 2011)
Skyfall (Bond goes Dark Knight)
Madagascar 3 (Best one yet; colourful and fun)
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (Endearing)
Avengers Assemble (Big, silly, blockbustery fun)
The Five-Year Engagement (Blunt must do more comedy)
Dark Shadows (Unexpectedly hilarious; lovely design, closest to Beetlejuice for Burton)
The Dictator (Made me laugh. Lots.)
Safe (Unexpected 70's tinged throwback)
The Hunger Games (Gripping)
21 Jump St (Very funny)
Damsels In Distress (Mad as a brush)
Brave (Beautiful to look at, lovely mother/daughter story)
Headhunters (Excellent 'Fargo' throwback)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Does what it says on the tin)
Ice Age 4 (Fun, best Ice Age animation yet; great Peter Dinklage voice work!)
Young Adult (Theron at her best; very bitter)
The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists (Great fun, good visual gags)
Midnight In Paris (The first palatable Woody Allen film for me!)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Books are over-rated, but this was in expert hands)
The Grey (Old fashioned, bleak survival movie)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Beautifully shot, great performances)
Chronicle (Unexpectedly great - and I hate 'Found footage' movies!)
The Descendants (Class. Quality. Clooney.)
Crazy, Stupid Love (Enjoyable, easy-going rom-com)
Warrior (Great performances, if cramming all the Rocky films into one)
The Rum Diary (Hilarious, Withnail-esque comedy)
Fright Night (80's throwback! About time!)
Contagion (Gripping, if a little thinly spread)
Bridesmaids (Gross-out funny, yet likable)

Notable mentions:
Cabin in the Woods (The elevator scene, followed by carnage: I was suddenly a 12 yr old fx-obsessed film geek again!)
Haywire (Fassbender gets a good kicking, presumably for Prometheus)
A Dangerous Method (Knightly's hypnotic jaw)
Ill Manors (Splat!)

TV Shows of the year...
Game Of Thrones (Has the depth and detail that only a tv show can permit)
Damages (Is this the most under-rated tv series ever? Consistently brilliant)
Treme (Season 2 was even more leisurely than the previous, but still quality)

Which brings us to... THE WORST OF THE YEAR! (Scoring one or less out of 5)
Friends With Kids (Who cares about your pointless problems? Grow up!)
Battleship (Made me crave for Transformers. Good grief)
Like Crazy (It's your own damn fault for getting kicked out of the U.S.! Idiot!)
A Thousand Words (... and yet none of them any good.)
The Darkest Hour (Repetitive nonsense)
Womb (YUCK.)
The Dinosaur Project (Worst of the found footage films)
Elfie Hopkins (Cheap, badly made and self-indulgent)
Wanderlust (Rudd? Aniston? Why are you doing this to yourselves?)
John Carter (Go ON the journey with your hero. Do not play your best hand in the opening scene.)
Texas Killing Fields (Dull.)
The Three Musketeers (So slick it has trouble staying on the screen)
Attenberg (Didn't get it: Too weird)
Hesher (Didn't like it: Too in love with itself)
Johnny English Reborn (Did they learn nothing from the first one? Apparently not.)
Abduction (Vapid.)
Apollo 18 (Did I mention how much I hate found footage films?)
The Wicker Tree (Oh why why why why...)

And the ultimate worst of the year winner...

PROMETHEUS. So many things wrong with it, so little time or energy to devote to it. Let's just say the last time I left the cinema in such a huff was M:I 2.

Janek has never been so excited about rushing to his doom. High five, co-pilots!

Merry Christmaaaaaaas! See you in 2013! (Sorry, Mayans...)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Cue the Sun!

Truman: [to an unseen Christof] Who are you? 
Christof: I am the Creator - of a television show that 
gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions. 

Truman: Then who am I? 
Christof: You're the star. 
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." I'm inclined to agree. Which is why, as a screenwriter, I love thinking outside of reality. There's got to be more. Unleashing my imagination is where I feel truly free. That's not to say my 'real life' is a drab misery, I hasten to add. I've been blessed with a wonderful wife and daughter, and great, supportive friends and family. 

But let's apply "the reality of the world" to my chosen career path: Writing for film and television.

Blocked at every turn. Beautifully synchronized, don't you agree?
Last weekend, I attended my second London Screenwriters Festival, at Regent's College in London. It hardly felt like a year had passed, and upon arriving, I chanced upon some delegates from last year's festival - and the conversation flowed like we'd hardly been away. The slippers were on, and it was cosy, warm and safe. Our war stories were swapped, and the mutual support and encouragement was flowing like a good wine.

Now, here's a brief insight into my year: I wrote a six part comedy/murder-mystery at the start of 2012 ("Glee meets Scream, in the tone of Shaun Of The Dead"), and I had big plans for the rest of the year. Literally, "this month I will write this, followed by a re-write of this, followed by working on my pitches..." Ah, not so fast, Mr. Bond! My reality was a 5 month stint of EXTREME nerve pain in my face/jaw, which made my head feel like it was going to explode. I just wanted to claw the pain out of my head! During this time, I couldn't think straight due to the pain. Months of pain-killers later, and I'm back to normality. And it's August. YIKES. 

So I worked my backside off. Having learnt a good lesson from last year's speed pitching, I chose the snappiest idea that I could pitch. One that gave me - a nervous pitcher - an easier time in the pressure cooker of pitching.

Script finished in time for the festival (well, first drafted!), I felt slightly relieved, if somewhat robbed of my chance to really prepare for the festival. (In fact, I almost cancelled my ticket because I felt unprepared.)

But: I went for it. 

"Somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!" 
Friday was an odd day to say the least: After Chris Jones's motivational opening talk, I went off to the Great British Pitchfest. After 80 minutes of waiting, it was crunch time. Remember the start of "Saving Private Ryan?" The soldiers on the boat, throwing up? I must have looked like one of those poor guys. But in I went. 

I pitched my Groundhog Day-style fantasy feature film script "Nostalgia" (*Heartbroken Jasper must venture into the memory of his ex-girlfriend to answer a burning question: 'Did she ever love him?'*to Carlo Dusi from Scott Free, then Jason Taylor from Bad Hat Harry, followed by the lovely, dad-like Ned Dowd (whom I wish would adopt me). All of them asked for my one-sheet and details. 

I then pitched my comedy/murder-mystery to the BBC Comedy exec. He was a lovely, friendly chap, but he essentially told me to push the script aside and do something else. I then pitched the same idea to Sky's exec, and he said "This is something I can see playing on our channel." Go. Figure. Anyway, he closed our chat by saying I COULD send my script in, but it would take an age for it to be read - or else either get an agent or an indie producer to rep it, and things will move a lot faster.

In the afternoon, I attended a talk about comedy on the BBC, which left me feeling a bit despondent about the state of mainstream comedy. Personally, I'm not a fan of 'Miranda' - but I recognise that millions are, and that the show has been a big hit for the Beeb. It's just not my thing. (Ferris Bueller, Benny Hill and Laurel and Hardy ALL did asides to the camera.) But this style of tv comedy is where the Beeb are currently focusing. Fine, I get it. 

I later attended a script clinic session, which, in all honesty, did not go well. I attended a session last year which was really great and inspiring and I took a lot from it. This year's session was a very long 50 minutes of disagreement. I won't go into details, but I came away feeling trampled, rather than motivated. I love script notes that challenge me to make my work better, as hard as they can be at times. But this session simply failed to deliver anything I could practically work with. Hey-ho.

"Oh, you're too late! There's nothing left to explore!"
So I came away after day one, reflective and a bit 'blah' about things so far. I will fully admit that this is just my personal experience, and not reflective of anyone else's experience of the event. Saturday kicked off with a talk from some agents, which included some fiery-yet-understandable challenges from the audience. There was a growing sense of negativity, and it made me question why. 

I've read a few posts on-line about individuals considering agents as 'gate-keepers' who don't really want to help new writers. I'm sure that's not true - again, I'm sure they want to help every good writer, but time/money and finding the right client is always going to factor in. But when Sky commissioner's "Get an agent and I'll happily read your work" is met by an agent's response of "I don't want people coming to me with deals/possible in-roads", it does provoke your inner child to chant "Redrum! Redrum!"

Is it that the tv/film industry in this country is in such a poor state that it was being reflected through the talk? Is it that there is no money, times are hard, everything is being cut and everybody is worried about losing their jobs?

Big, BIG questions. And then I attended Luke Ryan's talk, and my spirit soared. Here's a guy whose passion and energy is crystal clear. His talk was completely inspired and motivating, and I left the session feeling like I had dined on the finest cake and wine known to humanity. Simply brilliant.

That's our hero shot.
I attended 3 more sessions that day, during which I made some fantastic new friends. I cannot stress enough how great it is to chat and build genuine friendship with people. In the evening, I spent about 90 mins on the delegates network assisting a fellow delegate to hone their pitch. I was tired, sure, but I wanted to spread the love and support! This is the best thing I can say about the festival. It made me want to help others wherever I could. 

Sunday: Luke Ryan's second big talk, and my goodness, it topped his previous session. Half-way through, the hairs on the back of my neck were up, lightning bolts running through me. I had been waiting for at least ten years to hear somebody say what Luke talked about, and there was a sense of "FINALLY! Now yer talkin'!"
In that 2 hour session alone, my ticket price was justified. Not to over-dramatize, but it was a nigh-on spiritual revelation. Honestly!

Then came Mike Leigh - a personal, long-time favourite of mine, and a law unto himself. I totally admire him for doing things his way, in such a unique style of working - and I would state that, as Mike opened his talk with "Film IS film", Mike Leigh IS Mike Leigh. He is to be loved and treasured, but I put place him on a Werner Herzog-level of 'mad genius'. Some directors are gruff and don't suffer fools because of their ego. It seemed clear to me that Mike is wired in a particular way that the rest of us aren't. And it simply cannot be emulated. On one hand fascinating, on another extremely blunt. And God bless him for it.

"You never had a camera inside my head!"
Now, I forgot to mention that whenever I come to these events, something seems to happen in my personal life. My first time at a Chris Jones event, my wife and child were in a car crash. Last year, my poor wife had to deal with our child diving out of their cot during the night - my wife had to sleep on the floor outside our daughter's bedroom to stop her from escaping all night long. And this year, my almost-4 year old daughter caught tonsillitis, with a temperature of 40+ and various frenzied trips to the out-of-hours doctor with suspected meningitis. Did I mention that I really love my wife? She really seems to cop it when I go off to 'film land'. Real life doesn't stop, and we all have our fair share of hard times to wade through. These events can have a personal cost as well as financial!

So, by 3 pm Sunday afternoon, I'd got what I wanted out of LSF, and I scooted home to see my family. Yay!

What did I take away from this weekend? Do not accept reality. Just because reality tells you to think medium-sized or smaller, you need to step out of that reality and do what you've got to do. And the crazy thing is, we all know this. But when reality confines you to your own personal Shawshank, daring to dream can feel like a crazy person armed only with hope. So it's down to us as individuals to claw our way out.

I'd like to close by thanking all the volunteers, speakers and Chris (and his team) for bringing all of this together this year. You all did a brilliant job. And thanks to the delegates: I had a great time growing friendship, and met some excellent people. Bring on LSF 2013, and in case I don't see ya...

 ... good afternoon, good evening, and good night! 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I don't know but I been told...

Outstanding, Private Pyle. I think we finally found something that you do well!  
Here it is lads, another list to compensate for the lack on blogging (Apologies: trigeminal neuralgia has blighted my last 3 months on this planet, but as Cass Elliot sang, "It's getting better"...).

Recommended movies (Scoring 3.5 - 5 out of 5), in no particular order:
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Descendants
Crazy Stupid Love
The Rum Diary
Fright Night
Blue Valentine
Life In A Day
In A Better World
Kill List

Notable close-but-no-cigars:
The Iron Lady
Gentlemen Broncos
In Time
One Day
The Thing (preeeekmake)

1.5 star or less:
The Darkest Hour
The Wicker Tree
Texas Killing Fields
The Three Musketeers
Cowboys and Aliens
Sherlock Holmes 2
Johnny English Reborn
Tonight You're Mine
Apollo 18
Conan The Barbarian
Green Lantern

and finally, the 'I get it-but I don't get it' list:
The Artist
War Horse

To conclude: More bad than good, I didn't understand the Oscars (especially the winners) and there's a lot of very average stuff out there that I didn't mention. It's been a tough, mostly uninspiring year so far; one that has almost brought me to my knees (at times) in respect to quality and quantity. Yeah, like I could do better, I know - I'm strictly speaking as a viewer here. Although I do think I could do better than 'Green Lantern'.

Times are changing -  not only the industry, but viewing habits, and not necessarily for the better. Sure, sales matter and film has to be profitable, but there is a very average dark cloud hanging over our options for entertainment. What troubles me is the value in the product: Everything is so immediate, and likewise so disposable.

Perhaps the emphasis for making money isn't so much as over-taking art and entertaining the audience as it is leaving them behind as a dot on the landscape? Some see these as exciting times, with more opportunity for writers and film makers... True dat (as they say on 'Treme'), but at what cost?

Information overload has flagged up on my radar increasingly, from movie promotion (I went from being knicker-wettingly excited about 'Prometheus' to 'Please God make it stop' apathy: And I've not even seen the darn movie yet.
"Sound off like you got a pair!"

Even the blogs and advice gurus have laid it on with a trowel to the point where I feel like Pvt. Pile in 'Full Metal Jacket'; lambasted by the drill sergeant for being a know-nothing stacked-high pile 'o plop. Inspiration is what counts, not hierarchial provocation.

So I'm choosing to concentrate on WHY I do this. To tell stories. To enjoy it. To keep learning: whilst keeping an ear open to developments and opportunity - but not to stand fear-struck like a rabbit in the headlights.

I think we should win it...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

There's A New Sheriff In Town...

"It's one thing to want someone out of your life, but it's another thing to serve them a wake-up cup full of liquid drainer."

"How very."

The moral of Michael Lehmann's 1988 indie masterpiece "Heathers" must be 'be careful what you wish for'.

In the film, Winona Ryder's "Veronica" hates her bitchy, controlling high school friends, and when she teams up with new bad-boy in town J.D., he presents her with a solution: Kill your friends, make it look like suicide.

I LOVE THIS FILM. One of my all-time favourites. It hits the nail on the head with its depiction of school life, but presents the story with a fairy-tale sheen that, somehow, makes you believe that two teenagers CAN murder their friends/enemies, make it look like suicide and get away with it. CSI it is not. It operates in an exaggerated reality which hits home its valid points because it doesn't have to get hung up on the details.

Corn nuts!
I recently entered a script of mine into a new screenwriting initiative which is searching for fresh new female characters that don't resort to the usual roles like housewife, prostitute, kick-ass babe or whatever. Fantastic! Anything that seeks to broaden the horizons of film makers in order to create less-obvious fare will always get my vote. 

My screenplay depicts a female lead character who wants the perfect lifestyle. The big house. The handsome rich husband - mostly in order to appease her judgmental parents and friends. She achieves these things early on in the story, but when her relationship with her fiance falls apart, her closest friends move in with her in order to pay the rent. Then her fiance turns up dead in the house. The story then progresses with how far the friends will cover up murders in order to sustain their 'perfect existence'.

Chaos killed the dinosaurs, darling!
The essence of the story is - be careful what you wish for. The lead character is many things - good and bad. She knows what she wants, she's sharp, witty, determined, but also manipulative, shallow at times, and looks after number one first. 

The script initially received good feedback - the first 10 pages described at 'entertaining' and 'intriguing', which is always great to hear. The second round of (more detailed) feedback - not good. Flatly rejected, seemingly due to the main character 'relying on male love interests for attention and support', and 'she often goes along with what other people want'. "A passive character" was the conclusion. The point that she was actually manipulating most, if not all of the men seemed to be missed. As for being passive, the main thrust of the story and character is 'How far do you go before you sell your soul to get what you want'. Eventually, she realises what she THOUGHT she wanted was not going to bring her any happiness (i.e. what her parents/friends wanted for her). The supporting characters are all living a lie; wanting a particular thing in order to achieve their perception of happiness.

Teenage suicide: Don't do it.
So the negative feedback got me thinking about the films that I like, and most of all, what female characters do I like. Which brings us to "Heathers".

I know for a lot of people, 'Veronica Sawyer' is an anti-hero icon. But if you take a good look at the choices she makes in the film, it all begins to look, well, a bit flimsy. 

1) She hangs out with the top 3 girls in the school whom she hates, but goes along with it because to achieve anything in life, you have to be top dog. Seemingly the 'Heathers' only hang out with her because she can copy other people's hand-writing. *This implies she is shallow and easily led.

2) Her psycho new boyfriend is the one that plants the seed to kill her friends. She rejects the idea initially, but ends up being implicated in the murders. *Fooled/easily led by a teenage boy, but goes along with more of his 'plans'.

3) When she realises the truth behind J.D.'s plotting i.e. to blow up the school, she doesn't tell her parents or go to the police - she tries, albeit successfully, to stop J.D. herself. *Self-preservation? 

4) Ultimately, J.D. 'wipes the slate clean', removing any personal responsibility for Veronica. *Her 'freedom' is given to her by J.D. taking the fall.

Now this may not seem like I like 'Heathers', but I do. I really, truly do. Why? Because Veronica is far from perfect. She makes bad choices. She isn't all-knowing and consistently strong. She sells out her childhood best friend in order to hang out with a nasty, vindictive clique. The genius of her character is - she IS imperfect. She is contrary. You can relate to her.

Lick it up, baby! Lick-it-up!
I've been inspired to check out a few feminist movie websites, to try and understand what, in their mind, makes a good female character. A large percentage of what I read was negative opinion. Yes, I agree 100% that the female roles in 'Inception' were bland and nothing (so was the film itself, why break tradition?); it is wrong that women should be side-lined into housewife roles, forever agreeing with the dominant husband.

But then I read negatives about the likes of 'Wall-E', slating 'Eve' for looking sleek and appealing; a man's depiction of a 'pretty robot', and that she is only in the story to help the male robot i.e. Wall-e.

And so it goes on. Now if we're to believe and agree with all of this, you would never see a film in which "a boy meets a girl/boy falls for girl..." OR "Girl meets boy/girl falls for boy.." because it is either objectifying the girl as something to be 'won', or she believes her happiness lies in falling in love with the boy of her dreams.

There would never be another love story ever again.

Veronica: Wholesome teen and accomplice to murder...
Now I'm not looking for a war on feminism, nor is this sour grapes. But looking at the DVD's on my shelf, I would have to throw out half of my dvd's. Groundhog Day, Splash, Pretty In Pink, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, Big, The Truman Show, Heathers, Ghost World, Roxanne, Eternal Sunshine, Amelie... Are these poor excuses for films? I like them a lot, I enjoy watching them and they are entertaining because I can relate to them on an emotional level. Is 'The Thing' sexist because there are no female roles? (Admittedly unsuccessfully 'rectified' by the recent prequel). Again, I read a review criticising 'The Hurt Locker' (directed by Kathryn Bigelow) because the only female role was 'the wife/mother back home in the U.S.'. 

When I think about great female roles, I think of Pam Grier in "Jackie Brown": She's edging towards a lonely, penniless life and she chooses to do something about it. Sigourney Weaver in "Alien": The reason why she survives is because SHE IS NOT STUPID. Kane is too eager, Brett's an idiot, Dallas is foolish, Ash is a robot, Parker and Lambert sod about staring instead of running. Both characters are flawed - Jackie Brown seems to be screwed over by life at the start of the film, and Ripley is presented as somewhat hard-nosed and not well-liked.
Are these characters somehow better because they are women? I would argue that a good character is a good character - be it male or female - and that whether they are male or female doesn't make their character better or worse. Of course there are instances where you have 'woman in a man's world' or even 'man in a woman's world', but they make their points respectively (if successfully done).

The Heathers. And a Veronica.
Ultimately, I've been left wondering what the screenwriting initiative wanted. Did they want a flawless female character that always leads the way and comes out on top? Upon reflection, it would have been helpful to have an idea of what they wanted, as opposed to what they didn't want, and perhaps seize this great opportunity to inform and dare I say it, educate writers in creating these elusive, rounded female characters. We all want to write interesting, complex characters, but is this achieved at the expense of any realism or simply wanting to entertain?
"Y'know what I want? Cool guys like you out of my life!"

Thursday, 22 December 2011

"He could BE one of those THINGS!"

Note to Thing: Trim nails in future.
John Carpenter's "The Thing" is one of my all-time favourite films. It was the film that made me want a career in special effects (Okay, that dazzling career never quite happened, but it was enough to really inspire me). To this day, the effects hold up and have yet to be bettered. That might seem like a rose-tinted opinion, but to me, it's true. The sheer imagination on show is dazzling. But in some cases, it's also very subtle (Blair vs. Garry, for example). Carpenter's direction has never been better, and the cast is exceptional. As for Morricone's theme music... classic.

Adam and Kate: Winners of 'Most fanciable scientists 2011'.
Palmer, Fuchs and Norris: Ladies, please...

So here's a belated opinion on the 'prequel' to John Carpenter's "The Thing".


Deep breath.
Kate: Watching the skies...
Garry: Bennings was his friend.

Here we go:

Right. If we forget JC's version existed, this new version is very entertaining. It's got a great cast - some very talented actors on show, just a pity they don't get enough screen time. It's a 'respectful' attempt i.e. the film makers actually bothered to tie-in the prequel with JC's Thing. I left the cinema thinking 'That could have been a WHOLE lot worse'. See, this is a film that I used to dream of seeing, one day. Ever since I saw JC's version, I wanted more. I know, I know, be careful what you wish for...

The problem with the 2011 version is: The trailer.

Oh, so THAT guy's a thing...
Yep. Definitely a thing.

As any good fanboy does these days, I dissected the trailer. I simply could not wait to see this film. But it's fair to say, the trailer made no attempt to disguise who the thing was. So we see clear images of characters 'thinging out'. The whole point of these movies are - You don't know who the thing is.

Jonas: Give the man a hand...
It harks back to my post a few months ago about how films are marketed. The element of surprise was ruined. There was no mystery to any of it. The trailer simply gave too much away.

That said, the film makes little attempt to play 'guess who' with its cast of characters. Some characters are so thin, you don't even know who has just been killed because you never had time to get to know them. Even Bennings had a couple of scenes that set him up as a bit of a moaner, at least injecting him with some character traits. Simple enough to do without going off-course. Even Fuchs had a tragic element to his character.

Where for art thou, Juliette? Nevermind, I can see you're busy...
The MacReady/Childs relationship had a spark of antagonism. Carter and Jameson are a pale imitation in the prequel. In fact, the way Jameson meets his fate is so... so what, it's like 'was this the best way to kill a character? His death felt like a re-shoot; as if he was meant to do more, but someone changed their mind, too late into the process.

You never get the sense that Mary Elizabeth Winstead could possibly be a 'thing'. With Mac, you were never sure how far JC was going to push it. The story set Mac up as a big, red herring; with suspicion always on him.
This year's Mac.
Mac. Hair almost as nice as Kate's.

One vital ingredient which really beefed up JC's version was the sound effects. The noises emitting from Windows as he burns... the feeble, almost child-like wails added so much to the 'What the HECK is that thing?'... Windows vs. Palmer was a true vision of hell. As JC said in the commentary, if he himself witnessed this scene, he would admit defeat. Game over. The closest the new version comes to this scene is Adam's merging with Edvard-Thing. Other than that, there was no suspense and no surprises.

Adam: Takes good care of his teeth.
Edvard-Thing seeks close friend to join heads with...

Above all, the pacing makes the 2011 version a different beast. 20 mins in, the first thing is revealed. The beast itself never looks 'there'. The CG is good, but as with most CG, looks fake. It 'behaves' differently to JC's monster. But in fairness, the fact that the beast is all-too ready to reveal itself actually expands on JC's Thing-monster. 

The Thing is JC's film now plays like it has learned lessons from its first encounter with mankind; now it plans to takes things a bit slow and steady in order to win the day, rather than the somewhat just-woke-up and a bit pissed off 2011 monster.

Mac blasts Palmer, cos, like, he's a thing.
Bennings-Bar-B is a success.

Having read interviews with the writer, it seems some good ideas were cut. Lars was meant to be set-up as a butterfingered klutz, which in turn explains how he manages to drop a grenade in JC's version. That's actually a very funny and cool idea. Why it wasn't used, I've no idea.

Norris opens up for Doc; Defines 'Special' effects.
The sad thing is, there was so much potential with the 2011 incarnation. A great cast, a competent director... but in comparison, it's a fun joyride rather than a slow-burning classic. The abrupt, shocking, blunt violence is replace by cg tentacles, which is a shame. Having said all that, this is no AvP: Requiem.
Ruddy hell, it's Norris-Thing! 
Sander-Thing. Hmmm... Na. You're alright.

If you haven't seen it, know that it's not going to be anywhere near as good as JC's version, but it is well-worth watching for the performances alone. There are a lot of great character actors on show who deserve to be seen in a lot more bigger roles. And know this much:  JC himself was planning his own sequel a few years ago, still using Mac and Childs. How would he explain their somewhat severe ageing overnight? 'Extreme cold'. Now that would have been a terrible, terrible film... And that's coming from the man who made the classic.
Mac. Nuff said.
Kate. Wishing she had a beard like Mac
for those long winter nights.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Highlights of 2011

"What a year!", to use a cliched expression to summarise a year full of stuff.

Chris Jones featured heavily, or at least events organised by the man himself and his lovely team. My first introduction was 'American Independent's Day', back in April; a day spent listening to the wisdom of film producers Ted Hope and Christine Vachon.

Then in June, I attended the Guerrilla Film Maker's Masterclass weekend, which was an intense baptism of knowledge, which definitely helped me to see where I've been going wrong a lot of the time. Utterly recommend it - the next one is coming up in March, so if you seriously want to make films, be there. No excuses.

In October came the cherry on the cake - the London Screenwriter's Festival. Four days (inc. a pitching workshop day, run by Charles Harris) which included seminars with Edgar Wright, David Reynolds, Joe Cornish, and Stuart Hazeldine, as well as speed pitching to producers and hanging out with 300+ film makers. A fantastic experience; one that I can't wait to do again.

Elsewhere, trips to the cinema increased! Woooo!

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (Best installment yet)
Thor (Loved it, though it lost some of its impact on DVD)
Scream 4 (Better than part 3, but still a missed opportunity. Good haircuts, though.)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Too many 'of the's in the title. Didn't see any 'planet of apes'. They just took over a bridge. "Bridge Of The Apes.")
Super 8 (Spielberg wannabe, great emotional core, slightly rubbish Cloverfield monster's kid brother)
Tintin (Great old school rollicking adventure)
Arthur Christmas (Lovely kids film. Took my daughter, her first trip to the cinema. Aaaah.)
The Thing (A good attempt, respectful of Carpenter's version, not as good, easy to see why... an in-depth review will follow)

On the DVD front, here's a list of recommended viewing which scored at least 3.5 and above (out of 5!).

The Way
The Messenger
X-Men: First Class
The A-Team
Animal Kingdom
Rabbit Hole
True Grit
127 Hours
Gulliver's Travels
The King's Speech
Chico And Rita
Another Year
The Social Network
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Toy Story 3

And finally, notable offenders of 2011 (or DVD's released this year): Films which scored 1 out of 5 (or less!)
Larry Crowne
Bad Teacher
Attack The Block
Sucker Punch
Norwegian Wood
Miracle At St. Anna
I Am Number 4
Age Of Heroes
Arthur & The Invisibles 2
The Green Hornet
Easy A
I'm Still Here
Bonded By Blood
Jonah Hex
Knight And Day
The Last Airbender

Here's to next year: May it be full of great films, success and financial blessings (to pay for the house extension). Chin-chin!