Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Kevin Spacey-bot isn't evil after all

Moon is a really big small film. Duncan Jones managed to make a proper sci-fi film on an independent budget. I say 'proper' because there aren't any big space battles, and nothing explodes. A man on the moon finds himself (and I don't mean that in a soulful, emotional way) and is understandably confused about it. Sam Rockwell has no trouble playing the same character twice and it's all seamlessly stitched together in a way that I don't entirely understand. It's about ideas, exploring the sort of themes that are automatically tragic. Utter hopelessness is an ambitious thing to go for, and it doesn't usually work for me. But watching a man slowly deteriorate on the moon as he stares at the distant Earth is, I have to admit, quite sad. I would have liked half an hour more of it though. The film ends abruptly at a point where you think it's just moving into its last act. I get the feeling that with a little more money they would have made this last section. After piling all those effects into an indie film, there couldn't have been much left to spend.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Moon is that the sinister Kevin Spacey-bot wasn't all that bad. In fact it was quite nice. Didn't try to kill anyone. Didn't shut off any oxygen supplies. And when asked it even explained the entire plot of the film, without even trying to be mysterious. Nice robot.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

More Jewish fighter than James Bond

Defiance spends a lot of time in the woods. The Bielski partisans live in the woods. They run away from and fight Nazis in the woods. They find a little Russian army in the woods. So it's a testament to the filmmaking that this never gets boring. There's a real growing sense of futility as these Jewish refugees are repeatedly discovered and attacked. Occasionally things settle down and they all get to sit around eating potatoes, but even that is a bit tense. Even though there are moments of violence, this isn't a straight revenge thriller - you'd probably have to talk to Tarantino for that. This is more about the serious questions the fighters have to ask themselves, like whether it's possible to survive with any morals, whether they have to become as bad as their enemy. All serious stuff, but ultimately not as bleak as it sounds.

Also, I've still not seen Quantum of Solace, so it doesn't bother me to see Daniel Craig 'out of character'. He's not James Bond yet.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Murakami's clever boring bits

Will this post have anything to do with Christmas? No, of course not.

Haruki Murakami's Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has faults, but Murakami is one of those lucky writers that make you think he's doing it on purpose. They're not faults, they're post-modern jokes, or something. When it wants to be, Hard-boiled Wonderland is a good book. Murakami does surreal very well - there's wardrobes hiding chasms that lead to rivers with silent waterfalls and unicorn skulls that hold dreams. The book is divided into two sections, one half in a modern Tokyo and the other in the fantasy End of the World town. In the 'real' world setting Murakami is determined to show how boring the character's life is. With his last day he literally just sits around thinking about trivial things. But the problem is, it's boring. I know all the mundane details are there for a point, but they'res still mundane. I notice the point he's making but I'm not enjoying it.

There are other faults that I'm not really allowed to call faults. The protagonist is constantly drinking beer. Every woman he meets is desperate to sleep with him. That sort of thing. Comments on the standard American hero, not (probably) bad writing. Most of this is guesswork though, because this is the only Murakami book I've read. He could be a bad writer, but I'm sure he's just being clever.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Indiana Jones is very old now

It's difficult to have an opinon on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You know what to expect, your expectations are met, and then it ends. There's the bit where Indy is cornered by baddies and is surely going to die, the bit where people punch each other on top of fast moving vehicles (probably next to cliff), and the bit where everyone's a bit perplexed by the ancient tomb. I can't complain, because all this stuff is entertaining, but it was entertaining in the last three films that I've seen many times. The old trilogy have become the sort of films that sit above anybody's critical opinion. You don't watch them and wonder about their narrative strength, you watch for the memorable bits, for the favourite lines and the nostalgia. The sort of films that you'd watch near Christmas with a packet of biscuits. Watching Indy getting through the traps to the Holy Grail is good stuff. Can't question it.

Take the exact same formula into a new film and it's lost all the magic. Now that it doesn't smell like nostalgia it can be seen for what it really is - a bit dull. Maybe this is just because I've seen it all before. But if this had been the first Indiana Jones film I'd ever seen, I still don't think I'd be impressed. Loud action set-pieces aren't that interesting anymore because they can be done by anyone that knows how to work a big computer. And the plot now looks tired because it's not twenty years ago. If it's meant to be a tribute to the old films, then it needs a lot more charm than this, and should probably do away with the silly bit at the end. George Lucas-style filmmaking just isn't that interesting anymore, because everyone can do it. And a lot of them do it better.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I'm handing out credits and chunks of gratitude

Do people like how to be god? Yes, it seems that they do. Among the comments (of which there are literally several) are 'excellent stuff', 'i watched it with my flatmates and they reali liked it 2','most amusing' and, my personal favourite - 'lovely, kind of touching'. And that's all the comments I could find. But a lot of people are watching it, they're just not leaving opinions. In fact, I'm not really used to this many people. The Hoshuu stuff was nice, but nobody was really interested except me. Now I've decided to make something watchable, and people actually watch it. There's been a screening offer from a new Aberystwyth 'channel' and everything's looking nice.

So the YouTube page is going pretty well, but the poor neglected Blogger page is, well, looking neglected. And sad. Anyone that links to it, in any way, can have a credit at the end of the show. Along with my almost eternal gratitude.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

how to be god - episodes 1, 2 and 3

The first three episodes of how to be god have been YouTube'd and shoved onto the blog:



Or you could go to the probably-more-popular YouTube channel. Either way, it's mildly interesting.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Saturday will be mildly interesting


I'm going to upload the first three episodes of how to be god on Saturday. That's fifteen whole minutes of stuff. We'll see what happens.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Trilogy of Hoshuu Nonsense

It's now exactly (roughly) a year since I started making my little films. And to mark this occasion I've broken the films free from their mini Blogger-video prisons and presented them in full YouTube-o-vision. Think of it as the re-release, the digitally remastered version, or something. Now you can see all that orange paper again, but bigger. It's time I explained The Trilogy of Hoshuu Nonsense. The films do link together, in my mind, so I'll have a stab at an explanation.

The Mildly Interesting Secret of Existence features a student that finds the meaning of life in the post, isn't interested, and then is taunted by Hoshuu until he pays attention. Hoshuu isn't really in it until the third film, but this was all her doing. Hoshuu 'is maintenance', she makes sure everyone is still ticking and pats them on the head. She is, however, quite sinister. She's just playing a mean game in this film - poking the student with a stick until he goes mad. She covers his room in orange paper and makes tinkly music follow him around. After the world is mirrored (3:59) she can be seen walking towards the student, who is suddenly mildly interested. Even though she doesn't say anything, her tone comes through in the orange messages.

The Front Desk features another one of these malicious mini-gods. The Secretary interviews people before they're born, giving them jobs and friends. The interview doesn't go well for this man. He's not keen on the options he's given, so he chooses the Fourth Option, the random assignment. Hoshuu explains on the voice-over that 'you'd have to be mad to take the Fourth Option', you don't know what you're getting.

Talk to Hoshuu is set around twenty five years into the man's life. He's having a bit of trouble. Clocks aren't ticking for him anymore and, because of this, he's going to jump off the end of a pier. He should have died in a plane crash, so he's technically dead in Hoshuu's books. She has to clean it up, so she buzzes him into her channel through the radio static (similar to the window being reversed). She wants to start him up again by winding his watch back up, but he's a bit reluctant about the whole thing. It turns out that this is the Fourth Option. It also turns out that Hoshuu isn't all that mean on a good day. After seeing her in the first film, and hearing her in the second, she's revealed as being just 'very English'.

If you've got a few minutes, watch them again (or probably for the first time) with all this in your head. It might be better. And all this nonsense is going to be expanded on in something else I'm writing. It's not a film. It's something you read instead. It'll all make sense one day.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The show is, on the whole, offensive to vicars

Progress is being made with the casting of several new characters for how to be god. Or, as I like to call them, 'the ones that are going to get me in trouble'. Is satire wrong if it's really, really easy? No, I don't think so. The show is actually entirely inoffensive. There's no swearing, violence, sex. Nothing that's going to trouble anybody's grandmother. Unless the grandmother is exceptionally religious. After all, the entire concept of show is blasphemous. The idea that anybody can start a religion and be worshipped as a god seems fair enough to me ('if that lot did it why can't we?'), but I'm expecting a few enthusiastic religious-themed comments.

The thing is though, I'm not interested in starting any religious debates or challenging any institutions. I just want to make a mildly interesting little show. If people watch an episode and then they want to watch the next one, I'm happy. There were so many pokes at Jesus in the first episode (that's now been cut) it was verging on being a bit Roman. I've realised in writing further episodes that I don't really care about that. I like these characters, and when they all die in a horrible deep-sea diving accident, I'll be a bit upset. Was Jesus really the son of God? I don't care. It is funny though.

I'm saying all this, and very few people have actually seen it yet. It could be rubbish. Remember that.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Here's a cake metaphor

It seems that there has to be a shift in how how to be god is made. Before now we all just piled the filming of an episode into one big chunk of one day. Now it seems far more sensible to do it in bits throughout the week. Spreading the weight makes it more manageable, or something. And it is easier. The only problem it really causes is me saying 'make sure you wear the same clothes tomorrow', and people seem more willing to do that than you'd expect. The filming of one episode went off the rails because we tried to shove it all into one day. It's like having one little cake instead of having one big one and then feeling sick. We are not, after all, professionals, we have to fit this around doing 'other things'. It's not easy being an English Literature student. Oh, wait, actually it is.

So episode four (also known as episode '3') will be easy. Simple. Effortless. No problem at all. Apart from the three new characters we haven't cast yet. They'll turn up though. It's not like we've already been looking for weeks and have found nobody. It'll be fine.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A thought on writing stuff

I'm beginning to realise that there's very little point in planning anything. Yes, a plot needs to be worked out, but the actual writing of something is always better if I take it off the top of my head. Things occur to me in the act of writing something and pushes it forward. Dialogue is always going to be horrible if it's meticulously planned and words can't come together a week in advance.If something doesn't surprise me then it's not going to surprise the person watching or reading it. And I have to write several weekly creative writing pieces, so it helps if I don't really think about it too much. Yes, planning is bad. Although I'm not sure this is a work ethic that will translate into the wider world.

Also, I'm lazy.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Thick Of It, a headache and a punch

It's strange how The Thick Of It, a show full of unpleasant people who are always very stressed and swearing, can be funny. It's a political drama which presents itself as the opposite to the elegance of The West Wing. Nobody can get through a day without being attacked by Malcolm Tucker, one of the scariest characters to ever appear on TV. That the politicians seem to be mostly incompetent makes the whole thing strangely realistic. And by the end of an episode it's hard not to feel stressed yourself. It's shot in a choppy, rough style that breaks all the rules of composition. It made me feel a bit dizzy the first time I saw it, and now, either it's toned down, or I've got used it. Used to all the violent swearing and arguing. Oh dear.

If it is an accurate portrayal of the job, then I feel sorry for them all. They went into it expecting fluid and eloquent conversations as they walked through corridors. Instead they get a headache and a punch.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Throwing the start away

how to be god would be ready to show now. I have three episodes finished, except I'm scrapping the first one. Episode two is becoming episode one and episode three is becoming episode two and I'm very confused. It's the right decision though. The cancelled episode one is boring. It's basically a five minute explanation of the plot and the characters, and then the plot starts in the next episode. Better to jump straight into it. Better to start strongly. It's now just the practice episode, the one where we didn't know what we were doing (we still don't) and everything was a bit uncomfortable.

What this means is that we now have to make episode four (or episode three, as it's called now) before we have the three episodes to start with. I'll put the cancelled episode under 'Deleted Scenes' on the DVD. Yes, that'll happen.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Doctor Who's water of doom

After the disappointing 'Planet of the Dead', Doctor Who has managed to come back to the realm of Good Television. 'The Waters of Mars' wasn't scary, Doctor Who hardly ever is, but it had a darkness to it that's sometimes missing. The Doctor meets a group of people who are 'definitely going to die', and for once he believes that he shouldn't help them. As the ending approached there was a strong sense of doom, even if they were just running away from water. I've always imagined that the Doctor's character was pretty rigid, but by the end he seemed to have undergone a massive change. They were even playing ominous music over his dialogue.

It's all building up to a Christmas special that's already looking better than usual (Cybermen bore me, sorry). And then on to Steven Moffat's reign. It may be unrealistic to expect every episode to be as good as 'The Girl in the Fireplace', but its good to have dreams.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Wire, it's quite good

I've just finished the third season of The Wire. And from a quick look at the extras I can already tell what David Simon is going to be talking about. Chapters. They're not episodes. They're chapters. You never remember the first few chapters of a book because 'not much happens'. Like the first episodes of any season of The Wire. No matter how much I want to be cynical about it though, it does work. Every season I've watched so far has built up into something brilliant. It's not until you look back at the early episodes that you realise what they were starting.

It's risky. If I didn't know it was The Wire - the 'greatest television of all time' (I'm quoting somebody else there) - then I might not have watched past the second or third episode. David Simon built a show that only really works on DVD, where you can 'read' the 'chapters' when you like. He hasn't even given in to a 'previously' recap. It's the sort of TV that I can't wait to watch again, because I suspect it might be even better the second time.

So who is this HBO? And why do they allow people to make brilliant television? It shouldn't be allowed. Why didn't they cancel The Wire after two seasons? Nobody was watching it. Should have cancelled it. That's the law in television land. Are they the only competent broadcasters in the US? Shut them down immediately.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Riddley Walker almost makes sense

It takes a lot of nerve, and even more concentration, to write like this:
On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.
That's the first sentence from Riddley Walker. It's one of those books where the author has chosen to write in a broken down, fractured version of English. In this case Russell Hoban is writing about a version of Kent, centuries after a nuclear holocaust. I got used to the style and started to read it fluently, but the first hundred pages were like banging my head against a brick wall. An incomprehensible and dense brick wall. It does fit into the muddy and tangled future that the book presents, but I wonder whether it would have been better without. At times the language was taking me out of the story, and I really didn't have much clue what was going on. Was that meant to be happening? It surely can't be a good thing. Will Self, who was inspired to write the similar Book of Dave, says that 'the sensation of groping in the dark that you'll have while deciphering this text is exactly what it is all about'. It takes a lot of imagination and commitment to construct a world like this, so why make sure that most people won't understand it? It's brave, distinctive and intelligent. But also slightly silly.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Road on paper

Posts have been pretty rare recently. Sorry about that. I've had nothing to write apart from 'yes, I'm still editing'. I haven't even seen any new films. I am a disappointment and a failure. But to remedy this I've thought of an interesting and possibly exciting new topic to write about - books. You know, those paper things. I am, after all, a student of literature. I should at least sound like I know what I'm talking about.

So, Cormac McCarthy's The Road. That's good. The only novel I've ever read in one sitting. Partly because it isn't very long, but also because he really knows how to tell a story. Stripping a narrative down to its bare minimum  is how to keep me entertained. Having only two characters wandering around a post-apocalyptic environment, always on the edge of dying, keeps it focused. You're not taken away from it for a second. They only say and do what they absolutely need to, and McCarthy only writes this. The closeness means you never fully understand the world around them, but that adds to the bleak, sparse mystery of it all.

It's a conversation like this that is all the subject needs:
Why do you think we're going to die?
We dont have anything to eat.
We'll find something.
Okay.
How long do you think people can go without food?
I dont know.
But how long do you think?
Maybe a few days.
And then what? You fall over dead?
Yes.
Well you dont. It takes a long time. We have water. That's the most important thing. You don't last very long without water.

It's this sort of writing that influences me. Just the bare bones is the most effective. There's no need to overload it. I'm becoming more and more obsessed with minimalism. It's half laziness, but also the thought that it might just be better. If a book bores me, it's because there are too many words saying too little. Throw most of them away.

And yes, there's a film coming. The director has already complained about the trailer, which makes the whole thing look a bit too exciting. He assures us (and by 'us' I mean anyone that's read the book) that it'll be as bleak and harrowing as it should be. Lovely.

Monday, 2 November 2009

A question about manners

Episode Three has been filmed, Episode Two has been half-edited, Episode One is going to edited again. This is all exciting news, I know. We want to release the first three episodes all at once, but there are disagreements about how to do it. In order to 'force' people to watch the second episode, it could be packaged in with the first in one YouTube video. It would be called 'Episode 1 and 2'. I have pointed out that this is not how things are done in the civilised world and I that can't 'force' people to watch anything. It does have benefits though. The second episode is roughly four times better than the first, and I wouldn't want people to give up straight away. They might not be able to find the second episode. They might not be mildly interested at all. It might all be slightly cheeky.

I'd appreciate some thoughts on this. Should the first two episodes be put into one video or kept separate? You haven't seen them, but with any web series how likely are you to click to the second episode? Would a double-bill make you watch the second, even if you weren't entirely interested?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Like bite-sized Weetabix

Episode two has been filmed, but to stay on schedule for episode three I have to furiously edit it over the next few days. Seeing as the last one took about a week I'm not really expecting to be able to do this. If only the episodes were shorter, if I only I hadn't written so many bits where people say things. It's very inconvenient. I would like to make them shorter in general though. The first episode ended up being six minutes and forty-three seconds long. I was aiming for five minutes. If they get long they get boring, and nobody wants that. Bite-sized chunks of mildy interesting nonsense, that's what we need.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Reshoots and a gazelle

The second episode of how to be god has been filmed. Half of it. The first half went according to plan. Organised and efficient. But several catastophic things happened in the second half. A new character was introduced that isn't working. Various sounds that are out of my control ruined shots. And there was butter instead of ice cream. I was ready with all the props (including a framed picture of a gazelle) apart from ice cream. I forgot to buy it. Although butter does look quite a lot like ice cream, it's not nice to eat with a spoon and it hangs a hefty amount of symbolism over the shooting. 'This is not ice-creamy goodness. This is butter.' When something's not working, it is butter.

The second half is going to be reshot. I'm going to to do some rewriting. I'm going to buy some ice cream. All good.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Happy bits of nothing

I've never edited something where mistakes haven't been invaluable. You have the perfect shots and the smooth transitions, but it's what you didn't mean to film that becomes vital. A few seconds of somebody after the take has finished, smiling or laughing at something unrelated, or not paying attention at all. These bits can save a scene. Sometimes a shot becomes boring and you haven't got anything to cut to. That's when I look around the edges of takes, when people are just waiting for things to happen. Cut to that. Looks intended. Done. For how to be god, even the bits where they look at the camera are useful. So I try to keep the camera on for a while longer than I need to. Accidents don't happen by themselves.

It's all going fine. Episode two will be made obscenely soon after the first one. And episode three will be made after that. And then, if I'm very lucky, episode four.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Sit down and say stuff

Shooting's done for episode 1 of how to be god. I haven't really looked at the footage yet, but I can already tell what the problem will be. It's the first episode. Nobody really knows what they're doing. There'll be tiny mistakes that will be fixed by episode two, and others that won't be fixed until episode eight. It's a learning process and there aren't any practice runs, we just have to go with it and see what happens. Also, nothing can really happen in the first episode apart from introduction. There's no funny little distinctive scenes, you just have to sit the characters down and make them explain things. In a mildly interesting way obviously, but the plot has to start somewhere.

The first three episodes are going to filmed before it's put on the internet. That way people can get far enough into it to be interested. And also, episode four is where it all goes mad. I'll edit it together, and if it's disastrous I'll admit it here. If it's not, then I probably won't say.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

A few small ponderings

how to be god is about to be made. No, really. I'm getting people to say the lines I wrote months ago. It's going to be made in whatever shape I can hammer it into. Those nice cameras that I mentioned before, they're available but they 'don't work properly'. So there's a strong possibility I'll be using my own things. Both have advantages. With a professional camera I'd make something conventional and smooth, but it would be a longer and more complicated process. With my camera I'd play up to it's limitations and make a fake 'documentary' feel, and it would certainly be quicker. I can make some episodes, or a lot of episodes. We'll see which way it goes.

Apart from camera pondering, everything is going smoothly. It'll be fine.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A bigger camera and a stick

The shooting for how to be god starts soon, and it'll be a bit different. For me, at least. My short films were made with a tiny digital camcorder and a little microphone. I love that camera. You press a button, it films. It's uncomplicated, simple, fuss-free filmmaking. The film may look and sound a bit rough but, you know, you just press a button. I learnt everything I know using that camera, which is slightly more than nothing. It gave me a start. Everything's changing now. how to be god is going to be filmed using professional equiptment, using something called 'film' and a 'boom mic'. It all sounds pretty technical to me. I mean, I might actually need a crew. I've never been in charge of something like this before. You write a thing, you cast the thing, then you're given expensive gadgets to film the thing. It's a nice process.

The good news is, it'll look better than usual, it'll sound better than usual, and it won't have a plot that makes you go 'eh?'

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The TV's broken

Black-and-white films always bother me. I mean modern films that choose to be in black-and-white. It's a big bold artistic decision that a film has to work hard to escape from. For the first hour I'm not thinking about character or plot, I'm thinking 'is there a good reason for there to be no colour?' Maybe thinking about the colours that aren't there is the point. Watching Control, it's like seeing the world through Ian Curtis' eyes - someone who was, at the very least, a bit moody. According to the filmmakers it 'reflects the atmosphere of Joy Division and the mood of the era'. That's fine, but I'd just like to know if it still works in colour. It's a visual style that creates instant melancholy, it's leaning on the camera a bit too much. It does have advantages that I can't argue with though. A country scene may look bare and lifeless, but monochrome can bring a city environment to life. Everything is more defined, it turns a shot into a photograph. Control is sort of the film that is so heavily composed that you could release it as a photo album.

The indie film In Search of a Midnight Kiss is in black-and-white. Not for wistful melancholy, but to create a sort of ninety minute dream. Somebody told me recently that most people dream in black-and-white. I don't think that's true, but if it is then they would probably look like this film. It's a romantic comedy that wanders though a monochrome city, turning the place into a surreal memory. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason. It's an excellent film, but it would also have been an excellent film in colour. I'm not going to frown at it though, I'm glad that independent filmmakers can do whatever they want. It should have some quizzical applause, whatever that sounds like.

Maybe the problem is that I'm always expecting these films to be burst into colour Pleasantville-style. And they never do.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

I didn't like this

There's a good film to be made about male friendship. Unfortunately,  I Love You, Man isn't it. Boring, predictable, lazy and not funny. It's a bad romantic comedy only without any romance. Or comedy. There might have been one moment where I involuntarily exhaled, but that was as good as it got. Every joke lasts about five minutes, repeated in several accents, and then dredged up twenty minutes later to be not funny again. The writers seemed to be going for crude but only managing to be annoying, with wealthy twenty-somethings from Los Angeles having embarrassing discussions about 'relationships' and things. I couldn't care less if Generic Blonde Woman 1 might be pregnant, I don't want to know if Bland Male Protagonist isn't feeling good about marriage. It has same structure you've seen sixty-seven times before: man wants to meet someone, has a montage, then meets somebody nice, everything goes well, everything's ruined, rush to the wedding at the end. This has all that but without any endearing characters. It's a film desperately trying to be cool ('Hey dude, have you seen my new iPhone?', 'I'll Facebook you later dude') but is made by disconnected Hollywood types who don't know what real people sound like.

It had good reviews though. This might just be one of those times where everyone else thinks differently to me.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Changeling is pointy

I didn't expect there to be axe murdering. That was my first reaction of Changeling. Corrupt police departments, electro-therapy, child abduction. I was prepared for these things. I was not prepared for axe murdering. It's a far darker film than I had imagined. When a woman's son disappears the thoroughly corrupt LAPD bring back a different boy in a stab at some good publicity. What follows is a pretty harrowing tale of female disempowerment. With a mental institution full of women that nobody would believe and a doctor prepared to explain how a boy can grow four inches shorter, it paints a damning picture of the police. The narrative follows the structure of 'this is quite sad - it's getting worse now - it can't get any worse than this - oh, yes it can'. And Clint Eastwood, again, makes the whole thing look easy. As the camera follows someone through a farmhouse it makes sure to highlight all the sharp objects. Just a cutaway to a knife on table transforms an entire scene. It's very precise.

Changeling is a film that feels longer than it actually is. Not because it drags, but because the climax happens about four times. As with many films 'based on true events', there's a lot stuffed in here. It's not always easy to watch but it is a powerful film.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Anvil are real, I think

Anvil! The Story of Anvil is partly a 'real' Spinal Tap: the disastrous tour and album promotion, the intense relationship between the band's two frontmen, in the eighties they even looked like Spinal Tap. It goes a lot deeper than Spinal Tap though, it's about people still trying to 'follow their dream' after thirty years of being knocked back. It's being sold as an 'inspirational fable' rather than a documentary about metal and it's true that the music is only the background to a story about human endeavour. The sheer amount of bare emotion wears you down into actually wanting them to succeed. There are moments when they seem as dumb as their fictional counterparts, but the film is always with them and never looks down. It's a documentary that stays on the level of its subjects rather than laughing at them. Of course the film itself has been a huge success for them, making the whole thing weirdly metafictional. I'm waiting for the film about the film.

It confuses me, though, when a documentary is called a 'masterpiece.' The crew can only film what is real and put in the front of them. The subjects rely on the crew to portray them in the right way. It can't (or shouldn't) be written or orchestrated. So who should take the credit for the 'masterpiece'? How can reality be a 'masterpiece'? I don't know.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Arcs vs. episodes

I've been wondering about the difference between television with episodic plotting and programs that develop a story arc. In other words, a program that introduces a new situation and set of characters every episode versus those with a running narrative. I seem to be losing all interest in television that's entirely episodic. I like to invest in characters and plots, and to have them replaced after every forty-five minutes is too jarring. There's nothing to compell me to keep watching, it just adds up as a series of individual stories. An example of this would be the X-Files, a show that I watched three and a half seasons of and then just left. Mulder and Scully are always in a new place, investigating new people - there's no consistency of place or character. The occasional arc episodes do have an impact on the characters but the isolated episodes don't seem to change them, it's like they never happened. I remember them being stuck on a ship, aging rapidly until their skin was rotting and losing all hope of survival, then in the next episode they never mentioned it. I need to believe that these are real characters having important experiences.

Some shows have a consistent location with obvious character arcs but can still feel episodic. In ER there a main characters that go through seasons with the same problems but still deal with isolated issues. People come in with a broken head, they live or they die, but it doesn't really matter because next episode it'll be somebody else with a broken head. Maybe this is unfair, patients can't stay in a hospital forever, but they could have tried a little harder to disguise it. A show that gets the blend between episodic and arc right is The West Wing (and never mind for a second that I think it's the Best Television Ever). Occasionally (usually during the middle of a season) a problem is brought up and dealt with entirely within the episode, but it often has consequences, or is at least mentioned later on. The majority of episodes deal with shifting story arcs, with characters that don't forget things. Sometimes it's an election, sometimes it's something more subtle like Bartlet's psychology.

And then there are the shows that are entirely arcy (that's an adjective now). The Wire sees itself as a visual book with chapters instead of episodes, it builds up one story a season that ultimately gives greater rewards. It's more powerful to see a character's demise after thirteen hours rather than forty-five minutes. Maybe the creators make the point too strongly ('Are you paying attention? If you're not paying attention you won't understand our intricate plots. Make sure you're paying attention. Are you sure you're paying attention?') but it's something I'd like to see more of. And it's proven that it can work over a longer season, with the whole point of 24 being the insistent cliffhangers.

There are a few shows that can work with an episodic structure (Doctor Who manages it, I don't know how) and others that go right to the other end of the scale, like Lost. Most shows find a happy middle ground though. Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Dexter, Firefly - this is all good television.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Muse return to their Resistance

Here's something that has nothing to do with films, television, or even Sigur Rós. The new album from Muse, The Resistance, is a glorious piece of theatre. Their previous album, Black Holes and Revelations, was far too polite. It was like they were holding back, trying to conform with bland pop music. It was still Muse, but it was lacking. Now they've completely let go and recorded an epic and sweeping album. And it's not just because they've added an orchestra. These songs reach heights that they haven't aimed for in a long time, the structure of the songs is adventurous, Bellamy's vocals are more powerful than ever. The title track 'Resistance' is uplifting and eccentric (there aren't enough songs based on Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in the world). 'The United States of Eurasia' is grand and dramatic, with some Queen-style vocals punching into the chorus. 'Unnatural Selection' and 'Mk Ultra' sound like a Muse we haven't heard for six years, but are still exciting. 'I Belong to You' is perhaps the highlight, at once catchy, operatic and unpredictable. And the three-part symphony 'Exogenesis' is a surpise. I was expecting a prog-rock epic. Instead it's purely classical, being ambitious and wonderfully overblown. The only disappointment is 'Undisclosed Desires', a little electronic stain that has no place in this album.

If this is all sounds a bit pretentious, that's because it is. It's uncompromising space rock. It tells of humans leaving Earth in search of a new home and totalitarian goverments keeping an eye on everything. It's like they've gone a little bit mad. But mostly, it's just some good songs.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Ghost children aren't always scary

With Guillermo del Toro's name plastered all over the front cover of The Orphanage it's easy to forget that he was only a producer. Easy to forget because, if you didn't know otherwise, you'd assume it was from the mind of Mr Pan's Labyrinth. It's advertised as a horror, but I'm convinced that it's a drama. Laura and her husband Carlos return, with their son Simón, to the orphanage where Laura spent her childhood. Yes, already that sounds scary, and the fact that Simón begins to see 'imaginary' children roaming the halls doesn't help to prove my point. The film, as I see it, is about family and the search for a missing child. When Laura is confronting the ghosts of the house, she is not confronting evil demons that want to hurt her, but parts of her past that she has to deal with. The perceived threat helps the drama along and doesn't overpower it, bringing up themes of childhood loss and transience. It builds to an emotionally confusing ending that J.A Bayona (the director) handles wonderfully. It's a ghost story, not a horror film - creepy and poignant, not scary. Calling it a horror is like saying Pan's Labyrinth is an action film. In other words, completely missing the point.

That said, when I watched it with friends they said it was 'the scariest thing they'd ever seen'. So, you know, maybe I'm wrong.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Office still smells the same

I've recently been reminded how good The Office is (the original UK show). Apart from being very funny it's a perfect representation of a drab, dull office. Sometimes it's so realistic you can smell it - photocopying, over-head projectors, crisps for lunch. There's no attempt to put any gloss on it: people arrive in the morning, do a bit of typing, go home in the evening. It looks like a depressing place to be, but it's compelling to watch. Tim and Dawn are presented as the relatable characters; you want them to escape from boredom as you'd want yourself to, even though they can't entirely manage it. Hearing them speak about their ambitions is completely and realistically tragic. The camera moves around the place as a physical thing that the characters react and play too. When Tim looks into it with his trademark 'what am I doing here?' face it's like he's asking a direct question.

And David Brent, obviously, is a brilliant creation. He plays up to the camera, is false, deluded and self-aggrandising. Then in the second season he is given some unexpected depth. He does, after all, just want to be popular and begins to notice that he isn't. His confidence is shattered with jealousy and disappointment. Personally, I wanted the Swindon lot to like him, I wanted him to succeed some of the time. The writing and acting has to be this good for you to feel sympathetic towards a horrible person. He's funny because he isn't, and I wonder whether I would still laugh at him if I was actually there. Putting the camera as an extra character means that we'll never know what he's like without it. The entire time he is talking though the television.

I'm convinced it's a masterpiece.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

I should order the puppets

I've been emphasising the anti-religion side of how to be god in an attempt to give it an identity, but in writing it I'm watching it become something else. The student that wants to become god by setting up his own religion is at the centre of what I hope will be a very real representation of university life. Exaggerated in places for comedy but overall easily relatable. There'll be Christian characters that represent the positive side of faith and others that show the blind, fanatical side. Even though one side might win the end, it'll be a fair fight. But it's not exclusively about religion, it won't be a show set in chapels and churches. I want to stick a camera into university housing and come out with something real, even though I've written it. I'll be attempting the documentary-style that I've always wanted to try, resisting my urge shove other-worldly beings in there.

It'll be a challenge. I found that gathering the right people for a short film was hard enough, let alone an entire web series. I'll have to find a committed bunch, maybe offering them alcohol/Haribo-based incentives. If all else fails - puppets.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The trailer

Here's a trailer for how to be god. As usual it's high on blasphemy but low on expense and sense. I've dropped the 'name god after yourself' idea, it wasn't clear enough and was slightly off putting. And I realise I haven't actually explained what the show is about yet. I'll do that soon.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Intentionally rubbish

How do you make a trailer for something that doesn't exist yet, with no actors or footage? That's what I'm trying to work out at the moment. The answer seems to be to make it intentionally rubbish. I'm good at intentionally rubbish. I can do it well. If something needs a budget I'll get rid of it and make it for the cost of charging the camera. If something needs special effects I'll see what I can do using mirrors. It's a a principle that has got me this far (so, not far really), I'm not going to change now. I don't want people to expect how to be god to have, you know, expense. That would be false advertisement. The trailer needs to be made though, so I can give some idea of what the thing will be like. At the very least it will have moving images.

So the trailer for how to be god will be in cinemas soon. Yes. And 'cinemas' was a metaphor. It won't be in cinemas.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Why Jesse James had a headache

I've written about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford before, but this will be interesting, honestly. After watching it again I was struck by how it is unclear, to him or the people around him, whether Jesse James is a real human being or a fictional creation. As one of the first celebrities in America's emerging media, the character of Jesse James was created in stories, books and magazines. This constructed persona is seen as more real than the man himself, and Jesse (in the film) feels stripped of his own identity, that the real man lives inside the character, leaving him bare and empty in reality. He begins to play the part of the character: he refers to himself in the third-person while telling a tale of Jesse James, and there is a sense that in his last scenes he is reading lines from a script. His death is then presented as a play, turning his real last moments into a rehearsal. Robert Ford, who had worshipped the image of Jesse James, finds this image to be destroyed and recognises him as 'just a human being.' After assassinating him Robert is victim to the same split personality, with the media turning him into a coward. He too is stripped of his identity, leaving him as depressed as Jesse.

There's something very intellectual to say about metafiction here, but that's being far cleverer than I feel like being.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Snipers have the best duels

Enemy at the Gates, set during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II, is not the kind of war film it starts as. In the first twenty minutes it does a good job of showing the horror the Russian troops had to deal with (accurately or not) - if they go forward the Nazi's will definitely shoot them, if they retreat their own side will definitely shoot them. But out of this comes a film about characters rather than the usual messy chaos. It centres in on Vasily Zaytsev, a sniper who shoots down dozens of high-ranking Nazis, developing a rivalry with a highly-skilled German sniper. Even though it's set in the middle of a fierce battle, this is a film about quiet precision and intimate tactics. The rest of the war seems to be shut out as the two men stalk each other around the city. And through propaganda they become celebrities, each embodying the country they fight for. Occasionally the script has something to say about the pressures of fame and the insincerity of the characters it creates. But mostly it's a good suspense thriller.

Maybe there's just something naturally interesting about snipers. The best scenes of the film are when one man has the other in his sights, waiting to make a clear shot. Sheltered from the rest of the battle, it's almost cozy. I'll try to use even more inappropriate adjectives in the next post.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The worst best advert

What's going on here? This is is a brilliant, inspiring, uplifting advert, and what does it turn out to be selling? ITV. Yes, ITV. The channel that I have never found to be brilliant, inspiring or uplifting, and it's definitely not 'the brighter side' as is suggested here. It's as if the executives found an unrelated short and stuck their logo on the end, failing to see that it's entirely incongruous. I saw it in the cinema and I expected it to be selling something grand and epic, but no. It's the channel that gives us The X Factor, a cruel and torturous show, along with bland soaps and advert breaks during Formula 1. This video, if I ignore the last second, reminds me of 'Glósóli', the sort of thing that belongs on a cinema screen. Whoever made it should be making films. In a sense it's a terrible advert, because it has nothing to do with its product, but it doesn't seem to matter.


A blogging trophy

This Mildly Interesting blog was recently featured on Kid In The Front Row. This is a good thing, because it means I get this shiny award. The shininess depends on how clean your computer screen is.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Don't go to the beach

As far as gangster films go Road to Perdition is pretty soft, but in many ways more effective. Michael Sullivan Sr and Jr are forced to run from the mob family that once protected them and the film is as much about the bond between father and son as it is about revenge. The son goes from sitting in the back seat of the car to driving it, and the father begins to quietly acknowledge his feelings for the boy - 'I was afraid you were like me.' The violence, when it happens, is cleverly handled by Sam Mendes. In one scene at least eight men are gunned down, but the sound of gunfire is muted, with the slow soundtrack playing instead. It's a decision that takes you out of the scene but at the same time holds your attention. In another scene, the cycling sound of waves is constantly beating, starting peacefully but eventually becoming ominous. According to Mendes 'The linking of water with death... speaks of the mutability of water and links it to the uncontrollability of fate.' I didn't get that when I was watching, but you can tell the director thinks these things through.

I'm reminded of the criticism that Public Enemies came under for using a modern filming style. Road to Perdition is the opposite but at the same time fresh - it's slow and winding rather than intense and fidgety. There's a lot to be said for both styles, but I wonder whether this would have been completely different under other direction. As it is, it's unsettlingly flawless.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Rambo versus Burma

The new Rambo film could have been fun or a bit rubbish. As it turns out, it's a bit rubbish (I like to use these scholarly critical terms). The main problem was that anything approaching a plot was overpowered by the action. It's set in Burma but it's not about Burma, the place was just chosen as a backdrop for some bloody carnage. Scenes of people getting shot down in crowds last a long time, and in the middle of them you begin thinking 'what is this about again?' All the killing has no character, nobody to really care about, and so you're just watching endless shooting. To be interesting it needs to make you want someone to survive, to believe it has consequences. And if you do look into the characters there's only naive Christian missionaries, who should never have got themselves into such trouble in the first place.

Why did I watch this film when there was a strong chance of it being like this? I need to find some good ones to watch.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Somebody talk to Tarantino

I recently watched Kill Bill: Vol.2, several years after watching the first one (I realise that there's a new Tarantino film out, I like to stay behind the times). The first Kill Bill wasn't brilliant, but I liked it's action B-movie style. And in the sequel Tarantino thinks he can change it into a film about 'characters'. There's nothing wrong with that, but does it have to be so boring? I obviously don't mind a film that's full of conversation, the problem is that this conversation is so lifeless. The 'mythology' of Kill Bill is nowhere near exciting enough to spend two hours pondering, it's flimsy and dull. The first film worked because it knew it was stupid, you can't squeeze something deep out of it. I don't care if Bill's brother is working as a bouncer and is feeling a bit depressed. I don't want to know about Bill's comic book collection. There's no depth there to discuss.

And Tarantino doesn't seem to have the discipline to cut it down. It's a common criticism these days, but this film is long and bloated. It's full of pointless scenes that only have about a minute of life in them. Instead they go on for ten. Tarantino has the idea that he's a genius of dialogue, and everything he writes will be remembered for generations - so why cut any of it? He's wrong. It's all pretty tedious. He has clearly surrounded himself with sycophants that talk him up and compare him to Shakespeare. They tell him it's all wonderful and he believes them. Somebody needed to chop half an hour off this film. He's obsessed with his own importance. I've heard him describe himself as an auteur. It's ridiculous.

I'll try and be balanced here and mention some of the film's nice moments. The Bride escaping from a coffin was entertaining and the daughter's scenes weren't bad. There's not much else. I'm not looking forward to Inglorious Basterds.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Riceboy Sleeps, it's Icelandic

While writing how to be god and trying to understand Twitter I've been listening to the Jónsi & Alex album 'Riceboy Sleeps' (Jónsi of Sigur Rós and his partner Alex Somers). It's not easy music to just sit down and listen too (even though I will, lots of times); it is, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, background music. The familiar highs of Sigur Rós songs aren't found here, it's a constantly low-impact and ambient 68 minutes. I wouldn't normally be interested in this sort of thing, but the Icelandicness of it has pulled me in. It does sound like Sigur Rós, consisting entirely of their trademark ethereal soundscapes. But it's slower (maybe hard to imagine) and Jónsi's voice only appears once, buried deep in the third track. It's most comparable to a song like 'Sé lest' or 'Samskeyti', just without any of the volume. It's a wonderful thing, and it hasn't even grown on me yet.

Here's what I'm talking about. You'll either like it or you'll fall asleep. Maybe both.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Twitter: evil or friendly?

I've dived head first into the murky, murky depths of Twitter to try and promote how to be god. I've never had any experience of it before but I thought it would be a good idea, since that's what all the cool kids are doing. For the most part is seems nice enough. There's plenty of famous people talking about cups of tea and the best way to eat a haddock. I've learnt the peculiar language of Tweets and can now summarise my life in less than 140 characters. But all of this comes with a big dollop of irritation. I didn't know, for example, that Twitter was full of evil spam accounts that follow your for no reason and make the place untidy. I've had at least five 'people' wanting me to look at their 'photos.' I don't think I will. And the real people seem less inclined to trust you. I've had one perfectly reasonable looking person block me right from the start. Blocked? Why? All I did was turn up. It's a cruel and harsh place.

I will persevere with it, if only because it seems like the best way to promote something. Overall though I'm sticking with Facebook and the friendly world of Blogger.

Friday, 14 August 2009

I'm selling omnipotence

So I'm about to start a divine advertising campaign for how to be god. In fact I've already started it, five seconds ago. I've decided that I can turn people into god without using any biblical tricks.

I'll eventually pick a name for the protagonist of the show, who is god, from the people that follow it. That person will then have the name of god. Okay, so I can't turn anyone into an omnipotent deity in reality, but this is the next best thing. Almost.

I've set up a Blogger page and a Twitter page, with a Facebook group to come. I would hugely appreciate a mention on other blogs or Twitterings, or wherever you live on the internet.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Obliviate

So Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is good. It's fine. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm mostly guessing here because I can hardly remember it. I liked the books, I know the basic plot of each but struggle to remember details. When it comes to the films I have difficulty telling them apart. I've seen most of them (I think) but in my mind they're just one big blob of Great Hall dinners and trips to Hosgmeade. They've grown all too familiar. I felt like I'd already seen the new film before I'd gone to the cinema. To be fair, it's probably the best one I've seen. It's dark in places and funny in others and there isn't a tedious battle at the end. As usual the supporting cast are more interesting than Potter. It feels like a prelude to the main event and so it concentrates on story rather than action, which suits me fine. Of course, this is all from what I can remember.

I'd be a rubbish film critic. And the title of this post is a spell which removes a person's memory of an event. I researched that.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Godly advertising

So how is how to be god going to pull in the big numbers? I've got a few ideas:
  • Working with the title, I can promise to turn people into God by supporting the show. Unfortunately, I do not have the power to do this.
  • I could promise the show will unveil God in a behind-the-curtain Wizard of Oz moment. Unfortunately, I don't think it will.
  • I could promise the show will reveal the meaning of life. Unfortunately I've already done this, and it was only mildly interesting.
  • I could get the Pope's endorsement. I wonder if he's on Twitter.

On writing this I've realised that I might be able to do the first one. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The new web series

I'm back from wherever it is that I went, so now I can 'announce' that thing I mentioned some time ago. how to be god will be a web series of the extremely low-budget variety, written and directed and edited by me. So at the very least it'll involve me. It should be living on internetted screens by the end of the year, existing only for the amusement of anyone that wants to watch it. What's it about? I don't know. Actually I do know, but if I wrote about that now I wouldn't be able to post about it later.

I want to start a viral marketing campaign for this but first I'd have to learn what 'viral marketing' means.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Beating up evil Europeans

Taken is an enjoyable simple action film, which is confusing. It is basically just a revenge thriller, with Liam Neeson killing a procession of bad people. It shouldn't be a good film. It sounds like a game. So why is it? It's definitely suspend-your-disbelief time, as one man kills about about a hundred people, but if you do go along with it then you'll accept the fantasy. This isn't enough though, and Taken has one strong point of depth - the bond between father and daughter. There is a good amount of characterisation before the fighting starts. You feel sorry for him and as a result slightly worried for his daughter. You want him to succeed and beat up everyone in Europe to find her. It's a relationship that holds up the entire film, it would probably be terrible without it. This film knows it isn't clever and only wants to be efficient and satisfying. It's a B-movie. It shouldn't be taken too seriously.

I should probably summarise all this: Inside Man thinks it's clever and isn't, Heat thinks it's clever and is, Taken thinks it isn't clever and isn't.

And with that I'm running away for two weeks.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

No action puppets

I blogged about the evils of Hollywood action films a week ago (is 'blog' a verb now?) so it's time I wrote about the other side of the coin. Michael Mann's Heat is a crime thriller, but as it goes along you get the sense that it's about people rather than gunfights. I enjoy a good gunfight (and there's some brilliant ones here) but there has to be a real plot surrounding them. Heat is about the consequences of crime, with the two main characters being completely controlled by it. These characters are not typical action puppets, they have 'real' lives that are more complicated than their day job. More time is spent exploring the effects of the struggle than the struggle itself. The coffee shop scene adds weight to everything that happens after; the characters both understand each other, they recognise parts of themselves in the other. It is fitting that it all ends with them holding hands. And there are no mavericks, no caricatures, and I wasn't thinking about the music - because it was excellent.

Mann usually makes films about two men locked in some sort of battle. Collateral was claustrophobic and played out a struggle between an improviser and a planner, contained in a taxi. Public Enemies wanted to go somewhere like this but failed because one side was just a flat FBI agent. Heat is epic and sprawling and is about more than two characters, it's a thriller done with thought and intelligence. It wants to be something above its genre.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Scarecrows and statues

I recently discovered that some of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who are contained on one boxset disc, which, if you're me, is exciting. The two-parter 'Human Nature' and 'The Family of Blood' and the episode 'Blink' are the show at its best, and ironically the Doctor is hardly in them at all. When it's not just a big fight and lots of running, when it's creepy and intelligent, Doctor Who is brilliant. These episodes achieve what very few things can - they are clever, epic, personal and sad all at the same time. And they have genuinely scary monsters. Daleks and Cybermen are nice, but scarecrows and statues are more menacing. Asking 'did that statue just move?' and 'why is that scarecrow waving at me?' is far more entertaining than metal aliens.

In 'Human Nature' the Doctor is stuck in 1913, having stored his Time Lord consciousness in a watch (does this make sense to anyone outside of Britain?). As John Smith he has to decide whether he wants to back to his 'real' life, to be immortal but lonely. It raises the 'what does it mean to human?' question the writers like so much, but it rarely works as well as it does here. He also has to consider whether anyone would have died if he'd never turned up. It's heavy stuff for Saturday night television. And 'Blink' features the best time-wimey stuff of any series. Statues that move when you blink send you back in time to 'let you live to death.' What could be better than that?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Strange blue golf courses

The Aviator seems to be about planes, which, for all their historical significance. don't really interest me. It's the portrayal of Howard Hughes that keeps the film going. Here he is always hanging over complete madness, sometimes dipping his foot into it but crawling back out again. This isn't the usual case of 'power corrupts', it's not the one-way trip that I was expecting. The aviation politics and the filmmaking and the women surround his madness and sometimes help it along, as he appears to order multi-million dollar projects on a whim. There are some interesting stylistic choices too; Scorsese chose to colorize the first fifty minutes in red and blue, creating an apparently historically but surreal look. Add to that to the almost constantly spiralling music and Hughes seemed to be moving through a strange 1930s dream world.

DiCaprio gives a typically enjoyable performance, and there's an interesting supporting cast - including, brilliantly, Alan Alda. On the other hand, Cate Blanchett (cough) gives a very annoying performance. I can't blame her for a supposedly accurate, if slightly exaggerated, portrayal of a real person, but the character was mind grating. A small point of criticism on a decent film.

Monday, 13 July 2009

How to be unimaginative

I recently watched Inside Man. It turned out to be a depressingly unimaginative bank heist film, occasionally being so predictable that it verged on parody. But I did learn a few things from it.

How to make a standard Hollywood action movie
1. A maverick detective with a point to prove. He's a bit of an outsider in the department and his unorthodox methods raise a few eyebrows on the operation. He will eventually get the job done, maybe gaining some respect along the way.
2. A veteran policeman who's seen it all before. He will occasionally smoke and make philosophical comments - 'Why does it have to be like this?'
3. A mastermind criminal who's got it all figured out. He's calm. Very calm. Because he's got it all figured out. It's the perfect plan. He's a genius.
4. A sassy woman's in there somewhere. She's untouchable, unpredictable and sassy. Did I mention she's sassy? Yes, yes I did.
5. If there are hostages they all have to be inherently annoying. They chatter to each other about how they were going to 'a ball game' until the terrorists captured them. There's one that wants to be a hero. There's a loud one. There's a child. There's always a child.
6. A variety of rubbish music. There's the this-is-a-serious-situation music, the walking-cops-with-attitude music and the aren't-these-people-evil music. Whenever the maverick detective phones his girlfriend cue sexy saxophone music.

The only interesting thing about Inside Man is that it's got James Ransone from The Wire in it. Watch that instead.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

No sonic screwdrivers

The recent episodes of Torchwood took what could be a fairly standard sci-fi plot - giving children to aliens - and turned it into something dark, personal, and strangely real. It treated the idea realistically, showing the government deciding which children to give up (they eventually decided on the stupid ones) and taking it down to an individual level, to the people who had their children taken away. Like I said, it's dark, creating serious consequences, not a fluffy plot with plastic aliens. It felt miles away from it's parent show Doctor Who; almost as if these problems were too serious, too grown-up, for the Doctor to fix with his sonic screwdriver.

Torchwood has been pretty erratic in quality before this, wandering between dull and brilliant. It's first few episodes were embarrassing ('Quick! Somebody swear in the first five minutes to prove that it's not for kids.'). In the past week it's been better than Doctor Who, and that's not easy.

Friday, 10 July 2009

I drink your milkshake

I don't have to say that There Will Be Blood is an excellent film. You probably know that already. So instead I'll write about one small part of it - the battle between Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday. An atheist and a preacher, both slightly mad, delivering a series of blows to each other throughout the film. They both have the same powerful, corrupting ambition and use oil or God to find success. What's only a minor disagreement explodes (literally) halfway through the film into something physically and mentally violent. Plainview slaps Sunday around a bit and as revenge gets baptised in full fire-and-brimstone mode. Like most of the film, the baptism scene is funny and troubling at the same time, with Plainview only seeing it as an elaborate show. Sunday is a wonderfully over-enthusiastic preacher, using the service to hit Plainview back. It's difficult to side with any character, but I did get the sense that Sunday was too smug for his own good.

I won't mention the ending because, obviously, I'd go to a special sort of hell for that. Apart from to say that it's unsettling, satisfying, tragic and comic - all at the same time. Paul Thomas Anderson has constructed a brilliant thing.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Handheld for the 30s

Michael Mann's Public Enemies tries to go somewhere really interesting but doesn't quite make it. Johnny Depp is John Dillinger, the 30s American bank robber, being pursued by the FBI (Christian Bale, mainly). Unfortunately there isn't enough of a relationship between the two sides, no communication that adds a personal edge to the struggle. Admittedly, the only time Dillinger would be talking to the FBI would be when he was being arrested, but they could have worked something out. The only interesting relationship in the film is that of Dillinger and his girlfriend Billie, but the film doesn't put much emphasis on that. These faults don't make it a bad film though, it's enjoyable enough.

I'm glad Mann decided to stick with his digital handheld style, even for a 30s gangster picture. It might not look old-fashioned but I doubt life really happened in smooth Steadicam back then (I'm only guessing). A story like this should be rough, it should have energy. Sometimes modern techniques are better, even if they ruin the nostalgic sheen. I will defend handheld camera work until the end. Or at least until I change my mind about it.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Frakking toasters

(no spoilers, honestly)
Battlestar Galactica is brilliant. I'm not sure how it ever made it to four seasons, being largely impenetrable for any one who hadn't seen it from the start. It was brave enough to be a sweeping space epic when all TV networks were interested in was hospital dramas. And it moved along at a rapid pace, only very occasionally resorting to episodic fluff. The writers had their hands on a genuinely compelling plot and they weren't afraid to completely and unexpectedly turn it on its head. It's one of those rare shows that isn't afraid of killing its characters, there was a real sense of risk that's usually missing in television. I admire a show that is so full of ideas that it can barely contain itself, always moving onto something new like it knows there isn't much time, never letting itself be cosy or predictable.

Science-fiction is a genre that can be incredibly dull, resorting to an episodic structure to attract new viewers (what Joss Whedon would call 'reset television'). Done properly it can have a deep and dangerous arc that can captivate its fans. It can be pretentious but completely engaging. It can be, in the truest sense of the word, epic. This is science-fiction done properly. It's over now. Which is a shame.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Funny bits

I don't know where the line is between comedy and drama, but I'll have to work it out for my new web series. Is it mostly-funny-with-serious-bits or can the serious bits be funny too? In five minute episodes its going to be difficult to get the balance right. It's a comedy, it is, and I'll have to remember that when I'm writing about...the things that are going to happen.

I suppose I'm still at that short period, at the start of filmmaking, where I can do whatever I want. In years to come there'll be people telling me I have to cut out a scene or change the tone. Right now I have complete freedom to write whatever I want, shoot it, and stick it on the internet. If it looks good to me, it goes in. Obviously there are going to be other people involved as the process goes along, but I still have the massive, luxurious freedom to do anything. Maybe I need to be controlled. We'll see.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Something new

Since I've finished my increasingly peculiar series of short films, I've been thinking about what to do next. Something new and interesting that can be watched without too much frowning. It'll be in episodes, on the internet, from my brain. The point is to develop a continuing narrative rather than my usual short bursts of oddness, to have characters with names that exist in the real world. I have a lot of it in my head already, but there's some gaps to fill in.

It won't go into any sort of meaningful production until I get back to university in September, but that does means I have all summer to write it. I'll post more pieces of vague information soon.

Friday, 26 June 2009

More Icelandic cake

After writing about Heima a few days ago, I should mention Sigur Rós' 'other' film - the music video for 'Glósóli.' It is, without any hyperbole, the best music video I have ever seen (ok, so I haven't seen many, but this is pretty good). I don't know how much input the band had with the video, but it perfectly matches the song's scale.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Very tasty Icelandic cake

After having this blog for six months, and writing about films every now and then, it's probably time to go into one of my favourites - Sigur Rós' Heima. After being mildly interested (extremely) in the band's music for a long time, the film is like some massive cherry on a very tasty Icelandic cake - or, to put it less embarrassingly, very good indeed. It's hard to describe Heima without using fluffy words like 'beautiful' and 'moving', so I won't. But there is something undefinable about the film, something that means you can watch it endlessly and still be impressed.

Essentially it's a tour film around Iceland, where the band pitch up in some field or community centre and play a song. The filming is much like the music - it's gibberish but it makes perfect sense. The camera spends more time on the landscape than the band - on rocks, grass, tractors, houses. The songs fit across these images perfectly, in all their stripped-down acoustic wonderfulness (my word). This isn't exactly a documentary, it's all designed to evoke a mood, and it does that brilliantly. For 'Glósóli' they capture the force of the landscape (waterfalls that go up? It's a funny place). In 'Gítardjamm', tracking shots of an abandoned fish factory are perfectly composed. 'Ágætis Byrjun' has a beach for no necessary reason. There's plenty of history piled on; archive footage of the locations show evidence of a far busier time for the country, creating that poignant theme they like so much. And at the same time there's the people that turn up near the middle of nowhere to watch the band.

It all ends with an extended version of 'Popplagið', an epic song that is louder than most other bands put together. This is surely Sigur Rós at the height of their powers. They'd be very brave to attempt another film.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Gwyneth-Paltrow-or-Cate-Blanchett

Iron Man isn't new, it's been out on DVD for a while, but I've decided it's topical because I've only just seen it. As far as comic book films go (so, um, Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight) this is just below the best. It manages to be loud and stupid in a clever, entertaining way. These things live or die on the characters. If they're just hollow action puppets hitting each other in the face then there's no point. The character:explosions ratio is almost right here. I say almost because it does descend into a dull, robotic fight at the end, which is a shame because they could have done something far more interesting with these characters. Robert Downey Jr gets a lot of time with a face instead of a mask, and Gwyneth-Paltrow-or-Cate-Blanchett (I honestly don't know the difference) is mopey but alright. Is it wrong that I'd rather the climax be a conversation rather than a rocket launcher shoot out?

Also, they restrained themselves from a neat creation-of-the-suit montage. Instead Tony Stark has dialogue with helper robots that have more life in them than most action movie characters.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Film: Talk to Hoshuu


Cast: Andrew Akehurst, Helen Robbens
Written and directed by: Chris David Richards
Sound: Jodi Owens
Thanks: Samuel Adams, Hannah Brankin, Geraint Jones
Outtakes

Monday, 15 June 2009

Finished

I've finished editing Talk to Hoshuu. It's been a few days (or weeks) of clipping half a second off shots and correcting mistakes that nobody else would notice. The end result is just under five minutes and is definitely mildly interesting. But is it extremely mildly interesting? We'll see.

I'll post it here very soon.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

It's all timey-wimey

Seeing as Talk to Hoshuu is almost nearly finished, I might as well post some more ramblings. And a photo of Helen falling over to go with it.

My films seem to have a morbid fascination with time. In Talk to Hoshuu especially, time is weighty and (almost) inescapable. It all ties in with the fantasy-sort-of-realism side. I've been trying to record the sound of ticking, but failing to find a really loud clock I've had to improvise. Banging the hollow end of a piano, hitting desks, bass drums. None of these sound like ticking but they give a clock face more emphasis. Maybe too much emphasis with the bass drum - it sounded like the passing of time Michael Bay style.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

This isn't art enough


A photo from the set that closely resembles a shot from the film. These photographers know what they're doing.

Anyway, I said yesterday that I don't want the films to be philosophical, but I think that's hard to avoid. I don't approach them with any grand intentions but the end result is always different. The thought 'No, this needs more art' usually goes through my mind in the editing, along with 'This is far too coherent, needs more random images.' I'm trying to suppress the mini David Lynch inside me and create films that are understandable. Talk to Hoshuu has no such nonsense. Well, not much.

I get a bit carried away because of the themes I've chosen to work with. It's all very existential and timey-wimey (as the Doctor would say), but with an obvious fantasy side. Maybe I've taken on too much in my first shorts, it probably would have been easier to start with something purely realistic. In a way though I think these films have more in common with realism than fantasy. I'm just having a flimsy attempt at giving answers to questions people don't seem to ask. Maybe some irritated secretary does give you an interview before you're born. Maybe some maintenance person is checking you aren't making a mess. Although, maybe not. I was worried that these films would be interpreted as some sort of religious allegory. They aren't. These stories are separate. There's nothing behind them but my silly ideas.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Hoshuu is...

Here's a photo (not taken by me) from the set of Talk To Hoshuu. Hoshuu (or...Helen) is maintenance. Whenever something pops out of place in the order of the world she (it?) turns up to clean - either by restoring or erasing it. It all sounds vaguely sinister, but the film attempts to approach the subject in a half-cheerful way. It is, after all, complete fantasy. She exists in some closed-off space that lowly humans are not meant to see, maybe already existing inside their heads.

It's the same level as The Secretary from The Front Desk. I imagine there to be a whole cast of workers in this place, all with their own job. Although, seeing as this will probably be my last film on the subject, there might not be anymore. For continuity's sake I should mention that Hoshuu appeared in the The Mildly Interesting Secret of Existence, walking towards an increasingly perplexed Gruff. I hope it looks like I think about these things in advance, because, um, I don't. It's a place of complete fantasy and me making-it-up-as-I-go-along. I don't want the films to be in any way philosophical or dense, just mildly interesting.

And here's a picture of Andrew, a lowly human, looking less statuesque but still important:

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Various household appliances

In trying to develop a soundscape of wonder for Talk to Hoshuu I've started recording the sounds of various household appliances. So far I've got a lawnmower, a washing machine, a microwave, a tumble drier and an electric fan. I'm waiting for the sound of rain, but it's not raining. Yes, this is the life of a one-man production crew.

I shouldn't be mentioning this, especially not before anyone's seen the film. Whatever atmosphere it was going to have is now ruined. The lawnmower's out though. It didn't sound ethereal. It sounded like a lawnmower.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Clever Running Man saves Rome

Angels & Demons takes itself seriously. It's about solving riddles to find the antimatter hidden in Vatican City. It has a skydiving Pope. This isn't a serious film, but they still persist with the ooo-isn't-it-tense music and the frowning. It needs to be made by Disney and have Nicholas Cage in it. It should be National Treasure. In fact, behind all the explaining ('What's that Mr Langdon? It's an ancient symbol? Please explain it while avoiding the bullets.') it is Grumpy National Treasure.

A bit of character depth would have been nice. Apart from being an eager scholar and having an 'eccentric' Mickey Mouse watch, Robert Langdon has no character. He is the Clever Running Man. In the book, like all of Dan Brown's protagonists, he had some childhood trauma about being in lifts or something. That was rubbish but at least it was trying. No personal context, no flaws, no character. I don't care. He is clever though.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Everybody likes custard creams

In a bit of a change for these Mildly Interesting films, the battery life on the camera didn't go dangerously low while filming Talk to Hoshuu. The script didn't get blown off a cliff. Nobody fell into the sea. Nobody came away with any lasting damage. So yes, success. The filming is finished. If things did go wrong, if the film was in Production Hell, then this blog would be more interesting. Sorry.

Now editing commences. And there'll be photos.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

It's probably better like this

Rewrites of the script on the day of shooting? I do not fear such things. It's not the important bits anyway, just the beginning and the end. It's all good.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Big mysterious tower

Does this photo have anything to do with Talk To Hoshuu? I honestly don't know.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Tomatoes for Star Trek

95% on Rotten Tomatoes and only 81% for Serenity? Conclusion: Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.

Ok, so it's good, and compared to TV Star Trek it's excellent. It's a successful reboot of the franchise, but take away all the history and the 'significance' and it's just a pretty standard Hollywood sci-fi film. A pretty good standard Hollywood sci-fi film. There's no need to love it just because it makes a nostalgic (not for me, obviously) series cool again. Although I do admire how they've unwritten the entire future of Star Trek with a clever bit of timey-wimey stuff. Alternate realities are always a treat.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

There are animals out here

I've been around, and around, the place looking for a location for Talk to Hoshuu. It's not that easy. I can't just turn on a lamp in a dark room for this one. It's going to involve the outside world, which means there are endless possibilities for things to annoy me. Like birds, and sheep. Sheep that move and edge into shot and start becoming magic-transporting-sheep. I'm sure it'll all be fine. I'll think of something before filming starts. Yes. Probably.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Third Film

The third film, Talk To Hoshuu, will go into production in the next few weeks. And when I say 'go into production' I just mean me, making it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In (or it's stangely similar Swedish title Låt den rätte komma in) is disturbing. Not because it's unrelentingly cold or bleak, or because of all the vampirey killing. It's disturbing because I know it's better than I thought it was. It's clearly an excellent film, but next to others in the genre that it has been compared to - Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage - it didn't effect me at all. I missed the vibrancy of Guillermo del Toro, even though I knew it didn't need it. I'm distrurbed that I wasn't disturbed.

It was worth trying to get out of The Most Confusing Car Park in Wales though. And walking around an eerily empty shopping centre. Zombies? No, no zombies.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Growling in Gran Torino

It wasn't the film I thought it would be, and that made it better. The trailer makes it look like Clint Eastwood is just going to go on a grumpy-old-man-rampage, but it turns out that's only about a quarter of the film. Walt (Eastwood) grows to like his Asian neighbours and becomes only affectionately racist. His mentoring of Thao includes some wonderfully funny scenes that you don't expect to find in a film about gang violence. But it works - you like these characters, and when the violence happens, it matters. There's also a good amount of Eastwood growling.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Film: The Front Desk



Written and directed by: Chris David Richards
Cast: Andrew Akehurst, Hannah Brankin, Helen Robbens
Other things: Adam Redman, Jodi Owens, Samuel Adams

Outtakes