Monthly Archives: November 2017

Quadruple whammy

I love my daughter and, like any concerned parent, I want to protect her from harm. Occasionally that protection means telling the odd white lie. I don’t enjoy lying to her, but sometimes it’s for her own good.

So when she came home from school, excited because someone had told her there was a fourth Indiana Jones film, my heart sank. She’s so young! I don’t want her exposed to that sort of thing at such a tender age!

More importantly, I don’t want to have to sit through it ever again.

But she kept asking to watch it and wondering why I’d told her there were only three films and eventually I caved in. Who knows, maybe it’s a far better film than I originally gave it credit for?

So next pizza and movie night we watched it, in silence, all the way through … and at the end she turned to me and said:

“It’s not very funny, is it?”

“Nope,” I agreed, “It’s not very good either.”

“No. Can we not watch that again?”

Which I readily agreed with and we decided never to speak of it. There are three Indiana Jones films and they are all excellent.

But the (nonexistent la, la, la, la, la …) fourth film had left a bad taste in the mouth. Luckily, since then I’ve managed to watch four awesome movies in a row. This is fairly uncommon, there are far more bad movies than good in this world. Mainly because film making is really, really hard and even when all the talent aligns, the arcane hoops they have to jump through to get a film made pretty much ensures it’ll limp over the finish line a shadow of what it was meant to be.

Four great films in a row (great being a term subjective to my personal taste) is pretty damn unlikely, so I thought I’d give you a heads up, just in case you too have been exposed to Indiana Jones vs the Aliens and needed something to cleanse the palate.

These then are what I’ve been enjoying recently:

 

The Babysitter

Cool, funny, stylish and just all round enjoyable. There’s not a lot else to say, it’s fun.

 

Happy Death Day

Perhaps the weakest of the four, but still damned enjoyable. A slasher take on Groundhog Day which knows what it is and is thoroughly unashamed of it. This got me wondering what the horror version of other ’80s films might look like.

Even though Groundhog Day was in the ’90s.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

I can’t remember the last time a film filled me with such glee. Hilarious and stupid with some great action and even greater dialogue. An upmarket Flash Gordon with all the colourful ’80s paraphernalia that entails. Plus, it finally turned me round on The Immigrant Song – previously my least favourite Led Zeppelin track and one of the few I ever skip over.

Obviously ‘least favourite Led Zeppelin track’ still puts it in the top five percent of all music ever created, but it turns out it’s even better if you play it over a Norse god knocking the crap out of baddies.

 

Paddington 2

What can I say? It’s just perfection. The first film was amazing, the sequel is its equal in every respect. Everything about this film is fantastic, from the set design to the lighting, the costumes, the performances, the humour, the pathos, the effects and the nagging feeling I should try to live my life more like a fictitious talking bear.

Paddington sees the good in all of us. Paddington for President of the World.

 

Clearly all these movie opinions are mine and you’re free to disagree with them (that’s not me giving you permission; you just are, it’s a fact) but if you’re feeling a bit blue or just need a dose of awesomeness then maybe you could do far worse than seek them out?

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The other Death Star problem

A while back I was musing over the issue of the baddie continuously doing the same thing, this post … has nothing to do with that. It’s a completely unconnected musing which just happens to share a few words of the title.

A bit like the entire Star Trek canon and Star Trek Discovery.

Recently, someone pointed out (or maybe I read it online? I get confused between real people and the Internet) that the Death Star wouldn’t need a big laser, because merely rocking up in a planetoid-sized spaceship would wreck a planet’s orbit so much it would probably either tear itself apart or go spiralling off into deep space.*

In essence, Star Wars had failed to understand the gravity of the situation.

Damn. ‘The gravity of the situation’ would have been a far better title. Then I wouldn’t have had to have that little dig at Star Trek Discovery. I should probably change it, but then again I should probably do a lot of things, like not eat that massive pile of ice cream five minutes ago.

Apparently some people get really pissed off when a fictitious spaceship rocks up to a fictitious planet in a fantasy story which is barely one step away from dragons and fairies and then said spaceship fails to obey the laws of physics … and hey, I get that.

I understand why it’s important to follow the rules.

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s okay for Daredevil (Affleck version) to have an echo power and super senses, because they’re inherent in the set up … but it’s not okay for him to suddenly sprout bionic knees halfway through the film, giving him the ability to land on his feet after a twenty storey drop with no explanation.

Rules are important. The first half hour or so of a script is estabishing the rules of the universe. Star Wars has spaceships and laser swords and sentient robots and telekinesis … but not teleport. Them’s the rules. If they want to start using a teleport, we have to either see someone inventing it or make damn sure the characters tell us it’s as new to them as it is to us.

We set the rules … but, crucially, we don’t set all of them. Some of them you just have to take on faith. Something like the Death Star’s gravitational pull, well, as an audience member we have two choices:

1) Decide it’s bullshit and it’s ruined the film.
2) Invent our own in-story reason.

Why doesn’t the Death Star’s gravity ruin every star system it travels through? Well, maybe it’s because the Star Wars universe, clearly and demonstrably, has invented some kind of artificial gravity. No one floats around on the Millennium Falcon, so it must have some kind of control over gravity. The Death Star probably has the same tech, so maybe it can also manipulate its own gravity field?

Maybe George Lucas considered this in the seventies and decided it wasn’t important?

Maybe the next time the baddies rock up in a Death Star (because, apparently, that’s all they know how to do) some bright spark will just switch off the gravitational dampers and they’ll all giggle like schoolchildren as the rebel planet gets destroyed by tidal waves?

Maybe I should just assume the acid which blinded Daredevil also upgraded his knees?

Nah. That was just bad storeytelling.

Or maybe it’s not and it’s just personal preference? We tend to forgive lapses of logic in films we’re enjoying, so maybe it’s just not important?

I think our tolerance varies from film to film, but perhaps we should look for plausible explanations before reaching for the bullshit button?

I’ll just leave this one here for anyone who feels the need to click it:


* I’m not convinced that’s true anyway. I’m not sure the Death Star was big enough, but I’ll happily admit I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh, maybe they were talking about Starkiller Base?

In which case, the title of this post makes even less sense.

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The story wind and the flappy plot sail

Sometimes, usually about 3.14 in the morning, I find myself imagining the story is wind filling the plot sail. When the wind’s blowing strongly, the sail is full and the film rattles along at a beautiful pace, skimming the waves of … um … I don’t know, character? Interest?

Yeah, okay, I haven’t really thought this through.

When the story wind is blowing, the plot sails are full and all is well. But what happens when you need the story to take a sudden left turn? On a sailing boat …

I know nothing about boats. Why am I making an analogy using boats?

On a sailing boat, when you need to change course … well, I guess you can steer a bit with the rudder (or is it a tiller? What’s the difference?), but presumably that only takes you so far and there’s a point where you need to come about?

I think that’s what it’s called, when you turn into (or away from?) the wind enough for the sail to no longer function and you need to move the … back end of the sail to the other side so the wind fills the other side of the sail.

An experienced, competent writer/sailor can come about (if that is what it’s called?) with minimal flapping and no loss of forward momentum. Bad story telling, to me, is when the story takes a left turn or has a false ending a half hour or so before the actual ending and the plot just flaps about for a bit.

I don’t like that sort of thing.

Except when it works, then I love it.

Ideally, I think the plot sail should stay taut and keep the boat surging forward. Bits of plot flapping around just annoy me. For example:

The character’s inner need/goal should be achieved at the end of the film. Not in the middle. Or after ten minutes. There shouldn’t be a point at which the character achieves everything they wanted … but there’s still forty minutes of movie left, so he/she has a cup of tea and then toddles off to solve the problem without any personal issues or emotional engagement.

Similarly, I don’t like it when there are two stories which have no connection. A plane crashes on an island inhabited by vampires – they have to fix the plane before nightfall!

That sounds cool.

They fix the plane by four in the afternoon on the first day, they have no idea the island is inhabited by vampires so they decide to have a spot of lunch and a swim and they’ll take off in the morning … oh no! Vampires!

That sounds less cool. To me anyway.

I don’t like it when the first story is properly resolved and everyone’s just hanging around waiting for the second story to kick off again.

Although, having said that, I can envisage a kind of Father Ted tone where they realise there’s vampires on the island, race to fix the plane … and manage it in plenty of time. “Gosh, that was easy.” says the protagonist “Can you imagine how terrible it would be to get stuck on this island with all these vampires after dark?”

And then there’s an eclipse.

I can see someone being able to make that work … but outside of knowingly parodying bad storytelling … just don’t let the plot sail flap around. Keep it tight and full of story wind so the boat of … something … um … I wish I hadn’t started this now.

Analogies … make sure you’ve thought them through before you start writing them down.

Or don’t.

Do what you like.

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Fame

Generally speaking, screenwriters aren’t famous. Perhaps we become well known among our colleagues and maybe even within the industry, but the general public tends not to recognise us or even know which of us wrote their favourite films. Not unless the writer also directed or starred in it.

TV is perhaps a little different, but certainly in features the writer’s role is so minimised they’re barely mentioned. I don’t recall ever hearing a writer interviewed on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, for example. Except, of course, for the usual caveat of they were also  the director or the star.

Scriptwriters are faceless and interchangeable, not worth talking about. The downside of this is the devaluing of perception leads to financial devaluing. Writers get paid less (a lot less) than actors, directors or producers because … well, we’re just not really an important part of the film-making process. We merely invent the whole thing from beginning to end, anyone can do that.

The only upside of not being famous is, well, being famous is a bit shit, isn’t  it? Why would you want people pointing at you and whispering to each other and asking for your autograph and generally bothering you every time you pop out for a pint of milk?

Not me. Anonymity is lovely, thank you very much.

And yet …

This Halloween I broke out (busted out?) my Ghostbusters outfit again.

To serious Ghostheads, the kind who spend around £2000 on building their proton packs, my ramshackle, dirt-cheap homemade equipment looks terrible …

… but most people who haven’t studied the films frame by frame just seem to think it’s amazing. First stop on Halloween was a kid’s disco at Eastbourne’s Tennis in the Park Cafe … and I got mobbed by children.

At one stage they were four-deep around me, trying on my goggles, asking questions about my equipment and generally being in awe. Adults were asking to take my photo, for selfies with me, wanting to know where I got the costume from or just to talk about Ghostbusters in general.

Everyone, it turns out, loves a Ghostbuster.

Trick or treating later that night brought a similar reaction from everyone we passed. People shouted “Who you gonna call?” or “Cool costume!” from across the street, crossed over for photos or just generally wanted to stop and chat … and you know what? It was intoxicating.

It was so intoxicating that when the night was over I put my equipment back on  to go to the takeaway up the road. I thought at the time it was an odd thing to do, but fuck it, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster for a little longer.

November the 1st I felt a bit down all day. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just felt flat and deflated, bordering on a little depressed. I couldn’t figure it out until well into the evening, but I think it’s because I was missing the adulation and admiration of everyone I walked past.

This is, of course, ridiculous.

I don’t crave fame. Greater recognition for my writing, perhaps. Greater remuneration*, definitely … but fame? No thank you. And yet, that tiny taste of what it’s like to be universally … not loved. Respected? Admired? Recognised? I’m not sure what the right word is. The point is that  tiny taste had  a measurable psychological effect on me, so how much of a mind-fuck must it be for people who are actually famous? No wonder they go off the rails or become a bit weird.

So maybe writers not being famous is a good thing? Maybe not being famous is what keeps us such a sane, balanced and well rounded group of individuals?

Yeah … maybe not?


My daughter made her own costume this year. I think she did an amazing job.

* Wow! I always thought this word was renumeration. Turns out I’ve  been using it wrong my entire life. Sort of.

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