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


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.