Wednesday, 31 March 2010

More problems for Viggo

There's something strange about A History of Violence. It keeps threatening to burst into full thriller-mode but never does, like it's holding back. It gets by on extremely violent action scenes that seem purposefully muted. The camera is pointed at these things but it doesn't scream and shout at you. It's a calm thriller. Viggo 'I'm not just Aragorn and the man from The Road' Mortensen is having problems again. After he shoots two very nasty robbers in his restaurant his face is put all over the news, and a gangster turns up asking awkward questions about his real identity. The early scenes of his family life rate so highly on the Idyllic Scale (about a 26) that I couldn't wait for the sadistic killers to turn up. And they do, pointing guns at his family and generally looking very threatening. At this point I thought there'd be some sort of thriller quest. The hero would leave home to go and hunt down the baddies, blow something up, and then go back to his family with a few scars. That doesn't entirely happen. It's more of a drama with violent bits. A serious film with shotguns.

The little town is almost too perfect though. It's too clean and shiny, like The Truman Show. Intentional? Maybe. It's surreal and uncomfortable, like the hero's character. It's just a bit off-putting. The best scene in the film has the camera positioned behind a window, looking out on a confrontation in the garden. A fly buzzes around the window and vibrates on the glass. A nice metaphor, but it also gives the scene an edge. It's annoying and distressing - makes you fidget. And David Cronenberg made The Fly, so... yeah.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Road is better than films

There's something about Cormac McCarthy's books that make them an easy fit for film. Hardly anything is changed from page to screen. The Coen brothers pretty much copied No Country for Old Men into a screenplay, and now The Road has been given the same treatment. Which is fine by me. The books are so tightly plotted that there's isn't any need to mess around. Watching The Road is like running through the book in your head. 'There's the bit in the house with the - yeah - there's that bit, and when they find all that stuff in the bunker, and when they get to the sea and find the thing'. The man and the boy are still having big problems, with Viggo 'I'm not just Aragorn' Mortensen doing a good job of playing the worried father. And after early trailers made the film look a bit too, well, explodey, it's turned out to be the wonderfully depressing post-apocalyptic bleak treat that we were promised. The camera seems to have a permanent grey filter on it and the pacing is slow enough never be exciting.

The problem is, it didn't get to me in the same way the book did. I'm not sure why. Maybe that's a one-time thing. Maybe I can't really care a second time. Or maybe Cormac McCarthy's words are better than anything anyone can put on screen. It's a film that pays complete respect to it's source material and does everything right. So maybe that's the problem. Books aren't films. Films aren't books. They can't achieve exactly the same thing. In the novel we could get inside their heads a little bit. In the film we're watching them. Not the same. Although if my only complaint is about all film, then there can't be much wrong with it.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The pirate and the zookeeper

Episode eight is in the final stages of editing. In how to be god terms it's a bit of an epic. Wash even had to wear make-up to give him that important terminally-ill look. Here's some images from the edit:

Friday, 19 March 2010

An example of ineffable wisdom

Episode seven is on its way, then we're onto the third act, the final three episodes of how to be god. Maybe Wash will wheel out his almost-catchphrase - 'I'll be fine'. Maybe George will start punching people again. Maybe Amy has some nice secrets to share with everybody. But the strange thing about Dylan is, that while he was originally just the idiot that hunted road signs, he is now becoming the source of ineffable wisdom. He doesn't have any 'proper' storylines of his own apart from his interaction with the other characters. I didn't originally plan to pair him with Amy, but that's the way things went. There was definitely a Wash-Dylan, George-Amy thing happening in the early episodes, but this story can't progress on those pairs. The Wash and George relationship is where the real action is - friends that are both falling apart but don't want to admit it. They both try to appear strong in the eyes of the other until they can't manage it anymore.

An example of mild ineffable wisdom (if that's possible):

Monday, 15 March 2010

The West Wing: Season One

It's occurred to me that I've hardly ever mentioned The West Wing on this blog. It is, after all, the Best Television Ever (along with something else). So how about a run through of every season? Yes. This'll be fun.

You can see the energy of the show from the first few minutes. Leo walks into the West Wing, the music starts up, and he roams around the offices talking to about three people at once. All done with with perfect timing and long Steadicam tracking shots. How do you speed up a show which is full of expository dialogue? Speed up the talking and have them walking around. And of course the dialogue has to be good. Aaron Sorkin (who wrote about 90% of the first four seasons) churns out the most witty, fast-paced, resonant dialogue you'll ever hear. It's difficult to get out of your head. The way phrases are repeated for rhythm and emphasis has heavily affected my own writing. Here characters run along corridors dropping conversations and picking up another without blinking. There's so much stuff in it that you won't ever get your head around it all. In the case of the pilot episode, it all builds up to the entrance of President Bartlet (who wasn't originally intended to be a main character). He strolls in, kicks some right-wing fanatics out of his building, then gives a nice speech to his staff.

The first season shows the characters as an ensemble. There're having a lot more fun than in the later seasons. Sorkin puts in games of poker, trips to bars, CJ singing The Jackal. It's a shame all this stuff got drowned out by the politics. There are whole episodes just devoted to comedy. The first Big Block of Cheese Day is a highlight, along with Celestial Navigation. You wouldn't get CJ speaking with cotton wool in her mouth in season 7. And, of course, Josh's press conference leads to this:

Much of the season shows the growing weariness of the staff as they realise they're stuck in political mud. Struggling to get anything done, they eventually decide to do nothing. Until, in 'Let Bartlet Be Bartlet', Leo produces one of his character's defining moments:
"We're gonna lose some of these battles. And we might even lose the White House. But we're not going to be threatened by issues: we're going to put 'em front and center. We're gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy."
The staff agree with him. They're a family, and we see these relationships for the first time over these episodes. Leo and Josh are father and son. Toby and Sam bickering brothers. Bartlet and Leo some sort of presidential parents. CJ the sister. Mrs Landingham the grandmother. Charlie still the newcomer. Donna should maybe be left out of this analogy, because that would be weird. This just leaves the only irritation of season one to mention - Mandy. Originally intended to be Josh's love interest, but quickly usurped by Donna, she just lurks around the place moithering everybody with her annoying voice. She has no reason for existing, no proper storylines, no impact on the characters. No wonder Sorkin sent her into the Mandyville void. Which is, as much as I dislike Mandy, my only criticism with Sorkin's writing. He is quoted as saying that he doesn't 'properly' plan the seasons, he just goes along with it. Essentially just making things up as he goes along. This obviously produced brilliant results, but some things get sent to Mandyville without explanation. Sam and Mallory's relationship. Lionel Tribby (Cricket Bat Man). Eventually Sam himself. All sorely missed. Apart from Mandy.

And with 'What Kind of Day Has It Been', Sorkin shows his liking for season finales that involve guns. Spend twenty hours creating these lovely characters and then shoot at them. That's the way to do it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

how to be god - Episode 6

Wrath of the militant caretakers

how to be god has finally ventured into the outside world. For the last scene of episode six (the others were filmed about thirteen weeks ago) we snuck into an empty seminar room, avoiding the wrath of the militant caretakers and generally being very stealthy. We got the scene done in an hour, then when I got back to the edit I realised I was cutting half of it anyway. That's the way these things go. Then, for the start of episode seven, we actually filmed outside. Where there's air and traffic and marauding children. It could have gone horribly wrong. I don't think it did. There was the problem of the sun getting in everyone's eyes and the cameraman got muddy, but it worked. I'm just not used to it. Every other scene has been shot in the hallway.

Episode six is also the entrance of big bad Martin, who will torment and annoy Wash until the end. I've left his entrance until a way into the show (although he was briefly seen in episode three - I plan these things), but I'm optimistic that he will be suitably evil enough in the last few episodes. After all, episode seven ends the 'second act' of the show, with the final three episodes being the slightly dramatic end bit. Happy ending? Maybe.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Even the little fox puppets

There's something dreamlike about Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. That was a book. This doesn't have a lot to do with that. It feels like a Wes Anderson film, with all the calmly funny dialogue and grown up jokes of his other films. But the animation sits above all that. A lot of fiddling about went into making the stop-motion animation that is at first jarring but gradually wonderful. There's sort of a visual purity to it. Not cluttered or busy. Just simple and colourful. Critters scamper around on little stages in a surreal manner, hardly ever raising their voices. It's got a learned, sophisticated feel to it.

And it's not for children. It seems to be a story about grown-ups having a mid-life crisis. These are grown-ups saying grown-up things in a grown-up way. Even the little foxes are very ponderous. There's no 'action' action and most of the jokes aren't 'funny' funny (I know what I mean). It is funny, but on the underneath. It's often not what they're saying, but how they're saying it and the quality of the animation that gets a laugh. It's funny on the underneath. Most ten year olds would be bemused. There's a whole joke about the latin names of the animals, ending with Mr Fox saying that 'there weren't any possums in ancient Rome'. I would have been confused.

A children's film for grown-ups then. If it had been released fifteen years ago I might be talking about it in a nostalgic way, like it was one of the best films of my childhood. But it's quite new, and I'm twenty one, so it's just quite good.

Monday, 1 March 2010

I haven't seen many films

I've only just realised this. I've seen the important stuff. The Godfather. Star Wars. Toy Story. But the vast majority of films have passed me by. Especially new ones. I watch, hear, and listen to reviews of films that I will never watch. Avatar. That could have been good. That's passed me by. Up. I've got no idea. Paranormal Activity. That was terrifying apparently. But I just don't go the cinema, and occasionally I'll buy a film on a DVD. This is either a very sad state of affairs for a filmmaker, or a case of someone who hasn't been influenced by all the rubbish. After all, I only watch the really good stuff. I have a small but very selective film shelf.

Maybe I've just been doing other things. I can't help that. Or maybe I should just rent some DVDs. But like a recent film night showed, those discs can be all scuffed up. A disc that skips and stops doesn't create a very immersive film experience. It's like reading a book and finding some of the pages ripped apart. I might have to give it a chance. How else am I going to see films that I'm never going to buy? My friends only want to watch different sorts of films that have Colin Firth in them. That isn't helping.