Friday, 30 April 2010

Did you see that explosion earlier?

Episode nine of how to be god is being made. Honestly. It'll be the last one, so it needs to be a bit good. I've probably rewritten it about four or five times now. The main problem, now more than ever, is that I can't show any action. I can't have ambulances or hospitals or that deep sea diving accident I've been so keen to write in. I can only have people talking about what's happening. It's like someone in a no-budget action film saying 'Did you see that explosion earlier? Yeah, and then there was that car chase. It was really exciting'. But I shouldn't complain, it just makes it more of a challenge. Understated is good. I wouldn't want any of the characters to be trapped a house fire or something, it wouldn't fit.

So instead I'll talk about what I have got. I've managed to make a story with almost no resources and some friends who were willing to help. Without them it wouldn't be much of anything. And I don't just mean the acting. Many, many times they've pointed out that something I've written is mostly rubbish. So I write it again and then I'm told it's only half rubbish. It takes longer this way but the show is a lot better for it. It's easy to say what the show could have been - if it was being made 'properly', if it could have another year - but what we've come out with is a nice little show about students who are a bit strange. I'm pleased with that.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Weeping Angels by the beach

The Weeping Angels are Doctor Who's best monsters. Unlike some rubbish metal things from space, they're based on real, everyday objects. They take (already quite creepy) church statues and turn them into nasty, feral objects of not-so-mild terror.They're a combination of very simple, powerful ideas. For a start, they're never seen moving. They appear as a series of horrible statues, reaching out to the characters with vicious hands and snarling faces. They only move when unseen, so a blink sends them hurtling forwards, sometimes stopping only an inch from somebody's face. It's this staticness, the idea of something horrible happening behind your back, that makes them so scary. And the only way to stop them is to keep your eyes on them. The idea of not blinking is genius. Anyone can see how hard that is. If you join in it makes the episodes tense and painful.

Hopefully this new two-parter won't go too far with them. Don't want to over do it. 'The Time of Angels' places them into a far more elaborate setting than 'Blink'. This time there's hundreds of them in huge caves. Although more is not necessarily better they are still scary, even if this is more of an action episode than last time. And now they've got a whole new bunch of rules, like how they can kill someone and adapt their consciousness to use their voice. This leads to one poor army boy being mercilessly torn down and used as a speaker - 'They snapped my neck sir. Not as painless as I thought it'd be but quite quick'. As an episode it's all fun stuff and has a few good eerie scares. The full picture's not here yet though. It'll be interesting to see what the second half turns up.

Monday, 26 April 2010

where you go when you're born

It occurs to me that I've almost finished a creative writing degree and I haven't posted any creative writing on here. I'm not really going to start now, this is still Mildly Interesting Films (even though, technically, I haven't made a film in about a year). But I've just finished my final writing project, an epic little story about things happening to people. With a 6000 word limit, it turned out to be an exercise in compressing a novel into a tiny space. As a result some of the chapters are no more than a few lines long, and at their most no more than 700 words. The thing is, it turns out I like writing like this. There's no room for filler. It just has to get straight to it. Some of the chapters are so short they read like little prose poems. Now I've written like this I'm not sure I can go back to the proper way, with all those extra words.

I've been told I have a fear of adjectives. I don't know why. I like to write with a childlike simplicity. I switch off with flowery language. I've been told my words are good, but I'm convinced I just don't know how to use the ones that are longer than two syllables. The writing project is called where you go when you're born. It's a semi-serious fantasy about sad and funny things. I'm not sure the internet is the best place for it, but then where else is it going to go right now? Maybe in some years I'll start writing longer things. Right now I have a collection of speedily written short stories and one longer chunk of words. I don't want to be a writer though, I just like it when a story comes together.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Five things about Lost

Lost is wrapping up now, so its probably time to make lists or something. Like a list of favourite characters:

Five favourite characters:
  1. Desmond. Why won't they just let him be happy? He's always being dragged around and locked up. Can't they see he just wants to be with Penny and call everyone 'brother'? Just let him get on with that. Although, when you get a Desmond episode you know you're in for a treat. It's usually a bit surreal and might involve him being reunited with Penny again. Which is nice. Happy endings are nice sometimes. And Desmond will have a happy ending? Right? Right?
  2. Sawyer. At first he was just the gruff one that liked to take his shirt off. But somewhere around the fifth season he became interesting. Stuck in the past (literally) he made a life for himself that he never had in the 'real' world. It doesn't last, because nothing ever does on this show, but somewhere in there he had about three years of smiling. Before, you know, he tragically lost the 'love of his life'.
  3. Daniel. Daniel Faraday is a loser. Even though he's a genius and a bit of an authority figure, he's still there to be pitied. He wanted to play the piano. His mother made him be a scientist. His whole life became about his parent's obsession. He's even had a few tragic love interests. And he has the sort of voice that might be good on a DVD commentary.
  4. Sayid. Sayid is the get-things-done guy. When everyone else is dithering and arguing, Sayid just walks off and solves the problem with violence and explosives. Sometimes that's what you need. Also, he loves a woman but but he can't be with her. It's, you know, tragic.
  5. Ben. Ben is annoying, but he epitomises the show. He's confusing and compelling. Is he good or bad? It doesn't seem to matter anymore. The other characters seem to have lost interest in that question anyway. 'He's evil, lock him up.' 'No, we trust him now.' 'He's evil, kill him.' 'No, we trust him now.' 'He's clearly ev - oh, just let him do what he wants.' He's also probably had some tragic relationship with a woman, but I can't remember.
Why are all these characters men? Because all the woman just get killed. Seriously, there aren't many left. It's all the tragedy that does it.

Least favourite Lost character:
  1. Jack. Whinge. Moan. Complain. Cry.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Alright, it's a jammy dodger

Daleks are boring. I'm sorry. They are. I know they're iconic. I know they're the Doctor's arch nemesis. But I've lost all interest in them. They're predictable. They always come back. Maybe if they only appeared once every few years it would be a big deal, but it's always the resurrection of the Daleks, it's always their big evil comeback. The Doctor kills them all, one ship survives and they plot their new masterplan. This has happened about three or four times now. They can't be that threatening if they're always there. And they look rubbish too. Metal tubs with a plunger and whisk. It's as if the writers feel like they have to shove the Daleks in somewhere to fulfil some obligation to the fans, but they don't have to be in every season. I'm the sort of heathen who doesn't care about Doctor Who's heritage, I'd rather they focus on new ideas

Maybe I dislike them because they're always the mark of some lengthy 'the-universe-is-ending' action epic. Thankfully this time we haven't been lumbered with a two-parter. They've just turned up in World War 2 with a plan to make new, slightly cooler looking, colourful Daleks. The episode itself is alright. It's mainly seen-it-all-before stuff, although there is a nice bit with Spitifires in space and a showdown with a jammy dodger. Like I said, it's fine. Fine. Although next week is a Steven Moffat two-parter with Weeping Angels. Yes.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The West Wing: Season Two

Season 2 is (probably) the best season of The West Wing. It's made up of a few arcs, along with some of the show's best standalone episodes. It comes straight from the first season with a solid set of characters, having inexplicably trimmed off the waste, and goes off in a new, more focused direction. The opening two-parter, 'In the Shadow of Two Gunmen' includes flashbacks that flesh out the character's pasts for the first time. It fills in the gap before we first saw them and shows the beginnings of this tight group that is now threatening to come apart in the hospital. When Bartlet goes to meet Josh at the airport and asks him if he wants company on the plane, despite having to give a victory speech, we see the start of his fatherly connection with the staff. It's all a bit traumatic but obviously Josh isn't going to die. Obviously.

The White House then settles back to normal, introducing Ainsley Hayes, the 'blonde leggy Republican' who 'actually knows something'. Her 'interesting conversational style' is part of some exceptional episodes, including 'And It's Surely to Their Credit' - the first and only appearance of Lionel Tribbey the Cricket Bat Man. This episode, apart from being one of the comedic highlights of the entire show, is just made up of great scenes. It builds to Ainsley being accepted into the staff with blaring Gilbert and Sullivan music and a freshly decorated office. Some shows are made up of awful, spiteful characters - this is the opposite. And another 'comedy' episode that stands out is the vastly titled 'Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail'. It's not really about the comedy, but it's the second and last Big Block of Cheese Day, so that takes precedence. 'You're probably wondering what all this has to do with social equality.' 'No, I'm wondering where France really is.' It's a shame all this didn't come back. Where did it go?

In a different way, 'Noël' is also brilliant. It's framed around Josh's psychotherapist meeting, in which he looks back on the last few weeks. He's having a bit of a breakdown after the shooting but doesn't want to admit it. Over the course of the episode the truth is coaxed out of him as the doctor cuts through his pride and stubbornness. The final act includes one of the show's more powerful uses of music. As Yo-Yo Ma winds away on a cello Josh is forced to dredge up an answer to the question 'How did you get cut your hand?', the music like sirens in his head. It also ends with Leo's 'now we're both in the hole' speech, which is another instance of senior staff parenting.

And then the final five episodes deal with the President's MS, culminating in 'Two Cathedrals'. Even though nobody gets shot, it's still my favourite season finale. Everyone loves flashbacks, and this has them going back about fifty years. Seeing Bartlet as a schoolboy may seem pointless, but it shows that even then he was the same ambitious - 'stick your hands in your pockets and look away and smile' - free-thinker that he is as President. Mrs Landingham describes him as 'a boy king', 'blessed with inspiration'. And that definitely comes out in his cathedral monologue. Television doesn't get much better than this:

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Only if there are children crying

With the second episode of the new season, Doctor Who is still on the right side of entertaining. It's still choosing to be scary and intelligent over its usual loud action epics. Maybe because Steven Moffat is still writing all the words. In 'The Beast Below' the new Doctor and assistant turn up on Starship UK, a spaceship version of Britain. Obviously everything turns out to be a bit sinister. There's some lovely smiling fairground booth figures that continue the Doctor Who tradition of turning familiar objects into monsters. Not as interesting as the Weeping Angels, but these things do have revolving heads, so that counts for something. The episode is largely based on some really clever ideas. Citizens can choose to forget or protest against the reality of the starship, and if they protest they predictably get sent down a hole. It's not some forced political allegory, it's just another interesting sci-fi setpiece that Doctor Who can throw up every week.

Also, we see a new side to the eleventh Doctor. He was all smiles in the first episode but here there's some stern moments. At one point he's so angry that he threatens to send his new assistant home and almost makes one of the 'worst decisions' of his life. And this is just the second episode. These two are the most interesting pair the show has had in a while. If they keep them both for the next season it'll be the first time two years of the show have gone by without something changing. Hopefully they can stand up outside of Steven Moffat's writing.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

When bands have babies

Jónsi has started his tour after the release of his new solo album. The rest of Sigur Rós left this message on their website:
so, we may all be off on “indefinite hiatus”, “having babies”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a little time out of our busy diaper changing schedule to wish our singer jonsi heartfelt good luck on his own first baby-steps without his *real* band for the first time in, ooh, 15 years, must be. we’ve heard the record and, honestly, some of it is quite good. ok, that’s a joke. ‘go’ is bloody marvellous. well done, strákur, always knew you had it in you, etc – although you could lay off the english; we’ve got our ‘mystique’ to think about.

That just about sums it up. Go is like an explosion from the second you turn it on. Less interested with building up ambient soundscapes, it just wants to make you smile. The first two tracks, 'Go Do' and 'Animal Arithmetic' burst into an ecstatic cacophony of sound, building and falling quickly and unpredictably. It's a layered, full sound, with any instruments they could find shoved in. Even when the pace is slowed down for 'Grow Till Tall' it's still incredibly loud. And that's the highlight of the album - a soaring epic that stretches up and up until it breaks at the top. Here Jónsi's voice has never sounded better. He's not drowned out under effects, he's up front where he should be.

The fact that he's singing in English isn't that troubling. Sigur Rós shouldn't worry too much about their 'mystique'. He sings in such a way that it's hard to work out what he's saying anyway, and it's occasionally nice to have the mystery of the lyrics broken. The Icelandic that is here comes with a nice relief, comforting and unintelligible as always.

In places Go reaches heights that Sigur Rós' last album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, never did. It's a colourful and wonderful thing that can be placed alongside the best of his 'real' band. That being said, I can't wait for the rest to get fed up looking after babies and start making music again. How interesting can babies be? This is what Jónsi can do by himself - the songs he has collected over about ten years. After this it'll be time to see what Sigur Rós can do next.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Why isn't it called Hit-Girl?

There seems to be a lot of fuss about Kick-Ass. Either because of the little girl who murders everyone with sharp objects, or because it's quite good. The premise is that it's a group of 'real' people trying to be super-heroes, dressing up in costumes and generally getting kicked about. When a normal teenager is confronting gangsters with nothing more than a silly costume, it quickly changes from amusing to a little bit distressing - because he'll get stabbed every time and'll probably end up dead. That idea does make things a lot more interesting than the average comic-book film, as the hero's only super-power is damaged nerve endings. But this character gets boring quickly. He's just the guy out of every other teenage comedy, but with nunchuks.

The film is saved by Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a crime-fighting father and daughter who are actually quite good at their jobs. Watching an eleven-year old girl doing Kill Bill is one of the most entertaining things you'll ever see. She cuts into all the nonsense teenage ditherings with a good amount of bloody violence. She gets the job done. And the father, played by Nicholas Cage, is the other surreal highlight of the film. Oddly folksy and maybe a bit insane, he introduces himself by shooting his daughter in the chest to get her used to the bullet-proof vest. Which is fine. The violence is comic-book stylish in a real-world setting. Though that doesn't stop watching Mark Strong beating up a little girl being just a bit strange.

So it's half annoying teenage drama, and half competely brilliant action film. Shame about the teenagers.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Doctor Who says bow ties are cool

It's a new start for Doctor Who. New Doctor. New assistant. New head writer. The Russell T Davies seasons have been cut off and left as a separate era. Now everything won't come back to Rose Tyler - there's a new story to build. But the most interesting thing about this fresh season is the direction Stevan Moffat might take it in. It's clear that he's already written some of the best episodes - 'Girl in the Fireplace','Blink' - and now he's overseeing everything. I'm hoping for a shift from the (good) loud action episodes that Russell T wrote into more quiet, scary, and thoughtful stuff. I'm probably in the minority of viewers who want to see less 'running around', and they do have a responsibility to the time slot, but I've always thought Doctor Who is at its best when it's trying to scare you with the unknown, putting invisible monsters in familiar places.

In 'The Eleventh Hour' Moffat shows both sides of the Doctor. The episode begins with him investigating a crack in a little girl's bedroom wall. The power of a child's 'imaginary' monsters in a big house is, for me, one of the most compelling things you can write about, so that made me happy. And then the second half of the episode sees the regenerating Doctor saving the world in a small village through some logic I didn't entirely understand. A good episode apart from the inevitable end-of-the-world scenario (Why does it always have to be the end of the world? The end of the world is boring). The new Doctor, Matt Smith, takes over from David Tennant as another quirky, enthusiastic type. From his first episode he's got the character down pretty well. Instantly likable and possibly funnier than his predecessor, it'll be interesting to see where he goes. I wasn't sure why he was wearing a bow tie, but as soon as he said 'bow ties are cool', I believed him. Like the last transition, it doesn't take long to forget about the last Doctor. It's been an almost perfect start. The show is in good hands.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

If football was entertaining

I don't like football. Because it's boring. And because it's not rugby. It's a good thing then that The Damned United doesn't have much football in it. It could really have been about anything. Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough, a football manager who turns a lowly club into champions and then takes a job managing his rival's team. It's this rivalry (between Brian Clough and Don Revie if you know who these people are, I don't) that makes up the meat of the film. Michael Sheen is brilliant as the ambitious but sympathetic protagonist, whose bitter determination leads to his downfall. It builds to one of those climactic conversations that I've written about before - the sort of conversation that leaves one man broken, like they've had a fight with big guns. And you're not forced to watch any football. You see a few fights and a few goals. That's it. But what you do get is a sense of the sport as a lifestyle, watching these characters giving their lives to these teams and their history. I'll probably never understand that.

It's also worth mentioning how well the film is directed. Tom Hooper gives every frame has a real sense of style. It's not just sticking the camera in odd places, it's planning ever square inch of the frame. One of the most impressive shots is Brian Clough standing in his office, with the shadows of a screaming crowd coming through a window and falling onto the wall. He stands right in the middle of the frame, small and over-powered by the fans he his serving. There's also nice moving diagrams that handily explain what's going on, useful if you don't know the history of Derby County and Leeds United. Which I don't. I'm not even sure where those places are.

So, a good film about sport, because its not about sport.