Sunday, 18 December 2011

I missed Doctor Who

Looks exciting, doesn't it?
I missed the last episode of Doctor Who. The one at the end of the last season. Everyone was wearing eye patches and the Doctor had long hair. I'm not sure why. I wanted to see it, but I couldn't. I don't know when it'll be shown again. The problem is, I don't feel too bad about it. I mean, I'll see it eventually, right? Maybe I'll watch the next season first.

I know this isn't the attitude. My nerd credentials have been revoked. I've been thrown out. Even when I do finally see it, in about seven months, I won't be allowed back in. I will be looked at with contempt. It was earlier in this very year that I called Doctor Who the Best Thing Ever, and now look at me. I've let it slip. There's a hole where my obsessiveness should be. It's too late for me now. Go on without me. I haven't even played the new Zelda yet. I'm hopeless.

This is my way of looking in from the outside and asking what I missed. Was it any good? I'm looking forward to the Christmas special though. Honest.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Martians are coming

I've been reading The War of the Worlds. It's pretty dark.
"Where the road grows narrow and black between the high banks the crowd jammed and a desperate struggle occurred. All that crowd did not escape; three persons at least, two women and a little boy, were crushed and trampled there and left to die amidst the terror and the darkness."
The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

I mean, calm down HG. It's only the end of the world. The whole thing is done so well it makes me worried about Martians. Not really concerned, but when I hear loud noises I assume it's the invasion.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Do I like poetry?

Poetry seems like a thing I should be interested in. They come in books, and they're all wordy and literary. I've tried to read poetry. It usually goes like this: 'Okay, okay, yeah, okay, no, I don't understand'. A poem has always seemed like a puzzle I don't know how to solve. There's a whole form to it. A secret language. What about the pentameters? And the triplets? And the iambs and the foots? These words give me a blank face and an even blanker brain. I always take a poem at face value without hanging on every syllable. There are poems that I like. I can't name them right now, but I'm sure they exist. And I like them for what they're saying, not for their clever clever verse structure. And then there's the poets that fill every line with references to Greek mythology and ancient Celtic folklore. What am I meant to do with this? Okay, I'll rush straight to the library before I tackle the next verse.

I'm allowed to say these things, because I'm a postgraduate.

So I write poetry even less than I read it. In the past, when I really had to write a poem for academic reasons, I would start feeling deeply cynical and take out all the line breaks. I turned them into paragraphs. Now I have a chance to take a poetry module. And if I'm ever going to be interested in it, it's going to be now with these tutors and these people. If I did write a few poems, I don't know what they would look like. I don't know if I would like them. I'd much rather write a short story about evil machines. But I might have a go.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Nobody really knows

A lot of the houses are dark. If it wasn’t for the street lamps the street would be lost in the black, and nobody would see anything at night. Maybe some people are in their houses with the lights off. James can see the next street through the gaps between houses. A back garden with high fences is lit up with big bulbs. The other streets are hidden behind each other. Are their lights on? They should be brighter. They should shine up into the sky. No, these lamps don’t light the streets. They only make it less dark. A murky pale glow that wraps around everything until morning. The back garden light in the next street flickers and turns off. James imagines a power cut getting closer, taking each house as it sweeps across the streets. Only his street is left. He stares at the light in Boy’s house. It stays on. Eventually it will go out like his own bedroom, but it’s on for now. As the night goes on all the lights will turn off. James thinks that nobody really knows what happens then, when the garden plants shiver in the breeze and the concrete glares with empty. In the playground and out into the fields and into the trees. Nobody really knows what is happening then.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Not making sense

Does it bother you if a film or book doesn't make perfect sense? If it's not tied up in a bow. If it's open ended. Or if you just didn't get it at all. There's only two reactions to a typical David Lynch film - the first one is 'um' and the second one is 'ooo'. But even the people who like it don't entirely understand, so it becomes a sort of 'umooo' sound. Enjoying it isn't really connected to understanding it. Not everything needs to be about concrete reality or concrete answers. If you only read or watch things where it's all laid out for you, then you'll never have to use your imagination. Should a writer make something that a few people will love or that everyone will think is okay?

I don't know.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The first and second rules of the internet

Rule one: do not argue with people on message boards

Rule two: do not argue with people on message boards

It's a well known fact that the internet is used by people that are wrong. And through this vast network of information, they can broadcast how wrong they are to the world. Occasionally you'll come across one of these people, and will be tempted to put them right. Except, as you probably know, trying to do this will only lead to a futile and endless struggle that will consume and waste hours of your precious life. I have learnt this. I don't do it anymore. I stay well clear. In fact, I don't usually go on message boards at all. I stay on here with bloggerers, like you, who are nicer. Recently though, I was looking at the IMDB page for The Adjustment Bureau, a film I quite like. I briefly glanced at the message boards. And it was full of bad things.

Now, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But this rule does not extend to people who are just wrong. If it's someone who wasn't paying attention. Someone who refuses to accept creative ideas. Someone who would find plot holes in their own birth if they weren't assured it had happened. Here was a list of criticisms so blindingly incompetent that I almost, almost, pressed the reply button. These people are here to test me. This person was particularly testing. I won't quote any of it. No. My point is, if I ever have a point, is that I chose to have a therapeutic rant on here instead of trying to argue. It has helped.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A film made just for me. Possibly.

The Adjustment Bureau is exactly my sort of thing. I know they didn't make it just for me, but they might as well have. A politician is told he can't see a woman again, because it doesn't follow his 'path'. It would mess everything up. So he has to fight the future to see her again. It's a love story being attacked by the agents of fate, who are all very smart and wear hats. He rides the same bus for years hoping to see her again. The men in hats watch and adjust the world in front of him to keep them apart. Every time he meets her she's pulled away by the hat men, in what looks like an unfortunate series of events. These really are mean hat men. But the path they make for us is for our own good. It can't be changed. Which makes all this running about part of a bigger fight. It seems impossible to outrun his own future and choose something else.

There are films that are objectively good - films that everybody likes because they speak to everyone at the same time. And there are subjective films - the ones that will only be perfect for certain people. I'm not saying The Adjustment Bureau isn't a good film, it'll just have extra goodness if you're me. It features ideas that I love and puts them all into a pacey, smart, and oddly moving thriller. It doesn't get bogged down in the heavy questions it raises. It gets on with it. All the surreal back-room gods and breaking reality you could ever want, with an engaging love story. It's like they looked into my mind and made the film I wanted to see. Maybe I just need to read more Phillip K Dick, or maybe this is as good as I think it is.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bloggity blog blog

If you're reading this (which, er, you definitely are) you probably have your own blog. So you might look at it and think 'why do I have this thing?'. To provide some sort of service? To promote yourself? Maybe you just want to do some good old-fashioned film reviews. Whatever you choose you'll have to do it a lot. Then after some time has passed you might want to try something else. Start again with a new idea. Or just keep going.

When I started this blog I wanted to write about some short films I was making. When I wasn't making short films I reviewed long films. After two years of doing that I came to realise that I'd reviewed all the films. And most television too. I don't make short films anymore. And I don't review many films. But I still have this blog. That's a good thing, because when there's something I want to write about, where else would I go? It's nice to have your own corner of the internet that you can fill with things you like and thoughts that need to be stored. I've been doing this for a while now, and I've come to realise that there's no point in posting for the sake of it, or trying to promote yourself across the internet. Blogs aren't making anybody famous. Every now and then I write something and some people read it. And I get to read their stuff too.

So yeah, if you've got a weblog, why do you do it? Do you still enjoy it as much as when you started? Will you still be doing it in a few years?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Music from before

Some music sounds like a long time ago. There might be bands or film soundtracks that sound like your childhood. It's not like that for me. There's only one thing that was the soundtrack to my twentieth century. And films have got nothing on this.

For when you're swimming around calm waters with a giant eel
You can't go swimming without this. You'll feel a lot more relaxed, and you'll be able to hold your breath for longer. If you feel like you're about to drown, look for air bubbles or coins. Then when you're jumping around a massive castle, wondering what to do next, you'll realise there's a slide in the attic.

For when you're standing in a field feeling epic
Listen to this. It works better if you've got a sword and a shield. When you're feeling epic enough, walk into a forest to look for money in the bushes. If you accidentally open up an ancient underground labyrinth, don't go in without a few bottled fairies. If you make it back to your village, go into your friends' houses to break their pots and steal their money. Then go back out at night.

For when you're crawling through ventilation shafts
The only place they lead is the toilets. Make your way through the building, killing no more than two scientists. Shoot everyone on a train. Shoot everyone on a boat. Get thrown in jail. Then climb an electricity pylon for the final showdown with your nemesis.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Giving up on a film

Have you ever given up on a film? I'll usually watch anything to the end, but with Confessions I couldn't be bothered. And it wasn't even a bad film. A Japanese teacher gets revenge on her insane students, very slowly and usually in slow motion. It winds along with all its different threads coming and going, and doing it all so stylishly that I lost interest. About half way through I thought about turning it off. That's a dangerous thought. What if I miss something brilliant? Maybe I should just skip through it. So I press fast forward. Nothing to watch in that scene. Or that one. I skip the whole chapter. And the next one. And the next one. Then I'm watching a bit of the end. And the film is gone. It was that easy to throw it away, and I didn't really regret it. Sitting down to watch a DVD or some Blu-rays, it's like you're making a commitment. It just wouldn't be right to stop watching it halfway through. It would be messy. It's probably the same impulse that makes me finish books I don't really like. Everything has to be completed and put back in its place. So how boring or bad does something have to be to turn it off?

I've watched some really bad films to the end, getting more annoyed and angry. I still don't think Confessions is a bad film. I just thought I'd rather be somewhere else. Like in bed, where there isn't so much difficult art. I feel a bit sorry for it. They put in all that effort. Never mind.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Things to do now that Harry Potter has finished

Harry Potter's over then. Done. Finished. Not coming back. Not even a little bit. Some people seem quite upset about this, so I've compiled a list of other things to do.

1. Read some more books
J.K. Rowling wrote some very good books. There's other ones too. Books by other writers. They're not really as good as Harry Potter, and you probably won't enjoy them as much, but they're still available. Some of them are actually quite boring. So, yeah, keep reading.

2. Watch some more films
The Potter films are pretty much indistinguishable from each other until everything blows up at the end. The last one's got a good bit where Neville cuts off a snake's head with a sword. There's still other films to watch. I like The Social Network. Have you seen that yet? It's really good. It's out on Blu-rays, and you can even buy the Oscar-winning soundtrack.

3. Eat some delicious biscuits
I like custard creams. You could eat a dozen of those. Hob-Nobs are good, especially the chocolate sort, but you've got to make sure the crumbs don't go everywhere. Shortbread is okay, and sometimes comes in plate-sized chunks. Jammy Dodgers are a bit niche these days, and are probably expensive. Party Rings are disappointing if you're not actually at a party.

4. Join some sort of website
'Registration for Pottermore starts soon,' says the website called Pottermore. 'Explore the stories like never before' and 'discover new writing from the author'. This is just a guess, but I think this will be rubbish. There's no way there's going to be any new Potter writing without a large cheque from a publisher. It'll probably just turn your mouse cursor into a wand.

5. Try to make one eye look down and one eye look up
If you do this your eyes will break and roll backwards, and then you'll only be able to look at your brain. So this probably isn't the best thing to do. I don't really know why it's, um, on the list.

Or you could just read the books again.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Saves everyone, kisses the girl, goes somewhere else

These days it's a rare film that makes me want to write one of these blog posts. It's got to have ideas that interest me - something that makes me want to fill a paragraph. Source Code is one of these good films. You might already know the premise. A man has to re-live the last eight minutes of someone else's life over and over, each time getting closer to a bomber on a train. And in a way, that's the boring bit. Question asked. Mystery solved. As he goes over it he gets to know the sequence of events and works out who the bad guy is. The interesting part is, that in this big budget thriller, there's all these big ideas. Is it possible to create a parallel world where everything's different? He knows these eight minutes are just a projection, but if he saves everyone, gets off the train, kisses the girl, goes somewhere else - he might be able to carry on. With this question the film can go anywhere. It can pull the plug or go with it. Even before it gets there it's engrossing. The structure of this repeated scene doesn't get old. Each time he tries to break it, push the boundaries and do something else. 'What would you do if you knew you only had a few seconds left to live?' This is a film that can get away with that question.

It's not as mind-squeezing as Inception or an episode of Moffat Doctor Who. Still good though. Sometimes less mind-squeeze is a good thing. Duncan Jones is turning out to be a director worth watching. This and Moon show that science-fiction is about the big ideas. The same big ideas that don't age, that are universal, and create a different place. More films like this should be made. It would keep me watching them.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Stuff and stuff

There's Stuff and there's stuff. The things you've accumulated throughout your life deserve a capital letter. Boring and plain objects that you don't care about is just stuff. Because if you think about it, every object in your collection of Stuff has memories attached to it. Usually not very exciting memories, but you might remember unwrapping a film, or reading a book for the first time, or listening to music in a certain place. Some things might have come in on your birthday or Christmas, and the rest you bought or found. All of it together is arranged in order somewhere, in rows and piles and boxes.

So, I decided to count all my Stuff:

94 books
28 films/tv seasons
88 CDs
128 games

The most noticeable thing there is how many films I don't have. I usually rent them, and I only really feel compelled to own a few of them. And still, that list isn't right. A lot of Stuff has been given away, or sold, or lost. Stuff that isn't relevant anymore. I seem to keep books, even though they take up a lot of space. And games. You can't get rid of games.The other noticeable thing is that I have many objects. 338 things.

Does your collection of Stuff fill rooms? Or do you burn everything every few years?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Do scary films make us a bit mad?

Last night I watched Paranormal Activity 2. It was pretty much the same as the first one, but with a dog and a baby. Doors slam. Frying pans move. Demons stomp up the stairs to drag you out of bed. But it made me think about the way in which horror films effect us. How they alter our minds. The least scary way to watch a horror film is by yourself. It's hard not to join in with other people's nerves, like how you'd laugh more at a comedy while sitting in an audience. So the tagline for Paranormal Activity is 'Don't watch this alone'. Because it might make you paranoid.

If the film has done its job your head will be in a slightly different place afterwards. Even when you've put the film back in its box. Everything is a bit more tense. You start noticing little noises. Creaks and bumps. Your safe house becomes a bit threatening, even though it hasn't changed. Only your perception has. And since Paranormal Activity is all about these little noises, some people might have trouble sleeping (not me, I'm brave). For a short time after watching a scary film, everything's different. What other genre could have this effect on us? Make us actually alter our behaviour. We know it's just a film (and in the case of Paranormal Activity 2, not even a very good one). We know it's not real. Maybe it flicks a switch in our brain, that makes us believe in the monsters we forgot about. Maybe that's the reason we watch these films. To go back for a bit.

Do horror films make you a bit mad? Little bit of crazy? The effect is reversed if you watch a Pixar film straight after. So that's good.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Books don't run out of batteries

I recently let Apple try to explain to me why their e-books are A Good Thing and not An Awful Thing. I've seen these iPads. They look fancy. I mean, I would have no actual use for one, but they're really shiny. The adverts show all kinds of wonders. Listening to a magazine. Watching a newspaper. And, I don't know, eating a book? When you download one it goes onto a virtual bookshelf. Which is nice. It almost looks like a real bookshelf. But then you open one up, and this is where it all goes wrong for me. Apple boast about the advantages over paper. You can change the font and text size. Highlight hard words to look them up in a dictionary. Go straight to the page you were last on, because the machine remembered it for you. But I don't want to customise books. I don't want to change them. A book is a solid thing that has been designed and produced and exists in the world as an object. It can't be changed. Books don't have to loaded. They don't run out of batteries. In telling us that an e-book is just like a real-book, they've forgotten the most important thing. A piece of data in a machine is not really there. You can't hold it. You can't keep it. I bet it doesn't even smell of anything.

There is a possiblity I am being grumpy. This is, obviously, what happened to music. People who bought records can now scroll through iTunes. And in some ways, it's better. Having all your music two clicks away. That's good. I download music, but I've noticed a difference. If I really like an album, I'll buy it on CD. So I can have it. The downloads mean less to me. It doesn't feel right spending the same amount of money for information on a screen. If I downloaded a book, it would be because I didn't really want it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The owls are not what they seem

What is it about Twin Peaks that makes it seem like one long dream? First there's the bits that really are dreams, with giants and red rooms and backwards talking. But then the reality is just as strange. The town is 'a long way from everything else', surrounded by woods and mountains. It's as if, far away from the loud city, something else takes over. Where the Log Lady isn't entirely mad, and psychic visions can be held as evidence in a murder investigation. It's a surreal place, trapped in its own bubble of wrong. The music makes up half the effect. You can listen to this while you're doing anything to turn yourself Lynchian. The almost constant music can change an ordinary scene. It becomes hypnotic. And even without the beat it has a good variety of ominous humming. Everywhere is horrible and sinister with the right humming. This is what Lynch does so well - turn ordinary things deeply odd. The Sheriff says that there's a 'darkness' in Twin Peaks, 'something very, very strange in these old woods.' The back-end of the dream is the nightmare, and that's where Lynch comes in. You can spot the episodes that he directed. The ones that build to a crescendo of surreal horror. Broken records and lots of screaming.

By way of explaining what we're about to do, I am first going to tell you a little bit about the country called Tibet.

Twin Peaks becomes a necessity. The sort of story where it's always 'one more episode'. It was probably too strange to live. There's no easy way to describe it. It doesn't fit with anything else on television. I've never seen anything else that can mix casual drama with all this darkness and insanity. It tries everything at once. It's remarkable. And really, Agent Cooper could investigate anything and I'd watch it. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Recently I've been reading a lot of books that I think I should read but don't actually want to. Important, difficult books. Reading The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett becomes an act of will. Sammy B (as he was never called by anyone in his entire life) was tearing things to pieces. The book is a long monologue by someone who isn't sure he exists. Interesting philosophy? Yes. Entertaining book? No. Then there's The Castle by Franz Kafka. There's definitely a story here - a man is trying to get a job from the mysterious authorities in the Castle, but he's not even allowed to talk to them. In Kafka's case, because of the sheer genius of the man, he got away with dieing before he even finished his books. Which means that no-one had the heart to edit them and take out all the irrelevant bits. It's powerful, but a big investment for something that doesn't even end.

And now, after some time away I realise that it's better to read the books that just tell a good story. Something absorbing that you physically don't want to put down. Where you aren't glancing at the page numbers every five minutes. Thankfully, Murakami can supply this. Kafka on the Shore is a story with characters and everything else you'd expect. No intellectual exercise, no struggle, just a story. And in his own charmingly surreal way. So I'll be reading more of this and less of that. If anyone has any suggestions for some good wordy pages, let me know. I'll need some more to read.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The monsters in the woods

I like stories about monsters. I especially like stories about monsters in the woods. The Village has these things. It's almost entirely about these things. The people in this village are afraid of 'those they do not speak of'' in the forest. It's one of those films about the fear of the unknown. I would gladly sit through hours of mystery before anything is revealed. Like I did with Lost. In The Village you only get glimpses of the monsters - big things in red cloaks with long claws. Your imagination fills in the rest. These people have enough childlike innocence to believe the monsters are real. They run away and hide in the basement and do a lot of cowering. It's a film that sets itself up for easy criticism, especially towards the end. 'Well that wouldn't happen,' says eighty percent of its audience. Give your story a big twist and that's all anyone will have an opinion on. I prefer the first two acts, with all their myths and tension. Even though I sort of already knew the twist, I was taken in by it. We become like the characters - afraid of what's in the woods and looking forwards to the scary bits. And we're eventually let down like them.

Nobody's winning any awards here, but it's tense and fun. If you aren't too cynical you might just be taken in by it. Having said that, I'd still like to see the other film. The one that ends differently. There's an interesting world to be seen in something like this. Like the the piles of pebbles in Blair Witch, or even the nasty things that live beyond 'The Wall' in Game of Thrones. It's the unknown that makes people debate and argue and analyse freeze frames, not neat twists. The Village could have been a lot more.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

What you've written is rubbish

That's what I tell myself twenty-four hours after thinking I've written something brilliant (I sometimes think in the third-person, this may or may not be a problem). It goes like this:

Immediately after writing:

This is the most brilliant and insightful thing that I've ever written.

Twenty-four hours later:


After coming back you can see these things for what they really are. The reader with fresh eyes can see the rubbish bits. Then it's time to rewrite it, or just to change most of the words. There's a difference. Rewriting involves dramatically deleting everything and starting again. The other is surgically removing every piece of wrong. Afterwards you're left with something new and shiny, and almost always better.

This is harder with things like blog posts, since it's out in the world straight away. Which is why I'll put up any old nonsense. What? I mean, um, finely crafted blog posts. Yes.

Monday, 27 June 2011

First chapter needs more bombs

Writing a book is really easy. Writing a good one is hard. And one of the hardest parts of all this hardness is the first chapter. It has to be good or nobody's going to be interested in the second one. There's lots of ways to start.

1. With an interesting incident

The bomb will explode in one minute.

This interesting incident hits you in the face straight away. Is there enough time to defuse it? Is there enough time to run away? You would have to read on. Unfortunately, my book doesn't have any bombs in it. Yet. I could rewrite the first chapter to include more bombs. Alternatively:

2. Be abstract
Bombs are a bit mainstream. What if it was an existential bomb?

Why is the bomb? What is its purpose? It might not really be there. Probably is, though.

Yes. This can only be the opening chapter to a very serious book. It will make you ponder and pretend to be better than it actually is. Lots of interesting things will happen in this book. Or will they? Maybe it's just best to start with - 

3. A really long sentence
This is a good way to trick the reader into reading more than they intended to. By the time they finish the first sentence they'll be so far into the book they'll think they might as well finish it.

The bomb will explode in one minute, which reminds me of a story my old bomb disposal teacher told me, it was a very long story and he told it all in one breath, he said...

If the sentence looks like it's about to wind down, that's the time to break out a semi-colon; an under-used punctuation mark for people who fear full stops. 

The whole business of first chapters is so hard that I skipped to the second and the third and the fourth. They're easier.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The box of Thrones

If ever I wanted a nice big boxset of something, it's of Game of Thrones. And it doesn't even exist yet. The final episode of the first season showed that they're playing the long game. They plan to film all four books and they want us to watch one after the other. HBO would be mad to cancel it. They love big boxsets as much as anyone. In five years time this thing will exist. Seasons one, two, three, and four. Maybe coming with a fold-out map. It needs to happen. The first season finale was like a prelude to everything else. The Watch rides out beyond the wall, the Starks gear up for a big fight, the dragon princess gets some real dragons, and Joffrey proves himself to be the evil bastard you always thought he was. He was just slapping children before. Now he's got heads on spikes. Put him in a room with Arya and a sword and he won't last long. Or Tyrion can sort him out. Tyrion, who's the cleverest person in the Seven Kingdoms - clever enough to want to stay away from all this war and nonsense. If the last episode seems uneventful, think back to the start of the season, and how much has happened since. Little things turn into wars and major characters die without warning. Game of Thrones is The Wire in Middle Earth, literature on screen.

Which makes me wonder if I should read the books. I could read the whole story right now. But the show is so good I'll wait for it to come back. The books seem like spoilers at this point. They can stay in their own boxset. Unless the show gets cancelled of course, then I'll read them in a week.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Playing chess with Professor X

Move your rook. 'What?' 'I didn't say anything.' 'Okay. I just... thought you said something.' Move your rook. 'You're doing it again.' 'I'm not.' 'I try to have an honest game of chess with you - ' 'I'm not doing anything.' 'Okay, okay, let's just move on.' ...You should definitely move your rook. 'We can play Kerplunk again. Is that what you want?' 'No.' 'Then stop it.' 'Sorry.' ...How about that rook though? 'That's it, I'm taking your knight.' 'Check.' 'I hate you.' 'Would you like to play Battleships instead?' 'No.'

X-Men: First Class is pretty good. As other comic book films dig deep to bring up characters nobody has ever heard of, the X-Men franchise puts them in their place. The first three films were so long ago that they've had the time to get round to an origin story. And it all still makes sense. Fun, entertaining, and predictable. The best so far. But how much can we take? There's a whole list of possible and upcoming X-Men films. Maybe too many.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

It's a long way to walk

Walking. Walking. Walking. They're walking. Through Siberia. Through deserts. Up mountains. Down mountains. More cold. More hot. More dying of hunger, then thirst, then hunger again. Not having a good time. It's a long way to India. Poking holes in bark to make a mask for the snow storm. Running and hiding from the sand storm. Drinking mud. Eating snakes. Up mountains. Down mountains. It's a long way to walk when your feet hurt.

They're doing this to escape from a Soviet prison. The Way Back is the sort of film where people walk in the desert until they collapse. Is that a mirage or a refreshing pool of water? Do they go off course to have a look? Either way they're not getting out of this desert for a long time. At times it's a bit like Defiance, other times it's an endurance test. Not much fun, but not bad at all.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Red or green or orange

It's blue. Very blue. I don't know why it's so blue, but it is. They must have had a meeting about it. They could have made it red, green, maybe a nice shade of orange. Instead they made it blue. It's blue in the caves. It's blue on boats. It's even blue in people's houses. It's all blue. Apart from flashbacks. They're sort of... yellow. Nice flashbacks to happier times when the sun was out and everyone wasn't trying to bite your face off.

The inexplicably successful Underworld franchise just keeps going. Film four is going to be released next year. I mean, proper franchises don't get that many films. There'll probably be a lot of bashing about in caves and unexpectedly complicated backstory. In its defence though, it's blue and has werewolves in it.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Charlie sitting by a typewriter

After John Malkovich and Synecdoche, the only decent thing to do was to watch Adaptation. It's writing about writing, about Charlie Kaufman writing the film itself. He lies around the place with a blocked head, trying to find the inspiration to adapt the book he's been commissioned for. If Malkovich is where all the big ideas are, this shows how hard it is to invent them. Is it cheating to write about yourself writing, rather than thinking of a 'proper' new film? Maybe. It's self-indulgent, but he gets away with it. It becomes about different views on screenwriting, and how that effects the film. At first he wants to write a screenplay where nothing much happens, and we watch that. Then he's told to make the ending an 'event', so we get murder and crocodiles and swamps. Everyone's acting out his meta world that he can change and manipulate. His brother Donald is having an easier time, writing a script about multi-personality killers and car chases. Charlie looks down on this. Like in Synecdoche, he's trying to make a film about everything at once, about trying to find some existentially truth. Or, he's making a film about trying to make a film about everything at once. When he succeeds he can write something focused about portals into actors minds, when he's stuck he has a bit of a crisis and grabs for everything at once.

I know how to finish this script now

Being John Malkovich is still the best. Adaptation is about the writer's block that comes from trying to write something as good as it. It's a film for writers. Nicolas Cage does a good job of looking extremely anxious through the whole thing. You probably won't sympathise with this strange and awkward man if you're not a writer. It might be a warm up for the madness that comes later.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

You'd need a corner cell for that

Breaking out of prison is hard. Really difficult. You might just have to stay here. I've read a few books, and I've asked Liam Neeson, and it doesn't seem like a thing that can be done. It's really dangerous, and expensive, and... well, I just can't be bothered. If you want to do it yourself I can get you a chisel and a big poster. Apart from that I can't help you. I've brought you a few magazines instead. Should keep you going.

You'll have never felt as sorry for Russell Crowe as you will in The Next Three Days. He has to break his wife out of prison and it doesn't look like he's very good at it. There's some especially precarious running-away scenes. You can't run away from the evil state, after all. Unless you can. The whole thing is more entertaining than you'd think.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

If it doesn't fly through time and space

The first half of the new season of Doctor Who really shows the difference between the best and rest. Moffat and Gaiman wrote such good episodes that the others seem average, even dull in comparison. It all has to start with interesting ideas, and the 'The Doctor's Wife' has that. The Tardis becoming a person is something entirely for the fans. And it still works if the nerdy significance is lost on you. Because it's an episode crafted out of creative energy, and it makes special writing look easy. It's hard to describe, but it comes through dialogue that's better than the usual, or the ideas that nobody else could invent - the sense that something important is happening, that you shouldn't look away. There's this sort of episode, and then there's the type that don't seem to matter. 'The Rebel Flesh' is an unspectacular episode stretched out over two parts. The ethics of killing clones has been done before, and more entertaining than this. Running around a damp castle does not make a good hour and a half. At worst, the whole thing was unconvincing. The scientists die, as they always do, and I couldn't care less. Some characters can turn up for twenty minutes and have emotional deaths (the Girl in the Fireplace wasn't even on screen at the time). This lot were dull and irritating from the start, and then they got a second episode.

I'll always be here, but this is when we talked.

It all picked up in the last three minutes though, with an ending that almost justifies the amount of time spent on this 'flesh' business. And now there's a promising last episode before the mid-season break (mid-season break? What?). The problem is, that when I come to expect magic, only the best will do. A script that doesn't fly through time and space doesn't deserve to be here. If it's average, if it's just a bit ordinary, get rid of it.

Friday, 27 May 2011

What's the last thing you remember?

Memory loss causes problems. Look at me, I don't even know why I'm sitting here. I think, I think, it has something to do with, um, the thing with the... no, I've forgotten again. I'm glad I don't have anything important to do. Yeah, I'd be rubbish at that. I should just go back to bed, or I might start some elaborate plan that'll only lead to trouble. That might have already happened. I hope I didn't hurt anyone. No, don't be silly. Go back to bed.

Memento seems like the sort of thing a thousand film students have written essays about, discussing all the nuanced bits and bobs of the backwards plot. Take it out of a university seminar and it becomes pretty entertaining. The audience is on the same level as the hero, waking up in each moment not knowing what came before. Look, I almost started writing an essay then. The simple thing to say is that it gets a lot of fun out of its big idea, and that Nolan knows how to keep you right on the edge of being confused.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


"Hey Charlie Kaufman, here's a big pile of money. Go nuts." That's probably how Synecdoche, New York started. It seems to go off in every direction he can think of, ending up in a confusing but powerful two hours. A playwright constructing a play about his life sounds pretty normal, but here the play is inside a massive warehouse where an entire city can be recreated. A population of actors live inside it, including versions of the playwright and a version of the man who's playing the playwright. Layers and layers get stacked up until you don't know what's real, or what's all a bit of a dream. Years pass without notice, but that seems to be the point. 'There are a million strings attached to every choice you make,' says a fake vicar. 'You can destroy your life every time you choose.' This character seems to feel like that, as everything goes inexplicably and miserably wrong. But still, there's a happier message: 'I will be dying and so will you, and so will everyone here. We're all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're going to die, each of us secretly believing we won't '. Oh, did I say happy? I meant unrelentingly bleak.

I'm just really concerned about dying in the fire

But still, it is an enjoyable film. A surreal, complex, excellent mess of a film. The poor woman who buys a burning house to live in knows this. She likes metaphors. She's prepared to live in fear of a symbolic death. All this doom can't be good for her. Can't be good for anyone, as the play grows and grows without ever being seen. 'It's been years, when are we going to get an audience in here?'

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Voldemort has a giant snake

Camping is bleak. There's not much to do. Might as well just sit here. And frown. Has anybody got any ideas? Maybe a Game Boy, does anyone have a Game Boy? No? Okay, nevermind. I'll just sit here and, um, try to think of ways to save the world. Sigh. Yeah, just keep hitting that evil locket with a stick. That'll work. Idiot. You know Voldemort has a giant snake, right? What do we have? Exactly. I'll just put more leaves on the fire then.

I'm pretty sure Harry Potter Seven-and-a-half is the best one. It's about hopelessness and cold fingers. The others are indistinguishable from each other. This one is in the woods. Which appeals to me.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Floor 7½

There are some ideas that make me happy and angry. Happy because they're brilliant, angry because I hadn't thought of them first. This happened about ten minutes into Being John Malkovich, when the puppeteer walks onto the seventh and a half floor. He's just got a new job working in this office, where the ceilings are low and everything is small. It's immediately and simply surreal, and it makes me angry. The whole film is like this. Spending fifteen minutes in John Malkovich's brain before being dumped out by the side of the motorway. Selling tickets. Becoming addicted. The central idea is so strong that it can be approached from any angle and still be interesting. What happens if Malkovich goes through his own portal? What happens if there's three people in there at the same time? It all makes me very, very jealous. Writers are looking for the big, original ideas all the time. This film has that big idea, and lots of smaller ones to go with it. The dialogue is effortlessly strange and funny, full of little moments that you forget to make room for the next one. It's films like this that can be rewatched, because it will always surprise you.
I know there aren't really any original ideas anymore, but sometimes I like to believe there are. Let's pretend Charlie Kaufman wasn't influenced by anything and all of this is his own invention. Because it's more fun like that. Then it can be inspirational.  Floor 7½ is a good place to be.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Seven Kingdoms Scale of Evil

Game of Thrones is the most ambitious television I've ever seen. It's constructing a world. Where fantasy films have to end somewhere around the three-hour mark, this can go on for (hopefully) years. It gives the context in bits so it's not overwhelming, building up like the chapters of a book (or maybe just the book it's based on). We know that there's scary wild things behind The Wall, but nobody really believes it; we know that there used to be dragons; and we know that there's a network of dead kings and girlfriends that everyone's upset about. It's traditional fantasy stuff, but it seems like a fresh commitment to putting literature on screen. Like somebody put Lord of the Rings into episodes. If it lives up to it's promise it could become monumental. This is what HBO have decided to do now that everyone else is starting to catch up, they're taking things up a notch. Enough of this real-world business, start a new land from scratch and you might get true escapism.
And here you know who the evil people are. They kill dogs. That's really evil. Cute dogs that never did any harm apart from mauling their master's enemies. The butcher's boy got killed as well but nobody cares so much about that. Nobody's supposed to kill the direwolves. They even make Sean Bean a bit soft. There's another bad sort who sold his sister to a horse-tribe. You can tell he wants to kill dogs too. The bad news for all of them is that 'winter is coming'. Seasons last for years in this place, and it's been summer for a while. Ominous.

Edit: I just found this staggeringly good post that includes diagrams of the houses, relationships and maps. It will make your nerdy mind do a little dance.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Bottom four TV titles

Top fives are fun aren't they? Top fours are even more fun (what do you mean I just couldn't think of a fifth thing?). Anyway, this is a bottom four. So it's an entirely different thing. These are not the worse opening credits in television. They're bad titles attached to good shows. Which makes them worse.

4. Battlestar Galactica  I feel bad about this. The music is excellent. Ethereal singing and bang-bang drums that really put you into that 'end of the human race' mood. But it's ethically dubious. When the banging starts they start showing you little highlights from the episode, before it's even begun. 'Oh, this a nice opening sequence. I'm really enjoying the singing. Spoiler. What? What was that? Spoiler. It happened again. Why are they doing this?' Little moments maybe, but I don't want to know someone's going to get punched in the face until it happens. Really nerdy people (not me) learn to look away during this bit. Not me. No.

3. Dexter It's a nice tune, and it's very well shot, but nobody's watching this anymore. It's two minutes of him making breakfast. Once you've got all the subtle hints about his psychosis it just becomes a long, boring bit before the show starts. By the third season it's just best to fast forward this. Maybe stop in time for the wink at the end. Ding. You know he's mad because nobody has the energy or will power to make breakfast like this. I can't even be bothered to put this much effort into lunch.

2. The X-Files Good wibbly-wobbly sci-fi music. Shame about the stretchy faces. And what's that? Some sort of novelty rotating lamp? No, it's 'Paranormal Activity'. Is it? I don't think it is. No wait, there's more stuff. 'Government denies knowledge', shadow man walking down a corridor, highlighted section of finger. This is a sketchy, jerky, blurry mess of everything they could think of. And if you're lucky you might get a secret message at the end. What could it possibly mean? I could let this off easy for being really old, but I won't.

1. Alias J.J. Abrams himself composed this, so presumably everyone was too afraid to tell him it was rubbish. Did this take half an hour on a computer? If the music wasn't bad enough, the Powerpoint presentation that plays on the screen makes it twice as bad. It's like somebody just discovered flashing letters and lens flare. I mean, they really like lens flare. Alias looks like an expensive show, why didn't somebody notice they hadn't finished the titles?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Shameless link to people saying nice things about me

If you've been reading this stuff for two years you might remember a short film I made called Talk to Hoshuu. It was peculiar. Now a nice website called Best for Film has decided that it should be Short Film of the Week. I was confused, as the other films seem to be of the professional, Oscar-nominated sort, but there you go. They wanted to interview me as well, which was nice. Have a look. At the time the film was described as 'odd', but I prefer this quote: 'a Neil Gaiman produced Studio Ghibli anime if it was real-life and made by a handful of British university students'. There's something for the back of the box. That is, if there were boxes. I might stick it to the back of my personal copy. That'll do for now.

They also have a haiku competition. It's all very high-brow, and you might win shiny machinery. So really, you're better off over there than you are here. I don't have any competitions. You can't win anything here. And they didn't even pay me to say that.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Wes Anderson/Star Fox

Seen Fantastic Mr Fox? Yes? Played Star Fox? Yes? Yes? Then you'll like this. Not only is the animation wonderful, but it's one of the best game parodies I've ever seen. The genius (yes, genius) of it is the way it merges the two things. The Anderson-esque ponderings of Fox McCloud mixed with actual lines from Star Fox 64. Never has Slippy Toad been more sympathetic - 'Maybe I'm not the one who needed help, after all.' The villainous Star Wolf becoming a faithful foxy friend - 'I can't let you do that Star Fox'. Sarcastic old Falco Lombardi becoming the most earnest bird you've ever seen - 'Hey, Einstein, I'm on your side'. Normally these things are shrieked in the middle of battle. Surely they could have found some way to include the boss' dying screams - 'cocky little freaks!', or possibly just 'bwaaaaa.' Yes, Fox McCloud has some good friends. Even if he can't 'barrel roll away from who he is', he will always have his furry, feathery, and slimy companions.

And remember, use bombs wisely.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Top five TV titles

A good show needs something good to kick it off. A familiar tune, the cast and crew's names appearing in order, maybe shots of the characters turning round to face the camera. That sort of thing.

5. The Wire Five different versions of one song. Nobody's really sure which one is the best (it's season four though isn't it?). It gives each season a unique identity - the gravelly Tom Waits for the ports, the children for the schools, the, er, jazz for the politicians. Politicians like jazz. And the editors have combed though the episodes to find bits of nothing to put on the screen. It's paper, badges, and cameras, but it works. Nothing so mainstream as having the character's faces on there.

4. The West Wing Presumably this is the sort of thing David Simon was trying to avoid. But why? It's majestic. W. G. "Snuffy" Walden composed a thing of patriotic wonderment. A big waving American flag is imposed on everything, just so you're not confused, and the characters turn up one by one in various thoughtful poses. It got messed around with in the later seasons, but back when everything was in its place it was a nice sturdy way to start the show. I should also mention the closing credits, played to the jaunty theme, a.k.a. The Jaunty Theme. Nothing is more jaunty than The Jaunty Theme.

3. The Simpsons This should probably be number one, but I'm mean like that. Each one is full of individual jokes and references. The music is iconic. You already know this. I think they changed it recently though and nobody was very keen. The version I've got here seems to be the one YouTube wants you to see. It's a bit subversive. I didn't even realise it was all still going. What are the new episodes like? Everything I've seen is from at least ten years ago.

2. The Sopranos This earns points for just being really, really cool. Riding along with Tony Soprano with his big cigars in his big car. He's not committing any crimes but he's still cool. Maybe it would be rubbish without the song. If the Mafia didn't listen to this before, they do now. They have this on repeat in their cars. This and Journey for when they're ordering onion rings. Opening credits are designed to not get old by the hundredth time you've seen them. This gets better.

1. Firefly Joss Whedon's Ballad of Serenity performed by Sonny Rhodes. It's enough to make you want to become a space cowboy, if such a thing were possible.  It's sad and uplifting at the same time. More than any other Whedon show these characters look like a family, flying around in their rusting tub. He's always had malicious fun with his credits, so who knows what characters would have briefly made it into this sequence in the future. 'There's no place, I can be, since I found Serenity'. It makes you want to watch the whole thing again doesn't it? Go on. Do it. It won't take long.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Doctor

Is it just me, or is Doctor Who the best thing the BBC has ever made? When other shows are stuck in pubs and living rooms the Doctor is flying around time and space. The new season opener has all the insanity of its best episodes. Possessed astronaut suits, a crazy orphanage, aliens in suits. Sometimes it's like they throw a pile of ideas into a box and pick a few out at random. It's full of foreshadowing, symbolism, and parallel timelines that don't entirely make sense, but that's the brilliance of it. You've just got to go with it. It's unrestrained. If anything it's trying to appeal more and more to the hardcore fans. So much so that even I don't really follow all of it. Here the Doctor is killed in the first ten minutes, before a past (or present) version of him turns up to help, with a woman from his future who knows his past, and a man who used to be a robot Roman but came back to life in a new timeline.
But it can also be simple. This new season has introduced the show's scariest monsters. They're not old robots, they're freaky aliens who look they've escaped from a melted Edvard Munch painting. Standing and staring like all the best aliens do. And because they're one of Moffat's creations, they're based on a clever idea instead of big lasers. Look away and you forget them, resulting in all sorts of new ways to go mad. This is a show that keeps getting better, and nerdier, and more imaginative. If it was brand new, if it wasn't already a fifty-year old institution, would something this good be allowed to exist?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Pie chart of writing

Writing comes from a few places. But it's mostly theft. To prove it, I stole this from Sam Seaborn, who probably stole it from someone else - 'Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright'. I haven't worked out what the difference between 'borrowing' and 'stealing' is yet. Maybe if you're not planning on giving it back.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Things Monsters is better than

I don't write about every film I see. I don't want to methodically criticise everything like a crazy reviewing mad person. But sometimes something is worth mentioning. Like Monsters. Made by tiny bunch of people wandering around Central America with a camera, making half of it up as they go along. You probably know that already though, as that's all the promotional stuff goes on about. It's pretty interesting in itself, but you'll want to watch the film first. It's a good one. A road movie through an alien-infested Mexico. Two characters and a bit of romance-action-horror. If Scoot McNairy's presence makes it seem like an apocalyptic In Search of a Midnight's Kiss, that can only be a good thing. The lack of action and 'creatures' appearing every ten seconds means that the characters can come to the front, and the danger seems more important. The tight focus makes it more of an adventure, more of a story than it's bigger budget friends.
It's something that'll stick with you after it's finished. Because traipsing through the jungle with these people is quite fun. One of them says 'I don't want to go home', and she's right.  It might be dangerous but it can also be a nice place to be. Like sleeping on the top of a pyramid or sailing across a river at dawn. There's some amazing sights in this film. It stops to look at the view and take in the scenery. Like a massive wall constructed across the US's border to keep the aliens out - brilliantly done, like the rest of the effects, by a few people. The massive squid monsters aren't bad either. Somebody needs to take a few million dollars from Hollywood directors, and force them to make films like this.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The difficult third act

There's some good ways to end films. So good, that they've been repeated lots of times.

1. What if two people are complete opposites but find themselves becoming romantically involved through a series of unlikely events? This sometimes happens, and everything goes well through the first act. Something funny will happen that they can talk about later, like almost getting killed by a crazy ostrich on a peaceful walk though a park. This happiness will continue well into the second act until it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. One says 'I don't want to talk to you anymore.' The other one says 'Fine! I don't want to talk to you either'.

Time passes. Maybe one of them is going to get married to somebody else. Maybe they're leaving the country and going to place without phones, post, or any means of contact. This is when the tried and tested third act comes in. One of them (usually the man) decides that they do like the other one after all, and rushes to wherever it is they need to rush too. They get there just in time. They grab the other's hand and give a long, emotional speech - 'remember when that ostrich almost killed you? That was the happiest time of my life.' Then the woman looks into his eyes and replies 'like I said, I really don't want to talk to you anymore'. And then leaves. Never mind.

2. In a controversial sequel to the previous film, the man returns home and keeps going about his daily life. Then there's a zombie apocalypse. Or, even better, a possessed zombie apocalypse. They're not just the undead, they're possessed by the devil too. It all resulted from a disastrous scientific experiment involving radiation and holy water. It's the end of the world now. Some people survive because they're just better at running away than others. Others perish and become possessed zombies. It's all very bad, but there's one place where the really bad thing lives. The survivors don't know that when they hide in the building.

It's dark because it's night, and the lights don't work because the possessed zombies attacked the power lines. Now they're trapped in this building until morning, with only a torch and their wits to keep them alive. 'Don't go upstairs,' somebody says, 'there's something really bad up there'. But when all his friends get killed and possessed there's nowhere else for Survivor A to go in the third act. So he ventures into the bad thing's lair. After a few tense moments he's possessed and becomes the ultimate embodiment of evil, ready for an appearance in the next film.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Five steps to becoming a writer

The hardest part of writing is starting. Maybe you want to write a short story, a poem, a screenplay, a novel. Or maybe just an essay or a blog post. The hardest part is the first word. The rest are easy.

1. Inspiration First there's the inspiration to write about something. This can come from anywhere, but if you're having trouble you can walk around and look at things. Like animals. And trees. But mainly animals. Birds are particularly good for this. They're little flying balls of fluffy inspiration. Then you can declare that, yes, you shall write something. It helps to say this out loud, even if there are other people around.

2. The internet You're going to write something now. It's going to be the next thing you do. The very next thing. Maybe after five minutes on the internet. Just check Facebook for a minute. Comment on your friends' inane opinions on things. Now you can start writing. After you've checked for new videos on YouTube. There might be something interesting. It's all good research anyway. Speaking of research, you haven't checked the news website in a few hours. So you check that. There's nothing new, but there is an article about hats. This is now half an hour since you sat down to write something.

3. Bouncing This is an important step. You disconnect the internet and set about your task with new enthusiasm. You stare at the blinking cursor on the white page. It mocks you with its blinking. Nothing's happening. The words just aren't coming like you thought they would. You need something to get your mind working. Find a small ball and bounce it against things in a Toby Ziegler-like fashion. This is good. It's motion. Energy. It gets your creative juices flowing. And also, bouncing is fun.

4. Success The ball drops to the floor when the words jump into your head. You rush back to the computer and tap out the first few sentences in a rush of brilliance. You're a crazy writing mad person. These first few sentences are polished, perfected, and corrected. You change the font to make it look fancy. This is a good beginning. The start of a new writing adventure.

5. Happiness Now you've written something you can feel satisfied. You have achieved what you set out to do and you reward yourself with a biscuit. Tomorrow you'll have to go through the process again, but for now you can bask in your accomplishment. Bask for a while but don't let other people know you're basking. They won't understand. Keep it to yourself.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Self-help Group for the Underappreciation of Brilliant Films

Winter's Bone was an instant success. Critics liked it - really like it. It made a lot of money. It featured in many people's 'top ten' lists of last year. It went on to be nominated for lots of big awards. It was the indie hit of last year. Throughout all of this nobody mentioned that it was really boring. I've read lots of reviews and haven't found a single bad word about it. But honestly, I was bored. When the final scene came I thought 'Is this end? I suppose it's been two hours. It looks a bit like the end. But hardly anything has happened yet'. I know that this is meant to be a film of atmosphere over plot. I know it's meant to be realistic and authentic. Scary in a quiet way. I just thought it was a prelude to something that never happened. This girl wanders around a run-down corner of America trying to find her father. She asks all her threatening neighbours about it, then the film ends. As a narrative it's slight, bordering on non-existent. Atmosphere can only get me so far. After a while something needs to happen or my mind wanders. I usually think about crisps or biscuits. Maybe chocolate biscuits. I could get some chocolate biscuits. I walk away to browse biscuits. And when I get back the film is still on.
I feel bad about writing this, because the things I criticise here could appeal to me in something else. I mean, it really is very atmospheric (did I mention the atmosphere?). It's the middle of the winter. Everything is dead or dying and the colour left a long time ago. The landscape is bare. The acting is excellent.  Everybody's as drab as they look. But in the end, I just wasn't interested. I suppose everyone must have a film they don't get. All the critics that rant on about it, all the articles you read, all the people that recommend it. And when you see it it doesn't happen. The weight of expectation or cruel old subjectivity? I don't know, but I won't be watching Winter's Bone again, and I won't be recommending it to anybody. There might be a club for this. Full of people who dislike films that are clearly brilliant. People who are definitely wrong. 'I don't like The Shawshank Redemption' says one. 'I didn't enjoy Lord of the Rings. Not any of them', another whimpers. Then somebody mumbles something about not liking Toy Story, and the rest shun him. Because everyone likes Toy Story. Freak.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The rest of the universe explained in pictures and words

A few days ago I briefly explained the workings of the universe, since the television has been teaching me these things. I didn't go into much detail, but it had something to do with a rabbit. There's a bit more to the universe than that, though. A few paragraphs more. For instance, I didn't mention black holes. They're bad. Really bad. I know this because the scientific description is ominous - 'a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape'. That's right, not even light. The forces of evil are at work here. When a star collapses at the end of its life it turns inside out and becomes this whirlpool of doom. Some scientists think that there's one at the centre of most galaxies, including our own. If you went near it you'd be sucked into it and then something will happen. Nobody knows what's at the centre of a black hole, not even Brian Cox. Probably all the rubbish that gets hoovered up; a massive bin in the middle of the galaxy. Chuck that planet in there, we don't need it anymore.

I'd guess they were warp zones to other parts of the universe. But it's probably theories like this that got me laughed out of the scientific community. I don't think they've got very far in my absence anyway. They still haven't worked out what's beyond the universe. They try to baffle you with numbers and diagrams but they don't know really. They say 'what if the universe is everything that exists, then there can't be anything outside it.' I say 'there might be other universes'. They say 'the universe is often visualised as a three-dimensional sphere embedded in four-dimensional space'. I say 'what if you go out one end and come in the other like in Pac-Man.'
Because the universe is big. Really, really big. No, not quite that big. But big. The most distant stars we can see are only visible in the past, because the light takes so long to get to us. The light from the furthest stars started travelling when there weren't even any humans on Earth. It wasn't even called Earth then. Just a mound in space. When the light started travelling there were just little squidgy things flopping around straining to evolve.
Then one of the them strained hard enough to get legs and arms, and all the others decided they wanted some too. Others couldn't be bothered and flopped in the sea to learn how to swim. We didn't talk to them again, but after a while we produced some fingers, and thumbs, and started calling each other names. Then we started speaking in words that we made up and learned how to be sarcastic all the time. Somebody called the mound Earth (who was this?) and people drew lines and divided the place up into turf. Some of the countries don't like each other very much. Somebody invented money and convinced everyone else that they need it. We got iPods, then iPhones, and eventually iPads. We evolved. And then we saw the light from the distant star. It took a while.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The universe explained in pictures and words

Astronomy would be really fun if it wasn't for all the hard science and stuff. What could be more interesting than trying to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos? Not much, but when I start looking into it I only come across equations the size of houses. All the good stuff is hidden behind impenetrable physics and words that come in five or six parts. But now Professor Brian Cox has been explaining these things to me, and I might be starting to understand. We're in the solar system, which is in a galaxy, and there's lots of galaxies in the universe. Right? Right? Good. Because it's best not to ask any more questions after that. What's outside the universe? And outside that? Maybe nothing, because it has to stop somewhere. Or maybe it repeats itself. Or maybe Men in Black was way ahead of its time. To summarise, let's look at the effect this sort of thinking has on the mind of a rabbit.

Wonders of the Universe is the only show on television that makes your mind actually break. That alone is worth the license fee. The Professor does a good job of explaining the fabric of existence to us. Everything's expanding, see. Expanding and getting messy. And when things reach their ultimate messy-ness, there won't be time any more, because nothing will change.
He doesn't have all the answers though. Which is probably a good thing. Ratings would go straight down. Like watching Lost, we don't really want to know why they're there or where the polar bear came from. The question is always more interesting than the answer. It's best to drag it out. When we find out, it's always the same reaction.