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.