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.