Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Leading Donald

I was fortunate to get the last place on the course.  So yesterday I re-entered the world of education, violently yanked into the blazing masochism of getting up early and spending time with other humans. 

It sucks.

The brilliant plan was to take an IT course.  This way when I applied for office jobs, I would have an actual qualification, rather than vague notions. 

The plan is already rather shoddy in that the course is during the day.  That time when jobs are.  So that’s not going to work.  It’s populated with adult learners, who tend to ask stupid questions every fifteen seconds and smell bad.  It’s also really long for some reason.  I can’t imagine how it can take 180 hours to learn how to use Microsoft Office.  Although considering yesterday in three hours we learnt one thing and that was how to put a shortcut on a desktop, perhaps that’s rather clearer.

When I returned home, exhausted from a day of actually doing something, if it could be called something, which is an exaggeration, I barely managed any writing, because then it was time to mope around with the Suicide Buddies (as in, if we don’t get married soon, we’re screwed), watching Jurassic Park III for Valentine’s Day. 

My writing consisted of trying to put an opening on Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork and then deciding that it didn’t work with the story at all and dumping it. 

I know how the first story starts, but not the novel as a whole.  I put a sort of ‘prologue’ but not a prologue, because prologues are universally awful and pointless, in which the narrator tells the origin story of his hero, a superhero from a comic he reads.  This works because of the obvious parallel between the catalyst that creates the superhero and Donald’s own much referenced but never confirmed suicidal tendencies.  What doesn’t work is that if that is the first thing the reader gets, then they won’t know this isn’t about Donald, and when the first delusions start to pop up, it’ll change how they perceive them.  I don’t want the reader to assume Donald is a superhero, I want them to question whether it’s real or is he just mad.  So I needed a pre-prologue to set up the real Donald to make it clear that the superhero story is a story he is reading.

But it just doesn’t fit.  It’s too long and over expressive.  It isn’t the same tone as the rest of the story and it makes Donald far too self-aware.  The whole point is he never addresses his issues so we never know if they’re real. Well, sort of anyway.  Whatever, it just doesn’t fit with the story at all.  So it’s gone.  Gone too is the superhero opening, for now.  Instead it comes in right near the end of the novel, which having not read it through yet because I only did it at about midnight, I have no idea if it works.

So, since I have no use for the redundant opening, here it is:

Life sucks sometimes.  People suck most of the time.  Sometimes it feels like all your insides are being wound up into this tiny ball, and all the vital bits are being ripped out, and you’re totally dead inside, and no one around you does anything to help.  And it’s not because they hate you and want you to suffer.  It’s not because they’re busy with their own life and they haven’t noticed.  It’s because they don’t care. 

Some people aren’t important.  If they suddenly died, they wouldn’t be missed.  Because you probably wouldn’t even remember they were dead.  You’d just think you hadn’t seen them in a while because they were busy or had moved.  You wouldn’t bother mourning them.  You do it to loads of people, every day.  The guy that runs the shop, a person you queue behind to get the bus, even acquaintances and cousins.  They’re just background characters to make your life feel more real.  If you stopped to care about everyone you ever met, you’d never get anywhere. 

It’s when you realise you are an unimportant background character that the problem starts.  You shouldn’t be background to everyone.  There should always be someone who would be affected if you weren’t there any more.

What if there isn’t?  What if you died, and no one cared?

Then you’d be me.

And when you feel like that, you have to hold on.  You have to find something that won’t go away and grab it with both hands, your heart, your mind.  Whatever you can.  Because if you let go, you’ll drown in the nothing that waits.

So find something that’s always there and love it.  It won’t love you back, but if you love it hard enough, then you’ll create something.  A tiny dent in reality to prove you are there.  A reason to exist. 

I found a comic.  It was called Electrifying Lionheart and it was the best story I ever read.

Actually, that’s way more lame than I remember from writing it yesterday.  Cutting it is an even better decision than just ‘what the hell is that, that doesn’t go at all’.

Y’know, now I realise that since I started writing this character a few years ago, I’ve picked up his way of talking.  I deliberately added in sort of clichéd lazy teen-speak to get into his voice, and now I actually talk/type like that.  Thanks a lot, Donald.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Film Review: Without A Clue [1988]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

You’d think a spoof of Sherlock Holmes would be diabolical trash, but Without A Clue works because the plot has credibility. 

Dr Watson is an investigative genius, driven to despair when he makes the mistake of casting an actor to play his fictional Sherlock Holmes. 

Ben Kingsley is restrained as the unappreciated Watson, almost bringing a tear to the eye.  His spirits crushed, his pride hurt, pompously infuriated with his partner’s bungling, he comes to hate Holmes. 

Michael Caine is hilarious as Reginald Kincaid, the stupid and caddish actor who has to pretend to be the famous detective, and Jeffrey Jones adds fun support as the competitive Inspector Lestrade. 

The character interactions are very amusing, the material is all cheerfully fun, the plot is engaging enough.  It’s a treat.


Film Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

A story should start as late as possible, and while the writer might know the entire history of the characters, the audience doesn’t need to.  So there’s no worth in prequels.  But even so, who could have predicted just how boring this pointless prequel would be?

The opening scene is a horrible suggestion of what lameness we’re in for.  A toddler running and screaming as cocktail sticks come out of his knuckles immediately smacks of tackiness.  SPOILER ALERT.  But this is blown off the screen by far more embarrassing later sequences; Wolverine walking slowly away from an explosion he has caused or screaming into the sky with his dead girlfriend in his arms (said girlfriend is very dull, and it’s impossible to get involved because she’s obviously going to die, but the film makes the mistake of un-killing her just to make the last hour of Wolverine wanting revenge absolutely pointless, and then killing her again, as if anyone can be bothered with feeling anything again).

After the opening scene, time skips as if someone has sat on the fast forward button and now it’s jammed.  Just when you think it might settle into a plot, no, it leaps on again, giving that nasty sensation of desperately trying to prize the button out so the film will play at a normal speed.  But by the time it does, it’s too late, we haven’t grown to care about any of the plot, settings or characters, who’ve had no development, and we’re left cold and uninterested for the rest of the story.

The X-Men are a team, so it seems odd to make an X-Men film that isn’t about this team.  Surely the point of these characters is that they work in contrast with each other.  And if you must take one out of the mix and let them stand alone, why Wolverine?  He was already the main character in the last three X-Men films, and already had his back-story explained on screen.  And even if, as this film says, there’s loads more not yet told, Wolverine gets amnesia.  Anyone who has watched X-Men knows this.  So none of what happens in this film matters.  It can’t have any effect on who he becomes.

And for a film that specifically focuses on one character rather than an ensemble, there’s no depth of character.  The problem of the original trilogy was not having time to focus on everyone.  This film shows that alone, X-Men don’t work.  Wolverine’s asides are funny when he’s in a team.  When he’s on his own, they don’t make sense.

It also forgets to explain the background of the character, even though that’s the only reason to make a prequel.  There’re no scenes of Wolverine learning about his powers, such as living forever (or how he gets around people noticing this).  Wolverine and Victor are fugitives, wanted for murder and for being freaks, and are then in several wars, so surely the government must know who they are?  And where does the name Logan come from?  Wolverine is introduced as being called James and then later is called Logan.  Why?

Hugh Jackman isn’t exactly phoning it in, but there’s nothing new to the character, while Liev Schreiber is even worse as Victor, absolutely one note and so very dull, relentlessly turning up to make scenes that little bit more boring.

Who is Victor anyway?  There’re a lot of hints about things that happen in the other films, but none of it is explained or backed up.  Instead of adding new angles to already known facts or setting up events known to play out later, it just raises more and more questions until by the end of the film, it’s just one huge baffling question mark clubbing the audience to death.  At some point, Wolverine says the word ‘mutants’.  What?  Mutants exist?  That’s the official term?  People know about mutants already?  Huh?  What?  Isn’t this the most important part of the X-Men universe, the crux of the trilogy, and you’re just mentioning it off the cuff?  But possibly most damnable of all the questions is ‘who is Victor?’  This character appears throughout the story, as Wolverine’s brother-figure.  He apparently has the same powers as Wolverine but the film forgets to go into this.  Thanks to the comics, cartoons or computer games, most of the audience know Victor is Sabretooth, but this isn’t mentioned in the film.  And he’s not the Sabretooth from the first X-Men film.  So who is he?  Is he supposed to be the same guy or someone else?  They don’t bother to explain this, the one thing that we don’t already know from watching the other films. 

So Wolverine and his random friend Victor are recruited to a special team and in the very next scene Wolverine quits.  This suggests that this is first mission, but surely, from the way everyone reacts, it isn’t.  So why not show any of this or spend even a second to explain what’s going on?  Also, apparently Wolverine doesn’t like killing.  So, he doesn’t actually develop at all when he becomes the Wolverine in the X-Men films.  There goes all the tension from the first film when Rogue was picked up by a mysterious stranger who didn’t even trust himself.

Still, Wolverine is specifically a prequel to X2, the most boring of the X-Men films.  Problems in X2 involve the basic and yet convoluted plot, lack of set-up, lack of pace, character development that doesn’t follow on from the first film, clunky dialogue and general confusion.  While these problems take root in X2, guess where they bloom?  Everything that doesn’t work about X2 is apparent here, everything that does, missing.  And even though this is the prequel to X2, I know if I watch X2 again, none of this will tie up or make sense. 

This film shows the part of Wolverine’s back-story already told in the X-Men films, when he gets his adamantium skeleton and his memory is wiped.  It even has the characters saying they will now wipe his memory (and I check my watch and say, “there’s still half the film to go, I really don’t think so,”).  But then the film says, ‘yeah, you think this is what happened?  Well it didn’t.  Turns out more happened afterwards, ha ha ha,’ as if that’s clever, and not smug.

And there’s no tension.  Wolverine states he wants to kill two characters, but both these characters turn up in the other films, so they, and he, obviously survive.  Thus all fight scenes are suddenly irrelevant.  And Wolverine is practically invincible; that’s his mutant power.  And during the film, he is made indestructible with the adamantium.  So not only does the audience know he will survive, but he knows he will survive.  So he has no fear.  There is nothing more damning to tension than a lack of fear. 

The only remotely interesting scene in the film is that in which schoolboy Cyclops is running from Victor.  Because young Scott is terrified.  But it may also be because Cyclops as a student reminds me of X-Men Evolution.  I love that cartoon.  Make that into a film. 

And just in case you thought this review would get away without mentioning it, why do Wolverine’s claws appear to be drawn on?  If they’re not moving, why not just glue something on his hand?  Make a glove.  How are the effects worse than they were nine years ago?  And the overuse of special effects, as walls and doors are painted in with a computer, is baffling.  Surely a real wall would be cheaper than adding it in later?  Is the entire finale performed in front of a green screen?

There’s nothing enjoyable or feel-good about this film.  There are lots of plot holes, general stupidity and clichés, but mainly it’s boring and po-faced.  I’m talking head on hand, able to think about this while film is still on boring, which, despite flaws, is something that never came up during the other films.  When the occasional funny line popped up, the audience was just too tired to laugh. 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not an X-Men film, failing to have any of the elements that made the first film so wonderful (wit, excitement, intelligence, emotions or foreboding).  It’s not even a superhero film; it’s an action film.  Superhero films are impressive and funny.  This is tedious and serious.  It has probably killed any chance of more X-Men films, and even if not, who wants to see Wolverine again?  How did they make everyone’s favourite this unwelcome?  I wish I had not seen this film, and I hope it has not killed a franchise that still had potential left in its embers.

Phew, I got through the whole review without mentioning Gambit. 



Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand [2006]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

The third X-Men film is the only consistently exciting film of the series, and it has an intriguing premise (whether mutants need to be cured) that reverses the roles of the first film, so it is more interesting than the disappointing X2.  But it is by no means a good film. 

For a start, it’s clumsily written.  Plot hints are painfully sledgehammered in while new ideas are dropped in with no explanation (exactly what is a mutant mark or a mutant class?).  The plot is holey, particularly at the finale, which happens far too soon, just over an hour in.  The Last Stand needed to be much longer than an hour and a half to give this idea the attention it needs and to handle returning and new characters sufficiently.

That’s the big problem.  The characters.  The Last Stand takes characters with little opinion on the cure as leads (Storm), sidelining those who do have opinions (Rogue, Mystique, Angel).  There are too many new characters, who while occasionally interesting, should have been set up in the previous films or left out.  No character parallels play out and too many characters die, considering the sparse death list in the previous films.  Are they trying to make up for lost time? 

Several main characters clog up the plot and would have been better cut, making room for relevant subplots. 

The pseudo-romance between Bobby and Kitty is a misstep, seemingly only existing to drive Rogue out of the film, despite her being infinitely more interesting and likeable than these two kids. 

Likewise, the desperate ‘romance’ between Wolverine and Jean is still being paraded about, despite there being no explicable or discernable attraction between them.  It’s tedious that Wolverine is still desperate to get it on with Jean, despite her now being a completely different person.  She is insane, has no personality, and would have been better left at the bottom of the lake at the end of the last film.  She is a non-entity of a character, reduced to a psychotic weapon.  Whenever the camera pans over to her, it’s a jarring reminder that she is even in the film, and when she decides to actually be involved in the finale, this leads to the biggest let down yet.  There are better parallels and subplots that could have culminated here, but instead the ending is swiftly wrapped up with little payoff.

Meanwhile, main characters such as Cyclops, Mystique and Rogue are heartlessly tossed aside both by their friends and the script, and their interesting subplots axed, when these are the strands that should be carrying the film.

Admittedly, new additions Beast and Juggernaut are a lot of fun, but however cool six X-Men facing the onslaught of hundreds is, the audience barely knows this small line of underdeveloped, boring characters.  Wolverine, Storm, Bobby, Colossus, Beast, Kitty; I would happily kill four of those characters if it meant a few more minutes of Rogue and Cyclops.  And is this really the last stand?  Isn’t this actually the first stand?  It’s not even that important.

There are serious issues here, not least almost everyone suddenly being dislikeable, especially Storm, Magneto, Professor X, Bobby and Jean.  Mentor of the heroes, Professor X, follows the same character arc he had in the first two films, but here it isn’t handled as skilfully.  Leader of the villains, Magneto, having long given up being a sympathetic villain is utterly repulsive, and extremely irritatingly played by Ian McKellen, and despite constantly egging Jean on to kill people, still comes out with the worst-delivered line of the film, “What have I done?”

As usual, my biggest gripe is that Rogue doesn’t get to shine, when she has the most potential (Anna Paquin is also the best actor in it, so why more screen time is given to the worst actor in it (we all know who I mean) is baffling).  When Rogue professes interest in getting cured, Storm claims that there is nothing wrong with her.  Rogue’s response should be to touch Storm’s face, and see if Storm still thinks there is nothing wrong with Rogue, now that she’s dead.

There’s still potential here for more films, especially if you don’t blink on the final shot.  Potential that means Rogue could still actually get to be the focus of a film, plus since we don’t actually see the death of the freaking leader of the X-Men, he can probably get better and be in it too.  And then they could finally introduce Gambit.  It could be called the Rogue-Cyclops-Gambit X-Men film that doesn’t have Storm or Jean in it because no one likes them.

Who am I kidding?  Stick to X-Men, and pretend it had no sequels.


The Errant Soul

The main thing to have achieved this weekend was the latest re-write of the novel ms Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork.

Strangely, I don’t seem to have finished rewriting it.  I was meant to rewrite the delusion sections over the weekend.  But somehow, I’ve only been working on it for the last three hours, and some of that I spent making and eating dinner and some just staring into space, so I’ve only actually re-done the first chapter/story.  Well, actually I was daydreaming various scenarios that happen to not be the story I’m currently writing, but sort of spun off from it.  I suppose at least they count as taking breaks from the computer.

I did manage to trap The Slayer again and continue to babble at him about the story, so he now knows everything that happens in it practically word for word without actually having read a single sentence. 

And socialising while constructively discussing writing, inspiration and other such ideas is a good enough reason not to have been working on the writing, because I was working on the writing, just mentally rather than physically. 

I’m more worried that I seem to have done nothing else with the week.

I started tidying the room last Monday and I think it’s actually messier now than it was.  And I’m supposed to be enrolling to do a computer course so I can get a job, but the course is during the day so I won’t be able to do both it and a job.  I can’t decide what to do.  Mainly because I’ve given it no thought whatever.

I can’t believe how long it has been since I worked.  I don’t remember last year at all.  I deliberately took time off at the start of 2010 to focus on the writing, and I got loads done while I lived in that nasty scum hole down in the city, too depressed and scared to do anything else.  Outside there were thugs who beat each other up in the middle of the road, inside there was a ghost. 

Yet, even though I can remember just feeling so utterly flat and alone all the time, I wrote about three novels in five months.   But then another seven months went past, this time in lovely, refreshing, soul reviving suburbia, and I was much happier and didn’t feel depressed or lonely any more, and I know I’ve been writing, but it’s all been rewriting, editing, transforming etc, and no actual brand new projects so it’s hard to actually see my progress, even though I know it must be there. 

Still, I’m actually confident with what I’m doing here, with Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork.  I really must get a ‘person I babble at’ for all my writing.  It’s extraordinary how not only can that outside source mirror my own thoughts and themes back at me with a clarity I previously fogged, but just defining the problems I face, even without resolving them, helps me so much in getting through them.  Because now I know the enemy.

Not that I consider my writing to be the enemy.  It’s more like I have to rescue it from the enemy that’s entwining it.  Yes, being a writer is some kind of heroic rescue mission, and not just me selfishly entertaining myself.  That’s me scrabbling for some self-worth in life. 

This reminds me.  I hate Toy Story 3.  I felt as if my life had drained away when I saw it at the cinema.  And today I had a nice defining rant about why.

SPOLIER.  At the end, Andy is leaving for university and taking Woody with him.  Woody decides instead to stay with a little girl he met during the film.  Woody leaves Andy. 

Ignoring that this completely undermines every ounce and inch of Woody’s character previously set up in the first two films (in which he will never ever abandon Andy even if it means he won’t be played with any more), my problem with this ending is this:

Toys give unconditional love.  Friends and lovers come and go, pets must be fed and looked after, parents are full of expectations, but toys ask nothing at all.  They are your first love, yet their being/personality/life is created entirely from you.  You are the one that instils in them this love that they give you.  They are your own self-love reflected back; they are inexorably a part of you, giving you confidence in your own life.  So the idea that your favourite toy could abandon you is the one thing in all existence that will always love you not doing so; it is losing part of your own being that was there from the very beginning.  For a toy to choose to leave its owner, is for that owner to lose their soul.

The very concept chills and terrifies me.

Film Review: X2 [2003]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

Never besting its exciting opening, X2 is a disappointment.

After the heart-pounding thrills of a teleporting attack on the president, X2 returns to the familiar characters.  The previous film ended with Wolverine going off to learn about his past, so this film has to start with it.  He turns up at a dam, can’t see anything and leaves.  This is because the plot isn’t ready for him to be here yet, but since the finale is set here and it turns out if he had tried actually looking or using those, y’know, super senses of his, he would have found stuff out right at the start, he looks like an idiot.  The film could easily come up with a reason why he doesn’t get there at the start, but no, up he turns, moron he is.

Back he goes to the X-Mansion so the plot can get going. 

Professor X gets incapacitated again, leaving the X-Men to fend for themselves again, and apparently they’re still useless without him, while Cyclops (an utterly wasted James Marsden) just drops out of the film, which is infuriating since he could be a really interesting character if he was allowed any screen time.

Jean and Storm, or the coma-duo, get to hang out and be boring and take valuable screen time away from everyone else.  Nightcrawler is introduced, and is impossibly sweet, but isn’t allowed to do much, which feels like a waste of a good make-up job.

Wolverine is left to babysit the kids, and they are immediately kidnapped, scattered and made homeless.  Good one there.  Poor Rogue (Anna Paquin still effortlessly getting the BEST THING IN IT AWARD) is stuck in the crèche with Bobby and Pyro, the dweeb twins (look, they’re ideological opposites, isn’t that fascinating?).  Bobby wants to kiss Rogue, apparently not taking the whole it will kill him problem seriously enough, and Pyro wants to blow stuff up.  No, please, give them just as much screen time as Rogue.  Pyro gets to boast he’s the worst (as in most dangerous) mutant there is.  Uh, no, that would be Rogue.  Can we make a film about Rogue, please?  We do learn that Bobby’s brother is the most despicable brat on the planet, but that still doesn’t make Bobby interesting.

The goodies are eventually forced to team up with the Brotherhood, but considering this consists of two people, who spend most of their time sitting in the corner, campily giggling at Rogue, they’re not the most threatening of partners.  Seriously, let Rogue touch them, end of problem.  This mix has to stop the world’s most uninteresting villain.  Superheroes shouldn’t fight humans.  It’s boring. 

Even so, the X-Men struggle because without their leaders (Professor X or Cyclops), they’re a bunch of dumb brats.  Wolverine is faced with his past in Stryker, which, since we’ve never seen Stryker before, fails to engage.  Jean finds Cyclops (so that’s what happened to him) and he tries to kill her.  Is it because he’s under mind control or because she’s still flirting with Wolverine because he’s a ‘bad boy’?  Nightcrawler gets to rescue the Professor, but is lumbered with Storm as if there’s some kind of connection between him being nice and her being incomprehensibly grumpy all the time even though she looks perfectly normal, has unbelievably powerful er powers and was once worshipped as a god.  Must be a tough life for her.  Rogue, Bobby and Pyro are made to sit the finale out because they’re just babies, so that leaves the villains to run free.

The entire film consists of: the characters are split up and eventually they meet up again.  There is no payoff to them separately or as a team.  For a film about a group, there is no group effort. 

The characters, if they have anything to do at all, are unconvincing.  Rogue is always the most interesting and convincing character in the X-Men universe, doubly so with Paquin’s acting, but she seriously needs to be in the film far more, while dullards like Jean should stop hogging the camera. 

The plot of X2 is basic and yet unnecessarily convoluted and unconvincing, plodding along slowly and dully, getting going with no set-up and skipping the middle.  Too much of the dialogue is clunky and just there for exposition, and yet somehow little is explained.  The character development doesn’t follow on from the first film and is handled badly; there’s barely any development.  X2 is like an early draft that meandered about and never got anywhere, but for some reason actually made it to the screen.  Yeah, sure glad they didn’t waste the whole sequel opportunity.


Film Review: X-Men [2000]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

X-Men is an enjoyable action/adventure with depth.  In the not-too-distant future, humanity has discovered there are mutants living among them, and scared by these superpowered folk, want them pulled into the open and labelled.  Fear drives mutants into two factions, those who want humans and mutants to live in harmony, and those who want to destroy humans before they are destroyed themselves.  It’s a weighty idea, giving more intelligence to the usual superhero story, creating a compelling tale that revolves around two particular mutants struggling with their isolation, Rogue and Wolverine, who are taken in by a band of superheroes, the X-Men. 

The best parts of the film are those that focus on the interesting and emotional relationship between Wolverine and Rogue (expertly handled by Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin).  Rogue’s plot alone, of a teenage girl who cannot touch anyone without killing them, is worth the whole film. 

Admittedly, X-Men isn’t perfect.  The story drags in the middle and the plot could use more explanation.  Several characters are completely flat; Storm is so superfluous it would have been better to cut her out completely and there’s an absolutely tedious love triangle, utterly out of place with the rest of the film (and guess what the sequels focus on).

Still, the heart is strong, the opening fascinating and the ending exhilarating, so it survives.  X-Men is moving, funny and exciting, which pretty much covers all bases for what makes a great film.  A mostly excellent film with plenty of potential, only spoilt by watching the sequels or the ‘extended’ version, so avoid those where possible.


Film Review: Yellow Submarine [1968]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

So like, what if we took a lot of drugs while listening to some Beatles records?  And then, still tripping out, went and rounded up a bunch of unemployed, frustrated animators and modern art students and said, hey dudes, lets make a film that will totally freak with people’s minds? 

It would definitely be important, or so this small gremlin on my shoulder is telling me, that it made no sense whatsoever, I mean, what would happen if that paradise under the sea was threatened?  The Beatles would totally have to save it, right?  Maybe anyway.  I’m not even sure what I’m talking about.  I mean, a plot would completely repress what we were trying to say, man.

I’m telling you, weird, random and creepy visuals would be key, and the best part is they’d both confuse and bore the audience.  It’d be like this endless hell they couldn’t escape.

And we won’t pay the animators anything.  We won’t want it looking smooth or normal or good coz then the audience might not freak out.  And we’ll just get some voice actors to do impressions of The Beatles and sound really bored while coming out with endless quips, just to confuse the audience a bit more.

People will love it.  The ones who don’t go insane with the weirdness or die of boredom.  You know, the ones who like marking modern art projects.  And maybe a few die-hard The Beatles fans, who keep their eyes shut and just listen to the music.

God, I’m hungry.

Film Review: Yes Man [2008]

EDIT (2013): WARNING - I wrote these reviews aaaaages ago and possibly don't even agree with them any more.  I have since discovered that one sentence reviews are a lot more fun.  Please see One Sentence Film Reviews tab.

Jim Carrey makes it one second into the film before being his usual irritating self.  How did they miss so badly with this character?  He has perfectly understandable, empathetic motivations and yet isn’t remotely likeable.  Now, pay attention and see if you can follow this riddling plot: he’s a guy who says no a lot.

Does it have to be so blatant?

So our No Man bumps into an insane jerk who gives him a leaflet, which leads him to a horrible cult, to whom ‘no means no’ is meaningless.  Here he learns he should blindly say yes to everything and his life will be better for it.  He adjusts instantly for some reason and becomes a different person.

He meets Zooey Deschanel and her boring voice playing the same character she always plays.  In a dangerously stupid and a bit promiscuous move, she doesn’t mind snogging a complete stranger who might kill her.  Throughout the film, he manipulates her and such is their relationship. 

Meanwhile, he goes around picking stuff off the wall and doing what he’s told, which is apparently the same as saying yes.  He has adventures.  Good job he’s rich. 

There are no trials or difficulties for the majority of the film.  Seemingly aware of this, suddenly at the end there is the random falling out scene that all rom-coms feel necessary these days.  She is upset that he says yes to things, even though that’s exactly the sort of thing she does.  He kept something from her, she leaves, he races after her.  I am sick of this rom-com cliché.  Especially when it’s the wrong way round.  She dumped him.  If she raced after him, realising she was in the wrong, that makes sense.  But him racing after her when she has told him to leave her alone is called STALKING.

A pointless diversion.


The Return Of The Dork

The view from the window is marginally more interesting than usual.  As I work on the writing, forgetting to take breaks so I murder the eyesight and turn the brain to mush, I can glance to the side out of the huge bedroom window and if I crane the neck I can see the bird feeders.

Unfortunately, I accidentally seem to have made them squirrel proof, even though I only really wanted them to encourage squirrels (the best animals ever) into the garden.  I saw one just now.  They’re so fluffy and springy, which are the best qualities in an animal. 

It bounced and crawled so fast and insanely, it’s hard to believe it’s real.  Over a roof, along and down fences and over bushes so thin it looked like it was hovering in the air.  But it can’t get at the seed feeder because it’s on a metal pole, and although the peanut one is on the fence, it examined it and ran off without eating anything so maybe it can’t get them out. 

I also saw a raven/crow/rook/whatever walking along the roof opposite.  Totally gravity defying of course.  Immediately after I saw two tits actually using both feeders, so I’m quite excited. 

Then a pigeon, a magpie, a blackbird and a tit had some sort of stand-off in the garden, but it didn’t go anywhere, so then I got bored and went back to writing.  I don’t know how bird watchers do it.  I have a low opinion of them, just thinking of that scene in Mr Hobbs Takes A Vacation when James Stewart has to go out with a bird watcher who’s a total nerd, takes it really seriously and makes him do a stupid walk.  You’ve always got to side with James Stewart.  I only like looking at birds because they’re funny.

I watched Star Trek V last night and really enjoyed it.  I’m feeling extremely hostile towards an incredibly negative review of it in the film book.  Still it seems to be written by someone who doesn’t like Star Trek.  DUH, DON’T WATCH STAR TREK THEN. 

There’s the old rule of even numbered Trek films are good, odd numbered are bad and last time I watched them I kinda agreed.  But this time round, I figure it’s more, 1 is awfully boring, 2-6 are really fun, 7 can get lost (because it kills Kirk), 8-10 who cares, 11 can go to hell (because it kills all of Star Trek ever and rewrites the timeline).  There, nice rational review I think.

I’m listening to the Jaws soundtrack, which consists of dun-nah-dun-nah-dun-nah, and then the tracks that don’t are boring so I skip on until another dun-nah-dun-nah one.  Only you only need to hear it once, so a whole soundtrack is kinda redundant.  Gremlins uses the same tune in every track, but the Gremlins theme is cool.

You know who else is cool?  Captain Kirk.  I hate that stupid review.  It doesn’t even make any points or criticisms.  It’s just a sarcastic list of stuff that happens in the film jumbled up with the reviewer’s attitude.  It only works if you already hate Star Trek.  If you go into it open minded, it doesn’t make any sense.

Oh my God, I’m moaning about a negative Star Trek review in the blog.  THIS is why when I tried Internet dating the only guys who hit on me played D&D.  And they called it that too.  Not dungeons and dragons, but D&D, like I should know what the hell that means.  Shoot me now.

Still, fiction-wise, Kirk’s got to be the second greatest hero of all time.  The first being Sam Beckett, naturally.

So on to writing, that thing I’m supposed to be focusing on here, I went to a writers’ group recently.  Since I’m writing in public, I’ll be polite.  It was not hugely productive because it was just a preliminary thing to decide what future groups should actually do and was grossly overpopulated.  There were two mingling sessions, wasted on me because a) I’m a writer and therefore socially retarded, and b) I only knew what half the group did and none of it was relevant to me. 

These people were either scriptwriters, which since the utter failure at scriptwriting at university…

Tutor: But you must be careful with this scene or the audience might giggle.
Me: Uh, it’s a comedy.
Trouble there was the tutor was a huge cliché, wrote melodramatic dramas about being gay and only liked melodramatic dramas about being gay.  The only plays I like are insane farce or huge musicals; I just don’t get serious drama on stage because it’s all so silly. 

…I have little interest in it and regard it somewhat contemptuously; I’ll eight sentence structure YOU. 

Or they had never written a thing in thirty years but believed everyone has a book in them.  You know who says that?  Non-writers. 

Besides which, turns out I’m a terrible ageist.  I consider anyone younger than me an arrogant young whippersnapper and anyone older a patronising old fuddy-duddy. 

Never trusted the elderly as a child, especially men with beards (just what are they trying to hide?) so never felt keen on Father Christmas or the Seven Dwarfs. 

But I remember clearly when I was five that I considered six year olds to be so experienced they were twenty (twenty being the perfect age of maturity) while I had no idea what three year olds were saying to me and regarded them as rather worse than gibbering animals. 

I actually ate my lunch with the teacher because I was afraid of the children.  I found children infuriating because they were so stupid.  This from the child who was afraid of other children, couldn’t tell the time, didn’t know what a post code or date of birth was, and was in the slow reading group.  I felt superior because they thought farts or underwear were funny, whereas I’d already developed a dry sense of humour. 

But once I went to university that put me off the idea of older people being full of maturity and intelligence that they could share with and teach me.  It’s amazing how a mature student can really make you want to punch them in the face.

And this group were mostly old enough to be my grandparents.  Undecided whether to return.  I don’t think anyone there wanted to be a fiction novelist.  They didn’t even know what ‘workshop’ meant.

On my own ‘haven’t written anything in thirty years’ front, I had a passable dream-story idea recently, so have noted that away so I can never do anything with it because it probably won’t make any sense when I look at it again.  And I’ve expanded on another idea that is impossible to write because it’s entirely visual film references.  I’ve attempted to rewrite the Working Title: Rigor Morris synopsis a million times.

But, on the ‘dear Lord don’t let me turn into a mature student who’s never done any writing in thirty years’ front, I’ve been going over the novel ms about the dork with delusions of grandeur, Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork, and might actually be making some progress. 

The Slayer visited and I trapped him in a room and lectured him for an hour on the story, and it was so refreshing to have someone to bounce ideas off.  He really made me see my own themes better.  That happens a lot.  Other people seem to get my themes better than me.  They are the themes I intended but I just can’t verbalise what I mean, whereas they just cut straight to it.  Yeah, great writer.

Anyway, I might actually now have a concrete ending, rather than one I rewrite every time I look at it, like some kind of horrible raggedy cuff that’s been darned so often there’s no original material left and it pulls itself apart. 

But on reading the ms all the way through, although I perfectly enjoy all the reality stuff, the fantastical delusions are rubbish.  They work better later on, but for the whole first half, they just don’t mesh with the story.  I feel like I could pick it up and shake it and the fantasy sequences would fall out and the story wouldn’t be affected.  I kind of get bored reading them, ‘well this is all very well but it’s not real so can we get back to the story now please’. 

Actually, I recently read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and I felt like that then as well.  Loved all the Bastian real life issue stuff, but was slightly bored by the Atreyu adventure stuff.  Still, on getting to the end (eventually, 400 pages, are you insane?  Hello, slow reader here) I was very impressed with the intelligence and complexity of the story. 

It would really have helped to read it during the third year at uni.  I did an independent study, writing what has since become my children’s story Working Title: Evelynland and I read lots of children’s books either because they explored the idea of fiction and reality blurring and the genre of entering a fantasy world, or because they explored the relationship between perceived evil and good and the relationship between child and villain. 

The Neverending Story would have been perfect material to study, because it does exactly the kind of thing I want to, with the child actually ending up in a story that they know is a story.  And even to some extent blurs the lines of villains and heroes, as Bastian certainly becomes a villain towards the end, and although very different from what I want to do, it’s fascinating stuff. 

I will now try to recall what I thought of the books I did read, keeping in mind this was five/six years ago.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner.  I had completely forgotten this book existed.  I didn’t really like it.  I thought it was weird, confusing, disturbing and the ending was a let down. 

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.  This is one of my favourite books.  It’s well written, clever and satisfying.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I enjoyed it and thought Dr Livesey was kick-ass cool.  I thought it was enjoyable and exciting although I was unsure about the deliberately archaic style.  I’m afraid it’ll be a bit of a let down when I read it again.  Wow, has it really been five years? 

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  I read this a lot as a child so I enjoy by default, but it was actually better than I remembered, funny, weird (this time that’s a compliment) and sweet.

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett.  This is one of those books I think I may not like when I read it again.  I think I was overly impressed at the time because I’d read so much rubbish it was refreshing to read something well written; it’s probably quite preachy.  But at the time of reading, I thought it was clear, concise and intelligent.  Nothing like Pratchett’s fantasy stuff.  Wasn’t so keen on the ending though.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.  I didn’t like it.  I thought it was like two separate books had been jammed together.  The fantasy half was good and funny but I just didn’t see why Artemis Fowl was in it.  I found him boring and I didn’t like him and so I thought the ending was a let down.

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.  I enjoyed this quite a lot, especially Mr Darling, and Hook too.  I wanted Mr Darling to be in it more (the whole acting like a child then blaming the children thing is deliciously twisted), and I liked that Hook kind of ultimately wins, because he never sinks to cheating, whereas Pan does.  It’s funny and some of the ideas are amazing.  But it’s weird at times, because despite the whole we all know Barrie was odd and spent all his time with kids, the text seems to suggest he dislikes children (Pan is not a heroic figure).  And obviously, the ending is quite depressing.  Although none of that’s to say the almost sadistic weirdness isn’t infectious.  Still, don’t know whether it’ll work the second time round.

The Sorcerer’s Appendix by Andrew Harman.  I liked this when I was a child.  But as an adult, I was disappointed.  It was like it wasn’t the final draft, as if the wrong copy had been sent to the publishers.  It was full of typos I never noticed as a child.  Probably because it was set in a larger world with other books, there were scene switches and sentences that made no sense and characters who popped up for one scene and vanished.  I found it confusing to follow because it was set in two time periods and it was so Pratchetesque it just felt like a rip off.  I liked the character Snydewinder, because he was in it the most and was funny, so I disliked the ending.  Why is Snydewinder punished but not his kingdom when he’s only following their orders? 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.  I thought it was pretty excellent (unlike the film adaptation which surgically removes everything and is rubbish).  It was witty and had a fascinating and original father/daughter relationship.  I didn’t think the ending was as good as the rest of the book though.  Not sure why it has to become Cinderella.  It’s fine that it does, but it feels a little tacked on, even though it is presumably the premise of the book.  And it should be longer.  More of Ella’s witty adventures as she travels about, trying to find the fairy who cursed her.  And her dad Sir Peter should be in it more.  Still, I hope it’s still good when I read it next. 

Warriors of Alavna by N. M. Browne.  Not my sort of thing at all.  I liked how detailed it was but I thought the opening was dreadful.  It was the most confusing POV I’d ever read.  I hated the male lead and there wasn’t a satisfactory ending.  Ursula and Dan must pass through a mist to get home to their time/dimension.  As they walk through, they wonder if they have become too barbaric to live in society and that’s where it ends.  WHAT?  They are killers now and they’ve been away for a year.  You can’t end a book there.  I had no idea if I liked it or not but in hindsight, I’ve no desire to go near it again.

Stravaganza: City of Masks and some of City of Flowers by Mary Hoffman.  I hated this so much, although I did like one character in it, Enrico.  I thought it was boring, the fantasy world of Talia was the dullest fantasy world ever concocted, it was sexually inappropriate, confusing and annoying, tacky and depressing.  It was boring to start with, very good in the middle (where it should have ended) then the ending sucked.  And it was a trilogy so it didn’t even tie up.  I thought Enrico was the only character with a personality and the others could all jump off a cliff and I wouldn’t blink. 

The Divide by Elizabeth Kay.  This was all right, but nowhere near as intelligent as it seems to think it is.  The first time I read it, I thought the scenes were far too short and didn’t go anywhere but I still enjoyed it.  It reminded me of a better City of Masks.  I was disappointed it was the start of another trilogy, but it still had a proper ending and so was more satisfying than City of Masks.  I have since bought the sequels but having re-read one and read two, I’ve got rid of them and I’m in no hurry to read three.

A Game of Dark by William Mayne.  Uh, this was witty and I peripherally liked some of the characters, but I was confused, finding it difficult to get into.  Sometimes I hadn’t a clue what it meant or was describing.  It was odd, never went into character depth and the ending wasn’t satisfactory because I had no idea what it meant.  Shame because I was really into the book by that point. 

I meant to read Inkheart/Inkspell by Cornelia Funke but never got round to it. 

But I did buy The Neverending Story, but I never read it.  I’m thinking 400 pages may have been a deterrent considering I was writing three dissertations at the time.  (Well, three stories.  I love writing courses).

It’s embarrassing reading the journal from the study because I come across as so arrogant and therefore moronic.  I think I probably do here too.  I always do in hindsight, and then I think I’m fine, but once I get to hindsight again I realise I’m just as bad as ever.  It’s not that I am really arrogant, it’s just I get so excited getting to express my opinions (no one ever listened to me when I was a child, waah, poor me, poor me) that I sort of shout them out without going into depth.

Uh, but anyway, Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork…  I have a theory that if I write each fantasy sequence with an arc, like I have with each chapter/story of the reality side, then they will feel more like a parallel plot and not just random alternate scenes that serve no purpose.  It does mean rewriting a quarter or more of the book, but heck, what else was I going to do this weekend?

And amazingly, I still like the ending.  This one’s stuck for more than two days.  Perhaps it’s a keeper.