Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Cinema And The Hill

I’ve been to the cinema four times so far this year.  Now I have a loyalty card, I’m quite keen to go.  They’ve suckered me into it well. 

I went off the cinema quite severely after working in one.  It wouldn’t be fair to judge all cinemas on the one I worked in, and The Distaste wasn’t that it opened The Eyes to the callous business attitude where the actual films don’t matter at all, or the appalling low standards of hygiene, or how badly the staff are treated.  I just didn’t enjoy the experience any more.  Who wants to sit in a smelly room in uncomfortable seats, surrounded by strangers who cough and chatter and rustle all the way through the film and do their best of block your view?  You can’t talk to your friends, it’s so loud it hurts the ears, you’re often craning at an uncomfortable angle and if you miss something, there’s no rewind or subtitle option.  The only appeal seems to be that it’s big, and I’m not so credulous that I fall for ‘bigger means better’. 

But then something amazing happened.

In October 2010, Back To The Future was re-released at cinemas for the 25th anniversary.  And NO ONE told me.  It was only after it had been out for a month that I heard about it.  My all-time favourite film was being shown in a medium I had never been able to view it in and NO ONE TOLD ME?

I scrambled to action, searching everywhere and found a cinema still showing it.  It was far away, but not too far away, not for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The Housemate and I jumped into the car and headed out into the unknown.

We got there eventually, although there were several embarrassing moments of

It was the swankiest cinema I’ve ever seen. 

It was the greatest cinematic experience of The Life.  I’d actually become a little bored of Back To The Future.  Do you know how to cure ‘I’ve seen this film a hundred times’ syndrome?  Watch it on a giant screen with an audience who are all there because they have spent twenty-five years loving the film.  It was like seeing it for the first time.  I don’t even remember seeing it for the first time.  Even though I knew every second of the film better than I know my own reflection, each second was brand new.  It was at once comfortingly familiar and excitingly fresh.  It was beautiful.  Only better, better.  It was a group experience, community spirit, strangers brought together by a shared love.  We all laughed a split second before each joke.  We were one.  We were happy.  And at the end, there was an awkward pause, because we all wanted it, but it’s the cinema, you don’t do that at the cinema, and then we couldn’t hold it in, and we applauded.

And I’ve had a new respect for the cinema ever since.

So far this year I have seen:
The Muppets
The Woman In Black
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Marvel Avengers Assemble

I’ll now try to assemble some thoughts on each.  I have difficulty critically appraising what I’ve seen without coming off negative.  I think it stems from writing workshops.  Because when a story works, when it’s good, that’s like the base level.  That’s what it should be.  You don’t want to change that stuff, so you leave it alone and focus on what does need changing.  The other reason is because I don’t know how to describe good things.  It’s much easier to articulate fault.  Merit ends up being a dull string of adjectives.

The Muppets

First off, am I a fan of the Muppets generally?  I don’t know. 

Childhood Trauma

I do find them funny, but I’m not quite sure what it is that I like them in.  I’ve always liked Kermit, but beyond that…  I’ve seen seven Muppet films (not including this one), the 4D ride and the first six episodes of the Muppet Show, and I want to like them a lot more than I actually do.  The Muppets are funny, very funny, but the films tend to be uneven, the show has way too many straight pieces and if I have to see Kermit and Miss Piggy get together one more time…

But since I don’t think I’ve seen a Muppets film at the cinema before, it seemed like the done thing to go see this one. [EDIT 2015: I don't know what I was talking about - I saw Muppets From Space at the cinema back in 99 with The Butler (the middle kid above) and it was so bad it killed The Muppets for me]

And I did like it.  It was funny.  But it was definitely uneven.

At first I was surprised that it focused on Walter and Gary, rather than on the Muppets, but I was quickly absorbed by their story.  They’ve grown up in a whimsical small town where they cheesily burst into song all the time.  They’re totally nostalgically obsessed with the Muppets and rely too much on each other so that they’ve never really grown up.  This section was all gold.  I would happily watch a film of that stuff.

But then Walter and Gary go to the big city, find out the Muppet theatre is going to get torn down and have to reunite the Muppets to put on a show to save the theatre.  This is pretty much the same plot as at least three of the previous Muppet films.  I know it’s meant to be nostalgic, but this is getting lazy.  It was still good though.  Even if Jason Segel can’t stop smiling even during emotional bits, there weren’t enough (non-ballad) songs and it denies the existence of the nineties, y’know, that decade I grew up in, which puts me firmly in the ‘I can’t believe Rizzo didn’t have any lines’ camp.

The problem was is this a Walter film or a Muppets film?  I’d happily watch either, but not both at the same time.  The film stretched one way, then the other, so that neither character group got the screen time, focus or development that they deserved.  Even so, it was still good enough that a great ending could have saved it.

The ending was lame.

I did like the film, I did, I just wish I could have liked it more.

The Woman In Black

Why did I go to see The Woman In Black?
1.            Because everyone I’ve ever met has been going on about the play for years, but I’ve never been able to find it in me to spend a lot of money to see a serious play, so I thought watching the film would be a cheap alternative.
2.            Because I’d just watched eight Harry Potter films in a row and then I went outside and saw Daniel Radcliffe’s face on a poster for a new film and thought that's just what my life is now, endless Daniel Radcliffe films.
3.            I wanted to see whether Daniel Radcliffe can act.
4.            I liked the poster.  An attractive man in Edwardian dress – what’s not to like?

Did I regret The Decision?
Yes, pretty soon into the film, I remembered that a) I don’t like horror films because of my overactive imagination, b) I don’t cope well with seeing people getting killed, c) I’m terrified of ghosts.

Did it scare me?
No.  It isn’t a scare film, it’s a jump film.  When water bursts out of a tap in an early scene and I nearly had a heart attack on the way back down from the ceiling, I realised I was going to have to steel myself a bit better.

Did it make me jump?
Not much after the first time.  All the jump moments are childishly obvious – anyone who falls for the old looking through a peephole trick needs their wits tested – so I worked out that when a jump was approaching, if I looked at the bottom of the screen I could still see what was going on above me, but it was removed enough not to make me flinch.  The audience were very entertaining though, shrieking and giggling throughout. 

Did I enjoy it?
Well, I liked the vista, as clearly did the cinematographer, and I enjoyed the atmospheric stuff.  But there’s no intelligence or skill in this:

And that’s all the film amounts to.

Daniel Radcliffe was cute, and I had great fun watching Mr Rochester.

But I don’t see the point in ghost stories.  I’d prefer a detective story, where the characters can actually achieve something.  When it comes to ghosts, you know the ending will never be satisfying.  And the woman in black is a total jerk.

Did it scare me?
I already said no.

Not while it was on.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

A lot of The Friends got very excited about this film coming out, but I missed why.  I saw two different trailers and neither inspired me much.  But it’s Aardman, y’know, you have to support Aardman.  I’d be betraying my Feathers McGraw pencil case if I didn’t.

Plus I got the idea somewhere that The Housemate wanted to see it.

So we went to see it. 

And it was awesome. 

Also, little children stink.

It looked good, it was really funny and the voice cast were brilliant.  The Pirate Captain was a triumph of a character – absolutely perfect.  The pirates had a lovely familial rapport and were so likeable.  Although I knew nothing about this universe and didn’t even know there was a whole series of books, as soon as I was watching the film, I felt like I knew these characters, that we’d been on adventures before, it all felt… right.  I don’t know whether it’ll stand up to repeat viewings (The Were-Rabbit certainly didn’t) but I hope so.  I’m really looking forward to the next instalment.

Marvel Avengers Assemble

I’m not much of a superhero geek.  I can’t get The Head around comics.

And my interest in superheroes isn’t piqued beyond Lois & Clark and X-Men Legends.  So a team of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye didn’t exactly thrill me, particularly since I’d only seen half the films leading up to it.  They didn’t sucker me into that.

But actually Avengers worked okay.  Sure, Thor was actually MORE boring than I had expected (one funny line in entire film), and so was Captain America (two funny bits in entire film), but the script seemed to be aware of that.  And sure, nothing happened for the middle section of the film, the baddies were ill-defined and clichéd, the plot basic and obvious, but it’s a team up superhero flick.  I don’t hold with letting a film off faults based on genre… but it’s a superhero team up flick.  If you’re gonna moan about stuff like that, don’t go and see it.  It’s like going to see the sixth film in a franchise and moaning because you didn’t like the first one.  Well you knew that going in, so you can only blame yourself. 

Avengers was exciting and funny.  It actually did pretty well with the ensemble nature of the cast, which is really impressive, it knew its strengths (Iron Man), having civilians mixed up in the finale made it feel like it actually meant something and it didn’t always focus on Scarlett Johansson’s bottom (although Agent Hill’s uniform was suspiciously tighter than any other member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (it must have shrunk in the wash) and Pepper Potts wears cut-off short shorts now). 

I couldn’t get a handle on Loki, not because he spends most of the film standing in a room smirking like this is part of some grand plan even though it goes nowhere, but because when your bad guy is wittier than half the heroes (and in some cases, a better actor), he ends up being more likeable, but I’m pretty sure I’m not meant to like him, because he kept killing people (one of whom is a character who is more entertaining than four of the leads put together, killed seemingly just to make the name ‘Avengers’ make sense, so thanks for that).  I even liked his helmet, because it covered his stupid haircut.

What do I think of a team of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye now?

This was definitely a good ride for fans of Iron Man (Avengers far surpassed the lame Iron Man 2), but fans of Thor must surely be disappointed.  Because apparently, there are fans of Thor.  Still, for me, the balance of characters worked very well.  Iron Man was brilliant (clearly being able to fly is the most important superpower).  The Hulk was handled so well that I never got bored of him.  Black Widow and Hawkeye were inoffensive (though I’m unclear on where S.H.I.E.L.D. ends and the Avengers begin).  Captain America was utterly bland, never progressing further than a soldier drone.  Thor was actively dull.  But I only zoned out once.


So for what it was, it was fun.  Which probably means that if you actually like this kind of thing, you’ll love it.

In conclusion...

The worst film I’ve seen at the cinema so far this year was The Woman In Black, which never rose above someone jumping out of a cupboard and going ‘boo!’

The Muppets was entertaining, but not as good as it should have been given the cast of characters.

Marvel Avengers Assemble was entertaining, and better than it should have been given the cast of characters.

But the best film I’ve seen at the cinema this year is definitely The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Before I Could Write - Part 3

Yes, here it is, the third instalment of rubbish I wrote when I was a child.  There is still no sign of any actual talent.

I wrote this story when I was about eight.

Self Portrait (going down a water slide)

My name is Bobby and this is a story I shall never forget.  One day when I was sitting on the shop shelf some people came into the shop.  I thought they wouldn’t buy me because the shop owners were going to chuck the toys out but the people bought me.  They put me in a plastic bag but the top of the bag was open so I didn’t suffocate.  When they got home they wrapped me up and then the lady put me in her cupboard.  In the morning they put a card on the wrapping paper and gave me to a little girl.  The little girl ripped the wrapping paper off and said what have you given me this for.  It’s a piece of rubbish.  But dear I thought you would like it.  Well I don’t said the little girl and she grabbed me and chucked me in her toy box.  Suddenly two horses jumped on top of me they were skipping rope handles they jumped and jumped and jumped until I was half way down the box.  When morning started I tried to climb to the top but things kept pushing me down.  By night I was at the bottom of the box.  It seemed too comfortable to be the bottom of the box that’s when I realised I was lying on a sleeping bag one just the size for me then a bear said to me get off my sleeping bag Bobby.  I said how do you know my name.  Because I am Letterbox Bear.  What I said.  Let’s go.  So we packed up and climbed out.  When we got out we climbed up on the bed there were thousands of toys then we turned to the side with the pillow on and we saw 3 toys in one corner and 3 toys in the other corner and on the pillow there was 1 toy a dolphin called Doffy.  He said to us come over here so we went over to the dolphin and we soon made friends.  Then the little girl made all three of us her favourite toys.


So wasn't that nice.  What an incredibly fickle child.  (Although the narrator is clearly Bobby Badger, my favourite toy, this story is not autobiographical.  Although Toy Story clearly got some of its ideas from me, right?)

I also found several poems I wrote around the same time, but they were suspiciously good and having googled them I've discovered the reason for that is because I did not write them.  Stupid teaching tools.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Things I Have Done This Year

So we’ve established I’m lazy.  In a paltry attempt to save some face, here’s what I have done in the last four months:

1. I started Level 3 of The IT Course.

As usual I was the only person in the class with the ability to pay attention.  So most lessons were spent like this:

Only then I got a temp job and had to put the course on hiatus, which means that these people...

...have a qualification that I don’t.

2. I read a novel by someone I know and respect. 

I have long wished to read some of their work. 

So, what did I think of what I read?

3. I watched all eight Harry Potter films in one weekend. 

4. I got over The Melancholy. 

Admittedly I made a fool of myself and said a lot of total nonsense along the way, but sometimes that’s just what you have to do. 
I want this bubble out of you.    I touched a nerve, something burst.  All that talk of yours was simply a draining process.  We’ll never get to what’s important until you’re done.
~ Marathon Man by William Goldman.
I feel a lot better.  I’ve learnt the lesson that nothing important can be said in a text message.  And I’ve got a forty page short story out of it.

5. I got a temp job. 

This was a lot easier than the months of unemployment had led me to believe.

And turns out I was really good at it.

6. I got promoted after three weeks. 

7. I got an extension on my job. 

8. I got another extension on my job. 

9. I didn’t get another extension on my job.

10. I reedited my World War II MS Working Title: The Road To Confidence. 

It’s shaping up well, I think.  I just have one major scene missing, which I can’t work out at all.  Pretty dumb, writing the characters into a situation I can’t think how to write them out of.  Of course, I did know how to write them out of it; it just wasn’t a very good solution, so I’ve axed it. 

I feel uncomfortable having this hole in my novel, as if next time I open it up, the characters will have been caught because I didn’t give them a way out.

That makes me insane, right, I know.

11. I went to the cinema twice on the same day. 

This is like the double bills of the old days, so I could pretend to be in the 1940s.

12. I watched all nine series of Dad’s Army.  

13. I walked up a hill. 

14. ...So I joined a gym. 

Well, I visited one anyway.  A whole THREE times.

15. I babysat. 

16. I read Marathon Man in one day. 

17. I cleaned and tidied the kitchen. 

18. I made an apple and rhubarb crumble. 

19. I started writing The Blog again.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Okay, so turns out I’m appallingly bad at regularly updating The Blog.  It’s no great surprise.  Do I have excuses, I hear you ask?

Why yes I do.

Excuse Number One: When I first started The Blog I tried to update it every day, but that was before I was illustrating it.  So now even if I have time to write an entry, I still have to find the time to draw the pictures and, having as much artistic talent as a grape, that takes me a while, so it simply isn’t possible to update every day. 

Is this a valid excuse?  Not really, because the longest I have gone without updating was six months and that was BEFORE I started illustrating it.

Okay, Excuse Number Two: The very first entry began like this:

Last night I dreamt Dr Sam Beckett leaped into a ruffian who was harassing a commune in the woods. That Damn Ending
After writing and posting this, I noticed that the first four words were the same as the first four words of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

And so I decided that every post should start with the first four words from a book.  It would be a gimmick and would be a way into how to write each entry.  So each time I sat down to type The Thoughts, I slid a book off the shelf, jotted down the first four words and figured out how to get to The Point from there.  Which is why one of The Posts randomly and for no intelligent or logical reason begins with:

In 1937, Neville Chamberlain... Flashbulb

However, it is surprisingly (or probably not so surprisingly) hard to start a point with four random words that have nothing to do with anything and it also required me to remember which books I had already used and so I got confused and rather than just dump this pointless gimmick, I shied away from posting at all.

Is this a valid excuse?  No, because all I had to do was write down the books I had used, and the effort to get a book off the shelf really isn’t that big a deal. 

This rather reveals the true excuse.

Excuse Number Three: There’s an episode of Frasier that springs to mind.

It’s from season 2 (which isn’t my favourite.  The show took a few years to settle and add depth to the characters, but anyway) the relevant episode is called ‘Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me Twice...’ written by the executive producer Christopher Lloyd (no, not that one).

[EDIT 2015: the video has been taken down, so you'll just have to read (lucky I transcribed it just in case)]

Here's the relevant bit:

The plot involves Frasier’s briefcase being stolen.  The thief then steals his dry cleaning, and then his car, and then picks up a date by pretending to be Frasier.  Frasier eventually traces the thief to a bar and confronts him.  The thief, Phil (Nathan Lane), gives in and hands Frasier his new car phone to contact the police.

Phil: I shoulda known things were gonna turn out like this for me.
Frasier: Ah yes, here it comes, the old sob story.  Daddy didn’t love me, Mother ignored me, the bully next door stole my baseball glove.
Phil: No…  Dad loved me.  Mom spoiled me.  And I was the bully next door.  Say, why don’t you let me do that, it’s kind of tricky.  (Takes the phone from Frasier).
Frasier: Thank you.
Phil: There’s only one person to blame for my problems and that’s me.  (Into phone) Yeah hi, the number for the Seattle PD, please.  (To Frasier) I take the easy way out of everything.  I always have.  And you wanna know why?  I’m lazy.  Lazy, lazy, lazy.  (Into phone) Oh sweetheart, I don’t have the energy to look for a pencil, could you just connect me?  Thanks hon.
Frasier: You expect me to believe that your entire life of crime can be attributed to your laziness?
Phil: Hey, it’s the truth.  I don’t like to work, never have.  And believe me, it’s a lot easier to take something than to get a job.  And I’m even a lazy criminal.  A briefcase here, a set of car keys there, maybe a little light shoplifting.  But a bank robbery?  All that planning and split second timing?  Forget it.  And that second-storey stuff – grappling hooks, glasscutters!  Who does that?  (Into phone) Yeah.  Thank you.  (To Frasier, handing over phone) You’re on hold.
Frasier: Ha, story of my week.  You know, you seem to be taking this awfully well.
Phil: Well, it’s like I said, it was bound to happen.
Frasier: Or perhaps, perhaps you wanted to get caught.
Phil: Huh?
Frasier: Yes, well think about it.  You’ve been taking greater and greater risks.  Isn’t that the behaviour of a man who wants to get caught?
Phil: I’m telling ya, doc, lazy.  Look at your pants for God’s sake.  You’d think I’d take them in to be hemmed, right?  Staples!
Frasier: Oh dear God!
Phil: Staples!
Frasier: Well I still say that you really wanted to get caught.  Yes, it’s a classic cri de coeur.
Phil: Cri de what?
Frasier: Well it’s a malaise that’s been identified…  No…  It just means that you don’t like the life that you’re living.
Phil: Well, it’s not a great life.  Half the time I don’t know where my next month’s rent is coming from and I haven’t been in a solid relationship in I don’t know how long.
Frasier: Then why don’t you change?
Phil: Haven’t we been over this?  Gimme an ‘L’.  Gimme an ‘A’.  Gimme a…

Why has it taken me four months to update The Blog this year?

Gimme an ‘L’.