Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to regular readers (and anyone else who happens to pass through).

I am working on a summary of 2009 but I've been too busy to finish it off, so it will most likely be posted in the new year.

Thought I'd share one of my procrastination activities for anyone who's on Spotify:

Stuff wot I sometimes listen to...

About 50% of the playlist is stuff I've been listening to this year and then there's 50% random/classic stuff. I tried to keep it mixtape length and it's designed to be played in order. Might make a good soundtrack to my end of year post when I get round to finishing it.

I've also been punctuating writing sessions by working through the Mario Bava boxset I got for Christmas. If you haven't seen any Bava films I seriously recommend Black Sabbath. The first story is a bit daft and it has a weird comedy ending but stories two and three are ace and still quite scary. The Mask of Satan is also ace.

Anyway, having a brief break for New Year celebrations with old friends, then back to rewriting.

Here's to an exciting 2010!

Monday, 21 December 2009

More catching up...

Haven't had time to blog properly so am having to quickly round up stuff that's happened. Funnily enough, last Christmas I managed a new blog post every day. This year I've hardly had time to register the fact that it is indeed Christmas this week. I am currently working on a rewrite that desperately needs to be done by January, hence the lack of posts.

- Sad to hear about Dan O'Bannon passing away - one of the few screenwriter names I knew well before I became interested in screenwriting. Alien was his most famous work after Dark Star, but looking at the various obituaries online I was surprised at how many great films he worked on including Lifeforce, Blue Thunder and the best segment of Heavy Metal. He also directed Return of the Living Dead which is perhaps the best of the zombie comedies.

- I was also shocked to hear about Brittany Murphy's death, an actor I'd been a fan of since she stole her few scenes in Drive.

- Overjoyed at the news that Rage Against the Machine made it to No. 1 in the charts. However, I'm embarrassed to confess that despite my support of the campaign I forgot to buy the single. Oops.

- Finally finished epic PS2 Yakuza 2 which I've been playing on and off all year. By the end I was kind of bored of the format, which mostly involved running between locations only to get another overlong cutscene (the script badly needed editing down) with a fight tacked on the end. But the ending of the game (SPOILER - although I doubt many people will have the patience to play that far) almost made up for it. As the hero, Kazuma Kiryu, you defeat the main villain Ryuji Goda who also happens to be the brother of your detective girlfriend Kaoru Sayama (it took a lot of plot points and hours of cut scenes to get to those revelations). Unfortunately, the time taken to defeat the Ryuji has meant that there's now no way Kazuma and Kaoru can escape before the bomb left by another bad guy (there were two twist villains - I'm not even going to get into that) explodes.

So I'm poised for a bit of running-from-burning-building gameplay when Kazuma says that actually there really is no way they can escape in time and they should just enjoy their last moments together. So Kazuma and Kauru, lovers united in their inability to fit in with the world around them, accept their fate and kiss as the counter hits zero. Roll credits. Best ending ever.

Except it's then ruined with a post-credits revelation that the bomb was a fake. Rubbish.

- Finally watched Moon which I really enjoyed and is definitely one of the best films I've seen this year. There's nothing particularly new or exciting about it, but it's a solid, well-crafted and enjoyable sci-fi film that tells a proper story in just over 90 minutes. It was about as close to being perfect as you can get.

- Brother Pete blogged about making his music video for Bitter Ruin's Soldier in depth here which is definitely worth a read and gives a good idea of how much work went into it.

That's it for now. I'll try to blog more about actual writing in the new year, just too busy doing the actual writing itself to blog about it at the moment. If I don't get chance to blog again before Friday hope you all have a good Christmas!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Alice Cooper...

Went to see Alice Cooper at the Brighton Centre on Saturday. It was awesome. Brother Pete blogged in detail here.

He played my favourite song...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Bitter Ruin - Soldier...

Way back in May (it seems like years ago thus requiring a 'way back' prefix) I went to the Birdeatsbaby album launch which was ace. One of the support acts that evening was Bitter Ruin who were also ace. After playing their song Soldier they mentioned something about wanting a music video for that song. Brother Pete volunteered his services and started production the following month. Around four months later the music video was finished and screened on Thursday at the Brunswick in Brighton in between performances from Bitter Ruin and Birdeatsbaby. Except it wasn't that simple.

Pete made the video in our flat. He came up with the concept, designed it, shot it, animated it, edited it - the whole lot. That's why it took four months. And it was four months of challenges, including his PC exploding halfway through the process which did not help. Add to that debates over whether the story needed to be explained or not (I don't think it does, but then again my favourite music video is The Act of Being Polite by The Residents) and over whether it should be in colour or black-and-white (I think it works better in black-and-white - it's referencing silent films after all). What I'm saying is it was not an easy or quick process and I'm really proud of him for sticking with it and producing something awesome as a result:

Thursday, 3 December 2009

So much to blog about...

...and so little time. I have a feeling I've opened like that a fair few times before. Anyway, here's a list of things I wanted to blog about but may not have time:

- Another awesome bad film weekend in Bristol. Luckily Dave reviewed each of the films in detail here. Although oddly I think my favourites were The Being and Black Cobra 3.

- Son of Moviebar on Tuesday was awesome as always. I've posted one of the best films of the night below.

- Two things everyone has already told you are good so there's no point me blogging about them:

1) Paranormal Activity which I think is the film of 2009 - certainly the best thing I've seen at the cinema and a strong contender for 'The Film I Get Most Defensive About When People Start to Criticise' (replacing The Dark Knight which held onto the title for just over a year!).

2) The Fall which sat on top of my TV for a month because I was convinced I'd hate it, but I loved it.

- The Bitter Ruin music video launch night which I've just come back from and was amazing, especially as Brother Pete showed his awesome video. But the video isn't on YouTube yet so I'll post about it properly over the weekend.

- What I've learnt about writing this month but don't have time to blog about (because I need to do actual writing):

1) If you get a paid assignment that involves some payment upfront, wait until you get paid before doing the work. Which now I type it sounds obvious. I may blog about the whole epic saga depending on how it works out.

2) You can't rely on actors to 'make the lines their own'. Again, typing this it seems obvious.

3) A script I thought was adequate is just that. And that's not a good thing.

4) Never draft a blog post about how everything's finished for the year and you can take a well-deserved month off writing. I did that, and now I'm super-busy.

5) There's a reason it takes most writers longer than two weeks of evenings to write a feature script.

- For anyone who made it through my epic Karloff post I am still intending to watch and review the only non-Karloff Wong film. I'm just not sure when.

Anyway, here's a short film Simon Messingham screened at Son of Moviebar on Tuesday. You should definitely watch it - it's awesome:


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Boris Karloff as James Lee Wong...

The Boris Karloff Blogathon started on Monday at the Frankensteinia website and there have already been loads of cool and interesting blog posts about the horror legend's work. It's amazing how diverse the posts are too and though I'm sure there will be overlaps no one really seems to be covering the same ground. You can check out the full list on the Frankensteinia blog here. I tried to get my entry finished over the weekend but being halfway through the second draft of a new script at the the same time it took a little longer than planned. Anyway, got it done in the end so here goes:


Boris Karloff as James Lee Wong


When I think of Boris Karloff the first film that always comes to mind is Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968) in which he played a version of himself as an aging horror icon who is forced to confront a real life monster. It's one of the few occasions in which Karloff got to play the hero rather than the villain and I decided that this was the Karloff I wanted to write about. This led me to a series of films in which Karloff consistently played the hero as Chinese detective James Lee Wong.

I originally intended to cover what I now know to be the final two films in the series, The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die, as I already owned them on DVD as part of a triple bill along with another Karloff film, The Ape. When I discovered Karloff played Wong in a total of five films and that all were available to watch at Internet Archive I decided to cover the whole series. If you are interested in seeing any of the films I've linked the titles to their IMDB pages and there is a link to the Internet Archive video at the top of each IMDB entry.

The character of James Lee Wong started life in a series of short stories written by journalist and author Hugh Wiley in the 1930s. They were first printed in Collier’s magazine and later collected in the book Murder by the Dozen. There is an excellent summary of the stories from thrillingdetective.com here. Karloff played Wong in five of the six Monogram films, with Asian-American actor Keye Luke taking over in the sixth film. I haven’t talked about that final film here as it’s not particularly relevant to Karloff but I’m intending to watch it for comparison’s sake and will post something about it here in the next couple of weeks.

What I’ve written below is a kind of review of each film while tracking the overall progress of the series and comparing the films to each other as I go along. It's not completely spoiler free although I’ve tried my best to avoid plot twists, but as mentioned above you can watch the films right now if you would rather see them first. Despite owning the final two films in the series I had never actually watched them until a couple of days ago so these are my thoughts having seen each one for the first time.


After setting up corruption in a chemical manufacturing company, the first film introduces us to Mr. Wong with a classic detective genre entrance – a soon to be murdered man comes to Wong to ask for help. It’s not clear from this introduction what Wong actually does for a living. He doesn’t appear to charge for his services and we later discover that the police know who he is and are happy to have him around but he’s not on their payroll. He seems to be of the Sherlock Holmes consulting detective variety rather than a Chandler-esque snooper for hire but this is not clarified (not until later in the series anyway).


When the man is eventually killed, Wong is presented with a puzzle. The victim was in his office at the time, the door was locked and several witnesses were outside. To make matters more confusing the police who arrived seconds before the incident was discovered saw the victim standing at the window, still alive. It’s an intriguing mystery and a good challenge to establish Wong’s detective skills.

Once the plot gets moving there is only one real glimpse into Wong’s past in the film – Wong visits an old friend at a university who mentions that they studied at Oxford together (which also helps explain Karloff’s accent). The friend also points out that he is always happy to help out with Wong’s ‘experiments’ which suggests he has done this a few times before. Other than that, very little is revealed about who Wong is and in fact he doesn’t really appear in the film all that much. The screen time is for the most part shared between the numerous plotting suspects and a representative of the police, the overworked Captain Sam Street (Grant Withers, shown here on the right).


The scene that best sums up Wong’s presence in the film is the one in which he arrives at the house of one of the suspects and waits around long enough to be invited to stay for drinks as one by one the other major suspects arrive. As the ensuing scene plays out, Wong lurks in the background watching events unfold almost from the same position as the audience.

Later he takes a more active role, sneaking into offices and apartments late at night, but his real skill seems to be more to do with scientific experimentation. There is an element of the film that is reminiscent of current police procedural dramas, such as a scene in which Wong reconstructs a gas grenade from a shard of glass, and a surreal scene in which a suspect is subjected to a formal ‘sanity’ test.

Although occasionally slow-moving the film does still hold up surprisingly well and when Wong finally reveals the murderer and the method it really is worth the wait. As for Karloff he plays Wong as a likable, dignified gentleman but also manages to inject the character with just enough mystery and eccentricity to make him interesting.


The second film opens with the acquisition of a rare and supposedly cursed Oriental jewel and the subsequent murder of its new owner. As a friend of the family Mr. Wong is called in to investigate.


William Nigh directed all five of the Karloff Wong films, but they were not all written by the same screenwriter. This goes someway to explaining the noticeable shift in tone between the first two films. Houston Branch’s screenplay for Mr Wong, Detective had a sense of playfulness that seems missing from this film, most evident in the change to the character of Captain Street. In Branch’s script Street was a stressed policeman convinced he was on the right track and exasperated when Wong was proven correct. He had a comedy sidekick and a feisty fiancĂ©e, both of whom provided an opportunity for some witty exchanges.

In Scott Darling’s screenplay for The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Street has been simplified to an all round basic lawman figure – coming in at the last moment to arrest whoever Wong tells him to arrest. Although played by the same actor he’s presented as a much less interesting character and the missing interplay with Wong from the first film leaves a big hole.

That hole is partially filled by the introduction of a new ally, Professor Janney played by Holmes Herbert. Janney is an academic equal to Wong in intelligence and experience who later becomes integral to the story. It is even suggested that Wong, Janney and Street have a history of solving cases together and the relationship between Wong and Janney becomes the most interesting element of the film. However, it is Wong who does most of the detective work and this aspect expands on some of the sequences set up in the first film.


There is again some real policework on display with one scene going into an interesting amount of detail about the work of a ballistics specialist – a scene that would not look at all out of place in today's CSI. Wong does a certain amount of experimentation of his own and also a lot more prowling around at night, which almost costs him his life in one scene. ‘It’s perfectly alright,’ he says cheerfully after surviving being shot at, ‘He missed.’

As in the first film Wong manages to assemble the suspects in his own home for the big reveal and when the reveal comes it is a good one. The final moment between Wong and the murderer is surprisingly moving and gives Karloff a chance to add some real depth to the character.


In the third film in the series Mr. Wong is visited by a Chinese princess who comes to him for help only to be murdered in his home before he can talk to her. Wong again teams up with Captain Street and a new character, reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) to track down the murderer in an investigation that leads him to Chinatown. Interestingly, the princess is played by Lotus Long who played a maid in Mystery and was also killed in that film (she also plays a character in the sixth film, Phantom of Chinatown, and I’d like to think she makes it through that one alive although her track record would suggest otherwise).


The third film was again written by Scott Darling so it is surprising how similar the script is to that of Houston Branch’s first film in the series. There is much more to enjoy in the dialogue and characters in this film and while we learn nothing new about Wong he does seem more involved in the story this time. The investigation also takes place across several different locations and feels more complex and ambitious as a result.

Reynolds is a welcome addition to the cast and though the wise-cracking female reporter was an often used archetype at the time she still comes across as a refreshingly bold and proactive character. At one point she even saves Wong’s life, then rushes to the nearest phone to make sure that the fact is mentioned in the ensuing news coverage. Her character is made more likable by her witty and often antagonistic clashes with Captain Street that are reminiscent of his relationship with his fiancee in the first film. The advantage of this is that it adds some moments of lightness that the previous film badly needed and makes Street a much more rounded and interesting character. He even loses his temper with Wong at one point rather than going along with everything he says as he did in Mystery.

One thing that becomes apparent from watching the first three films is that the elements of Chinese culture present in the story become more prevalent with each entry. In the first film Wong is the only Chinese character except for his servant, but in the second film there are more secondary Chinese characters along with a plot that concerns the Chinese government. In the third film Wong spends much of the first half in Chinatown interviewing Chinese suspects and the local Tong leader (Tongs were secret societies formed by Chinese-American immigrants). It may be a coincidence but there does seem to be an increase in confidence about delving into Chinese culture and having more genuine Chinese performers onscreen over the course of the films.


On a side note the film also features a brief appearance from Angelo Rossitto – one of the most famous and prolific dwarf actors of the time who is probably most recognisable from Tod Browning’s Freaks. Here he is given little to do except sport a sinister moustache and mime a lot, but his role does become integral to the plot (he also turns up as a newsboy in the montage that opens the fifth film Doomed to Die).

The plot is perhaps the weakest element of Mr Wong in Chinatown. The previous two films were enhanced by the endings with the reveal coming as an unexpected but effectively crafted surprise both times. In this film the reveal is rather a let down and Wong’s admission that he made a wild guess at the last minute actually comes across as just that rather than the excuses of a modest genius. Tied up up in the back of a car Wong quite literally takes a back seat in the third act of the film and it is left to Street and Bobbie to save the day.

Overall there is much about the third film in the series that shows development and improvement over the previous two. It is clear that Nigh and Darling recognised the elements of the first film that worked as the restoration of Street’s forever frustrated personality and the addition of a female sidekick clearly demonstrate. But while the series does seem to have hit its stride where the characters, pace and structure are concerned the plot itself just isn’t strong enough to elevate this film above the level of the previous two.


This time Wong volunteers his services when a colleague and friend of Captain Street is murdered. Wong unravels a smuggling scheme involving a suspicious night-club owner, a cheap jewelry store holding some high-class stock and a hotel manager in his most complex mystery so far.


Scott Darling is again the writer on this film, although George Waggner is also credited for adapting the source material. The plot seems the most ambitious of the series in terms of the different suspects and subplots involved. Much of the film centres around the doomed relationship between the jewelry store owner’s son and one of the night-club’s employees which ends in an incredibly convoluted murder.

Aside from a brief visit to a jewelry expert in Chinatown the growing Chinese presence in the films comes to an end here. However there is an interesting bit of information about Wong’s involvement with the police. Street makes it clear to Wong that on this occasion he cannot involve him in an official capacity. Wong then explains, mostly for our benefit, that so far he has only been called in on cases where there has been an Oriental link. It seems odd that the filmmakers decided this exposition was required in the fourth film of the series, especially as Wong’s unofficial involvement never comes up again in the story. At the same time, it is nice to get some clarification on the matter.

Marjorie Reynolds returns as Bobbie Logan and her heated exchanges with Street are some of the highlights of the film. She also saves the day again at the end of the film - Wong has a habit of unmasking the criminal when there is no one else around which often results in the murderer pointing a gun at him. But it’s Grant Withers as Captain Street who steals the show as (with the exception of Mystery) his general anger seems to increase at least 100% with each entry in the series leading to some amusing outbursts.

Sadly missing from The Fatal Hour are any of the procedural moments that seemed to characterise the first film but become less and less prevalent. The main focus here seems to be the partnership of Wong and Street who work together as a team more effectively than in the previous films.


While the plot is not as strong as that of the first film and the twist nowhere near as thrilling as that of the second, The Fatal Hour is certainly the most accomplished of the series. The trio of Wong, Street and Bobbie seems so perfectly suited to the series that it’s hard to imagine all three not being present in the previous films. The only drawback of this is that Wong’s character seems to have been sidelined with none of the mystery and eccentricity that Karloff played on so successfully in the first two films.


This time the case comes from Bobbie who calls Wong in to help clear the name of her friend’s fiancĂ© when he is arrested for murder. Street is convinced the young man is the culprit but Wong has other ideas and unravels a mystery involving rival shipping firms, a smuggling operation (again) and an alcoholic chauffeur, taking a bullet in the process.


It comes as a surprise to find the two writers of this film are completely new to the series with Michel Jacoby taking the main credit based on a story from Ralph Gilbert Bettinson. Despite the new talent onboard there is no great shift in the style of film which was certainly noticeable in the change of writers between the first two films. Instead, Doomed to Die manages to include all the elements that have come to characterise the series and is perhaps the best of the films overall as a result.

By this point the pattern seems to be that Wong will be fairly proactive in the first two thirds of the film, then disappear in the last third only to turn up right at the end to deliver his verdict. There is certainly more action in those first two thirds this time than in previous films – there is even a thrilling car chase at one point although it’s hard to be sure whether the footage was specifically shot for this film or borrowed from something else. Wong is shot in the arm and there is a good scene with him complaining about having to have the wound seen to – a nice callback to his cheerful reaction at being shot at in Mystery.

Otherwise it’s business as usual – Bobbie and Street spend the film getting on each others' nerves and steal every scene they’re in together, Wong gets a few scenes prowling around in dark rooms, and there is a welcome return for the police procedural scene when Wong requests an infrared photograph be taken of a burnt note. Also, the plot lives up to the quality of the first two films and comes to a satisfying conclusion.


If there’s a problem with Doomed to Die, it’s that Wong is again sidelined and becomes almost a secondary character to Bobbie and Street. Although this is a classic formula (the eccentric detective and his bickering assistants) that is still often used today the casualty here is Karloff’s character. In the first film in the series Wong’s character seemed just as much of a mystery as the murders he was investigating, but this element is never really explored after the second film thus limiting the character and Karloff's performance.

That said, Doomed to Die is the most accomplished film in the series and shows that with the combination of Wong, Bobbie and Street along with the best of the mystery elements of the previous films the filmmakers hit upon a winning formula. Unfortunately of the three actors playing those characters only Grant Withers would go on to appear in the final film of the series.


Final thoughts...

There is a clear division in the series between the first two films and the last three, when Marjorie Reynolds becomes a regular as Bobbie Logan. What is probably clear from the above is that it is the chemistry between Reynolds and Withers along with the dialogue between their characters that really makes those later films work. The problem is that Wong as a character fades into the background as a result. He may be referred to throughout, he always comes up with the answers at the end of the film but ultimately that's all he seems to be there for.

The transition is clear in the stories themselves - in the first three films the cases are either brought to Wong directly or in the case of the second film it relates personally to him. By Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die the cases relate to friends of Captain Street and Bobbie Logan respectively. In story structure terms, these later films treat Wong more as an ally to the protagonist, rather than being the actual protagonist himself. He becomes a secondary character.

The key to understanding this is the second film in the series, The Mystery of Mr Wong. While it is in some ways the most limited film in terms of the plot, it is also the one that shows the most potential for the character and most easily demonstrates Karloff's versatility and professionalism. This is partly because Captain Street is genuinely a secondary character in this film (and oddly seems to have had his personality removed) but mostly it works because of Karloff's take on a detective investigating a case that he is perhaps too close to. When the killer is unveiled at the end of the film the sorrow in Karloff's performance is, just for a moment, profoundly moving. It is that moment that makes the film work and it is the same glint of humanity that he allowed to peek through the make-up of so many of his monsters.

Ultimately that was Karloff's great talent - that no matter the layers of make-up and madness in the characters he portrayed he would always allow that glimmer of humanity to shine through. With Mr Wong he shows us that the principle is not limited to monsters and even when the mask is made of eccentricity and caricature there is still someone just like us behind it all.


Saturday, 21 November 2009

Friday 13th Part 3 in 3D...

So last night Channel 4 showed Friday 13th Part 3 in actual 3D and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would.

I have a bit of a history with this film. It was the first slasher film I ever saw at a time when I was far too young to watch it really. It gave me nightmares about Jason smashing through my bedroom window. A few years later when I was at university some friends and I watched the first four parts of the series over a few weeks. Watching it as an adult I realised a) when you watch the films consecutively the formula starts to wear a bit thin by Part 3, b) they'd even resorted to re-using most of the set-pieces from Part 1 and c) there was an awful lot of people waving things in the camera which obviously doesn't work in 2D. But I was always curious as to how well it would work in 3D.

In 3D it really does work. Well, as much as old school 3D can work - it's blurry and a bit messy, but you get the idea. I was surprised to discover that this actually makes the film awesome. The 3D gimmick bits become the highlight of the film and this film is full of them. There are people juggling into camera, yo-yos, popcorn, eyeballs (my personal favourite) and an awful lot of sticks being waved in your face. And there is an awesome moment at the end when Jason walks right into camera waving his arms at you.

I know people are undecided about 3D and I can't really get into that debate because I'm still yet to see any recent 3D films. But this was something different. It felt like watching a classic film the way it was originally intended - like going to a silent film screening with someone playing live music on a piano. I really enjoyed it, and if anyone in the UK wants to see it you have another chance tonight. All the details are here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Broken...

Although I am a fan of horror films it's quite rare that I see a horror film that I actually like. What I like is fairly specific: I like grown-up horror films in which bad things happen to adults rather than teenagers (this is honestly something I've always preferred and isn't just a sign of getting older). I like horror films that take the genre seriously - there's nothing scary about post-modern irony and over-the-top gore. And though it's not essential I prefer supernatural horror films to those based in reality. I know people say the idea that the person who lives nextdoor could be a psycho is scarier than something as unrealistic as people coming back from the dead, but I've never felt like that. I enjoy the fact that supernatural horror films make me terrified of something I know doesn't exist, and I find the unknown way scarier than the fact that the human mind goes a bit loopy sometimes. As much as I like Rob Zombie as an artist, I don't care who Michael Myers is behind the mask - as soon as any of those horror movie icons take the mask off they're just normal crazy people and there's nothing scary about that. Not for me anyway.

So last night I watched The Broken and while it's not a perfect film it does tick all of the boxes on my list of requirements. It is a film about grown-ups, it takes itself very seriously, we are told very little about the antagonist and it does not have a twist ending where we discover the main character is a bit loony. It doesn't always work - occasionally the suspense crosses the line and becomes tedious, it's quite derivative and there are a couple of unnecessary moments of gore (which I suspect were inserted on the insistence of some executive or investor somewhere who wanted some blood for the trailer). But for the most part it's 90 minutes of creepiness that for me came to a much better conclusion than I expected. Lena Heady and Richard Jenkins are both excellent and something about their relationship reminded me of Ashley Laurence and Andrew Robinson in Hellraiser. If you like atmospheric horror films like Repulsion or Prince of Darkness then this is definitely a film for you. If you liked any of the recent slasher remakes then don't bother.


Monday, 9 November 2009

Routines...

This is me after a twelve-hour writing day on Saturday:


For some reason I've never been able to find a writing routine that I can stick to.

Some weekends I get up early (early meaning 10am on a Saturday) and work through the day, and occasionally into the evening like this weekend. Sometimes that won't work at all and I'll either end up staring at a blank page until lunchtime until I give up or I'll just start in the evening. Weekday evenings are the same - sometimes I'll start as early as 7.30pm, sometimes I'll decide I'm not going to do any writing, then get the urge at midnight and do a couple of hours until 2am (recently this has been happening a lot). Some weekdays I'll find writing after a day at work unbearable and I'll put everything off until the weekend. Some weekends I'll find the idea of spending all of my free time writing unbearable and put it off until the weekday evenings.

The difficulty I find is deciding on what kind of routine to go with on a particular day. On Saturday I kept meaning to stop, but never reached a point where I actually wanted to. On Sunday I realised I wasn't in any kind of mood for writing and spent the day watching action films instead, which I justified by calling it research (and to a point it was). Then I went to the pub.

Other things that happened this weekend - I watched these films (mostly on Sunday when I gave up writing): Lakeview Terrace (not bad, Patrick Wilson is awesome), Yes Man (doesn't really work as a film, and Jim Carrey romancing Zooey Deschanel is creepy, but interesting enough to keep me awake at 2 in the morning), The Wave (awesome, but I made the mistake of watching the alternate ending straight after I watched the film, thus confusing my perceptions), Best of the Best 2 (surprised me by not being awful, excellent genre cast and a tight script - enjoyed it much more than I thought I would), Rumble in Hong Kong (had to watch on fastforward due to bad dubbing and a terrible transfer), Supercop (pretends it's a film about Michelle Yeoh being a Supercop but actually she doesn't get to do all that much), and The Streetfighter (which was awesome and I can't believe I waited this long to watch it).

I also found out what it's like to be in your own Twilight Zone episode by visiting my local supermarket half an hour before closing (which through bad planning I ending up doing two nights in a row). So presumably because it was late, cold and miserable the local high street was looking pretty desolate at 9.30pm and I seemed to be the only person venturing out at that time. When I got to the shop it looked like half the lights were turned out and there was no one inside. I stood there for a moment wondering if it was closed, staring at the opening times, checking my watch, questioning my sanity and so on, then gingerly stepped close enough for the doors to open. Inside it was silent and empty. There were staff members around stacking shelves - I kept expecting them to tell me they were closed. But they just ignored me. It's a very odd feeling to be the only customer in a huge shop with half the lights turned out and the only other human beings acting like you're not there. It reminded me of the scariest Twilight Zone episode I ever saw where a woman goes into a department store seconds before closing and is terrorised by the mannequins, before turning into one herself:

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hit the Big Time LA screening...

So a lot of my friends and colleagues are in LA at the moment for AFM and though I'm not sure I'd be of any use to them at all I do wish I was there, mainly because of this:

The background for anyone irregular followers is that as the finishing touches were being put to Ten Dead Men I was approached by JC Mac who plays Parker in the film about writing a spin-off featuring his character and his partner Garrett, played by Jason Lee Hyde. I agreed and sometime before Christmas 2007 I wrote a short film script - around 15 pages long. This was then taken out of my hands for a while and went through several rewrites before it came back to me (hence I share the writing credit).

The short started shooting in January 2008 while I started work on the feature, which I agreed to do on the basis that I would get sole writing credit (a drama documented here and here back when I used to refer to everyone I worked with by name). Back then it seemed like I'd been really lucky with independent films - Ten Dead Men had started shooting almost immediately after I finished writing the script and now I had a short that had already started filming in LA, Utah and Vegas. I went along to one of the UK shoots on the weekend in February 2008 that they wrapped shooting. I thought that would be it - another short in the can.

It is now November 2009 and the now 29 minute long short has finally been completed. That's around a year and a half in post-production. I don't know the full story, but I do know it's passed through the hands of a number of editors and has run into numerous problems in terms of the UK and US footage being shot in different formats - in other words technical problems that I have no idea about.

While all this was going I was writing the feature script, finishing the first draft in April 2008. I did another couple of drafts that year and a fourth earlier this year (I think it was this year anyway). This week I finished the fifth draft. Overall I'm really happy with it - it's my only all-out comedy script and is therefore a pretty valuable writing sample, and despite having rewritten it five times parts of it still make me laugh when I read through it. There's probably a rule somewhere about cutting the bits that make you, the writer, laugh but I have it on good authority that it made a few other people chuckle too so I think I'm safe.

Whether anything will happen with the feature from here I can't say - I don't even know how the short film turned out yet. But I am looking forward to seeing it and hope the LA screening goes well. If anyone reading this is based in LA and would like to go along feel free send me an e-mail and I'll give you the details. You can watch a brief promo for the short here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Adventures in Poundland...

You have to read this.

There is an explanation provided, but to give you a little backstory my dad has become a scholar of Poundland and the odd things you can buy there. He has been documenting his findings on a website for the last two years.

Some time ago I was in the 99p Store in Brighton and found the 'Funny Thing' which I then presented to dad as an example of how much of a difference the penny makes.


And last month Andrea, Brothers Pete & Tim and I had a particularly profitable trip to a newly opened Poundland in Worthing, which is why I now have too many clowns on my desk. We sent the photos for comment.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Halloween...

The lack of posts is not due to a lack of things to post about - there's loads. It's just having the time to post them that I'm having trouble with.

This week I'm finishing off an old script (draft 5) and starting a whole new one (draft 1!). My deadline for both is next Wednesday. I've pretty much finished redrafting the old one, just want to do one more dialogue pass. I'm on page 11 of the brand new one. I have a lot of work to do.

Anyway, last weekend I was best man at my best friend's wedding (no reference to the film intended). It was an excellent day and my speech went down pretty well despite containing obscure references to vampire films. It was Halloween after all.

The party in the evening was fancy dress which was awesome.

This is Brother Pete preparing syringes of glowing stuff:

Andrea went as a Stepford Wife, complete with loose wires:

I went as Top Dollar from The Crow which in hindsight was a little obscure, plus I couldn't really pull off an authentic Michael Wincott voice:

We did eventually leave the Travelodge and made it to the party:

The bride and groom went as Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie from The Hunger and looked awesome:


Halloween parties are ace.

Last night we went to a Halloween themed Moviebar and Brother Pete showed In Case of Zombies, which I don't think I've posted about before so here it is:



Brother Pete would probably blog about this himself but he is busy editing/animating a music video which needs to be finished by the end of the month. Meanwhile, Andrea is busy doing NaNoWriMo. My flat is full of busy creative people.

Monday, 26 October 2009

More Ten Dead Men stuff...

Yeah, there is still more Ten Dead Men stuff to talk about.

Is it really sad that I rented my own film from LoveFilm just to see how long it would take to be posted to me as if that were somehow a measure of popularity (and completely ignoring all the really bad reviews we got on the LoveFilm website)? Well I did it anyway, and the answer is almost exactly six months.


Luckily there is other Ten Dead Men news that means I don't have to fill up a whole post with me renting my own film.

This rather pleasant review appeared on Screenhead which is perhaps the most positive one we've had so far.

And we had our first video review, meaning I got to see my name on a TV in someone else's house (albeit very briefly):

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Boris Karloff Blogathon...

Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog is holding a Boris Karloff Blogathon next month to celebrate his 122nd birthday. Being a massive Karloff fan I've signed up to take part, as has Brother Pete.

It took me a while to decide what to write about. I was going to write about my favourite Karloff film, Targets, but I figured it's a pretty obvious choice and I wouldn't really be saying anything more than 'watch Targets right now - it's awesome!'. I also considered The Raven which was one of my favourite films as a kid and has what I remember as one of the best wizard battles ever filmed. But it's been so long since I last saw it I'm not sure what I'd say, other than 'The Raven is awesome, go watch it'. Instead I've picked a subject I'm hoping no one else will cover, although it involves watching a number of films I've never seen before.

Anyway, look out for that and check out the other blogs that will be doing the same - there's a full list on the Frankensteinia blog.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bad games...

As I've often mentioned before on this blog I am a fan of gathering groups of friends to watch spectacularly bad films and recently I've attempted to apply the same principle to games. This weekend I took Brothers Pete and Tim on a quest for bad games. We came home with X-Men 2: Wolverine's Revenge and Deadly Strike for the PS2, and Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon for Xbox. All three were really bad games, but as with films it's sometimes difficult to find ones that are so bad they're funny.

Wolverine's Revenge was the one we thought would be a fairly safe bet - the equivalent of getting one of the later Seagal films for a film night - entertaining with some unintentional laughs. You'd expect such a high profile film licence to be fun and playable if not particularly imaginative. It turned out to be painfully frustrating to play, full of glitches and for the most part incredibly dull. Not even the vocal talents of Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart made playing past the 3rd stage worthwhile. That was a definite fail.

Deadly Strike certainly fulfilled the comedy requirement. Essentially a two-player scrolling beat-em-up, you play one of six futuristic, gun-toting martial artists hoping to compete in the 'Cyberaction' tournament. You never get to fight in the tournament. Instead you fight across various countryside locations that have names like 'Field of Death' but actually look rather pleasant. The enemies are all samurais and monks which a) makes shooting them with rocket-launchers seem a little unfair and b) suggests you've travelled back in time, although there is no mention of this in the plot. At the end of the game you scale the rooftops of the 'Castle of Mystery' where you fight the shogun who apparently organises the tournament. He helpfully comes out onto the rooftops to fight you so you never have to go inside. Once you've defeated him you are told the outcome of the tournament with a little bit of added story that bears no relation to anything that has occurred up to that point. The whole thing feels like someone took an existing rubbish game and added their own characters. Luckily it's very short, so all of the above is still very funny. Plus the opening sequence is hilariously bad.

Quest for the Dragon was definitely the best of the three. The gameplay is terrible, but easy enough (you can beat any of the bosses by crouching and punching repeatedly). And it's worth playing through to the end for the amazing cutscenes. The voiceover work is fantastically bad and all accents, from Irish to Russian to British, are mauled without discrimination.

The British cutscenes are the best. On arrival in the UK Bruce gets a note from a contact telling him there is a drug lab hidden in a mansion at Trafalgar Square. So you fight your way through this huge stately home in the middle of the countryside then run out onto Trafalgar Square afterwards - the geography is perfect. At this point the police arrive in minis and I'm not sure when the game is supposed to be set but at one point the lead police character directs you to a submarine which he knows about because he fought in World War 2. So the depiction of the English is that we all drive minis, we were all in World War 2 and every other word is 'bloody hell' or 'whoa bollocks'.

But none of the other countries you visit come off any better. I really hoped there would be a clip of one of the better cutscenes somewhere online, but have had to make do with this one:


Friday, 16 October 2009

Life imitating Hitman...

As a result of no writing, lots of films I'm now stupidly busy, although mainly because I have an exam for the day job next week. Not looking forward to that, and spending my weekend studying exam material isn't anywhere near as interesting as spending it writing. And I kind of need to do both. And Brother Tim is visiting whom I haven't seen for months so I may end up not doing either.

Anyway, yesterday I had a meeting at lunchtime which I had to cut short to get back to the day job. As everyone involved would be at a party later that evening I agreed to go along and meet them there to finish up the meeting.

What followed closely resembled a level from the game Hitman (later made into a rubbish film), in which you often had to infiltrate parties in order to assassinate someone important.

So I go into this huge, labyrinthine post-production building (it was their launch party/networking thing) and give my name at the door. Unfortunately I didn't have time to beat up a waiter and steal his clothes (the usual method of entry in Hitman) so I had to go with just being me rather than coming up with a secret identity. Obviously I'm not on the list so I then give the name of the person I'm there to see who is on the list and is already there. This isn't challenged and I'm in.

But then I'm given a series of complicated instructions. This party has 'levels', much like a game would. As I go round the building various people will take me into various rooms and explain what they're doing. But I don't want to do any of that, I'm just here to see people I already know and finish off my meeting. So I put in a cheat code, which basically involves me shaking my head and vaguely pointing upstairs whenever someone comes out of a room to show me something.

This works fine until I get lost at the end of the first level and can't find the stairs. I'm then faced with an end of level boss whom I suspect has been sent by the bloke I met when I came in. I imagine their conversation went something like:

'I think you'd better keep an eye on that bloke. He wasn't on the list and says he's just here to "meet up with friends".'

'Don't worry,' says the other bloke, 'I'll cut him off at the end of the level'

Anyway, I explain myself to the end of level boss and he agrees to take me to level two. Awesome, but once we're on level two he tries to take me into a screening room. I don't want to go into a screening room, I want to find my friends! Luckily the screening room door is shut and he isn't sure if there's a screening in progress or not, so I take the opportunity to sneak away and carry on up the stairs to level 3, thus skipping level 2 completely.

On level 3 I find the people I'm looking for, have a chat, eat some free food and leave. Mission Successful. Although I don't think I'd get the Silent Assassin rating.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

No writing, lots of films...

So last week I didn't get too much writing done, but I did play more Yakuza 2 (in which I'm now running a night-club as well as trying to unite two warring Yakuza factions. Which leads to situations where I'll be doing one thing that seems fairly urgent, like rescuing a friend who's been kidnapped by a rival gang, and will then get a call from my club meaning I have to stop off there on the way and choose new wallpaper or something. It's starting to mirror my real life day job/writing job situation...) and watched lots of films.

The best was Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God...be Back by Five which I came across while randomly looking at Jon Cryer's filmography. It's essentially a buddy road movie - two old friends set out in search of a third friend who's gone missing but discover a lot more about themselves along the way. Same as every other road movie, only this one takes place entirely at Coney Island. It's a great idea as Coney Island looks awesome on film and provides the perfect backdrop for a story about going in search of happy childhood memories in a place that has it's own memories and has since fallen on hard times. It's also shot in the winter season so Coney is empty and desolate. When I was there last year we went on the last weekend of the summer season so it was much more vibrant and buzzing by the afternoon. But in the morning we arrived way too early and it looked much like the Coney depicted here, only sunnier. It's a nice little film anyway and worth checking out if you come across it.

So I was going to just mention a good film and leave it that, but I also watched Body of Lies at the weekend and while I don't usually like to rant about films I didn't enjoy I think this one deserves it. Plus I don't think Ridley Scott will be scouring random blogs for feedback.

On the plus side it looked amazing and the performances were good (if you can handle Russell Crowe doing extreme-accent acting at least). But the pacing and structure were so dire I found it almost unbearable to watch. There's a moment almost exactly 1 hour in where the characters come up with a scheme that should really form the main plot - everything prior to this is set-up. In a two-hour film, they spend the first half on what should really be dealt with in the first twenty minutes. And once the plot does kick off, they spend most of it playing out a tacked on love story that if it were necessary should've been set up at the beginning.

Ultimately that was the worst thing about it - for all it's contemporary politics and impressive visuals it wasn't anything more than an old-fashioned 'rogue cop who risks it all for the love of a woman' film, and it didn't even do that very well. Even if they did, aren't we beyond these films now? You know, the films where the tough guy manages to get a woman to fall for him despite the fact that he's an antisocial loner who hates everyone? Then said woman gets herself into trouble because even though tough guys are willing to give up everything for them the women in these films are always pretty rubbish at doing anything except being pretty and getting into trouble? But despite this the tough guy will risk his own life and the lives of hundreds of others for this one person he only just met, which is an extremely romantic notion but comes from an entirely unromantic character? Haven't we moved on from there? Haven't we?

No, we clearly haven't.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Good Journey...

I've noticed a lot of my recent blog posts have been tinged with bitterness, mainly due to writing-related things I can't really talk about here. I did at one point draft an epic post about the things that really bugged me about writing, and specifically writing for other people, but decided not to post it in the end. The process of writing it all down had really helped and I didn't feel so angry about it all afterwards.

To be honest things are going pretty well at the moment. I've had a couple of frustrating experiences that have taken up a lot of time unnecessarily, and I've got more to work on than I can possibly do. But as a result I've learnt to stop saying 'yes' to everything in the fear that it might be the next indie hit, and I've come to accept that I'm just not going to finish everything before the end of the year and that this is okay.

Still, to offset the bad vibes here are a few things that have cheered me up this week.

- The fact that the literal translation of the Japanese cover of Ten Dead Men is Machine Gun Punisher.

- Playing Yakuza 2 in which you are part of a world where all problems, no matter how complex, are eventually solved by hitting someone. However, it has made me never want to go to Japan as it seems you can't walk anywhere without someone saying 'I don't like your face' or 'Who do you think you are walking around like that' and then attacking you.

- The following line from the 1987 film Masters of the Universe, or more specifically the fact that this line comes from Masters of the Universe:

'Live the journey, for every destination is but a doorway to another.'

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

House of Voices...

Just watched House of Voices (or Saint Ange) and I've come to the conclusion that Pascal Laugier may well be my favourite contemporary director after only two films. As mentioned previously I was blown away by Martyrs and feel pretty similarly about House of Voices. The films are actually quite similar too, to be honest, but that didn't bother me too much. There are two things Laugier does in both which I think is amazing and not done enough (because from my experience when you try to do it someone shoots you down and says 'no, that's way too out there, just play it safe' - there are clearly advantages to directing your own scripts. Sorry, got onto a side rant there).

First, he always manages to surprise me. There's a whole sequence at the end of House of Voices where I had no idea where the film was going or what was going to happen next. I find that experience awesome and exhilarating, especially in a horror film. And it sadly doesn't happen enough these days.

Second, he clearly believes that just because you're making a horror film doesn't mean you can't make a film that's thought-provoking and interesting. Neither film provides a neat little wrapped up conclusion - they are intended to make you join up the dots with full knowledge that everyone will come out with a slightly different idea of what the film is about. This again is not done enough and too often frowned upon. If I may go off on another mini-rant, I've always believed that genre films are to be taken seriously and that there's meaning in the trashiest horror film whether the filmmakers wanted it there or not. It's all art at the end of the day, although I do prefer it when filmmakers accept that, and prefer it even more when they embrace it as Laugier clearly does.

There are a lot of other things to enjoy in Laugier's films - they look amazing, the performances are good, he creates a brilliantly creepy atmosphere - but those two are the things I appreciate most.

Not so long ago he was attached to direct the Hellraiser remake. If there was anyone I'd be happy to see remaking one of my favourite horror films...ah well, it was not to be in the end.

Anyway, here's the trailer for House of Voices. If you're sick of all horror films being made from the same template then I recommend you check it out:

Boredom post...

It's raining outside so I'm stuck in the office on my lunch break instead of wandering the mean streets of Brighton listening to music as I usually do. I could be doing something productive. I have loads of things I'm working on at the moment so could really be doing something towards one of those projects, but was out at Moviebar last night and am not fully functioning yet.

Speaking of which, yesterday I wrote a a whole scene on a lunch break - a really tricky opening scene for a new script that had left me staring at a blank page for hours the night before. Finally cracked it, then my rubbish work PC crashed. Luckily I'd managed to hit send before it actually died, but it wouldn't show up in my sent items so I spent most of the day trying to remember it word for word. Turned out it had been sent after all.

That was an incredibly dull story - memo to myself, never blog out of boredom again.

Moviebar was ace - not a great turnout at first but it improved as the night went along. Brother Pete showed Jonny The Pessimist which went down really well and he did a good Q&A afterwards. I promised/threatened to ask a question in case no one else did but by the time I had chance he'd answered everything I could think of so I ended up randomly asking about the music, which he turned into a pretty good answer. Pete has good Q&A skills - I should probably have taken notes.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Cannes Day 8

Last one...

21/05/09 - 5.15PM

Packed up and ready to head home now. Last day was a bit hectic, but fairly positive. Saw the last few people I needed to see and one company who proved me wrong about no one wanting to develop anything new. I've got some leads to follow up when I get back at least.

No time for films today, but I did catch a couple of shorts which were good, including this one by Ten Dead Men's Projects Manager Keith Eyles:



Had a final lunch meeting then one last circuit of the Marche, mainly to say goodbye to a few people. It was a bit weird as most of the booths were empty due to people packing up and leaving.

Definitely ready to go home now...

It looks like I was going to write more but gave up, probably because we had to go (and it's weird that it's so long ago now I can't even remember why I stopped mid-sentence). Something else happened on the last day that was pretty exciting - I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by appearing on Newsnight Review. I didn't realise it at the time but my dad pointed it out when I got home and I took some screen captures. That's me creeping up on the right - I vaguely remember seeing someone filming but was in a bit of a rush so wasn't really paying attention: