Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds and other films...

Saw Nick Cave again this morning, in the same cafe in Hove where I saw him last time, the difference being that since then I have tended to deliberately look inside said cafe on the way past in the hope of seeing him again. Now I have seen him again I feel rather like a stalker, which kind of takes away any possible celebrity-spotting excitement. Then again, I suppose it's more comparable to the various other familiar faces I see on the way to work whom I never acknowledge but am always curious about. I imagine this is a very British way to react to people you see every day on the way to work - maybe I'll start by saying hello to Nick Cave and work my way up to the randoms from there.

Nothing to report on the writing front this week - have mostly been busy doing coursework for an exam for the dayjob which has taken up far too much time. Today was the first day in weeks I actually managed to leave the office on time.

I have managed to see some films.

Last week I saw Inglourious Basterds which at first I kind of resented having to see. The new Tarantino film has become the cinema event of the film enthusiast and is now required viewing as a result. And with good reason - I am of the generation that watched Reservoir Dogs and thought 'I want to write films like that'. More so for me because after seeing that film and Pulp Fiction I went back and watched all the films Tarantino had referenced thus making him responsible for much of my early film education (actually my dad was really responsible for that, but Tarantino definitely boosted my interest). This was fine until I sought out Ringo Lam's film City on Fire from which Tarantino had lifted not just the plot for Reservoir Dogs but whole sequences. I felt a little bit cheated and lost interest for a few years, not realising that I'd kind of missed the point and that what was great about Reservoir Dogs was the writing and the dialogue and the characters and not the framework those things were hanging from.

But rediscovering Reservoir Dogs only increased my disappointment with films like Kill Bill or Death Proof that I neither enjoyed nor understood. When I was in LA I was speaking to someone at a party who was at that time working as Tarantino's personal projectionist, showing obscure grindhouse films up at his house in his private cinema. To me this was kind of what his films had become - private screenings of oddities that had for some reason struck a chord with the filmmaker but went over the heads of everyone else. He seemed to be making films for himself rather than his audience and I'd lost interest.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really enjoying Inglourious Basterds. There were parts I didn't get along with, particularly the structure and the fact that the final scene is completely devoid of tension as a result of the way it is set up, but generally I found it entertaining and interesting.

Thinking about it the following day I found myself liking it even more. It's a film about language and performance, and about how different people use those things to get what they want about how it translates into film. And it's about how powerful film itself can be, or perhaps how powerful we wish it could be. In this film the greatest weapon available to the Allies is cinema, which I guess is a filmmakers fantasy in that it suggests that art can have a physical influence on the world outside the cinema.

All this rambling is kind of proving my point - that it's a film that made me think and for that reason I found myself really liking it. Plus the German actors are awesome.

I also saw G.I. Joe which also made me think, although mainly I thought about the films I saw in my youth in which I always preferred the bad guys. And it reminded me of seeing big stupid films with friends who then told me I was thinking too much as we left the cinema. Mostly it made me realise that it was for kids and not for me, and made me think of going back to the cartoons of my youth and realising they were the same every episode and a bit too noisy. It was marginally better than Transformers 2, in that it was at least an enjoyable ride, and there were a couple of set pieces that made sense. And it was cool to see Arnold Vosloo and Kevin J. O'Connor in a big screen film again.

For the rest of it I felt like I was being slapped in the face with CGI, although that was partly due to drinking a few too many beers beforehand. As Brother Pete pointed out it also feels a lot like a live action version of Team America. If I can say something about the script without being accused of over-thinking it, it was a bit like being told a story by an excited child - so this happens, then this thing happens, then there's this cool fight, but hang on you need to know about this bit and so on. There were odd moments that seemed so random it's hard to imagine no one pointing it out at the script stage, but in reality I know these things happen for reasons beyond the writer's control. I also found it hard to separate the Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt characters in this film from their psychologically scarred soldier characters in Stop-Loss.

But the best film I saw last week was probably Transsiberian - a neat little thriller on a train in which Sir Ben does an accent and Woody Harrelson has improbable hair. In all seriousness it is a very well-produced and entertaining film with some excellent characters and tense set-pieces - the closest thing to a proper film I'd seen all week.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

A bit of a rant...

So I watched RocknRolla last night and feel the need to rant about it despite being way behind the times and the fact that I always go on about how I hate Internet bods moaning about films. But I think there's an important point about character motivation in scriptwriting here.

To be fair, there is a lot to enjoy about RocknRolla. It's beautifully shot, captures the sights and sounds of contemporary/imaginary London rather well and there are some excellent performances, particularly from Toby Kebbell who seems to be awesome in anything he does these days. Some of the dialogue is also pretty good and there are some nice little monologues - it's not a terrible script on the surface.

The problem is we're not given anything to care about.

Everyone in this film wants money - that's pretty much all that's motivating any of them. That's fine - we all want money, we can relate to that. But there has to be a reason behind it. I want money so I can pay for my wedding - if I robbed a bank tomorrow that would be my underlying motivation. In RocknRolla everyone wants money because that's just what people want, right? No one's desperate for it, there's nothing driving them to get money, they just want it because the film says they do.

A good example of where the film goes wrong (SPOILER) is in the opening where Gerard Butler and Idris Elba end up owing money to Tom Wilkinson. If they don't get it he'll have them messed up and that's going to drive them towards getting they any way they can. Except they sort this out in the first twenty minutes, and then just seem to want more money again, because that's what people do. Maybe I'm just not enough of a capitalist, but in the current economic climate there's something unsettling about the film's obsession with wealth and the property market.

Wait, there is one more thing driving the plot forward - a handy MacGuffin in the form of a painting. A painting that Karel Roden's character randomly lends to Tom Wilkinson, the reason for which I missed completely. It becomes important because we're told it is. And then we watch all these characters go after this painting because we're told they need it, but mostly they don't seem to care anyway. At one point Toby Kebbell, who has the painting, gets into a fight outside a club. Two characters watch this on CCTV, another watches it from further along the street - all three characters are supposed to be looking for him to get this painting back but do nothing when they actually see him. Because that scene isn't about the story, it's another cool yet random scene.

And that's the point - the script is basically there to hang cool scenes off of and that's about it. There's nothing driving it forward, nothing to care about, just a series of cool scenes.

The only interesting element of the story is Tom Hardy's love for Gerard Butler because he's the only character who wants something other than money. Unfortunately it's sidelined as a comedy subplot which I guess is Guy Ritchie's rather patronising acceptance of the gay community. But that's part of what makes it all the more frustrating - the elements to make the film work are all there, they're just not being used.

The best example of this is at the end of the film (MASSIVE SPOILER) when we find out that Tom Wilkinson set all the characters up at one point or another meaning they all had to do jail time. So there's this huge, untapped revenge motivation that we're only supposed to care about in the last ten minutes - we don't even know that half the characters have done any jail time until this point. That's what could've driven the script forward - that all these characters have been forced into a life where the only way they can make a living is through stealing because of the actions of this one man. They think they want money, but what they really want is revenge and through a series of misadventures they find it - that's a proper story.

It's a story that isn't really told because the film is too busy telling us how cool it is.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


...was awesome. Saw some great films, met loads of cool people, generally had an excellent weekend. Brother Pete has blogged about the experience in detail, covering Day One, Day Two and Day Three. I think he has expressed just how excellent it was quite well so I'll just go over my highlights.

As Pete says, the only downside was that there weren't enough people there which was a shame as it really was a brilliant festival. For anyone interested in film-making there were some fantastic opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the industry. At one point I was sitting at a table with Uwe Boll, Neil Jackson, Michael Armstrong, Julian Richards and Chee Keong Cheung - it's not very often that you get such a diverse range of film-makers in the same room giving their opinions on contemporary film-making.
If this was Cannes or any of the other big film gatherings there would've been a hundred or so people crowded round that table, trying to swap cards and pass on scripts and discuss deals. But it was the Arts Centre in Swindon and there was just a group of film-makers and a couple of fans sitting around chatting about films.

And that wasn't the only time something like that happened - earlier in the day Brother Pete and I had breakfast with Uwe Boll and among other things chatted about the merits of The Howling which had been on TV the night before. Another highlight was bumping into Keith Eyles, the Projects Manager from Ten Dead Men, who was screening a couple of shorts at the festival. It was a unique and awesome experience and one that was open to everyone for an incredibly reasonable admission price.

There were some really excellent films screened too, many of which I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Here are a few you should look out for:

Rampage I talked about when I saw it in Cannes here (I will finish writing up my diary one day). On second viewing I'm even more convinced that it's Boll's finest work to date and it was refreshing to find out after the screening that I wasn't the only one who thought so. It will never happen, but Brendan Fletcher deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance in that film.

The Disappeared was a neat little urban ghost story that is elevated by some excellent performances. I'm really tired of tongue-in-cheek horror films, so it's always nice to see a film that tackles the genre with complete sincerity like this one does. I was going to post the trailer but it ruins the ending - it's due for release soon so just look out for it, you won't be disappointed.

The Passage is another film that focuses on the characters and drama rather than blindly following the conventions of the genre. Again, the performances help but it's a good example of a slow-building storyline with a satisfying conclusion. It's also really hard to talk about as part of the fun is not knowing where it's going.

I really hope that the festival goes on again next year and that it starts to build a following. I also hope I get to show a film there again, if not next year then maybe the following year (fingers crossed).

Thursday, 6 August 2009

On Phantasma-goria and being too busy...

Just checking in. I am still here.

Been busy as usual, although had some friends over at the weekend which meant I could be busy doing fun stuff like drinking too much, watching Shakma and visiting the magical realm of Undercliff. Other than that I've mostly been working on other peoples' scripts and trying to study for an exam for the day job, hence free time for blogging is limited.

The script I was going on about last week does appear to be properly finished for the time being and is now being sent to actors. If it gets officially announced and ends up on IMDB or something then I'll talk a bit more about it, but until then I'll keep quiet for fear of tempting fate.

As mentioned before I'm going to the Phantasma-goria Film Festival in Swindon this weekend. I wrote about last year's festival here, and I also wrote an article about it for Close-up Film which can be found here. If you're interested the full line-up of films can be found on their website.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Spoke too soon...

So after announcing that I was finished on the script I've been working on forever and how I was all happy with it and stuff, I got more notes. Anyway, I took my own advice and gave it a rest for a bit, then worked on the script Sunday evening. Spent most of the weekend watching Hammer films - Plague of the Zombies is still my favourite. There's something especially chilling about the scene where a recently reanimated Jacqueline Pearce advances on Andre Morrell, grinning in a rather horrifying manner. Plus the script is ace and keeps up a good pace and there's some good social commentary in there. If you've never seen it I recommend checking it out.