Monthly Archives: July 2012

Bonding Over The End Of The World

I’m having that weird feeling you get when you’ve just had a really good conversation with someone you rarely ever even have pleasant conversations with. The person in question being my little brother, a kid of 19 whose primary interest in life tends to change with the seasons and who’s currently most interested in survivalist and prepper culture and has somehow convinced our parents to stock up on canned food and other necessary supplies should the world ever succumb to cataclysmic apocalyptic events.

I didn’t really have any interest in it, not because the books on the results of nuclear war and how to fix a broken leg with household items were inherently boring, but because he was interested in it, and it’s my duty as an older brother to sneer at anything he considers cool.

That is, until he suggested to me that I should write a post-apocalyptic story, which I told him I already was doing. I told him the premise of Ark 14, a long-form comics project devised by myself and a close friend that has been gestating for the best part of three years due to the misalignment of the stars and our shared inability to a) draw competently and b) find a magnificently talented artist willing to work for free. I’ll probably write about it sometime in the future, probably in September when I plan to begin writing it in earnest.

He quickly became fascinated with the subject, and as my head inflated to zeppelin-like proportions I realised that he had a ton of useful knowledge to impress upon me: my little brother, I realised, is a research goldmine.

Not only that, but I actually enjoyed our conversation. Normally I feign disinterest in anything he says (seriously, it’s a genetic thing, I don’t even know why I do it), but I was genuinely having such a good time learning things about the use-by date of petrol and appropriate tools to use for guerrilla gardening that I had to throw the facade of dickheadedness by the wayside.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll get back to being a prick tomorrow.

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Wilfred

Here’s my Blogomatic review of Wilfred. It’s funny and that:

I can just imagine the pitch meeting: “So this guy starts dating this girl whose pet dog Wilfred regularly comes between them and causes no end of mischief. Oh, and the dog’s actually a selfish, maniacal, bong-smoking man in a dog suit who only the guy can talk to and understand.”

One of the strangest and darkest sitcoms I’ve ever had the privilege to be sent free copies of to write about, Wilfred is a singular television show in more way than one:  only two series were made of the original Australian show in 2007 and 2010, and its American remake actually features one of the original stars reprising his titular role. Created by writers/stars Jason Gann (the titular hound) & Adam Zwar (petty and put-upon boyfriend Adam) and director Tony Rogers, Wilfred successfully mixes everyday relationship troubles between Adam and his girlfriend Sarah (Cindy Waddingham) with jet-black humour in the form of Wilfred’s repeated attempts to ruin Adam’s life (and occasionally end it) and a healthy dollop of weed-addled arguments in front of the idiot box.

At first intimidated by one another’s proximity to Sarah, the pair constantly one-up each other’s feats of humiliation and deceit until a bizarre mutual dependency begins to form. The show is full of wonderfully sick observations of animal life given a human twist, from Wilfred’s S&M relationship with the giant teddy bear in his den to his attempts to murder a koala bear (a dwarf dressed in what is essentially a cheap Ewok costume). Wilfred’s foul mouth and constant misunderstanding of the English language rarely discourages Adam’s efforts to woo Sarah and create a place for himself in their family.

Relationships, like any comedy worth its salt, are key to Wilfred‘s success, Adam and Sarah’s ups and downs being just as funny and occasionally tragic as their malicious pet’s dark schemes and endless capacity for fornication – be it with dogs, cats or even the odd kangaroo – and despite the bitter struggle for Sarah’s (surprisingly liberal) affections between the two boys, rare tender moments can be found in between the dick and fart jokes. Which are, of course, then undercut by Wilfred’s betrayal of Adam’s trust and more dick and fart jokes.

Perfect for anyone with a mean sense of humour and a desire to know what dogs really think of your DVD collection, Wilfred is well worth a watch and is pretty much guaranteed to be unlike any other show you see this year.

Unless you’re watching the remake. Then they’d probably be quite similar.

Oh, And One More Thing…

Here’s an addendum to yesterday’s Dark Knight Rises post:

There were no real surprises in the film, especially in terms of changes in previously established characters from the comics or deviations from what was expected. The elements taken from particular influences like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – clearly in title as well as themes of Batman coming out of retirement and inspiring a new wave of crime fighters – and the ‘Man Who Broke The Bat’ storyline Bane rose in infamy because of are used rather conservatively in the movie, the more interesting (to me at least) and radical parts muted or otherwise excluded from the story.

I’m referring to one element in particular, something that would have invigorated the story, put a new spin on Nolan’s mythos and made me genuinely much more interested in the trilogy’s conclusion, as well as giving the series a much-needed feminist kick up the arse.

I am, of course, talking about making Robin a girl.

Miller’s Returns pulls it off so well that it seems like Nolan purposely ignored it, eschewing an exemplar of superhero storytelling just so he could tell his ‘definitive’ version of the legend: an old, formerly retired Bruce Wayne reluctantly teams up with a wild and scrappy teenage girl who offsets his brooding darkness with a joyously irreverent sense of humour – one that Rises is sorely lacking in.

There was a huge opportunity for this to work that was foolishly wasted: instead of having the frankly dull do-gooder cop Blake be ham-fistedly succeed Bats as another caped crusader, have Juno Temple’s immature street rat Holly take up the mantle instead of merely being Selina Kyle’s underdeveloped motivation for not being wholly immoral.

Nolan’s character clearly has parallels with Miller’s; both are part of the criminal underclass, have an inherent moral compass (however hidden under ill deeds) and superficially care more about having a good time than saving Gotham – most of that isn’t clear with Temple due to her lack of screen time and development, but I read between the lines – and because of that both have heaps more depth than an honest cop whose parents were also killed when he was young. Yawn.

I’m not knocking Robin as a character in general, I’m just saying; a female Robin would have added levity and charisma that Rises so dearly needs. Someone who has a troubled background but doesn’t let it define who they are (like every other main character in the series) would offer a fascinating contrast with those that do and offer a somewhat plausible reason for Wayne’s resurrection at the end: ‘you don’t have to hang on to everything, dude’.

Instead, the film wallows in misery, Robin stays a stoic bore and Holly remains a wasted character who could have made TDKR a whole lot more exciting.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But can you honestly tell me the idea of that movie doesn’t excite you more?

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TDKR = BB – TDK

I figure now’s as good a time as any to throw my hat in the ring regarding that there Batman film. Better now than in a week’s time when TDKR analysis has reached critical mass – a la Prometheus – and everyone’s just bloody sick of it and wishes the internet had merely remained the province of technophiles and porn emperors.

It’s not that I didn’t like it. I did, for the most part. There were good things in it and (though I did fall asleep for a few minutes) I didn’t regret paying the ticket price. Not always a guarantee.

With that in mind, I have a whole bunch of reservations. I’ve recently seen people saying that those who are ‘moaning’ about the film not meeting their expectations are the ones who were hyping it up in the first place, that it’s largely without fault and thus not worth mentioning.

I’m sorry (I’m not), but: what complete and utter cack.

First off, the hype machine is fuelled primarily by marketing, and I doubt those involved with the production, distribution and publicity of a film of this importance to a studio are going to slate the movie in a public forum, regardless of their opinon; potentially losing their job over such a trivial matter just doesn’t seem worth it.

Secondly – and more relevantly – those who mentioned their high expectations and ‘hyped up’ the film on a personal basis likely did so because they were ACTUALLY REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THE THING. I find it incredulous to believe that anyone would divulge how pumped they were to go and wait in line for hours on the opening night of a film they had no interest in seeing. Which can only mean that they had high expectations, and who’s to say their opinion is less valid because they thought it would be a better film?

All of which is preamble and justification for my own qualms, which feels a bit pretentious now I’ve written it. Then again, I think it’s an issue that’s worth writing about: people shouldn’t be ostracised for wanting the films they see to be good and then voicing their disappointment when they’re (surprise surprise) disappointed. It smacks of anti-intellectualism, and, while I’m not nearly well-read or disciplined enough to describe myself as one, it strangles discussion.

And, fuck, if a valid point is made about a writer or a director or a cinematographer’s work in a critique of a movie and they actually dare to read it, that might actually have  positive effect on their future work. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the twin spheres of creation and criticism had a little overlap? Worked for the French New Wave, didn’t it?

Ahem. Got a little carried away there. Anyway, my grievances – which I shall list in efficiency-promoting bullet point form, and mostly regard the ending – are as follows:

[Oh, and if you’ve read this far without actually seeing TDKR yet and are actually bothered about spoilers, you’re probably too brain-damaged for a warning to have any effect. But still: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON]

  • Bane. No, not the voice (it’s actually a huge improvement from the gravel-gargling mess I experienced when I attended an IMAX preview of the first six minutes, after which we were encouraged to give notes); he’s a good enough ideological adversary for the first two-thirds (until you think about it, which I will later), turning Gotham into the kind of anarchist-fascist state that Batman’s behaviour seems to dictate is necessary. The only thing is that, once all the exposition’s done with and Marion Cotillard is ‘shockingly’ revealed to be the mastermind behind the whole plan and the little Al Ghul who could, Bane is quite literally blown out of the picture, no closure, no nothing. This character that had been writ so large in the myth of the ‘final chapter’ is just given the high twos and sent packing. Which I would say was a bold move, if the story hadn’t made such a big deal about finding out who Bane was. Which we never really do. He was just some dude in prison who helped a girl and got helped in return, so now he’s her errand boy, all of which reduces his ideology to nothing – especially when you consider Talia’s true motivation.
  • Gotham didn’t need saving. Which is to say, at the beginning of the film it’s made a pretty big deal of that Gotham’s in amazing shape and things have never been better for the people in it. In the end, we discover that the villain is Talia, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter. What did his group, the League of Shadows do? Tear down civilisations that had become too messed-up for their own good. In Batman Begins, the city was in the throes of a huge crimewave, “limping on” as Ra’s put it; Gotham needed putting out of its misery. Now Talia comes back, supposedly to finish her dad’s work, but why? Batman, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon ensured that the city not only survived, but thrived and became a better, more moral place for people to live. I know, there’s the financial decadence that’s alluded to rather ham-fistedly that could be justification for the destruction of an island? I don’t buy it. People the world over aren’t going to stop being greedy because of mass murder. Watchmen (the comic, not the film, you philistine) did this so much better, and about so much more. So what’s the real motivation? Revenge. Talia wanted to kill the man – and the city – that killed her father, pure and simple. If it sounds like slim motive to you, that’s not surprising in the least. Nolan’s worst habit is that he never draws his women in three dimensions. I’ll come back to this later. So Talia’s just an angry little girl who wants Bats dead. Man, I hope none of her devout followers ever catch wind of such a petty reason for genocide, otherwise it might seem like a waste of their zealot-y devotion to timeless ideals of utilitarianism and self-sacrifice. But the thing is, that could have worked, if only the writers had ‘fessed up to it, made it clear that Talia really was just seeking revenge instead of playing it for the EPIC everyone for some reason decided this needed to be. For a series of films that seems to revel in the little flaws and saving graces of humanity, they really missed a whopper there. Instead she dies, anticlimactically bleeding out in a truck, but still pretty as a peach. (Nolan likes to beautify the death of women. See Memento, The Prestige, Inception. He seems to like killing Marion Cotillard best.) Interestingly, Bane’s similarly violent death was dealt with far more briskly.
  • He. Didn’t. Die. In the first of many discussions of cop outs, this is the big one. Batman is a symbol, and a symbol never dies, right? But people do. They need to. They’re destined to. If Bruce Wayne had died out there over the Atlantic, he would have found his peace. He would have reached his logical conclusion and been no more. But The Batman would still live on. It would have been poetic, more elegiac than the half-hearted eulogy that Gordon gives at Wayne’s fake grave. Everyone could have been given their parting gifts to remember him in their hearts. It could have worked. And if you think that would have been a downer, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. So why, oh why did Nolan have to ruin a perfectly good ending by spreading schmaltz all over it? Honestly, there’s not a scene in any of his other movies that’s as cheesy as the across-a-crowded-cafe nudge-wink between Alfred and Bruce Wayne. It doesn’t even make sense as closure. Batman is a part of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, right? He was irreparably damaged as a boy and fought crime in a superhero costume to deal with that. Tell me, at what point in the movie did he *explicitly* overcome his father’s death (not his mother’s; Nolan couldn’t care less about Batman’s mum) that now allows him to live a normal life? It’s not a matter of earning the freedom to live his life, it’s the fact that he needs his identity as Batman to keep him sane. Just look at how crippled he’s become at the start of the film, eight years after he hung up the cape. We’re meant to believe he’s not going to turn out the same way now just because he saved Gotham from a bigger threat? And he’s run off to be with someone else who has a dual identity, for christ’s sake! Which conveniently brings me to:
  • Selina Kyle. Now, I think Anne Hathaway did an astounding job of giving some depth to her actually rather one-note character, unlike Marion Cotillard, whose transition from bland, unbelievable romantic lead/plot point to criminal mastermind/other plot point is so clunky it seemed like David Goyer was still writing the screenplay. But the problem with this Catwoman is that she’s not so much a character as she is a sieve for the film’s political themes to drain through into Bruce Wayne’s brain. But with tight trousers and a kick-ass motorbike. Oh, and a tendency to stab him in the back, but it’s okay because she’s conflicted. Bruce repeatedly says to her throughout the movie, “there’s more to you”, even when we’re reaching the end of the movie and they meet for the first time since she was responsible for his back-breakage. “There’s more to you”, which apparently is good enough reason to forgive someone for essentially leaving you for dead. We never really do find out what “more” there is other than the fact that she looks after an extremely underdeveloped orphan girl and looks out for street urchins. This Selina Kyle’s just a more PC-friendly version of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold that right-wing comic writer/artist Frank Miller often uses, infamously in his Dark Knight origin retelling, Batman: Year One, in which Kyle actually is a prostitute. But, as I said earlier, Nolan doesn’t like to give his female characters too much depth. If they’re not villainous, manipulative bitches then they’re dead love interests for the male lead to pine over, and if they’re not dead then they’re audience analogues whose only real purpose is to be interested in the (male) hero. Which is to say that they’re all there in service of a man, even if that service is dying so that he’ll have something to get angry about. (This is called ‘fridging’, by the way.) The Dark Knight Rises has been praised for its ambitiously large cast, but how many of them are women? Three, if you count Juno Temple’s wasted role. Of the main characters Batman kills one of them, fights with the other and ends up sleeping with both of them. And, of course, Selina doesn’t get her own closure (she barely gets an opening); she’s there to help facilitate Bruce’s own.
  • “Robin.” Do I really need to explain this one? Quite possibly the hack-est, laziest piece of writing in the entire movie, the whole thing stinks of smug self-awareness and sets up a sequel that will never be made. I try not to roll my eyes in the cinema for fear of seeming like an elitist prick but, well: I am an elitist prick.
  • It becomes a superhero movie. And I mean that in the worst way. I knew there was going to be trouble as soon as I saw the new Batwing, and the last chase/action sequence confirmed it in the worst way by boring me with the kind of pointless showing-off and pyrotechnic worship that I come to expect from – and I apologise so sincerely in advance for invoking this name in the presence of Mr. Nolan – Michael Bay. It did nothing for me, and it’s the kind of stakes-raising bullshit that Hollywood and superhero comics in particular feels is necessary for the audience to get the most bang out their buck. Almost sent me to sleep. The Avengers got away with it because a) it was incredibly self-aware and knew when to have fun with the situation, b) it involved people we cared about protecting people we felt needed protecting, not a bunch of military hardware putting on an airshow, and c) it reached an actual climax. A good action sequence is like sex: if nobody comes, then what’s the point? Yes, I know there’s an atomic explosion at the end. See above for reasons why that’s not worthy of the title climax. And, as a friend pointed out on Twitter, Batman does a great deal of admin between watching Marion Cotillard die and flying away (BUT NOT REALLY) on his nuclear voyage. The whole affair really takes the personal, grounded feel of the movies away and plunges TDKR from comic-book realism into something quite beyond suspension of disbelief.

All of this, I think, is valid. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying the film. In fact, I like thinking about these things because it’s discussion material, informs my own creative process and allows me to appreciate the (many) aspects of The Dark Knight Rises that I really did like.

But.

Yes, there’s always a but.

Though I initially had faith Nolan would not disappoint, I came to realise that I didn’t believe my own convictions midway through the film. Taken as the final part in a trilogy, it could never truly complete what the first two films (especially The Dark Knight) had begun, and that is largely because of Heath Ledger.

I’m not going to talk about his performance. That doesn’t matter, and all variations on opinions have been recorded for the ages. It’s his death that’s the problem.

“You and I are destined to do this forever.”

If the brothers Nolan and David Goyer didn’t have plans to include the Joker in the final film in at least some small way before Ledger died then I’m Nelson Mandela. And that means the cycle is incomplete.

The Joker showed Batman that the two of them were eternally warring forces, each a fractured mirror of their own damaged minds, and the fact that they end up knowing each other as intimately as they do is hugely detrimental to Rises, because the two films contradict each other. TDK cements Bruce Wayne as a half-man who can only be completed by the good in him – Batman – and the bad – Joker (TDK, as I’m sure you already know, all about duality) – while Rises suggests that, once he’s done enough, he can rest. The two just don’t gel. Rises may well be a great film, but it’s the conclusion to a different trilogy than The Dark Knight belongs to.

The issue isn’t that Bruce Wayne is alive when he should be dead; even in the comics (especially in the comics), dead rarely ever means dead. The issue is that he’s no longer Batman, a removal that is incongruous with everything we know about the character – and, indeed, all great comic book heroes – and its message ends up proclaiming a counter-progressive message:

Do enough good, and you shall be rewarded by never having to do good again.

When a more noble message, surely befitting of a character so purposefully steeped in myth and legend, would be:

Do good because you must.

Batman needs to do good, to help others, to fight evil. Not because he likes doing good, not because he feels a moral obligation to combat crime, but because there is burning need inside Bruce Wayne to punish wrongdoing, and if he doesn’t give in to that need it will destroy him.

He’s an eternal archetype, and Bruce Wayne’s life is forever bound to that other being. The only way he can escape it is in death. Like Angel’s quest for redemption (because I can never resist adding a Whedon comparison), Batman has to keep fighting because he has to keep fighting.

There is no happy ending; dark avengers don’t get those.

I’ll say no more. I’m sure I’ve said too much already, but I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. If you’ve read this far, then thank you so much for giving up your time to read this. I hope it’s made you think some and want to talk about the film more.

All I’ve offered is an opinion; I’m not saying it’s right, just that it’s mine, and I’d love to hear yours if you’ve got one. If you feel I’ve wasted your time, I do apologise. But you got this far, so I don’t think you did.

Cheers for reading. If you have anything to add/contest, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.

I look forward to it.

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Suck My Tailpipe

My License to Drive review for Blogomatic. I enjoyed it hugely, though it had some serious male gaze issues (essentially the main character wants to bone a sports car, because who doesn’t?) and I may have been a little too mean about the Coreys Two at the end there:

Apparently an ’80s classic that had somehow slipped under my radar, 1988’s License to Drive ticks all the necessary boxes for a teen comedy winner: Ludicrous hair? Check. Overly lusty teenage boys? Check. Zany parents with more comedy chops than the leads?  Stuck-up sibling? Actor with a minor role who’ll one day be more famous than said leads put together? Check, check and checkers. A Corey? Shit, this film has two!

Like most successful teen films of the decade, License to Drive takes a simple, everyday situation for a 16 year-old kid and balloons its importance to such a ridiculous degree that it warrants an action scene, a car chase or at least a dance sequence. It was skipping school in Ferris Bueller and detention in The Breakfast Club, and in this flick it’s a driving license.

Les (Corey Haim) needs to pass his test so that he can woo local bombshell Mercedes (Heather Graham, and no, the subtlety of the writing there wasn’t lost on me either). He’s an ace at the wheel but a lughead in the theory department, so despite impressing his driving examiner (a superbly sadistic James Avery, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air‘s Uncle Phil), he fails to get that fabled laminate card and is forced to wait two years until he can try again.

Not one to be stopped by such feeble things as federal laws, and, egged on by his best friend (Corey Feldman) and his impending date with Mercedes, Les ‘borrows’ his grandfather’s cadillac and sets forth on a night of hijinks, semi-romance and near-death experiences.

The film revels in its cartoonish sense of humour, from crash zooms on the boys’ terrified faces as they head through fences, over ramps and away from punks to Les’s pregnant mother’s (the ditzy and eccentric Carol Kane) strange craving for huge dollops of mashed potato and ketchup at the dinner table, and some of the set pieces that occur – from the opening dream sequence of a red convertible being run down by a demonic school bus to the third-act chase after a gloriously oblivious drunk driver.

Characters aren’t especially full of depth and there’s no profound message to be gleaned from Les driving backwards at speed through traffic to get his mother to the hospital in time to get birth, but you have such a good time that it really doesn’t matter.

It’s a typically 80s slice of escapism and does its job excellently (even making Haim, who I personally consider to be the lesser Corey, tolerable as a lead), but things do get a little uncomfortable when Mercedes gets plastered and is alternately photographed while unconscious, shoved in a boot and then unnaturally forgiving of the whole thing by the next day. Like the cadillac, she’s taken for quite a ride and you’d think she’d be in as bad a state as the car, but no-one seems to really mind that much.

That said, I guess Heather Graham gets the last laugh in the end. I’d happily spend the night in the trunk of a car if it meant not having to do Lost Boys 3.

Too far? Not far enough? Has anyone even seen either of the Lost Boys sequels? Does anybody but me care?

Answers on a postcard. Or in the comment section, whatever, I’m easy.

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Critical Shit

Today mostly involved watching movies, noting down page numbers and getting phone calls. Swear to God, that actually counts as me working.

One of the movies I watched was an 80s ‘classic’ – the Two Coreys (Haim and Feldman)-starring teen comedy License To Drive, which is mainly about Coreys 1 & 2 getting into all sorts of vehicular bother to a fist-pumping soundtrack of synth-based hits with a paralytic Heather Graham locked in the trunk. No shit, it’s actually a comedy, not a hard-hitting documentary about date-rape, and that was something I had to review.

The page numbers were from a book I had to annotate for a thing I’m not entirely certain I’m allowed to talk about publicly, but it’s speculative work and not paid so if I don’t end up getting the job promised at the end of it I’ll tell all. It’s kind of an interesting story, and that’s what the phone calls were about, too.

(The book was kind of a chore to read, and made me more than a little annoyed at authors who don’t take enough care to ensure that young characters don’t sound like caricatures of what reality TV makes them out to be. Also, there was promiscuous use of the phrase “dope smoking” by half the characters. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say those two words together that wasn’t in either a bad movie or just a parody of one.)

I now have the tired. License To Drive review coming soon. Yay!

Don’t Leave Me Hangin’

My Blogomatic review of Electrick Children. Mostly it just reminded me of how good the second season of LOST was:

The trailer for Electrick Children is a little misleading. Upon first seeing it before a showing of Dark Knight Riseslast week, it appeared from the lingering shots of eccentrically-dressed youths skateboarding and the soft electronic soundtrack to concern itself with that most loathsome of subcultures, HIPSTERS. Upon making this assumption, the friend sat next to me practically hissed in his contempt for the film, despite knowing nothing else about it.

This anecdote, I think, reflects well the possible acquired taste Electrick Children might end up being, despite not actually being (entirely) about hipsters.

The film centers on Rachel (Garner), a 15 year-old girl living in a strict Utah Mormon colony, who falls pregnant after listening to  a cassette recording of ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ and tussling with her brother, Mr. Will (Aiken), who tries to take the forbidden tape player off of her. Upon discovering her pregnancy, her mother and father immediately suspect Mr. Will, sending him off into exile and arranging a shotgun wedding for Rachel. She reacts like any sensible pregnant Mormon girl and steals a pickup truck to escape that night in search of the voice on the tape, assuming that it was he (it’s not the Blondie version, obv) who filled her full of baby. Mr. Will follows her, and soon they fall in with a group of young musicians and their entourage, including a troubled (but clearly capable of redemption) fella named Clyde (Culkin). The pair are soon introduced into a totally different lifestyle, experiencing drugs, extreme sports and kissing for the first time.

It’s at this point that the film takes a turn for the banal. Its languorous pace is fitting when we’re in the open yet confined plains of Utah, in which a slow, corseted tension envelopes the religious folk, but out in the big wide world it quickly tires. We’ve seen this kind of fish out of water movie before (and frankly, it was more interesting to see Randy Quaid’s Amish bowler enter the real world in Kingpin) and Electrick Children doesn’t add much to the mix except a predictable love story ending and a mystical pregnancy that’s never resolved…

…Which is really the only question I wanted answered from this movie! How on earth did she get pregnant? Rachel seems not to care all that much after giving up on her quest to find a musician to wed, so God probably wasn’t working through Debbie Harry’s back catalogue after all, and if her brother assaulted her like her mother assumes there doesn’t seem to be any animosity between the two.

Honestly, it’s ridiculous: The first half of the film is filled with people saying “Holy shit, you’re pregnant!” and by the closing scenes it’s all but forgotten. Which is a shame, because films like Doubt have shown that there’s a heap of tension and moral anxiety to be wrung out of a ‘did-they-didn’t-they’ situation. Forgive me if I sound glib; of course, it’s a serious notion, but first-time writer-director Rebecca Thomas seems to be more concerned with getting Rachel into scrapes than figuring out a way to justifiably get her out of them.

Julia Garner as Rachel is actually a joy to watch, pulling off the innocent prairie queen routine with bravery and not a hint of self-consciousness. Thomas has her and Will remain in their colony outfits throughout, so they seem terribly alien in the landscape of lights and smog. It’s also nice to see Cynthia Watros as Rachel’s mum getting more mainstream(ish) acting work – as one of the few LOST fans (along with Mr. Jack Kirby) who still remembers the show fondly, it was a blow to see her Libby killed off so soon after joining the cast.

[If you think that was a spoiler for LOST, you’re about six years too late to complain. Get over it.]

Not quite mumblecore and not a particular indictment of any of society’s structures (other than the Mormon church, but can you really count such an easy target?), it’s uncertain what message Electrick Children is trying to get across, but undoubtedly the slow visual style and (admittedly rather lovely) score will attract some kind of audience. It just might not be one that cares too much about story.

Also annoying: they never had the original Blondie version of the song in the movie. I totally wanted the girl to be searching for a Videodrome-era Debbie Harry so they could get married and dive inside James Woods (it’s a Cronenberg thing, okay?).

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The Men Who Would Be Tim

On Saturday I’m off to York to catch some Shakespeare in the park, performed in part by a few friends and collaborators. Hopefully it’ll be a little breezier than the last time I saw one of Bill’s works, a 3-hour rendition of The Merry Wives of Windsor that required at least two toilet trips during the performance.

On Sunday I and the aforementioned friends will gather to read through the scripts for the next series of I Am Tim, that horror-comedy web series you may have seen me talk about and that I help out on. Previously having done sound recording and script supervising on the first-season-recut-and-reshot-as-a-movie, I was promoted to plotter and co-writer for series 3, which is the web series equivalent of watching the first two seasons of Buffy as they air and then being asked to hop aboard for the next.

My collaborators are Jamie McKeller – creator, director and Helsing Prime – and James Rotchell – Tim II. (Yes, they both play the main character. Confused? Good. Go watch the series.)

Our writing process is somewhat similar to the yanks’ version: all the writers get together in a room to decide where they want the story to go this season, having a few arguments about who should die, who should turn gay and which actor should get more screentime because they promised the director sexual favours, then beating the plot into a shape that resembles a watchable story and divvying up the episodes between the writers.

They then scurry off to write drafts of those episodes (ours thankfully average at 8-10 minutes as opposed to your regular 22 or 42-minute TV show) and return with said drafts to have them torn to shreds by the other writers, at which point the original scribes will head back to redraft and polish or another will take an episode off their plate if it’s being problematic.

Rinse and repeat until delicious web-delivered content is in your sweaty, donut-covered mitts.

Please bear in mind that this is a fairly simplified version of my understanding of how a normal US TV show is written. Obviously every writer has a different method, and each team will have their own procedures and quirks, but that’s what experience leads me to believe goes on in those concrete basements with no windows or doors.

For all I know, they could just be telling each other jokes. Hell, from what I’ve heard about most sitcoms, that actually is what happens, each writer trying to one-up the others’ jokes until they have a bulletproof script. It would certainly explain why most British sitcoms are about as funny as roadkill – production companies can only afford one writer, and have you ever tried bouncing ideas off yourself?

Of course, all that sounds fairly sensible and streamlined, and that we know what we’re doing. Which is clearly ludicrous in our case. Especially the last part.

Crossed wires, awkward conversations about character motivations, fluffed deadlines, semi-serious discussions about racism and scripts passed around like the proverbial town bike. That’s a fairly concise summary of what our writing process has really been like. But it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing something so far.

The thing about coming onto a series that you’ve previously been a fan of is that you can see it more objectively than the people who were on it at the start. Or, rather, your subjective view as a fan is incredibly valuable when considering how an audience is going to receive an episode.

There have been character quirks I’ve noticed and been able to implement into my episodes, and even at the plotting stage I was able to contribute how myself  ‘as a viewer’ would react to the events unfolding, and modify them for the better accordingly.

One of my favourite things about writing this show is that I get to put lines in the mouths of characters I’ve grown to love from watching them, and knowing that you’re getting their voices right – having two other writers peering over your shoulder to ensure you don’t fuck up – is alternately wonderful and terrifying.

It’s been a while – a month or two – since I actually ‘wrote’ anything for Tim, but all the scripts are now in and we’re starting to gear up to prepare to ready ourselves to shoot the new series later this year, so a quick tidy up of my episodes before the readthrough to polish dialogue and add jokes/pathos seemed appropriate.

It got me all excited again.

Oh, and speaking of the readthroughs? They may possibly be the funnest part. If you ever involve yourself in any scripted production with a lot of jokes, get yourself in on the table reads, because chances are you’ll have a blast with some awesome actors, and putting your own spin on a beloved character is always ripe for hilarity.

And if we have that much fun just reading some words on paper, just imagine how great the actual series is gonna be.

I can’t wait for you guys to see it.

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Wild Bill

Here’s my Blogomatic review of Wild Bill, a not-very-good knockoff of Guy Ritchie’s stick (which is in itself knockoffs of far better directors’ work). I go for a bit of a feminist rant about the marketing of the lead females in the middle for a bit, if you’re interested [it’s the part in italics, fans of obvious-stating]:

Wild Bill has the dubious honour of being part of that most squiffy of sub-genres, the ‘geezer’ picture. Pioneered by Guy Ritchie, the trademarks of this unfortunate film are:

1) a London (usually East End, always rough) location;

2) ‘realistic’ hard bloke dialogue that thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it is, thus rendering it interminably grating and (worse still) boring;

3) a token foreign accent for, y’know, tolerance and stuff. Oh, and there’s  a black guy in it too! But he’s a drug dealer. And he runs away from the final fight, so he’s a coward too;

4) at least one punch-up in a pub (see above);

5) fancy camera movements performed in order to give a sense of stylistic awareness but really just coming off as a cheap knock-off of Scorsese (for lessons on how to rip off Scorsese properly, see the work of Edgar Wright).

[As you might be able to tell, I’m not a huge fan of Guy Ritchie. And don’t go telling me Sherlock Holmes was ace because I fell asleep through the second movie due to all the scenes being in slooooooooooow mooooootiooooooon.]

Yep, Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut has all of these calling cards – except the excitable camerawork, but without it the photography is so workmanlike it rarely feels like the operator did anything but stick a tripod down and hit record – so you’d be forgiven for thinking you know what to expect. Thankfully, the story doesn’t involve any caper, crime or hook to wrap the itself around, and instead focuses on ‘Wild’ Bill’s attempts to stay out of trouble and reconnect with his wayward sons after eight years in the nick.

I say thankfully, but after the first 30 minutes I realised that I was stuck with these characters with another 60 to go and nary a car chase, bank heist or HILARIOUS telling-off by an older, more experienced actor to keep me occupied or, God forbid, entertained.

What Fletcher’s done could be considered admirable if it wasn’t so poorly executed: he’s tried to merge social realism with the geezer flick. Unfortunately for us, though, he’s combined the two worst elements of those genres – the family and societal woes of the working class of social realism mix with the shitty, hackneyed dialogue of the Guy-zer (see what I done there?) to create a film where people might have similar problems to you, but they talk like such cartoons that you can’t for a minute sympathise.

There are bright spots, mostly in the casting: Andy Serkis revels in his role as godfather-of-the-estate, and the exquisite Olivia Williams is once again wasted in her two scenes as Bill’s probation officer (though her impossibly frizzy ‘do almost makes up for her absence).

Oh yeah, and Ray Winstone’s daughter shows up a couple of times as a child support officer and for some reason that warrants her being on the poster, despite there being two major female roles that aren’t represented in the marketing. Could be something to do with the fact that they look like chavs and we wouldn’t want to give people the impression that there might be poor people in this movie well okay there are poor men but that’s all right coz they’re lads and some of them have funny voices and hats but God no we can’t have girls looking like they HAVEN’T spent four hours in makeup and at the salon because that would give the wrong impression, wouldn’t it?

Then again, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Since when has media marketing ever misled us?

I feel like there should be some kind of summative statement but honestly the film just didn’t leave enough of a lasting impression for that to happen. I suppose its heart’s in the right place (except for the scene where two 16 year-olds are about to have unprotected sex on a couch despite the girl having been witnessed with a pram IN EVERY OTHER SCENE), but the message is so rote by now that it renders Wild Bill pointless: yeah, family’s important. No shit, Sherlock.

It perhaps wasn’t a good thing that I wrote it at 3am. But the sentiment’s there at least, yeah?

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On the verge of quasi-fame

I had a rather odd conversation with my uncle today. We were at a family occasion and he was asking about my filmmaking futures, and he mentioned in passing that his TV show was in a spot of bother.

You see, he’s the successful and enthusiastically reviewed owner and chef of an Italian restaurant in Scarborough, and over the past decade or so cultivated a reputation as something of a celebrity chef, appearing on various BBC programmes, radio shows and working with the Hairy Bikers at a culinary school.

I asked him more about this show, which was apparently commissioned by the Beeb for six episodes a couple of years ago, following his unusual methods of blending Italian and Yorkshire cuisine, but after two episodes’ worth had been filmed, the plug was pulled when it was decided that the market had become too saturated with that kind of thing.

The producers are purportedly looking for other networks and have had various levels of interest, but it seems very dodgy that a TV license-funded organisation would just chuck something away like that (dodgy, but not altogether surprising). Especially since the director was/is Robert Young, a regular TV and occasional film director on Jeeves and Wooster, Young Indiana Jones and an adaptation of Jane Eyre who you would think had paid his dues.

And then he went on to tell me about all the politics and backbiting and strange BAFTA parties in London. Any sense of foreboding or pre-emptive exhaustion was washed away by my own sinister curiosity.

Sure, it might not pan out and you could end up on the wrong side of the poverty line, but at least you’ll have some stories to tell, right?
P.S. For those who are interested, my uncle’s name is Giorgio Alessio and his restaurant is the Lanterna Ristorante in Scarborough. It’s pretty bloody amazing and can easily go toe-to-toe with any of the best eateries in most major cities in this country. You can buy his cookbook (yes, I am related to someone who has their own cookbook, which I find hilarious) here.

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