Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Oh Yeah, Isn’t That Clash Of The Titans?

(Yeah, you're getting a bit of backlog of stuff now that November's doomed attempt to focus on some longform writing is behind us. Here's something I went to in early November.)

It seems that I am becoming something of a regular visitor to the Hammersmith Apollo (really rather fittingly named for this last visit). In the last year, I’ve been to see Greg Davies, Flight Of The Conchords, The League Of Gentlemen and, in this latest visit, Mr Stephen Fry.

It was a somewhat different show to the others listed above. Heroes (or, to give it its full title, Stephen Fry Live! In Heroes) was part of a promotional tour to promote his latest book of the same name - a follow up to Mythos which retold the origins of Greek myths. This time around, Heroes focuses on the exploits of the mortal and semi-mortal individuals who also loom large in Greek mythology - Jason, Hercules (or Heracles), Theseus, and so on. 

Included as part of the ticket price was a hardback copy of the book itself which was an especially welcome bonus. There was something heart-warming about looking round once we’d taken our seats to see a large number of people sitting around with their noses buried in the same book. This was clearly my kind of crowd.

The show itself took the form of a storytelling session / reading in which Stephen Fry either walked the stage to talk off the cuff or sat in a comfy armchair with side table to read directly from the book. In the hands of a lesser entertainer, this could run the risk of being a dry affair but Fry is a master of his art and knows how to keep an audience’s attention. His obvious passion and enthusiasm for the subject also shone through and his translating of these ancient tales into a format and form which is relatable and understandable to a modern audience was extremely effective (in a similar way to Neil Gaiman with his recent work on Norse Mythology). In fact, so swept up was he in the first half of the show in the stories he was telling, that he had to cut short some of the planned tales for the second half as he was in danger of running long (something which I’m sure the Hammersmith Apollo is pretty strict on).

All in all, I’d say that if you get the chance to see Stephen Fry hold court in front of an audience (whatever the subject), go for it. The man certainly knows how to be engaging, informative and (unsurprisingly) funny.

Monday, 3 December 2018

How I Write A Book

Badly. Aha ha. No, actually, that’s true - having stated that I was attempting NaNoWriMo (eurgh - no, I don’t like the abbreviation either), I struggled to make it through to about 27,000 words before hitting a block that sitting and staring at the page couldn’t resolve. Once again, the month was uncompleted as I fell 23,000 words short of the 50,000 target. Quite a long way short, really. (For those of you who like a stat, I managed to write on 18 out of the 30 days so my average word count was 1,500 per day - daily word count to reach 50,000 was 1,667 so it was possible if I hadn’t got stuck.)

This isn’t really a “how to” guide. I clearly have no real idea what I’m doing. This is more a selection of notes of how I attempt to write rather than advice on how to write. It may be of interest to some and, if it’s not, don’t worry, there’ll probably be some pop culture reviews just around the corner instead (yes, I am predictable like that).

Ah, the dreaded question. “Where do you get your crazy/wacky/zany/highly derivative ideas from?” Well, it all just percolates away from a variety of different sources. Odd articles you’ve seen online, the occasional overheard phrase, a line from a story, maybe even a combination of events in a board game. Any of these things and more besides could spark off an idea. For something novel length, I usually find that it’s when one or two or more of these things begin to collide that something longer begins to form.

I like a good notebook. I’d even go so far as to say that I have a bit of an obsession for them. That said, I also favour a few online tools as well. For me, Evernote is a useful online notebook tool as I can access it on my phone, tablet, and laptop (other electronic notebooks are available). I use Trello to help list out things like characters, locations and plot/story points - the advantage of using a tool like this is that you can have lots of small tickets (basically like online Post-it notes) allowing you to move stuff around and rearrange it as needed.

The level of planning will vary - sometimes I’ll have a good chunk of a notebook full of preparatory notes and sometimes just a few jottings and a rough idea. Things always change as you write so having all that prep in advance may not prompt the story to go the way you thought anyway.

I like writing longhand in notebooks. There’s a sense of satisfaction to having a selection of actual books on a shelf with your words written in them. I don’t always do it, though, as it’s not necessarily the most convenient way to do it. Normally when attempting NaNoWriMo, I tend to type straight into a Google Doc (other online collaborative document sharing tools are available) as, much like Evernote above, I’ve got it available on my phone, tablet, laptop, etc. There’s more of an element of risk in writing in a notebook as it may get lost or damaged (case in point:- the notebook used for this year’s novel got covered in beer due to an unfortunate can-piercing accident in my rucksack the other day). I am using as notebook this time as it makes it easier for me to work on a revised draft - the act of typing it up will be in effect a second draft as I will rework it as type.

Hopefully that was of some interest. As I said, I can’t really it advice as none of the above actually resulted in a novel this time around. Fills up a blog post nicely, though, doesn’t it?

The Beer-Battered Notebook

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Whither November?

You may have noticed (or not - very egocentric of me to assume that anyone pays any particular attention to the frequency of this blog other than me but let’s go with it as an opening now that I’ve started) that after a daily blitz of filmy goodness throughout most of October, it has gone somewhat quite on this here bloggy front.

That is because I have been attempting this:-

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as they like to style themselves; yes, it is a slightly cringey abbreviation, you are quite correct)

The goal is to produce the first draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words in length over the course of the 30 days of November. For those of you who like a stat (and who doesn’t like a stat?), that’s a daily average of 1,667 words. Given that (and that my average as of today is hovering more around the 1,100 mark), things are going to be pretty quiet around here this month. Or they may end up being less quite as I struggle to write what I’m supposed to be writing so end up writing blog posts instead whilst internally berating myself for not writing what I’m supposed to be writing. All pretty standard really.

“What’s it about?”, you say? It’s about 18,000 words at the moment. Aha ha. Yes, I am most amusing / tedious (delete as applicable). I’ve got a bit of a funny thing about writing. I don’t like to talk about it much while I’m writing. Partly because, much as you may think you know the shape of something before you go in, it changes as you go. Partly because I’m not very good at coming up with a copyrighting blurb that makes it sound enticing.

“Have I done it before?”, you ask? I have - this is the sixth time I have attempted it and on only one occasion have I been successful. “Where’s that other one then?” Blimey, you’re full of questions, aren’t you? It’s currently sat as a first draft waiting for me to to plough through it and turn it into a revised draft. 

So anyway, yes, that’s why I might not be writing much in November. It’s because I’m writing a lot in November (and working and socialising…)

Image result for writing

Monday, 19 November 2018

Outrage And Offence

I spend time on social media. I’ve got the Book Of The Face and The Place For Twitts. That’s not a boast - I mean, everyone’s got them*. This is the 21st century after all. There is something that I’ve noticed more and more as a consumer of and participant in social media. That something is the overriding dominance of offence and outrage.

To an extent, I get it. I mean, it’s satisfying, isn’t it? A good bit of outrage. You get a brief burst of feeling that sense of moral superiority over someone else. “I am outraged because I would never behave like that and therefore I am better.” Whether we like to admit or not, we’ve all got a bit of that inside us. Without that, the Daily Mail would not have been able to operate in the way it has done for many, many years (combined, of course, with an ability to tap into and exploit people’s fears).

The current problem is that social media is not nuanced enough to allow for proper debate on a number of issues, having to reduce everything down to small, digestible, character-limited soundbites; the result of this being that people’s “offence glands” (for want of a better term) are not only prodded into action but are then seen as the only responses that need to be adhered to. This is further stoked by the trend in modern journalism to rely on a limited pool of social media responses as the main sources of “truth” for many an article (as previously discussed here - the trend of “so-and-so said something and the internet is furious”). The difficulty being that for every genuine case where something worthy of apology is highlighted, there are many others in which people are backed into a corner or shamed over something that doesn’t really deserve the disproportionate response it gets.**

Many years ago, I used to frequent several internet forums*** and the overriding issue with most of them was that you were never more than two comments away from someone calling someone else a Nazi. Social media has contracted that even further. You wouldn't (or you shouldn’t really attempt to, in my opinion) have a meaningful discussion with someone via text message as it is robbed of tone, expression and inflection. The same rules should apply for how to approach interactions on social media.

What’s the solution here? If I knew that, the world would be a much less stressy place. For me, this first step is not to just react to something posted on a social platform as the truth (easier said than  done, yes, and I’m still guilty of doing this). Read around, find out more, direct responses to the right people, don’t get drawn into insults over debate. It is easy to say, of course, but very few things worth doing are ever completely easy. In a world where people in positions of power are more and more comfortable with promoting blatant lies in order to further their own agendas, personally I’d like to see us move from a society that it becoming prone to knee-jerk reactions to internet offence to one that it is using its critical faculties and questioning what we see more. Idealistic? Maybe but I’d like to think it’s possible for my own sanity if nothing else.

Image result for anger hulk

* Well, not everyone but near enough. Oddly, three of my oldest friends don’t really go in for social media (with the exception of one who’s on Twitter - hey, Rich, in case you clicked though…)

** In terms of public internet shaming, Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is a fascinating take on the subject.

*** Should that be “fora”? I think so but I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of pedantic accuracy just yet...

Monday, 29 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)

This is it - the end of the festival experience. It’s been a wild ride - comedy, sci fi, animation, Westerns, subtitles, musicals, French boundary pushing and Nicolas Cage - but all good things must come to an end; that ending being a film that I’ve been wanting to see in some form for nearly twenty years. It was first attempted back in 2000 and fell apart due to a series of almost farcical misfortunes (as documented in the film Lost In La Mancha) and, after some legal wranglings, is now complete and ready to view. In a way it feels odd to say it but I’ve finally seen...

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Dir. Terry Gilliam / Dur. 132 mins

In A Nutshell:- 30 years in the making, Terry Gilliam’s suitably Gilliam-esque take on the Don Quixote story finally hits the big screen.

The Good:- This is a tricky one to review objectively - I;ve been following this film’s progress for nearly half my life so there’s an unusual weight of expectation upon it (which is even acknowledged in an opening on-screen graphic) and also, having watched the documentary and read about it, I was expecting the story to take a certain direction which it then didn’t (the script having been almost continually rewritten over the years, according to the Q&A afterwards). It’s very much thematically on a par with previous Gilliam works such as The Fisher King and Baron Munchausen which also deal with a central (potentially) delusional figure and the blurring of the lines between what is real and what isn’t. It dials down some of the more fantastical elements you would expect from a Gilliam film but that works for the story they’re trying to tell and adds to the questioning of what is and isn’t fantasy when they are used. Cast-wise, Adam Driver is well cast as the objectionable ad exec at the heart of it but the film belongs to Jonathan Pryce who is delightful to watch as Quixote.

The Bad:- There are a couple of moments of breaking the fourth that feel a little jarring but ultimately this is a film about making films so I guess it fits. The female characters feel a little underserved, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s sex-obsessed character.

The Verdict:- In some respects, my knowledge about previous attempts to make this both hampered and enhanced the experience. I definitely need to watch it again without that expectation on it so that I can take it in for the film that it actually is. Overall, though, it was a satisfying watch for me as a fan of his work and felt like a fitting summary of themes that he has playing with throughout his career.

Festival Tidbit:- I got to see Terry Gilliam in person and watch the UK premiere of a film he made in the same cinema as him! As a lifelong Monty Python fan and fan of Terry Gilliam as a filmmaker, this was really rather exciting for me.

Next Time:- That’s your lot for festival updates, all done. And I think that's a good place to leave off on the month of film reviews. It's a long theme to sustain and is probably making things a little one note around here. Three weeks is still a good run for a theme! So what will the next blog bring? Let's all find out together, shall we? (Yup, I don't know either...)

Friday, 26 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - All The Gods In The Sky (2018)

Sticking with the experimental theme today for this French language film (but in a different way to yesterday eye-blistering Cage-iness)

All The Gods In The Sky
Dir. Quarxx / Dur. 98 min

In A Nutshell:- Simon cares for his sister Estelle, left disabled following a childhood game gone wrong, but is there hope of otherworldly salvation from their situation?

The Good:- It’s a challenging film, particularly in the depiction of the relationship between Simon and his sister Estelle. Another first time director although this one is an expansion of a short film he previously made with the same key cast members. Like Duplicate (but in a tonally very different way), it’s a compelling and assured debut film with some intriguing imagery and moments or surreal humor balancing out the darker scenes within (some of which wouldn't be out of place within the confines of a horror film). The main duo of Jean-Luc Couchard and MĂ©lanie Gaydos are both extremely compelling as Simon and Estelle; Gaydos in particular in what is a physically and mentally tough role to play.

The Bad:- The plotline with the small girl who befriends Estelle felt a little to me like it didn’t really achieve a full resolution and meandered to a halt as the final act kicked in.

The Verdict:- This was another wildcard film for me - I didn't know much about it and took a punt. I’m certainly glad that I did as it was a film with a strong directorial voice and a compelling if difficult watch in places.

Festival Tidbit:- Jean-Luc Couchard is a famous comedian/comedic actor in his native Belgium and is very much playing against type here, something that the director Quarxx (yes, just the one name like Cher) lamented is unfortunately lost on non-Gallic audiences.

Next Time:- We’ve reached the final film in the festival experience and it feels like it’s a fitting one to cap off the festival experience.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Mandy (2018)

Oh, we are down the rabbit hole now, people. I’ve blogged before about my enjoyment of the mentalness that is the modern day oeuvre perpetrated by the force of acting nature that is Nicolas Cage but I think we have finally achieved a level of Peak cage which it will be extremely hard to top. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

Dir. Panos Cosmatos / Dur. 121 mins

In A Nutshell:- A nutshell really won’t do justice to this - the Wikipedia tag of “action horror” or my description of it as “Cage embarks upon an ultra-violent quest for revenge on the religious fanatics who have wronged him” in no way gives you the full flavour of this film.

The Good:- While stylistically very different (being visually neon-lit and 70s-drug-fuelled in its aesthetic), it some small way there is a similarity to the work of David Lynch in that the characters all operate within a world that makes sense to them. It manages to somehow be an insane mash-up of influences such as Mad Max, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and French comic / animated film Heavy Metal while still very much feeling like it is its own beast. There’s a sort of languid dreaminess to the first half of the film which is then completely overturned by the high-octane ultra-violence of the second half. When he does flip out, Cage is on fine form, even managing to wring out some sense of genuine emotion in amongst the over-the-top anger and action film star ability to endure superhuman punishment. The visual style is incredible too - it’s definitely a feast of the eyes in terms of lighting and composition and very much deserves to be seen on a big screen.

The Bad:- Well, it’s not going to be a film for everyone. It very much screams “cult” right from the opening frames with the 70s/80s Universal logo so it sets its stall out pretty clearly. 

The Verdict:- If you’re a lover of cult/pulpy films and Nicolas Cage going full Cage then this is definitely the film for you. It looks absolutely amazing and there's nothing quite like this out there. If the audience are anything to go by, this will definitely be playing in the cult cinema circuit for years to come..

Festival Confession:- I couldn’t get into the official festival screening but such was the demand that the Prince Charles Cinema have added about twelve extra screenings so I went to one of those. I’m still counting it as a festival as I saw at one of the official cinemas during the festival so it counts, I tell you!

Next Time:- We’re still in the realm of the experimental with a provocative French film.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Sorry To Bother You (2018)

Another first time director today with another confident debut. Let’s not bother with too much ado-ing here and get straight into it.

Sorry To Bother You
Dir. Boots Riley / Dur. 111 mins

In A Nutshell:- A young black man discovers his inner white voice to enable to scale the heights of the corporate telemarketing world.

The Good:- It’s certainly an unique film. It deals very heavily with the concepts of race relations, workers rights and how much we’re willing sacrifice and compromise our principles in the pursuit of the capitalist dream (highlighted nicely by the concept of WorryFree, a company which clothes and feeds you in return for signing yourself over to them in a form of modern day slavery) but does so with a strong sense of humour and outright absurdism that stops it from veering too far into the realm of the preachy; the scene in which two characters threaten each other in largely complimentary ways was a particular favourite. Lakeith Stanfield is a compelling presence as Cassius Green, ably assisted by David Cross in providing his “white voice”. The direction by Boots Riley has a nice sense of style to it, especially in the way in which Cassius is dropped (literally) with desk and all into the home environment of the people he cold calls. The films veers into unexpected territory later on but best you discover more about that yourself...

The Bad:- It’s a little bit uneven in places (the aforementioned veering feeling like quite a switchover into almost a different film) and there’s a lot going on but, overall, it manages to pull it all off.

The Verdict:- Boots Riley is definitely a talent to watch out for - there’s an energy and humour to the film, along with a nicely defined visual style, that carries it through any of the rougher edges. I’d be keen to see what he comes up with next.

Next Time:- We’re descending far further into the depths of the absolutely insane with a full-on smack in the face full of Nicolas Cage...

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Duplicate (2018)

Surprisingly, given my tendency towards that which both science-y and fiction-y, this is the first sci-fi related film for the fest. Although, in reality, the sci-fi trappings are really just a hook for a character-based piece..
(This is definitely one of those films that it’s best going into without really knowing anything about it. I’ll try to avoid being spoiler-y but apologies if I don’t quite manage it.)

Dir. Bill Oliver / Dur. 95 mins

In A Nutshell:- Jonathan, a man apparently slaved to his routine, begins his day by reviewing a video message from the identical looking but far more relaxed looking John, relating the events of his day. Johnathan ends his day by leaving a similar message...

The Good:- It’s a tightly directed low budget affair held together by the central dual performance from Ansel Elgort. I must admit, I’d seen him in Baby Driver and didn't really think that much of him in that (which was in part due to the way the role was written) but here he definitely showed his acting chops, credibly creating two separate characters. Also, the decision to tell the story from only one of the characters’ point of view creates a real sense of tension and genuine disquiet as to what the other character is getting up to. The device of utilising video messages as the only way for the two main characters to communicate also works very well. For a debut feature film, there’s a real sense of confidence and assuredness about it on Bill Oliver’s part.

The Bad:- The actual explanation for the main characters’ situation is very much there as a hook to hang the story from and feels a little bit like it’s best not to think about it too much. There’s also a late reveal about their situation that feels like it’s there to introduce the possibility of a life-threatening device purely to drive the tension of the final act. These are, however, minor niggles that in no way spoiled my enjoyment.

The Verdict:- An enjoyable character piece with strong performance(s) from Ansel Elgort. I’d definitely be interested to see what Bill Oliver comes up for his next project.

Festival Tidbit:- Not too much I can share on this one really as the director Q&A delved into the specifics of the film and I don’t want to give too much away.

Next Time:- Let’s keep things high concept with a satire on race in a corporate environment and the nature of capitalism which is surprisingly nowhere near as heavy as it sounds...

Monday, 22 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Mirai No Mirai (2018)

I’ve run through a few different genres so far (it’s always goods to mix these things up) some time to shift gears again and switch over to animation today.

Mirai no Mirai (2018)
Dir. Mamoru Hosoda / Dur. 100 mins

In A Nutshell:- The arrival of a new baby sister, Mirai, turns four year old Kun’s world upside down.

The Good:- It’s a very sweet natured character piece about a four year old boy who steps into various fantasy situations as a way of coping with the arrival of a new sibling and the shift of focus that brings about in his parents. There are some nicely observed moments of humour and the moments between the family have a nicely genuine feel to them, particularly in the discussions between the parents about their ability or lack thereof to be good parents. The fantasy sequences in which Kun imagines conversations with a humanised family dog and an older version of his baby sister (the titular Mirai Of The Future) are enjoyable as is the sequence where he imagines himself trashing the house with a younger version of his mother.

The Bad:- I think the unfortunate side is that Studio Ghibli have been such a powerhouse in this area that it suffers by comparison to one of their works. It may seem a little unfair but it’s hard not to compare it to one of their more whimsical efforts.

The Verdict:- It’s an enjoyable enough animated yarn but ultimately feels a little slight - I’m already struggling to retain a lot of the details of it. I did enjoy it but, compared to some of the other films I’ve seen, it’s not strong enough to stand up there with the best of them.

Festival Tidbit:- The film’s director wasn’t able to be there in person so sent a recorded intro. Unfortunately, he speaks no English and the video was (mistakenly, I’m assuming) not subtitled so i have no idea what he was saying. Still, it was nice he made the effort to record something even if I don’t know what that was...

Next Time:- The first forsay for me this festival into the realm of something science fiction related

Friday, 19 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Been So Long (2018)

“Blimey, are you still going with this whole film festival thing?” I pretend to hear you ask as a dramatic tool to give me potential material for an opening paragraph. 

“Yes,” comes my equally imaginary reply, “I love films so I’ve booked in to see a shitload of them.* Buckle up as we’re only at about the halfway point. Yes, you’re right to make your mouth do that “oh” thing in surprise.”

Been So Long (2018)
Dir. Tinge Krishnan / Dur. 100 mins

In A Nutshell:- A bright, neon-lit, Camden-based romantic musical comedy about a single mum falling for a fresh-out-of-prison ex-con.

The Good:- Look, we all know that I’m a sucker for a good musical. It’s like an album you can watch. Given that British musicals are pretty thin on the ground, I thought I’d give this one a go. The real standout in this is Michaela Coel. I’ve not seen her Channel 4 series Chewing Gum but may have to now as she was a revelation. Funny, smart, strong, terrifying and vulnerable is a difficult mix to pull off but she manages it with aplomb. It’s very much her film and she drives it along. That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast aren’t enjoyable too (especially Ronke Adekoluejo) but she is definitely the stand out. The chemistry between her and ArinzĂ© Kene feels believable too (possibly assisted by the fact that they've been real life friends for about 10 years). Also, it’s good to see London portrayed on film as somewhere bright and vibrant for once rather than dour and dingy (British films) or full of Beefeaters and red buses (any American film). There are also a good few laugh out loud moments in there (including a surprise participant in a musical number).

The Bad:- I have to say that the songs were fine but not really that memorable. I didn't find myself humming any of them afterwards and haven’t felt an urge to listen to the soundtrack so a bit of a drawback for a musical. Also, George MacKay’s performance is amusing at times but does veer into stagey pantomime quite a bit which sort of works for the character but feels a bit tonally jarring. In fact, a few of the supporting characters and their subplots feel a bit thinly sketched without a real satisfying pay off.

The Verdict:- Despite the lack of instantly hummable tunes (I think that The Greatest Showman may have spoiled me for new musicals for the time being), I still enjoyed this. Michaela Coel is immensely watchable and the film kept me engaged through to the end. A feel good film that's worth a watch (yet another one that will landing on Netflix soon…)

Festival Tidbit:- The songs were written by Arthur Darvill who played Rory in Doctor Who (I genuinely did not realise this before I booked it).

Next Time:- Let’s get animated, shall we?

* I think you’ll find that “shitload” is indeed the collective noun for a lot of films.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

It’s a biggie today - this is one of the ones that I was determined to get a ticket for. Today’s entry is...

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen / Dur. 132 mins

In A Nutshell:- The Coen Brothers are back with a Western-themed anthology films covering six thematically linked but tonally different tales of the Wild West.

The Good:- Originally conceived as a six part series for Netflix and now retooled into a single theatrical theatre, Buster Scruggs gives you the best of all worlds from the Coens, running the gamut from fantasy-tinged screwball comedy musical (the eponymous “The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs” which has a tinge of Hudsucker Proxy about it) through to the grittier drama with the limited character dialogue (although it does contain many monologues) of “Meal Ticket”. Cast-wise, being an anthology has given the opportunity to throw a lot of names in there - Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tyne Daly and an almost unrecognisable Tom Waits to name a few - all of him are well-suited to their particular tale. Thematically, the spectre of death looms heavy over all the tales and is addressed in different ways. 

The Bad:- There’s a slightly problematic depiction of Native Americans, I would say. The film is very much a homage to Westerns of the past as much as it is just the Coen Brothers doing their own thing but this felt pretty out of place as a depiction in modern times.

The Verdict:- Going down the anthology route definitely paid off - none of the stories were strong enough to have carried a feature on their own but all fit nicely into an anthology structure and, while thematically speaking the spectre of death may loom large over each of them,  the differences in tone and style (form comedy through to gothic horror by the end) are stop it from feeling too dour or oppressive overall. Conversely, the format probably prevents it from being one of their all time greats but it’s still top notch Coen entertainment. 

Festival Tidbit:- Tim Blake Nelson spent around five months learning to twirl a gun and play a guitar while riding a horse for his role. Plus the Coen Brothers were there! Very excited about getting to see them in person and hear them talk about the film.

Next Time:- A London-based for the London Film Festival. Seems fitting, really.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Border (Grans) (2018)

It’s film, it’s a festival, it’s in London - it’s the London Film Festival. (Look, when you’ve got a themed month, your intros are going to cover pretty much the same ground. They really aren’t a lot of different ways that you can summarise “I sat in the dark and watched filmy goodness on the big screen”.) Today, we’re venturing into the territory of Swedish noir fantasy with a choice that was a bit of a punt - after all, isn’t the whole point of going to a festival to try out something new?

Border (Grans)
Dir. Ali Abbasi / Dur. 108 mins

In A Nutshell:- Tina, an unusual looking woman, works as a customs officer where her hyper sense of smell allows her to sniff out crime. One day, she meets a similar looking individual coming through customs and her life changes...

The Good:- It’s an intriguing concept - the key element is the mystery behind who or what Tina is and why the stranger, Vore, who comes into her life seems to be so similar to her. The cast are good too - Eva Melander as Tina and Eero Milonoff as Vore build a convincing chemistry. Melander’s performance in particular is compelling to watch. There are also some nice moments of odd humour.

The Bad:- It’s a film that contains a series of reveals and, unfortunately, barring a humourous surprise earlier on in the film, I didn't feel that many of them were that surprising (difficult to say too much here without spoiling it). There were a few shocked gasps in the audience from time to time which surprised me as I’d think a festival audience would contain a lot of people who’d seen a lot of films.
(Side note:- The experience was also slightly marred for me by being sat next to two women in their sixties who I think had picked the wrong film to watch as one of them kept asking her friend to clarify what was going on, while offering explanations that very much missed the point of what was going on. Much as I love seeing films on the big screen, the downside is other people.)

The Verdict:- Overall, this was the first miss of the festival for me but only by comparison to the other films. There’s a lot in there to recommend for lovers of odd foreign fantasy but something didn’t quite gel together overall for me. I’m still glad I went to see it but I have to say that it is the one I’ve enjoyed the least so far.

Next Time:- Time to break out one of the heavy hitters of the whole festival but who’s it going to be? There’s only one way to find out…

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

The London Film Festival continues ever onwards...

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)
Dir. Ben Wheatley / Dur. 95 min

In A Nutshell:- A family  gathering for New Year’s doesn’t go to plan with the arrival of the estranged brother.

The Good:- It’s a relatively low-budget affair and a character-based piece with a strong cast including amongst others Ben Wheatley regular Neil Maskell, Doon Mackichan, Bill Paterson and Charles Dance (playing brilliantly against type as cross-dressing Uncle Bertie). As expected, the arrival of an estranged family member does not lead to events going to plan but the celebration has already begun to veer off the rails even before his arrival. It’s certainly not a cheery piece but there are strong moments of humour amongst the misery. Neil Maskell is probably the stand out as the titular Colin but it’s definitely an ensemble piece and they all, for the most part, get their moments. The camerawork and editing style add to the escalating tension, building to number of intercut sequences at the end as events spiral towards the climactic confrontation. One of the things that Wheatley always manages to achieve stylistically is to build a sense of menace and tension and this is no exception.

The Bad:- With the exception of Asim Chaudry, the family friends feel a little bit underserved by the film. Additionally, I don’t know if this was just me not paying attention but there suddenly seemed to be some extra guests at the party in some of the closing scenes and I was slightly distracted by the fact that I didn’t know who these people were and where they’d come from.

The Verdict:- I’ve enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s previous films even if sometimes they haven’t fully worked for me; there’s always been something in there that has kept my interest and made me come back for more. I think that, for me, this is his most satisfying film overall (even if I did leave feeling like certain characters had been treated unjustly!)

Festival Tidbit:- According to Ben Wheatley in the Q&A afterwards, the original title was Colin, You Anus but was changed when it was pointed out that no one would go the box office ands ask for tickets for “the Anus film”. Also, he's currently working on a follow up series featuring the same cast - will keep an eye out for that.

Next Time:- A Swedish fantasy film about an unusual looking woman who meets someone with a similar look...

Monday, 15 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - The Breaker Upperers (2018)

Festival a-go-go for the foreseeable future on here - so far I’ve watched eight films across three days with a few more to go so you’ve plenty of material to come from me! Having gone factual (albeit it with a comedy theme) to kick off the festival films, today we are moving into the realm of full-blown comedy.

The Breaker Upperers (2018)
Dir. Jackie van Beek, Madeleine Sami / Dur. 81 min

In A Nutshell:- The ups and downs of two friends who runs a business breaking up couples in unhappy relationships.

The Good:- It has a strong cast, many of whom will be familiar to anyone who’s watched a Taika Waititi film (as one of the of the lines in the film points out, it’s New Zealand, everyone’s bound to run into each other eventually); it’s a good high concept for a comedy; and it’s genuinely very funny. Writer / directors Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami also star and very much hold the film together with strong comedic chemistry between them but all the supporting cast also get their chance to shine (with a couple of celebrity cameos dotted in there too). It’s dry and deadpan but also silly and over the top when it needs to be.

The Bad:- I honestly can’t think of anything I disliked about the film. Well, OK, one purely subjective thing - a part of the film involves a Celine Dion song and I can't bear Celine Dion but the sequence was funny enough to power through that.

The Verdict:- It's a funny brisk comedy that zips along at a good pace with two strong central leads ably supported by an equally strong supporting cast. Go seek it out (Netflix have bought the rights to it - as they seem to have with around half the films I’ve seen so far - so it’ll be on there in 2019).

Festival Tidbit:- In the post-film Q&A, Madeleine Sami described the film as “womance” as opposed to a “bromance” and I think that’s a pretty accurate summation of the relationship between the core characters.

Next time:- Switching it over to the dramatic tomorrow with the new film from Ben Wheatley, director of Sightseers, Kill List, High Rise and Free Fire (and some Doctor Who too)

Friday, 12 October 2018

WatchSeeViewLook Month At The LFF - The Bill Murray Stories (2018)

We’re moving into festival territory now. Every October, the BFI runs the London Film Festival (LFF) which tends to attract a few big name hitters alongside a number of smaller independent films from around the world, not just the UK. This year, the opening and closing night films are Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and Stan And Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as the iconic comedy duo. As those films are generally steeper in price and usually decided by ballot, I’ve gone for a mixture of other films at the festival, ranging from films by established directors (Terry Gilliam and The Coen Brothers are in there) to films that just sounded kind of interesting.

Where do we start? Well, let’s go with one that just sounded kind of interesting for starters.

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man
Dir. Tommy Avallone / Dur. 82 mins

In A Nutshell:- Documentary following the ways in Bill Murray likes to just insert himself into the lives of random strangers.

The Good:- I have, for as long as I can remember, been a fan of Bill Murray’s work. Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day have been pretty ingrained in there from an early age. I’d seen a couple of pictures of Murray effectively photo-bombing people but didn't realise the extent to which he’d popped into people’s lives. From washing up at a student party party in Scotland to tending bar in Austin, it seems Murray just likes to drop into people’s lives because he can with the express intention of causing enjoyment. The key line in the film is a recording of an interview in which he talks about the need to wake himself up every few days, to be present in life and, if he sees someone else in need of that, he’s happy to help out.

The Bad:- The opening recreation with actors is a little cheesy and even slightly off-putting but stick with it through that. It also maybe mythologises what Murray’s doing a little too much but that should be fairly obvious from the subtitle.

The Verdict:- An ultimately heart-warming and life-affirming film which wraps up nicely in a thematic way. Definitely worth a watch.

Tomorrow:- A New Zealand comedy about two women who offer a service splitting up couples... 

Thursday, 11 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month - Alice (1988)

Alright then, we’re into Day Three so, as if two weird Swedish films weren’t enough,  let’s go even further into the world of arthouse fodder, shall we? (I don’t really know why I keep asking you that - you really don’t have a choice as this blog is not a democracy except maybe in the Trumpian sense.*)

Dir. Jan Svankmeyer / Dur. 86 mins

In a nutshell:- Czechoslovakian stop-motion animator provides surrealist animated / live action hybrid version of Alice In Wonderland. (Well, I did warn you we were going full arthouse..)

The Good:- Before I get into it actually, a little bit of context. Way back in the day (probably the 80s), Channel 4 here in the UK used to actually show quite a diverse range of programming. Seasons of Chinese ghost and vampire films or Godzilla films and weirdly depressing cartoons like Murun Buchstansangur** were the norm as well as lots of experimental short and feature length films. 
It was as a youth that I first vaguely remember watching this film and some of the disturbing imagery definitely stayed with me. It’s pretty true to the source material in terms of feel if not in detailed specifics - the book creates the impression of a fever-induced dream state and this version is very much in keeping with that sensibility. The use of a live action girl and a stop motion doll to represent Alice in her various states works nicely as does the overall taxidermy-inspired, sawdust-leaking sense of decay.

The Bad:- It’s not really a version for children, I would say. While there is no bad language or violence, the fairly bleak imagery is not really the sort of thing that a tiny mind would particularly be suited to processing (says the hypocrite whose tiny mind was exposed it it).

The Verdict:- It’s the best surrealist stop-motion film of Alice In Wonderland that there is. Look, I think you're either you're going to be into the idea of a film like this or you’re really not. A review like this is probably not going to sway you to either way.

Tomorrow:- Well, films, innit?

* Heavy-handed satire. You’re definitely on the internet.
** If you don’t remember Murun, here he is in his downbeat, depressing glory:- 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month - Swedish Double Bill

The film based theme keeps on a-rolling into Day Two so there’s still every chance this could be ditched as a theme in favour of your usual random selection of drivel. Today’s choice is going full-on arthouse. It even has subtitles and everything (well, unless you’re Swedish or fluent in Swedish, that is, in which case you probably don’t need them). In fact, “choices” is the more appropriate word as there are two of them.

You, The Living (2007)
Dir. Roy Andersson / Dur. 95 mins

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (2014)
Dir. Roy Andersson / Dur. 101 mins

Ooh, two for the price of one today. Yes, this does decrease the potential number of blog posts but they are similar thematically and stylistically so it makes sense to review them together.

In A Nutshell:- Both films present an odd and offbeat series of vignettes exploring existence.

The Good:- If you like your films deadpan then they don’t come much more deadpan than this. Very similar in style with A Pigeon.. Having maybe slightly more of a narrative thread (and we are talking only very slightly here), these two films are composed of a series of vignettes highlighting slices of life from an odd selection of characters. The films utilise mostly non-actors or actors more used to non-starring roles (with some exceptions) and are sometimes linked, sometimes not. A lot of time, it’s a slice of humour so dry that it’s hard to tell if it is even amusing or not but I like odd, offbeat stuff so this was right up my particular deadpan alley.*

The Bad:- There were some segments that definitely outstayed their welcome and began to try my patience but, with a film like this, if you wait it out, another fresh vignette will be just around the corner.

The Verdict:- Overall, I enjoyed both of these - the off-kilter style; the stilted and occasionally repetitive dialogue; the random talking to the camera. Are they for everyone? No, I’d say that they’re an acquired taste but if you like strange low-key Swedish anthology films then these are definitely worth checking out.

Tomorrow:- It’s still film month so more film stuff. That’s how themes work, y’know.

* Deadpan Alley sounds more like a sort of 1930s hard-boiled detective yarn starring Johnny Excitement and Lola Vavoom but I’m gonna stick with it now.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month - Eighth Grade (2018)

So I’ve themed the odd week here and there but a whole month? I’ve never gone that far before. It’s a big ‘un. Could this be the straw that broke the camel’s back? (Not that I’m comparing you to a camel, Dear Reader - at least, not directly anyway.) It could well be. The underlying reason, though, is that I’m lined up to see a large number of films (and one TV series) at the upcoming London Film Festival and, as there’ll be plenty of material coming out of that one, why not go the whole hog? (I’m not sure why there’s excessive animal-based imagery today, just go with it.)

The films reviewed over the coming selection of weeks will run the gamut from mainstream crowd-pleaser to arthouse audience alienator so there should be something for everyone, really. It will include but not be limited to a new Terry Gilliam film, a musical, a Coen Brothers series and some fresh Nicolas Cage insanity. Firstly, though, let’s kick this bad boy off with an independent film that I managed not to see at the Raindance Film Festival earlier in the year despite seeing a talk from the director (as discussed here), shall we? (That was rhetorical, I’m afraid, you don’t have any choice, that’s what I’m going to do anyway.)

Eighth Grade (2018)
Dir. Bo Burnham / Dur. 94 mins

In a nutshell:- A week in the life of a socially awkward teenage girl as she finishes eighth grade.*

The Good:- Given that it’s written by a man in his late twenties, the film feels like it does a fairly genuine job of conveying the awkwardness and general cringe-iness of being a teenage girl who doesn’t quite fit in (as near as a man in his forties - me - is able to judge that anyway). In large part, I would say that’s down to the central performance by Elsie Fisher who seems to be completely unafraid to show herself looking out of place and vulnerable - and apparently also helped to tailor the script to her own speech patterns and mannerisms (her odd “Gucci” sign off to her vlogs being something she was observed doing on set). She’s aided by Josh Hamilton as her supportive but equally clueless single father - the relationship between the two of them providing some of the stand out moments of the film. Social media and its impact are also handled in a fairly realistic fashion - unsurprising seeing as writer/director Bo Burnham started out as a YouTube-based comedian.

The Bad:- If I have one criticism, it’s that it falls into a slightly stereotypical trope of “lusting after the hot one but ultimately going with the other nerdy one” but it’s very minor criticism and in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the film.

The Verdict:- An enjoyable low-budget comedy-drama driven by a compelling central performance by Elsie Fisher - definitely one to watch for the future. I’d also be keen to see what Bo Burnham does next as a writer/director - it’s a remarkably assured and confident debut feature.

Tomorrow:- More film stuff. Did you not see the bit at the top about this being a theme?

* Sidenote:- As a result of going to a private school (nope, I’m not that posh, the parents struggled to send me there), I can't equate grades / years. My first year was 3rd Form followed by Lower 4th, Upper 4th, etc. Tell me you’re in Year 9 and that means nothing to me (oh, Vienna). 

Monday, 20 August 2018

WatchSeeLookView - Film Style Vol 04 (Cage-A-Thon!)

I enjoy all manner of film. Yes, my tendency is towards sci fi and comedy (with a reasonable dose of foreign cinema as I have delusions of pretentiousness) but I enjoy any well-made films. Sometimes, though, you just want to watch a man riding a bike with his head on fire or driving...angrily, I guess… Yes, it is time to bask in the glory that is Nicolas Cage - a one-time Oscar winning actor who now seems to have decided to just have fun being a Nicolas Cage type character for presumably fairly large sums of money (and fair play to him). I recently binged on several Nicolas Cage flicks (warning - this could be hazardous to your mental health - do no attempt without proper preparation) and here’s what it did to my fragile little mind.

Note:- The term “Any Good?” is used in very specific sense here - generally, “so bad it comes back around and borders on the genius”. You have been warned.

Ghost Rider
In Which:- Yep, Nicolas Cage rides around on a bike with a flaming skull
Any Good? It’s so close to being so bad, it’s good but fumbles it with a hefty dose of stuff that’s just ponderous and boring. It’s a suitably bizarre cast including Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott (who also narrates and, quite frankly, should probably narrate almost every film) and has the occasional stupidly weird moment but doesn’t quite manage to go the whole hog. As such, it’s neither an exciting comic book/superhero film nor a top-notch mental Cage vehicle* and feels like a missed opportunity on either side.

Drive Angry
In Which:- Nicolas Cage escapes Hell in order to save his kidnapped granddaughter.
Any Good? Now this is more like it. A film with an utterly ludicrous premise that knows it and just full-on leans heavily into it. In fact, it’s a film so silly that it features a scene where Nicolas Cage engages in a shootout while smoking a cigar, swigging whiskey and having sex at the same time. This is exactly what I’m talking about it when I mean “so bad it comes back around and borders on genius”. If you’re looking for pulpy action with peak Cage mentalness, this one has to be up there.

Mom And Dad
In Which:- An unspecified zombie-style outbreak causes parents to turn on their children
Any Good? Actually, this is a pretty good horror comedy (in the bleakest of black humour) presenting a fresh spin on the zombie-style horror genre with a bit of a meditation on the loss of youth and the inevitable onset of middle age so it’s not necessarily in the “so bad, it’s good” category but it does feature some prime opportunities for Cage to go fully over the top (as well featuring some flashbacks to non-zombified Cage’s weirdly inappropriate parenting style). Plus it features a kick-ass appearance from Lance Henriksen (Bishop of Aliens fame) so what’s not to love?

I enjoyed my brief descent into the world of insane modern Cage acting (as I said, he once won an Oscar). Would I go all-out Cage and binge my way through a chunk again? Well, there’s always Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, Season of The Witch and the Wicker Man remake. Hmm, maybe not...

* Aha ha, I said “vehicle” in a review about a bike-riding flame-headed demon. I am most hilarious.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fulla Game-y Goodness

It’s summertime and those of you with small younger versions of adult humans (“children” is the preferred term, I believe) may well be looking for ways to divest them from the all-consuming screens of plenty that dominate the modern world. (Or not, those screens do keep them mighty quiet.) Well, here are some physical items that could do just that. Be warned, this may also require interaction from you in that ghastly spectacle known as “quality time” so be prepared.

Burgle Bros
Type:- Tile-based board game
In A Nutshell:- Work together to rob a building and avoid the security guards.
This one’s a co-operative game - there are a lot of these about these days. Basically, you don’t compete against the other players - you work together to defeat the game itself. This one’s good fun although it does take a bit of time to set up. It’s a lovely design though and a great example of economical packaging used to store a surprising amount of tiles, cards and pieces (needs a fair bit of space!)

King Of Tokyo/King Of New York
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Sort of  Yahtzee with Godzilla-style monsters
There are two versions of this - the New York version has slightly more to it so is perhaps a little more satisfying but they’re much of a muchness. You control a Godzilla-type monster trying to control a city and destroy your fellow monsters, using dice to help you do so. Good smashy fun.

Type:- Card game
In A Nutshell:- Cause and fix time paradoxes to meet your desired goal first
Technically a card game, the cards themselves actually form a board across which you’ll play. From the same company that created Fluxx, this is good fun as there are actually three possible ways for you to win the game which prevents it from going on for too long. Some nice silly descriptions on the item  cards add to the fun with this one.

Bubblee Pop
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Align the Bubblees to get points and stuff up the other player
I realised that, in trying to describe some games, you don’t really do them justice. Basically, you move coloured circles around to make rows of three and they give you points and a special action to take. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s another simple one that combines a little of bit of strategy with a hefty dose of chance.

This is the bit where the end of the post goes. Yeah, I kind of ran out of steam there. Let’s just assume that I came up with an amusing and pithy way to tie this all together and we can all leave with a sense of satisfaction about the whole thing. Splendid.