Friday, 25 July 2008

Round Up (That's a Brand of Weedkiller, Isn't It?)

I hope everyone’s efforts on that Red Planet thing are all going well. Mine consists predominantly of psychiatrists, economics and privatisation (a lot like my day job), and is threatening to get horribly complicated at any second. Actually, scrub that – it’s horribly complicated already, and this time I started from a five page treatment. The next step now is to get sixty pages in the bag, and wrestle manfully with them like they’re someone dressed up in a rubber Godzilla suit (again, a lot like my day job).

On the ‘marketing’ front, I’m getting scripts read in the most unusual and surprising of places. It will be a while before I can blog about these, as the entire process is no doubt going to drag on to a conclusion, be it good, (probably) bad or indifferent. Suffice to say that when I look these people up on imdb, I run the entire gamut of emotions from mildly excited to vaguely concerned. Don’t ask me what it all means – I’m getting a stabbing pain in my eye just thinking about it.

Anyway, Red Planet aside, I’m off to Paris for five days to celebrate this blog’s first birthday on July 29th (that’s an outright lie - the blog celebration bit, not the Paris bit. Just to prove it, I will post a photograph of a croissant next Tuesday, so stay tuned!). Pip pip!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Kingdumb

Contains spoilers for The Kingdom

With Michael Mann producing, the one thing you’re guaranteed to get with The Kingdom is an honest to goodness lorry load of shoot ‘em up action. The action sequences in Heat – the heist and the concluding gun battle – are probably some of the best ever filmed, and The Kingdom does its damndest to ensure that its two big action sequences are structurally almost direct lifts from Mann’s undoubted masterpiece. Thing is, exploding Range Rovers, ferocious hails of bullets and the sight of Jennifer Garner holding a gun like it’s about to chip her nail polish does not make a great movie. A good one, sure – but not a great one.

If you're expecting another Syriana, you will come away disappointed. You don’t even have to scratch the surface to find an almost wholly conventional thriller here. And whatever you do, don’t dwell too long on the machinations of the narrative – it is utterly preposterous. Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) leads a small team of FBI agents into Saudi Arabia to investigate the indiscriminate bombing of an American housing compound. Five days later, the team are out (not a bullet wound between them, although poor Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner) almost suffers a burst eardrum, bless her) and the crime has been solved. The Kingdom has been criticised for being revisionist, and you can certainly see why. This is the way the US would like to see things done. The reality, of course, is entirely different.

You want more preposterousness? You got it! In order to get ‘in country’, Fleury has to rely upon a friendly journalist, who sows a series of half truths with the Saudi ambassador to the US that Fleury is then able to leverage to get what he wants. Got that? Good. Now forget all about it. If this was Syriana, Fleury’s actions – essentially a man driven by a vague sense of vengeance – would have tragic and probably fatal consequences. But they don’t, purely because all the guff about getting the team into Saudi is nothing more than exposition. The political storm that Fleury stirs up by acting unilaterally simply falls away, to be replaced by big guns and even bigger explosions.

The political and personal relationships that the first hour of the film spends time exploring are quite intriguing, if only for the fact that you expect some sort of concluding pay off later in the film. Haytham, the Saudi police officer who stops the first attack on the compound is initially suspected of being involved, and is mercilessly interrogated as a result. As Haytham ends up being part of the joint US-Saudi team who set out to kick some major terrorist butt, you’d half expect this piece of intrigue to have some sort of bearing on how the team ultimately fare. It doesn’t, which means that The Kingdom doesn’t really have sub-plots – it has a lot of narrative loose ends that ultimately get swallowed up by impressive explosions and gun battles.

All that said, I quite enjoyed it. Even though The Kingdom thinks it’s intelligent, it isn’t really. Treat it like a big, dumb generic thriller and you can’t go wrong.

(The screenwriter of The Kingdom, Matthew Michael Carnahan is at the helm of the US adaptation of State of Play, which is slated for a spring 2009 release. Quite what he does with Paul Abbot’s BBC mini-series remains to be seen, but if The Kingdom is any indication, he’ll turn in something efficient and effective, but pretty unremarkable).

Friday, 18 July 2008

Friday Night Muzak - Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright, from her 2005 album stunningly entitled Martha Wainwright.

I saw Martha at the Gardner Arts Centre back in 2005 (supported by an equally brilliant Catherine Feeny). Amazingly, the Gardner is now closed, victim of a double whammy of funding cuts by both Brighton & Hove Council and the Arts Council. An additional problem is that the Gardner is also a Grade 1 listed building in dire need of renovation, which means it has stood unused for over a year - a huge shame, as it was one of my favourite Brighton venues (I even saw the premiere of Tank Girl there some years back, not that Jamie Hewlett could be bothered to turn up for his scheduled appearance - ah well, he didn't miss much!).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

3-D Fun*

Contains Spoilers for Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Some films are, well, all right – they’re simply OK. They’re entertaining and diverting inasmuch as when you walk out of the cinema you think, “That film was all right. Hmmm – I hope it's onion rings for tea.” Welcome to the (interior) world of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (in 3-D no less). It’s an all right type of film – seriously: it’s OK. The narrative is workmanlike, the dependable Brendan Fraser is likeable enough, and there’s some truly fun 3D moments: an ocean full of killer fish, the odd dinosaur, a plethora of characters pointing at things for inordinately long periods of time.

That said, there must have been an awful lot of work involved in making this film simply OK (which to my mind means it’s determinedly middle of the road – nothing wrong with that of course, especially if you like getting run over on a regular basis). The rather neutral emotional content seems entirely deliberate, if only to cater for what the film’s target demographic want – a shed load of CGI and spiffy 3D effects, not uncomfortable moments where a bit of drama might break out (and by drama I mean interaction between living, breathing human beings, not collisions of CGI and chase sequences). In fact, given the pedigree of the script, it’s no wonder the whole thing seems curiously undercooked (the following is from IMDB):

Indie film maker Paul Chart ('American Perfekt') was originally signed to write and direct the picture and penned the original script. Chart left the project, however, after a decision was made to shoot the film in 3-D, uncomfortable with the possibility it would become more 'theme park ride' than the epic action-adventure film he envisioned. The Jules Verne novel was apparently one of his favorite pieces of literature. Chart was ultimately replaced with effects specialist Eric Brevig and the script was heavily retooled to emphasize the new 3-D format.

In retooling the script to shoehorn in the theme park aesthetic, all the drama has been lost, along with any uncomfortable moments that might have upset its tweenie target audience. Hannah (a foxy Icelandic guide – grrr!) happens across the body of Trevor Anderson’s (Brendan Fraser) brother Max, who went missing some years before whilst searching for the mythical ‘centre of the earth’. Cue one tearful burial scene. However, since the search for his brother was the thing driving Trevor in the first place, simply happening across his body seemed undramatic – which is of course the whole point. In order to cram as many 3D effects in as possible, something had to give – in this case it was the script, rewritten countless times to expunge as many dramatic moments as possible. I'm sure that Paul Chart’s script was infinitely superior, but market forces are at play here – so chop back the story and stuff in a theme park ride.

However, what you end up with is a film that is merely all right: entertaining but forgettable, pure brain candy. And when you start to ponder why Brendan Fraser’s moobs are so pointy, you really know you're in trouble.
* I don't think I was the only person in the cinema who looked at the person I was with with my 3D glasses on and said, "My god - you're in 3D."

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Linkage Mania

Loads of good stuff in yesterday’s Guardian, here’s a round-up of notable links:

An extensive Paul Abbot interview, writer of State of Play and Shameless here.

Nicolas Roeg interview here, director of Performance and Don’t Look Now.

A pragmatic Susan Hill here on why more people write short stories than read them.

Iain Sinclair here on Wyndham Lewis at the National Portrait Gallery until October.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Friday Night Muzak - Slab!

This recently digitised video has just shown up on the Ikon Video site at YouTube, and what a treat it is, from possibly one of my favourite bands of all time. Never mind the fact this is from 1989, People Pie still sounds impassioned and urgent today - tag team it with a video that feels like a shovel round the back of the head, and you have four minutes of extreme viewing pleasure (and one of the heaviest bass sounds ever to grace vinyl). Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Time Team on Acid

Contains Spoilers for last night's Bonekickers

Ever since Life On Mars, one gets the impression that Ashley Pharaoh could pitch his shopping list to BBC executives and get given the green light for a six part series exploring the mysteries of supermarket trolleys and the fruit n’ veg aisle. That said, Bonekickers was all right I suppose (and certainly not as godawful as Gareth McLean made out in Tuesday’s Guardian), but it entirely depended on what you were looking for – if that happened to be a drama-lite romp thought seven hundred years of pseudo-history, you were in luck. If not – oh well, just sit back and marvel at the errant silliness.

Bonekickers did at least have a brain cell rattling round in its mostly empty head, if only for the realisation that a dramatised Time Team would have been like watching the live feed on Big Brother. A crazed, right wing Christian group wearing limited edition Templar t-shirts was wheeled out to do battle with a bunch of perplexed looking Muslims (fresh out of the story conference, no doubt), one of whom got his head cut off by Paul Nicholls (gotta take the work where you can get it these days I guess). A sub-plot too far methinks, as by the halfway point Bonekickers had forgotten about its brain cell and proceeded to stagger toward its deliriously daft finale. In fact, there was so much overt nonsense on show that an extra twenty or so minutes or so might have calmed things down somewhat, and allowed for some much needed tying up of loose ends.

With the recently announced Red Planet competition in mind, anyone looking for clues as to what a returning series looks like wouldn't have come away with anything useful from Bonekickers, save for the fact that the first episode was exceptionally plot heavy. The main characters were introduced via the tried and tested mechanism of a fresh faced newbie in their midst, but save for a perfunctory line or two, character development was not something that Bonekickers particularly interested itself in, as it spent a lot of its time bumping into convenient narrative signposts, such as an old geezer who was able to point the way to the one true cross (well, a warehouse full of them at least).

So: it was all right. But judging by this outing, at least shopping lists are coherent.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Guilty Pleasures, Part 5 - Midsomer Murders

Contains Spoilers for Sunday night's episiode of Midsomer Murders

Demographics – a fascinating subject (which probably means I should get out a bit more).

In all seriousness (well, as serious as I ever get), watching the adverts during the commercial breaks for Midsomer Murders last night, I got a good idea of the sort of people that ITV assumed would be watching: adverts for bladder weakness products, erectile dysfunction, (now officially my favourite web site name of all time), and glue to hold your dentures in place whilst you go bobbing for apples. What with Songs of Praise and George Gently on BBC1 (not to mention Last of the Summer Wine when it returns for its eighty ninth series), Sunday night television is a veritable feast of coffin dodging that assumes every viewer is actively thinking about installing that long overdue chair lift. Gentle, non-threatening television that doesn’t shout ‘BOO!’ or stray too far from the demands of it supposed demographic.

Or does it?

Last night’s Midsomer Murders was solid enough without being particularly surprising or adventurous. That doesn’t mean to say that the three murders weren’t carried out with a Friday the 13th type of sick glee. One old dear got a wobbly hat pin forcefully inserted into her ear (I half expected to see an advert for hearing aids during the next break), a maid of honour got a huge knife jammed into her sternum, and an estate manager got an arrow in the heart. There was a lot of coming and going Upstairs Downstairs style, but not a whole lot of tension, as you know how the whole thing is going to turn out anyway: just as well, as the Sunday night TV audience is more susceptible to cardiac arrests brought on by sudden movement and/or too much excitement. In this case, John Nettles is ideal in the role of DI Barnaby, as he doesn’t exactly move very fast these days. I mean, last night’s episode saw him partially solving the murders with the help of a crossword puzzle. Next week there’s a breakneck Zimmer frame chase and a duel to the death with sharpened walking sticks.

That said, I’ve seen episodes of Midsomer that were positively demented, especially when Anthony Horowitz was at the helm. As soon as I saw his name on the opening credits, I would breathe a sigh of relief, as his name was a guarantee that what you were going to get was bound to be more than the usual police procedural and suspect quiz that Midsomer has become. It’s still weirdly enjoyable in a laid back, somnambulistic kinda way though, even if its two hour running time makes me feel like I’ve been drugged with cocoa and Werthers Originals.

And with that, it’s time for my slippers and milky drink. Pip pip.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Plate Spinner Extraordinaire

Whilst everyone and his/her dog has been away at the Screenwriter’s Festival, I’ve been putting my extremely ad-hoc and random marketing plan into operation, which is much like keeping a series of plates spinning whilst rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time – or something (you get the idea). Last week seemed the ideal opportunity as well, as the competition were all off playing croquet in Cheltenham ;-) (I went to a school with a croquet lawn and two grass tennis courts – how posh am I?)

The upside is that I got two script requests and a chat with my agent chum (just because you haven’t heard from someone in a while doesn’t mean they’re not interested – very often, a polite phone call is enough to gently prod them into action). Baby steps all, and it keeps those plates spinning I guess. And what with METLAB in a Ripley-esque state of suspended animation, I idly starting wondering what had happened to TAPS. One e-mail later, it transpires that the scripts are out with ‘industry professionals’ for a read – decisions as to the final scripts may/may not be made in the next couple of weeks. Probably best not to hold your breath.

I’m also still tarting about with that treatment, which now has a deadline of late August. And then of course, there’s the RISE Summer Challenge and the new Red Planet thing – lots to keep anyone occupied over the summer I reckon. The Red Planet competition looks great (as usual), so I’ll have to get my skates on at some point and do something about that.

As you were...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Friday Night Muzak

Wire's new album Object 47 is out July 15th, so what the hell, it's Friday: here's Eardrum Buzz from 1987.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

FCB in The Guardian

There was a good article in yesterday's Guardian by Frank Cottrell Boyce, which can be found here. As a little teaser, here's what he has to say about the three act structure...

All the manuals insist on a three-act structure. I think this is a useless model. It's static. All it really means is that your screenplay should have a beginning, middle and end. When you're shaping things, it's more useful to think about suspense. Suspense is the hidden energy that holds a story together.

Oooh, controversial!

I've been thinking about structure and pacing quite a lot recently, and this little article is helping me frame some of my thoughts in a wider context. I may well post some of this meandering old nonsense at a later date, but in the meantime, hop over to the article and have a gander.