Sunday, 7 September 2014

Taking a Break From All Your Worries...

I'm always a little surprised when people read my blog so it would not surprise me in the least if nobody had noticed that for some time now, I haven't been writing on it, or indeed anywhere else. I think I got to a point where I was no longer writing for myself, I was feeding an internet machine, a sort of obligation or habit that was no longer personally satisfying. I'd run out of the desire to write. I never thought that would happen to me. I wasn't blocked. I just had nothing more to say. I watched movies and felt no need to comment on them. I wasn't relating to the written word or perhaps I was no longer relating to myself. So I took a break. A long one. And I've continued to do some social networking but I took the pressure off myself to be an interesting, entertaining or useful voice. If indeed I ever had been any of those things.

Gradually I thought the urge to write would come back. When it didn't I realised there was another urge there in it's place, the urge to be normal, to be nobody, to be without expectation or demand. And things have come in to fill that normality, nothing vastly exciting, but things turn up for me to do each week and it didn't seem to weigh on me as much that I wasn't being artistically 'productive' in any way.

Then last week over brunch with some of the people who began my journey into writing and making film I had some conversations that put my absence of motivation into a different perspective. One of my friends who moved back to Australia got married there this year and this was a celebratory reunion of his nuptials and a rare opportunity to catch up with others. We reminisced a little about what we'd all achieved in the years we'd been completing projects in London before he moved away and my friend mentioned that we'd probably have been better off not spending as long planning and executing each project, but if we'd just been prolific and made more things together more often and if we had, we'd maybe be in different places now. He had a point, but talking further we both came to another realisation about making stories... none of of us around the table were doing anything like that at the moment and it is because we are busy just living life, connecting to the people we love and care for, and spending time with them and that's as much as we want to manage right now because making projects incessantly, while it looks great from the outside and can make you proud, can also really take away from achieving depth of meaning in your own internal life story and ultimately, when that happens you run out of having anything you feel is worthwhile to say until you fill that well of experience again. 

It's an important lesson to learn in a society obsessed with success, productivity and achievement that what really matters both in life and in art is that it is sustaining. The things we do, the things we are should have the full breadth and depth of human experience to feed ourselves as well as our audience and that doesn't come easily and isn't fed by simply continuing to do what you did before without growth or change or rest. Whether you are prolific or a perfectionist comes second to what you ultimately produce and how it connects us to the world and each other. It's easy to splash about in the shallows being impressive but to really become a swimmer you ultimately have to find deeper waters.

And so there I sat among friends with whom I'd grown and changed and achieved. We're more apart nowadays than we were at one time but those people, I realised, will always be an indelible part of me and my life experience. I could sit at this table, devoid of current projects to brag about and yet if I wanted, I could write on a napkin the experience of eating a fluffy perfect plate of couscous among these cherished folk in this happy place, and it would convey in a few sentences a wealth of connection that years of churning out 'good ideas' to these same folk never had. With time and perspective on my side I had the awareness to sit back and just appreciate this moment. I could have, but didn't write on any napkins, I just absorbed a place and time and people along with a huge plate of heavenly sustenance with the texture of a cloud, and talked and listened until our fond gathering became a moment in my soul. I could understand and be able to convey in future, truths that if I'd been busy bragging about my latest great new idea I'd probably have been far too distracted and self absorbed to even appreciate.

So yes, I've been taking a break and I don't have much to say for myself and the movies and writing and may not for some time. And if that's a boring thing for those who would prefer to be entertained by me, if my life and my blog isn't very worthy of attention right now I will just suck up the mundanity of my existence. Because the other thing I'm sucking up is perspective, and with that time for silence taken, my Voice will eventually, I hope, become infinitely more resonant.

Until then..... the world is full of ordinary stuff to be touched and amazed by.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Is it what you meant to say, really?

So many screenwriters and filmmakers I know (and I include myself in this) have difficulty editing their work after we've created it. Whether we're editing down from a first draft or tightening a rough edit the urge is to hang onto the bits we feel are worth something. This might be because they please us, they look or sound good, they cost us something to create or that in and of themselves they possess something we feel is or could be of value to our story. The proof of the pudding however is in the eating and you wouldn't just chuck chocolate on your sausages because chocolate and sausages taste good individually, you'd want all the aspects of a meal to work together, that doesn't mean you can't have chocolate and sausages (if I were forced I'd make a mole poblano sauce) it just makes it more unlikely to work for more than your particular pallette unless those elements blend together to form a sensible whole up upon the senses of others.

One of the things I say to people when giving screenplay feedback is to ignore the things I say to them if it doesn't help them tell the story that they want to tell. Ultimately that goes for the story elements too, if they're not helpful to you they're not helpful to include. I can like a line or a look as much as it's possible to like something but if it isn't helping me tell the story I want to tell then it's useless and morover it's most likely getting in the way of me including something that will. I have to be super unconnected to individual elements when editing or re-writing my own work and focus on my intention so if something doesn't tell me something about character or plot or move those things forward, if it doesn't create a much needed atmosphere then it's useless junk that I'm probably valuing for the wrong reason and at the expense of including something better.

What's also worth asking yourself about a scene is what's missing? What detail, background information or richness can be included or excluded to clarify what you're already saying or trying to get accross. Perhaps a phrase or view can be subtly inserted to reveal something pertinent to your story intention for that scene, or re-inforce a message. Have you included enough to fully engage your intended audience. Have you focussed sufficient weight on what we need to know? Are we deliberately diffusing the audience's eye in order to clarify it later or do we need to do something like that? Or have we obscured with excess elements something essential to our plot that should be clear at this point? Is there a better way to reveal information.

Consider then the pace, is it right for this piece, will this piece fit into the pace of the larger whole well or does it need to be pulled to one directon or another to add conformity or variety to your film. Is the tone right? Have you expressed your own voice in the way you've conveyed your idea so that it's your own unique eye we see this scenario through. Stories have a life of thier own, they need to be told and when you're telling a story with your own voice, people are listening to you and your methods of delivery will excite or dissappoint them as much as the story will.

There's more, there's always more that can and should be done, but remembering, always remembering what it is that you Truly Want To Say will ultimately help you to say it and say it well be that with words on a page, images on a screen, sounds in our ears. Make every iota count.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Intelligence that supercedes man, closing the human/machine divide, there's a lot of thought to be given to the science of singularity but sadly, very few of those thoughts make it into the film that is Transcendence and wading through star studded mud is still wading through mud in my opinion.

For all it's high falutin basis, the screenplay is very weak. Focussing on the narrow perameters of a handful of characters, (who aren't even too likeable) and leaving larger humanity in the dark makes the concerns of  a species that should draw us into the film pretty petty. There are no good guys, there is no growth, there is nothing for us 'ordinary folk' to relate to because we, you see, are left out of the story, we're the baggage the writer couldn't work out how to include. Nothing for us here, move along world.  Even were that not the case, storywise, things happen without any rhyme or reason that I could discern. It makes a basic sense but it doesn't move or implore me. And for a film based on an actual branch of science that likely will dramatically and unpredictably change our lives and evolution, within our lifetimes, there's very little science or scientific debate in it. 

What remains is poorly directed melodrama with nothing to give but the vague uneasiness of the ignorant as we tread old ground with a lack of fresh perspective. Even the protagonist is vague, is it Paul Bettany's Max, who ambles through his own concious objections to his field, maybe he shoulda worked out where he stood on that before yunno, writing the source code to reinvent evolution, or is our focus Johnny Depp's Will who's tragic persecution by terrorists makes him a rather compelling anti-hero rather than the villan he's miscast as, or perhaps it's his wife Evelyn for whom it's all done, played by the usually vibrant Rebecca Hall who here in this character is so lacklustre that the most postivie thing I can say is that she has nice hair and loves her hubby.  Oh.. and there's Morgan Freeman of course being wise because he's always the wise dude, apparently. It doesn't help because lack of thought or reason in these people of science is perhaps the most astounding thing about this film. Frankly Cillian Murphy might not have bothered turning up as the sole embodiment of law, government and populace point of view (because of course the same FBI agent who checks out a random terrorism act goes on to represent all) were completely irrelevant. Also there's some dissenting chick on her high horse despite being the actual cause her worst fears to emerge in the worst way and who, despite living on a mountain and unable to use the internet still secures a regular enough supply of peroxide to keep her hairdo more over bleached than Myra Hindley. These are the things I noticed because There Is No Story Or Point Here!

On top of everything else Wally Pfister doesn't quite pull anything in the right direction on the direction front, focusing intelsely on the wrong bits of story and making the action great but utterly unconnected to anything relevant. He creates delicious background to fancify underdeveloped characters. Somebody's cognitive function needs enhancing here surely? A nano enhanced dude lifting a heavy something is shown at least three times, whereas the ending of the whole film is kinda skirted round in just over a minute with some sappy flowery nonsense.. quite literally flowery as it involves regenerated sunflowers in the one place on Earth where they are not supposed to be able to regenerate?Ummm.. right.. whatever.. by that point I didn't really care, I just wanted out of the auditorium or to be shot by a radiation coated bullet.. anything but try and make sense of this grue calling itself sci-fi.

Frankly the thing flopped for me in a big way, I haven't been so disappointed in a movie since Rocky 4 and the biggest oposition to technological advancements Transcendence has given me is that someone stupid might put a Hollywood exec in charge of chosing my brain's future entertainment content. Here, a rookie screenwriter and a rookie director have been thrown some very large budgetary bones which stuck in their throats and prevented them speaking anything remotely worth hearing with their rookie voices. It looks great of course, the cinematography and vfx is fabulous, superb and meaningless. The sound is enriching, and does a lot but not enough to bolster the plot, the cast have much talent, but it's unused and without the solid foundation of story, meaning and execution this house crumbles to dust at the first puff of the big bad wolf that is common sense. Pffft to Transcendence! The real science of AI creation is a topic with more depth, integrity and intelligent fears than this lot is capable of giving.

Monday, 28 April 2014



In the vein of The Hunger Games, the dystopian future of Divergent is another young adult dynasty of films that will appeal to more than a teen audience. It's an intelligent story based around personality and life choices and any of us who've made mistakes in those departments of our lives will find ourselves fascinated by this future world segregation that is supposed to promote peace, but by creating strict factions it's a world that picks sides to the point where they put faction before family, before peace and before morality. None of it quite rings true, like the Dauntless who bully fear into thier recruits, intelligent Erudite who can't see the long term consequence of their own evil plot and the 'selfness' Abnegation who are so unselfserving that they run the world by being the politicians in charge of it all.. yeah right.. totally humble dudes! This is a world of oxymoronic values and nothing but dissent and unhappiness will come from it. All the primordial soup necessary for a revolutionary whirlwind which will of course include death, cameraderie and romantic adventure. Bring it, and the freethinking dangerous Divergents on.

Again, female led drama works very well with the girl next door type Tris played compellingly by Shailene Woodley with the right balance of courage and caution for this teen at a turning point. Tris finds her hero in Britsh actor Theo James' character Four, who has his own troubles and secrets and as these two divergents amid a sea of dauntless somehow gravitate to each other immediately, they find in each other's secrets and nightmares a way to solve their own personal dilemmas and fears. The two actors have great chemistry and their scenes together are the magnetic part of the film. The rest of the cast are made up of numerous prominant and accomplished actors, Kate Winslet standing out as the quiet danger to our heroine and her ilk and again, a female nemesis works well although Jai Courtney certainly does his bit to add tension. The story is a little philosophical and the settings rather humdrum to be really cinematic but with an overall high level of acting the cast lift the interest level with characters that are both good in the moment and have weight and potential to grow and expand through a series of films.

This first film is definitely a beginning rather than a epic tale in and of itself, it's a set up for the society and world dynamics and there is for me, a little too much action that takes place inside chemically induced minds than in real life action so scriptwise I'd have liked to have seen some trimming of that and a more energising structure that progresses the story, but it's got okay pacing and is technically well shot and edited with an active score so holds attention and mood albeit without swagger so delivers what it's supposed to. What really works is the chcaracters and the way we relate their dilemmas to our own world. There's a lot of thoughtfulness in this film and I defy anyone not to take ideas away with them and examine the people they hang about with after seeing it.

I'd have liked more spectacle but with sequel, Insurgent due to begin shooting next month, maybe some of that is yet to come. Don't join a faction yet, there's a lot more coming!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

50 Kisses and the art of Compilation #50Kisses


A couple of years ago an initiative by the London Screenwriters' Festival brought a bunch of writers together to submit short screenplays containing a kiss, there were a few other criteria but the idea was that fifty of the submitted works would be selected and then put out to be made by the filmmaking community and then the best among the restulting productions combined into a feature length film showcasing the work of the writers, directors, actors and crew who had worked under the umbrella of this kissing theme to produce something unique. A multi-genre film featuring a compilation of takes on a very core expression of humanity since as far back as there has been humanity. Kisses.

Touching one's lips to another. It's this kind of weird thing we humans do and to me, the main interest of the project as I've followed it has been how exactly writers and directors would approach showcasing something as simple as a kiss within the complexity of a film that showed multiple similar expressions in multiple situations and genres and still make their own voice and vision clear within that whole. I've followed the project, it's been a long road. Two years of patchwork quilting a bunch of differing content into a one fabric that is warm and pleasing and serves a purpose isn't an easy task for anyone, but with the LSF team behind it, the shape of that fabric has begun to take on it's own design, that of a community that's built outwards from the writers.

I'm a great fan of shorts, the first films ever made were short films and they are an art form all their own, no less valuable in filmic terms because they are small. I love feature films too, they bring depth to ideas and emotions, exploring arcs and curves over a period of time that is long enough to delve into a topic and yet short enough to encapsulate it succinctly creating impact and resolution without requiring the much longer commitment of serial drama.

Features that are compilations of shorts are traditionally a little more of a hard sell, both in terms of attracting and holding audience attention, because they tend to be less character consistent, we don't identify with one person who we stick with from beginning to end. But they are often a great showcase of particular themes of work be it from the same or different sources and as creative endeavours hold a lot of art in the multiple explorations they offer. For instance, my short films don't seem to have very much in common at face value but lumped together three of the four I've shot so far, plus a number of my other unmade screenplays, would show varying perspectives on why we love the people we love, one of a number of recurring themes in my own writing since I began to pen words. Similarly when we look at compilations of short film from differing sources we see not the unifying idea so much as the vaster exploration of it, like for instance a friend of mine worked with Bertolluci on Ten Minutes Older: The Cello and in that compilation there is a uniting theme of time explored by some of our times great directors though their own interpretation and art. In such compliations we see not only an exploration of theme from different angles but revealed through differing minds, allowing us to think, to challenge our own views with multiple others. Compilation films (outside of the porn industry) may be a rare, less popular and therefore less commercial prospect but they do have value within film creation, because in many ways it's easy to make a work that stands alone, but if you can make a work that stands proud amid a crowd of others of the same ilk, then you've truly proved the value of your work as writer, director, actor, crew etc. and to me, that seems like a very worthy thing to spring from an organisation like the London Screenwriters' Festival.

50 Kisses has had a long energetic journey (as most films do) to a world premiere on 13/02/2014 and I'll be attending to see the result, meet some of the thousands of people who contributed to the project, those who ran and oversaw it, and those who are just, like me, observers and see how it all fits together and to establish what and who resonates and what doesn't and maybe identify some people I would like to work with in future and who's future or other works I will want to explore. How it will be in terms of a fantastic success I cannot tell, except I know from experience that there will be a lot of fun to be had on the night and a feel good factor around an event that is not the culmination of a journey but the beginning of one as the work connects for the first time with an audience. As ever I'll be on Twitter @momentsoffilm sharing my experience. Do join me in person or online and see what you think of something that is neither a shorts or feature screening but that rarer, more elusive beast of compliation that brings new aspects to those forms of film we already love so well. And I can promise you this.. there will be kisses.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

American Hustle #Oscar


I want to call David O'Russell's latest adventure, American Hustle, a crime caper but in truth it's more of an anti-crime caper as an ambitious fed traps ambitious criminals into trapping mobsters and corrupt politicians in an escallating farce of 'how to make friends, get ahead and trick everyone while still being seventies cool.'

At the heart of this movie's success is a fantastic cast playing some pretty unbelievable characters in a pretty unbelieveable story, all of course loosely based on something that actually happened and brought down multiple corrupt politicians in a glorious political scandal way back when. Focusing less on the political story and way more on the players that brought their corruption into the open there's a real personal side to this film. Though alike in some ways it's by no means a 'Goodfellas' movie where the persona is king and the crime is glamour filled. No, this is a film that shines in the mundane moneymaking, the self-doubt moments, the fallible people behind the players. It's no co-incidence that the film begins with Christian Bale as the balding fat Irving applying glue, thatch and an exquisitely ellaborate combover to his bonce. It's a metaphor for the entire movie. What people are and what they fix themselves to look like to others is the con we all play upon the world and the people we meet in it. And so of course, we resonate toward the truth behind the fictions these characters give the world and each other in this film and are perhaps enriched because of them by the time the story is over.

The cast handles it with aplomb. Bale is transformed physically in this role, but the core versetile actor in there is a familiar and welcome sight to me after the more brusque Bale we saw in the Batman years. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper reach deep into their considerable talents too and Lawrence and Renner are delightful as larger than life magnetic bundles of chaos as indeed are an ensemble of supporting cast including a wonderful cameo by De Niro where you know shit just got serious because the big player is in town. There's a fab escalation of pathos filled scenes with Fed boss Louis CK who's character never quite gets to reign in his agent with the end of his ice fishing story. It's a beautiful character revealing addition to the screenplay that is delightfully unresolved. There are many little touches through the film, getting us under the skin of these people within the work and it's all brought to our eyes with some wildly rich art design, costume and make up that is truly reflective of the seventies to the point that I firmly remember my dad in tight perm curlers and that faux wood cladding that adorned office walls everywhere when I was a kid. While this film might not have the story pizzaz of some movies of it's ilk, it's very hard not to like it's exaggerated reality, honest graft and to respect the refinement of work that produces such pragmatic style. Hats off David O'Russell and team.

Tied up and delivered with a wonderful musical bow it's impossible to get to the end of American Hustle and not want to just play it again, perhaps with a campari and a curly up-do, while you sniff your nail polish, wistful for a better life and scheme how to make it possible. Enjoy the dream. The reality, gets wonderfully messy!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Twelve Years a Slave #Oscar

Twelve Years a Slave is not only a remarkable film, but a remarkable historical account of the American slave trade given through someone who personally experienced vastly differing perspectives of living as a black American during the mid eighteenhundreds. It's worth talking about the incredibly unique literary importance of the story itself to understand why this film adaptation is such a very vital piece of modern cinema.

The film is in fact, an adaptation of a bestselling 1853 slave narrative given by it's subject Solomon Northop. The book gives his account of his free life in New York, abduction and illegal sale into slavery in Washington and Louisiana where he was then held for twelve years to work sugar and cotton plantations before eventually regaining his legal freedom and return to his family. The book's journey has it's own story of being an 1853 bestseller that along with Solomon Northop's own anti-slavery work helped to fuel a great deal of the political slavery debate leading up to the American Civil War, and then fell into obscurity for over 100 years until being re-discovered and re-published in the 1960's, ironically after being found preserved in a former plantation house. Remaining in constant print since then, this recent and high profile second film adaptation once again brings an important history to the forefront of our minds and the racial equality debate for today's age is once again fuelled by this very human tale. That it's come to be told again during the time of a black presidency, led by a black director and containing the best work an exceptional group of artists from all racial backgrounds, is something I personally think would give Solomon Northup much pleasure.

Steve McQueen is on top directional form here, adding a wordless observational style to the narrative. We observe Solomon as he observes slavery, each observer coming from a perspective of freedom to understand the hopelessness of human ownership. The film quite brilliantly touches on the evil this does to the owners as much as the owned and in a strange way, we observe the more minor difficulties of the plantation masters and their white workers, their fear of being isolated among slaves who vastly outnumbered them, and the mixed feelings that arise from close living proximity between owner and owned. And we observe to some degree America itself being built upon the backs of these enslaved men and women working great swathes of land that could not have been held without their labour. A refreshing depth of perspective after the somewhat obscure Shame, I feel I can embrace McQueen as an incredible director once again. Here he gives a sense of all humans being symbiotic to one another even within this horrifically unequal period. Not an easy film to direct and get that result to be honest and McQueen's art background plays a huge part in his choices to convey the unsaid things.

Direction alone doesn't do it all of course, John Ridley's very well paced, dramatically balanced screenplay is made vivid by a tremendous cast all giving great performances including a few delightful supporting cameos by some of my favourite faces such as Michael K Williams, Chris Chalk and Scoot McNairy. The stars glitter with fine multifasceted performances, Fasbender brings conflictedness to his plantation owner while Cumberbatch brings yellowbelliedness to his. Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano frankly made me want to bathe but I was saved from that by the wholesome modern Canadian brought by Brad Pitt. Brave performances by Lupita Lyongy'o and Sarah Paulson and a cameo by Alfre Woodard add strong female dynamic to an otherwise male dominant story. Much in the end rests on Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance which is truly accomplished, and although I've liked his previous work including the wonderful Endgame there's a maturation in his work here. Tender, I'd call it.

The film has a warmth to it, the cinematography adds rich sweltering hues to wysteria draped, swampy farmland, there's a hopeful brightness within the musical score that sometimes grates beautifully against the dull humiliation and violence we witness in the images and thick Louisiana atmosphere permeates the ear. The the costume with it's soft earthy fabrics against sweaty black blood whipped skins and rich stiff fabrics button up parched white ones. Sweet teas, slowly wafted fans, slave songs, the practicality of women sits beside the volitile brute force of men and nature throughout the entire set design. That idea of nature, human and geographic, held in a tight repressive grip permeates the film in juxtaposed layers, nature wins in a rich, rich sound design that never quite switches off the sound of the wider world breaking over the attempts at imposed order. The art, comes through though in lingering camera shots where we do nothing but witness. At one particular point as Solomon looks directly toward camera, one human being to another, eye to eye we connect with this character and what he senses in this moment. I felt like something had a hold of me and I couldn't look away. Powerful stuff.

If there was one thing I didn't fully feel during the film it was the passage of time. The twelve years feeling at best like one or two and the monunentally torturous passage of over more than a decade without the means or opportunity to even make contact with anyone who might help him or even let his family know what had happend to him just didn't land for me as anything more than an assumption, and that's a shame because Solomon Northup & his original book editor clearly titled his story to involk the full weight of those years, and I'm sure he felt them intensely for the rest of his life. However one small fault with an otherwise very well put together film is a small flaw.

This film is far from the most enjoyable, touching or meaningful film I've seen in the past year, it is in fact a difficult (though much less so than I'd anticipated) watch but it is perhaps the most cinematically significant I belive I've seen and important in terms of it's social and literary legacy and certainly in terms of how cinema matters in our world as something more than what is tangible from an image, sound or line of dialogue but because of how so many art forms join in film to convey something unsayable in any other way. My feeling is that this story of Solomon Northup's seems to turn up periodically and impact in a way that becomes great. He was a decent man who had a very unique insight into racial prejudice I recommend you watch his story, whether you want to or not. This film incarnation of it has a lot of cinematic import to give you and I don't think you'll be sorry for viewing it at least once. It has more than earned every Oscar it will win.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gravity & Aningaaq #Oscar


One of the Best Picture noms this year, Gravity, I'm afraid for me was a little short of the thrill everyone else I know claimed it to be. This possibly says more about me than it does about the film, which is well put together, but from the trailer I could tell that this movie wasn't really my cup of tea. I like my space films with aliens and excitement, perhaps an evil overlord or two, and the thought of someone alone battling against the vastness of the cosmos didn't appeal. I mean, yes, it's space travel, it's pretty full of stuff and rather empty of life and anyone going up there knows that! Also, anyone watching anyone going up there knows that. Outer space is terrifying mainly because of the ever expanding propensity for bordom it contains.

However, I did get dragged along to see it and in 3D no less, and it wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be at all. In fact, Sandra Bullock is incredibly watchable as she merrilly chatters away to herself in the midst of some exceedingly unfortunate luck. In fact, as space travel goes, I can't imagine anyone being quite this monumentally unlucky and as hugely unsuited to dealing with such an extremely bad karma as this poor girl seemed to have aquired. And it's not just that she's suffering from some pretty stomach churning space vertigo and then everything goes horribly, horribly wrong and everything she does to fix it goes horribly, horribly wrong and then some other horrible things happen, but the poor love has a dreadfully unfortunate backstory and her trip to land back on Earth is no flippin' picnic either! I suppose I was supposed to engage enough to really go along with her on this dreadful ride to hell and back and somehow find the redemption of heaven along the way, but really I mostly just looked on in gobsmacked disbelief wondering what could possibly go wrong next. Although, probably George Clooney was having a worse time of it (bless him) he seemed like he'd gotten the better end of the deal and someone had clearly given him a couple of valium or a spliff or something because he was very calm about it all.

In the end, it was an interesting film, really well directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which flowed beauitifully in terms of pace and camera angle and view, gave a real feeling of circling in orbit that I've never gotten from any other film and that had some very sweet moments, some humour and some sadness. All a little saccharine for my taste but well done nevertheless and I enjoyed it. As for the 3D although I've heard it very praised I didn't see the need for it at all. I didn't feel immersed and this is perhaps because I saw it on a non-Imax screen, in fact one of the cinema's smaller screens where the 3D elements seemed to end their orbit some metres short of my seat leaving me feeling more outside the film action than submerged within it. I wanted satelite debris bouncing round my head dammit! In lieu of that 2D would have done me just fine, thanks, but I will say that the one incredibly good element of most of the film (bar the end beach scene) had superb VFX which looked very real and quite stunning direction brought it together with the actors actions, sound and lighting (both real and virtual) to meld some very believable vistas that were worth looking at.

Also worth looking at is another Oscar nom, this even more delightful accompanying short made detailing the other side of a conversation Sandra Bullock's character has with the inuit fisherman, showing that the fragility of life in the universe does not entirely vanish within the bubble of Earth's atmosphere. Whether it really stands alone as having the same meaning without seeing Gravity and knowing what the astronaut above has endured I don't know. But it's a lovely little film in any case.

Gravity in the end was really well received, Oscar nominated, everyone else in the universe that I spoke to about it, including the person I went to the cinema with, seemed to love it so what do I know, I was a little surprised it received such accolades. Clearly for the purpose of judging this movie, I'm in a less abnormally unlucky universe of my own!

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

There's very little originality left in the movies these days, and when one finds films that have they should be treasured, for the rest of the time in the cinema there is little I like more than a good format well executed and that's what Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit brings us, putting at the front and centre the title role of Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan, played in other guises by other actors but here in at the deep end of his origin story with the CIA.

A solid action led story is slick enough to be just a bit sexy (as all spy films should be) and holds the tension very well. It's a little bit pat for the genre, with nothing that's any big surprise but that has contemporary plausibility to it that sticks to the ribs. With a good cast led by easy on the eyes Chris Pine and Kiera Knightly who are shored up by the gravitas of Kevin Costner and Kenneth Brannagh and there's an interesting cameo or two by some good solid talent.

If the film has a fault other than being a bit typical spy/action stuff it's that there's a little too much crammed in there so that certain parts of Jack's origin seem overly played out, and there's a whole interesting set of sub-characters that end up just shoved in at the end for the purpose of rounding up the story with a bit of a twist. Will a bit more coherence of character and a little less of a timeline I think the same purpose could have been conveyed in a better way, but as the action keeps things lively it wasn't really any kind of disappointment to me. In truth, I rather like these slick action films, it had the feeling of a 'Mission Impossible' without too much high tec and sets up Chris Pine;s Jack Ryan for what I think could be a very interesting franchise. And UK based for production I wouldn't be sorry to see more of these made. I'll be there in the cinema que for the polished shootouts and car chases alone!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game is, for a sci-fi story, one of the most relatable movies I've watched with perhaps a perfect protagonist. Odd perhaps considering that a movie about a pre-pubescent boy gave me the most pause about whether I'd be interested in this film, but I followed my gut beliving that this was a film I would not only like, but that I suspected I'd be surprised by. It is by no means perfect, I felt like I only got a bite of the apple and there were a couple of deadzones in the story, but overall it did not let me down in terms of being a gripping film.

It's because the storyline features such a young child hero that it's so relatable. We've all come through those formative years and know how the decisions we make change us and the people around us, how who we are and what we can achieve are molded by our inner responses and chocies we make with regard to the outer teachings we are handed in life. Throughout this film, we follow a child who's siblings have fallen short of what humanity needs, who is pressured and judged and analysed on every nuance of his daily experience at training or rest and who is effectively put through a crucible in order to be forged into the kind of hero who can lead mankind against the enemy aliens who almost anhialated them once before. There is a lot riding on his every decision and the story remains high stakes through varying stages of progress for our protagonist, and while the film is narrow in scope, it makes up for it with a thruline that's singleminded and strong. He's brilliant, he's vulnerable, he's unpredictable both as a tactician and in terms of whether he will turn out to be a hero or anti-hero because of his choices.

With a fairly narrow assortment of characters who all have similar roles,  a good deal rested on the acting to give the film some continuing depth and diversity. London actor Asa Butterfield pulls off the lead with a tremendously professional performance, (hey, carrying a film isn't easy for a kid either) but this is not his first time in a lead and most definitely won't be his last. Covering his back are Harrison Ford and Viola Davis, as his war school guardians and who in mirror in ways the overt compassion and ruthlessness to be found in Ender's siblings played by Abigail Breslin and Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchack. With Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and a host of talented young recruits alongside as friends and enemy soldiers through his training, characterisations come across very well overall and carry a story that doesn't have highs and lows as much as it has a continuing escallating level of the same challenge. Can Ender make the right decisions to gain victory without making an enemy more dangerous in the process.

Stellar (at times quite literally because of the zero gravity scenes) cinematography by Donald McAlpine sets a believable world despite the sci-fi nature of the images and strong VFX and animation sequences make for levels of sci-fi reality within the sci-fi reality. Similarly sound and score are well integrated to create atmosphere in an often sub-atmostpheric world. It's technically strong all round, the art design meets only conventional expectation, but still choreographed very nicely under the direction of Gavin Hood who I'd never heard of before and I suspect has more mojo to him than he's been allowed to express until now.

I wasn't just glad I went to see this film, I wasn't just glad I enjoyed it, I was overjoyed that it made me feel on quite a deep level and I felt connected to it, it made me evaluate the kind of human being I want to be. And that, my friends, is what film is all about. Give Ender's Game a go. It might just make you tingle. - Film News