Thursday, 31 December 2009

Flavours of the Month: December 2009...

Not only is it a festive time of year again, but it's naturally time for a new year, and not only a new year but a whole new decade. I'm not thrilled about folk calling them the "teenies" though. "Twenty-Ten" will do just fine.

Anyway, I've been doing these flavours of the month since the middle of the year, and I think I'll try and stick to doing them as it's a nice little way to record what has been, well, flavouring each and every month for me. So without further ado - December 2009.

Call of Duty, the franchise, and the COD:MW2 soundtrack:

I've been on a right old COD fest of late. They're relatively quick to play, so COD4 got a dust-off for a quick bash so I could see the story flow from that to Modern Warfare 2 smoothly, and I also fancied getting another play-through out of World At War, which although far better than Treyarch's COD3, it really does feel like a videogame. Meanwhile, COD4 and MW2 both feel like action movies that you control, and the latter is more like an action movie experience than anything else. Here's hoping that Treyarch take all this on board, as well as get themselves out of WW2.

The soundtrack for MW2 however, is just ruddy excellent, and I've been particularly enjoying "Flyby" and "Ghost's Fate", which are both superb pieces of music - one a blood-rushing dose of driving action, the other a tragic and operatic piece.

Bo Selecta DVD out-takes:

In a bit of a lull, and in need of something to do while scoffing lunch, I fished out my Bo Selecta DVD box set and gave the gag reels another spin - ruddy funny alright.

More James Cameron, and exposure to 3D:

As I've blogged about extensively a couple of weeks ago, I got to check out Avatar in 3D, and it was spiffing. Go and read my long-winded and impassioned thoughts on the flick a few posts back. Not only that, but his excellent documentary Ghosts of the Abyss.

BBC Writersroom Covering letter:

Not only did I make the final touches to "Zero", but I've been microscopically composing the covering letter that'll join the script when I submit it to the BBC Writersroom. Here's hoping the good people there will see what I see in this script that always makes me laugh, and always makes me feel good. A script that speaks about the swathes of average British just-twenty-somethings that are out there.

2002 reminiscing (Mutant, Nightmare At Noon, Mutant website, Igo Kantor Q&A):

Over at Homepage of the Dead, someone brought up the low budget action/horror/thriller flick Nightmare At Noon - which is a semi-sort-of-remake of the 1984 horror movie Mutant. This reminded me of the website I constructed for Mutant, way back in 2002 when I was a youthful 18 year old. Also, as previously blogged about this month, there was a Q&A with Mutant producer Igo Kantor, and a few posts back you'll find it - have a read, it's really quite interesting.

Festive season - lights, decs, shopping, cards, presents, food:

This month has naturally been a time of putting up Xmas decorations, stocking the cupboards to the brim with food, buying up presents, and chewing on Rennie's like they were going out of fashion. Weather wise it's certainly been bloody cold, and we had a considerable stretch of heavily icy weather, and even a dusting of snow. Plus, I only had two Xmas cards to do - being in a generation which is all over Facebook and the internet, there's little point these days. Will the trend die out, or really drop in numbers, in the future? Quite possibly.

Thinking about a new script:

As is often the way, when I'm approaching the end of one project, I often strike upon a great idea for the next one. This time around it's been in the final sessions of wrapping up "Zero". Indeed, this new idea is based on an old one I had years ago, but never got around to. Now I feel I've got a good idea to run with and structure the whole thing upon. I guess it'll tread some similar ground to "Zero", but will be about people a couple of years younger and will be centred around one main theme - in this case, modern manhood.

The ideas were flowing thick and fast, and I've got a good many spiffing ideas jotted down to get started on. So once "Zero" has been submitted, and "IAZM3" has been edited and finally laid to rest, I'll get cracking on this new script.

District 9, Iron Man, Inglourious Basterds, and Monsters VS Aliens on DVD:

It's been a good month for DVDs, combining new releases, cheap purchases, and Xmas presents. Taking full advantage of the festive season, when you can be a total glutton and not feel (too) guilty about it, I've been pouring over the DVDs of the above movies. District 9's featurettes cover a lot of ground, and Iron Man's feature-length making of leaves no stone unturned.

Inglourious Basterds' features are a bit on the light side, but many (albeit generally short in length) provide interesting viewing - a 30 minute Q&A with Tarantino & Pitt, the full length (but obviously short) Nation's Pride in-movie-movie, and various other little things (such as QT's camera angel, and the Hi Sally's) provide plenty of fun. It's just a shame that there wasn't more - especially on a 2-discer.

Similarly with Monsters VS Aliens, the features are a bit on the sparse side, but you do get a few tidbits of interesting info, even if the main featurettes on disc one smell a bit like a promotional video for Intel and 3D tech in general ... it is rather funny to see the Dreamworks folk banging on about 3D, comparing it in stature to the invention of sound in film ... ... get real. It worked great in Avatar as a device of immersion, but is it at all necessary? It's a parlour trick in general, a bit of fun on the side, a little treat for the right film, but it's certainly no leap forward ... at the very least, it won't be for a very long time, and even then, yeah ... it's just not gonna be the big bru-ha-ha that some are hoping for.

It's all about the story and the characters, that's what's important. So do away with all these feckin' remakes, will ya? And how about making more lower budgetted flicks rather than so many giant-budget stinkers like Transformers 2?

Anyway, Bob's Big Break, on disc two, is a fun little short - and the old-school red & blue 3D glasses do actually work fairly okay. Nothing like 'Real-D' of course, but still...

I Am Zombie Man 3:

Prepping, prop gathering, shot planning, shooting and the beginning of the editing process ... December is most certainly a month that tastes like IAZM3 ... and so will January, as the edit will hopefully be completed sometime in the coming few weeks.

I Love You, Man:

Further to the DVD bonanza, I've been watching a borrowed DVD of I Love You, Man - and it's still as funny and enjoyable as it was when I first saw it. The DVD content isn't bad either. Not as extensive as the typical Apatow movie will get on DVD, but it's plenty all the same.

...

And I think that about brings this month's flavour drive to a close.

Happy New Year 2010, folks!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

I Am Zombie Man 3 - it's finally been shot!

Shot as in filmed, not as in dead. To prove it, I've layered in a few screenshots from the raw, unedited footage.


Indeed, two years behind schedule, but I always said I would eventually get around to it. In a sort of 'perfect storm', Knox and I found a window in which to film the entire thing. That window was the 28th December 2009, wedged right in between the festivities and some rather crummy (for filming) weather - fortunately yesterday had clear blue skies and sun and was above freezing, so for the few outdoor shots we were sorted.

The majority takes place indoors (what with the character being somewhat of a recluse these days, and that he's been forced to retreat inside lest hoardes of consumers flee at the very sight of his decaying visage).


Indeed, this third (and final) in the I Am Zombie Man series will officially go by the title "The Inevitable Decomposition of Zombie Man" - but whenever I refer to it on this blog, I'll simply use the far easier "IAZM3" moniker. The world's most famous zombie (self proclaimed) has fallen on hard times, his much trumpetted fame and fortune has failed him and he's now a crumbling, drug-addled shell of his former self ... but he's still just as sardonic.

Today though it was all about uploading the hour of raw footage (I'm aiming for a 10 minute long short), and I'm pleased with what we got. It was a seriously hectic run & gun shoot; a real case of "GO! GO! GO! GO!" the entire time. A few hours with nobody else in the house, a few hours of mid-December sunlight, and a whole lot of shots to get. However, we got everything we needed, and while a test of my run & gun abilities, the last few years of filming in such a manner (both officially and on private endeavours) have served me well.


Of all my DeadShed shorts, this has definitely been the one that's been the most stressful. Not only has it had a two and a half year gestation time, but it's had the anticipation to go along with such a long absence. The Zombie Man series has its own little mini-cult going on, and those who dig it have been eager for the third entry - most of all Gary Ugarek and Brian Wright - they of Deadlands franchise fame, IAZM pimpage, WNWR Podcasting, and musical talent.

There were a fair number of props to gather, organise, purchase, and even produce - so that was another task for me on top of all the others. In true DeadShed Productions fashion, IAZM3 will be a small group producing it.


Gareth kindly stepped back into the bloody jeans, dirty hoody of old once more, and donned the brand new mask and gloves to boot. Gary and Brian are also going to very kindly help out with their musical talents - and this time they'll be scoring to a moving image for a change (previous collaborations have been about discussing moods, themes, and ideas ahead of me editing or even filming the short itself).

And then there's me - directing, writing, editing, shooting, recording (and voicing) the dialogue (of more than one character) and even getting on screen myself, plus any other little tasks (such as all that prop gathering, purchasing and creating). I don't say this to self-aggrandise, far from it, I say this just to illustrate how these DeadShed shorts get made.


As such, this was indeed the most stressful of the DeadShed Productions shorts to date, so I think I'll make the next one a simpler affair - then again, that was always the intention after IAZM3.

Now begins the editing process, and similar to what I did with Skinner, I'll be sticking exclusively to Sony Vegas. I want to try out a couple of new ideas, and further improve my Vegas skills ... so bear with me, but I do hope to make January the month of IAZM3.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

My Top Ten Films of 2009...

Laid out in the order in which I saw them throughout 2009 (with screening dates, and links to my original thoughts on them), the following is my Top Ten movies of 2009, after which I've also included six honourable mentions.

2009's Top Ten Films:

The Wrestler (18/1/09):
Mickey Rourke triumphantly thunders back onto the centre stage after success, obscurity, and a series of memorable supporting roles, in an affecting turn as the fading wrestler who missed his big shot. Moving, emotionally complex, and beautifully directed.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/01/wrestler.html

Crank 2: High Voltage (19/4/09):
An insanely over-the-top nitrous injection of chest-thumping manliness. As if Nuts magazine was made into a movie, it's the ideal watch for a group of lads. Constantly surprising in it's never-ending flood of adrenaline and preposterousness.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/04/crank-2.html

Drag Me To Hell (31/5/09):
The best cinema going experience of 2009, and one of the all-time best cinema trips I've ever had. Despite the PG-13 rating, it managed to scare the bejesus out of the entire audience (a matinee performance, yet bustling) - myself included. The return of Sam Raimi's mad streak should bode well for Spider-Man 4.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/06/drag-me-to-hell.html

Inglourious Basterds (16/8/09):
Tarantino's bonkers, long-in-waiting WW2 epic. Despite some script flab, lengthy cat & mouse dialogue battles have rarely been this tense. Interspersed with moments of vibrant, none-more-confident violence, how could you resist Pitt's jaw-jutting Aldo Raine's attempt at an Italian accent?

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/08/inglourious-basterds.html

District 9 (6/9/09):
Smart science fiction returns after numerous entries into the annals of vaguely sci-fi pish (Transformers 2, Terminator 4). Politically restrained, yet conscious sci-fi action from the men who almost got to give the world the Halo movie (which was promising from YouTube'd test footage).

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/09/district-9.html

Dead Snow (DVD):
Tag-lined brilliantly with "Ein, Zwei, Die!", it's got zombie Nazis in it. What's not to love? Gleefully OTT gore with a silly streak a mile wide.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/09/dead-snow-2009-offerings-and-running.html

Adventureland (13/9/09):
Thoughtful and enthralling coming-of-age comedy drama. 'From the director of Superbad' was the wrong way to sell it, but nevertheless Kristen Stewart manages to make the entire audience fall in love with her, as 80s nostalgia reigns supreme, and everyone reminisces about their own youth - whether it was like Adventureland or not.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/09/adventureland.html

Zombieland (11/10/09):
Wonderfully entertaining zombie comedy (despite the runners) with Woody Harrelson's glorious Tallahasse pulling us all along for the ride. A brilliant cameo from a comedy legend, and some truly stunning emotional moments really adds depth to what could have otherwise been Dead & Breakfast (which was a pish 'zomedy').

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/10/zombieland.html

Moon (DVD):
More smart science fiction, this time from the talented duo of Duncan Jones and Sam Rockwell. It wrong-foots you with a smart, slow burn script that plays with convention and reverence for such sci-fi greats as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Silent Running.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/11/moon.html

Avatar (20/12/09):
My movie of 2009 is the triumphant return of an older, wiser, mellower James Cameron. Despite the predictable, under-cooked story arc, the real reason to love Avatar is for the chance to visit the lush, fully realised world of Pandora, and to fall in love with a 10ft blue CGI alien called Neytiri. Employing subtle and involving 3D, we're all along for the ride. Undeserving of some (note "some") of the harsh criticism levelled at it (anything with a large, loving following and buckets of hype is subjected to scattergun bitterness from a vocal gang), this film allows you to visit another world entirely. An inconsistently developed, but wondrous nonetheless, show from one of the greatest showmen in cinema history.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/12/avatar-in-3d.html

Honourable Mentions:

Gran Torino (8/3/09):
Clint Eastwood manages to make every man in the audience develop a lump in their throats as the screen icon confronts his mortality through a comically racist, cantankerous old-school grump of a character. While not his greatest film, it's far from his worst, and certainly one of his most thoughtful entries in a long and illustrious career.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/03/gran-torino.html

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (8/11/09):
A wonderfully weird march of Gilliam craziness that famously features the final screen appearance of Heath Ledger. It boggles the mind, but you still come out sure enough that you've seen something of quality.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/11/imaginarium-of-doctor-parnassus.html

Watchmen (15/3/09):
I'm not known for Zack Snyder fandom (the Dawn of the Dead remake was a load of bullshit, and I explained why via 110 reasons in 110 minutes ... and the style-over-substance 300 was the gayest film loved by homophobes, and one that was just daft and tub-thumping to everyone else - for better or worse), however Watchmen is his best film to date. That said it's not saying much on his past performance, and while the movie could have been directed by anyone if you didn't know otherwise (aside from the overuse of slow-mo), he at least delivered a faithful (sometimes slavishly) adaptation of a property that was long-considered unfilmable. Some might say it should have remained that way, but it is an (occasionally flawed) interestingly dark version of superhero lore. Complex, political, ponderous, morally ambiguous, violent and even a bit sleazy, it is a memorable flick (and not just because of Dr Manhattan's gigantic blue wang).

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/03/watchmen-epic-rant.html

His Name Was Jason (DVD):
Out of all the major slasher icons, Jason is my favourite, and this year I picked up this excellent 2-disc DVD documentary all about the franchise. While the main feature is flawed, the wealth of revealing extras more than make up for it. Indispensible for all Jason fans.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/04/his-name-was-jason.html

My Name Is Bruce (DVD):
As a big Bruce Campbell fan, this fun little romp was great fun to watch. Plus the DVD is packed with revealing and hilarious extra features.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/06/my-name-is-bruce.html

Martyrs (DVD):
A haunting, disturbing and even artistic French horror that takes the (sigh) "torture porn" sub-genre by the scruff of the neck and turns it into something better.

http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2009/09/martyrs.html

...

And so there we have it, my run down of the best movies I've seen in 2009. To everyone reading, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2010!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The 2009 cinema trip list...

The following is a list of all the flicks I caught at the cinema in 2009 (replete with the dates on which they were viewed - yes, I do keep my ticket stubs), with short summaries beside those titles which didn't make it into my Top Ten or Honourable Mentions of 2009.

Role Models - 11/1/09 ... good fun, but not a lot more.
The Wrestler - 18/1/09
Friday the 13th (Remake) - 20/2/09 ... good Jason, good violence, good sex, bad script and direction.
Gran Torino - 8/3/09
Watchmen - 15/3/09
Lesbian Vampire Killers - 22/3/09 ... fleetingly amusing, but more filler than killer.
Crank 2: High Voltage - 19/4/09
I Love You, Man - 26/4/09 ... solidly entertaining, gotta love the Rudd/Siegel paring.
Observe & Report - 26/4/09 ... dreadful.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - 3/5/09 ... weak, but it's still Wolverine.
Drag Me To Hell - 31/5/09
Terminator Salvation - 7/6/09 ... "meh", and then gets increasingly worse with repeat viewings and an online article that condemns the 'super Terminators' of T3 and T4.
The Hangover - 14/6/09 ... surprisingly fun comedy romp.
Doghouse - 14/6/09 ... good for a laugh, laddish turn from Evil Aliens' Jake West.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - 21/6/09 ... utterly stupid guilty pleasure that leaves you feeling a bit dirty.
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra - 9/8/09 ... some spiffing action, Levitt is awesome, but Tatum and the plot are god-awful.
Inglourious Basterds - 16/8/09
Funny People - 30/8/09 ... unmercifully overlong, but still funny with a slice of reality thrown in.
District 9 - 6/9/09
Adventureland - 13/9/09
Gamer - 20/9/09 ... occasionally fun, but clearly lacking due to the directing duo's lack of knowledge about videogaming beyond the 1980s.
Surrogates - 27/9/09 ... churned-out Bruce Willis factory action that didn't live up to an interesting trailer.
The Invention of Lying - 4/10/09 ... neat premise with moments that are crushingly emotional, but the lack of laughs throughout leave this one wanting, so go and watch Ghost Town instead.
Zombieland - 11/10/09
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - 8/11/09
The Men Who Stare At Goats - 15/11/09 ... quirky comedy that never lands the sucker punch, gotta love that bit of Boston though.
2012 - 22/11/09 ... like driving a monster truck made out of cheese burgers, loaded with dynamite, through an exploding volcano made out of buildings that have a propensity to fall over, explode and fall over while exploding.
Avatar (3D) - 20/12/09

Coming soon will be my Top Ten of 2009 list (with Honourable Mentions included), complete with short summaries of why I dug them so much.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Avatar (in 3D)...

Introduction:

Straight into my Top Ten of 2009, and most likely my favourite film of the year, comes Avatar - in freakin' 3D as well.

The triumphant return of James Cameron has happened, and in 3D to boot with the biggest budget ever attached to a feature film - territory that isn't unfamiliar to JC, as he was both the first to break the $100 and $200 million barriers. To kick off, I'm going to address some of the up-front issues that have been incessantly talked about by the mass media (the extent of which is unfair and needlessly focusses on only a select few eye-catching things).

3D:

Anyway, to get them out of the way, let's first start with the 3D technology utilised in Avatar. I hadn't seen a movie in this new fangled 3D tech before - those clear-lensed plastic framed glasses that make everyone look like Buddy Holly - and indeed I was saving myself specifically for Avatar. I had a brief moment of pondering going to see My Bloody Valentine 3D, but soon came to my senses (indeed the film itself was pish, and unsurprisingly the original movie is superior). I'm pleased to say my eyes didn't hurt, nor did I get a headache, and there was no blurring to the image - only at times a sort of juddery look to some of the faster moving elements in the foreground. There'll be more technical words to describe and illustrate whatever that issue was, but they're beyond me ... fortuntely the few times that happened didn't detract from the whole.

So there we six were in the cinema, four of whom (myself included) had never seen one of these 3D movies, all thoroughly weirded out by the first jolt of 3D trickery - some advert involving a giant head thing with nuts (or something) flying through jungle. At that point I'll admit I did instinctively duck out of the way with not a hint of irony or mockery. Indeed, such trickery was throughout Avatar - but in a far more subtle way.

For example, holographic computer screens peering in at the edge of the frame, on-screen text, glowing seeds floating on air currents, or burning embers drifting through the shot (convincing enough that I almost started trying to swat them away before realising). As such however, these moments did cause an amount of distraction (especially with this being my first foray into 3D cinema going), but never enough to spoil anything I'm pleased to say.

Mercifully James Cameron (naturally) avoided such ludicrous 3D spectacles as poking anything and everything including the kitchen sink into the camera lens, and anytime a spear or machine gun lunged at us it was in a shot that would have been composed as such regardless of the 3D.

Is the 3D required the tell the story? Far from it, and it never will be. So it's really only there to add to the immersion, but again this isn't truly necessary as I've so often found myself fully immersed in 2D movies on a television screen. Indeed, JC's Aliens continues to leave me utterly gripped throughout when watched in 2D on a 20 inch TV. It's the quality of the filmmaking that counts, not the flashy gadgets on offer.

That said, in the case of Avatar, the 3D did help to add an extra layer of immersion that made visiting JC's Pandora an extra special experience. Seeing this movie in 3D was a treat in itself, and might possibly be a one-off for me. Do I want to see Pixar movies in 3D for example? Not really. The quality of the storytelling and the animation is what matters in a Pixar movie. Avatar was however, an exception, and while it will most likely work just as well in 2D, I was utterly willing to go that extra mile just for James Cameron.

The budget:

The next common issue to be gang-humped by the mass media is the budget. Yes, it's large - officially $230 million (with a further $150 million for advertising) - but so what? JC has broken budget barriers before, and he still is. Move on already, sheesh. The budget doesn't make the movie (well technically it does, because it pays for everything, but you know what I mean) - just look at Transformers 2. It cost a packet and it was stupid ... a guilty pleasure sure, but really, really, really stupid.

The CGI:

Next up - the CGI - sitting there watching Avatar I had a thought. What's the big problem with CGI that some people have? It has it's place, just as long as it's utilised correctly, and indeed with this flick it's totally necessary. Without CGI you couldn't make Avatar. The only thing that practical effects (like a puppet) has over CGI is that you just know that it exists in the same physical space at the same time as the actors. Indeed this can sell the puppet better than some CGI (especially the earlier stuff) which can look utterly pish. However, even a puppet is fake. It's materials cobbled together (with skill) to make something that doesn't exist. Similarly, the CGI work of Weta (who did fantastic work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is a case of just using a computer to make things that don't exist.

At times some of the creatures do look 'too CGI' (for example the Hyena-and-Panther-like creatures during one night-time ambush, which look rubbery in a CGI way), and you're fully aware that it's all a lot of CGI going on ... however, for the most part you buy it. You indulge your imagination - just like you'd do with a rod puppet, or fake severed limb. The world of Pandora and its military & corporate occupiers are mostly constructed from CGI, so it all works in the end. It's how this film is supposed to look - this isn't a case of chucking a bit of CGI into a live action movie. Indeed, this is more a case of throwing a bit of live action into a CGI festival.

Is this a bad thing? Not in the slightest - like I said, this is just how Avatar is supposed to look, and thus it works.

Further to the issue of CGI is the Na'vi themselves. When I first heard about Avatar, I was a bit "eh?" about the whole 10ft tall blue aliens with tails thing. Fortunately the more I saw the more I become invested in the idea, and by the end of the movie (indeed within minutes of being introduced to the Na'vi in the cinema) I was a true believer in the Na'vi. They felt real, even in the (wisely few) scenes featuring humans and Na'vi.

What sold it? The human emotion of those performing the parts. Indeed, the motion capture utilised in Avatar is a runaway success. These blue aliens feel like real beings, and being able to see the people beneath it all further adds to selling you the idea. Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Moore's avatars all look the spitting image of them, and while (for me at least) Zoe Saldana's Neytiri looks less like their human counterpart than the others (perhaps because I'm less familiar with her, and she doesn't have Moore's distinctive features or Weaver's individual smile), I'm still utterly drawn into the eyes of her.

Neytiri is a fully realised being, a charming and attractive character - you can see exactly why Worthington's Jake Sully is stunned by her and ends up falling in love with her. You're along for the ride through the eyes of Jake Sully, and you can never quite take your eyes off Neytiri as she guides you through the lush world of Pandora.

Twitches of the nose, minute movements in the mouth, the movement of the eyes - in all of the Na'vi you can feel that there is something much more going on that just some flashy CGI. You feel like they're real. Mission accomplished, Mr. Cameron.

The story:

Some of the more sarcastic and derisive members of the press and internet public have snidely commented about Avatar as being 'Pocahontas/Fern Gulley/Dances With Wolves in space', or even a rip-off of that Delgo movie (or whatever it was called - an arsey little comment which makes no sense whatsoever when Avatar had been dreamt up long before it existed and was indeed shot and half-rendered by the time that flop was released).

Personally, I've never seen any of those movies, so the comparisons are meaningless to me. Indeed, they should be meaningless to the masses too. Orson Welles himself stated, when being lauded as an original, that all the stories you could possibly do have already been covered. He said that he himself was making stories that had already been told. Indeed, it's all about the way you tell the chosen story, and what you do with all the minute details.

What Cameron does with the story is tell it his way, and while you'll know most of what's going to happen long before it does, so what? It's a joy to see it happen when it finally does. That said, the 161 minute running time is a bit much on the respective arses of the cinema going audience, but it's a damn sight shorter than Titanic (with a stronger plot to boot).

By now you'll know what the plot of the movie is, so I won't bang on about that. However, is it bluntly told? Having heard the review by Mark Kermode I was expecting something that would bludgeon me over the head. Fortunately I didn't watch that movie. There are moments of blunt-as-you-like exposition which are, of course, necessary for the audience, but they're written in such a way that doesn't make an awful lot of sense for people who know full well what they're talking about. People who have been living on Pandora for a very long time. The epitome of these moments of bluntness is a scene where Selfridge (Ribisi) moans at Augustine (Weaver) about why they're there - Unobtanium (a silly name, no matter how you slice it) sells for stupid amounts of money per kilo. Sure, we need this info, but do tell us in a better way. But like I said, the majority isn't like that at all, even if you can predict the general arc of the story.

However, how many films can you predict the plot arc of? Countless numbers, that's how many, so why people are bemoaning Cameron for it is beyond me. Like I said, a handful of story types told in innumerable ways. The fun is in how it's told and what you see along the way; to invest in the characters and watch their story unfold.

I mean think about it, how many people out there in the real world are living exactly the same lifestyle as many others? Exactly. Get off your soap box and just enjoy the world James Cameron has invested himself in and presented to you.

Problems:

There are some problems with the film though. The odd line is eye rollingly in-your-face, particular the one about "shock and awe" and ultimately the one about having to "fight terror with terror" (or something like that) - since when were the Na'vi performing terrorist acts on the mining corporation?

The action, unlike Aliens or T2 for example, never gripped me like those movies did. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I was rarely moved to the point of finding my fingernails embedded in the arm rests. Meanwhile T2 still astounds me, and Aliens still leaves me wide-eyed, fist-pounding and breathless. That little extra something was missing from the muscly thrust of Avatar, and so the action set pieces didn't pummel as I'd thought they would. Even the final barrage, which Cameron talked about recently, didn't grab hold of me and shake me like a rag doll. Aliens (again) on the otherhand, did so during the four big set pieces.

The depiction of the Na'vi as 'typically Native American' is a bit on-the-nose, I'll admit. However, it never bothered me personally. Although it does feel a bit 'stereotypically tribal' ... but you could also say that the bastards in the mining corporation (such as Ribisi's Selfridge) are stereotypically git-like with their 'flea-infested tree dweller' dismissals of the Na'vi.

Indeed the corporate-versus-nature allegory is also a bit on the blunt side. However (again), that said, I never felt pummelled by it (unlike how I felt by the blanket coverage of the recent Copenhagen Climate Conference cop-out talking shop). Cameron does succeed in winning the audience's hearts & minds in favour of Pandora and the Na'vi. We learn about them and their culture as Jake does, and as such we are (perhaps unsurprisingly) on the Na'vi side when the final battle comes around ... indeed on the positive side, dare I say it, I was a little bit devestated when the Na'vi are left to flee their home (a feeling much-inspired by Saldana's honest, gutteral, heart-broken wails of sorrow - all beautifully rendered in pitch-perfect CGI motion capture).

Colonel Quaritch is a kick ass character, a chest-thumping gorilla of a man, but he's annoyingly one-dimensional. It would have been great if he was even the slightest bit questioning of his own methods, or just had a different side to all his gut-toting. Even still, you can't help but feel a bristle of neck hair when he brazenly fires upon an escaping aircraft.

It's interesting, but in a movie where the minute details of the CGI 'emotion capture' are so important, there is a distinct lack of the minute details woven throughout the script. The motivations and feelings of the main characters are often glanced at, but never excavated and picked apart. If there was some more of that it would have helped sell the human side of the coin better. Fortunately the Na'vi are covered quite thoroughly, albeit mainly through Neytiri. It's understandable though that Cameron might have become distracted by this rich other-culture and alien people, but it is still a shame that the human characters were left out in the cold a bit. To have been a bit less black & white would have been nothing but positive, although with the overall plot arc it's hard to see how that could have been achieved.

Conclusion:

Despite cursory problems, the odd quibble, and a slightly flabby feel, Avatar was a great experience. I loved visiting the world of Pandora, realised in such loving detail by JC and his team, and no sooner had I left the cinema than I wanted to return. I wanted to feel the subtle use of 3D again, I wanted to get to know Neytiri all over again, and I wanted to see Jake learn to love Pandora again.

Avatar is a different kind of film from JC. You can see a shift in his mindset and the influence of his documentary projects. Typically James Cameron throughout (central love story, pioneering technology, powerful female leads, record breaking budget, masterfully crafted and designed in-film technology, and so on), Avatar is the film to see in 3D. It's a welcome return of Cameron, and while it was never going to pull in the box office figures of Titanic, it is easily a better and more interesting film (my relationship with JC's Titanic has been a rollercoaster unto itself), and is without a doubt worth your time and money.

I'm very much looking forward to the DVD release, and hopefully it'll be a features-packed extravaganza. I want to delve into Pandora all over again, and I want to see how it was all put together.

I think that about covers it ... for now at least.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Hunger...

A quality slice of 'Brit grit' from a director of focussed vision (Steve McQueen) and a lead actor of dedicated skill (Michael Fassbender - read 'talented actor, and deliberately emaciated). Set during 1981 IRA protests ("blanket" and "no food"), the film is consistently hands-off when it comes to the political issues. This is the best way to go, especially as lesser filmmakers would indulge in Thatcher-bashing and vomiting their political agenda upon the viewer.

Instead, quite rightly, Hunger positions itself smack bang in the middle as a mere observer so that the viewer is allowed to make up their own minds. That said, what one is to think about it all is relentlessly complicated, and not being at all knowledgeable about the situation itself (it was before my time, and school history lessons contain precious little about anything, let alone Britain's own history), I'll steer clear of blogging my own views on the big issues.

So yeah, Hunger is a thankfully withdrawn affair when it comes to the politics, as withdrawn as the camera is itself - our view into this world - which in one stand-out sequence in the middle of the film, watches Fassbender's protesting prisoner converse with a priest over twenty minutes. It's rare for such moments to be tense and involving, but McQueen displays Schwarzenegger-sized directorial muscles. Not to say the rest of the film doesn't contain raw, bold and grit-coated power.

Guards performing cavity searches on the naked prisoners is nothing short of harrowing and brutal, while repulsive scenes of excrement-smeared cell walls and urine-soaked corridors leave the viewer reeling. In the deepest sense of the word, this film has a bucket load of style. It is a vision that is clear and concise, a vision which rarely requires non-diegetic music, or even dialogue (for large chunks of the film). At times the film almost plays out like a silent documentary, the combination of a lack of dialogue or music, and intense objectivity simply takes the viewer by the scruff of the neck and sits them down in a place that makes you feel like a fly on the wall.

The final passages in the film - at which point Fassbender's dedication to his art is displayed in his shockingly emaciated frame. If you were stunned by Christian Bale in The Machinist, you'll just be utterly baffled by how on earth Fassbender was able to survive his extreme slim-down.

Brutally honest, always withdrawn, endlessly committed and simply up-front, Hunger is a superb piece of filmmaking. You're not going to want to give it another view for a very long time no doubt, this is about as far from entertainment as you could possibly get, but for a truly memorable and serious film viewing experience, Hunger is it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ghosts of the Abyss...

Following on from the vast-in-every-respect, Oscar-gobbling movie Titanic, James Cameron's first undersea documentary was Ghosts of the Abyss. I'm quite late in coming to this particular party, so to speak, but even still it's a cracking film. I watched the extended version (90 minutes, rather than 60) on the double disc DVD (which has a couple of nifty extra features too), and it's utterly fascinating.

You get a taste of the exhibition itself, and what it was like to be along for the ride thanks to a window into this world via Bill Paxton. Better balanced as a documentary than the follow-up that was Aliens of the Deep, the use of superimposed 'ghosts', photographs and CGI models really allows for the untrained eye to really understand what they're looking at. Not only that, but it does give you a hint of the drama than ensued on that fateful night when Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean.

There's just something about Titanic itself - the whole story surrounding it, especially the parts retold by those who were actually there. Perhaps it is a hint of morbid curiosity, but tragedy always carries with it a power to grasp the attention of mankind. Just look at 9/11 - indeed, it's stunning to see in the documentary that upon resurfacing once more the crews of the submersible MIRs are greeted with news of that atrocious event. Having just been exploring the wreck of the Titanic - a stunning disaster in 1912, which continues to resonate to this day - they are confronted with a new stunning disaster that has unfolded while they were deep beneath the crushing pressure of the ocean.

This really packs an additional punch to the entire documentary, and is something that is elaborated upon in one of the extra features on the DVD. It really does make you stop and think as a shiver runs down your spine.

Without seeking to spoil anything, there is a moment when the $500,000 "Elwood" (one of the two ROVs, the other named "Jake") loses all battery power and becomes trapped within Titanic. What follows are the rescue attempts, which are surprisingly tense.

So all in all, it's a wonderfully produced documentary with it's own voice in a crowd of Titanic testimonials and documentaries. A must-see for anyone who is a fan of James Cameron, or fascinated follower of the legend of Titanic.

And you know what, the 4-disc deluxe collector's edition of Titanic has gone straight onto my wish list so I can find out more about Titanic through the eyes of Cameron, and the technology used to bring it all to life. While the central Kate & Leo plot in the movie was a bit wonky, the attention to detail and reconstruction of so many events that really happened is just, for the lack of a better word, fascinating.

And yes, I'm on a right old James Cameron bender at the moment, all in anticipation of Avatar which is, at the time of writing, mere days away.

Aliens of the Deep...

What with the coming of Avatar - and indeed the return of James Cameron - I figured it was about time I got off my arse and checked out those couple of undersea documentaries he made early on this decade. First through the letter box was Aliens of the Deep, and what is definitely the weaker of the two documentaries.

That said, it's still fascinating. A mixture of technological and natural eye-saucering. It doesn't carry the same poised, descriptive and imaginative commentary as David Attenborough does in the exemplary Planet Earth and Life (both of which have featured undersea episodes, covering some of the very creatures gawped at in Aliens of the Deep).

Nothing particularly deep, but alluring to those of a James Cameron fandom persuasion, and those who want to get a taste of the experience of deep sea exploration.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

2002 Q&A with "Mutant" producer Igo Kantor...

Back in 2002 I put together a simple website for the horror movie Mutant (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087796/) otherwise known as Night Shadows.

The website is still around, but I haven't touched it in ages. It dates back to when I was having a brief flirtation with HTML coding, but when University came along I got too busy to really pay attention to the websites I had on the go. While the Mutant website was essentially finished, so didn't need any updating, my now defunct (because Geocities closed down in October) New Dimensions was left alone for very long periods of time.

Anyway - http://mutant.bravepages.com/ - that's the site in question. Don't worry, all this preface has a purpose. My favourite online haunt is Homepage of the Dead, the zombie forum, and it came up in conversation I was putting this site together - coincidentally one of the other members works in Hollywood and knew Igo Kantor (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0437901/), the producer of Mutant.

As such, I sent him some questions and he passed them onto Igo to be answered. Now, I was supposed to have put these on the Mutant website itself, but I must have screwed up my HTML coding as I couldn't find a link to it on the site recently ... so therefore, for all these years, it's been online but not linked to properly and I never realised what with a busy start to my degree around the same time.

So therefore, at long last and without further ado, here's the Q&A...

Q&A with "Mutant" Producer Igo Kantor

Were there any difficulties experienced during the making of "Mutant"?
The main difficulty occurred during the first week of shooting. MARK ROSMAN ("HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW") was the director. He had brought in his own cameraman, TIM STURSTEDT. They were both very slow, and at the end of the first week of filming in Norcross, Georgia, MARK was 1 1/2 days behind schedule. I knew I was in trouble with a limited budget, so I had no choice but to dismiss MARK and TIM, and bring in BUD CARDOS ("KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS") as a director and AL TAYLOR as a D.P. BUD was able to finish on schedule and budget, without sacrificing quality.

What do you think of the final film?
On a 1 to 10 scale, I rate it a 7. We could have done more with prosthetic make-up and special effects, but the budget was tight. Also, I was never too happy with the lead actress, JODY MEDFORD, selected by our executive producer, EDWARD MONTORO. Other than that, the acting was uniformly professional, with special kudos to WINGS HAUSER, BO HOPKINS, LEE MONTGOMERY and JENNIFER WARREN.

How did "Mutant" come about initially and how did you get involved?
At the time, I was head of production for Film Ventures International. I had just finished producing "KILL AND KILL AGAIN" with JAMES RYAN in S. Africa, and MONTORO, president of the company, said: "Let's do a horror show." We got some screenplays and treatments submitted, and we liked the idea of "MUTANT" (originally called "NIGHT SHADOWS") brought in by MICHAEL JONES and JOHN KRUIZE. I had my own production company, Laurelwood Productions, and I solicited one of the investors in my film "KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS", HENRY FOWNES, who put up a portion of the budget for "MUTANT". The script underwent various changes, and I brought in another writer, PETER ORTON, for the final version. I went looking for locations in the Carolinas and Georgia, and fell in love with Norcross, Georgia. The conservative city fathers were a little apprehensive about a "horror show" being shot in their town, especially since we were planning to build additions. They finally agreed, as long as we would remove all additions and restore the town to the way it was. We built a picket fence and a cabin next to the local train station, and planted beautiful flowers. All I know is 2 years ago, when I revisited Norcross, all our additions were still there, because the fathers had agreed that they beautified the town.

What was it like for you to work on this movie?
It was a pleasure. The local townsfolk couldn't have been nicer, both as extras and spectators. The only negative memory was on Yom Kippur day, the Jewish day of atonement, in October 1983, when I decided to keep the company going instead of taking a day off, I jumped over a puddle and twisted my ankle, and was in a cast for several days. I personally sinned for working on a Holy Day and paid for it, but the shooting went on, unencumbered.

What did you think of the remake? (referring to Nightmare At Noon - which is considered by some to be a remake of Mutant).
The remake or sequel hasn't been shot yet, but there is a very scary contemporary script written by PATRICK DOODY and CHRIS VALENZIANO, which promises to be more frightening and exciting than the original. Plans for production are contingent on availability of funds, and various sources of funding have been approached and are considering an investment.

Do you think "Mutant" had any limitations?
As previously mentioned, the limitations were budgetary, but we spared no expense in post-production, including scoring in London with the National Philharmonic (72 instruments) under the direction of RICHARD BAND.

As I am pursuing a career in filmmaking, what is it like to produce a movie such as "Mutant" in comparison to perhaps a bigger production?
You have to walk before you run. As a fledgling filmmaker, you should either embark in a well-written, tight melodrama about the interrelations of 3 or 4 characters (dysfunctional families seem to work), or a horror film with a new wrinkle or twist that makes it commercial, as long as the characters are believable, no matter how implausible the story. In either case, good actors are vital.

What was the general feel on set between cast and crew during the production?
My legacy in producing has always been - get a good cast and a good crew that are compatible with each other, because one bad apple sours the whole brew. So I'd rather hire a technician or actor with a good work ethic and pleasant demeanor than a "temperamental genius". An important aspect of keeping everyone happy is "to feed them well", because a satisfied stomach leads to better work. The cast and crew of "MUTANT" got along great - they were very supportive of each other. When one of our stunt ladies got hurt and was in the hospital for a couple of days, most every one on the show went to visit her and made her feel appreciated.

If you had directed the movie instead of produced it, is there anything you would have done differently to John Cardos?
Every director has a different style. I've been directing a TV series, "SCOPE", and based on my experience as a film editor, one of my main priorities is ample but not excessive coverage. We could have had more coverage on "MUTANT" (more close-ups), but BUD was saddled with 1 1/2 days of catch-up, so he did the best he could to stay on schedule and budget. All in all, he did a very commendable job. And the results were quite satisfying - "MUTANT" was the first film of its kind to receive the Platinum Award for most videos sold (100,000 copies).

...

So there you have it, conducted in 2002, and finally posted in 2009.

It's been a long time since I've seen this Q&A, and it's a good one, both frank and informative. I recently re-watched Nightmare At Noon, which I'd only seen once, whereas I'd seen Mutant a few times, but I must rewatch that too and take myself back to my formative years when I first saw that movie - bought for £3 in our local Post Office.

Finally, a special thanks goes to Patrick J. Doody for helping me out back in 2002 with this Q&A.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Flavours of the Month: November 2009...

I'm about a week late on this one, but nevertheless, away we go!

John Cusack...

Yeah it's a veritable hetero-man-crush going on. I finally got to see the ruddy excellent Say Anything, and then saw the rather brash 2012 ... which is good in it's own 'cheese burger kind of way'. It's not Beef Wellington, but you know what, a cheese burger can really hit the spot too.

Also I've been mad-keen on High Fidelity again. I've watched the movie another two times and have been listening to the soundtrack like nobody's business. As I've said before, I will pick up the book at some point and continue my obsession.

Writing...

I've delved back in to "Zero", as I've been blogging about on here recently, and November was marred somewhat in this respect. Not by the script, but by the software. As you'll have seen from previous posts, Final Draft was causing a right old load of trouble. However, moving to Final Draft version 8 has sorted the problem out and I've been merrily chugging away on Draft 3.1 - which is itself nearing completion. I just need to obsess over those first 10 pages some more and then I'll post it off to the BBC Writersroom at the beginning of January.

The next DeadShed Productions short film...

I've been gearing up for the next short film, doing prop research and then finally making a decision and ordering said props (which I think will work very well indeed). I've been recording dialogue in preparation, and have just generally been getting ready for it. A filming date hasn't been set yet, but we've been talking about shooting it for a while now, and the project itself has been gestating for a long old while. So keep your fingers crossed that we can actually get it on tape at long last.

Top Gear...

The most awesomest show in the entire world is back for its 14th series, yo ... nuff said.

Foo Fighters, Rammstein, and Guns 'n Roses...

I've been on a Foo's retrospective kick of late, but going backwards through their catalogue. During this time I rested for a long while on my favourite Foo's album (There Is Nothing Left To Lose), which really inspired me while I was heavily into some script writing on "Zero".

It's also been a time for some Rammstein. Not content with just have their latest album in my disc changer, I nabbed a copy of Rosenrot for a fiver.

Similar to the Foo's, I've been having a GnR revival in my hi-fi, what with Use Your Illusion 1 (great album) and UYI 2 (not that great, but with moments of greatness - e.g. "You Could Be Mine"). Next up is one of my all-time favourite albums, Appetite For Destruction.

James Cameron...

I've been getting amped up for Avatar (out in a couple of weeks time, woo!) and Total Film had a full-on supplement all about the man himself. Further to my JC revival this past month, I got Aliens of the Deep on DVD, and have Ghosts of the Abyss on its way. Roll on Avatar!

400th Blog Post...

Indeed, in November this 'ere blog got to it's 400th post, woo!

Videogames...

Such is the way with the videogame industry, they all seem to want to pimp out their titles at the same time as everyone else. Why this is a good idea is beyond me, because every gamer will know that you always get logjams of games.

Then again as you can so often crack through them fairly swiftly the first time through, it's not like you've got three World of Warcrafts to play or something. No, instead it was GTA Episodes From Liberty City - in which the second episode "The Ballad of Gay Tony" was much better all-round than the first episode, which was "The Lost & Damned".

Next up was a bash through Ghostbusters. As a GB videogame it's a 9.5/10 ... as a videogame in general it's a 7.5/10 ... but blimey did it make me grin with glee everytime I popped it in to play.

Then of course it was the biggest entertainment launch of all time, and strong contender for Game of the Year the world over. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I maintain that it sits on level pegging with the first Modern Warfare. Each game does things better and worse than the other.

While MW2 is a thrillingly intense action festival, with some amazing sights and sounds, the plot is full of cavernous holes, and indeed the story frequently gets lost in the chaos. Some levels - such as Burger Town - become too frantic, and you find yourself confused thanks to constant radio chatter, a compass with too tiny letters for North South East and West, and sometimes preposterous amounts of bad guys facing off against your little squad.

The increased difficulty/chaos on Recruit (aka Casual/Easy) Mode is also annoying. I personally don't want to be challenged, I just want to play and have fun. So you have to pay more attention in MW2 than you did beforehand. This can occasionally become annoying at a couple of points in the game.

However, MW2 does provide a serious dose of awesome sauce directly into your veins, and upon a second play through (which I'm currently cracking through at a fair old lick) it just feels better than the first time. No doubt there was an element of hype overload when I first played MW2 - and I actively tried to avoid the hype as much as possible, while maintaining my own excitement. Even still, it's hard to avoid the bombardment of utterly pointless MW2 hyping videos when you're subscribed to both IGN Entertainment and Machinima on YouTube. Seriously - calm the fuck down.

So yeah, while I blogged extensively about Modern Warfare 2 last month (go on, have a gander), I won't go on about it too much here. Safe to say though, when all is said and done, it sits on the same level pegging as the first Modern Warfare. Hopefully MW3 will fix the issues I had with MW2, but also continue the greatness.

...

So there you have it folks, another month and another flavour shot.

Friday, 4 December 2009

"Skinner" - response to the film...

A long time since I finished the film? Certainly, and I've been meaning to post some of the response I got to it on the blog, but I've kept forgetting to do so - but no more! No more I tell you, for below is some of the response I got to "Skinner" - you can watch it on my YouTube Channel, which you can find a link to in my links section, or indeed via the YouTube widget below that (which always displays my four latest videos).

Or you could go and see it here (in HQ too), if you're in the mood for direct URLs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA0gD60edHI

Anyway, on with the response:

"Nicely done ... Dramatic and well written. Enjoyable little flick here."

"Shot very well, and I LOVE the font & the way you did the credits (that scrawled-on-a-wall look to the font was just plain kick-ass, as well as the movement of the letters)."

"I think he did a great job in this one. I think he was spot-on for the part." (referring to Sean Connell, who acted in the film).

"WOW! This looks fantastic! Nick is really making large leaps forward with his filmmaking ... I think this is the best looking thing he's done yet."

"Cool, nicely shot. I just wish I wasn't eating when I watched it."

"Nice work Nick. That was a damn interesting little film."

"Cool short film guys, very dark and Se7en-esque."

"It was atmospheric, interesting and enjoyable. Good work, man."

"Very entertaining dude, probably not as good as your last, but it was a nice length, gave me an "opening of Texas Chainsaw" vibe from it and I dug it man."

"Well done. The title sequence was quite atmospheric, kinda reminded me of Se7en. I like the noir-ish aspect of the weary detective voice over coupled with the appropriately hard-boiled dialogue when he describes the previous crime scenes. The music was decidedly sinister and creepy. Bravo."

So there you have it, took me a while to get around to making this blog post, but even still - thanks to those who watched the film, dug it, and gave feed back!

Not bad for a film that was conceived on a Monday and then shot at the end of the same week when I was still busy recovering from that hernia operation earlier this year.

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I should hopefully be shooting the next DeadShed Productions short film sometime soon - so keep your fingers crossed.