Saturday 30 July 2011

Double Bill Mini Musings: The League and The Lovely...

The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse:
I'm years behind-the-times with this modern British comedy classic of a series, but this month it's all been about Dyson, Gattis, Pemberton, and Shearsmith's darkly delicious vision of the warped Northern town of Royston Vasey. The film is a satisfying outing, bringing fresh territory to the series, and a sense of scale that exceeds the consistently impressive TV show. When the town of Royston Vasey begins to crumble - the titular apocalypse - it's up to Hilary Briss (the butcher), Geoff Tipps (the clumsy dolt who can't tell jokes - and who practically steals the entire film), and Herr Lipp (the innuendo-driven German tour guide) to save their town, by entering the real world to get their creators to keep writing about them. Bloody good fun.

The Lovely Bones:
Peter Jackson's adaptation of the book that concerns the aftermath of a teenage girl's murder, from both sides of the divide between life and 'the place in-between', is a visually inventive, dramatically tense, and chilling affair that will linger hauntingly in your mind afterwards. The emotional drive of the film - the torture of losing a child to murder - is keenly and tensely depicted throughout. Then throughout the flick, the visions of 'the place in-between' provide moments of wondrous melancholy, but also threat from unresolved trauma.

However, despite the impressive presentation and emotionally deep and grounded direction, there's a curious sense of lacking at the final hurdle come the film's end. Many characters feel cast aside throughout, and the closing moments of the film comes in a way that lacks a sense of closure for many of them, rather than in a way that would have more satisfactorily tied together the various plot strands. Indeed, the inevitable comeuppance is somewhat lacking in itself - you don't get the totally relieving sense of vindication that you feel you deserve as a viewer, and the execution of it doesn't pack the punch you'd expect given its foreshadowing earlier in the film. Perhaps these problems aren't so present in the original book (where they will have, naturally, spawned in the first place) - problems that have become more evident through the adaptation process.

Despite these stumbles though, The Lovely Bones is a beautifully realised vision with confident, considered direction, strong performances, a perfect sense of tension building, and a chilling balance of grim and glorious subject matter that allows the film to walk the line between drama for general audiences, and the horrific implications of the actions of truly dark individuals. Flawed, but satisfyingly haunting.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Chepstow Castle video...

I shot this footage years ago now, when I first started out as a Freelance Filmmaker (hence the Auto Iris), and I came back to use a couple of the shots in Abortion: Ancient & Modern - which made me think that I could edit the footage together into a nice little musical montage, akin to what I did with the North Berwick, and Edinburgh, tour videos last year.

Anyway, enjoy.

Monday 25 July 2011

Abortion: Ancient & Modern - Part 3 Screenshots...

The new educational DVD - Abortion: Ancient & Modern - is complete, and below are some screenshots from the third film in the three part series. This third film was the most complex of the lot, on a project that proved to be quite the editing challenge - the find a way to not only maintain our visually arresting style, but to wrestle with a topic as controversial and tricky to visualise as abortion.

Triple Bill Mini (and Cine) Musings: The Inexplicable, the Okay, and the Horrible...

Resident Evil Afterlife:
N.B. Sarcastic spoiling of the entire movie follows...

The fourth instalment in the inexplicable videogame-to-movie adaptation franchise (again written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson) kicks off with a very stylish, but mostly unintelligible attack - by a bunch of cloned Alices - on yet another impossibly labrynthine underground Umbrella Corporation complex. Then Mrs W.S. Anderson is flying around in a plane that is seemingly fuelled by magic in search of the paradise promised in the third movie (which was decidedly indebted to George A. Romero's far superior Day of the Dead). It's nowhere to be found, so her and Ali Larter sod off in their magic plane and end up landing on the roof of what looks like a hotel casino, but which is apparently a high-rise prison (eh?!).

We're introduced to 1) Asshole Producer, 2) Tough & Buff Black Guy with Incredibly Precise Facial Hair, 3) Random Asian, 4) Deluded Brunette Who Happens to be Good at Swimming, 5) Some Guy Called Angel or Whatever ... oh, and Wentworth Miller ... who's imprisoned, but he knows a way out (good thing he had all that Prison Break training, isn't it?) Then some zombies with weird mouths turn up, as well as some giant sack-headed creature with a massive axe/hammer (who's presumably from one of the games, but who is totally unexplained in this movie), and so a bunch of action happens - in slow motion - as Anderson makes full use of the 3D cameras (although I was watching it in 2D on my telly).

Fast forward, a bunch of cannon fodder has been gotten out of the way, and now we're on a boat. Then a bunch of nonsensical "muahahaha, we're an evil corporation" gibberish happens - and looks all shiny and slow-motioned and 3D in the process - and then the fifth inexplicable movie is set-up and we all fall down. It's a pretty face, with a handful of cool zombie apocalypse shots, but the plot makes little-to-no-sense - so you don't give a bollocks about anything that's going on. It's a movie for 13 year old boys who spend all their time testing the theory of "if you don't stop, you'll go blind" while intermittently rage-quitting from Call of Duty death match marathons.

Adventureland was a coming-of-age drama set in the 1980s starring one of the girls from Twilight (Kristen Stewart). Skateland is a coming-of-age drama, with a rather similar title, set in the 1980s starring one of the girls from Twilight (Ashley Greene) ... and it was also made in 2009, the same year as the pitch-perfect, involving and justifiably nostalgic Adventureland.

Skateland, on the other hand, expects our sympathies immediately - launching straight into nostalgia without having earned the right. We don't know who these characters are, nor what their relationships really are for the most part, and we don't know what the timescale of the entire movie is. We're not brought along for the ride from the get-go, so we spend the rest of the movie playing catch-up ... it's like being on the outside of a really good joke being told by another group over there somewhere, or being told a nostalgic story of an event you missed - perhaps you had to be there, eh? Suffice to say, it's a bit confusing, and Shiloh Fernandez's confused slacker teen comes off more as a lazy jerk, who's occasionally a bit-of-a-dick, than the identifiable, self-concious, kid-in-the-background played by Jesse Eisenberg in Adventureland. Indeed, Fernandez (also seen in DeadGirl) - half of the time - has this odd smirk on his face that just makes him seem like, to quote Scott Pilgrim, a "cocky cock".

There's some lovely visual moments and a great soundtrack, but the heart of the movie is lost for the most part thanks to confused plotting which lacks focus. If you want a coming-of-age drama (with a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure) that's set in the 1980s, then go directly to Adventureland, which is a wonderful film. Skateland on the otherhand, is sadly just okay.

Horrible Bosses:
While Mark Kermode (my film critic of choice) went off on a tangent by having a whinge about Jennifer Aniston being too fit for her role as a female dentist/sexual predator (summed up as "phwoar, Jennifer Aniston, phwoar, hey?") - I'd only half agree. While yes, you could have played it more dangerously as the dentist being a bit of an old boiler, on the other hand part of the joke is that the other two males from the central trio of protagonists (Nick and Kurt) cannot understand why their friend (Dale) doesn't like being felt up by a hot dentist. Indeed - Jennifer Aniston ... phwoar, hey?! Speaking of which - it's good to see Aniston in a more daring role that's actually a bit different, and in a movie that isn't utter naffness like The Bounty Hunter.

Anyway - three guys (including the ever-reliable Jason Bateman) find themselves in the employ of three horrible bosses, and (as you'll have surmised from the trailer) they decide to kill off each other's bosses. Suffice to say, things don't go exactly according to plan, as they bumble their way through attempts to 'gather intel'. It's not a comedy classic, but it's a good time nonetheless (the audience in the cinema where we saw it would have to agree), helped along by a dirty mind, solid central casting, and a strong core idea - even if the middle portion somewhat loses the spark before rallying itself for a satisfying sign-off.

Monday 18 July 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #23...

The tweaks to Act III have been made - I know have a complete Draft 1.2 of Allen Bridge - and after further trimming (with some additions) it stands at 112 pages.

I'll now have a break from it for a while before I head back to the very beginning to do a top-to-tail re-draft (2.1) with further tweaks dotted around the script (2.2). I'm really trying my hardest with this script - not that I hadn't tried before - perhaps a better way to put it would be that I'm applying all my skills and knowledge gained so far, and taking great care with this script.

The first script I sent to the BBC Writersroom didn't get past the first ten pages and, even though it was very disappointing, I agree with the decision (at some point I want to do an entire re-write of that script, as I maintain that it would make an enjoyable comedy).

The second script I sent to the BBC Writersroom - Summer Road - actually got through to a full read-through ... which is a significant step forward, especially seeing as the Writersroom get 10,000 scripts a year and only 10-to-15% of those scripts get a full read through with feedback (meaning 85-90% get rejected after the first ten pages without feedback).

Naturally, with Allen Bridge, I want to go further - so lessons have been learned from Summer Road (which I'm still immensely proud of, although I would make some tweaks to it now a year down the road), and I'm trying hard to tickle all the right fancies to succeed. Indeed, in the feedback I received concerning Summer Road, I had been successful in pulling off the hardest things to get right in a script - particular characterisation and motivation - two elements that have been very important to me up to, and including, this project.

Anyway - a little break from it has been well and truly earned - although, having said that, I'm heading back to finish off the rest of the Abortion-themed educational DVD project (which is coming along quite well).

Double Bill Mini Musings: Decidedly meh, even rubbish...

The Incredible Melting Man:
For some reason three astronauts have gone on a mission into space to gawp at the sun from nearby Saturn, then something happens and the sole survivor is back on earth and has been transformed into the eponymous purveyor of immovable carpet stains. The flick is really only worthwhile for fans of naff genre flicks, or - more admirably perhaps - Rick Baker's gloriously gloopy make-up effects work. Baker's work is the real draw of the flick - indeed there are numerous scenes where we just sit there and watch the titular enemy of Cillit Bang, drip runny snot-like blobs of gooey flesh from his form (the final meltdown is good fun after an all-too-long, not-terribly-exciting chase sequence).

When it comes to the script, and indeed the acting, I can't tell whether it's deliberately - or accidentally - trying to be a bit pants. It's like the movie is trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but the jokes (if you can be so generous) seem to have been lost in translation to any of the actors, whose performances are wooden to say the least ... its as if they're trying to be the antithesis of the very much fluid lead. When the gloop isn't glooping, and when heads aren't getting lopped off, it does get rather tedious ... which is a shame, because in terms of production design it's pretty good (they certainly squeezed every drop out of their time at industrial locations).

The Hills Have Eyes II:
Wes Craven's original was pretty good - not great, but good - and the Alexandre Aja remake has been one of the rare instances in which a remake has been worthwhile. However, Craven's sequel is a woeful mistake (mirrored by the unconnected sequel to Aja's remake - featuring the worst military recruits America has to offer - which was beyond crap). Making liberal use of flashbacks to the original film (including one for Beast - the dog from the original movie!) to pad out the skimpy running time (which, ironically, moves by slower than a glacier), the vast majority of the new footage is risible at best - a bunch of cardboard teens (who are off to the desert to race dirt bikes) yomping around the wrong part of the desert being total morons.

There's initial - very brief - promise when the flick begins with one of the survivors of the original moving suffering mental anguish several years later, still trying to cope ... but what could have made for an interesting personal struggle is ditched after 15 padded-out minutes in favour of idiots making useless decisions (except for the aforementioned survivor, who makes the only smart choice in the entire movie - to not go to the ruddy desert!). Hills II is one of the worst examples of the horror genre - when those who moan about the genre dismiss it off-hand, it's movies like this that they're referencing - utterly witless, inane, bore-fests with little merit even to die hard horror hounds.

However - there is one plus - the soundtrack. Having not noticed in the credits, a short while through I recognised the unmistakable similarity in feel to the soundtracks for the early Friday 13th films - and sure enough, Harry Manfredini scored this stinker, and while the movie is indeed a rotten load of old nonsense, the score is classic, chilling, Manfredini.

It's a strange thing - Wes Craven had done so well with the likes of Last House on the Left, the original The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but what on earth was he thinking with this?! That said, as bad as it is, it's not even as atrocious as the unforgivably wretched 2007 follow-up to Aja's 2006 gore-ific irradiated remake.

Sunday 17 July 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #22...

It's been the best part of two weeks since I got to the end of the script (I've been busy editing on the Abortion-themed educational DVD), so today - having a break from editing - I returned to Act III to bring it up to Draft 1.2 standard.

The script was 115 pages long, but in the re-drafting today I've managed to cut out three pages of extraneous description and dialogue, and then add in half a page's worth of information that pertains to Ryman's part of the denouement.

Still some re-drafting left to do at this stage though (the aforementioned denouement, and the coda).

Monday 11 July 2011

Nonuple Bill Mini (and Cine) Musings: July 2011...

Transformers: Dark of the Moon:
The first one was solid, the second one was a confused and poorly judged mess that inspired guilt more than enjoyment, and now this third one (which would be wise to be the closing chapter) comes clunking along with it's gigantic running time filled with gigantic Autobots and Decepticons that all look the same (bar Optimus, Bumble Bee, and Sentinel) punching each other. Fortunately it's a big improvement over the second movie, and it even kicks off with an intriguing opening half hour that re-purposes major historical events.

However, the plot becomes less-and-less important and the EXPLOSIONS and FIGHTING ROBOTS become more important to the filmmakers, as the movie progresses. This all culminates in a ridiculously overlong final battle (with a ridiculously short wrap-up, that caught me off-guard with its brevity). If you want lots of shit exploding and looking pretty whilst doing so, you'll get what you want, but beyond that it's an exhausting experience. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley isn't as pointless as the trailer makes out, but she's far from interesting, and Patrick Dempsey's Dylan is a casualty of an overlong running time that can't manage to cover all of the human characters in enough detail (let alone the Autobots and Decepticons). It's a cursory sort of movie in that way, all (impressively martialed) mouth and no trousers.

The Killing Machine:
For what it is - straight-to-DVD action fodder designed for fans of a particular name, in this case Dolph Lundgren - it's decent. The production value is decidedly better that The Mechanik (another Lundgren DVD vehicle), the plot is straight forward (but nothing to set the world on fire), and there's some nice moments of action. If you're going to watch one of Lundgren's DVD actioners, you'd probably do best to make it this one.

Mercury Rising:
Weirdly I've had a dubbed copy of this on videotape ever since its video rental release (circa 1998), but I never got around to watching it. Then it was on Sky Anytime t'other day, so I figured it was about time. Bruce Willis is an FBI agent who has to protect an autistic boy (the "Autism?" "Yes, Autism is..." exchanges are slightly funny in their near-PSA directness) who has cracked a supposedly unbreakable government code, and is now being hunted by those who want to either silence him, or use him. Decent thriller fare.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd:
A surprisingly enjoyable prequel to the Farrely brother's beloved chuckle-fest, featuring Derek Richardson (Harry) and Eric Christian Olsen (Lloyd), who do a remarkably good job of inhabiting the performances established in 1994 by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Harry and Lloyd are in high school, and end up in a phoney special needs class due to a scam being run by the Principal and the Lunch Lady. It's gleefully silly, and while it was never going to top the original, it's actually quite good fun.

Grown Ups:
I was expecting something worse than this, but the real-life friendship between the central male leads shines through the so-so workman-like comedy. Adam Sandler and pals are re-united 30 years later by the death of their school basketball coach, and spend the July 4th weekend together in a lakeside cabin with their respective family. Cue silliness, prat falls, and some paint-by-numbers lessons-to-be-learned, and you've got a decent (if not especially memorable) way to spent 90 minutes - even if several characters (of a rather large cast) are ditched with cursory roles to play.

This one came late to Sky Movies (it's originally from 2008), but it's about a bunch of Star Wars geeks who go on a mission to steal the work print of The Phantom Menace from Skywalker Ranch. Like Grown Ups, it's a servicable comedy with some good giggles along the way, but it's a light meal (enjoyable at the time) that'll fade into the background for most.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest:
A satisfying closer to the Millennium Trilogy. Sure enough, the second film was setting up lots of the third film - although numerous new characters and plot details are surfaced as well, which can prove slightly confusing until it's all wrapped up in the final act. It's more stylish than the second one, but the first remains the best - it featured a complex stand-alone narrative that was translated with style and precision to the screen by Niels Arden Oplev - while the second two (directed by Daniel Alfredson) never matched that level, they weren't let downs either. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is indeed a new cinematic icon.

Trailer Park Of Terror:
You want some horror fodder? Then step right up. A bunch of fodder-ready Christian development kids from the wrong sides of their respective tracks, find themselves at the mercy of a bunch of hellish ghouls at a trailer park. The plot is fairly threadbare, and early on the movie can't decide which tale it wants to tell (neither have enough meat to them when collided together in this brief presentation). However the production value and style of the whole thing is impressive ... but unless it's particularly tickled your fancy, it'll remain forgettable genre fodder.

Sunset Boulevard:
The other week I finally got around to seeing Billy Wilder's superb film noir Double Indemnity, and now I've gotten to see his oft-quoted, landmark, and grippingly acerbic take on 1950s Hollywood. Featuring real Hollywood names of the silent and early talkies period (Cecil B. DeMille, Erich von Stroheim, and even Buster Keaton), the involving narrative charts a struggling (practically failed) writer (Joe, played by William Holden) who accidentally gets involved with a fading star of the silent movie era (Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson) - a deluded and aging actress who resides exclusively in her decaying mansion. Soon he becomes her kept man, working on a script for her, while moonlighting on another script with another woman (Betty) by night. It's a wonderfully intriguing and skilfully concise tale - no wonder it's an icon of cinematic history (indeed it provided heavy inspiration for Chuck Palahniuk's 2010 novel Tell-All). Highly recommended.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #21...

I've reached the end of Act III - to Draft 1.1 standard - and the page count is 115. I've still got to go back over this final Act in order to tidy it up a bit (our old friend Draft 1.2 standard), but today I reached the end of the script - there are no more empty white pages of nothingness stretching out before me, only established sheets of text that just require tweaking, trimming, polishing, and perhaps even expanding in certain instances.

Today I was working Ryman (and indeed, to an extent, Mark) into the denouement - a sequence that I'll no doubt be going over and over again a few times in itself - due to the 'layered' approach to constructing it specifically. Furthermore I got to write the 'coda' - a montage that features a series of shots that tie-up a couple of loose ends, and bring the entire screenplay to a chilling close.

It's been a year since I originally began tacking together some ideas that grew to become Allen Bridge, and now that I have a complete version of the script, it's interesting to look back to when I starting the writing process proper, in my free time, nearly three months ago.

Allen Bridge blog #01 (preparing to write)
Allen Bridge blog #02 (writing begins)

Naturally I shall continue to post about the writing process as it continues, now that we've moved onto the re-writing stage - my preferred stage of the writing process itself.

Double Bill Mini Musings: Fire and Murder...

The Girl Who Played With Fire:
While the first film could stand very much on its own two feet as a solitary narrative, this middle portion of the Millennium Trilogy feels very much the set-up for what's to come in the closing chapter. Furthermore, some of the style of the first film is lacking (it's definitely a shame the filmmakers moved away from the 2.35:1 aspect ratio afforded to the original, which proved more suitable), and it lacks the sense of momentum and drive of the first - but again, this circles back to this being the necessary set-up for the third film.

That said, if you view the three films as one complete entity, then Fire becomes the second act of something bigger and more meaningful. In this context it's definitely acceptable, but even on it's own - when it doesn't equal the superb original - it still has a few surprises up its sleeve. More of a functional, required second chapter, than a stand alone piece of dark entertainment - here's hoping The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest provides the goods for a satisfying closer.

Double Indemnity:
This was one of the films shown during my film degree - on the Film Noir course - but I didn't attend the screening (my essay was on another film - Out of the Past, and I'd already honed in on what I planned to cover in the exam). I always felt a bit guilty about that, for one thing it's often observed as one of the best - if not the best - example of the Noir genre. So it's always stuck in my mind ever since, and I'm glad to have finally gotten around to it - and indeed, Billy Wilder's twisted tale is a damned fine example of the genre.

An Insurance Salesman falls into the web of a blonde bombshell femme fatale, who's tired of her supposedly slap-happy husband and wants him offed. So begins a beautifully crafted (thrillingly so, at times) ever-darkening, and ever-twisting tale of insurance fraud turned most foul. Coming hot off of Team Bondi's L.A. Noire, it's easy to see where the inspiration for one of the late-in-the-game characters comes from (even down to the architecture of his place of work), and well, if you're going to immitate, immitate the best.

While some Film Noirs are deeply convoluted at times (The Big Sleep), Double Indemnity's ace-up-its-sleeve is it's relative simplicity. It's far from dumb (obviously), but rather the plot is tightly bound within motive and procedure. The cast is kept to an efficient minimum, the motivation for the murder is clear (only to become oh-so-muddied in due course as events begin to unfold with expert drip-drip-drip storytelling), and the style never crushes the substance. No wonder it's held in such high regard - a status I'm all-too-happy to further champion.

Saturday 2 July 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #20...

Three-of-five 'chunks' in Act III have now been done - so it's all down to one big chunk and one little chunk. Current page count is 109, and right now I'm in the midst of the 'one big chunk' - the denouement of the script, the big tying together of various characters, themes and loose ends, that all collides at one point in dramatic fashion.

After that there's just a chilling coda to write, and then - of course - a tidying up.

This big denouement though, is a complex scene to write - so I'm writing it and re-writing it, each time adding new elements, because it involves the two main characters (and their back stories), another character who has become more prevalent throughout the script (and yet another character who has more of a background role to play at this very moment), flashbacks, and intercutting of scenes. So the method I'm taking is this - write a basic A-to-B of the scene for Miller, then go back and insert the flashbacks relating to him at that moment, at the same time as tweaking bits here and there.

Then, with intercutting, bring in Ryman arriving at the scene and coming across what's going on, at which point it all ties together. So rather than write the scene in a trudging manner as it would appear on screen from-the-off, I'm writing it in layers - one layer at a time - which not only keeps the momentum going, but it's also far more effective in keeping it intelligible.

It's quite exciting, because although I know how it's going to end, it's seeing exactly how it all comes together that will prove to be quite interesting for me. It's the difference between basically describing a scene, and then viewing the scene in its actual entirety.

So all-in-all it's going very well at the moment.