Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Snapshot from the Screenplay of my Life:

We're in Sheffield. All of us. It's an annual ritual variously named (depending on which of us you talk to) as 'Do we have to?' or 'A holiday'.

Part of the holiday - just in case there was any doubt about which camp I belong to* - usually involves a humungous amount of time traipsing around Meadowhall, shopping our socks off. Living in a wee, out of the way village in the picturesque splendour of the Scottish Highlands going and getting bombarded by a full, throttle in-yer-face onslaught of Western Consumerism is sometimes quite refreshing - for a bit.

After a couple of hours of relentless shopping. Daisy and I got fed up. Merriol and Holly were tenaciously and methodically working their way through the sale rails of the already incredibly cheap Primark and had about another three acres to go. So Daisy and I found somewhere outside (and a little cooler) to wait for them to emerge:


Where shall we go Daddy?

Let's just sit here and watch people.
They're fascinating. They're all different.

...and they're top of the food chain!


* did I get away with it?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Blog posts to be avoided number 137.

The more than usually large number of movies I have watched this month:

  1. Astro Zombies (1967) - for some reason I find watching John Carradine endlessly twiddle knobs and talk total pseudo-technobabble hypnotically fascinating. Every time I watch this movie there comes a moment when I start to doubt my sanity. Tonight it was the in the scene where John C and his (of course) hunchbacked assistant are preparing a corpse for revivification. I realised for the first time that the unexplained but very shiny piece of low budget equipment they were having obvious trouble strapping to his head is in fact - a lampshade. I was watching two grown men strapping a lampshade to someone's head.

  2. Android Apocalypse (2006) - Made for TV 'movie' set in the future where, after an unexplained ecological disaster which has left the whole world looking like a sand quarry in Canada, humankind lives, protected from the wasteland outside, in domed cities. A lowly manual worker is fired from his job and replaced by an android. The lowly worker hates androids; all his friends hate androids. The lowly worker kills an android in a fight and is sent to gaol chained to... go on, guess... yes, an android! (What a plot twist!) Anyhow the van in which they are being transported gets attacked by giant flying robots and they escape still chained together to be relentlessly pursued by... blah blah blah... What starts out as a updated version of The Humanoids, segues into a SFy version of The Defiant Ones, and then just descends into the usual explosionfest-driven melodrama in which abandoned cities ("What is this place?" "An abandoned city") are well stocked with piles of empty cardboard boxes for our heroes and villains to drive their 2004 model Jeeps into*.

    Now a little competition:

    You too can be a Hollywood (Canada) Scriptwriter!

    Here's the final shot of the movie: Android and lowly manual worker (no longer chained together), and lowly manual worker's wife are standing heroically looking down at the smouldering ruins of the evil android overlord's destroyed headquarters.


    Lowly Manual Worker's Wife:

    (To husband, indicating the android)
    Who is he?

    Lowly Manual Worker:

    (Use your skill, judgement and extensive knowledge
    of Hollywood cliché to fill in the final speech
    of the movie here.)

    Is it?
    • A. "I don't know; he just followed me home. Can we keep him?"
    • B. "My chiropractor."
    • C. "...He's my friend."

    Hint: Boak!

    *By which, of course, I mean they drive around in Jeeps that were made in 2004. They don't have a couple of thousand Dinky cars.

  3. Goodbye Gemini (1970) - Swinging London Psycho-Thriller (que'st que s'est? fa fa fa...) which would have been an awful lot better if the actors playing the leads had been ten years younger.

  4. The Princess Diaries (2001) - My heart sank when Daughter Number One picked this out. Disney + Princess? Oh Gawd. Please, no.... Being a father of two girls I should be getting used to this by now. I had seen The Princess Diaries before but it was a lot better than I remembered; there are some genuinely funny lines and some not bad acting. I was annoyed for a while by my inability to work out who Anne Hathaway was reminding me of - some of her mannerisms expressions were reminding me of another actor - towards the end I got it. She reminded me of Jeff Goldbloom - I think I need to get out more.

  5. Inland Empire (2006) - sometimes my habit of not looking too closely at the back of DVDs I am just about to watch - in case the blurb reveals too many plot points - is not the cleverest thing to do. I love David Lynch's weird dreamscapes. I love the bewildering sense of 'otherness' they create. Had I realised Inland Empire was three hours long I may have chosen another night to be baffled, frustrated and 'othernessed'. Three hours! Good god. I didn't dream last night. Lynch had done it all for me.

  6. Knowing (2009) - I'm an SF fan. I like SF. For the first half of this film it looked like I was watching a pretty interesting SF film which playing with ideas about determinism and predestination - at about the hour mark the tone changed and I realised I was just watching another CGI 'let's destroy everything in loving detail' Hollywood disaster cliché, and by the end of the second hour I was slack-jawed with disbelief as I watched heavy-handed Judeo-Christian Revelation tripe unfolding on the screen as shiny glowing angeliens took the 'chosen' children to the stars in giant silvery globe artichokes built to specs found in Ezekiel. (Cue beauty shots of two happy - presumably heterosexual - children running through beautiful untouched alien landscape towards a large Tree in the distance. The only thing that was missing were the names 'Adam' and 'Eve' tattooed onto their foreheads for the real knuckleheads in the audience who still hadn't got it.) This is all a great pity. Back in the days when he has less money Alex Proyas made some inventive movies The Crow and Dark City being best. (Dark City especially is great.) Now with a brazzillion dollars of CGI to play with he seems to have lost the point. There are some effective and tense moments in this movie but most of them are made so by camera work, editing, acting, and some (occasionally) damn fine music; all the old-fashioned, 'traditional' movie making skills in fact. When the CGI fills the screen it turns into a plodding bore. So boring and ponderous does this film become that at the end I was left wondering if there was something wrong with Nic Cage's testicles. After an hour of being bludgeoned with pixels flying in all directions I was more interested in the weird 'heroic' stance that Cage had assumed than in all the glowing shiny whirly, supposedly awe-inspiring SFX zipping about. Why was Nic Cage standing wide-legged like a Jack Kirby superhero cowboy? There was no reason for him to be standing like that. Even when he was talking to the less than convincing child actor pretending to be his son he stood like he was about to leap on a silver surfboard or pull out a Colt Pacemaker and shoot the bad guy*. I was glad when it was all over.

    *Or even a 'Peacemaker'.

  7. American Madness (1932) - Early Frank Capra movie in which Walter Huston plays a decent honest banker nearly bought to suicide by personal troubles, a run on his bank, and the machinations of rich financiers - only to be saved in the nick of time by all 'the little people' he has helped over the years rushing in to make deposits when everyone else was wanting to take their money out. It's almost a dry run for Capra's best-loved film It's A Wonderful Life. It's interesting but not great. A few nice sequences - the bank filling up with people wanting to take out their money, at first a trickle, then a flood turning into a packed and panicking mob was nicely done but a lot of it was pure melodrama most of it delivered in that incredibly rapid, machine-gun style delivery of the time. Your sure had to listen fast when people got excited in the 30s.

  8. The Thief of Baghdad - Alexander Korda.

  9. Galaxy of the Dinosaurs (1992) - somewhere beyond awful. Shoddy amateur crap that wasn't even terrible enough to be funny. To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli; it was not even bad.

  10. The Bed Sitting Room (1968 ) - finally released on DVD! Though not quite in its original aspect ratio.

  11. Stranded (aka The Shelter 2001) - not very good attempt at a serious nuts and bolts hard SF story - ie no monsters - in which the first mission to Mars goes horribly wrong. Unable to lift off again, and with limited resources to hand, the crew do the maths and realise only two of them stand a chance of surviving till any possible rescue mission could get to them. This is a standard scenario from a thousand magazine short stories over the years. A scenario pits human vulnerability against the cold impassivity of the laws of physics. I have never come across this story played out so flatly and dully as here. After the opening sequence, when the ship crashes in a series of tiny scenes and brief single shots interspersed with great slugs of black - a editing technique that was supposed to induce tension and confusion but just made me wonder if my DVD payer was having trouble playing the disc - we are introduced to the members of the crew coming to terms with the reality of their new situation. After a few laughable bad attempts at working out how to survive - the most logical and sensible thing they do is dismantle the acceleration couches and take them outside because they won't need them any more - three of them decide to walk to their deaths (taking as much oxygen as they can with them!?) and leave the doctor and the engineer to wait for rescue. After an eternity of watching three people walking around in space suits with an orange filter on the camera - on Mars everything is red - the survivors find the remnants of an ancient civilisation, a mysterious ancient oasis of air, water and lichen, "from which we will be able to extract protein". The end. As stories go it's not the worst I've ever seen; it successfully avoids falling into any number of low budget SF traps and the hardware looks good but, dear god, the script is awful! At no point in this film did any of the characters look or sound like the top-notch technician scientists they were supposed to be. The first people to set foot on Mars? These people would have been the elite, the best and most capable astronauts the world have ever seen. What arrives on screen are barely sketched-in outlines of characters with no depth or consistency. Just to give one example: the doctor is supposed to be a Christian. She tells us that it is against her religion to commit suicide, she insists, against opposition from her fellow crew-members that the dead captain is buried in the "Christian manner" yet, when she gets her way and the poor stiff is dragged outside for the funeral, she doesn't say anything religious at his graveside at all, preferring instead to recite (from memory!) a long extract from Robert Falcon Scott's diary (written shortly before his death during his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica). This clumsily sets up the "'Tis a far far better thing," type noble sacrifice that is to follow but does little to create believable characters. There are token nods towards making some hard science - during an angry exchange one character suggests they make power by building a windmill, the engineer says the wind is too thin - end of discussion. Where's the detail? I'm not saying they should have stopped the movie and had a lecture about the relative densities of the atmospheres of Earth and Mars but SF movie audiences are well used to sitting through screeds of nonsensical techno-babble - 'Captain, if we bypass the tachyon emissions through the warp core shielding this may have the effect of reversing the cloaking device's polarity!' - why not have some real science for a change? Bad script. And some really odd direction too.

  12. Unknown World (1951) - which, despite all the crap I've watched after it, hasn't got any better since the last time I watched it five years ago.

  13. The Phantom Menace (1999) - nor has this.

  14. Starcrash (1978 ) - on the other hand just gets better every time I watch it. Okay, I know I'm redefining the word 'better' here but any movie that has Caroline Munro (best known to men of my generation as "you know, the sweaty bird from the Morgan's Rum adverts," and "the one with tits in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad") running around for most of the time in continuity defying leather space bikinis (not to mention the transparent space suits) has got to be worth watching fairly often hasn't it? My favourite line on this viewing was:

    Look! Amazons on horseback. I hope they are friendly!

    Oh to hell with it; it's weeks since I posted any pictures of semi-naked women on the blog - they Amazon's aren't friendly and here's Caroline struggling womanfully with them while saying "Let me go!" a lot...


  15. The Thing From Another World (1951) - a real cracker. The prototype 'trapped in a small set with a relentless killer-thing' that spawned a thousand reworkings but was never bettered (okay, Alien). It clips along, has some crackingly fast-paced, credible dialogue, a story that almost makes sense and doesn't outstay its welcome. It also contains one of the great lines of SF movie dialogue:

    An intellectual carrot... the mind boggles!
  16. The 6th Day (2001) - A Science Fiction Action Thriller which turned out to be not as awful as I was expecting - by a long chalk. The science fiction side of it was pretty well thought out - though the action side of it was pretty much by the numbers. A few of the jokes worked too. Not great, but does more than it says on the tin.

  17. The Dark Knight (2006) - One of the better quids I have spent at a car boot sale recently.

  18. Toto le héros (1991) - I seem to be rewatching a lot of stuff this month. Toto le héros is an odd dislocated movie which never really decides what it wants to be but is satisfying through whichever set of genre watching goggles you choose to wear. It's humorous, mysterious, funny, romantic (albeit incestuously) but above all very French.

  19. Faeries (1999) - a weird mishmash of CGI, model work and crappy Saturday morning cartoon style 2D animation with some major talent in the voice cast (Kate Winslet, Jeremy Irons, Dougray Scott!?). Written by someone whose biggest claim to fame must be that she was a "creative consultant" on Fraggle Rock, and directed by someone who once had a job as an inbetween artist on SuperTed. Not unwatchable - but as close as I ever want to get. The kids seemed to enjoy it.

  20. Attack of the 50ft Woman (1993) - Daryl Hannah remake. Somewhat underwhelming but a couple of nice lines - one of which I fully intend to work into the next script I write.

  21. Destination Moon (1950) - and

  22. Project Moonbase(1953) - in one evening. In less than two and a half hours I watch Robert Heinlein's complete output as a screenwriter. As a screenwriter he makes a good novelist.

  23. Young Einstein ( 1988 ) - one of my 'Top Ten Favourite Moves Not Many Other People Has Ever Heard Of'.

  24. Orlando ( 1992 ) - My umpteenth watching and I love it more every time I see it.

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