Saturday, April 22, 2017

General Election '17 Thoughts

When I heard about the snap election, I felt very much like the first lady in this clip, bless 'er:
Now I've calmed down a bit, I've had a think about what to do.

Theresa May has been very shrewd calling an election at a time when the opposition is weak and largely ineffective. I admire Corbyn a lot for his principles, but I think it's a pretty long shot that he'll become PM. The Tories know this and hope that a victory in June will cement their position of power.

I don't think all Tories are evil. I am sure that many are hardworking decent people who care deeply about their constituents, but it is the leadership that bothers me. There appears to be a callousness and indifference to 'ordinary people' about them – and I believe this will only worsen as Brexit becomes more of a reality.

So, what am I going to do about it?

Well, just because my bet is that May will still probably keep her job doesn't mean I shouldn't do something to fight against our Tory overlords.

Firstly, I'm supporting More United, a political movement that supports progressive MPs (whatever the party) and then I've decided to join Plaid Cymru. I think post-Brexit Wales will be worse off than the rest of the UK and believe that only Plaid will fight for Welsh interests in Westminster.

Alongside that, I think it's time we started thinking seriously about Welsh Independence (Windependence, if you will), and Plaid is the one party that is open to the idea. If Scotland can seriously contemplate it, and if other, smaller countries can survive as nation states than I think maybe it's time for Wales to take steps. After all, I don't think we've got much to lose.

If, like me, you've felt a bit paralysed by ineffective politics of late – try not to be. Do something practical to try and make our political landscape better (otherwise nothing will change).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What dreams may come

The word 'Dream' is a funny word.

This occured to me after watching Spielberg's film adaptation of the BFG. The titular giant has taken it upon himself to gives children nice dreams by blowing them into their bedroom through the window at night.

There's a lot of talk about wonderful dreams (flying, eating ice cream, meeting the queen, going into space etc.) but here's the thing: I can't really relate to this as I don't think I've had that many 'nice' dreams in my life. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I spend every night enduring endless nightmares. Most of the dreams I can remember have been largely anxiety-driven and cover such scenarios as: sitting an exam, being naked in public, going to toilet in public, arguing with people I'm angry at, missing a plane/bus/boat, being late for an interview/important meeting ... the list is pretty endless. To top off the list, I've frequently dreamed about the end of the world which usually entails a nuclear armageddon or cataclysmic tsunami.

Not much fun, eh?

If I'm not dreaming about tomorrow's presentation or money woes, I'll be dreaming in surreal locations and narratives that make no sense. I had a dream last night that involved some friends, guinea pigs, the next door neighbour, a church, a restaurant and some sense of where I used to live when I was younger. Trying to actually describe the dream as a story and what it was about would be pretty hard. 

Of course, this may just be a symptom of being a grown up. As young children, we don't generally have the pressures and responsibilities of raising a family or paying the bills. Maybe the innocence of childhood affords more pleasant nighttime dreaming but by the time we're grown up we've mostly forgotten them and moved on to weird stuff.

People talk about their 'dreams coming true', wanting the 'home of their dreams' or 'living the dream' but if I took those phrases literally I'd be stressing about my mum's old 2CV that was slowly melting in front of my eyes, sitting in a building with no roof or running away from an expanding mushroom cloud.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting into the Carmarthen Film Festival

I was recently informed that the short film I wrote and directed has made it into the Carmarthen Bay Film Festival. Woohoo!

We have submitted to a number of other festivals but not had any luck until now, so it was a nice surprise to learn that we have been nominated for two categories: No Budget Short and Short Film Made in Wales 2017.

Myself and the other producers have pondered over our apparent lack of success with our other submissions and concluded that it all comes down to that good old fashioned staple of consumerism: Money.

Put simply, filmmaking is expensive. It costs money to do, or at least if you want to do it at a certain level you need dosh. We didn't have any money for Refuge – well, a few hundred quid at most – so it was very much a low/zero budget short. If you've watched a short on the internet and it has high production values, chances are it really did have high production values. Many of the festivals we entered were fairly big international affairs and no doubt bigger budget productions entered them to get lots of good exposure.

I'm not begrudging these other filmmakers – good luck to them, I say – but I'm annoyed we went through the expensive process of approaching festivals when we were up against the big guns and had very little chance of getting anywhere.

Still, we got into a festival and that was the very least I was hoping for. If we win, that will be an even bigger bonus.

But I won't hold my breath.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My New Favourite TV Show

Now that we have good old Netflix, I have discovered The Expanse, which is now into Season 2 (although Season 1 is only streaming at the moment).

Based on the novels by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse is set in the far future where humanity is in full swing colonising the solar system (predominantly Mars and the Asteroid belt).

Similar to Game of Thrones (or so I'm told – I've not seen GoT), it is full of political intrigue stemming from the tensions that have arisen between Earth, Mars and the Asteroid belt (Belters). A full-scale war is brewing and it seems that work is going on behind the scenes to orchestrate the conflict with some sinister motive.

The show follows three threads: the work of a troubled Belter detective on the trail of a rich girl who's gone missing in outer space; the political dealings of a UN diplomat on Earth; and the fate of the surviving crew of a haulage ship mysteriously attacked and destroyed mid-flight. All of these threads aren't entirely unconnected and as the season goes on they start coming together.

Deeply serious, there's very little humour unlike, say, Firefly – which no doubt had some inspiration for the series – and visually it's all quite dark and gloomy. The creators have gone for a 'realistic' approach, with spaceships manoevering defly using multiple booster jets and artificial gravity generated via forward thrust rather than magical 'grav plates' or something (the only artistic licence is the addition of sound effects in outer space - one thing that always niggles me).

I'm looking forward to see what happens in Season 2 as it's been a bit of a slow burn establishing the universe, introducing characters and slowly revealing the background politics. I think, though, things are about to get very interesting.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Would you pay to have a bad time?

Back when I was a student, me and my housemate accompanied a friend to the West End. She had to watch a play for her course and didn't want to go alone so we tagged along. The only actor I remember being in it was the guy who played Tinker in the Lovejoy BBC TV series (Dudley Sutton - thanks IMDB!).

To put it bluntly, the play was terrible. I don't remember much about it, except it involved copious amounts of swearing and unfunny jokes. We were the only ones in the audience (I think) apart from a group of Americans sitting toward the front inexplicably laughing their heads off.

During the interval, we all agreed how awful it was and contemplated going home but wanted to give the production another chance.

How many times have people given something 'another chance' and been pleasantly surprised? Not very often is my guess.

True enough, we entered the second half and within minutes realised our folly.

We eventually decided to leg it. Easy to do in a mostly-empty auditorium, but also highly conspicuous. I felt awful for the actors who must have noticed our hasty departure, but we couldn't handle it any more and it was time to get away as quickly as possible and go for a pint.

This leads me to the title of this post. After our West End experience we came to the conclusion that it's better to cut and run rather than endure something painful or unpleasant. I understand that sometimes people want to see something through to its conclusion, but really if it's that bad you're effectively paying to have a bad time – and that's ridiculous.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (March)

#13 John Carter (2012)
A confusing plot and dubious special effects let down this epic sci-fi yarn, which had so much potential. Even with its impressive sets, lavish costumes and copious CGI it doesn't look like a $250 million film. Not a terrible movie by any means - but not a great one either.

#14 Norm of the North (2016)
A bear with the ability to talk to humans attempts to stop an evil real estate company building new houses in the unspoiled arctic. If Pixar had had anything to do with this animation it could have been great but they didn't, so it isn't.

#15 World War Z (2013)
Any Hollywood blockbuster that gives Cardiff a mention (several times!) is alright in my book, and this Brad Pitt zombie disaster movie does just that. Surprisingly little blood flows in this competent thriller that sees Pitt traversing the globe to stop the virus. A somewhat muted final act slows the pace a bit, but it's all in the name of setting up the sequel. Monstrous fun.

#16 Bicentennial Man (1999)
The late, great Robin Williams is perfect casting as the titular household service doid who becomes self-aware and desires to live (and ultimately die) as a human being. Ponderous and philosophical, Williams' zany comic sensibilities are not used to their full potential, but there is still pretty of comedy among the touching moments. Whilst complete as a story it still feels, however, like something is missing from what could be a more epic tale.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Book #2: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

If the Moon suddenly exploded and threatened planet Earth with billions of meteorites that could wipe out the human race, what would we do?

This is the premise set forth by Neal Stephenson in his excellent novel, Seveneves, a hefty tome of 860 pages that charts humanity's race for survival when Earth's ancient satellite disintegrates.

Without dwelling on the reason behind the Moon's destruction, Stephenson instead focuses on the aftermath. The book is divided into three acts: the global effort to preserve the human race by using the International Space Station as a form of Noah's Ark, the post-apocalypse settling of the surviving community (and all the political / cultural sheananigans that inevitably arises), the period of resettling Earth thousands of years in the future.

Expertly written with some gripping scenes, Stephenson explores the doomsday scenario well and has a good understanding of human nature. Whilst it's no surprise that in the book the whole of humanity pulls together to give life on earth a chance of survival (not just humans, every plant and creature too), the subsequent cracks that appear in society are all-too familiar. That's what creates the drama, I guess. A novel about everyone being nice to each other and getting along spiffingly in the face of impending disaster probably doesn't make a great story. There is political intrigue and conflicts aplenty along the way, all while the remnants of earth are trying to survive in the unforgivingly harsh vacuum of outer space.

Stephenson doesn't shy away from explaining a lot of technical and scientific stuff. This sometimes bogs the pace of the narrative down a bit, though. I'm not great when it comes to complicated descriptions or explanations and when I was struggling trying to imagine how a piece of future tech works, for example, I became easily distracted and lost my grasp on the story. It does, however, feel kind of necessary given the nature of what happens in the book, so I'll just have to submit to cleverer people than me.

The novel feels somewhat uneven as the first two acts take place one after the other (in the same era) and then we jump forward several millennia to see humanity's efforts to resettle their former homeworld. The latter section feels somewhat rushed as there doesn't seem enough space to flesh things out, but this is a minor issue really. It makes sense, but I could see this story being better told as a trilogy where book one tells the story of the building of the ark, book two tells the story of the descendants living in space and book three tells of their return to Earth.

One other slight niggle is the main catalyst for the story. Namely, the demise of the Moon and it's effect on the planet it once orbited: trillions of small meteorites slamming into the atmosphere resulting in earth being burned to a crisp (called the 'hard rain'). The book talks about this happening for a thousand years or so and I find it hard to believe that there are enough 'bits' of the Moon to rain down continuously for such a long time (given that the Moon is about a quarter the size of Earth), but I may have gotten that bit wrong. Also, the fact that no reason is give for the Moon's destruction is a bit unsatisfying.

This is an epic novel (although could have been even more epic given the scope of the story), thoroughly enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend.