Sunday, April 30, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (April)

April's been a bumper month for my movie watching, it seems. This is partly because I've discovered documentaries on Netflix, which I don't mind watching in chunks. Maybe also April is a pretty long month...?

#17 Back In Time (2015)
Released on the 30th anniversary of Back to The Future, Back In Time features interviews with the cast and creators of the much-loved 'greatest time travel movie ever'. Some interesting and fascinating snippets from those who made the film, punctuated by stories from the many fans who have kept the BTTF flame alive. Notable omissions are Biff's Thomas F Wilson (not sure why) and George's Crispin Glover (for obvious reasons).

#18 The BFG (2016)
Spielberg's filmmaking craft is the perfect match to Dahl's storytelling in this faithful adaptation of the much-loved children's classic. Mark Rylance (BFG) and Ruby Barnhill (Sophie) have an excellent chemistry, in spite of the CGI wizardry.

#19 Ghostbusters (2016)
The hateful backlash against this reboot was unnecessary and unjustified. Sure, it pales into comparison to the original movies, but it has a lot of heart and plenty of funny moments. The cameos and constant references to the source material dilute the film as a whole, preventing it from being a decent film in its own right (the best way to do reboots, in my opinion). This is as close to Ghostbusters 3 as we'll ever get, so worth a watch.

#20 Dreams of a Life (2011)
Joyce Vincent died alone in her North London flat in 2003 but wasn't discovered until over 2 years later - her fully decomposed corpse lying on the floor with the TV still playing. Why she was left for such a long time is explored in this documentary via interviews with friends and colleagues, shocked by Joyce's fate. Dreams of a Life builds up a picture of an enigmatic woman who never stayed in the same place and was apparently plagued by demons nobody could really fathom. A fascinating and heartbreaking film.

#21 Twelve Monkeys (1995)
I last saw this at the cinema on its original release and it's aged well. Bruce Willis is on top form as the hero sent back in time to gather information about a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity. One of Terry Gilliam's most mainstream successes, this time travel tale is full of Gilliam's trademark production design and quirkiness but it manages to keep things on track without being too weird. Good to watch again.

#22 Boss Baby (2017)
Potentially a painful ninety minutes, Boss Baby is actually quite a sweet film that centres around the main character's angst of having a new sibling join the family. It has moments of weirdness, it's true, and the drive of the story is slightly questionable – but Alec Baldwin's performance lends a fair whack of credibility to this above average kid's film.

#23 Go With Me (2015)
A dark and moody thriller, Go With Me is a simple tale of revenge set in an Oregon logging town. Ray Liota is Blackway, the local ex-cop crime boss who threatens a new resident (Julia Stiles) after she escapes his advances. The sheriff prefers not to get involved, so she enlists the help of two loggers (Anthony Hopkins and Alexander Ludwig) who end up taking the law into their own hands to track down the elusive Blackway. Great performances all round and a satisfying ending to a very lean but effective story.

#24 What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Four vampires sharing a flat form the basis of this mockumentary from the creators of Flight of the Conchords. A mostly hilarious look at life for the undead in 21st century New Zealand, 'Shadows' is a fresh take on both modern horror and spoof genres with a quirky Kiwi spin. Lots of gruesome silliness.

#25 Eddie the Eagle (2015)
Biopic about Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards and his ski jumping antics at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Moving and funny, Taron Egerton is the spitting image of Edwards in mannerisms as well as looks. It's a shame they had to invent Hugh Jackman's character (and a lot of other plot points) for the sake of a Hollywood storyline, but at least the finale in Calgary is fairly true to the real thing. 

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.