Some Oscar Thoughts


…now that I’ve had a bit of time to think about it.

1. Slumdog absolutely deserved every award. Rewarding Danny Boyle’s style of lean, sharp film-making is a very good move, and the smartest thing Oscar’s done in quite a while. That being said, typically the award did not go to his best movie. If you want to know what I’m talking about, set your plusbox to BBC1 at 11:25 tonight.

2. Actually, the other big Brit victory of the night also won for work that will not be remembered as her best. I mean, seriously, why Kate Winslet should get the Golden Dwarf for The Reader instead of Little Children is beyond me.

3. This seems be be pretty symptomatic of the Oscar selection process as a whole, though. Witness Sean Penn’s Best Actor nod for Harvey Milk. This matches the preference of the committee for roles that are either impersonations or, if you’ll excuse the Tropic Thunderism, “half-retard.” This year seems to be better than past events. For example, the 2005 awards featured three biopic roles, with Philip Seymour Hoffman winning for his portrayal of Truman Capote. Even so, two impersonations out of five this year.

4. And I’ll get shit for saying this, but Heath Ledger’s posthumous award may have been deserved, but to my mind he was better in Brokeback Mountain. Oscar once again rewards the right person for the wrong role. Good to see a superhero movie getting a thumbs-up in something other than a technical award, though.

5. And don’t get me started on the whole Best Animated Film gulag, either. Wall-E had a ton more invention, heart and sheer joy than Benjamin Button or The Reader. Or Milk. Or Frost/Nixon.

6. In other words, business as usual at the Oscars this year. Hugh Jackman looks like he might have a gig for life, though. Much to Jon Stewart’s discomfort…


A Waste Of Time?

hollywontI spent a pleasant, calm Sunday finishing off Code Grey, the short Super 8 film I directed earlier in the year. Audio, titles and the all-important final shot that didn’t make the original cut are all in place, and there are DVDs in my bag, ready to go off to 8mm festivals in Cambridge and Hungary.

I’m well ahead of the curve according to some people. A survey quoted in the BECTU journal “Stage, Sound and Screen” from the UK Film Council has stated that well over half of the low-to-no budget films listed as being in production in this country never get completed, and of those that do, an even smaller percentage get any kind of distribution deal, let alone make any money back. With this in mind, the idea of working for deferred payment becomes something of a sick joke. If the film you’re working on is never likely to make any money, then neither are you.

The issue of health and safety also gets a mention. Or rather, the lack of it on set does. Low-to-no works because the film-makers use a stripped down crew, often comprised of enthusiastic amateurs or students, and shoot in a hurry. There will be no dedicated health and safety officer on set, and often no-one with any idea of what to do if there was an accident.

The conclusion reached by the BECTU scribes was that this kind of film-making is a dangerous and expensive waste of time, which exploits the crew and serves no decent artistic purpose.
Which is fair comment in a lot of cases. Sturgeon’s Law applies more accurately to films than anything else.

To relate this argument back to my own experience, there was a crew of nine on Code Grey, and no proper safety officer. But we were in a controlled area. I did a safety talk before we started, and I made damned sure my crew was working safely at all times. No-one got paid, but that was expressly set out at the start. Everyone was fed and watered, and the biggest chunk of the budget was parking for the DOPs estate car.

There is an absolutely valid point to be made about this part of the market having it’s risks, but then the film business was and remains a home to hustlers, crooks and idiots. If a kid that wants to make movies can gain experience through being on low-to-no sets, then that should be encouraged, even if the lesson learned from that experience is that you swear never work on a set like that again.

This sector of the market isn’t going away, and it’s frequently the first step on the ladder for a lot of talented film-makers. The desire to get out there and make something regardless of the technical limitations should me applauded. It’s how acclaimed directors like Shane Meadows and Robert Rodriguez got their start. If this one’s rubbish, so what. Try again. Next time, do better. Learn from your mistakes, but above all, learn.

Code Grey is my third film shot on super 8, and it’s infinitely better than my first. See, I’m taking my own advice.

No Solace


Michael Gillette's brilliant covers for Penguin's new release of the Bond stories. Click on the pic for more...

Christmas party season is upon us, and mine was last Thursday. Not doing Friday, thanks, the potential for alcoholic disaster is waaay too high. The company I work for has been heavily involved in the Bond film this year, so of course the party was Bond themed. Kudos to the girl who dressed up as Blofeld’s cat. She must have been roasting in all that white fur.

There was a casino, a singer doing her best Shirley Bassey (very good, incidentally) and a fine time was had by all. Vodka martinis were conspicuous by their absence, but then things can get messy enough with the crowd I work with if you just feed them beer and wine, so probably best avoided.
This, with a clunk and a screech of thematic gears, leads me onto the real point of the post – the most recent Bond film. I’ve been a fan of Bond for as long as I can remember. I still remember going as a family to see The Spy Who Loved Me, and feeling strangely squirmy at the sight of Barbara Bach (I was 10) and every Bond since has been a big deal for me.
So to see all the invention and daring of Casino Royale wiped away in favour of a lumpen, dour Bourne rip off sticks in the craw for me. The direction was confused at best, being frenetically paced and yet painfully slow. The editing was done by a ten year old after four bags of Haribo Starmix. I didn’t have a problem with the characters. I always thought Daniel Craig was a brave and clever choice as Bond, my feelings for Judi Dench approach those I have for Helen Mirren, and I’ve been a fan of Matthieu Almaric for ages.

However, the two most interesting characters were badly wasted. Felix Leiter, caught in the jaws of his governments corrupt foreign policy, should have been the moral heart of the film. Jeffrey Wright could have nailed that. Instead, he was barely a B-plot.
The biggest crime was that committed on Gemma Artertons character, Agent Fields. Her Schoolmarm Gone Wild demeanour woke the film up and gave it a shake and a snog just when it was needed the most.

To see her killed off in the most cynical nod to Bond history I’ve ever seen, offscreen and utterly pointlessly,  left a very nasty taste. Even the mystery of her first name was only resolved in the credits. I can only assume that her role was cut down to trim the already short duration of the movie. It’s a real shame. She, and the audience, deserved better.
I felt a bit cheated, frankly. I’m certainly no stick-in-the-mud about what should and should not be part of the story (really, don’t get me started on the whole idea of canon) but at what point was it decided that Bond films couldn’t be fun any more?

I felt utterly deflated as I left the cinema, in the same way as I felt after walking out of the third Bourne movie. That was a good idea run into the ground. This was a pointless sweeping up and recycling of the remains. Bond films should be better than that, carving their own path, fantasies in their way, cruel but always with an ending that made you felt that the villain had been defeated, and there was one last rotten pun to come before the credits rolled.
I’ll be watching Goldfinger this Christmas Day. Now there’s a Bond movie.

scans_daily: Star Wars Tales

I seem to be bumping into a Wired interview with Leland Chee at Lucasfilm in my feeds an awful lot today.

Leland is the keeper of the Star Wars archive, and the man with all the information on the ever-expanding SW universe at his fingertips – or more accurately, on a massive Filemaker database called the Holocron, after a Jedi data-storage device.

More importantly, he’s the guy that decides what is and isn’t canon in that universe. Subject to a George Lucas brainfart, of course.

Which makes the discovery of this little gem on LJ so frakkin’ sweeet. Totally uncanon, hugely funny. Star Wars humour can often be clunky at best and downright juvenile at times, so it’s a joy to run up against this strip, which manages to be hilarious, elegantly written and subtly satiric.

Which, much as I hate to say it as a loooong time SW geek, is not praise you can often aim at the franchise itself…

Designing the Death Star, a task loaded with pitfalls...
via Sore Eyes.

A Momentary Escape From A Non-existent Summer

I spent the morning sweeping up leaves and digging up spuds from our dreadfully neglected vegetable patch, in weather chilly and wet enough to need a hoody. This is autumnal activity. It’s early September, and I’ve seen no decent sun this year at all. I’ll take any escape from this seemingly endless dull grey procession of dark, dismal days.

(Regular readers may recall me griping in similar fashion this time last year.)

Which was why I was so drawn to Julien Bocabeille’s Oktapodi. A sharp, bold little tale of octopi in love, I enjoyed the beautiful blues and bright sun of the Grecian setting as much as the story and animation. And it is very funny and well made.

(Via /film.)

Hoody Horror


I was chatting to my good buddy and fellow-traveller Clive the other night about his reaction to this year’s Frightfest. One film he picked out for particular opprobrium was Eden Lake, a Brit horror where the enemy are a gang of twelve-year-old boys.

The phrase he used was “Daily Mail horror.”

It’s starting to look like feral children will be the next big thing in horror. Apart from Eden Lake, Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers has just appeared in cinemas, which owes a fair debt to French shocker Them.

One thing all three share is a strong connection to exploitation cinema. Both The Strangers and Them claim to be “based on true events”. Based is a very loose term, and any claim that either film is a true representation of society today (which is something The Fail will jump all over, hence Clive’s displeasure) should be laughed and pointed at until it picks up it’s ball and goes home in a huff. Exploitation cinema has always taken the easy path to getting people into the picturehouse – grab a headline or two, wrap it in a hysterical plotline and get it out fast. This time next year there’ll be a spate of child abduction horrors, and of course again the papers will carry on the symbiotic relationship, and we’ll be told that this is a symptom of a sick and collapsing society.

Just like the hippies and bikers in the sixties, the teddy boys in the 50s, the jazzers in the 30s, gangsters in the 20s, and so on and so forth. We always fear that which we cannot understand, and that’s what crappy papers like the Daily Fail, and crappy horrors like Eden Lake are counting on in the quest for a fast profit.

What bothers me more is the appearance of Thomas Turgoose, who’s been a revelation in Shane Meadow’s This Is England and the new Somers Town. Both these films are a purer and more accurate representation of British youth than any number of cheap exploitationers or hysterical op-eds. Having him and the wonderful Kelly Reilly in the cast give the film a gravitas that it doesn’t really deserve.

As a horror film, it works just fine. As an indictment of British youth, it’s up there with Village of The Damned in the realism stakes.