Friday, 26 July 2013

On 26.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , , , , ,    No comments
Hi there, hello, good afternoon.

I’ve recently finished my second year of university. It would be a cliché to say it’s gone quickly, and, indeed, would be untrue. It feels like two years since I started, and it has been two years. It’s good to know I have an accurate perception of time. In what will both feel like and actually be one year from now, I’ll be graduating with a BSc in Film and Television Production and hopefully with some career prospects.

Ah, career. That’s a thing. Luckily, I’m the kind of person who hates having nothing to do and so have been building up experience over the summer. University has helped me realise that writing for and about film and TV is what I want to do. Next week I start the first part of an internship at Starburst Magazine (check them out - they're a very useful source of genre news, and some of it is written by me), then I’m off to swan around London while doing some work for VHA Literary Agents, and then, after a brief holiday, I’ll be back at Starburst for another two weeks.

In what time I have left, I’m working on some of my own projects, so thought I’d update the blog by shamelessly plugging some of the things I’ve been working on.

My second year film, Gynoid, is currently being sent out to festivals. Which is cool. Hopefully, it'll have some screenings late this year and people will see it and like it and give me rewards.

I’m currently Head of Presentation at YSTV, and am helping write a Thick Of It-style sitcom entitled Union. It's set in a student union and should be a lot of fun, as long as my student union doesn't take offence. Look out for that to hit the web-waves late this year.

I’m also co-writing a play. It’s called Doctor in Distress and is inspired by the classic charity single (see below). The play explores what it means to be a Doctor Who fan, faded stardom, and just how stupid the Colin Baker era was. I've never written a play before and it's been a fun, Baileys-fuelled, and interesting experience, with different challenges than writing for the screen - fitting all the action onto one set, for example. We’re looking into routes to have it produced, so look out for this, as long as Colin Baker doesn't take offence.

And, finally, as I mentioned earlier this week, I've started a graphic novel for Camp NaNoWriMo. It's called Reich and probably won’t get finished.

Oh yeah, and I may start work on a script for my third year film sometime soon. I really do have an annoying habit of making myself busy.

Hopefully, at least one of these projects will be successful and I'll have a good life ahead of me. Thinking about the future is scary. I have no idea where I'll end up a year from now. But who does?

Thursday, 25 July 2013

I watched two science fiction comedies yesterday: The World’s End and Space Truckers. Well, I hope Space Truckers was meant to be a comedy.

The World's End, the third in Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Cornettos’ trilogy, doesn't quite live up to the masterpiece that is Shaun of the Dead, but nonetheless is, as expected, hilarious, clever, and absorbing throughout. A group of old school friends get back together to recreate the pub crawl of their youth, but find something very wrong with the residents of Newton Haven. Riffing on the sci-fi genre, there’s a great Bodysnatchers-esque vibe with a slew of references – I’ll have to watch it again to get the ones I inevitably missed – and a strong satirical bite about the ‘Starbucking’ of British pubs, towns, and, here, people.

What I love about the Cornetto trilogy is that Wright's films don't let the parody get in the way of the genre being parodied, nor do they let this get in the way of engaging characters. Compare The World's End with Spaceballs – Mel Brooks' film is a brilliant comedy, but not a very good science fiction film, and the characters are (deliberately) cliché. The World's End, however, excels in all these respects. As we watch Simon Pegg’s Gary King struggle to come to terms with how his friends have all grown up, it’s hard not to root for this immature hedonist, and Nick Frost plays the straight man to him particularly well. Three more great actors – Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan – make up the rest of the gang, and the way all these characters are changed by their adventure is a joy to watch.

I have to say I love the 90s music, particularly the use of Primal Scream's Loaded (which features a soundbite from Corman's The Wild Angels... references within references). It isn’t perfect: while not wanting to spoil the plot, the ending is a bit... iffy. And the set-up/payoff gag structure doesn’t work quite as neatly as in Shaun of the Dead.

But, all in all, The World's End is a remarkable film.

As is Space Truckers.

Space Truckers is a gaudily coloured attempt at sci-fi, with an Alien meets Yellow Submarine meets Big Mutha Truckers visual style. A despairing Dennis Hopper is one such trucker, ferrying square pigs and floating beer around space... but there's something very wrong with his latest cargo. While there are redeeming features – the villainous robots are surprisingly not shabby, and there’s a great bit where Dennis kills one with a microwave – the film is guilty of some of the worst scenes in all of science fiction. While Dennis is out fixing the ship, his two young crew members realise it’s suddenly and inexplicably become very hot inside and, in a scene which momentarily made me think I'd accidentally started watching softcore porn, strip to their underwear, which they remain in for the rest of the film. Words can’t describe how horribly poor this scene is. It’s as if the screenwriter realised his work was shit and so hastily added more nudity. At least, as both the man and the woman remain undressed, we can't accuse the film of sexism. And, I hear you say, at least Dennis Hopper doesn't take his trousers off too, does he? Well, yes. Yes, he does. But that’s not the worst of it…

The real star of the show is Charles Dance, as a cyborg space pirate who very nearly could have been a well-designed villain. This potential is entirely ruined in the best sex scene ever, in which he reveals that his penis needs to be cranked up with a lawnmower-style cord. No, really. With the classic line “If I had an anus, I’d probably soil myself”, it’s a role Nicolas Cage would have been ashamed to take.

Other stupid things: the way the heroine somehow successfully disguises herself as the pirate by just putting his coat and hat on, Dennis Hopper’s rather undeserved and deus ex machina love interest, the exploding suitcase, the fact that the space pirates didn’t have a parrot, the square pigs. Actually, maybe the square pigs were cool.

To be honest, I really enjoyed it.

But seriously, go see The World’s End.

Monday, 22 July 2013

On 22.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

One of my aims for this summer, as part of Camp NaNoWriMo, was to write a graphic novel. How’s it going? Well, I, uh, started it. You may say that we’re more than three weeks into July and so I should have written more than the first chapter and a half, but I’d respond to your criticism with… yeah, you’re right. I’ve been hindered by other projects, by this painful heatwave (I’m a Northerner, I really can’t be productive when it’s hot), and by general procrastination.

Nevertheless, I have got a detailed story planned for Reich, which will one day be my magnum opus. I won’t spoil too much, but it includes Nazis, the Colosseum, space battleships, and a mysterious character who, importantly, doesn’t look like Alan Rickman. That all makes sense in context. One of the main themes in Reich, however, is the surveillance society, and it is this which prompted me to read V for Vendetta, one of the classics of the comic book form, for inspiration.

I’ve only seen the film adaptation before, but am a fan of Alan Moore’s other works, and V for Vendetta didn’t disappoint. Set in a near-future Britain in which a ruthless fascist government have taken control after a nuclear war, it follows a mysterious anarchist ‘terrorist’ named V, and Evey Hammond, the girl drawn into his scheme. It’s a complex and intelligent commentary on the fascist state, drawing on 1980s fears of what Thatcherism could have become.

Describing the England of 1988, Alan Moore says in the introduction: “My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against.”

The England of V for Vendetta is a dark and gripping extrapolation of this, one which draws comparisons to Nazi Germany. The book really does show off masterful world-building, not only through the inter-connected stories of the impoverished and paranoid, but also through its moody colour palette and its rich background details. “Strength Through Unity” posters line the walls, while a cabaret singer performs a propagandic ode to jackbooted soldiers. All of this comes together to create a powerful sense of oppression, allowing the reader to really be drawn into V’s Guy Fawkes-inspired quest for revenge, despite his questionable methods.

Alan Moore is known for taking against adaptations of his work, and I have to say I agree with his criticisms that the film is, compared to the book, muddled in its political themes. While the book explores what could have happened to Thatcher's Britain, the film is a commentary on Bush-era American politics, yet still set in England – V‘s anarchism is watered down in favour of a liberalist/neo-conservative conflict. While I can understand the reasoning for updating the politics, the film lacks the strength of political mind that the book holds.

What also struck me is the fact that the book is a lot less clear-cut than the film, which, due to short running time, isn’t able to develop many of the government characters beyond mere villains. The antagonists of the book are much more complex figures, all with their own motivations, desires, and prejudices, each affected by the plot in various ways, and each have their own fascinating stories.


The only element where the film wins out is that it has a more dramatically powerful ending. I was surprised that the scene in which thousands of people in V masks march on the exploding Houses of Parliament isn’t actually in the book. I quite like this ending – it’s a neat conclusion to V’s quest to incite people to, like him, rise up against the state, bolstering the statement that V is not a man but an idea. The book’s ending, in which V’s vigil takes him to Downing Street and only Evey becomes the new V, is less climactic. The target of Downing Street, which hasn’t been mentioned yet in the story, seems arbitrary. I’m not even sure what was meant to be there. If this is where the leader lives, then it doesn’t matter, because he and his possible successors have already been killed. If this is where Fate is, then that doesn’t matter either, because of the reveal that it was on V’s side. So it’s all a bit pointless.

Ah, well. V for Vendetta, while it doesn’t reach the pinnacle of Watchmen, is an important, powerfully charged work that is a testament to what the long form comic book can achieve.

I should probably get back to writing mine now.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

On 20.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

I've reviewed the Blu-ray release of Darren Aronofsky's Pi for Starburst. I really wish I'd liked it less, so I could give it 3.14 stars.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

On 17.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , , , , , ,    No comments
Things I’ve watched on TV this week:

  • Luther – London is a worn-down, crime-ridden, and dangerous city. Idris Elba’s on the case.
  • Run – London is a worn-down, crime-ridden, and dangerous city. Olivia Colman is sad about this.
  • Attack the Block – London is a worn-down, crime-ridden, and dangerous city. More so when invaded by aliens.
  • Pointless – Game show in which Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman quiz contestants on obscure trivia.

There are two main things I’ll take from this viewing. Firstly, an increased paranoia about my upcoming work placement in London. Secondly – Attack the Block is an excellent film.

The directing debut of comedian Joe Cornish, Attack the Block follows a gang of rough youths – the kind of kids you cross the street to get away from, the kind of kids who never acted like this back in your gran’s day – as they defend their housing estate from gorilla monsters which fall from outer space.

I was really expecting to have a problem with liking these characters. Indeed, when the film started with them violently mugging innocent Sam (Jodie Whittaker), I wasn’t optimistic. But it’s a remarkable testament to the script that, as the film went on, I found myself having fun watching them. Through the fight against the aliens, the leader of the pack, Moses (John Boyega), starts to understand the damage he causes to those around him and learns to become a better person. It’s a very nicely handled shift in character, leading to a great climax in which it’s hard not to support him; he apologises to his former victim and gives back the stolen goods, before heroically putting his life on the line to save the block. I was, however, waiting for a moment in which the gang’s initial need to turn to violent crime was explained, meaning that the potential to change had always been inert within them, but this moment never came – I do think working such a scene into the redemption story could elevate the film from 4 to 5 stars. Nevertheless, the gang did really grow on me, the character arc hits all the right notes, and, the film manages to criticise violent youth culture without ever feeling nasty or spiteful in tone.

This strong core story is made a joy to watch by the film’s sharp sense of humour. There are a number of set-up and payoff gags reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, my favourite being when posh student Brewis (Luke Treadaway) decides to “get the next one” when the gang enter a lift ahead of him; he later makes the same decision when the lift opens to reveal an armed, blood-soaked gangster standing atop the bodies of his two cronies and an alien gorilla monster. Brewis is just one of a vibrant cast of supporting characters, making light fun of many contemporary stereotypes – also including down-on-her-luck nurse Sam, who defends herself with a guitar, and a brilliant appearance from Nick Frost as a chummy drug dealer. The interactions drawn from bunching all these characters together and dumping aliens on them are hilarious. My favourite line, when Sam assumes the boys’ need for shelter stems from gang issues – “This ain’t got nothin’ to do with gangs. Or drugs, or rap music, or violence in video games.” 

The laughs may not be as frequent as Shaun of the Dead, but Attack the Block definitely has a knowing satirical edge, which, as well as the well-directed action, makes it a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema. Firmly grounded both in science fiction and in the real world, it’s a film that uses its genre elements brilliantly to explore the nature of gang culture and its victims, and to play on stereotypes, subvert them, and make seemingly unlovable youths into lovable characters. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

On 8.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
I had the house to myself yesterday (my parents had gone to some tennis thing), so held a wild party. The kind of wild party only the wildest wild child would hold. That’s right – I ate some Ben & Jerrys and watched Silent Running and Blade Runner. A double-bill of science fiction films that aren’t really about running. If I’d felt really hedonistic, I’d have upped the stakes and finished the night with Logan’s Run, but everyone has limits.

This was the first time I’d seen Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running, and, while my appreciation for it was undoubtedly overshadowed by my absolute love for Blade Runner (honestly, it’s the best film out of all the films), I did find it a really interesting piece of sci-fi cinema.

The central idea behind Silent Running is brilliant. With the Earth literally deflowered by years of war, the last forests in existence float through the cosmos in bio-domes atop giant United States space freighters. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a green-fingered astronaut assigned to tend one of these forests. When the order comes to abandon the mission, blow up the forests, and return home, Lowell chooses to ignore this and take his ship on the run, choosing a life alone in space with his forest and the three robot drones who maintain the ship. 

Watching this in a day when we’re constantly reminded we’re on the tipping point of global warming, it’s easy to sympathise with Lowell’s ideals, and it really is a nice concept for a politically relevant and dramatically powerful piece of science fiction. Lowell's love for the forests, which look beautiful, particularly the opening shots showing off the flora and fauna in close-up, easily transfers to the viewer.

Unfortunately, there are several problems. Firstly, the Joan Baez songs that reoccur are awful. But that’s a matter of opinion. Less arguable is that many aspects of the film are visually dated, particularly the costumes, which make the crew look more like Formula 1 drivers than astronauts, and, cute as they are, the drones, which have VCR flaps for mouths.

The biggest problem, however, is the script, which is sorely lacking in places. We’re never actually given a reason for the order to destroy the forests, which, to put it lightly, is an important twist in the tale. The interaction between the four astronauts at the beginning is clunky, as Lowell’s colleagues don’t have much personality beyond wanting to go home, and Lowell doesn’t have much to say other than his preaching, which can get a little in-your-face. Hippies, eh? 

Even more iffy is the unfortunate route Silent Running takes to get Lowell to his isolated state – he has to murder his fellow astronauts. It does seem that the filmmakers didn’t really want him to have to do this, as it doesn’t fit with the heroic and intelligent character the film needed, but there was no other way to set the scene, and this dodgy solution casts an unneeded dark shadow over the character for the rest of the film. Nevertheless, the scene in which he repents and breaks down as his victim’s body is buried does lend him some more sympathy, and by the end of the film, it’s hard to suppress sadness at his fate.

There've been many attempts at the 'alone in space' sub-genre of sci-fi, from the haunting Solaris and the profound 2001 to the gripping Moon via this oh-so-sad xkcd comic. Silent Running is not as refined as any of these, but it’s a noteworthy, entertaining, and ever-relevant attempt at eco -aware sci-fi. Also, I liked the bits with the rabbits.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

From the twisted mind that brought us Kill List and Sightseers, Ben Wheatley’s latest film, A Field in England, follows a group of English Civil War deserters as they walk around a field. Coming from Lancashire, I’ve seen a lot of fields, and the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in one was being intimidated by an inquisitive cow. Oh, and that time I saw some horses doing something I’d rather not see horses doing. But, this particular field being a field in a Ben Wheatley story, events soon become gruesomely heightened, as the deserters are forced into conflict with each other via a search for buried treasure and a dinner of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

This is, by far, Wheatley’s most experimental film yet. In black and white, with a restricted setting and a mix of archaic and familiar dialects, it’s a world like no other, a world open to interpretation. Wheatley uses surreal editing and camerawork to conjure up an engrossingly disturbing atmosphere. While A Field in England may be a little difficult to get into at first, don’t be put off – I found myself gripped once I started to get my head around this otherworldliness. The surreality comes to a climax when Reece Shearsmith’s Whitehead eats more than his fair share of mushrooms and the film starts to simulate his trip, distorting and mirroring its images, cutting back and forth at epileptic speeds and blasting the field with a vicious wind.

Though the real star of the film is Wheatley, Shearsmith is a perfect leading man, bringing a gothic feel to the role and lending his comedic talent to the script's morbid wit. I would have liked is a little more of this comedy, particularly towards the slow start of the film, when more laughs would have built more of an immediate connection to the characters and smoothed the fall into the bizarreness to come.

Because of its abundance of this very wit, Sightseers remains the Ben Wheatley film I've liked most, but A Field In England isn't one I'll forget any time soon. It’s one that, even if I didn't love every moment on screen, will stand up to, and be improved by, rewatches. A vividly bizarre, macabre, and complex film.

Another interesting point of discussion regarding A Field in England is the distribution strategy; on the same day, it was released in cinemas, on DVD, and screened on Film4. I’ll be looking out for reports on how this has gone, but I don’t imagine the cinema ticket sales will have suffered much from what they would have been otherwise. We’re living in a world of increasing consumer choice – if you don’t want to pay to go to the cinema, you can watch a film on TV, download one from Netflix, or – shock, horror – pirate the film you would be seeing in the cinema. A Field in England is an interesting experiment in distributors offering the choice, upon release, of different legal viewing experiences – perhaps a strategy that will combat the issue of piracy, definitely a strategy that will get more people watching new films. I can imagine a lot more films being released this way in the future, though maybe going into people’s homes through pay-per-view services rather than scheduled TV screenings. However those staying at home choose to watch films, though, there will always be those willing to pay for the cinematic experience. It ain’t going anywhere.