Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Review of "Tony", (Gerald Johnson, 2009).

I think this film can be viewed in various ways, depending on the viewers state of mind as they go into it. It can be seen as a sad look at a pathetic failure's downward spiral in to a situation that i think everybody secretly dreads, even if they don't know it. Or it can be seen as a comical, sadistic character study - a close look at the life of a serial killer. Or it can be seen as an interesting look at an East End concrete jungle, and the colourful characters that combine to make it what it is, although it can be argued that there's not enough of a spectrum represented for this to be 100% accurate.

I watched it without expectation though. Somebody at work told me that they didn't think it was very good, but i bought it anyway and stuck it on at 2am with an open mind.

"Tony" is the story of a serial killer who isn't exactly a terrible person, but someone who has been on the dole for twenty years, never really had any friends, and has zero communication or social skills. People openly mock him and make him feel like a mug, (which he is). We don't really know if he is genuinely a kind person, or if that's just a ploy to lure victims into his home. I like to believe he's genuinely kind, as we see he invited the downstairs neighbour in for a drink, and she manages to leave. She's nice to him, so he doesn't kill her. He likes her.

The story isn't exactly high concept, but the lead actor, Peter Ferdinando, is fascinating to watch, and masters the role, making it a very interesting 72 minutes of film. Many of the other characters were a bit too obvious east end stereotype, and reminded me of a Lee Mack bit that i once saw, "So cockney it hurts".

I wasn't at all dissapointed with "Tony", in fact I found myself wishing it was a bit longer. Luckily the DVD included two short movies from the director, to keep me watching for a while longer. So i recommend this little gem to everybody. There were some gruesome moments (foot in the sink, cutting meat in the sink), if you're squeamish i recommend you don't watch this alone. It's a shame this film wasn't recieved more positively, it doesn't seem to have gotten the recognition i feel it deserved. I personally, hope to see more from Gerald Johnson in the future.

Story - 4/5
Characters - 4/5
Dialogue - 3/5
Duration - 3/5
Extras - 5/5
Overall - 4/5

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Picks Of The 60's

I may as well warn everybody now, the 60's was one of the best decades for war films, and my picks are probably going to represent that. So, if you're not a fan of the war genre, or war in general, then you're probably going to think my picks suck balls. I'm sorry if you're one of those people, because some of the best films ever created are films depicting war, and you are simply missing out. I'm a massive war fan though. It all started from a very young age, as it does with many people, with a primary school friend. Visiting his house, i became infected with the aviation bug. He introduced me to "Memphis Belle" and plastic model kits (they hung from his bedroom wall as though in combat), and that was it. I went to my first airshow when i was around 6, and i've continued to visit them when possible ever since. I could answer 9/10 questions in depth on the major air battles of the Second World War, and most questions on the ground battles from both the ETO and PTO. And yet, even after all these years, i'm still learning. A short story i'm currently working on is based on and around an Essex airfield during WW2. Anyway, i'm well off topic now. People who don't have much knowledge on WW2, shame on you. You couldn't go far wrong by watching many of the films i'm going to list, or by reading one of Stephen E. Ambrose's books.

The list itself was actually quite difficult to compile, as the 60's were just a very good year for movies. Some films deserve to be on the list, but didn't make it because of my love for war movies. Anyway, on with the show. Here are my favourite movies from the swinging 60's, in no particular order.

1. The Battle Of Britain (1969, Guy Hamilton).
2. Oliver (1968, Carol Reed).
3. The Longest day (1962, Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki).
4. The Great Escape (1963, John Sturges).
5. The Guns Of Navarone (1961 J. Lee Thompson).
6. Bullitt (1968, Peter Yates).
7. Bonnie And Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn).
8. Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961, Blake Edwards).
9. The War lover (1962, Phillip Leacock).
10. Cool Hand Luke (1967, Stuart Rosenburg, Screenplay Don Pierce and Frank Pearson).
11. The Jungle Book (1967, Wolfgang Reitherman).
12. Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson, Screenokay Bill Walsh).
13. Sink The Bismarck (1960, Lewis Gilbert).
14. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968, Norman Jewison).
15. Wait Until Dark (1967, Terrence Young).
16. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, Ken Hughes).
17. Where Eagles Dare (1968, Brian Hutton).
18. Vixen (1968, Russ Meyer).
19. Psycho (1960, Hitchcock).
20. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick).

I feel like i should have put The Apartment in the list, but instead i'm going to give it an honourable mention. My absolute top favourites from this list are Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Great Escape (do you see a pattern here?). I also recommend Wait Until Dark very highly, i only saw it recently and wasn't sure what to expect, but it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time, and it works very well on the screen. Go and watch these movies!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Picks Of The 50's

Here is the first in a series of lists i felt the need to compile, the best movies of each decade. I'm going to completely skip the 30's and 40's as i really havn't seen enough from those decades, so here is my list, the picks of the 50's. It's quite difficult for films to make the lists, as i'm only going to allow 20 movies from each decade.

1. Vertigo (1958, Hitchcock).
2. Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicolas Ray).
3. Singin' in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen).
4. Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler).
5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean).
6. All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz).
7. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Elia Kazan).
8. Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder).
9. An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli).
10. North by Northwest (1959, Hitchcock).
11. Rear Window (1954, Hitchcock).
12. An Affair To Remember (1957, Leo McCarey).
13. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958, Richard Brooks).
14. The Dam Busters (1955, Michael Anderson).
15. The Seven Year Itch (1955, Billy Wilder).
16. The Fly (1958, Kurt Neumann, James Clavell).
17. The Seven Samurai (1954, Akira, Kurosawa).
18. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler).
19. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa).
20. Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder).

That's in no particular order, though if you were going to start watching them, i'd start with Singin' In The Rain, Seven Year Itch or Rear Window. If you don't like those, you probably won't like the rest.

On The Page

I've been listening to a podcast, hosted by screenplay concultant Pilar Allisandra, for the last few months now and it's called On The Page. I recommend this podcast to anybody interested in screenwriting and perhaps movies in general. She hosts the show with special guests, sometimes including published/produced writers and her own husband. The podcasts are always cheerful and funny, but most of all, informative. It's embarassing when i'm listening to the podcasts on my journey to work and they often make me laugh out loud, and everybody on the bus or train is looking at me like i'm crazy. Who is this dick laughing to himself?

Anyway, recommended, go listen to it.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The University Interview

Finally, today was the day of my interview with Birkbeck in Bloomsbury. My girlfriend met me there and we made a day of it. We met at 1pm but my interview wasn't until 2.40pm. First things first, Russell Sq. is a really nice place to chill out, especially with nice weather like today. There's a fountain in the middle and a good amount of tree coverage, creating a nice place to sit and talk or watch people - whatever tickles your fancy. Also the British Museum is right by the University, so we popped in there and enjoyed some ancient artefacts. It got quite tedious in the museum after a while though so we left,and then it was time for my interview.

The two men that interviewed me are both published writers (playwrights, novels, radio plays etc) and both lecturers on the BA in creative writing. I felt like we clicked strait away which released some of the weight on my shoulders, as one of them is a personal friend of one of my favourite authors. They asked me many questions, like why i want to go in to creative writing, what i want to do when i finish, my favourite films and screenwriters, and my favourite books. They also asked if i'm interested in trying a variety of different genres and styles of writing. Of course i answered yes. I'd really love to write a Sci-Fi of my own. Overall, i think the interview was went very well. It was quite a relaxed atmosphere, so it almost felt like talking to two potential friends rather than two potential lecturers.

After all of the work to complete my screenplay and make it presentable, they didn't want to see it, in order to remain fair to the other interviewees. I didn't even think of that. I honestly wasn't trying to corrupt their opinions in my favour. The only way i feel dissappointed with the interview is that i feel i could have spoken more about my interests and the direction i hope to take. The opportunity was there, and i talked a little bit, but then we moved on. But hopefully i said enough to make them see i am a writer full of potential.I won't be hearing from them now until June, so it's just sitting tight and hoping until then.

Next i'll be reviewing "Apocalypse Now Redux", probably within the next couple of days. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and thanks to everyone who sent me good luck messages.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

It's a great feeling...

When you finish that first draft. Which is what i did last night. Finally completed it. Just under two months from conception to completion. The feeling is even better since it's my first draft of my first screenplay, ever. Eighty nine pages total. Errr, slight relief. I have been waiting for this sinking feeling that i've been warned of, when you realise you have actually written the worst script ever created in this galaxy, but that feeling hasn't come for me. I'm not saying that my first is better than anybody elses, just that i'm genuinely content with my content.

I've already begun the second draft, and so far i've rewritten most of the first act. I'm hoping to get the entire script re-drafted by Tuesday night for my Wednesday interview. Act three will need the most work i reckon, as i literally wrote the entire act in two nights fuelled by chicken nuggets and Doritos. That's how it's done.

I spent about an hour trying to decide on a title and it depressed me, so i left that. Now to create a logline and a synopsis. Can't be that hard.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Shocked And Embarrassed

Some of you might have read my post the other day, revealing my concerns over the creative writing group that i was thinking about attending. I said i wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Well, i was right to be worried. What happened, i could never have expected. I strolled into the library five minutes late, carrying my bag complete with script-in-progress and creative piece, and stood at the reception. "Hello, name's Daniel, i'm here for the creative writing group". Cool. The receptionist gave nothing away, not even a slight hesitation to inform me of what was about to come. "Ah ok", she says, "right this way, they're in a room in the back". Kushty, i thought, as i followed her through the library to the meeting room.

Oh shit. I should have seen this coming. A writing group at 10.30 on a wednesday morning. She opened the door, and i found myself confronted with a rather awkward situation, and one that i'd never like to enter unexpectedly again. A room full of women, conversation in full swing, including child pictures out of purses (ok that last bit was added on, there were no pictures). Not one male. Fourteen of them to be precise. Twelve of the lovely ladies were over sixty, and the other two were in their late twenties or early thirties. Now, don't get me wrong here. I didn't resent the situation. In fact, i'd say i was in my element. Old women love me (not like that). Every woman over forty i've ever met has told me i'm handsome like Clark Gable.

It was the initial shock of the situation, and their faces as i entered the room. "Ooops, are men allowed in?" i rapped, "Yes, of course, grab a chair" was the resounding answer. I could have turned around and left, or made some excuse to leave, but for some reason i stayed, and endured. They were all pleasent enough, and fortunately i sat next to two quite chatty specimens, and the whole event turned out to be quite productive. The thirty something whos name i've forgotten is actually a film studies teacher at a local secondary school and she's offered to read my finished screenplay. Result. It seems she's a fellow film enthusiast, but i'll have to wait until next time to find out more. The next meeting isn't until the 21st of April. Most of the women were only looking for a creative outlet for personal satisfaction or to waste some time.

The session consisted of three activities. Firstly, the lady who organised the whole session had made up a set of questions and handed them around the room. We had a free but organised conversation about each question. The questions were things like "What do you write?", "Where do you write?" and "What have you written?". After getting to know each other a bit, we moved on to activity two. Word association on paper. We chose a central word which could be a flower or vegetable, and then we had to branch off in six directions and list words that we linked to our central word. For those interested, my word was rose. Then, we had to create sentences using the words we had written down. One of mine was highlighted as one of the best, in all of its simplicity. It was "The sunflowers brought happiness to the insects of the garden". I tickled myself with "People were crying and cuddling as the plane fell from the sky". I can't remember anybody elses sentences but some were pretty good.

Our final activity was on character development. This is more like it. We had several categories, including hobbies, clothes, friends, habits and moods, which we had to pick up to five different things for. For example, Friends - Mr Ted, The Animals, No young people etc. It was quite fun and interesting. I created a completely wacky, eccentric man who owns an allotment. He shouts at everybody, and only likes celery. Before the next meeting, we have to write about a day in the life of our character. No idea how long it's supposed to be, but i'll probably write about a thousand words. Should be adequate. I plan on killing him before he harms a stick of celery.

You're probably surprised that i'm going back. I know i am, but why not?! It's something to do, it's productive, and they were all nice enough. Honestly though, i don't know what i was expecting from a wednesday morning writing group. It must have motivated me quite a bit though. I came home and added 30 pages to my script and re-drafted Act one.

Now i'm looking forward to my interview with Birkbeck next Wednesday! Getting nervous about it a little bit. I need to come up with some questions i can ask them, otherwise they'll think i'm retarded and uninterested. Any suggestions, let me know.

Thanks for reading about my exploits!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Alive Or Dead

I was buried alive. Hardly able to breathe and not knowing where i was, i panicked and smashed my head on the roof of my temporary accommodation. I could hear my heart pounding in my head. I'd been taking oxygen for granted, and now it had me by the balls. It laughed at me menacingly from afar, knowing i was helpless. I just had to be conservative, which was very difficult, having woke up in a dark, restricted place with no idea how I'd got there. I wasn't even entirely sure why i was there, in the body shaped container under the ground. Nothing was clear. The structure creaked and moaned under the pressure of the earth. Panic took over and i started kicking and shouting, screaming, using my final breaths to try for any chance of help. I was distraught, about to die. Finally, i gave up. What's the point in resisting the inevitable. So i froze still and stared into the darkness in front of me with enormous courage. Whatever i was due, i was ready to take head on.

Then i began to think. My breathing relaxed, and my heart rate dropped significantly. A sharp, stabbing pain intruded my head, accompanied by flashing images of absolutely nothing. That continued for what felt like an hour, and then the images started to feel like memories. Clothes on the floor, messed up sheets, used condoms on a bedside table. A beautiful, beautiful woman straddling me, going for gold. Then a gunshot, and blood. A lot of blood. My wife screaming at me in the hotel room, hitting me, threatening me with a gun. She must be why i was in a container somewhere. Why didn't i run out of air? I'd been conscious for at least five minutes, and yet the air supply was still adequate to keep me going. I remembered my wife grabbing me by the testicles and dragging me naked into the rain. It was raining so heavily. My testicles hurt, a lot. I thought she was going to shoot them off. Then i panicked and grabbed where my testicles should have been. Still there, fuck, what a relief. Laying in my early grave, i couldn't help feeling that the punishment didn't fit the crime.

After all, my wife was guilty of the same sin a year predating my own betrayal. We'd gone out one night for her friends birthday. Just some club in town and a few drinks. She'd met him after we had a brutal fight in the street, about why it had taken me so long to marry her, of all things. Why did it matter when ultimately the knot had been tied. It was irrelevant why we hadn't been married earlier. So I stomped off in a rage and grabbed a taxi home. Unfortunately, this one opportunity was enough for her to slip off with him. She gave in to his charms at a bus stop, and fucked him that night. Apparently he was bigger than me. She knew how to make a man feel good. Now there I was in the ground about to die, and all I could think about was my inadequate penis. I wonder how much bigger he was. If he was so good why didn't she just leave me for him, and spare me that painful, inevitable, unavoidable situation.

How could i get out of there? There must have been a way. I remembered her driving in the rain, not telling me where we were going. She became very quiet and subdued. It scared me to see her holding in her anger and pain. Then she turned to me, laughed, and smashed the side of my head with the same weapon that murdered my lover. That must be how she got me there. I didn't feel a thing. I wonder if she planned all of it, or if she followed us, or if she finally just snapped. At least i had my revenge. I got to give her the same pain she'd given me. It was the least i could do. But what good is revenge if you don't live long enough to enjoy the blossoming beauty of it? No good. Now I'm sitting in a park, on a bench, with my legs outstretched and my arms spread across the length of the backrest. The sun is caressing my face, warming my heart, and assuring me everything will be alright. My head still hurts, but it's bearable now that i have my fresh air. I'll never take it for granted again. I'm watching some kids play basketball. Another boy is walking his dog. It's amazing how beautiful everything looks. Every blade of grass is vibrant and energetic. Every tree is looking to the sky and stretching to reach its neighbour. I don't know how i got here. I don't even know if I'm alive or dead.

Alive Or Dead © 2010, Daniel Jama.

Monday, 8 March 2010

What the hell does a creative writing group do?

So there i was, minding my own business, reading the newspaper, when i see that there's a local creative writing group. The advert informs me that it's newly formed and the number to ring if i'm interested. Well, it's free, so i am definitely interested. However, i don't want to turn up at the library at 10.30am and have to spend the next two hours with a couple of old blokes and their dogs, who have nothing interesting to say or write. I'm essentially flying blind. In fact, come to think of it, i'm not even sure what a creative writing group is for. It would be an experience just to find that out alone. Maybe it's to bounce ideas off each other, which in my opinion, is only damaging the natural creative process of the author. There's a name for this: callaboration. And if i wanted to collaberate i'd do it with a friend.

So, now i have an internal conflict blooming. Do i give in to the curiousity and go? Curiousity killed the cat, apparently. So maybe i should just stay home and work by myself on something of my own? No, this won't do either. The group meeting is on my day off work, so i might as well occupy myself productively. I hope you can see my problem here. Maybe i'll turn up early for the meeting but stand outside, across the road, watching the aliens going in to the meeting place. That way i'd get a better idea of the sort of creatures i'm dealing with. Actually, that's no good, because i could miss out on a lay in. So I'll ring the contact tomorrow and be up front about it. How many are going? What age range? What's the whole point of the group anyway? Are you a sexual predator, out to rape me and sell my material?

What a dilemma. If i havn't returned by midnight on Wednesday the ninth, call the police, and tell them i risked my life by attending a creative writing group.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland - Is that it?

When i was little, i was never really a massive fan of Alice In Wonderland, not like other people that i knew were. It just never really grabbed me like certain other Disney classics: Robin Hoon, Dumbo, Pinnocchio. So i'm glad i went into the theatre on the opening night of the new Tim Burton creation, without watching the original "Alice" beforehand. In fact, i was probably about eight when i last saw it. This meant that i didn't go into the movie with any premonitions of what it should be or how it should look, or even how the story should unravel. However, i did go in with high expectations (thanks to pre-hype and previous Burton + Depp experiences), which sadly, were not met. I've spent almost twenty four hours trying to figure out why, and i just can't put my finger on it.

Let me get this out of the way now. Visually, it's a masterpiece. Anybody who doubts that can shut the hell up. The 3D experience only helped to enhance the visual utopia. I just love everything, from the fat boys, to the talking flowers, to the Red Queens' Army of Cards. My personal favourite was the Cat, absolutely adorable and enchanting. The acting and voice acting was also excellent from the majority of the cast. I felt Alice could have been cast better. I don't really rate Mia Wasikowska after seeing her performance in this. It was actually quite stale and hard to believe, and probably actually contributed to the general feeling of dissapointment once the credits began to role. She never really seemed to react to anything as you would expect somebody to, or as you would yourself, which was odd. Fair enough she thought it was a dream until half way through, but i'd still be pretty chuffed about stumbling on a place like this, and being told i had to slay a gigantic Jabberwocky. She just plods along, not reacting to anything as she should be. The dialogue was like a British summer, some good and some bad, constantly up and down, none of it notable enough for me to remember and quote here. The story was undoubtably lacking something, although there were no obvious flaws or plot holes. The music, although well composed, was too bland and generic to really impress me. Tim Burtons' direction was faultless as always, utilising the best angles and applying just the right amount of light to get the full effect from a scene.

A friend pointed out to me, and i wholeheartedly agree with this, the film did seem to focus on Mr Depp aka "The Mad Hatter" a little bit too much, but who am i to question this!? It is their creation after all. It's not like his character was disappointing and shouldn't have allotted so much screen time, because he was awesome. You just expect it to be more about Alice. Maybe they were trying to distract us from her mediocre acting. The film had funny moments, although not really laugh out loud funny, more like a little chuckle and smile moment. It also had dramatic, heart racing moments, where you're genuinely scared for Alice and friends. I'm going to be a bastard here and say the credits were disappointing. The Credits are a unique opportunity for some fun outtakes or removed/extra scenes, or even just for some fancy effects to be shown off, but they were dull and dreary, with no visual sweetness to keep the audience involved once the movie finished.

I could sit here and speculate for hours about what may or may not have left me feeling dissapointed with this film, but as i honestly pointed out, i really can't put my finger on it. Maybe it was inevitable as a result of my dissinterest when i was younger. Therefore, this review was probably pointless and useless. I don't want to give the impression that i hated the movie. It was definitely worth the ticket price. It's just that the story was too obvious/linear/predictable (there's never any real surprises), the music was bland and the dialogue was adequate. The ending was predictable, corny, and seemingly rushed. I've decided that if the movie was made by someone other than Tim Burton it would be amazing, but my expectations were way too high. Go and see the film, i recommend it, that's all i can say. Just don't expect your expectations to be filled or exceeded. It's no "Nightmare Before Christmas". That way, if it does blow you away, it will feel even better.

Overall, i'd give this movie 3.5/5.