If there’s one thing Tarantino knows, it’s what to leave out. Watching the first episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, we find out what happens when you put the boring stuff back in.
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a new take on the 1996 crime / vampire B-movie of the same name written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez. It’s one of the first shows on new TV network El Rey, developed by Rodriguez for Latino audiences, and in the rest of the world it’s available on Netflix.
Are there any changes in the TV show worth getting your teeth into? Don Johnson’s grizzled lawman is much better value than Tarantino regular Michael Parks playing the same role in the movie, but Tarantino and George Clooney as the badass brothers Gecko are poorly substituted on the small screen by Zane Holtz, delivering a cut-rate Dexter impression, and DJ Cotrona, last seen in G.I. Joe: Retaliation managing to be less lifelike than a plastic toy.
But what really sucks the blood out of the pilot is the story.
When you think about it — and I have — Tarantino pulls the same trick in the opening scenes of both From Dusk Till Dawn and Inglourious Basterds. An authority figure turns up in the middle of nowhere, looking for someone. We watch an everyday conversation unfold, and the longer the pleasantries continue, the more tense we become. Suddenly, all is revealed: the hunted have been there all along — and the pleasantries are shattered by horrifying violence.
In From Dusk Till Dawn the authority figure is Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, shooting the breeze at isolated offie Benny’s World of Liquor, hapless teller Pete Bottoms desperately trying not to let on that the murderous Gecko brothers McGraw’s looking for are concealed in the cold drinks section. In Inglourious Basterds it’s the chillingly polite nazi Colonel Hans Landa of the SS, puffing on his pipe and drinking milk with French farmer Perrier LaPadite, who’s desperately afraid because the refugee Jewish Dreyfus family are lying under the floorboards beneath their feet.
Both scenes are supremely well-executed exercises in suspense — and the magic is in the reveal. At first, we’re tense because we don’t know what’s going on. Then we see the fugitives, and for the rest of the scene the tension is doubled because now we’re in on poor Pete and LaPadite’s secret.
Would the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds be so heartstopping if we’d started with the Dreyfus family fleeing and hiding under the floorboards, before the Germans arrived? It might, but that’s only one layer of suspense. Landa’s jovial conversation continues for an age, which ramps up the tension when we don’t know what’s going on; but if we already knew about the refugees in hiding, it would drag as we wait to find out their fate.
Knowing they’re there all along poses and answers just one question: what will happen? But as it appears on screen, the scene poses and answers two questions. First, what’s going on here? And then after the reveal, when the suspense is already killing us, then we’re forced to wonder what will happen.
But episode 1 of the TV version throws out all that tension in the movie’s opening scene and instead shows us everything: the Gecko brothers arriving at the liquor store, chatting with the teller and two girls, hiding from the Texas Ranger, and Ritchie Gecko’s hallucinations — all stuff left out of the movie, and rightly so. Tarantino is a master of negative space, knowing that what’s left out is every bit as important as what goes in. Whether it’s the diamond heist in Reservoir Dogs, the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, or the Gecko’s crime spree in From Dusk Till Dawn, the stuff that’s omitted is omitted for a reason: because the chaos of the aftermath is more interesting — and because, hell, sometimes we don’t need to see everything.
And yet the first episode of From Dusk Till Dawn‘s small screen incarnation spends 44 and a half minutes leading us by the nose through a sequence dispatched with brutal economy on the big screen in less than ten.
So the pilot episode for the show covers only the pre-credits sequence from the movie. It adds an ongoing plot element by introducing a partner for doomed Ranger McGraw who looks set to pursue the Geckos throughout, but apart from that all the pilot does is stretch the movie’s blisteringly tense opening into a long and boring standoff. With ten episodes of the series on their way, it looks like just watching the movie again could save you five hours of your life.
From Dusk Till Dawn and From Dusk Till Dawn: the Series are available to watch online now on Netflix in the UK.
Lovely little boozer. Best thing: massive beer garden. And I don’t mean a walled-in courtyard or a few picnic tables butted up against a clogged road, like most of the ‘beer gardens’ in London, I mean a proper beer garden with grass and picnic tables and space between them. In fact, the pub is basically next to a (small) park, and you can drink in it.
Food is pretty average (or it would have got a fourth star). They invented the crouton hat (I won’t spoil it for you) but everything else is a little institutional – a feeling added to by the fact it’s brought out by a sergeant-type who barks your name, and if you don’t answer straight away bellows it again like you’ve got five seconds to get it down you or you and your friends are damn well doing the assault course in full kit.
My favourite pub in London (maybe tied with the Royal George in Soho), the Lord Nelson doesn’t look like much from the outside but inside it’s a wonderland of quirky posters, kitsch portraits and toys dangling from the ceiling. The staff are chatty and friendly and more than happy to round your bill down or throw in a freebie when they get to know you (at our staff Christmas lunch, my food came out last so I got a free shot and a battered sausage that looked like a Christmas tree). The music is eclectic, always worth a few minutes of conversation, and occasionally just flat-out hilarious. The whole place is full of personality, and the food – holy hell, the food. It’s amazing. Just reading the menu is a laugh: ever-changing options include the Tesco horse burger, the Gran Bastardo tapas-topped burger, and during the World Cup there were burgers from various countries (springbok and the like. The USA burger was a regular burger, but twice the size). My favourite on the regular menu is the Bluesy Lucy, a burger stuffed with blue cheese. They also do wicked barbecues in the reasonably-sized beer garden. Oh, and there’s a special burger commemorating the time David Hasselhoff ate lunch there.
It’s a decent-sized place but can get cramped as the bar is in the middle - definitely book on a Friday. Service can be a little ramshackle around the edges, but that’s all part of the charm. And that’s what the Nelson has in spades: charm.
Check out my review of Lord Nelson – I am rich_trenholm – on Qype
My favourite pub in the West End, if not my favourite in the world. Tucked away enough to stay the right side of rammed, the music is ace, the food is good, and the staff are friendly. And it’s open late at the weekend.
Ignore the way the Crossrail building site has crept up the street over the past few years and eaten up the outside space, once you’re safely inside it’s got nice sofas and a relaxed, alternative atmosphere. I’ve never seen a trace of attitude and the menu is a break from the norm (I was first introduced to Sailor Jerry’s here, and I’m currently enjoying the Brooklyn lager)
Check out my review of Royal George – I am rich_trenholm – on Qype
I absolutely love this place. For a genuine vintage haircut there’s few better places – I’ve tried loads and I always come back to Carnaby St. Rockabilly tunes on the jukebox, tiki and leopard-skin decor, rock’n'roll memorabilia all around – this is a corner of rock’n'roll heaven.
Mr Ducktail is an artist with the scissors and flick-knife. A perfect haircut every time. And it’s value for money: I’m lucky to have hair that pretty much does what it’s told, but I once had a cut here that lasted 7 months before I needed it cut again.
A gents cut costs around £25, and you can get your razored back and sides neatedened up for less in between full cuts. You can also pick up Mr Ductail’s own pomade (made by Hairgum) which has great hold, plus Mr Ducktail’s own cola-scented grease-stripping shampoo for when Head & Shoulders just can’t cut it.
Actually getting in a bit of a lottery: there’s no appointments (except Monday, for double the price); and we’re talking personal service here, not a row of chairs shearing you and getting you out the door. Go when you have a day off, or be prepared to get up early on the weekend (especially if there’s a rockabilly event on: I got there at 11.30 the other day, not knowing it was the day of the Rockabilly Rave, and there were 7 guys in front of me).
Check out my review of It's Something Hells – I am rich_trenholm – on Qype
The other day as the sun beat down on Covent Garden I saw a father and son braving the shops together. One wore a suit and hat; the other, baggy shorts and an outsized polo shirt. Guess which was which? As great as it is to see suits worn well, from Mad Men filtered through The Only Way is Essex the tailored look is spinning out of control.
Admittedly, the son in the suit was impractically skinny of slack and the only thing keeping his trilby balanced so improbably on the back of his head was teenage self-belief. But sharp-dressed he was, his look delighting in showing that tailoring is infinitely versatile. The humble suit may be an age-old formula, but you can twist that formula until its vents squeak.
Unfortunately the sleek lines sported by Mad Men‘s men’s men got old fast. Today’s variations on tailoring usher the tailored trend from dandy to parody.
Leaving aside who was dressed more appropriately for the weather, our young dandy looked a million times sharper than his dad. Unfortunately, the suits he’d have spied in Covent Garden’s glorified high street shops have over-reached themselves. Different-coloured pocket squares only hold the attention for so long, so the men’s tailoring trend has had to adorn itself with all kind of brash elaboration.
It started with piping. Just a bit of subtle piping on pockets. Very debonair. Then piping on lapels. Where’s the harm?
Then piping on shirt collars. Then facing on suit lapels. Then piping on the inside of the lapel – then elbow patches and different coloured sleeves and hoods and lord knows what else! Each embellishment a gaudy grenade exploding everything that make tailoring so flattering. The understatement is the statement – or at least it was before The Only Way is Essex lad waylaid the Mad Men look.
Shirts aren’t immune: piping and facing and fandangles everywhere. I admit I own an ASOS shirt with two collars. Two collars! My only defence is that I looked more closely at the sale price than I did at the thumbnail.
Piping everywhere! I went to a wedding recently where I met a chap in an otherwise perfectly smart petrol-blue two-button, and was surprised to notice he had a pocket square in every pocket – the side pockets as well. Both of them. Had this otherwise apparently respectable gent really stuffed a hankie into every pocket?
Then I realised he just had white piping on each pocket. Very contrast-y, sure, but also creating the first impression this man was a simpleton. Hardly the Don Draper effect.
I squarely blame The Only Way is Essex. Mad Men reminded the world and his stylist that most men couldn’t look any better than in a suit and a sharp parting – yet the suits and side partings on the high street today are more Joey Essex than Jon Hamm, especially when you stir in the preppy and nautical look favoured by the sort of lads who bang on about ‘great banter’.
A prick in a nice brogue is still a prick.
And things are only going to get worse. As much fun as it sounds like everyone was having, the roaring 20s was a pretty ridiculous time for fashion. But along with Boardwalk Empire, Baz Luhrman’s 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby is already influencing the catwalk: the Gatsby Girl is everywhere and one of the menswear trends for AW12 is 1920s-style wide trousers.
Ready for AW12 Armani, Calvin Klein, Dries Van Noten and Yves Saint Laurent all sent models down the catwalk with trews wider than their heads. Meanwhile Alexander Wang and Burberry Prorsum showed off patterned and patchwork overcoats for AW12 that epitomise the grating overstyling that’s derailed the tailored trend.
Patterns are big this season too, and – while I’ve got nothing against colour – everybody knows there’s nothing worse in the world than a patterned suit.
Of course, the sad shift from sleek styling to gaudy experimentation is mirrored in Mad Men itself, as the show progresses into the 1960s and the pristinely-styled Mad Men are marooned in ever-widening, ever-louder sports coats, adrift in a sea of patterns and earth tones. It’s enough to drive you mad.
I recently had the good fortune to interview Edgar Wright, the result of which appeared in this interview for my day job at CNET UK. I chatted to Edgar about Ant-Man, 3D and The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator, his recent project with Microsoft. Not my best interview — I admit to being a bit starstruck, I’m a huge fan of everything he’s done — but here’s the full transcript:
Hi Edgar, how are you doing?
I’m good thanks, how are you doing?
I’m very well thanks. So it seems that you’re pretty busy at the moment?
Yeah, it’s starting to gear up, yeah.
Are you in the US at the moment or over here?
I am in London — I’m speaking from London’s North London.
Are you in the US most of the time?
I sort of go back and forth. Depending on the work, y’know.
To start off, tell us about Brandon Generator.
I was approached by Microsoft because they wanted to do a crowdsourced animation / comic to show off the capabilities of HTML5. I was brought on as a creative brain because they wanted someone to write it and create the characters.
I was intrigued because I’d never written a comic before even though I’d been a big fan growing up — and I knew Tommy Lee Edwards was already doing it and I was aware of his artwork from the book he did with Jonathan Ross [prohibition-era gangster/vampire/alien mash-up Turf].
I very quickly had an idea, and the idea was based on my experiences of the Internet on two counts: the character of Brandon is a writer who is very prone to procrastination — less writer’s block than actual procrastination, I think he likes to call it writer’s block because it sounds more romantic, but the truth is he’s too busy wasting time on the Internet.
And the other aspect that I thought would be interesting was collaboration, having done a couple of things on the Internet where I’ve worked with fans. I did something last year where I got people to edit stuff for a mashup for a Scott Pilgrim remix. Loads of people did it, and there’s so many talented people out there, so I thought this is a nice way to work with people, writers, artists, actors and get them to contribute to something where I’ve created the characters but I’m not so precious about it that I can’t take on board lots of suggestions from other people.
And that’s the fun bit of writing the second and the third episode: finding as many ways to bring in people’s contributions is really fun.
Are you always open to suggestions and collaborations with things you’ve written?
No. (Laughs) Usually quite the opposite! So this is something new and exciting.
Did you have a structure in mind from the start?
Sort of — but I’ve left myself pretty open to see where it goes. And in fact the third episode, the entire start of it, I sort of had an idea of where I wanted to get to and obviously there were things that had been set up, but what was interesting was that people — (phone beeps) let me just turn this off — most of the people writing prose kind of took the ball and ran with it in terms of things that had already been set up in the story. So that was nice, it wasn’t like people were just writing random prose, a lot of people either tried to write in Brandon’s voice or tried to continue the story.
So that was really helpful. I had a number of ideas, and in some cases what people had written completely tied in with what I was thinking of doing, or in other cases they led me down some interesting avenues. It was really good fun to do something like that. And I’ve tried to find as many different ways to include people’s contributions.
It’s very abstract, almost dreamlike – in fact it is about Brandon’s dream. Is that a different process to writing a linear narrative?
I think so, although within the four episodes there’s still a three-act structure, in a weird way. You still have set-up, and conflict, and resolution. But the fun of it is that the prose and the artwork is incorporated into the story.
Once I started writing the second one and I thought it would just be funny to have Brandon, voiced by Julian Barratt, commentate on the submission themselves because he doesn’t remember writing them. So he also kind of has the opportunity to say “well that’s rubbish”. (laughs) so that was funny. And there’s more of that in the third one.
I’ll give you an example, in the second episode I didn’t think of the idea of him taking the pages with him, until I’d read all of the prose and I thought, oh there’s so much good stuff here so I can have him just take the stuff out with him and have it get blown into the air, so maybe it can come back again because there’s too much good stuff
Speaking of people writing in prose, as a screenwriter it seems like you don’t get to play with language in that kind of way, but it seems like you’re having fun from some of the gags.
I am! One of the things about doing this project, actually, I have to take my hat off to Microsoft and 3 Monkeys for letting me do it but I’ve had real fun and I feel quite uninhibited in terms of what I’m writing and it’s fun to write in a different voice.
Because films take so long to make it’s nice to do something where I write it and as soon as it’s done Tommy Lee Edwards starts animating it immediately! So the turnaround is pretty fast. I think the third one is due to be done in a couple of weeks and I only wrote the third one a few weeks ago. I’m very impressed with what you can actually do.
Speaking of comics, you’re known as being a big fan, and I was quite surprised when I thought about it that you hadn’t done one before. Have you been approached to write a comic before — or had an idea for a comic?
Yes, one time, me and Simon wrote a thing for 2000AD, for Shaun of the Dead, we wrote this kind of spin-off issue. I’d almost completely forgotten about it until someone reminded me and I was like ‘oh yeah I did do that, didn’t I?’ I guess I have, it’s something I would consider again because it’s been fun doing this.
Do you ever have ideas where you think ‘that’s a film’ or ‘that’s a comic’ or ‘that’s a multimedia installation in HTML5′?
No, I guess I’ve usually thought in terms of film and TV so far. One of the nice things about doing this has been like a sort of a writing experience because usually writing is like a means to an end, in terms of ‘I’m writing this so I can make the film of it’, y’know, writing a screenplay. So I don’t write for fun as much as I’d like to, and I don’t write for myself as much as I’d like to, so this has been nice.
Even in your previous work you seem to be interested in blurring the lines between media — Scott Pilgrim had video game influences, and the music video you did was like a printed comic. Why do you think that is?
Which music video?
The Bastardo music video.
Oh yeah, yeah. I guess Spaced and Scott Pilgrim both had a similar theme, although they played out in different ways: Spaced is about twentysomethings who could only communicate in terms of the media they consumed, and Scott Pilgrim is different in that he’s a daydreamer who’s living that life of his imagination, he’s living his life as if it’s a videogame, he’s stuck in this fantasist world.
This is a little different again — Brandon has disappeared into his own subconscious — but yeah, they’re all of a similar theme. I like that idea of surrealism and magical realism and elements like that and I guess my default setting is to imagine weird things happening in everyday life.
Brandon Generator is about a writer who struggles with procrastination – is that something you struggle with and how do you deal with procrastination, especially with the Internet?
I did write a script last year on my own, it was the first thing I’d written in a long time solo and it eventually turned out very well but it was quite a struggle to get there. I think procrastination is the worst because if you’ve got a deadline looming or if you’re struggling with something you just find — I know not everybody does this but a lot of people do — you just find every excuse to do something vaguely productive so you feel like you’ve not wasted an entire day so I did go through a period of that.
But also the other thing that was actually in the first episode that’s true is I would try and inspire myself by using iTunes in a weird way, like sort of playing everything in order of length. Or going randomly on Google or going through the papers and circling odd names that conjured up something.
I get very distracted in terms of one word or one thought that will lead me off onto a tangential… kind of… leap into some other story. I find it quite hard actually to read fiction because I immediately start conjuring up the images and it makes it actually quite hard to concentrate in a way because my brain starts ticking over in a different way, so it’s a little bit about that really. One thing I did use genuinely is an app called Freedom, have you ever heard of that?
I haven’t no, what’s it do?
It basically turns off your Internet! (laughs) It’s an application, basically you tell it how many hours you want to go off the Internet or off social media.
Oh, I have heard of that…
I’ve used that a couple of times. You can override it but it’s a bit of a rigmarole to override it. But when I’ve been thinking ‘right I’ve got to get some writing done today, I’m gonna turn Freedom on and I’m gonna shut off the Internet for 6 hours’. I’ve done that a bunch of times.
Judging by some of the quotes in Brandon Generator you seem to have a slightly ambivalent relationship with technology: “the laptop is a white void”…
I definitely believe that — I find a blank document more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper, for real. I think also it depends how dark your room is and how bright your screen is. (laughs) If you’re working in the dark with a bright screen I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.
Do you have to have your workspace set up just so in order to be able to get started?
I do! I do. I very easily clutter my desk and then kind of stop writing and go ‘I’m gonna clear up my desk’. (laughs)
I’m like that, I feel like I have to have enough elbow room to type, I don’t know why.
I think its pretty standard. You’re sort of looking for ways… writing is sometimes enjoyable but mostly it’s quite arduous! You’re always looking for excuses not to create.
When you are writing do you do it in a linear way, or do you hop about the scenes — y’know, do the fun bits first and then have to go back and slog through the exposition, or whatever?
I’m usually pretty linear, I’ve done some things where I don’t write the action out on the first pass — you write the script and then you write ‘car case here’ or something like that, and then you come back and flesh that out. I try to get to the end and then flesh out the action on the second pass.
But usually you try and outline a lot so you know where you’re going. I’ve never written anything where I haven’t known what the next scene’s going to be.
So you do the dialogue and then go back and reward yourself with a car chase?
I don’t think it’s a reward, it’s kinda tough writing action! Writing action’s weird, it’s great shooting action and it’s OK shooting storyboards, but especially if you’re a director as well you’re trying to communicate to yourself so if you’re writing a fight scene, a fist fight or a car chase, it’s actually not a lot of fun at all.
I don’t find it fun anyway. I’d rather do it than write it.
You say you give it to Tommy lee Edwards and it comes back and it’s his vision. Is that easier in the writing process to know that someone’s going to deal with that rather than having a huge team that’s got to be talked through it?
Well no, we communicate on it, I send him the script that’s similar to how comic book writers do it, I write underneath each frame what I’d like to see. He’s incredibly visual and imaginative so he’ll be able to get from what I’ve written — which is usually pretty spare — what I’m after. He’s great at nailing the visuals of what you’re trying to do. I don’t need to say a lot for him to get it.
But then he does boards and I comment on that and say ‘this is great’ or ‘you need an extra shot in here’ or ‘I’d like to see Bandon in this shot standing here’, etc etc. Then he does an animatic and I give more notes, and then he animates the thing. It’s kind of a team effort — he has a couple of people animating for him, they’re all working their socks off as we speak (laughs)
But you’re constantly directing it because then you have to — I direct Julian, and also the sound editor, and David Homes as well. And the interesting thing about it is that we’re all in different places all the time so it’s done almost completely via the Internet. I’ve been in LA or London, David’s in LA, Julian’s in London, Tommy Lee Edwards is in Carolina, so none of us are in the same room. So that makes it pretty challenging but ultimately it’s pretty amazing how… to be able to do these things long distance, it’s pretty incredible.
Is there any particular technology that’s helping you do that, has it been all Skype calls and stuff?
I know Skype I guess… I don’t know if you’ve heard of email? That’s been pretty handy.
That might be quite big, I can see that taking off. Hows this fitting in with the stuff you’re working on right now, because you’re attached to a couple of films at the moment aren’t you?
I dunno, you just have to juggle everything I guess.
I’m quite interested in the day-to-day process of developing a film and what it actually involves — so for example you’ve been working on Ant-Man for a while, but where are you up to with that? What’s the day-to-day side of that? Because that’s kind of behind-the-scenes thing that people don’t really see. I think people understand filming but not the bit before that.
Well I think that what people don’t really understand in terms of movies, when film sites do hourly news, is people don’t really understand how many years it can take for a film to come together. Even Shaun of the Dead took four years to reach the screen.
The development process is something that has so many elements to it and that doesn’t mean that you’re writing every day. In fact me and Joe Cornish wrote a script last year and we haven’t done any work on it since because they’re happy with it, we’re happy with it, we’re dealing with other elements of it now so I might be doing another film first, y’know.
It’s funny where its that thing in news stories where people say ‘Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright have been writing this film for yeeears” (laughs) and it’s true and not true, we’ve done like three drafts of the script and we’ve got to a place where we’re happy with it and so is everyone else and now it’s a question of when is that slot to make it, do you know what I mean?
Right. You’re not just typing really slowly.
People assume if something’s been in development for years there must be some kind of problem or something that we’re desperately trying to fix, and that’s not necessarily the case because you work on different things at different times. If I went off and wrote something I would be fully doing that and the other one would be on the back burner for a little while.
With Ant-Man, there’s a lot going on with Marvel, have you been in contact with the other Marvel film guys like Joss Whedon and Jon Favreau? Do you have any contact with them? Is there a house style or anything you have to think about?
Not really… I know them all… I’ve spoken to them… I don’t know how to answer that one.
Fair enough. I was looking at your IMDB profile earlier and i saw that you directed the Titanic spoof in French and Saunders, is that right?
Yes that’s right I was twenty… um… 24 years old.
Excellent, so are you going to back and make that 3D, I think that’s the thing to do with Titanic….
(laughs) I don’t think so. (laughs again)
What are your thoughts on 3D?
I don’t know… sometimes it’s great, sometimes it seems … I don’t necessarily know that it adds that much most of the time. Sometimes it can be really good, and I think when films are designed with it in mind that can be pretty special. Usually that’s films with animation, or some sort of animation element. I’ve seen too many ones lately where it’s been fine, but I could have happily watched a 2D version of the same film and not felt any differently about the movie.
Were there any that stood out for you?
I’m not gonna say. (laughs) I know too many people that worked on them! All I can say is that I would have enjoyed it exactly the same but with about £3 less on the ticket price.
I sometimes actively seek out the 2D versions, if there’s a flat version of something I might go and see that instead. But when it works it’s… I thought Hugo was great, Avatar was great in 3D, Coraline was great in 3D, some of the animation stuff… I’m biased but I thought Tintin looked great in 3D. The other one… sometimes with live action ones I don’t feel I’m getting anything extra out of it
Have you been tempted to do something in 3D?
Only if it was the right thing for the story. If there was something within the story where it really worked, and I thought ‘well, this is a reason to do 3D’. That’s the thing why Avatar started the ball rolling because in Avatar you had a character inside another body, it was the perfect premise for 3D, you know, that you’re having an out-of-body experience with this character so it actually lends itself towards this effect.
I’d be quite interested to see a non-sci-fi, genre or horror film in 3D. I’d be interested to see a period film in 3D, like The Great Gatsby, have you seen the trailer that just came out? Because it’s all about the locations and the settings.
Hugo was that, wasn’t it.
Yeah exactly — something that’s not spaceships blowing up would be interesting to see. What about motion capture, like Tintin, is that something you’d explore doing?
I don’t know, it depends on what the movie is. I thought it worked for that, and it was fascinating to see that process. It was really fascinating to see that process come together, and it comes into a lot of live action films — what Peter Jackson did on The Hobbit and King Kong and Lord of the Rings have a big element of motion capture so it’s incredible technology. I think Andy Serkis’ Kong is an amazing usage of that technology.
Do you see films moving towards that use of motion capture and greenscreen rather than settings and locations? Something like Hot Fuzz for example where the village is such an important part of the story, could something like that be done on a greenscreen?
No, I don’t think locations are ever going to go away. I think what you can do with greenscreen in terms of creating other worlds and other styles — Sin City and 300 are two good examples of that — but I don’t think it’ll ever take away the idea of making a film in a location.
It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from you on the big screen, when are we going to see ‘Directed by Edgar Wright’ up there on the big screen?
That’s a very good question. (laughs) I don’t make these dates y’know, I’m not in control of the schedule.
Fair enough. So what’s the best part of making a film, is it the writing, is it the filming, is it the editing? What’s you favourite part?
It’s all a great process. I think maybe I like getting into the edit suite, because you’re done and you can really start to shape it and stuff. I like every aspect of it. But I guess editing is always exciting because it’s coming together and you’re on the home straight and everything
You seem to stay very attached to the films you’ve worked on afterwards, with Q&As and the extras on the DVDs and that kind of thing. Is that all part of the filmmaking process for you? Because some people just want to move onto the next thing.
I think, y’know… maybe in the future I’d like to do less of that and try and kind of make more movies. But it’s also a thing that it’s up to you get the word out and if you’re proud of the movie then you’re the best salesman for it.
That seems to come back to the relationship with the Internet and getting people involved and talking to other people . Do you enjoy engaging with fans?
I do actually, I do. I like writing facetious replies at two in the morning. I do it very randomly as well, so some people get very annoyed that I don’t reply to them. I tend to choose whatever takes my fancy at odd hours of the day and night. But I do like keeping in contact with people, that’s a nice thing about the Internet. I think when I’m working I have to just switch off completely.
We find with commenters we can get some extreme reactions in both a positive and negative direction — do you ever find it’s a double-edged sword to engage with people in that way?
I think the main thing is, I try not to say anything negative on Twitter at all. I try not to badmouth anything because the thing is even if you’ve done a movie or done a TV show there’s people that worked on it… it’s not the done thing. I’m always surprised when people in film or TV or media slag on other films cos I think, ‘you know the world is really small and you know you’re in a glass house…’ so I find that a bit strange when people do that and I try not to .
Occasionally I’ll write something, like, hissy, but never… like, if I don’t like a film I just won’t mention it on Twitter at all because I just think there’s nothing to be gained from being critical. And also there’s so much snarkiness on the Internet anyway it’s actually nice to inject some optimism every now and again.
Has there been anyone on Twitter you admire or anyone famous who’s got in touch with you through the Internet?
Hmmm…. yes, but none of them come to mind at the minute, but I’m sure that’s the case. There’s definitely people I’ve met through Twitter who I hadn’t already met. I do like it. It’s definitely a nice way if you’re promoting a movie or especially if you’re doing a tour or you’ve got a public show to let people know and it’s a great means of communicating with people.
And presumably a great way of letting people know what you’re up to so they don’t think you’re just typing really slowly.
I guess so — but then people are frustrated because you mention something and they say ‘why isn’t it out tomorrow?!’ So I don’t think people understand that things take years to make.
Do you get asked the same questions over and over again?
I guess so, yeah. But I think that’s true of anybody.
I think I’ve probably just done it there actually. So what’s next after Brandon Generator?
I’m working on some stuff at the moment which I’m just figuring out, but I haven’t got anything concrete to tell you right now
Any clue on how Brandon Generator‘s going to wind up, how it’s going to end?
I have an idea. I’m going to leave it on another cliffhanger in episode 3 and then I’m absolutely happy for everyone’s thoughts on how it should wrap up. It’s going to end on quite a big cliffhanger so there’s going to be lots of opportunity for people to contribute.
Do you think it’s going to be the ending you had in mind when you first set out on it?
Yeaaah sort of …. I guess what’s fun about this is the journey is everything and that’s been down to the public really. There are lots of elements in the second episode that wouldn’t be in there if it wasn’t for people’s contributions but that’s nice that’s the whole point of the exercise.
Generally do you prefer collaborating or do you prefer to work on your own?
I like writing — especially if its comedy and stuff — it’s much more fun if it’s with somebody. I’ve written with three different people — four actually, over the years — and it’s always more fun to write with somebody, especially with comedy. Maybe not if you’re doing drama or thrillers or something like that, but comedy it’s always good to have another person.
How does that actually work — you’ve got the laptop being all intimidating, is it one person typing?
Usually, yeah. Either you have one laptop with one person typing and the other person pacing around, and you take it in turns, or sometimes you know what the outline is and one writes one scene and one writes the other and you rewrite each others and just keep discussing them.
I’ve done both. I sort of like the thing of, me and Simon tend to do the thing of one person is typing and the other is either dictating or we’re both talking about it and we hook it up to a big TV so we can both see it.
Sort of like doing a presentation?
No… otherwise you feel like you’re playing battleships if one person’s on a laptop and the other one’s peering over the other side, so if you hook it up to a desktop or a monitor then the other person can see what’s going on and it’s easier for you to take it in turns writing.
I think we’ll have to wrap it up there. Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the rest of Brandon Generator.
127 Hours is one of the most gripping, intense films I’ve seen for a while. A lot of that is down to Danny Boyle’s audacious visuals, but all the camera trickery in the world won’t hold the attention for ninety minutes of a man standing by a rock talking to himself. Ultimately, 127 Hours works because it’s so efficiently structured.
The screenplay for 127 Hours was written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston. Ralston was a climber who found his arm trapped by a rock in a canyon in Utah in 2003.
It’s an incredible story. Like most people, I’m amazed by Ralston’s courage and resourcefulness. Like most people, I don’t know how I’d have coped (probably by not going anywhere near the desert in the first place — I’m not the outdoor type). Here, I’m going to talk about the screenplay specifically, rather than the true story. I’ll also be talking about ‘Aron’, a character in a screenplay, rather than about Ralston, the real person.
As incredible as the true story is, it doesn’t sound very cinematic. Flashbacks show us Aron reflecting on his life, but it’s still the story of a guy who can’t move. Phone Booth and Buried also depict a guy who can’t move, but Buried can play with has the mystery of how he got there, and Phone Booth has plenty of people to talk to. Aron has neither. How, then, is the film so utterly gripping from start to finish?
Screenwriting guru Syd Field teaches that a screenplay depicts a character overcoming obstacles to fulfill a need. This need, this goal, must be clearly defined to the audience. 127 Hours is this structure of the overcoming of obstacles to achieve a need broken down to the bare bones (almost literally).
Aron’s overall need is simple, and primal: survival. He needs to free himself from the rock, or he will die.
In Act I, we meet Aron as he heads out for a weekend in the desert, an environment he knows well. Aron’s fall into the canyon where he is trapped by the rock is the first plot point. Act II consists of Aron’s time trapped by the rock: in the first half of Act II, Aron attempts to free himself; then at the mid-point he accepts death. The premonition of his son is the second plot point. Act III resolves the situation.
The inner need
As the film progresses we learn Aron has an emotional need, too — a character-based inner need that he must fulfill, revealed by but independent of the narrative need. His enthusiasm, uniqueness, and devotion to living in the moment is what makes him likable to the audience, but it has cut him off from his family and friends. His emotional need is to find a balance between his individualism and his emotional attachments. Becoming a whole person won’t move the rock, but it will make for a more satisfying resolution than if he simply escapes and goes back to his old ways.
While his narrative need — to survive — takes primary importance over the course of the film itself, his emotional need extends beyond the 94 minutes/127 hours we spend with him, back past the time we first meet him and on after we have left him. That means that his emotional need is greater, in dramatic terms. What’s the point of surviving an experience if you don’t learn from it? Or, as many films put it, what’s the point of living if you haven’t learned to be alive?
For a character to learn to be alive, to be fully realised, they must change. They must learn something. That’s the character arc: the line drawn between one state to another — in Aron’s case, individualist to family man. Aron’s arc is complete when he acknowledges that he needs others, and acknowledges he must be there when they need him. The change in his character is symbolised when he stumbles out of the canyon and screams “I need help!” That’s true of his life in general, not just the immediate narrative concern of his wounded arm.
Man vs rock
The narrative obstacle is as simple and primal as his desire to survive. Drama is conflict. The narrative conflict pitches Aron against nature — both the canyon, and his own body. He has to escape, and he has to do it before he dies of thirst. He must defeat the rock and the clock. These are the obstacles he must overcome to fulfill his narrative need.
There is emotional conflict as well as narrative conflict, just as Aron has narrative goals and emotional goals. The emotional conflict is between Aron and himself. As he tells himself early on, he mustn’t lose it. Then finally he must overcome all natural instinct in order to mutilate himself. These are the character obstacles he must overcome to fulfill his emotional need.
As the story of Aron’s inner life emerges we realise their are other character obstacles too: his individualism means he hasn’t told anyone where he’s going, so there’s no hope of rescue. There’s an irony that his desire to do everything himself means he is now stuck having to solve this problem himself. His individualism cuts both ways, and through the course of the film he realises that no man is an island.
Canyon dig it?
Aron starts the film with very different goals. Often goals will change in the course of a screenplay. Often it’s the first plot point that transforms a character’s needs from an everyday need — having a fun weekend canyoneering — to something more dramatic — escaping the canyon alive. In Act I, Aron’s need is articulated straight to camera: to beat the guidebook’s journey time. Then his bigger goals are established.
Aron’s primal, primary need, and primal, primary obstacle are established. To make the film compelling from start to finish, we need smaller, subsidiary goals and obstacles. An economist might call them micro-goals that make up a macro-goal. A character’s battle with obstacles in the way of these smaller goals, leading towards a bigger goal, drive a story along.
127 Hours strips these right down to the most tiny point of focus. Boyle immerses us in Aron’s situation by concentrating with him on the minutiae of his situation. Hence we get close-ups of his kit, and even inside his kit. We get close-ups of Aron — and even inside him too. In Act II, he is presented with obstacles that create micro-goals, like retrieving the multi-tool. When he does escape, he has to leave the canyon, then make it down to the water, then leave the desert. Each goal is clearly defined. We are shown what has to be done, rather than told.
Syd Field argues that character is revealed by action. Aron is an extremely active character. He initiates situations, rather than reacting passively. He is unafraid to tackle obstacles head-on: when he comes off his bike, he grins, takes a picture, and moves on. His reaction to the completion of goals, even in the face of further adversity, shares the experience with us. When he rescues the multi-tool, he laughs and says “Sweet!”; I could have hugged him. His actions reveal his character, telling us he lives in the moment and enjoys small triumphs even when larger problems still exist. When the sun briefly warms his rocky prison, he basks in it, and is reminded of a treasured memory with his father.
Aron also learns even from the achievement of micro-goals: in the next shot after the dropped multi-tool is retrieved, it’s securely tethered.
Like as not
Audiences like to watch characters move towards clearly-defined goals. Even if characters are unpleasant, watching them battle obstacles to complete a goal is compelling. Elaborate heists are a classic example of enjoying the execution of a goal, even if the goal is questionable. There are other ways of making characters sympathetic: action, and competence, for example. Passive characters fade into the background, so characters who act rather than react engage the audience. Characters who are skilled or resourceful also engage the audience. Perhaps it’s the vicarious thrill of action and competence that we enjoy — look at all the silver-screen gangsters and killers who commit unspeakable acts but do so without hesitation and with lashings of style, and remain enduring icons.
Aron is an extremely likable character from the outset. In narrative terms, he acts, and is competent and resourceful. In character terms, he is also enthusiastic, genuine and unconcerned with what others think. Those things make him instantly likable both to us and other characters — but they’re also at the heart of his emotional problem. He lives in the moment at the expense of relationships. We’re shown that he’s too busy rushing somewhere to return his mother’s call, and when he wishes he’d returned all her calls, we realise with him that each of his individual moments add up to a long-term pattern.
The final cut
Aron is also escaping from his everyday life, which helps us identify with him. Aron is in the great outdoors and we’re in a cinema, but we’ve both left behind life, job, and worries to escape into a place where anything can happen — and that includes being utterly gripped by 94 minutes of a guy having an argument with a rock.
127 Hours is a precision-engineered piece of work. I’d give my right arm to make something as good.
A pencil sketch of Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, as referenced from a magazine about Omega watches. I had to monkey with the levels in Photoshop because the original didn’t scan very well (ie, my pencilling was a bit lazy), otherwise it hasn’t been cleaned up at all.
Each season of The Wire features a different version of ‘Way Down in the Hole’, written by Tom Waits for his 1987 album Franks Wild Years [sic]. Here they are:
Season One: The Five Blind Boys of Alabama
Season Two: Tom Waits Waits also sang the extended version playing over the final episode’s closing montage
Season Three: The Neville Brothers This clattering take is my favourite
Season Four: DoMaJe Arranged and recorded specifically for the show, and performed by five Baltimore teenagers: Ivan Ashford, Markel Steele, Cameron Brown, Tariq Al-Sabir, and Avery Bargasse
Season Five: Steve Earle Earle, himself a former addict, also appears in the show as Walon, a recovering addict
In fact this whole post is one big spoiler, so if you haven’t got half-way through series 2 of The Wire then stop reading. If you’re watching on BBC2 right now, then step off this motherfucker. Serious, yo, back up or yo ass is gon’ get spoiled, f’real.
Still here? Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. The fact is, I still can’t believe they killed D’Angelo.
Sure, I know why Stringer did it, it makes sense in narrative terms — I’m talking about the writers of the show. Because to me, D’Angelo Barksdale was the heart and soul of The Wire. The show opened at his trial, and even though he left the courtroom he remained on trial, in a battle for his soul between the game and something better. I wanted him to be there until the end, because I was truly gripped as to which way he would go.
The other characters are, to some extent, locked into their roles. McNulty’s battle with his demons is compelling because of the vicarious thrill of watching his legendary exploits, but we know his drinking and whatnot can’t ever overwhelm his love for his kids, and his fierce and contrary desire for justice. I thought maybe Daniels’ ambition would cause him to betray the trust of the detail, but it doesn’t seem to be going that way. And the shark-like Stringer Bell is fascinating, but in his Shakespearean power machinations he’s more the calculating Iago than the tormented Macbeth.
The only other character with as much scope to go as far to either the light or dark side is Bubbles. I love Bubbles; his relapse at the end of season one was heartbreaking. From the spoilers of later series I haven’t avoided I understand that his progress both up and down — and further down — is central to the show. But somehow I can’t see his story being as compelling as D’Angelo’s. Maybe it’s the big soulful eyes, but D’Angelo just burned himself into my consciousness. Maybe it’s the soft-spoken speeches on chess or the Great Gatsby. But I wanted him to make it.
I understand why he was killed, in dramatic as well as narrative terms: it’s almost like the creators proving a point. Life is random, cruel, unexpected, and so is our show. Still, without him there’s a soul-shaped hole in The Wire.
Update: If you haven’t reached the end of Series 3, back the fuck up because there’s another big-ass spoiler pointed straight at your grill. Now they’ve killed Stringer! Two of the three who formed the psychological centre of the story are gone. Again, I understand the contrary desire to deprive us of resolution, but can’t they give us something! I’m dyin’ here! Now we’re stuck with Avon and Marlo, two characters who are pretty similar and not that interesting. I was expecting Avon to go next, in the next stage of Stringer’s machiavellian rise to power.
Still, in the way of light relief, I always crack up whenever Cutty introduces himself as Dennis Wise.
The other week I had the extreme good fortune to get 15 minutes chatting to Dave Gibbons, the thoroughly nice chap behind Watchmen, Martha Washington, Rogue Trooper and loads more. The interview appears at CNET UK: Crave meets Watchmen creator Dave Gibbons. This is the complete transcript:
You must be sick of talking about Watchmen…
No not at all. But I do feel that now the circus is leaving town.
Have you heard about the Judge Dredd movie?
Another one of these things that if it’s done right would be an absolute smash. The problem with the first one was that it was like Robocop had eaten Dredd’s lunch! And also the fact that there was a huge star who wanted to take the helmet off, and I really wish they could have done it without revealing that.
I think one of the successes of Watchmen is that the cast, although they’re wonderful actors, aren’t over-familiar. So you buy into the story, the scenario, without stopping to think “oh that’s that, y’know, the next Dustin Hoffman or Tom Cruise”. I wish the Judge Dredd movie well, I’d like to see it.
I think one of the keys to Dredd is that you never see his face, he’s like the Lone Ranger or something. He’s eternally masked and that’s the essence of his mystery
Are you pleased with how Watchmen turned out?
Very pleased. I feel so flattered that they stuck so closely to what Alan Moore and I did. I just think it’s wonderful. I’ve seen it a few times now. The first time I saw it I’m sure it would have been the experience of people much less close to it than me. It’s just “Oh my God — it’s really happening! It’s Rorschach! He’s gonna say that, this is the bit where this happens…” The second time I saw it I got over that. I saw it as a movie and for two-and-a-half hours I was lost in it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I’d paid ten quid to see it on a Saturday night I’d have been just thrilled.
Do you think it has brought in non-comics people?
Undoubtedly. The thing that’s the key to that is the sales of the graphic novels. Sales of the graphic novel have gone through the roof, and those are people who’ve been intrigued by the trailers, intrigued by the movie, and then saw the graphic novel so I’m sure it brought a lot of people in. And it’s interesting, people seem quite divided on the movie: there are some true fans who like it, some who don’t like it. Some people had never heard of it and really really like it. Some don’t get it. But it’s those ones who weren’t aware of it and had seen it not knowing and got absolutely hooked on it, they’re the real victories.
You were involved with recolouring Watchmen for the Absolute Edition. Is that something you’d have considered before the digital age?
The way that the colour separation was done on Watchmen originally is almost like something out of the Victorian age. You had to do watercolour colour guides with every single area annotated, and it would be something like R2B2 — which isn’t a Star Wars reference, it’s 25 per cent red, 25 per cent blue: it’s a light purple. Every single area had to be coloured like that. It would then go to these ladies who would sit at their kitchen tables with sheets of acetate and they’d paint out all the areas. It was so inefficient.
Every page. Three tones of every colour, three tones of red, yellow, blue, so there’s 9 sheets of acetate for every page in a 30 page comic. That’s nearly 300 sheets of acetate. But now of course it’s done by computer, so what John Higgins the original colourist on Watchmen was able to do was go back and correct the mistakes that had inevitably crept in the process. Also of course in the old process you couldn’t do anything subtle; you had to paint up to a line and if there wasn’t a line there they’d just put an edge on the paper. So he was able to get digital files that were exact reproductions of the original colours and then tweak those so that they looked right.
We didn’t make huge changes because we didn’t want to do new work. We wanted to do the equivalent of a digital remastering of a favourite song, where you don’t correct the bum notes but you take the hiss and the scratch off it. You restore it to what it was always meant to be.
When did you start using digital technology in your work?
I first got a computer for my work… Well, I got one to do word processing, an Amstrad, in the mid-80s. But I invested in some serious stuff very early in the 90s. Originally I would do typographic sort of things. Mechanical elements. Then I started to do colouring myself, for which it was wonderful. And now I use it in all kind of ways: I write my scripts on the computer, I do a lot of my rough drawing on the computer because you can be so loose and free on it — you can re-size stuff and move stuff round. I’ve recently got onto a Wacom Cintiq graphics tablet, which is one of these wonderful things where you literally draw on the screen, and that’s just… that’s magic.
So I’ve used a computer increasingly since then. Things that probably wouldn’t occur, things like getting photo reference. You have to have lots of reference when you’re drawing comics. It used to be a trip to the library. Now Google it, and you haven’t got one shot of the car you want, you’ve got 100 shots of the car you want. So, on every level.
One of the main challenges of comics is you have to draw things repeatedly from different angles so 3D modelling programs are very useful there — not making finished models, but models that are good enough to draw from. So there isn’t an area of what I do that hasn’t been improved by technology.
So in theory you can do a comic without putting pen to paper at all?
You can. I’ve done bits of artwork where nothing has ever been drawn. On the computer I’ll do the roughs, then the pencils, then the inks, then the colour, and, y’know, it feels strange to begin with… And of course, the one downside is you’re not left a piece of original artwork that you can sell! But it certainly saves a hell of a lot of time, particularly if you ever have to do any correction or any redrawing. I’m moving increasingly towards ‘the paperless studio’.
Did publishers embrace that kind of technology?
There was resistance, because I think in a sense publishers liked to see what they’d paid for. They liked to have a page of original artwork, and actually a physical object. I think it’s a thing that had to reach a critical mass: a friend of mine called Richard Starkings, who runs a company called Comicraft who do digital lettering, he had terrible trouble with DC Comics, trying to get them to accept digital lettering. What he used to have to do was do it digitally, then print it out and cut and paste it physically onto the artwork.
But then Marvel Comics embraced it, because of course in production it’s a huge time-saver. Someone can do the pencil drawings, and they can be lettered while somebody is inking the pencil drawings, and they can be coloured while they’re still being inked. So it absolutely streamlines the whole production process. And it actually means that there is no longer the liability if original artwork that it might get lost or damaged, the problems of storing it. I think all the publishers prefer digital now.
Were British and American attitudes different? Because they’re such different systems for making comics.
I think everything’s becoming kind of global, so many Brits work for American comics, and so many British comics like 2000AD are virtually exclusively coloured digitally, the lettering’s now done on computer so the fields are interchangeable. The other thing is you can quite happily live in England and work for America — or live in California and work for England, because transfer is instantaneous. I’m of an age where, when I first started making comics, there was no such thing as Fedex. There certainly wasn’t such a thing as a fax machine. So if you wanted to send a page of script then you had to get it physically delivered to the guy. Now, as you know, it’s the work of a moment: you write it, you send it. You draw it, you send it.
That must have been difficult with Alan Moore’s scripts being so famously dense — must have been some big packages arriving…
That’s true, and also what used to happen when Alan was really under a lot of deadline pressure he wasn’t able to do an entire script. I have had two sheets of typing paper delivered from Northampton where Alan lived, delivered to Hertfordshire where I live, in a taxi because there weren’t any fax machines
That must have made for a white knuckle experience…
Yeah! He said that the money he spent on taxis was god’s punishment for making him rich.
He could have been richer if he’d been more involved in the films, but obviously… (I tail off, wishing I hadn’t said that)
Well, that’s true, it’s… he’s had a real bad time with Hollywood and he didn’t want to repeat it with Watchmen. He does get royalties on the sales of the graphic novel which is right, but yeah… I’ve had a very good experience on the movie, I perfectly respect his decision not to be involved with it, and we’re still friends which is the most important thing to me. But I do think of all the movies that have been made of Alan’s work this is the one that comes closest to the spirit of the original.
You’ve worked with Frank Miller as well. What do you think it is about their work that makes them so attractive to Hollywood?
Well I think they’re wonderful writers. For a start, their characters and their stories are of huge interest. Y’know, Frank I think has always been directed at Hollywood, that’s always been part of his plan to end up in Hollywood. He’s a visual storyteller and he can write and draw both, so… I just think they’re very talented people. But their approach is completely different. Alan is like Mozart, everything’s like a symphony. Frank is like jazz, he kind of jumps about, it’s improvised.
I bloody love Michael Mann-style neo-noir crime dramas. For some reason I actually thought To Live and Die in LA was a Michael Mann film, but it is in fact written and directed by William Friedkin (based on a novel by real life Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich). For the earlier sections of the film, the Miami Vice-style flashiness looks kind of dated, drenched in some really hackneyed cop-macho bullshit lines. But underneath the 80s glitz, Friedkin’s ’70s nihilism is lurking, especially in the risky “What just happened?!” ending. It’s also possibly the only crime thriller ever made with a contemporary dance sequence.
CSI‘s William Petersen (having already appeared in Mann’s Thief) is cocksure, ego-driven obsessive Treasury Agent Richard Chance, determined to avenge the death of his partner at the hands of Willem Dafoe’s kinky counterfeiter Rick Masters. John Pankow turns in a realistically panicky performance as Petersen’s new partner John Vukovich, and I’d have liked to have seen more of him: apparently in a deleted scene he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, which would have added more weight to the ending.
We also get John Turturro as more of a tough than he usually plays, Frazier’s Jane Leeves as a lineless lesbian dancer, and Dean Stockwell as a conniving lawyer.
The film has dated badly in some ways. There are a lot of contemporary-feeling elements, like the technical exercise that is the counterfeiting sequence: we follows Masters’ funny money printing process in extreme detail, momentum building to the point that Wang Chung’s driving soundtrack is perfectly synchronised with the clanking of the printing press. It’s the sound of the 80s: drum machines and money and excess.
The opening credits, with their garish global hypercolour neon fonts, should look dated but actually add to the sense of place. It’s the dialogue and some of the early plot elements that look awful now: from the tacked-on, no-relation-to-the-rest-of-the-story opening sequence involving a suicide bomber and a reeeeally cheap explosion, to the impending retirement (and therefore grimly-inevitable murder) of the hero’s partner. With three days to go before he gets to spend his days fishing, Chance’s partner, mentor and best friend drives out into the desert to follow a lead. It’s not a spoiler to say the daft old bastard doesn’t come back. I had the same feeling as when I watched the pilot episode of Mann’s Miami Vice: that this was a slick, stylised new form of crime drama that hadn’t yet shaken off the plot clichés.
The film kicks into gear later, when Chance and Vukovich rob a fence to acquire front money to trap Masters. Needless to say, things go downhill from there. There’s a car chase that doesn’t have quite the visceral immediacy of the French Connection, but has obviously learnt some tricks from that film and in some of the camerawork may even be technically better. One shot in particular grabbed me, a stunning tracking dolly in which we follow Chance’s speeding car, then rise to an overpass to seamlessly meet the pursuers, before Chance screams back into shot and blasts off up a sidestreet.
I won’t say much about the ending, except to note that it almost comes from a different film than the beginning. The nearly-retired murdered partner is such a hackneyed cliché – surely even in 1985! – that I was considering turning the film off. But by the climax, To Live and Die in LA has raced into twisty noir territory and out the other side, into a bleakly brutal shock ending and a psychologically sophisticated final moment. You won’t see it coming.
Is there a name for that game with the marbles where you build a massive tower and stick a marble in and it’s different every time? Is that even a game or am I reaching for a metaphor? Anyway, I’m writing this to explain how I find people on Twitter, and to point you at this post for future reference if I have followed you.
Number 1 criteria for me following you:
Hellz yeah you do. I don’t believe in reciprocal following, so if you follow me and I don’t follow you back, it’s because I’m not that keen on all your @replies or all your links or your being dull. Sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.
But if I’m following you and you don’t know where I came from, it’s because of the marbles thing. I sometimes pick someone I think is cool/witty/hella smart and look at their followers — because if this person is cool/witty/hella smart then the people they follow must be fucking cool/extra witty/hella fricking smart, right? I then hit follow A LOT and then look at their followers and just follow the marbles wherever they cascade because I’d rather be a part of your stream of consciousness for a bit than never know you at all.
So if I stumble into your circle of friends without knocking, no offence. It’s only ’cause you look like the cool kids and I’m bored of hovering in the kitchen. This is me saying Hi. HI. Who’s for Jäger shots?
With the news that Google is cutting Jaiku loose, I thought it was time to rescue my review of Reading 2007 (the reason I signed up in the first place, because Twitter wouldn’t work with my phone) before it disappeared into the ether, typos and all…
I was wankered by this point, and it was only about 2. After this I fell over and didn’t bother getting up for several hours, and only then because I really wanted to see the Cold War Kids even though all available evidence suggested I was about to die.
‘Comic book movie’ can mean two things: a movie based on a comic book, or a movie that follows the kind of broad entertainment value, gravity-free logic and near-slapstick violence most people associate with comics. Some movies, like Ghost World, A History of Violence or Road to Perdition, fall into the first category but not the second. Some fall into the second, like Con Air (or just about any action movie that involves people shooting oil drums to make them blow up, then walking away from the explosion in slow-motion) without any evidence that they’re working from a printed script, let alone a printed comic. Some movies, especially in the superhero genre, fall into both. The Spirit is both, and takes the concept of a comic book movie to the extreme.
We’re launched straight into the story of Central City’s masked crimefighter the Spirit (Gabriel Macht) as he takes on mad scientist and drug-peddling villain the Octopus (Samuel L Jackson). Our hero is Denny Colt, a rookie cop presumed dead but still capable of charming the ladies, including his boss’ daughter Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) and old flame-turned master-thief Sand Seraf (Eva Mendes).
In the Spirit comic, Will Eisner pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the comic book form, and invented many sophisticated techniques still used today. Director Frank Miller shoots for this kind of invention, crafting the film from digital elements, his high-powered cast placed on a green-screen background and echoing many of the comic’s iconic shots.
It’s a bold approach, bringing the live-action film-making process of the comic book movie (the first kind) as close as possible to comic creation, where the only special effects budget is the creator’s imagination. Robert Rodriguez made it work in his shot-for-panel adaptation of Miller’s Sin City. Sadly, in this case it just doesn’t work.
The reason Sin City worked is because, per the title, the location was a character itself. The brick walls framed the chiselled granite toughness of the men, the stark chiaroscuro lighting echoed the beauty and darkness of the women, with everybody mixed up like cats in a sack in that crazy burg. It’s a trick honed from Eisner’s trailblazing use of the location as part of the framework of his comic, and vice versa. Where Sin City‘s location and look defined the book and the film, The Spirit fails to repeat the trick. For all of the lead’s tortured voiceover about ‘his city’ we never get a sense of the place. Apart from generic (if exhilarating) rooftop-jumping, the backgrounds are often unclear and open. With greenscreen providing an option to place the characters anywhere that can be conceived, all too often the cast feel like they’re standing on a soundstage accompanied only by a smoke machine.
The film also takes the anti-logic of the comic book movie (the second kind) to extremes. Eisner’s Spirit was an ordinary joe, unlike Superman’s superpowered alien or Batman’s millionaire gadget-fetishist. Eisner’s Spirit’s only crime-fighting equipment were his fists, yet he seemed capable of taking regular beatings that should have seen him in a (second) early grave. Miller latches onto this, adding a superhuman element to the Spirit’s toughness, and making a plot point of the extended scraps between hero and similarly-endowed villain. Miller has thankfully toned down some of the excesses he apparently had in mind, and the conflict between Spirit and Octopus actually works well, with Sand Seraf’s subplot intertwining nicely.
But once again a lack of context hamstrings the story: we know the Octopus is a drug dealer from a throwaway line, rather than a visit to the seedy side of town that would have both established his villainy and given us a glimpse of the city’s character and texture. Miller seems more interested in giving the Octopus a series of non-sequitur costume changes, which are fun but overly long and talky, and ring hollow in the absence of context. Is the Octopus a Nazi? No, he just likes the uniform.
Macht does reasonably well with his square-jawed milk-and-cookies hero, his compulsive womanising staying the right side of innocence in his wide-eyed expression. Miller is willing to have fun with the character (“Somebody bring me a tie… and it better be red!“) but gives Jackson too much rope without any really killer lines to shout (instead barking tosh like “C’mon… Toilets are always funny!”). The highlight is another entrancing turn from Eva Mendes, whose ruthless yet smoulderingly fragile thief deserves her own movie.
Den of Geek has a list of movies that don’t have endings. Rather than trying to think of suggestions they might have missed, I started thinking about movies that have too many endings — and as such, spoilers abound — prompted by…
Air Force One
…because it was on last night. Russian dissidents hijack Vietnam vet Harrison Ford’s plane, and he fights back in his signature rumpled everyman style. Aside from having an astonishingly high number of innocent people getting wasted, there’s not much noteworthy about this Die Hard 2 clone (yes, it’s not even a Die Hard clone!) until we get to the end. There’s a final showdown in which a shifty Brass off of CSI shows he’s a patriot after all by throwing himself in front of a bullet destined for President Han Solo, complete with slow-motion roar. Then there’s another fight in which chief villain Gary Oldman is tossed out of the back with the last parachute by President Jack Ryan (“Get off my plane!”), but that’s not the end. There’s a MiGed-up dogfight which culminates in a random fighter jock shows he’s a patriot above all by throwing his plane in front of a missile destined for President Indy, complete with slow-motion roar — but that’s not the end either. The plane still has to be landed, and at least here the film sidesteps talking-down-the-inexperienced-pilot-from-the-tower cliché by knackering the plane’s engines. Instead we get a protracted sequence of characters ziplining to another plane, at which point a traitorous Secret Service agent reveals his hand, despite the fact that he’s totally escaped detection* and has no actual reason to kill President John Book. He shoots loveable William H Macy — another example of how callous this film is with its supporting cast — before President Richard Kimble beats him up and jumps out, leaving Air Force One to ditch in the sea. Which, with plenty of support on hand, may not actually have been the worst thing in the world. I wasn’t timing, but it seems like a good twenty minutes of faffing about after Gary Oldman’s scenery-chewing baddie is dispatched, and that’s just not on.
*although frankly, the mere fact that he’s Xander Berkely should have set alarm bells ringing in the Secret Service. On the form you have to fill in to get into the Secret Service, it should say at the top ‘Are you Xander Berkely? Yes/no’. Even above ‘name’. It should say ‘If you answered yes, get on your knees, interlace your fingers behind your head, and wait to be carted off to whichever third world country we’re currently carting wrong’uns off to. If you answered no, go to question 2′.
Now I think about it, this seems like a problem endemic to a certain brand of pre-Bourne action movies, which attempt to top the pyrotechnics of the first ninety minutes in the last twenty minutes. So after Speed‘s repeating the bus bits on a subway train (“But I’m taller!”) we get perhaps the nadir of this trend: Con Air. After all the plane-related banging and crashing we get a messy landing right on the Las Vegas strip, from which John Malkovich, Ving Rhames and a big redneck escape in a fire engine. John Cusack and Nic Cage give chase, there’s an overblown but dull scrap, and the fire engine crashes into a bridge. My problem is the number of ways Malkovich is offed: he’s thrown through a glass bridge, electrocuted and finally has his fucking head flattened to a pulp by some kind of construction equipment that seems to have the sole purpose of sitting around waiting to squash somebody’s fucking head. And that’s not to mention the frankly insane ending where paedophile mass murderer Steve Buscemi just gets away!**
**Although it would have been totally awesome if Xander Berkely had just got away.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
The king of films that never fucking end, that is. Oh. My. Gollum. There’s a big battle. That’s got to be the end, right? Oh no, there’s like an hour of Sam and Frodo crying on each other as they try to deny that they’re totally hobbit-hot for each other’s hobbit bottoms. And then there’s the bit with Liv Tyler getting on a boat but wait she’s not getting on the boat aaaagghjesusmakeitstopineedafuckingppppiiiisssss!
Any more suggestions in the comments. But don’t go on too long.
So I’m facing an hour on the tube and I don’t particularly want to listen to my thoughts, because what do they know? It’s the sort of mood that needs music, but the wrong music would be even worse, and I really don’t want to spend the journey fighting with the skip button. Maybe I should just pick something. Off the top of my head I think Ladytron? In masochistic rebellion my finger plays Russian roulette and hits shuffle.
There are 14 Ladytron songs on my iPhone, out of 2096 songs. That’s a 1 in 150 chance of Ladytron being the first song to play.
Runaway fills my ears. I nearly cry.
Runaway – Ladytron So Lonely – The Police Jump They Say – David Bowie Been Training Dogs – The Cooper Temple Clause There Only Is – Vendetta Red Pressure On You – Duels Lend Me Your Face – Fight Like Apes Hi Fi Killers – Laptop Hang Me Up To Dry – Cold War Kids Worst Thing that Can Happen – A Yeah You – Embrace Mungo City – Spacehog Freefall – Audioweb Miserable – Lit Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime – Glasvegas