Tags: movie

11

sparkline

Mistakes on a plane

I’m in Seattle. An Event Apart just wrapped up here and it was excellent as always. The venue was great and the audience even greater so I was able to thoroughly enjoy myself when it was time for me to give my talk.

I’m going to hang out here for another few days before it’s time for the long flight back to the UK. The flight over was a four-film affair—that’s how I measure the duration of airplane journeys. I watched:

  1. Steve Jobs,
  2. The Big Short,
  3. Spectre, and
  4. Joy.

I was very glad that I watched Joy after three back-to-back Bechdel failures. Spectre in particular seems to have been written by a teenage boy, and I couldn’t get past the way that the The Big Short used women as narrative props.

I did enjoy Steve Jobs. No surprise there—I enjoy most of Danny Boyle’s films. But there was a moment that took me out of the narrative flow…

The middle portion of the film centres around the launch of the NeXT cube. In one scene, Michael Fassbender’s Jobs refers to another character as “Rain Man”. I immediately started to wonder if that was an anachronistic comment. “When was Rain Man released?” I thought to myself.

It turns out that Rain Man was released in 1988 and the NeXT introduction was also in 1988 but according to IMDB, Rain Man was released in December …and the NeXT introduction was in October.

The jig is up, Sorkin!

100 words 078

I’ve noticed lately that my experience of films is lasting long after leaving the cinema. I end up reading opinion pieces and listening to podcasts about the film for days or even weeks afterwards.

Interstellar, Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road …I enjoyed each of them in the cinema, and then I enjoyed thinking about them again by huffduffing related material to catch up on.

Sometimes I find myself doing it with other media too. I finish a book, and then listen to reckons about it afterwards.

I guess this is the water cooler effect, but extended to the internet.

100 words 003

I measure transatlantic flights in movies watched. Yesterday’s journey from London to Seattle was four movies long.

  1. The Imitation Game: a necessarily fictionalised account of Turing’s life (one of the gotchas about top-secret work is that it’s, well, secret). But couldn’t Tommy Flowers have been given at least a walk-on part?
  2. Fury: Brad Pitt plays Lee Marvin in a war story told through the eyes of the naive rookie as seen in The Big Red One and Saving Private Ryan.
  3. Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part One: The Hungering.
  4. Paddington: just right for the end of a flight.

August in America, day seven

Today was another day of excellent perambulations around Philadelphia. This time Jessica and I went to the Italian market featured so heavily in Rocky. Then we wandered up to Reading Terminal Market and took in the tastes and smells. Who knew the Amish made such good doughnuts?

But the main event of this day, this week, and indeed, this month, was the PPC: Philly Pizza Club. This involves the consumption of pizza and many varieties of beer.

Beer 1: Oberon Summer Ale Beer 2: Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale Beer 3: Flying Fish Red Fish Beer 4: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA Beer 5: Red Hook ESB

The beer was necessary because the other the portion of PPC is the entertainment. And I use the term loosely. This evening’s “entertainment” was the classic 1987 film Miami Connection.

It was the best crossover ’80s rock ninja movie I’ve ever seen.

Who goes there?

Local lads British Sea Power have started up a residency, playing the first Friday of every month down at The Haunt. Myself and Jessica went along to the inaugural event, which was great fun.

The only downside was that it clashed with a one-off screening at The Duke of York’s of The Thing, the 1982 classic that conspicuous by its absence from the recent John Carpenter all-nighter.

Now I’m sure you’ve probably seen the Thingu parody that’s been doing the rounds.

Personally, I’m still laughing about The Thing: The Musical.

But there’s one piece inspired by the film that’s genuinely interesting. The Things by Peter Watts is a short story that tells John Carpenter’s tale from the perspective of the title character.

I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.

A dark star is born

At Clearleft towers, we’ve been having semi-regular movie nights, based around a connecting theme. Previous themes include car chases (The French Connection, Bullitt and Ronin) and films set at Christmas that aren’t about Christmas (Gremlins and Die Hard).

Last week’s movie night’s theme was near-future science fiction. We didn’t get around to watching Minority Report but we did watch Children of Men and Sunshine.

is one of those films that gets better with each viewing. Little by little, it’s edging up my list of all-time favourites. It has a sense of awe, wonder and humility in the face of science that’s genuinely Clarkeian.

It also has plenty of loving references to those other films featuring the trifecta of sci-fi elements: a ship, a crew, a signal. The nods to 2001 and Alien are clear, but something I didn’t catch until just the other day was that the character of Pinbacker was named for Sergeant Pinback from .

I know this because, instead of our usual Thursday evening pub gathering and book swapping, the Brighton Speculative Fiction Group this week hosted a puppet show. Paul and Richard recreated all of Dark Star using cardboard, some string, a few dolls and some strategic lighting.

It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Here’s the highlight reel.

Iron Man and me

All of my Flickr pictures are published under a Creative Commons attribution licence. One of the reasons I switched over to using this licence was so that people didn’t have to write and ask me whenever they want to republish one of my photos. But I still get plenty of emails from people asking me if it would be okay to use one of my pictures. I’m very lax at responding to those requests. If and when I do respond, I point out that they don’t really need to ask; as long as they credit me—as either adactio or Jeremy Keith—then they can use my photos wherever and however they want.

Back in March, right before I was setting out for Mix’08 in Vegas and South By Southwest in Austin, I received a typical request:

Is the photo Andy in the VAB your image on flickr? If so can you please contact me with regard to possibly allowing us to use a part of this image in a feature film.

Andy in the VAB

I didn’t respond. I was too busy packing and gearing myself for a big showdown with Microsoft (this was right before they reversed their decision on IE8’s default rendering). I soon received a second email with more details:

The photograph would be cropped in a way where no people would be shown. We are interested in using this image as a background to insert our main characters which would be included as part of a biography film on our main character which is shown at an award ceremony honoring him in the film.

I thought it was an odd picture to be asking about. Let’s face it; it’s not a very good photo. It’s blurry and washed out. I guess it’s somewhat unusual in that it was shot inside the at Cape Canaveral. Usually members of the public aren’t allowed inside. Myself, Andy and Paul were lucky enough to be part of the first open day since 2001. It was all thanks to an invitation from Benny, a bona fide rocket scientist at NASA—thanks again, Benny!

I never got around to responding to the emails. I figured that, whoever it was, if they really wanted to use the picture, they would notice the licence and realise that they didn’t have to ask permission.

I quickly forgot all about it. Other events were foremost in my mind. I got a call from Pete Le Page and Chris Wilson telling me that Internet Explorer 8 was going to render pages as if it were—get this—Internet Explorer 8. Now I was going to Vegas for a celebration instead of a battle.

After a long trip across the Atlantic, I awoke in my hotel on the first morning of the conference, eager to hear the opening keynote. But before I could head downstairs, my mobile phone rang. I answered it and the woman on the other end said, “Hi. I sent you two emails about using a picture of yours…”

“Ah, right!”, I said. I then launched into my usual spiel about Creative Commons licencing. I explained that she was free to use my picture. All she had to do was include a credit somewhere in her little movie.

“Well”, she said, “the thing is, getting your name in the credits usually costs at least $1,500. That’s why we need you sign the license release form I sent.”

“Wait a minute”, I said. “What is this for?”

“It’s for a movie that’s currently in production called Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jnr.”

Holy crap! One of my photos was going to be in Iron Man? That certainly put a new spin on things.

“So I guess you want to use the picture because it’s inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building?” I asked.

“No. We just thought it was a picture of some warehouse or something.”

The woman on the other end of the phone—her name was Ashley—said she could reimburse me for the use of my photo if I signed the form she sent. I thanked her, told her I didn’t need any reimbursement, and said I would print out and sign the form for her. Ashley made it clear that I would need to get the form faxed to her before the end of the day.

There was a printer in my hotel room so I set about getting it connected up to my Macbook. That’s when disaster struck. My Macbook began making the dreaded ticking time bomb noise. Within seconds, my hard drive was dead, broken, kaput. Pining for the fjords, it had shuffled off this mortal coil and was an ex hard drive.

Well aware of the irony of my Apple hardware failing while I was attending a Microsoft conference, I abandoned all hope of printing out the license release form and sat in on the opening keynote. This consisted of a few words from Ray Ozzie, a quick look at IE8 and about a billion hours of Silverlight demos. That’s what it felt like anyway.

The next day, I made my way to Austin for South by Southwest. That turned out to be quite an adventure.

Once I finally made it to Austin, I settled into a comfortable routine of geeking out, having fun and generally over-indulging. As I was making my way to the conference centre one morning, my mobile phone rang. It was Ashley.

“Sorry I didn’t manage to get the form to you”, I said. “My laptop died on me. I know it’s too late now.”

“Actually, there’s still time”, she responded.

“Look”, I said. “Let’s cut out the computers completely. Can you fax the form to my hotel? I can sign it and fax it back to you straight away.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Iron Man was released a few weeks later. I never got ‘round to seeing it in the cinema; I’m not a big fan of the whole cinema-going experience. But some time later I was travelling across the Atlantic yet again and one of the in-flight movie options was Iron Man. I fired it up, wondering if my picture had made it into the final cut and even if it had, whether I’d be able to spot it.

Three minutes into the movie, there was my photo.

Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey Jnr. in Iron Man

It fills the screen. The camera lingers over it while performing its best Ken Burns effect. Not only was Robert Downey Jnr. photoshopped onto the picture, Jeff Bridges was on there too! The Dude!! …On my picture!!!

My Flickr pictures have been used in some pretty strange places but this must surely be the strangest …and the coolest.

Before and after

A Scanner Darkly

The Clearleft office was empty on Wednesday afternoon. The bodies that normally inhabit that space were to be found sitting in a cinematheque.

By unanimous agreement, we decided to see A Scanner Darkly. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book, I was looking forward to seeing this. I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t say the same for the other people who saw the film with me.

I loved it, Richard liked it, Andy, Paul, Aral and Jessica were distinctly underwhelmed. I can understand their reaction, even if I don’t share it. This isn’t a film for everyone.

Personally, I really enjoyed the experience of being immersed in an off-kilter drug-fueled world. But I can see why this world might not seem like the most inviting place to spend two hours of your life. The same dialogue that I found so hysterical (in every sense of the word) could also come across as just plain annoying.

The casting is inspired. It sounds like something a sketch show writer would put together: “So, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey Jr. are all sitting around getting stoned…”

Oh, and using Thom Yorke and Radiohead songs for the soundtrack? Also inspired.

The roto-scoping worked wonderfully for the scramble suit. I’m not sure whether it was entirely necessarily for everything else, but it did add to the otherworldly atmosphere to have everything nestled in the uncanny valley. It would be interesting the compare the finished film with the pre-roto-scoped footage to see how much of a difference it makes to the emotional impact of each scene. The film’s style is an interesting way of trying to nail down the right medium for telling this story. It struck me that a graphic novel might actually be the ideal medium: exactly halfway between the novel and the film.

The film is, by and large, very faithful to the book. It is by far the most faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story to date. But then, A Scanner Darkly, for all its quesy strangeness is one of the more coherent and down-to-earth of Dick’s works. While this film worked wonderfully, I doubt that even Richard Linklater could pull off an adaptation of Ubik or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. On the other hand, there’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said… now there’s a great film just waiting to happen.

So maybe it was a relatively easy target, but the film of A Scanner Darkly really captures the essence of a classic Philip K. Dick book. Bladerunner is a wonderful, wonderful movie on its own terms, but it bears little resemblance to the existentialist heart of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

There is a wonderful moment in A Scanner Darkly when subjective and objective reality collide in the playback of a recording captured by a scanner of the film’s title. It’s the quintessential Philip K. Dick coup. Just as you think you have a handle on the world you have entered, the rug is pulled from under your feet. I’ll never forget the corresponding moment from Time Out Of Joint with its Truman Show-esque plot, in which a hot-dog stand winks out of existence to be replaced by a piece of paper reading “hot-dog stand.”

There’s a short story by Philip K. Dick called The Electric Ant which can be read as a version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The comparison is apt. Dick writes Kafka-esque stories: funny, paranoid, and unsettling.

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly captures that Dickian feeling. That’s no mean feat.

As much as I loved this film, I’m hesitant to recommend it for your next outing to the cinema. It’s not the most cinematic of films. Wait for the DVD. I have the feeling that the film’s visual style will suit that medium very well indeed.

Gather some friends on the sofa. Pop the disc into your player and compare the anti-piracy warnings that precede the film to the pointless crusade against Substance D.

V for Vendetta

When I heard that V for Vendetta was being filmed, I was very, very nervous indeed. It has long been one of my favourite graphic novels, second only to Watchmen. The film industry hasn’t traditionally done a very good job of transferring graphic novels to celluloid.

When I saw a trailer for the film, my fears were not allayed. It all looked so slick, a million miles away from Alan Moore’s grim vision. I heard about the climax of the film featuring a gathering of people in V masks… that was most certainly not in the book.

I decided not to see the film in the cinema. I figured I’d just be as disappointed as Paul. I mentally filed the film away in the “watch it on DVD” category.

This week, I did just that. Even as the disc was sliding into the DVD player, I was still hoping that I could enjoy it, although I imagined I would probably spend most of the time nitpicking, comparing it to the graphic novel and finding it wanting.

Sure enough, it’s very different indeed. The story has been condensed. Characters have been changed. Everything looks cleaner and more up-to-date.

I should have hated it. But I didn’t. I liked it. A lot.

The graphic novel was a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain. It remains a product of its time. If the film were to stay absolutely true to the book’s look and feel, it would feel dated. Instead, the film is more in synch with the mood of Britain in the 21st century.

Most dystopian visions rely heavily on a sort of pathetic fallacy to show a world that looks dark, depressing and downtrodden. It’s easy, in such circumstances, to sympathise with any protagonist bent on tearing down the system. But what about a totalitarian society where everyone’s doing more or less okay? In a society where people are doing comfortably, with clean clothes and respectable jobs, would you still feel the same righteous desire to rip the fabric of society apart?

It’s this more ambiguous stance that made the film of V for Vendetta such a pleasure for me. In some ways, and this is a somewhat heretical thing to say, the film is superior to the book. Of course, it isn’t nearly as densely packed, but it does flow quicker, with a more cohesive structure than the episodic nature of the book.

I even liked the climax. I was afraid of some kind of Deus Ex Machina scenario, but instead the film builds towards the gathering at Westminster as an inevitable culmination of everything that has come before. It sounds like such a Hollywood ending, but it’s actually a reflection of our own world. Remember, when Alan Moore and David Lloyd wrote V for Vendetta in the ’80s, none of us had seen the embodiment of the human spirit in the gatherings of Eastern Europe or witnessed the sight of the citizens of Moscow facing down the tanks of a military coup.

But, plot changes aside, this film was always going to stand or fall based on one thing: the character of V. I was impressed with how the film depicted this man, and not just because they kept the mask on the whole time — something that’s almost unheard of for a leading actor. He is a hero and a villain. He is a murderer and a terrorist, yet he is charming and sympathetic. V was a complex character in the book, and he is equally complex in the film, thanks to Hugo Weaving’s great performance and the decision to keep V’s dense, lyrical dialogue intact.

I found myself enjoying V for Vendetta immensely. It was thrilling to see scenes from the graphic novel brought to life. And where the film veered away from the book, it always made sense in the context of the modern setting.

I was reminded of The Lord of the Rings. Watching that film, it became clear very early on that it was made by someone who has an equal love for the original material and the medium of cinema. The real art is reconciling those visions.

V for Vendetta certainly split the critics. Much of the negative criticism is aimed at the perceived politics of the film, as is much of the praise. In truth, the film is a cipher. It’s impossible not to bring in your own political opinions and belief system. Far from being a watered-down, wishy-washy Hollywood adaptation, this film turns on its audience, confronting them with uncomfortable juxtapositions and questions… much like the book. The film does the best possible job with the thankless task of transferring a much-loved cult work to a mainstream audience without compromising the integrity of the piece or insulting the intelligence of the viewers.

This isn’t a frame for frame, word for word adaptation of the the graphic novel. But it is faithful to the spirit of the book. Had the film-makers slavishly transferred the story from book to film, the result would have been a curious historical document. Instead, this is one of the most topical, engaging and well-crafted films I’ve seen this year.

V for Vendetta is available on DVD now.

Adactio, pour homme

Erik Sagen received a very tempting email out the blue, which he has posted on his website:

Dear Mr Sagen,

My sincere apologies for writing to you unannounced. My name is Arno Zimmerman and I am CEO of an Internet domain name acquisitions agency based here in Los Angeles, California.

My agency is currently engaged by a well-known Hollywood studio. The studio is producing a new action movie called The Kartooner. The movie has an all star cast, including Bruce Willis in the title role, and will be released in the fall. My client is therefore very keen to purchase the rights to the domain name kartooner.com from you.

And so on. Now, I found this particularly interesting because, just a little earlier, I found this in my inbox:

Dear Mr Keith,

My sincere apologies for writing to you unannounced. My name is Arno Zimmerman and I am CEO of an Internet domain name acquisitions agency based here in Manhattan.

My agency is currently engaged by a well-known fragrance manufacturer who will soon be launching a new product range under the brand of Adactio. Adactio is a new fragrance for men and will be marketed world-wide and on all media, including of course the Internet. My client is therefore very keen to purchase the rights to the domain name adactio.com from you.

But wait — the plot thickens. Mr. Zimmerman wrote back to Erik with some more information that movie project:

As I mentioned in my previous email, The Kartooner will star Bruce Willis in the title role. Bruce plays an impoverished artist in New York who pays his bills by drawing cartoons for the New York Times. Through a series of unfortunate accidents, Bruce’s character mistakenly becomes the target of a Mafia hit squad and must use all his wits (as well as his artistic skills) to stay alive. Needless to say I cannot divulge any further plot details.

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I want in.

Here’s the email I sent back:

Hi Arno,

Thanks for getting in touch. And allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your move from Los Angeles to Manhatten — and in record time, too!

Y’know, I could never imagine letting go of my domain name but the idea of a fragrance called Adactio is almost irresistible. I’m not really very money-oriented so I’m not going to name some huge price. I am, however, a huge attention whore. Therefore, all I ask is that I am the “face” of the advertising campaign for the fragrance.

It’s a win-win situation. You get your domain name, I get my face on a billboard in Times Square and sales of the fragrance will undoubtedly skyrocket.

But what would really seal the deal would be the promise of some product placement. I think I should have a part in the upcoming Kartooner movie project. Clearly, it would boost the profile of the film to have the face of Adactio featured prominently. In exchange, the movie studio should probably offer an endorsement by Bruce Willis. I’m picturing a short TV ad with Bruce speaking the tagline:

“I love the smell of Adactio in the morning. Smells like… web standards.”

By the way, what did you say the name of your company was again?

Update: Oh, man! This keeps getting better. I got a reply:

You have asked to be considered as the face of the advertising campaign for the fragrance and I will pass on your request to the advertising agencies handling the Adactio campaign. Will you please email to me a selection of photographs of yourself? As the campaign concepts feature a bare chested man, I would be grateful if you would include photographs from the waist up and of your naked chest.

As the media buying for the campaign is not yet finalized, I cannot guarantee a billboard in New York. However I do know that the poster campaign for Adactio will run across the UK, so your image will appear on several thousand London buses.

This comedic genius continues in a similar vein for a while, which prompts me to ask… John — on second thoughts — Andy, is that you?

In other news: the Photoshopping has begun. Mike has already done the Vanity Fair spread.

Prime yourself

Last year, there was a lot of positive hum travelling through the blogvine about the film Primer. It has finally shown up here in the UK in DVD form.

I rented and watched the movie last night. Then I watched it again, this time with the director’s commentary. Then I went online and started reading discussions about the movie. Now I’m beginning to get it. I may watch it one more time before I have to get the DVD back to the shop.

I would like to offer some humble opinion and some advice:

  1. Try to not read or hear anything about the plot before watching the movie.
  2. Watch it. It’s great. It looks great, it sounds great, the acting is great… it’s just great.
  3. After watching it — but not before — read this bulletin board discussion. It helps clarify things better than the Wikipedia entry or this very detailed diagram.
  4. Now watch it again.

You may want to just go ahead and buy the DVD rather than simply renting it.