Archive for August 2011
Back in March, I went to see The Veteran, a post-traumatic stress disorder drama set in London. After penning my indifferent 6/10 review it was filed away in my memory in the category marked “reasonable but ultimately forgettable films of 2011.”
That was until yesterday, when flicking through Metro, I spotted that I’d been quoted as describing the film as “violent and terrifying” on Revolver’s press advert for its DVD release. Now I never describe anything as “violent and terrifying” – even an away game at Millwall I’d summarise as not being entirely welcoming – but sure enough I looked back at the review and that’s exactly what I said. Just not quite in the way that quote suggested.
For in fact, I’d argued that lead actor Toby Kebbell was underrated, explained my issues with the plot’s lack of cohesion and concluded that the film’s “violent and terrifying” finale (SPOILER: Kebbell’s character goes trigger happy crazy) was its greatest strength. The published 6/10 score seemed fair enough.
I can’t say that I’m angry or disappointed with the advert; at my level most industry attention is welcome and it’s not as if I thought the film was utterly without value. And true enough, those words were used in a positive context in the review. But why it was used is more of a mystery – the advert featured another four or five quotes, all of which were from respected publications. The message could surely be conveyed without cribbing from a mid-score review and any consumers who knew of the original review (perhaps not that likely in this case, but certainly feasible) would be more wary of accepting the validity of such quotes in future film advertising.
In my experience, the accumulation of such quotes is a simple process; the film’s PR team will ask permission to use a quote if they’ve already read the review. If they haven’t seen it, they’ll ask what I thought of the film and then if I’m positive about it will ask if I can provide a quote for possible advertising use. And let’s face it; if I think a film is worth seeing, I’ll always grant the request.
Update: It’s actually on the packshot too.
1. Create your characters.
This is an easy process because you don’t need to expand on the motivations and past lives of your 5-8 characters beyond the absolute basics. The only exceptions are your two leads who need have a basic aspiration to do something very obvious with their lives. The cast of attractive twenty-somethings needs one less than perfect looking character for comic relief
Example: Nice Guy wants to marry Nice Girl who isn’t so sure. The rest of the main cast is Jock, Geek Girl (basically a model with glasses and a bad haircut), Token Black Dude, Very Attractive Girl, Older Guy and Fat Guy.
2. Set up the opening disaster / premonition.
The group are doing something routine and laughing at Fat Guy. Suddenly Nice Guy sees what’s about to happen – everyone will die – and runs off, forcing Nice Girl to go with him. Curious about the commotion, the others all follow and then see the real disaster unfold.
Example: The group are enjoying a river cruise on a sunny day. Suddenly ominous weather strikes; its overcast, raining and thunder cracks. Some characters are thrown overboard, another is killed by falling debris, one gets sucked into the propeller. The final survivor looks to have escaped until the boat hits a bridge and explodes.
3. You need a musical motif.
To be used in this scene and subsequent scenes to herald danger.
Example: Motorhead’s ‘Killed By Death’.
4. After the calm, dispatch a bunch of characters in quick succession.
Example: Fat Guy has ordered a steak but the waiter slips and plunges a knife into his heart. Jock goes to the gym where the treadmill goes into overdrive and throws him through a single-glazed window to his death. Geek Girl strips off to go to a sauna but the temperature mysteriously keeps on climbing and the exit door has locked itself as she slowly roasts.
5. Explain the death concept.
All you need is a creepy looking older guy who has an excuse to be present at each death. If he can speak cryptically or in riddles, all the better.
Example: Grizzled local paper journalist explains the concept to our remaining characters who clearly haven’t seen any of the other Final Destination films.
6. Make someone appear to be doomed to be killed by something, only to be killed by something else.
Always used to make things a little less predictable.
Example: Token Black Guy is at a baseball game. The screws in his seat come loose, the lighting flickers and the stadium trembles. He walks down the crumbling steps, slips but regains his footing and heads under the stand to buy a hotdog and a coke. The stadium continues to tremble, but he heads back to his seat. At the bottom of the steps he looks at the game before looking away at his seat. Suddenly a player hits the strike of a lifetime which hits him hard on the back of the head. He falls face first on a step which splits his skull in two. The camera pans away to reveal his bloody corpse is still gripping the hotdog.
7. Add a scene in which a characters attempts to cheat death.
Either someone tries to cheat death or there’s some uncertainty about whether someone had inadvertently cheated death. Ideally there should be some accompanying mental issues.
Example: Older Guy is scared by his imminent demise and constructs a noose to hang himself with. He positions it around his neck and kicks the supporting chair away, but instead of snapping his neck, it slowly chokes him. He struggles and the noose breaks, allowing him to fall safely to the ground. Realising the value of life, he arranges to meet Nice Guy in a bar. But as soon as he steps out of his house, he’s hit by a truck.
8. The big climax.
With all their friends dying, the main characters reconcile their only motivation, resist the urge to battle death and allow fate to take its course. They’re then killed in huge closing scene.
Example: Nice Guy and Nice Girl decide to get married and take a trip to Europe. They get a high speed train to the airport when Nice Guy sees a warning sign and hears someone playing Motorhead’s Killed By Death on their iPod. But the train has left the station and it’s too late to escape. It derails and kills everyone on board.
9. Play an AC/DC song over the end credits.
Ideally with lyrics linked to one or more of the deaths, or addressing death in general.
Example: Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.
10. Cut from the end credits to show the death of the character that everyone has forgotten about.
This needs to be quick and by far the most comical death of all so everyone can get back to AC/DC and the closing credits. This scene needs to be even less realistic than what we’ve already seen.
Example: Very Attractive Girl is lounging on the beach in her bikini. There’s a rustle of noise and suddenly some shrapnel from the train accident flies from the tracks and chops all of her limbs off.
Show Me The Funny and Doug Stanhope: two nights, two evenings of contrasting stand-up comedy – that’s if you count spending a couple of hours at a live TV show at the Hammersmith Apollo for fifteen minutes of performances a comedy night (the adverts allow a team of make-up artists to conduct a scientific experiment – “Can a turd be polished?” – on unlikeable judge Kate Copstick).
Essentially pitched as the X-Factor of live comedy, Show Me The Funny has seen ten comedians battle it out by performing in front of school children, medical staff and the military to make tonight’s final. Along the way we’ve lost semi-morose Droopy Dawg impersonator Alfie Moore, Ellie Taylor, whose combinations of good looks and just about being amusing is somehow a novelty rather than an anachronism, and
Cole Parker, whose unpredictability and vague sense of danger saw him jettisoned early in the process.
No such riches await Doug Stanhope, but with tickets for his month-long residency at the Leicester Square priced at £27.50 it seems unlikely that he’s going to be castaway to the poor house any time soon.
The team behind SMTF clearly don’t want Stevenson to win; she’s handed the opening slot which in this context is quite clearly the graveyard shift, she’s allocated the least interesting celebrity mentor and the judges look bored during the repeated highlight of her set which, bizarrely, was probably her worst moment.
Collectively, the three finalists were far more impressive during the series rather than the final. Stevenson is pleasant enough but cursed by a lack of compelling material and charisma, Mitchell’s willingness to be more daring seems compromised by the format and Monahan gets the best reaction by far, even if he’s over reliant on zest and charm. While Mitchell borders on the surreal, Stevenson and Monahan’s material is rather more hackneyed; sure it’s not cutting edge, but it’s a few levels above, “My mother in law’s so fooking fat…”
Doug Stanhope is as acerbic and abrasive as applying an industrial sandpaper machine to an especially intimate case of sunburn, with topics including conspiracy theories, the London riots, Amy Winehouse, celebrity death leagues and half-dead skinned wolves. Naturally.
SMTF 5, Stanhope 9
None of the SMTF competitors are overwhelmed by the size of the stage which is hardly surprising given that these unknowns are seasoned professionals. Stevenson is very nice indeed but almost entirely static, Mitchell has a booming comedy voice and is marginally more animated than Stevenson, while Monahan fights the urge to storm around like the second coming of Lee Evans.
Playing to a smaller audience of fanboys means that Stanhope has a far easier time. Ranting, downing shots and slurring his words isn’t the most professional style around, but that’s exactly what people expect and want from his show. There’s a definitely a sense that he’d be found doing exactly that if he was sat at home in front of the TV.
SMTF 6, Stanhope 7
Stevenson seems unlikely to become a comedy sensation, but a solid career of comedy bills and panel shows should easily be within reach. If Mitchell fulfills his potential he’ll probably be a little awkward for prime time TV, but he should be able to offer some oddball competition to his mentor Ross Noble. The winner on the night, Monahan is obviously best poised for long-term success and his cocktail of nervy energy and matey banter is a far stronger package for a major breakthrough.
Doug Stanhope’s chances of a Saturday evening BBC1 slot are hindered by his language, mannerism and topics of discussion. Maybe he’ll be back on fellow misanthropic Charlie Brooker’s next show.
SMTF 7, Stanhope 2
Being Doug Stanhope rather than a talent show contestant
As much as Stanhope seems to hate everything, being a great comedian on your own terms is clearly better than competing on a talent show.
SMTF 0, Stanhope 10
FINAL SCORE: SHOW ME THE FUNNY 18, DOUG STANHOPE 28
From the current issue of Clash.
The new film Powder is based on Kevin Sampson’s book Powder which Blur’s Alex James described as, “a rollicking ride from obscurity to rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.” It stars Liam Boyle as Keva McCluskey, a tortured musician who fronts the band The Grams and is thrown into a music industry which is depicted as being full of the eccentric, the incompetent and the terminally selfish.
“It’s a mad world, but Keva’s an artist who isn’t into any of that stuff,” says Boyle, who contributes another very promising performance after appearing in the adaptation of Sampson’s novel Awaydays. “As an audience, you’re really with an individual who isn’t in it for anything other than getting his songs out there.”
Whereas the rock ‘n’ roll cliché is a band versus the world, the remainder of The Grams (who also feature Joe Edwards and Greg Mighall from Miles Kane’s former band The Rascals) are almost as debauched as the industry itself, making the dynamic almost Keva versus his band versus everyone else. “I know a lot of musicians who are really quiet, so I wanted to make Keeva quite cool but quite a blank canvas with that tortured thing inside him,” agrees Boyle, who performs songs written specifically for the film by Starsailor’s James Walsh. “The key to the film is him coming out of his shell and being about to relate to the world.”
Although Keva’s disposition needed a more reserved stage presence, Boyle looked at footage of Jim Morrison and The Cure’s Robert Smith to help build his own confidence ahead of a filmed performance at the V Festival: “They don’t flinch, they don’t go, ‘Shit, I’ve got to do this.’ I just had to prepare for the madness of going to perform in front of thousands of people who are thinking, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’ I think you can see a glimpse of that in the film. If you look closely, you can see that my legs are shaking.”
When asked if there’s a real life musician that he’d like to play in the future, Boyle opts for an unconventional choice: Jimi Goodwin of Doves. “The music that he creates is the best in the world for me”, he states with radiant enthusiasm. “Singing those songs as the original creator of them would be an amazing experience. If it could be done, I’d happily get a brain transplant!”
Denmark’s latest new miserable experience comes courtesy of Susanne Bier with her Grammy winning film In A Better World.
Like her previous Danish drama After The Wedding, In A Better World is a tale split across two continents. In Sudan, doctor Anton tends to patients in a Sudan refugee camp who, all too often, are the innocent victims of a controlling war lord whose influence hangs ominously over Anton’s work. Back in Denmark, Anton’s marriage is slowly disintegrating, and his absence is a contributing factor in the troubling friendship building between his son Elias and new school student Christian.
The central thematic connection between the film’s two settings is the precarious clash between pragmatism and idealism in two disparate societies that share the same human traits. The two boys learn that logic and morality can’t be applied as predicted if a caustic, confrontational personality resists basic human decency; already acutely aware of such issues, Anton is nonetheless challenged with a similar dilemma with even bigger consequences.
Like her compatriot Thomas Vinterberg, Bier is a masterly storyteller with the ability to conjure emotions and spin hugely challenging situations from everyday issues. In A Better World’s lack of subtlety pushes the boundaries of realism to the very edge, but the experience of seeing its vividly crafted characters pushed to extremes by what initially appear to be minor incidents make for one of the year’s most rewarding human interest dramas.
And what’s that lurking in the distance? A distant glimmer of hope suggests that Bier’s outlook isn’t quite in keeping with the cliche of Nordic miserabilism.