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  • Dark Shadows

    May 13, 2012 by Nick

    Dark Shadows is, apparently, based on a TV series of the same name that aired for 5 years between 1967 and 1971. As far as I know the program never really dented the pop culture subconscious as I never knew it existed and, having seen the film, didn’t pick up on any of the references. To me it was essentially a new concept, albeit one that seemed massively reliant on the Munsters and the Addams Family.

    Jonny Depp plays Barnabas Colins, a vampire from the 18th century who reawakens in 1970s America and finds his descendants have fallen on hard times. He sets about trying to reintegrate himself into his (dysfunctional) family and to set about restoring the family fortune. As well as finding himself matched against a familiar face from his past.

    Those hoping to harken back to films like Edward Scissorhands, or the Addams Family will find themselves disappointed. I did spend time watching the film wondering if it was Tim Burton’s weakest work: it feels like a rehash of some of his earlier films coupled with a set up that is stronger in other works. I was underwhelmed, there was no real sense of the movie being off-kilter and the visuals were lacking. There were things I don’t remember in other Burton films, like actual sex jokes and some of the humour in general, but overall what was lost far outweighed what was gained and it was marred by a lack of originality, some poor storytelling and a noticeable problem with continuity.

    The main humour in the film comes from Colin’s archaic speech patterns and confusion at the seventies. The decision to keep the film in the same era at the TV show seems a little odd, it doesn’t particularly gain anything by being set then and seems an exercise in nostalgia for something that common sense would seem to suggest isn’t particularly fondly thought of. At no point does the seventies setting seem to have been played for laughs or have any particular bearing on the story.

    Speaking of lack of bearing on the story, there is a sub plot of particular characters being sensitive to the presence of spirits. However, this is never explored in one case and comes entirely nowhere as moment of importance in the case of another. It’s as if a subplot was dropped somewhere. It just seems a little cack-handed.

    The continuity is also shown to be lacking when one character disappears with no explanation part way through the film and their absence is not really investigated or acted on by any of the other characters. It should be creating tension and it doesn’t. And it is thematically important to the plot.

    Depp is good, as usual, but seems uninspired most of the time. Bonham Carter has her amusing moments. No one else really shines, although it is always good to see Pfeiffer in a film. It’s a film I wanted to like and feel disappointed in, moreover I can’t understand what the film set out to do and who wouldn’t be disappointed in it.

    Serial Killing 4 Dummys

    April 30, 2012 by Nick

    Serial Killing 4 Dummys is a low budget independent film about a boy in high school with no real aspirations and a black sense of humour who listens to music like Marilyn Manson who pretends he wants to be a serial killer to impress a girl. It’s also a black comedy that is genuinely funny (even if one of the best jokes is better in Hot Fuzz) and doesn’t actually look overly cheap or poorly acted.

    The biggest surprise, rather than the film being genuinely funny, well acted or decently scripted, is the presence of Lisa Loeb in the cast. Lisa Loeb, for those of you without a memory of one hit wonders from the mid nineties who didn’t even make number one, is a woman who released one song that charted in the UK and looks exactly the same some twenty years later. A quick glance at IMDB confirms that, despite being born in 1968, she has been playing a teenager for the couple of decades. She’s like the Alanis Morrisette of Krankie imitators.

    The two main problems with the film are the fact that the protagonist confuses whether he wants to impress a girl with whether he wants to follow a course of action. It starts with him clearly pretending to want to be a serial killer just to impress a girl to him actually trying to follow the course of action of his own volition. This isn’t a massive jump of logic, as we’re all prone to be irrational when we have a crush, especially as teens. The other problem is that the police are portrayed stereotypically in a manner reminiscent of bad tv shows dating back to the 70s. Honestly, I think that this is probably intentional and a deliberate joke. It’s isn’t a particularly funny one though, or isn’t made to be funny through this iteration of it.

    There are some very good jokes though: the careers advisor is perfectly observed, alternating between being squirm inducing and hilarious (unintentionally to the character, brilliantly done by the writers), the therapist is more than just a plot device and the coach is really well crafted and acted. Like I said, the film is a genuinely pleasant surprise.

    From the casting and writing, to the coach’s one liners and the main character’s flawed logic and ridiculous ideas of what being a serial killer actually involves and entails, it’s a twisted little teen movie that is actually enjoyable. It’s well worth a watch even if it has dated slightly.

    Respect

    April 29, 2012 by Nick

    Apparently the Respect Party is fielding candidates in every Bradford ward in the coming local elections. I am unsure as to how accurate this is, as I can’t really imagine them getting any traction at all in Ilkley (where their conservatism is so ingrained they still use the party logo selected by Mrs Thatcher) and I am sure there are other areas where they would lose their deposit.

    Nonetheless, I should imagine there will be Respect councillors on Friday. In my local area there are lots of posters for Respect around. Apparently the candidate is well spoken and lucid, unfortunately his poster reminds me why I won’t be voting for him: he’s stood next to a photo shopped on George Galloway on it.

    It’s an odd piece of image doctoring. George Galloway is either some form of dwarf fresh from filming the Hobbit, or my candidate is a giant, or both. Galloway’s shoulder is at the front, meaning he is at the front of the plane, yet he appears to be a foot shorter. Worse, he looks like an ailing grandfather: “grandad, look towards the camera, I know you have cataracts but turn to the sound of my voice, no grandad, my name isn’t Billy . . .”

    I really don’t know how I feel about Respect. I can see them being good councillors, but I think their platform doesn’t really stand up to reality and they have no track record of actually being in power to compare against. I am generally in favour of their aspirations, I think they lack specifics, sometimes I think they are plain wrong but at least the majority of them seem to genuinely believe.

    On the other hand, they could give power on Bradford council back to the Liberal/Tory axis. Admittedly, the Liberals aren’t always unprincipled little shits who will sell their souls for a chauffeur (on a local level) and conservatism can lead to very efficient councils, but their previous tenure running Bradford was largely disastrous.

    Respect meshes closely with traditional Labour values, so I would see some sort of coalition there as realistic. Of course, it’s all moot if they don’t actually win any seats or Labour manages to pull some off the Liberals (as an aside, I find it fascinating how the Conservative vote appears to be holding steady whereas the Liberal one is dropping off a cliff nationally) and can effectively form a majority. The fact that Respect is even a factor is indicative of how poor a job Miliband is doing and also how disorganised their machine appears to be locally.

    Gone

    April 28, 2012 by Nick

    Gone, starring Amanda Seyfried, is a thriller about a girl who has previously been kidnapped by a serial killer (only to escape) whose sister goes missing one night. The film focuses around her attempts to locate her sister the following day as she works under the assumption that the serial killer who previously took her has now kidnapped her sister.

    Discussing Gone without revealing parts of the plot is incredibly difficult, made harder still by the lack of ambiguity in much of the film. I am unsure if the film was always intended to be one note and quite so linear, or if it has become so because of poor direction and a feverish application of scissors in the editing suite.

    The film shows the protagonist’s point of view almost exclusively and every other character is show in terms of interacting with her or reacting to her. As such, and because of the linearity of the film, there is never any real suggestion that she may be wrong in her assumption as to what has happened to her sister. When other characters voice their doubts the tone of the film is to make them appear to be time wasters rather than having grounded or rational doubts. This is a shame, because it robs the film of texture and also makes the tension disappear. Thrillers work best when the hero could be wrong and also when they are at risk. The decision to make the protagonist infallible in her beliefs cuts a lot of the tension.

    On the subject of infallibility, every single character that the protagonist asks about her sister has information that is both useful and turns out to be correct. It’s like a poorly constructed point and click adventure that requires no thought and no analysis of potential bias: go to point A, talk to character B, head to location C and talk to character D . . .

    The twist, such as there is, doesn’t work because the character has been shown as correct all this time. If there had been doubt cast on her beliefs and certainty in any meaningful way throughout the film, or even if the tone had been different, it could have worked better. The red herring character is no better, acting irrationally and lit to make him look sinister, but so obvious he can immediately be discounted: his entire character exists to throw suspicion on him and his every scene is an attempt to misdirect. The real villain is  underdeveloped and not particularly interesting, much like the rest of the film. It’s a shame, because Seyfried is eminently watchable and a capable actress. But the film is anaemic and has nothing to say and trouble saying even that.

    Adventures in Television

    April 21, 2012 by Nick

    When I went to Jorvik as a child I was struck by a epiphany: most of the archaeology was done from the waste and by products of the subjects’ day to day existence. We know more about how people live from what they throw away rather than what they keep. I have a similar opinion about culture: the debris and disposable products are more telling than that which has any permanence. I think adverts and music videos reveal more than drama or films.

    I’ve just been flicking on the TV for about an hour. I learnt it is now a year since Jennifer Lopez was number one with the very manufactured sounding “Get on the Floor” featuring Pitbull. Apparently she is releasing another song with him treading much the same ground, probably in a cynical attempt to achieve the same. She’s a guilty pleasure of mine, but I hate Pitbull. He had a habit of name-dropping Kodak in his “raps” (presumably as paid product placement) and they have since gone bust. Dated.

    The new Jennifer Lopez song (does she still call herself JLo?) features Pitbull desecrating the memory of ODB by appropriating one of his raps and delivering it in a way that makes it sound much worse. The only thing I really know about music is that the original was almost invariably better and each successive crop of artists plumbs depths I didn’t dare imagine even as I shuddered at their predecessors. Everyone believes music was better when they were younger, which is often true, but the ideas were almost certainly better when first expressed.

    Niki Minaj song featuring huge amounts of auto tune. She has a weird nose. Usually can’t stand her but this actually isn’t bad. Nearly made it all the way through. Bugger, they turned the auto tune off and she is back doing her stuttering.

    Blue by Eiffel 65. I’m not sure how badly this has dated. It was always awful and the video was always ridiculous. It’s not something that was previously considered good, which I think has to be one of the standards applied to the concept of time not being kind.

    Jeremy Kyle in the USA. It’s really just Jerry Springer, isn’t it? Keep meaning to watch Jerry Springer: The Musical. I will some day.

    The Big Bang Theory. I am informed it is one of the most popular shows on TV. I idly comfort myself with the notion that it is popular in the same way the art instruction manuals I look at on Amazon are ranked in the mid hundred thousands in terms of popularity in the category “books.” I’m deluding myself. People actually watch this rubbish.

    MTV have Unplugged and Beavis and Butthead adverts on heavy rotation. Feels like 1992 again. In fairness, Unplugged isn’t a bad concept. ITV has adverts for Keith Lemon and Britain’s Got Talent, followed by Family Fortunes. Thank god I have got the desire to watch TV out of my system now.

    Jessie J song. Although it’s really “Titanium” sung by Sia. The girl’s way too thin. Her shoulders look two head widths wide. Like a marionette twitching asexually on its way to an eating disorder intervention.

    Repeat of Keith Floyd. That comb-over’s ridiculous. He’s talking about cocktail parties. Do people still have those now?

    There we go: everything new seems dispiritingly retro. Everything genuinely old seems vaguely unrecognisable. There’s nothing new, but what I have forgotten feels vaguely alien.

    Mayoral Referendum

    April 18, 2012 by Nick

    On the date of the local elections Bradford also gets to vote on a referendum to have a directly elected Mayor. Now, theoretically, I am in favour of greater democracy, particularly at a local level. However, I am deeply suspicious of the idea. And it is not just the glutinous spectre of Eric Pickles that makes me wary.

    With a council, you get to make adjustments to the make up of the council repeatedly during an electoral cycle. In Bradford we get to vote for candidates 3 times in four years. This means we can make changes to the make up of the council and policy can change and be censured by the electorate.

    With a directly elected mayor we’d get the chance to change the policy maker once every four years. That’s a heck of a difference. And, if we look to London, we can see how poor the choice presented to the electorate can actually be: do you vote for the guy who is currently failing your city or the guy who failed it four years ago?

    Bradford, of course, is not London. We’re pretty much guaranteed to attract a lesser class of politician and no one at the pinnacle of their powers will actually want to be our mayor. Rather than the likes of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson we’re more likely to get Eric Pickles and George Galloway. A very human chill runs through my veins as I contemplate such a scenario.

    It’s not just that I don’t trust the Bradford electorate (bluntly, I really don’t, that some of these people have the right to vote angers me), it’s not just that the stature of Bradford will mean we’re stuck with lesser lights (that I still see Ralph Berry’s name in association with local politics is saddening and scary), it’s also that our elected mayoral process in this country has a rather poor precedent. Let’s not exacerbate everything by voting yes to less accountability, the choice of a lesser of two evils or incompetencies every four years and to allow personality to dominate local policy.

    Tintin

    April 17, 2012 by Nick

    I have to admit, I never really liked Tintin over much as a child. I love Asterix. I can quote huge swathes of it and retain a fondness undiminished by age. Tintin, on the other hand, I think I may have read one or two books of and, while I appreciate Herge’s artistic strengths, I find a little dated as a concept.

    The film is directed by Steven Spielberg and is CGI animated. Spielberg, for me, hasn’t been great for a number of years. Upon settling down to watch, however, I noticed that the screenplay was by Joe Cornish (Adam and Joe, Attack the Block), Edgar Wright (Spaced, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock). That is a hell of a trifecta.

    The animation of the film is really well thought out and well done: everything is consistent with itself and, although it’s definitely not realistic, it is engaging and conveys depth, weight and a sense of place and setting. It’s a rich and textured world in much the same way that Herge’s art accomplishes, and something that feels real on its own terms.

    The writing is largely good, although the set up is a little hackneyed and there is a distinct feeling of boys own adventure to the events and circumstances. I am sure this is a carry over from the source material. For the most part the events are crisp and the dialogue reveals character and is entertaining in and of itself. The only real problems I have with the plot and characters are the Captain’s seeming dependency on alcohol and the two detectives acting solely as comic relief.

    Beyond the technical consistency, the crispness of the dialogue and solidity of the story is one of Spielberg’s best films of the past 20 years. I know exactly how long it has been since I enjoyed a film of his this much, and also it eschews his normal rumination on family, parents and reconciliation. This is a straight-forward adventure that moves at a fair pace and takes in many exotic locales and situations.

    That isn’t the best of the film though: it has a truly incredible chase in it. Impossible to film in live action, it’s a single shot that takes Tintin and adversary through a long chase with the camera cycling impossibly and the action taking place in the air, on water and road with the balance of advantage shifting repeatedly and the whole sequence being exciting and satisfying. I watch it and I am a child watching “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” again. It’s that good. And worth watching the film for. That the rest of the film is actually quite good is a pleasant surprise.

    Mystery Structure

    April 16, 2012 by Nick

    I watch a lot of thrillers and mystery films. In addition I also watch a murder mystery tv show. Unfortunately, combined with my general predisposition to pick things apart and a lack of innovation within the genre, it tends to lead to me knowing how the plot will work.

    When I was younger, I bought a comic called “Gotham by Gaslight.” It’s a Batman Elseworlds (basically, where familiar characters and concepts are dropped in different milieus than the one they are normally published in to see how they work) where Batman is operating in Victorian London and comes across the work of Jack the Ripper. It’s a beautifully drawn book featuring artwork by Mike Mignola and P Craig Russell.

    I lent it to my mother to read and she told me she knew who the killer had to be and that it was disappointing to her. This surprised me, as a ten year old (or so) I had no idea who the killer had to be. She told me it had to be the one extraneous character. That, combined with the Death of Jean De Wolffe (a Spider-Man comic written by Peter David about the death of a supporting character) led me to start looking at extraneous characters more suspiciously.

    When you have a story containing a murder or act of betrayal, often the killer is a supporting character who is emotionally close to the leading character, especially when he or she acts as a mentor and has an emotional link to their past. It’s become a crutch for the writers in the age of lean stories without distracting characters, especially in films and tv. As we identify with the main character we’re meant to feel their sense of disappointment and betrayal.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. Often the mentor figure or old family friend may as well be hanging round at the back with a long black cloak on laughing maniacally. Any time you watch a murder show and someone is being entirely too helpful in the face of insurmountable barriers that the investigators are facing they may as well have daubed their fingers all over the crime scene. It’s unfortunate, but there it is: the necessity of creating a lean story has led to a dramatic shorthand which makes the eventual reveal unsurprising.

    So what is the alternative? Multiple mentors and a cast full of helpful suspects? More deus ex machina reveals coming from nowhere? I have no idea, I just wish that writers weren’t so frequently lazy. I want to be entertained and surprised, to admire the solution and twist rather than just the mastery of form.

    Unknown

    April 15, 2012 by Nick

    Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, initially appears thematically similar to Taken and was probably released as an attempt to target the same audience. It’s a subtler film that has more in the way of plot, but arguably suffers from some of the same problems and has far less action in order to carry it along.

    Neeson plays a man who arrives in Berlin to attend a conference on biotechnology but, almost immediately upon arrival, loses his briefcase and is involved in a car accident which leaves him traumatised and possibly amnesiac. Upon trying to get back on schedule he finds another man claiming to be him and with his wife.

    Initially our sympathies are with Neeson’s character, as he comes to doubt himself and his own memory. Because of how the film has progressed we never really doubt he is who he says he is and any lingering doubt that he has as to whether he is or not is soon vanquished by the fact someone seems determined to kill him so that he can continue to be replaced.

    Neeson soon allies himself with the woman that was driving the taxi he was in when he suffered his debilitating accident and an ex stasi operative who promises to help him uncover the truth about himself as well as help him get out of the situation that he is in. The stasi character has some of the best lines in the film, some of which actually foreshadow the eventual climax and twist in the story.

    The problem the film suffers is that it isn’t really exciting enough and the psychological impact and issues of finding yourself replaced in your own life by someone who seems to have an even better grasp of it than you do yourself is never really fully explored. We’re left with some limp chases lacking in tension and no doubt as to Neeson’s survival.

    As the twists start to come, some of them are rather obvious and telegraphed. The main plot twist is surprising, but arguably only because it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. It requires a large amount of exposition on the part of the ex stasi character to explain it and requires Neeson’s character to act solely to drive and react to the plot. The ending has one of those tacked on feelings and characters act to facilitate events through lapses and strange jumps of logic.

    There are other problems in the film, too. Although it plays on its German setting, there is a lot of logic that is taken from American films in American locales. I know some of the supposed conventions and situations are inaccurate. There are probably many more. There is a slight laziness pervading the film, from assumptions to logic and characterisation. It’s well made, but by no means particularly good.

    Bradford Spring

    April 2, 2012 by Nick

    George Galloway won the by election. This would be the by election that the police and Conservative Party were both clearly worried about the possibility of electoral fraud and the leader of the Respect party went to great lengths, after the surprising and largely unexpected result, to point out that areas that you would not expect to be particularly sensitive to Galloway’s message swung to him with a huge margin.

    In 1960 several areas went unexpectedly to John Kennedy, including houses with many scores of registered voters and certain graveyards. Some new dawns are heavy on rhetoric and light on substance, draped in murky shadows and lit by controversy.

    I despair at the electorate in my ward: there seems a genuine complete lack of understanding what a candidate can actually achieve and what they were actually voting on. Admittedly, the Labour party made it easy for Respect. But quite why a man who can’t even spell the areas he is representing, thinks attacking his opponent for being able to represent the area for 40 years and then championing his own 23 years in parliament (which, by the by, encompasses a multitude of armed conflicts and events he is supposedly against, which rather proves he is utterly ineffective in standing against them) as well as pandering to the electorate by adopting stances completely at odds with others where his voters don’t have vested interests.

    I am angry enough to vote Labour with a clear conscience. I am angry enough to consider joining their party. I am certainly angry enough to go out and campaign for them. Yes, Bradford has been wrecked by incompetent councils comprising every stripe of mainstream party. Yes, it is often hurt by partisanship and political bickering when consensus and pragmatism should prevail. But it can’t be improved by Galloway and his ilk living in a fantasy world of convenience and shameless platitudes without any substance or detail.

    Kennedy would have lost his re election. When he was shot he was campaigning knowing that he had made a mess of the only real test of his premiership (the Bay of Pigs and, to a lesser extent, the Cuban Missile Crisis), that he had lied to the electorate about the “Missile Gap” between them and the Soviet Union and that he had failed utterly on civil rights. The real tragedy of his tenure as disappointing president is the myth that was built up around him. Admittedly I am not as well informed as some, but can anyone remember anything of note Galloway achieved in his 23 years of serving in Westminster?

    How about the vast improvements he made to Bethnal Green and Bow?

    “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. “

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