You Know My Name

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Took a day off all forms of writing yesterday, because occasionally even I like to not worry about output. Then I went with Mr Alt to the Royal Albert Hall and watched Casino Royale scored by a full orchestra (plus David Arnold on guitar) and was in the same place (briefly) as Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. I continue to maintain that this is the best Bond movie ever made. After 11 years it stands up incredibly well to scrutiny, which is more than you can say for many of its predecessors. A long (bar based) conversation was had over the merits of 50 plus years of the Franchise, agreement that most of the ‘best’ movies are undoubtedly products of the age in which they were made. This movie is dated by its electronics, as has been the case for decades. That Sony Vaio laptop… plus so many mobile phones. Ah, nostalgia.

However, as a writer, the progression and eventual denouement of this movie are the most satisfying of any that precede it, and that really matters. You’re also given motivation for a series of four movies that follow and, like it or not, that ‘story’ ends at the end of SPECTRE, which makes the task of tacking on a fifth movie even more problematic. When you know the reason Craig finally said yes to the role (having initially turned it down) was on the strength of this script, one has to think doing one more is going to be a mistake for everyone involved.

The feeling refuses to go away: it isn’t just historical precedent at play here either. Diamonds are Forever, View to a Kill and Die Another Day are hardly stellar examples of the franchise, and all three just showed up the need to change the current actor with the designation to someone younger. The script for Bond 25 frankly has to be so good that it could win an Oscar, or else this landmark film will end up just being remembered as the last one that an actor made who should have quit whilst everybody was ahead. Whatever happens, however, this is where Craig was undoubtedly best as Bond: raw, malleable and ultimately prepared to die for his Country.

My feeling we should have stopped at Skyfall continues to persist, even more so having seen Casino for the first time on the big screen: I only ever got that on video as 2006 was the point in my life where depression consumed everything. I’ve often wondered if that mental attitude clouded my judgement of just how good Craig’s inaugural outing was. Last night confirms just how strong, brilliant and quintessentially Bond the whole experience was. If I am going to remember anything from the tenure of this actor, it will be his first movie and the third. Everything else will be consigned to space marked as ‘acceptable filler’ and I’ll wait to see which British actor is given the nod to replace him. Of course, I’d like an actress or a non-white male to take the role, but there’s as much a chance of that as me getting to write a Bond script.

This version of Bond undoubtedly has run his course. Time for a change.

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Next month’s Internet of Words Book of the Month will be going full on sci-fi. I’m not gonna lie, I love myself a good hunk of speculative fiction, and the World currently is just DRIPPING with possibilities for those of us who love to write. With my Tomorrowland hat on (worth your time watching, not nearly as awful as some people will tell you) I’d like to celebrate the fact that, in my lifetime, you may well be able to travel from New York to Washington in 30 minutes, which puts the pedestrian ideals of my country’s High Speed Rail link to utter shame. That’s 226 miles, approximately a three an a half hour car ride south via the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, down to 30 minutes. The future, people, is a joy to behold when technology gets its oil-stained fingers on things. Gawd bless ya, Elon Musk and your solar-fueled empire of renewable awesome.

It’s the God emulators we have to watch a little more closely.

DNA faffing is nothing new. For 120 quid I can get a home DNA testing kit delivered to my door and discover what latent disease might yet end my chances of a long, happy life. For everything else however it is the stem cell that matters, and I’m not sure why I’m surprised that this claim above is even news. Rules, scientists will tell you, are often there to be broken in the interests of progress. When you learn from Teen Vogue of an experiment you’d never heard about it is no time to be snotty about who reports the news, but simply to be grateful it is reported at all. Social media might be able to astound you with facts about cheese, or that amazing video of the puppy rescue but really, wouldn’t you rather know about how the past dictates the future? There will be experiments running right now with dubious end claims. The only way you may ever hear about them is if they are successful.

All the ideas that drive TV formats, which rely on dodgy or invented ‘versions’ of science aren’t the ones that matter right now. It is the fact that procedural shows are perhaps some of the biggest draws which shows that the thirst for actual fact can be both accomdated and satisfied in ‘normal’ drama. According to Wikipedia, a procedural is ‘a cross-genre type of literature, film, or television program involving a sequence of technical detail.’ That includes medical dramas (Greys Anatomy, Casualty) and crime scene institutions such as CSI (all flavours) and Silent Witness: start with a crime, or an illness, and cure it in an hour to ninety minutes (plus ad breaks, your region may vary.) These shows now pride themselves on truth as part of the plot. Although people still love a good fanciful ‘what if…’ scenario, reliance on reality is becoming increasingly important.

There is a flip side to this, however: what if your fantasy is too close to reality for you to cope with?

The Circle promised a great deal with early trailers, but released in late April to barely a whimper, and was unceremoniously shuttled to Netflix in late June without a word. Sometimes it isn’t just the pacing or content of a film that makes it unpalatable to cinema audiences, often content itself can be too close to issues or ideas that people are not yet ready to grasp, and however melodramatic some might consider this attack on ‘full transparency’ to be there will be moments of discomfort for anyone who lives their life far too fully online. Speculative fiction allows readers (and viewers in this case) to grasp the possibilities or event can have on shaping a different future for everybody. It is no wonder that the Planet of the Apes franchise is currently undergoing a renaissance, that superhero movies are front and centre. Imagining alternate reality is not only a wonderful means of enjoyment, it also has the potential to promote thought on very real issues emerging in both science and technology.

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There are already microchips in Swedish employees: about the size of a grain of rice, capable of simple tasks only, nothing fancy. Wearable tech is already here: I can keep all my credit card details on a ring or a bangle, if I don’t think my phone is safe enough (and I don’t.) I swing between Luddite and Evangelist right now, because the speed of change rarely if at all keeps pace with the means to protect information. When you know you can’t trust anyone to be 100% honest and transparent over what they’re doing, especially the people in charge, it makes for a little bit conspiracy theory and an awful lot of cautious optimism. As is the case with the Internet, everything’s a bit Wild West and you gotta just hope that the good guys are the ones who win.

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There’s a lot going on in the World. People are attempting to clone extinct creatures right now, I can guarantee you. Yes, you should really be worried what could emerge from the ice when the polar caps melt. Buying a boat if you live near the sea is a sound investment… and the list goes on. For now, enjoy the speculation and don’t get too stressed about the shit you can’t change. However, your mind is not one of those things: the more information you can glean to make informed decisions for yourself, the better.

Start opening your eyes to the real potential of the future.

Coming Around Again

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This is the blog post about Bond 25 that needs to be made, as the announcement popped up yesterday from Eon’s @007 Twitter feed confirming something is in pre-production. Booking a weekend in November 2019 might seem a bit previous, but considering what we’ve seen coming out of Comic Con over the last weekend, it makes perfect sense. This is to prepare the US market for a film which, one presumes, is going to have to be pretty damn special to follow SPECTRE, which effectively drew a line in the sand for everybody involved. If I believe the Internet, Daniel Craig has no soul and is doing two more films. I’m REALLY hoping he is finished with the role as was clearly the case at the end of Bond 24.

As was also true of Dr Who, this is a franchise in desperate need of a reboot.

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The chances of getting a woman in this job however are slim to non-existent. The canon doesn’t support it, and despite the likes of Gillian Anderson saying they’d play Jane Bond, I doubt the majority of the world will want to know. I can’t see Barbara Broccoli allowing her father’s legacy to be redefined in this way anyway: her love of Craig as Bond had as much to do initially with his physical appearance as it was about any ability to act. Bond is supposed to do something at a brain stem level to women that makes his behaviour somehow acceptable. Men just want to pretend they can get away with treating the opposite sex that badly whilst remaining insouciantly cool. Really, like it or not, this role goes to a man, because no woman could ever be that sociopathic and get away with being believable.

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Of course, nothing is stopping the next Bond being Iris Elba, or Dev Patel, except an awful lot of historical baggage. When reduced to only looking at white, heterosexual men, the field gets pretty samey. That’s the problem, all told. Everybody’s of a certain look, or a particular style, and then you’re comparing Tom Hiddleston to Craig or Tom Hardy to Roger Moore, which I’m sure neither would thank you for. Bond, like it or not, is a poisoned chalice: when you die as an actor, I’d argue what you don’t want is to have your family hear your media obituary contain the line ‘best known for his role as 007’ at any point. Anything and everything else you ever did as a professional is effectively sacrificed to commercialism, and that will hurt.

However, even though I’d like a minority interest Bond above white male, there’s probably a compelling argument at present to get Tom Hardy into the Aston Martin. If I believe the rumours that Christopher Nolan is interested in directing, Hardy’s a good fit (Bane in Batman, key role in Dunkirk) and clearly they’d work well together. The problem is, where you go when the criminal organization created solely to engineer your demise seems positively childish compared with the man running the US Government. The enemy remains crime families, sure, but honestly, truthfully, how the fuck are you going to create a believable plot for a Bond movie that’s not been done to death already? SPECTRE only worked as it rebooted the one villain we’ve not seen for decades because, of all things, a legal battle that prevented Eon from mentioning Blofeld existed.

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Whoever they get to play Bond, whether we keep going forward or its rebooted again, is being made to live in a world which his misogyny, plus treatment of the opposite sex has become frankly unacceptable. However sensitive and caring you make the man, he’s still a fucking dinosaur. It is going to take a monumental effort to produce anything based around current canon that won’t look outdated and ridiculous, or that doesn’t involve killing Madeline Swann before the opening title sequence, a la OHMSS. I tried to re-write the canon, but that only worked by making 007 part of an effective unit and one could argue as soon as you take away the ability for Bond to work alone, he’s not Bond any more anyway. Needless to say, I don’t envy the script team one iota. If they pull this off they really are miracle workers.

Until there are details and confirmation of who has the keys to the Aston Martin, all bets are off. Only with more details can we speculate on what happens next. I just hope and pray that the days of a Moonraker style film (with some ridiculous terrorist/cybercrime plot a la Mission Impossible) is not what everybody has to look forward to.

Please Please PLEASE let Bond 25 be a reboot.

I am the Law

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Spiderman’s reboot’s been getting a lot of airtime in my Twitter feed this week, people stating it is by far the best version of the character as yet committed to celluloid. Except, amongst the platitudes have come some sniffs of unexpected dissent. I’m not talking about the apparent disparity in the Marvel timeline (the nerds can argue that one) but the assertion that perhaps the film could have been… well, a bit darker and dangerous. Everything is, like it or not, the path of least resistance: there is no risk taking. Now, as I’ve not yet seen this movie I cannot and won’t comment on these claims. However, I can use some evidence that does suggest that maybe, possibly, Marvel was never here to be edgy and controversial to begin with. They’re just here to make money.

I watched Dr Strange on its TV ‘rental’ release and was, I have to say, disappointed for the first time I’ve experienced a Marvel Universe title. The conceit is well executed, Mr Cumberbatch exactly the right fit for his character, and the journey that takes us from selfish to selfless well written and presented. However, without doubt, there is something missing. Maybe it is because I’d argue the origins of Strange are a little too close to those of Tony Stark to allow a measure of sympathy, but that isn’t the only discomfort. I’m also not about to get into Tilda Swinton’s casting, which creates more problems than it solves for the purists but finally establishes that, in the male-centric Marvel Universe, women took a while to graduate past supporting roles. One wonders what might have been different here if Black Widow had got a solo movie before this one was made, but that’s a different conversation for another blog.

The problem with the franchise, as it stands, is adequately demonstrated in this video which dissects the musical cues presented in Marvel Universe titles thus far. The key when you look at the bigger picture of the arc, is not to create a series of peaks and troughs in terms of cinematic presentation. All these movies are being produced with a very specific tone in mind, obviously consistent bar in terms of visual and audio cues. It is, like it or not, like reading a comic. Depth is not provided by the film but you: ambiguity kept to a minimum. You’ll rarely see blood either, to ensure the finished product reaches the widest possible audience.

In fact if depth is what is required one needs to go to the small screen: the various Marvel TV shows have been open to a range of criticism and perhaps even higher praise than their film ‘parents’ because it is abundantly obvious a different set of production and narrative values are at play. Ironically here’s where true diversity exists and has been allowed to shine: Agent Peggy Carter, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage presenting a far more realistic view of the superhero landscape as it should exist. The fact it has taken this long for Black Panther to make it to the big screen is, on reflection, not really a surprise. If the trailer is any indicator, Natasha Romanoff’s awful treatment plus the recent arrival of Diana Prince in the ‘other’ Universe is going to significantly redefine our ‘comic’ going forward.

I kop a lot of flack for my love of the DC Universe, almost on a daily basis, because of all manner of reasons, but mostly because nobody likes Zack Snyder. I still maintain that Watchmen is as good an adaptation as was possible at the time, have a soft spot for Sucker Punch (despite the fact it is quite easy to label it soft porn in certain lights) and am one of the nine people who think Man of Steel is a Superman worth rooting for. Here’s a Universe that is refreshing and obviously missing both thematic and narrative  consistency: one only needs to look at Suicide Squad to grasp the hit and miss nature of that particular approach. However, this is the same place in which Wonder Woman now looks set to outpace and conquer pretty much everybody else’s origin story, regardless of their affiliation. The unexpected irony of the man who wrote The Avengers now working on Justice League is not lost on me. Movie making is quite a small universe in itself at the top end.

Marvel’s approach to the business of movie making has always been ‘better safe than sorry’ which might make for a lot of fanboy love, but in this case the fangirl in me is being increasingly left wanting. Listening to nerds getting upset over Aquaman’s trident (which isn’t) has been typical of the toothless criticism I’ve seen levelled at DC. Sometimes, looks aren’t as important as actual depth. I suspect the true sweet spot for Superhero movies lies somewhere in between both camps, and maybe Whedon’s influence might have some sway in producing a continuation of the franchise that makes more people happy.

I for one love arguing that both group of Superheroes have equal merit.

Review :: WONDER WOMAN

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There is a scene, in the new Wonder Woman movie, where Gal Gadot’s character walks into a room of politicians arguing over the merits of war and peace, and the whole place goes quiet when it not only becomes apparent she’s there, but that this is unacceptable. Setting this movie within the War to End all Wars is not only apposite as we remember these events a hundred years on. It highlights the truth that it has not been very long at all since women were considered as second class citizens, and that to fight was a man’s preserve. Into this comes an innocent, Diana’s character not simply a fish out of water but with no real conception of this ‘World of Men.’ That’s exactly what it is: women are bit parts, secretaries and set dressing, yet every woman’s part in this cinematic version of early 20th Century Earth has both substance and significance. It is especially encouraging to see a villain in female form, but I’m not spoiling plot here. That’s crucial to your enjoyment of this movie: go see it cold. Don’t binge on spoilers beforehand because they will lessen your enjoyment so very much.

This movie has so much to lend to it in positives, not simply a pretty damn faithful reproduction of Wonder Woman’s ‘origin’ story. Chris Pine is as great a Steve Trevor as you could possibly have hoped: inspired by Diana’s heroism, yet still unable to believe her true motivation until the truth literally explodes in front of his eyes. The plot isn’t flimsy, but solidly robust, and even when it drifts into cliche or skips credibility for simple exposition you allow this to slide, because you buy into what you’re being told. There are some beautifully placed nods to other DC heroes, to the genre generally but where this entire endeavour so brilliantly succeeds is where Diana is a warrior. The sequence where she liberates a Belgian village is so incredibly uplifting you’re willing to forgive the casualties, that the Germans might not just be the bad guys. This Amazon owns everything she sets out to do, encouraging those around her to be better than they are without her by their side.

However, there are criticisms. The way this story is both presented and told initially assumes a great deal of an audience, and my 12 year old with no backstory and understanding of the genre was confused and unhappy at certain parts of the narrative. If you’ve already bought into the DC Universe it makes a lot more sense, yet there are a number of quite serious questions that are left unanswered in WW’s narrative. The biggest single issue I still have after several days however is the convenience with which events play out in the first 45 minutes: with the running time of this movie at 2 hours 21 it is fair to say that had there been any more scene setting, your average audience would have struggled. So, you let the issues slide, because there’s moments where you forget everything and simply allow the movie to swallow you whole, and it does. The last 40 minutes is breakneck, and even though it ends with a denouement that could have been ripped from another Marvel movie if you’re looking to compare and contrast, it doesn’t matter at all.

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There’s not a dud performance amongst any of the supporting cast: particular love goes to Lucy Davis (above) as Etta Candy (who should have had more to do, frankly, but this is 1918) with Robin Wright and Elena Anaya doing a really great job in their respective tasks. When there’s intimacy (and this serves an important function in the plot so it wasn’t just written in as an afterthought) it is so brilliantly acted by both leads as to be both acceptable and encouraged. In fact, that strength is one of the cornerstones of the entire movie: that love is what matters above destruction and hate, that caring and not killing is what should always be the default, in the end. However, the fact that people have to die is a point that echoes throughout the entire fabric of the film, from first frame until the last, and using mortality as the lynchpin to so much of this action gives a resonance that remains with the audience long after they have left the theatre.

Frankly, I’d argue you’ll not likely to see a better ‘comic book’ movie this year: I’m not sure Justice League is going to give Gadot the space she needs, or that her supporting cast are the right characters to pick, but we will see in November. In terms of my personal scale, this ranks on a par with Batman Begins, and I think probably sits with the original Iron Man movie as an origin story that isn’t just totally believable, but you’d have wanted to be real. There’s more than enough to keep the casual fan happy, and if you’re a hardcore fangirl nitpicker, it leaves you with more positives than negatives. In fact, I’ll repeat what I said as the credits rolled: I’ve waited 50 years to see a movie with a heroine so beautifully and compellingly formed like this.

I hope I don’t need to wait the same time for another.

Eat to the Beat

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Today, someone took the time to explain to me how one properly flosses teeth. I realise that this has never been pointed out before, and understanding WHY something happens is probably more important than the fact it is done. Sometimes, that extra step is hard when everything else matters. I’d never visited a hygienist until today either, so please feel free to chuck a disapproving look this way. However, I made sure to tell her how gentle she was, how nobody else had ever taken that care before with my teeth, and that being willing to learn brings great reward.

Remember to tell someone today how important they are, and how much they matter.

Last night, I rented a movie as I was alone in the house: Dr Strange now explains a lot of the motivation in the Marvel universe, the location of one of the outstanding Infinity Stones, and that however much I love Benedict Cumberbatch he’s fucking wasted as badly constructed combination of Tony Stark and Star Lord. The cut of the film feels horribly off in places too, and the effects sequences… it was like watching a migraine. However, I may yet give it a second viewing to see if stuff improves. This does mean however that two of the best British male character actors of a generation now hold significant store in a Comic book Universe. There’s always a bright side.

Last night was also my first lesson in what my body enjoys digesting post operation and what is unacceptable, and an important correlation was made. I understand why a certain Chinese dish makes me unhappy: it’s not the fish, but the batter they’re coated in. Sadly that means last night’s chicken also makes it onto the ‘avoid like the plague’ list, which is sad as it was lovely at the tastebuds stage. There was a warning I might also need to lay off trigger foods that were an issue pre-Operation, but as yet I think I might yet get away with going back largely to normal.

Today is the last day of playing with back end stuff for the other sites. Starting tomorrow, it’s T Minus 15 days to full-on Patreon awesomeness. I’d better get on with my to do list :D