Monday, 22 December 2014

"We are from the planet Duplo, and we're here to destroy you!"

One way to get rid of 2014.
2014, we hardly knew ye... Now don't let the doorknob hit ya where the dog shoulda bit ya! Scram! Beat it, ya bum! Yep, it's the end of year round-up!

On a personal note, the juggling act of life 'n writing proved to be challenging, and as ever there was always that feeling of "I must do more!" (but does that ever go away?). I kicked off 2014 in a somewhat 'prolific' style by writing a drama pilot called "Private/Public" (a comedy/drama about the challenges facing the NHS) and a comedy pilot called "Hollywood Wax" (man watches movies with famous thesps who are badly imitated figments from his imagination: A sort of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000"-meets-"Stella Street".).

I pitched my "life-hacking" rom-com "Fuzzy Logic" somewhat 'accidentally', which led to me writing the thing - an idea originally from somewhere in the late 1990's - which turned out funny AND fun, if an absolute pig to write: Lesson learned. This was followed by an attempt to write a book -to be continued - as interest in my 'other worlds' sci-fi thriller "Lumen" demanded my full attention.

Except in 'Lumen', the butterfly tries to eliminate the caterpillar.
I'll be perfectly honest - this year was very, very difficult as a writer. It was a year of learning some hard lessons, and realising what I want to do - and what I don't want to do.

I'm very aware that 2015 will bring reduced hours for writing, so I'm concentrating on two projects for my own personal pleasure - namely 70's set Am-Dram murder-mystery/comedy "Backstabbers" and another big, bulging action/fantasy installment of the epic "Border World". I'm also adapting some completed screenplays into novels - get them out there, get them read.

We lost some formidable talent in 2014 - 
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Peña, Robin Williams, Richard Attenborough, James Garner,Harold Ramis, Bob Hoskins, Richard Kiel, Maximilian Schell, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Warren Clarke, Ralph Waite, Glen A. Larson, H.R. Giger, Stephen Lee, and pan-global phenomenon THE Rik Mayall. RIP all; all greatly missed.
Gone too soon.

BEST FILMS of 2014 *
*(Year of DVD release; some released cinematically in 2013)

Whilst the superhero movies continued their downhill journey into boredom (Captain America 2, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Thor 2), there were a couple that bucked the trend. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" proved that you CAN erase history (S'long, miserable memory of X-Men 3! Is that Famke Janssen and James Marsden I hear cheering?). A seriously brilliant plot twist which made me laugh as the film makers had their cake and ate it. Gleefully. "Guardians of the Galaxy" also proved that comic book movies didn't have to be po-faced Nolan-fests: Dancing Groot, anyone?

Believe it or not, this is the second-best moment from Guardians of the Galaxy.
There were also some hidden gems like "Grand Piano", "Labor Day", "Enough Said", and the delightful "Mr. Peabody and Sherman", and some unexpectedly great films like the awfully-titled "Edge of Tomorrow", AKA "Live Die Repeat", and the unfathomably meh'd "Muppets: Most Wanted", which in my opinion not only had better tunes than the previous Oscar-winning installment, but was also a far better film - focusing on hilarious cameos and the 'zany' humour (which, to me, is what the Muppets are all about), rather than Jason Segal and Walter the completely made-up new Muppet. (Feeling the passion about Muppets, yeah? Good.)
Jemaine? - Priznt. Tina Fey? - Priznt. Ray Liotta? - Priznt. Danny Trejo? - Priznt...
My three favourite films of the year were "The Lego Movie", which was the perfect family film - funny, frantic, witty and nicely plotted to a T; "Under the Skin" was an admirable-yet-difficult watch, but one that lingered in the memory like no other - visually never seen a film like it, eerily scary soundtrack with a brilliant central performance; "American Hustle" was all gloss, bad hair-do's and fantastic music - a little more transparent upon a second viewing, but that second viewing came STRAIGHT AFTER I'd just finished watching it!
What the...
Recommended movies:
Maleficent (Wee bit 'rape-analogy' for a kids film, but Jolie rocks it)
American Movie (released 1999, finally saw it - LOVED IT. The Spinal Tap of movie-making!)
The Zero Theorem (Gilliam's closest to 12 Monkeys and Brazil)
The Wolf of Wall Street
The  Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Bad Grandpa
Grand Piano (Just about gets away with its somewhat mad premise)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Homefront (Surprisingly fun, undemanding actioner)
Gravity (Film making at its technically boundary-busting-best...)
What Maisie Knew (Coogan and Moore play total a-holes brilliantly)
Enough Said (Didn't expect much. Got a lot. Thank you Gandolfini)

The Not-So-Great of 2014:
Godzilla (Juliette Binoche - yay! Oh......)
The Anomaly
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (The worst use of green screen in recent memory)
Cuban Fury
Jersey Boys (I love The Four Seasons. Yet somehow did not love this.)
Robocop (For a moment I almost fell for it... but no. Pointless.)
Grudge Match (Tired film-making at its best)
Last Vegas (Four famous actors on a poster.)
RIPD (High concept doesn't always mean 'good film')
Walking with Dinosaurs (Who asked for all the farting?)
The Counsellor (Eh? Bonus point for the Brad Pitt ending)
Stand Up Guys
Star Trek into Darkness
Red Dawn
The Amazing Spiderman 2 (The Batman and Robin of the Spiderman franchise.)
The comb-over was the most convincing bit.

My top 10 Movies of 2014: 
10) A 1000 Times Goodnight / Gravity
9) Labor Day
8) Rush
7) Guardians of the Galaxy
6) Muppets: Most Wanted
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past
4) Mr. Peabody and Sherman
3) Under the Skin
2) American Hustle
1) The Lego Movie
Best movie of the year? AWESOME!

The greats of TV continued their run - "Game of Thrones" was business as usual, with "The Walking Dead" improving once again. Both shows are walking a thin line on being known for 'Who will die this week?' shows, so hopefully they can focus more on story and less on shock-killings (although I doubt this will happen!).

"Damages" came to an end - and what an end it was. This sadly overlooked series just got better and better, with two brilliant characters/performances at the heart of the story. If you've never watched it, give it a go and stick with it - it's excellent.

The Australian political thriller "The Code"was well-cast, and got off to a cracking start. The ending ran out of steam a little, but it was a refreshing show to watch. "The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies" was over-long, but had a fantastic central performance from Jason Watkins, and worked better as a character study than a 'police investigation show', and "The Driver" was another great showcase for David Morrissey.
"Toast of London" series 2 was an improvement on the first series, but it still suffers from not really knowing what it is. Some episodes were great, one was a stone-cold classic (Toast ruins the secret of a West End play). Matt Berry is brilliant as the pompous Toast, and the words "Hello Steven, it's Clem Fandango. Can you hear me?" always make me laugh. ALWAYS.

BBC 2's "The Life of Rock with Brian Pern" was also another comedy highlight - with wall to wall cameos. "W1A" was fun if somewhat self-pleased. Vic 'n Bob's "House of Fools" was a welcome return to form, in the same anarchic, who-cares-about-the-plot vein as 'The Young Ones'. "The Trip to Italy" was another treat, although Rob Brydon's 'development' felt out of place. The brilliant "Black Mirror" was also back, with its Twilight Zone view of the world of tomorrow. Finally got round to watching 'A Touch of Cloth', which was hilariously brilliant: "Any prints?" "Only Purple Rain and Lovesexy." SEE?

I'm probably the only person who didn't watch 'Happy Valley', 'House of Cards', 'The Leftovers', 'Arrow', 'Hannibal' or 'Orange is the New Black' - will get round to it, promise. Yes 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men', I know I've not watched you... yet... (extreme aversion to hyped TV.)
"Fargo" started strong, with some great performances from Billy Bob Thornton and Adam Goldberg. The story didn't follow the film exactly, which was fine, as it stole enough from the source material to remind you of it. But riding on the shirt-tails of a true classic meant the material felt a little stretched at times, and a turning point around half-way didn't ring true at all. "Gotham" was another series which came from a fine pedigree, but simply didn't know what to do with it. Too violent and sexualised for kids, but too corny and cartoony for adults - it was a weird match that didn't work. "Treme" season 3 was sadly disappointing - the balance of fun and music was crushed by the political statements. Season 1 still remains a classic bit of television, though!
Finn: "A dinosaur roaring at the monkeys as they ride past on bicycles. With iPads."

The year's big pleasant surprise was C4's pulse-thumping "Babylon". A multi-strand, acidic dramedy variation of "The Wire", detailing the many levels of policing, from the foot soldiers to the top brass, to the media-manipulating PR. Some brilliant characters and performances, in particular the perpetually-chewing, Machiavellian 'Finn' (Bertie Carvel: Favourite performance of the year) and Banjo (Andrew Brook), an "eggy-farting" hard-man who probably shouldn't be armed with a machine gun.

So many great performances, excellent direction and above all - the writing is phenomenal, with so many "I wish I'd written that!" lines. Cannot wait for this to return.

Backing the right horse: Not as easy as it sounds.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

"Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!"


So here's a handy check-list of yuletide viewing, just in case wall-to-wall Christmas TV isn't enough for you.


10)  The Random Non-Christmas Movie!

Somehow, every Christmas ends up looking like THIS.
"What on EARTH are you blathering on about?", I hear you mutter. Well, for me, there are some movies which have absolutely ZERO Christmas content. They're not about Christmas, they have no tinsel - in fact, they're not even set remotely close to winter. BUT: Somehow they evoke Christmasses of past, or just 'feel' Christmassy. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Lost Boys. Back to the Future. Jurassic Park. Robocop.  The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe (Alright, Santa does crop up in this one). Batman Returns (okay, there is snow in this one. And is set at Christmas time. I think.).

9) Scrooged
It's as schmaltzy as they come - especially the meltdown of an ending which turns into some 4th wall-breaking emotional wreck, but isn't that what Christmas is about? Shouting emotionally?

"Feed meh, Seymour! Feed me!"

8) Lethal Weapon
Shane Black loves Christmas, and what better way to start an ultra-violent (for its time) thriller than 'Jingle Bell Rock'... as a drugged-up young woman nosedives off the 25th floor. Again, sod all to do with Christmas, other than a few decorations and Gibson's Riggs struggling to deal with the memory of his dead wifey, but it has that rosy glow missing from yer usual cop bloodbath.
The only way you would get me to buy a Christmas tree from B&Q.

7) The Polar Express
A chocolate box of a movie, complete with dead-eyed animated kids - but it delivers on the emotional punch. The little kid who sits on his own in the end carriage? The bell that still rings? Call the shrink. NOW.
Too bloody right, Hanksy.

6) Home Alone
Or the end of 'Skyfall', for kids. Macauley Crawley violently attacks two grown men and we all laugh. Guilt-free.

The money shot.
5) Gremlins
Christmas is a time for mean-spirited violence... oh, wait. No, that's Easter. What Christmas is all about is scaly monsters getting all up in yer grill (and yer Christmas tree), so it's good to be reminded of your loved ones... and to save them from being flung out of a window at speed. The scene with the two cops having a meltdown because "It's supposed to be Christmas" whilst the Gremlins wreck everything says it all. Bad things are not meant to happen at Christmas. Are they?
Gizmo gets hammered on the ol' mulled wine.

4) Trading Places
"Merry New Year!". One of those movies packed with so many quotable lines, with Dan Aykroyd's rich git swapping places with Eddie Murphy's hustling con artist all in the name of a bet. 'Die Hard's' Dwayne T. Robinson/Paul Gleason added another brilliant performance to his repertoire as the psychotically uptight Beaks. One of those 'be thankful for what you have 'movies.

This is how I always remember Father Christmas.

3) Santa Claus: The Movie
Say what you like about this dated, somewhat naff (even at the time of its release) movie, as it takes great care to point out - It's a ruddy Christmas stick of rock stuffed up the proverbial christmassy-sweatered turkey's bottom. The Big Lebowski gives the ultimate performance as Santa (Sorry all you Miracle on 34th Streeters.). Lithgow rightfully hams like he's in a panto, and Dudley Moore, well, makes you miss Dudley Moore.
Santa goes for a 'Joe-Ride'...

2) The Muppets Christmas Carol
Saw this at the cinema in 2013 (the first movie I took my son to see!), and whilst the story has been done to death, this is somehow the definitive version. (And I'm a fan of the George C. Scott movie). Yeah, Caine can't sing, but so what - his performance delivers emotion across the board.
They're Marley and Marley. WOOOOOOAH!

1) Die Hard
The big-daddy of Christmas movies. It doesn't crow-bar Christmas into the story for no reason (ahem, Lethal Weapon). It's McClane's wife's Christmas party - and guess who's not on the guest list. A bunch of ruddy terrorist thieves, that's who. Pour yourself a large port and let the mayhem begin!
Where can I get one of those jumpers?

5) The Bear
What's funnier than a polar bear, in your house, pooing on the stairs, eh? This somewhat overlooked short film has some beautiful animation, fantastic music and Raymond Briggs as the man in the moon.

4) Blackadder's Christmas Carol
An absolute cracker of a Christmas special, with a nice reversal on the 'Christmas Carol' story, in which kindly Ebeneezer Blackadder learns, through a series of Robbie Coltraned flashbacks, that being good will only lead to him wearing Baldrick's posing pouch...
Nibble Pibbleys: Vanquished.

3) Smith & Jones' Home-made Xmas Video
A little-seen, much-forgotten (sadly) Christmas treat which can be found on the extras of the "At Last Smith & Jones Vol 1" DVD, this gem perfectly captures exactly what a bloomin' great stresser Christmas can be. Loved it when it first aired in '87 (?), love it now. WATCH IT HERE.

2) Stella Street
This overlooked, genius piece of cult comedy deserves much more recognition: Seeing Michael Caine throw an anniversary party for 'Zulu' in which John Hurt drinks 'a nice, warming bowl of wine' from a goldfish bowl, Jimmy Hill snorting icing sugar and a losing Joe Pesci arguing with a winning David Bowie over a game of Monopoly "It's just the way things are, Joe!".... Need I go on?

Al Pacino and Jimmy Hill play Monopoly. HOO-HA!

1) The Snowman
Not only my all-time Christmas favourite, but one of my all-time favourite films. Perfection.
Oh... Oh Lord WHY? WHYYYYYYY???!!!!!!