Tag Archives: film

Review: The Cat Returns

220px-Cat_Returns

(Note: between job interviews and anthology submissions, no time to write a proper blog post this week. So, here’s one I made earlier –  ie, dug out of my drafts from 2013.)

Whisper of the Heart was a reasonably complex and original coming of age story with a perfect blend of fantasy and realism – but evidently the most popular part was the dapper talking cat, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, for he got a kitty-themed film all to himself.

It’s a much shallower film than its predecessor, with less detailed animation and a straightforward fairytale plot. Schoolgirl Haru saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat transpires to be the Prince of Cats, and his father, the Cat King, is so grateful than he insists Haru take the prince’s paw in marriage. Not enthused at the prospect of marrying a cat, Haru seeks the help of the Cat Bureau. Therein enters the Baron, a living cat figurine who is determined to save Haru before she is transformed into a cat forever…

It’s pretty standard children’s fantasy far, with a lot of kitties – and I mean a lot. If you’re a cat person you will probably like this film. If you’re not a cat person you might come out of it hating them.

The ending is something of a disappointment, with Haru having grown as a person by virtue of… I don’t know, adventure? And cats? But it’s worth a watch, partly for the star-studded English dub (Anne Hathaway as Haru, Tim Curry as the Cat King, Cary Elwes as the Baron) and partly because it’s pure kitty-filled fun.

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My Week In Writing (23/4/2017)

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Also I made lemonade

Settlement 359 is still trucking along. Part 6 is sitting at about 10k, so I should probably find a way to wrap it up and move on to part 7, which (all going well) should be the climax. Hopefully. Maybe. Then there’ll be an epilogue. I think.

I’m now 10 chapters (out of 13) into editing Summer. Unfortunately I’ve spent most of this week too tired to substantial re-writes so I’ve just been marking passages to come back to later and then realising that I can’t re-write a related passage in the next chapter till I do the earlier passage so I just highlight that one too… you get the picture.

I’ve started working on a story for The Temporal Logbook II, a charity Doctor Who anthology. No idea if I’ll get my story finished in time for the open submission day, though – I decided to take some advice from one of Big Finish’s writers (I forget which one) and try to come up with the best possible Doctor Who story, so I’ve ended up with something very ambitious that might not be doable in <8k. We’ll see. I’m making a spreadshet.

I went to the Creative Salon at Summerhall, where we heard some poetry, which was a nice change of pace. Lot more writers than usual, so I got to chat to some people about my novels.

I finished reading The Snake Wand and reviewed in on Goodreads. Now I’m reading the newest issue of Popshot (which I submitted a story for and didn’t get into, boo). The artwork is gorgeous as ever and the theme is ‘future’, which means the stories are right up my alley.

I’m really enjoying the new season of Doctor Who. Smile was sincerely frightening in that paranoia-inducing way that New Who’s so good at, though I had a curious sensation of deja vu – I’m sure I’ve seen almost that exact premise in a Doctor Who story before, but I can’t place it. But on the up side, Matt Lucas was barely in it, which is a plus.

I listened to two Doctor Who audio plays, both from Big Finish’s Lost Stories range: Point of Entry, a very gothic piece about Christopher Marlowe (which was originally to be scripted by the author of one of my favourite Fifth Doctor serials, Enlightenment) and Crime of the Century, the first in a trilogy of stories featuring the Seventh Doctor and Raine Creevy, the companion who would have been introduced had the show now been cancelled.

Point of Entry does a really good job of capturing the tone of the Sixth Doctor era (it’s got this grungy, rough around the edges feel to it), though in many respects it harks back to the Hinchcliffe & Holmes era. I don’t think I know enough Christopher Marlowe to properly appreciate it, though. I was a bit less taken with Crime of the Century, which I found oddly dull for a story that features the Doctor’s companion sword fighting a giant insect…

I’ve also been listening to The Adventure Zone by the McElroys, ie, listening to a group of very funny and creative people play D&D. I gather the plot goes to some very exciting places (I know a lot of people who are really invested) but I’m still trying to get caught up.

Next week I’m planning to start reading Slade House by David Mitchell (which I literally JUST realised is a companion piece to The Bone Clocks – which is fine by me because I’ve read it and loved it, apparently threw some people!), finish listening to the Raine Creevy trilogy (I’ve heard mixed things so we’ll see how that goes) and make a proper start on writing this Doctor Who story. Just as soon as I get it planned out. It’s gonna need a very detailed plan.

I’m also hoping to go to Edinburgh’s Literary Salon – no idea who the feature is and don’t especially care, I jsut like getting to hang out with some writers for a few hours.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-aliveAs much as I enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive – and I really did enjoy it – I was surprised to realise that it just barely tops two hours. It feels longer. It feels like at least two and a half hours; and I’d swear half the run-time was composed entirely of Tilda Swinton’s character dancing while the camera spins around her and Tom Hiddleston’s character moodily playing the guitar and the drums…

This is not a fast-paced film. I’ve seen it described as ‘languid’, which seems like the right word. It’s rarely dull, but it’s slow and meandering and for the first hour almost entirely plotless. Actually, it’s a pretty effective demonstration of how you don’t actually need a plot to tell a story. There’s no exposition; we never learn how Tilda Swinton’s Eve and Tom Hiddleston’s Adam became vampires, or how old they are; or how they’re related to Mia Wasikowska’s Ava or John Hurt’s Christopher Marlow; and their fates after the film are equally ambiguous. It’s implied at times that they might be the real Adam and Eve (and Ava Lilith) but this isn’t dwelt on.

It’s a meandering slice out of a much longer and more sprawling story that we only need to see one slice of, because it repeats itself constantly. Adam and Eve have parted ways and come back together before. Adam has been through depressive periods before, and been pulled out of them. Encounters with Ava always end in a bloody death. The recurring spinning imagery (spinning records, Eve dancing, the rotation of the earth) implies the cyclical nature of the story, and of both human and vampire life more generally. Things are bad at the moment; they’ll get worse; they’ll be good again in the future. ‘This place will rise again,’ Eve says of Detroit.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are both fantastic; they were made to play vampires. They have the perfect faces for it, equal parts beautiful and creepy, when they want to be. These are vampires that feel truly old and inhuman while also being warm and relatable. Adam broods and isolates himself, but Eve has a constant zest for (eternal) life; if his character is perhaps a cliché, hers is endlessly refreshing. And when did you last watch a film about a vampire who was passionate about science?

But I hesitate to call Only Lovers Left Alive too refreshing, because it does fall into some of the usual traps of vampire fiction. These are the all-to-common vampires with the mysterious ability to befriend only people who will be famous in the future – although Adam does also name-drop a few old friends who aren’t household names any more, which is a nice touch. And these vampires don’t drink their blood out of bags because it’s more ethnical; they do it because killing humans is ‘so fifteenth century’.

In a word: these are hipster vampires. Classy hipster vampires who have absolutely earned the right to their intense pretentiousness, but hipsters nonetheless. That’s not a complaint; Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as hipster vampires. What’s not to love about that?

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2013 Film Reviews: More Summer Sci-Fi

prPacific Rim

I’m just going to get this out of the way first: I am honestly shocked that so many people thought ‘G*psy Danger’ would be a good name for a giant robot. I can see something like that making it into early drafts of a script, but all the way to the cinematic cut? Truly baffled. Had I known G*psy Danger was the lead robot rather than just a throwaway detail I’d have been much more reluctant to go see Pacific Rim at all.

But that nasty little detail aside, Pacific Rim is a really excellent sci-fi film. Giant monsters begin crawling out of a dimensional rift beneath the Pacific. The governments of the world come together and decide that the best way to deal with the situation is to build giant robots and punch the problem till it goes away.

If you want to see a giant robot beat up a sea monster with an ocean liner, Pacific Rim might just be the film for you.

It’s not the most imaginative premise, but it’s lavishly detailed, from the workings of the Jaeger technology to the dog-sized mites that live on the monsters. It’s big, it’s visually stunning and all-round awesome. Probably my favourite film of the summer.

weThe World’s End

The World’s End, the final installment in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s ‘blood and ice cream trilogy’, is really two films. There’s the sci-fi bro-comedy it was marketed as – and a much darker, much bleaker science fiction film. Though really, one could say it’s three films: a bro-comedy, a sci-fi comedy, and a science fiction film. But I doubt many people watched it without knowing the reveal. (Spoilers: there’s alien robots.)

Five schoolfriends get together to complete ‘the Golden Mile’ a legendary pub crawl in their home town – only to discover that the town has been taken over by sinister alien robots. It’s a very funny film, but likes its predecessors – in particular Shaun of the Dead – it’s not without its darker and more poignant moments.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost change roles here, with Pegg playing the slacker manchild and Frost playing his straightlaced friend. Pegg’s character was played very much as a comic figure in the film’s trailers; in the film itself he is from the beginning as pathetic as he is funny and as events play out his behaviour becomes genuinely disturbing. There’s a truly shocking reveal late in the film, carefully hidden behind all the robots. It may take you by surprise.

Then there is the ending. To avoid spoilers as much as possible: there is an abrupt, bleak and shocking swerve in the final minutes of the film that will almost certainly take you offguard. It comes out of nowhere, is completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the film, and to be honest I wish it had been cut. The World’s End might have been a stronger film had it ended one scene earlier. So it goes.

 

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Recently Released Films: Comedy

heatThe Heat

I went to see The Heat partly because my friends wanted to see it, partly because I really enjoyed Bridesmaids and partly because it was a film I kind of wanted to support – it’s a buddy cop movie with female cops. You don’t see that very often

And I can say that, if you liked BridesmaidsThe Heat will not disappoint. It has the same brand of comedy, but here with a more dramatic flare and sans the gross-out humour – though there’s one scene that seems calculated to make up for the lack of grossness by packing as much as it can into a few short minutes. (Word of advice: if you’re squeamish about blood, don’t see The Heat.)

That one scene aside, the comedy is all top-notch – the Boston accent confusion (knock/narc?) is funnier than it has any right to be – and the dramatic scenes have a real emotional resonance. The happy ending and its partnership between the two leads really does feel earned.

So my only real complaint about The Heat is about that rocket launcher. You know, the one on the poster and in the trailer – that does not get fired even once in the whole film. For shame.

We’re the Millers

millersWe’re the Millers is a film with a really good concept. After being robbed, a low-level drug dealer is forced to become a drug mule to get back in his boss’s good books – and gets the idea to fool the U.S. border guards by putting together a fake family and playing tourist. There’s a whole lot of potential there, the trailer was reasonably funny – and hey, that’s Jennifer Aniston and Will Poulter (of Son of Rambow and Voyage of the Dawn Treader)!

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – it falls apart on the execution. It’s not that it isn’t funny; it’s very funny, though most of the best laughs are in the trailer. It’s that We’re the Millers doesn’t seem to know what kind of comedy it is. Is it the heartwarming kind of comedy where its characters learn the value of family? The darkest kind of comedy with jokes about incest? Or the kind of comedy that’s all dick jokes?

It succeeds only at the latter. We’re the Millers never goes beyond the fringes of truly dark comedy and it’s happy families message is confused. The ending – which has the ‘Millers’ staying together as a family through the witness protection program – falls flat because you just don’t buy that these people have really become a family, nor that all of them want to. (With the exception of Kenny. Kenny is truly lonely.)

It’s not a bad comedy. The funny moments are (for the most part) funny, the touching moments (for the most part) touching – it’s just confused and unbalanced.

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Top 10 Favourite Films

For some reason this list always seems like the big one – even though I’m not that much of a film person. You can tell by the way I have a reasonably secure top ten list!

It’s an eclectic list, and one with surprisingly few SF entries. Most of them are films I watched for the first time as a young-ish teenager, which isn’t that much of a surprise. There’s one big exception (in the number three slot) and the fact that it makes this list continues to boggle me. Most of them are genres and types of films I don’t usually like. I don’t know what that says about me!

A few quick honourable mentions: The Princess Bride (1987), West Side Story (1961) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

narnia10. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

I don’t know why I like this film so much. On some level I actually kind of hate it, its weird saccharine tone blended with with out-of-place attempts at grittiness – it’s an awkward film.

It’s also my go-to comfort film. I don’t know quite why; it just seems to hit all the right emotional highs and lows. It pushes all the right buttons. It’s brightly-coloured and upbeat and I love it to bits. I’m not going to lie: I once watched it three times in one day.

Not exactly one of the best fantasy films ever made – but it’s a really good adaptation of one of my childhood favourites. Throw in some brilliant casting – James McAvoy could not be more perfect as Tumnus – and you’ve got a film I can’t help loving.

dirty dancing

9. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Is this my favourite romance film? Yes, I think it is.

I’ve come back to Dirty Dancing a few times as I’ve gotten older and it reads differently each time. When I first watched it Baby was a grown-up, sophisticated teenager I admired; then I began to appreciate the romantic and sexual side of the film more and she became subject to a cheerful kind of envy; now it seems very much a film about being right on the threshold of adulthood. (As I write this, I’ll be formally graduating from university in about eleven hours…) Who knows – maybe in a few years I’ll come to appreciate the sense of nostalgia more.

The romance; the music; the dancing; the wonderful pinkness of it; I love this film.

truman8. The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show is one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen. I was probably too young for it when I first watched it. It’s chillingly paranoia-inducing. And…  it’s  a Jim Carey Comedy.

This is a brilliantly constructed film. The television set that is Truman’s prison is beautifully realised; you can tell, after watching this film, just how it’s organised, how it’s funded, how actors and crew members move around it without ever alerting Truman to the truth.

It’s also one of the few films that manages to get the same emotional response out of me every single time I watch it. The sense of creeping paranoia, the gradual slippage of reality, and then the beautiful moment of catharsis that is the ending – ‘say something, damn it! You’re on television!’

7. The Blues Brothers (1980)blues brothers

This film was part of my childhood long before I watched it. My parents had the soundtrack and liked to play it in the car. I remember it as a strange and disjointed collection of songs I didn’t understand.

Then I was finally allowed to watch the film – it’s rated 15 – and my god is it funny. I always forget till I re-watch it just how funny car pile-ups can be. Or how weird and wonderful Carrie Fisher’s murderous cameos are. And of course as I get older I understand more and more of the jokes – naturally.

But it’s the music, I think, that really makes this film as good as it is – the music and the sheer calibre of the performers who were on board. It’s not just a comedy, it’s a musical comedy – a musical comedy of the highest order.

grosse6. Grosse Point Blank (1997)

Grosse Point Blank is like The Princess Bride – more or less every scene in it is memorable and quotable, to the point that I sometimes wonder why none of them have gone memetic. Oh, well. Popcorn!

It’s primarily a comedy, but it’s also a thriller; it has genuinely good action scenes; it’s a romance and it’s a redemption story. Martin Blank is a fascinating and complex lead – as well as one of the most relatable cold-blooded killers ever put to film.

And it has a great soundtrack. The slightly discordant selection of eighties songs permeates the whole film – I could make a list just for film soundtracks and Grosse Point Blank would be up there.

 

station5. The Station Agent (2003)

I always find it very difficult to explain what it is that makes The Station Agent so good. ‘You see, it’s about a man with dwarfism who loves trains, and then his only friend dies and leaves him a disused train station – and then he meets a woman who’s just lost her son and a man who runs a roadside food truck – and then, well, things happen‘.

It was not just my introduction to Peter Dinklage but, I think, the first time I’d seen an actor with dwarfism in a serious role. It’s certainly the only film I know of that treats dwarfism as a serious subject. It’s very quiet. It’s low on dialogue and high on visual storytelling. It’s very gentle – but also, at times, emotionally harrowing.

jesus4. Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)

I’m cheating a little with this one because it’s technically a filmed stage version rather than a film – and a direct to video version, at that.

Admitting to preferring this film to the more acclaimed 1973 production can get you a lot of flack in some circles – but I saw this version first, I grew up with it, and I love it in all its cheesy glory. For the longest time I didn’t even know there was another film.

I love Jesus Christ Superstar in all its guises, but for whatever reason the 2000 revival has the edge for me. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I love the post-apocalyptic, gritty visuals, I love the Darth Vader-esque Roman soldiers, I love the soundtrack, and I love the way it blends film and stage musical. It has close-ups and camera tricks, but also the surreal tone and visuals of a stage production.

3. Spartacus (1960)

spartacus

Best Roman epic of all time or best Roman epic of all time?

Spartacus might be the oddest choice on this list. I’m a queer woman – and Spartacus is an unapologetic testosterone-fest. But it’s a self-aware testosterone-fest.

The Classical Epic is generally an idealistic genre. And Spartacus is idealistic, but it’s also realistic. The realism in part comes from the constraints of history – the Spartacan revolt was ultimately a failure and the mass crucifixion depicted here really did happen, though Spartacus himself was mercifully spared on account of already being dead – but the film just owns it.

It’s also a great piece of visual storytelling, neatly sidestepping the wordiness of many Classical Epics. The silent shots of the Roman army advancing speak louder than words ever could. It’s a truly great film.

serenity2. Serenity (2005)

I’ll be honest: my love for Serenity is partly due to my love for Firefly, the tragically cancelled sci-fi series it’s sequel to. Which is strange, because as a sequel to Firefly I find it quite unsatisfying.

But as a science fiction film on its own terms, Serenity is incredible. It’s a dark thriller, a western and a sci-fi epic. It masters the ‘used future’ and what I’d call the ‘useable future’ – you can imagine what it would be to live in this world: what you would eat, how you would get around, what your life would be like.

I’d read Serenity as a meditation on the nature of evil. There’s no single villain here; the closest is the Operative, but as he himself acknowledges, he has little real agency. What there is instead is the Alliance, a group of politicians who honestly and earnestly believe that they are doing what is best for the people – by creating monsters.

empire1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

What can I say? I’m that kind of nerd.

The second act of the trilogy is usually the strongest and this is no exception. Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. In fact, I’d say it’s the only truly objectively good film in the series. After the shaky awkwardness of A New Hope but before the odd Ewok-filled wackiness of Return of the Jedi – perfect.

What I love about Star Wars in general – and Empire in particular – is that everything feels big. It feels heavy. You look at the spaceships knowing they’re models, but they feel heavy and metallic. You can imagine how they fit together. There’s a strong sense of space (ha) throughout the film; it’s like Serenity in that you can imagine what it would be like to be in the space ships and buildings depicted. Everything feels solid.

And to me, that’s the essence of SF: making the unreal feel real.

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