Too Much Winter in Winter

Tags

, , , , , , ,

2013-11-22 12.54.58-1As winters go, it has been relatively mild yet stormy. Work has dominated my personal landscape for the last four weeks or so and now comes the usual illness-heavy week between Christmas and New Year. It’s at this time of year I always long the most for the sun and wide open spaces away from the city. Particularly due to the near-perpetual darkness and the long Winter yet to come. As Billy Connolly once said…

There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.

Inspiration has dried up somewhat in the latter half of this year. Difficult to put a finger on why, but I’ve written very little, prose or otherwise. So I intend to try two things to change that. The last story I wrote is still in first draft stage (“The Door Behind The Door” – a ghost story set in the Scottish Highlands) and I was quite pleased with I wrote. There are at least two significant places I’d like to send it imminently, so I will put my mind to a redraft and see if that helps to rekindle the creative spark.

Second thing I need to do is buy a new desk and re-boot my writing space. I haven’t been comfortable there for a long time, and unfortunately our little flat yields very few options for alternatives. There’s nothing like a spring clean, even if it isn’t quite spring yet, but in a Scottish winter, spring needs to be a state of mind.

Reinvention

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Tunnel

See you on the other side.

For a long time now I’ve been wanting to re-title this blog. I first started a website and then this wordpress blog five years ago, and I had no clue about what might look or sound good. Not that I’m claiming that I have any more of a clue now, perhaps I’m just as deluded, only now I’m comfortable in my delusion.

The “Writer of Dark Fiction” title began to strike me as pompous as long as three years ago, but I never had any idea what to do about it. I’ve always wanted some sort of title to sum up the blog, or rather sum up where my writing inspiration comes from. I would say dreams and nightmares have long been the fuel for my creativity. Many of my stories have been inspired by dreams I’ve had. In some cases (Unpicking the Stitches) I’ve lifted entire images from a dream and riffed a complete story around them.

So, I’ve gone with DREAMWEAVING. Yes I know it’s alarmingly close to a Stephen King novel title, but it stuck in my head and there it is. It may even sound ten times as pompous as the previous title, but if that’s case then perhaps pomposity is just where I’m at. I’ve kept my name in the tag line, and what I do (dark fiction).

The new header photo is an instagrammed shot I took from the Glenmore forest park in the Cairngorms National Park. As apocalyptic as it looks, the image of arboreal destruction is actually a careful programme of tree clearing designed to help regenerate the native pinewoods. But, stick a black and white filter on and it looks cool.

Perhaps I may even write some stuff here. You never know.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been excited to see the recent proliferation of horror/dark/weird fiction magazines and anthologies appearing everywhere. When I started writing in earnest in 2008 (crap, is it that long ago…?) horror markets were either rare, subsumed into fantasy, or just poor quality. I admit I was still green when it came to submitting stories, and there were certainly the likes of Black Static just kicking off, along with a few others.

20130701070040-spiderJO1

Now there are many new ventures setting sail across the wide wide internet, and many of them are high profile. Weird fiction is becoming a byword for literary, experimental horror/fantasy (although that is a rather generalised definition of it) and at the time of writing you still have 11 hours left to contribute to the Indiegogo fundraiser for The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, edited by Laird Barron and published by Michael Kelly’s Undertow Books. An anthology I can’t wait to get my hands on. Undertow is also responsible for the rather excellent Shadows and Tall Trees – a classy journal of literary horror containing many writers in common with Black Static, but having its own unique aesthetic and sensibilities. From next year it is changing to a yearly trade paperback, hopefully with more stories (and I must get my arse in gear and submit something).

Other zines I’ve been noticing gaining in profile are John Joseph Adams’ Nightmare Magazine. From the stable that produces Lightspeed, it contains a mixture of new and reprinted horror stories and has a nicely eclectic range of fiction.

Lamplight is a smaller, perhaps lesser-known, zine that has been going for over a year now, but is publishing some interesting names and is building a following.

Launching this autumn is The Dark, published by Jack Fisher, and the first issue contains some very impressive names. I’m glad to see they are seeking more interesting, experimental unique fiction, but still on the darker side of things.

Horror fiction went through a particular period in the 80s when it was so fashionable, with its lurid black and red book covers. And the the bottom fell out of it thanks to the market becoming over-saturated. Now there appears to be a new fashion with genre fiction and perhaps publishers are still a little reticent to call it horror. Hard to shake the negative connotations that the 80s plastered over that word. In its place has come this intelligent, literary fiction of the weird and the dark, and the horrific. It seems to be rising again, and I for one am dedicated to following this particular fashion.

Turn, turn, turn

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Tree in the heatherThe change of seasons always seems to have a profound effect on my mind and mood. Up in spring and down in autumn. Seasonal changes also seem to lead me toward making blog posts. It’s the marking of time; the awareness that change is occurring and suddenly it’s dark at 8.30 and the nights are colder and you know it’s unlikely to be T-shirt weather again for at least seven months. Hard to comprehend that gap of time – the roaring darkness of winter.

We chose to grasp that final burst of summer weather and escaped to the Cairngorm national park for a week, camping in the forest. Drinking in the soothing green.

2013-09-03 14.46.46And the calming blues…

2013-09-03 15.33.37 (2)I didn’t manage to achieve any writing, but plenty of reading was accomplished. I find when confronted by nature that I have to soak it all in – the moss, the mountains, the pine trees, flocks of inquisitive chaffinches, whispering waters, vast lochs, castles, impossible vistas. I hope then it might travel through a process of assimilation and come out the other end as writing. Sort of like a creative process smoothie going through the blender of my imagination. Or something. I don’t know. Shut up.

Perhaps I should have tried eating some of this to help the imagination…

Mushroom!Or this…

2013-09-06 12.45.34 (2)Or this beauty… The fly agaric mushroom seemed to be bursting out of every hummock and mossy hollow in the forest.

2013-09-06 12.46.34No scale on that last shot, but it was about the diameter of a standard dinner plate. Perfect for sitting on whilst smoking a hookah and taking in the incredible scenery. Click on this next one to see the full panoramic shot.

2013-09-06 14.57.06

Recent Films Round-up (Part Two)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

the-masterContinuing the review round-up of recent films watched over the past couple of weeks. The Master has been high up on my list of films to watch ever since I saw the first trailer for it. Paul Thomas Anderson has become one of the most distinctive voices in cinema for a few years now, but for me, There Will Be Blood and The Master are truly visionary films. Epics of the interior and exterior. Despite the luminous cinematography, many of the best scenes in The Master are head-to-head dialogue exchanges between Joaquin Phoenix’s engagingly chaotic drifter and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s egotistic cult-leader.

Supposedly based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard, The Master charts a life of desperate seeking on the part of Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie; a desire to be a part of something, to find a meaning where there is no meaning, and so many of the film’s scenes revolve around that idea – from Freddie’s aimless pursuit of work that he only ends up failing at, or the to-and-fro march from wall to window that Hoffman’s character puts him through, ostensibly to train him, but as it descends into surrealism Freddie hasn’t really found anything of substance, he continues blindly through the world, searching for meaning. This metaphor is also captured so beautifully by his nostalgia and longing for an old affair that represents the only time in his life when there was meaning, but he can never recapture that. There is some sort of structural metaphor at play here as well, of America’s search for identity as a country in the immediate post-war period.

All that said, the film is gorgeous to look at, the performances are astonishingly good, the score is wonderfully unsettling and at times it’s incredibly touching. I can see, however, that the film is a ‘difficult’ film. It intentionally frustrates the viewer looking for a linear story with resolution. The characters are not terribly nice people. Both Freddie and Lancaster Dodd do and say some pretty unpleasant things, but they have such a chemistry on screen, each there to provide the other with the meaning to life that they think they need. Freddie is an animal, sexually motivated, prone to violence, alcoholic, and as such may not be likeable to everyone, but Phoenix injects a vulnerability and world-weariness to him, a questing, forlorn nature that makes it impossible not to find some sympathy with him, even if it’s the sympathy you give to a disease-ridden, broken, savage old dog.

Spectacular film-making. One of my favourites of the year. Lingered long after the final frame. I should have reviewed it sooner after I watched it, which is why it is being lumped in with this round-up.

watch-true-gritNot so much a remake as a revisit to the Charles Portis source novel of True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ gritty western is an elegiac version of a great story. Shot with washed-out filters in a winter country bled dry of colour, Hailee Steinfeld’s precocious Mattie Ross out for revenge grabs our attention from the opening. She more than admirably holds her own when Jeff Bridges’ grungy portrayal of Rooster Cogburn shows up, larger than life, drinking and shooting his way through the rough justice of the old west.

Ably supported by Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger and a typically colourful cast of Coen grotesques, Bridges cuts through the romanticised vision of the gunfighter to bring us this jaded lawman, still good at heart, but with questionable methods. It made me want to rewatch the 1969 film, a film I remember well from my childhood, for the contrast in approaches to the story.

Dark SkiesNot quite sure why I chose to subject myself to Dark Skies. It came with a slew of bad reviews. I suppose it was part of the unending quest to find a properly scary film, and some aspect of this being about aliens just appealed to me.

As is often the case with low expectations, the film rarely turns out to be as bad as you think it’s going to be.  It’s a competently handled chiller, documenting a family breakdown as much as alien abduction. There many levels where Dark Skies could have worked on a much more sophisticated level as metaphor for the breakdown of the family, and I genuinely think the film-makers were striving for something like that. More time is spent developing the characters than creating scares, which can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, those characters are uniformly mundane, dull everyfolk, in yet another white American suburban middle class home of the kind we have seen far FAR too much of. Instead of trying to reference Spielberg, it would have been far more interesting to make the characters stand out as something other than the target demographic.  There are some quite effective scares and one or two in particular lingered with me after the film and gave me nightmares. So, job done. Shame the film doesn’t have the courage of its convictions and the ending is wholly predictable.

Red FilmWith the sequel hitting cinemas currently, it was time to finally see Red. If only because there are so few fun films these days that succeed as multi-purpose vehicles. In this case, action-comedy with an impressive ensemble cast. John Malkovich and Helen Mirren in particular appear to be having a whale of a time.

This is not a film that needs any sort of in-depth critique. It is comic-book cinema and bundles of fun. Cartoonish and ridiculous with some great music. It is still one of the more original and enjoyable action films of recent years. Much needed after the po-faced Bourne films and the various wannabes that followed (Taken etc…).

At the very least, I have to thank Red for introducing me to the incomparable Calibro 35. Italian jazz-funk-rock in the style of 1970s crime movie soundtracks. This is what all my best dreams should sound like.

 

Recent Films Round-up (Part One)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Other than the full blog reviews of Man of Steel, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Pacific Rim I’ve seen quite a few films on the small screen and one or two others on the big screen, not all worthy of full page reviews, but here is a general round-up in a couple of parts.

EnglandFirst up, and probably one of the best out of the collection seen in the last couple of weeks is Ben Wheatley’s Civil War-era head-trip, A Field In England. An intense, funny hallucination of a film, filmed in gorgeous black and white cinematography on a shoestring, with some terrific performances.

This is brave, unconventional film-making and I’m so glad we have someone like Ben Wheatley making films like this and Sightseers and Kill List. Savage, weird, wholly unsettling films that make you remember how great cinema can be when boundaries are breached and two fingers are shown to predictability.

Trying to sum this film up is impossible. At it’s most basic, it’s about five men in a field during the English Civil War looking for treasure. Magic mushrooms are consumed. Black magic occurs. Is it a meditation on the British class system? Are they all in purgatory? Is it straight-out fantasy complete with magic? Answering those questions is kind of missing the point. It really has to be seen. If nothing else, it is the closest depiction of the magic mushroom experience committed to film. Not that I would know about such things… ahem…

This is the EndNext is one of a slew of upcoming apocalypse comedies, This Is The End. If you know the players involved, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill etc… then you already know exactly what the film will be like.

It’s a collection of dick jokes, riffs on horror films (The Exorcist being the most obvious one) and general arseing around. Some jokes are funny. Some definitely aren’t. Some outstay their welcome.

There is a modicum of satirical fun being poked in Hollywood’s direction. Michael Cera’s cameo is hysterical. Rihanna is swallowed by a flaming hell-hole. There is one gimp-suit reveal that is cringe-inducingly amusing. Much of it feels like self-indulgence. Best parts of the film are the straight scenes at the beginning between Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel. After that the tonal shifts are jarring and many scenes just feel thrown in for the hell of it. Bring on The World’s End.

Stoker-2013Director Park Chan-Wook’s English language film, Stoker, was a pleasant surprise. I had heard many good things about it, but didn’t quite know what to expect.

Not a single frame is wasted in this hypnotic film. Every image and texture is relevant to the story in some way, be it directly or as a subtle, metaphorical image, all building and layering to create a whole. The foreshadowing is so beautifully done throughout it makes a repeat viewing an absolute must.

India Stoker is left to live with her unstable mother and creepy uncle after her father dies, but what is the uncle’s true purpose? What secrets is he hiding? The answer is more complicated than you might think and the film moves in unexpected directions. Despite India Stoker being a closed character, whose thoughts you aren’t privy to in the way you might be in novel, she still elicits a great deal of sympathy and draws the viewer in.

The film-making here is sensual, creating a complete world, using sound to create texture and music to unsettle; using editing to fracture time and represent mental states. You constantly question what is real as the entire film has a dream-like feel. The acting performances are top-notch and while it might not be for everyone – it does move at a slow pace (albeit full of dread and tension) – I would recommend this thoroughly, if even just to see what cinema is capable of when utilised to the full extent of its capabilities.

Reflections

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

DSC02792The time has passed now, but I’d intended to blog on the anniversary of the flood last year. The contrast between the river now and then is quite ridiculous. Unfortunately I never managed to take a pic of the river when it was at its height last year, but I would estimate it reached close to twelve feet. Might not sound like a lot, but currently it is trickling lazily over the river-bed rocks at a depth of about one inch. Seems impossible that it could ever be so fast-moving, so dangerous.

It happened on July 7th, a notorious date for many reasons. This year it was the day Andy Murray won Wimbledon and as the river dried up under the constant sun, most of Stockbridge was silent in front of TVs willing on Andy to win that trophy.

The culprit for the flood last year was the unfinished flood wall. A work that’s been in progress for a few years now. The small bridge (Bell’s Bridge) over the Water of Leith has now been re-opened at last and I was struck by the changes to the view. I have a photo taken in 2008 before the work started and one taken the other day.

DSC000902013-07-14 18.04.08With sun flattering the scene, the photo is kind to the wall. I like that they have finished the wall with a traditional brick-look, even if I know it’s concrete with massive pile-driven metal foundations inside.  Other than that it seems terribly brutal; a monolithic wall. Hopefully some vegetation will eventually cover up the harder-looking parts of the wall and soften its appearance.

The wall is there to do a job, and if it prevents a future flood then I can make my peace with the destruction that’s been done to the river bank. Wildlife is returning and parts of the bank are growing in this hot summer. It will of course take a few years, but I can’t help feel my heart sink when I see the stumps where great trees once grew, and unending grim concrete where once a characterful Victorian wall stood, and for the most part resisted flood many years later. There is no doubt it needed repairing and strengthening, rebuilding in places, but I wonder how much this major construction project needed to happen. Mixed emotions over it. I certainly don’t want to see a scene outside my door again like the one in the photograph at the top of the post.

The most expensive B-movie ever? Pacific Rim (Movie Review)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

pacificrimMany aspects of this film appealed to me before I went to see it. I liked that it wasn’t a sequel, or a remake/reboot, or an adaptation of a comic, or a TV series/Video game/theme park ride. It’s an original story (well perhaps, but more on that later…) and an unashamedly loud, brash summer blockbuster. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro was the director drew me to it all the more, and who doesn’t want to see GIGANTIC robots beating the utter crap out of GIGANTIC monsters?

Undoubtedly some SPOILERS AHEAD.

There is no doubt it achieves its main aim of putting that particular robot/monster titanic slugfest on the screen in some style. And for me, they were often its most entertaining sequences. The sheer volume in the cinema was enough to convincingly emulate the sensation of being slammed in the face by a double-decker bus sized fist. It definitely achieves that sense of scale, which was another thing that enticed me in the original teaser trailers and posters – they weren’t mincing around with exoskeletons or even Transformer-sized robots; these Jaegers were colossally immense, awe-inspiring constructions.

Beyond the megalithic punch-ups, I can’t say there is much more to recommend the film. Perhaps that is being unkind. I liked the concept of the ‘Drift’, the two pilots acting as right and left hemispheres of the brain, the ‘neural handshake’. That concept had great potential for revealing elements of backstory and character in a clever plot-relevant way. There is a stupendous amount of detail involved in the Jaegers and some of the world-building is interesting: for example I liked the way they dive straight in and take you through to a point well past the first incursion, or response, and submerge you face-first into this new world order. It’s a bold narrative move. Too many films these days (superhero movies, I’m talking to you) spend so much time with origin stories and set-up that it’s impossible to have a complete story in the world within the available running time.

But I’m being generous. This is a hugely expensive B-movie, complete with TERRIBLE dialogue, bad acting (Charlie Hunnam I’m looking at you, although the awful accent they saddled you with didn’t help), stock characters and over-used predictable plot elements.

At times it’s so ridiculous that I almost lost interest in the entire film. For example, when the two wacky scientists make their entrance (and any time they’re on the screen, to be honest). Various plot-convenient Jaeger abilities that had hitherto gone unemployed – ELBOW ROCKET! SWORD MODE! (why the thundering hell didn’t they use the sword before that point? And while I’m at it, why not just open up with plasma cannon to the head before the Kaiju get their slimy paws on you?). And the ending – let’s penetrate the giant alien ship and upload the virus to the alien mainframe then inexplicably escape let’s penetrate the Breach and nuke the sonsabitches then inexplicably escape.

And then I’m ticking off the painfully overused tropes and clichés – the loss of a parent/sibling/loved-one in the opening scenes to set up a character’s arc; the gruff commander with a secret, a rousing speech at the right moment and an eventual self-sacrifice for the good of the many (but really, who thought the ‘cancelling the apocalypse’ line was a good idea?); the cocky ace pilot whose respect our hero has to earn; the shadowy, uncaring government types etc…

It’s pointless going into the various plot holes in any detail, but the parts that really leapt out at me were the incredibly important scientist sent on his own into a life-threatening situation. No back-up at all? Not one guy who can maybe handle himself in a fight or possessing even an iota of common sense to help him on this perilous journey that might save the entire human race from becoming Kaiju muesli? What about the evolution that led from planes and tanks to humongous killer robots? Was there no inbetween stage where all that incredible technological know-how thought that perhaps barrages of intelligent missiles to the head might be more effective at taking down the Kaiju? Okay, that might not plug the breach, but seems a method that might have been considered.

Perhaps I’m asking too much of a film that is blatantly riffing on the classic Toho Godzilla films, which I used to enjoy heartily in all of their silliness. There was no pretence at being anything other than giant monsters fighting each other. The Jaegers reminded me of Jet Jaguar from Godzilla vs Megalon, and there is no doubt that Del Toro has made his own version of those films, with the sugary Japanese pop-culture references and instant appeal to kids (I would have loved the hell out of this film as a thirteen year-old boy).

Still… I can’t help but feel Del Toro is capable of something so much better. The script feels at times written by a committee to include all the elements such a film requires. I’m a huge fan of Del Toro’s subtler fantasy/horror movie work in The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. I would love to see the version of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness as directed by him if he ever gets to go ahead with it. Pacific Rim feels like Del Toro is playing with his toys.

In-joke Bingo: Star Trek-Into Darkness (Movie Review)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

star_trek_into_darkness-HDSix weeks too late with this review, but it is still in cinemas if you wish to take the trip into darkness yourself.

Arriving a full four years after the original J.J. Abrams reboot, Into Darkness is a different creature to that first film. Visually slick, with some great performances from Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and in particular, Benedict Cumberbatch as…

~~~SPOILERS~~~

…John Harrison, or Khan to his genetically enhanced friends and mortal enemies. And so begins the in-joke bingo card that is Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I’ll preface this by saying that I enjoyed the film. It is undeniably entertaining. It is a machine designed to thrill and strike awe, and it accomplishes both in equal measure, if not in abundance. Unfortunately, it is neither as good as the first film, nor is it even a good Star Trek film. It relies far too much on frantic action with added peril, over-the-top moralising… with more peril. And zippy, cool special effects to enhance the peril. It’s a little painting-by-numbers with the perilous scenes – Oh no! You accidentally armed the missile and it’s going to explode in 30 seconds! – We’ve got to run from here to there and gravity’s gone all illogically stupid in whatever manner is most convenient to put Kirk and Scotty in extreme peril! – Look out! A fist fight on moving vehicles that seem to have no identifiable purpose other than to provide a series of video-game style platforms to fight upon!

The major problem with the film, though, in my opinion is the over-use of in-jokes and references to other films. Some blatant. Some subtle. Some possibly just in my head. There is an excess of Trek-based references, from the Tribble, to mention of a Gorn, Carol Marcus (wink wink, nudge nudge), Nurse Chapel to entire sections of plot with the obvious use of a young Khan Noonien Singh and the resulting scenes from The Wrath of Khan played out in reverse. My problem with that is how backward-looking all of this is, after the forward-thinking time-tinkering of the 2009 reboot. I loved that they threw out years of Trek history, hopefully with the intent of moving on into uncharted waters and creating new stories. It’s hard not to utilise some aspects of Trek. There has to be Klingons and Romulans and Vulcans and so on, but did we really have to trade on the past quite so directly in this film.

Wrath of Khan is easily the best moment of Original Star Trek on film and this only serves to remind us of that, and in comparison how this film isn’t. To anyone unaware of that Trek history, it may be more enjoyable, or it might simply leave you a bit cold as after two films have Kirk and Spock really created such a well-defined bond in non-Trekkie viewer’s imaginations to elicit the strong emotions that they are trying to wring out of the audience here? With the original Wrath of Khan, Star Trek fans already had three seasons of the TV show and a film behind them, so the relationship between Kirk and Spock was thoroughly and comprehensively drawn out.

star_trek_into_darkness_5

The entire film is a subverted buddy movie between Kirk and Spock – complete with snappy, comedy dialogue – “Pointy? Is that a derogatory reference?” But I’m not sure I was utterly convinced of the relationship these two have built up. They tell the story of their meeting and getting to know each other in the 2009 film, so I’m not sure this film needed to be entirely about that. In fact I wanted more of Chekov and Sulu who are a bit sidelined in this movie.

Back to the Bingo-card. Other movies referenced: -

Bladerunner – Khan reminds me so much of Roy Batty in this film, being the charismatic, violent, impossible-to-kill leader of a group of genetically enhanced humanoids who just want to live. And then, the obvious reference – like Tyrell, the crushing of Admiral Marcus’ head.

Godfather Part 3 – Not one everyone might spot, but these guys know their film-making and there is no way this would not have been considered. Khan’s helicopter attack on the gathered Federation bigwigs is an exact copy of the helicopter attack on the gathered Mafia Dons as orchestrated by Joe Mantegna’s Joey Zasa.

Indiana Jones – Mainly in the opening sequence, being chased by ‘natives’ in such a frantic fashion recalled quite strongly to me many scenes in the first two Indiana Jones films.

Star Wars – I wondered if Abrams was so keen to get started on his new Star Wars films for Disney that he couldn’t help but throw in a reference during the starship chase sequence with the Klingons. Spaceships flying down a canyon, slotting through tight spaces, and listen closely to the noise the Klingon ship makes. It’s the distinctive roar of a TIE fighter.

I could proceed with a huge list of plot holes – most of which dragged me out of the film to go “eh”? Such as: why hide the Enterprise underwater? – or -  Wouldn’t they have faster response security at the meeting of ALL the federation bigwigs, so Khan can’t spend quite so long freely shooting at everyone? And many others, but it would start to seem petty. Suffice it to say that the majority of the post-film discussion was spent picking apart the mostly silly ‘plot’.

I feel they missed a chance to send the enterprise off on its 5 year mission straight away in this film, rather than finishing with that happening. I hope in the next film they give us something with proper aliens, and serious outer-space weirdness, which is what I loved most about Star Trek. I hope they set about creating something much more original instead of continuing to cherry-pick old Star Trek for its best bits.

I think the title says it all. ‘Into Darkness’ – what darkness? If they mean space, it’s a bit of a trite and obvious statement. In a summer packed with HUGE SF films, this won’t be one of the more memorable.

Biff! Bang! Pow! – Man of Steel (A Movie Review)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Man of SteelI went to see this purely on the strength of its trailer. Admittedly, the idea of yet another Superman reboot wasn’t something that excited me. I can barely remember the Bryan Singer reboot of a few short years ago (yet the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve films are etched on my memory).

Yes, the trailer. Zack Snyder films make for great trailers. They are full of spectacular imagery, which when strung together with some tremendously exciting music will make a film look incredibly enticing. I recall the trailers for 300 and Watchmen and Sucker Punch, and how they teased with the stylised imagery. 300 I enjoyed, but has troubling racism issues and is just one long ridiculous fight sequence. Watchmen I remember being reasonably successful, if not, in the end, all that memorable enough to ever even vaguely eclipse the superb comic book. Ozymandias in the film never convinced me and there is some superb stuff left out from the comic. Sucker Punch… was Sucker Punch and the less said about that the better.

Here’s the trailer I saw in the cinema that sold me –

Wow. It looks incredible, right? Iconic imagery with cape fluttering in the wind, scarlet against Arctic white. Pounding exhilarating music (seriously, has Hans Zimmer eaten all the other film composers in Hollywood?). Awesome spaceships! Massive fucking explosions! Buildings falling! Russell Crowe! Kevin Costner? Henry Cavill’s impossibly white teeth and heaving pecs!

That right there is the stunning art of assembling a movie trailer. It’s a missile specially programmed to hit all the right buttons and sucker you in. The mystery to me is how Zack Snyder and team can create such fabulous imagery, but somehow manage to not string it together into a decent film. Can you tell I’m a little bitter?

***PROBABLY SPOILERS AHEAD***

What puzzles me is how there can be so much technical expertise and money thrown at a film like this and how there can be so much ineptitude with characters and plot elements. It’s tough to construct a narrative that can follow an opening sequence with Russell Crowe riding a dragon, leaping through space, evading crazy alien spaceships and swimming through a Matrix-esque vat of baby pods, and an entire planet exploding. I know this is how the Superman story begins, but there is a sequence later on that tells the story of Krypton using animated metal beads (there is probably a real name for this but I don’t know it…) which would have been a concise and clever way to do it without all the bombast – also accomplishing a different method of approaching the traditional narrative.

I liked that they plough straight in with Clark Kent all grown up and trying to find himself, flashing back to key points of his childhood rather than hashing out the Smallville era in full, but trouble seems to follow him around like a perilous plot element. Want to be a fisherman? Oh no! Exploding Oil Rig! Day out with Dad? TORNADO! Off to school? Everybody’s going to DROWN.

Actually, Henry Cavill’s Clark is a decent take on Superman. He comes across as relatively tortured to begin with, unsure of his place in the world, afraid to reveal his true nature out of fear, despite continually being forced into it – and I get that is the point. The characterisation is quite good there, and Cavill is more than capable in the role, culminating in a very un-Superman-like action that he is forced into. Cavill just manages to avoid smugness in the scenes where Superman has to take the moral high ground, or convey to an entire trigger-happy platoon of soldiers that he is not the enemy simply through a beatific grin and the arch of his manly cheekbones.

Amy Adams as Lois is less successful in my opinion. I think it’s more down to the direction than her performance, but her reaction to most things is the same slightly quizzical expression on her face. Including wandering into an alien spaceship and encountering the floating guard-bot or Superman sneaking up behind her. Also, she is continually placed exactly where the plot needs her to be, whether it makes any logical sense or not. Climbing an Arctic ice-cliff at night as though it’s a gentle stroll. Tracking down every single one of Clark’s acquaintances like the good reporter she is. And the worst one, right at the end, despite Superman punching Zod through every building in New York Metropolis across a massive distance, she still manages to turn up right at the final moment exactly where he is. And the jokey kissing scene? Just conveniently forgetting that a horrific apocalypse has been wreaked upon New York and they are standing at Ground Zero.

This is where the film suffers most, in its narrative progression. It is choppy and poorly paced, with important plot points wedged in with no natural lead-in. And then Michael Shannon’s General Zod arrives and it’s all action, explosions, punching through windows and vehicles tossed around. Michael Shannon is very good, in fact, and an actor I thoroughly enjoy watching whatever he’s in. He has a barely-repressed intensity that just ignites the screen. Take Shelter is an extraordinary film with him at its centre. Back to the action… which is relentless, occasionally brilliant (I much prefer the fight in Smallville to what occurs later), but ultimately excessive with some intermittently bad CGI (although I think it looks better than a lot of the Avengers did) – and the final Superman vs Zod showdown is beyond ridiculous. Chuck Wending says it all about the final third of the movie in his hilarious review of the film.

Disappointing. Crowe and Costner didn’t work for me at all. They were just Crowe and Costner. Fishburne was okay but didn’t really get a chance to play his role, so when we come to the big tense scene where they’re trapped and about to be gravity-squished by the giant tripod that seems to be playing a really boring game of Pong through the Earth’s core, it’s hard to care what happens to anyone.

Don’t get me started on the shaky-cam. Or the clichéd moments of Superman always arriving right at the last moment to save the day. Or the old Good guy/Bad guy nonsense that permeates the film. And then there’s the Christ imagery…

POW!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 372 other followers