jennygordon: (Hermit)
I confess that while I loved Pater Jackson's LOTR trilogy, the hype for 'The Hobbit' has largely passed me by, except for feeling a large dose of cynicism when I heard he was turning that slim volume into a trilogy. (I just mis-typed that as 'trology', which is rather appropriate, given the film in question!)

However, I ... crunch ... crunch ... nom ... nom ... nom ...

In case you're wondering, that's the sound of me eating my words, not me pretending to be a troll.

I went to see 'The Hobbit' at the weekend, and emerged from the cinema with a big grin and a lovely feel-good glow. It's a fantastic film. I should have known better than to doubt. After all, Pater Jackson is such a huge Tolkien fan that he's unlikely to do the book a disservice.

Inevitably, the film has a far greater sense of fun than the LOTR trilogy. While there's some neat 'portents of the doom to come', the story lacks the end of the world dread of the LOTR.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarven prince, is wonderfully gruff and noble, while Sylvester McCoy was born to play Radagast the Brown, bird poo in his hair and all. It was also good to see Aidan Turner featuring as dwarven tottie, Kili. Some of us in the UK already know him from the original UK series of 'Being Human', (I can confirm that he's just as hot in person as he is in dwarven guise, having encountered him a few years back at a bus-stop - although I was rather distressingly dishevelled at the time, as I had just emerged from a yoga class!)

But I digress. I'm sure Tolkien purists will find plenty to gripe about, and certainly the gfilm was far from perfect, but frankly, there's such a lot to like about it that I don't care how far Pater Jackson has wandered from the original text, or how many holes you can pick in the story he has chosen to tell.

More than anything, it was such a pleasure to spend a couple of hours immersed in that world again after so long. Can you believe it's been more than a decade since the LOTR films?! I remember how delicious it was being able to visit the cinema each Christmas for three years in succession to visit Middle Earth as each LOTR film was released. And now I can look forward to doing so all over again with 'The Hobbit'. Woo hoo!

Seriously, if you haven't been to see it yet, ot-foot it to the cinema right away. And if you have seen it, I'd be interested in hearing what you thought.

Btw, I've decided I want to live in Rivendell. Or at least in the Peter Jackson/Alan Lee/John Howe version of it. Even if the elvish harp playing might wear thin after a while ...
jennygordon: (Bluebells)

That man, Joss Whedon, ‘e’s a flipping’ genius, ‘e is. 

I’ve recently embarked on a re-watch of Season One of “Dollhouse”, and, as well as apparently making me come over all Cockney, it’s renewed my appreciation for all things Whedon. 

Yet another of his TV series to fall foul of scheduling cock-ups and poor decision-making on the part of the studio, “Dollhouse” only ran to two seasons, but they’re little gems, both of them. Not least because of the fact that, since Whedon had good notice of the series’ cancellation, he was able to wrap up the story in a way that gave a fair indication of where he had intended to go with the series had it run for longer. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, especially as I’m only a couple of episodes in at the moment, and they’re the ones I wanted to talk about in the context of Joss Whedon = genius. 

Within two 45 minute episodes, and even within the first one alone, Whedon has skilfully succeeded in immersing us in the world and characters of “Dollhouse”. 

I feel a list coming on. 

  • With a light touch, he’s introduced the concept of the organisation known as the “Dollhouse”, explained the set-up and what they do
  • Each of the two self-contained plots of the episodes is complete and satisfying in itself, while
  • Also laying building blocks concerning the greater over-arching plot
  • Since this is a series re-watch, I can see where, even from the very beginning, he is seeding clues and events significant to the greater plot
  • Whedon’s primary strength has always lain in his characterisation, and in these initial two episodes, he has already introduced all of the main players. We may only have had glimpses of them, but they’re already established in the setting. And that’s no small achievement, since there area at least 10 of them. Developed to varying degrees, given the small amount of screen time to date, something memorable about each character has already been introduced
  • The premise of “Dollhouse” is unsettling enough, and knowing Whedon, you trust him to do something intriguing with it. Already, he’s giving us fragments of a Bigger Picture and a Greater Threat
  • And even on a first viewing, it’s all so effortlessly interesting and intriguing. 

Phew! That’s such a lot to get into two little episodes, and yet it’s all so masterfully managed that it’s never info dump and is never overwhelming. 

For me, “Dollhouse” really shows a (screen) writer at the top of his game, all of his tools in peak condition and being skilfully employed. 

If you’re a Joss Whedon fan, what do you reckon? Do you have a favourite show of his? I’d love to hear what, which and why. I’m also hearing good things about his new film, “The Cabin in the Woods”; has anyone seen it?  

In the meantime, I’m off to do some more worshipping at the Great Man’s altar.

jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
As writers, we are always learning – or at least we should be – and not just from other writers and their books.  All sorts of other media can throw up food for thought and lessons to heed as well.  I’ve finally got around to watching the first two Bourne films (“The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy”), having heard good things about them from various quarters, and as well as thoroughly enjoying them, I learned a few useful writerly lessons.  So, I thought I’d share them.
 
  1. Pacing – this is one of the big things I’m always working on in my writing, which (like all of us) can get rather flabby if I’m not careful.  Now, the Bourne films rattle along at a bracing ‘action’ pace, as you would expect, yet they don’t lack for downtime – those spaces between action sequences in which the characters can breath, chat, and develop as people, giving us the chance to build empathy with poor Bourne, a savagely efficient killer with amnesia, who has no idea why he’s so savagely efficient, and no real wish to be.

    Such a tricky thing, pacing.  We recognise it when we see it done well, but it’s so hard to achieve ourselves.  The Bourne films provide really good examples of how to keep the audience engaged through balancing the high-octane action with quieter, more ‘talky’ interludes, essential if we’re going to engage with, and care about the characters and their stakes.

    Which leads me on to ...

  1. Sympathetic hero – no doubt about it, Jason Bourne is an action hero, yet he’s also enormously conflicted, capable of gentleness and sensitivity, not to mention properly falling in love in a non-James-Bond way.  He wants to reclaim his memories, but has no desire to be the person his past has made him.

    It’s a lesson that a sympathetic hero can be created, regardless of the set-up.  So, no excuses!
  1. Length – I was surprised that both the first two Bourne films clocked in at under 2 hours a-piece, and yet had a full, satisfying and intelligent plots, and well-developed characters.  Just goes to show that you don’t need a hundred extra pages to create something worthwhile and engaging.
  1. Resolution – while the films each resolve their internal plot, the larger mystery of Bourne himself and his forgotten past are only beginning to be explained in the first two, and, I assume, will play out in “The Bourne Ultimatum”, which I’ve yet to see. 

    Sometimes, it’s hard to know when to seed your plot points, when to insert the Big Reveals, and these films show that, provided you get the other elements right, and keep your audience awake and clamouring to find out more, you can keep the Reveal dangling for longer than you might think.
  1. For my final lesson, I took away the thought that I might have mis-judged Robert Ludlum!  I always thought he wrote books for Dads (you know what I mean?)  Yet if the Bourne books are anything like the films, and just like his hero, he has hidden depths.
What about you?  Have you seen a film/play, or even heard a concerto recently, which has taught you lessons you can apply to your writing?
jennygordon: (Default)
I did threaten in a comment I posted a couple of days ago that I might have to blog about this. 

Went to see the movie, 'Inception' at the weekend, loved it and talked about it all the way home - pretty much non-stop.  The trouble is, I can't tell you what it's about without it being spoilery.  Suffice to say, it's got to do with dreams, and it's the best, most intellectually satisfying film I've seen in a long while.  Unusually for me, I was able to sit through the whole 2.5 hours without part of my brain trying to figure out the puzzle and guess the 'whodunit' before the end.  I did guess what the end was going to be, or rather I saw where I hoped the end was going to be, and was absolutely delighted that it turned out to be exactly where Chris Nolan (the director) put it.

And that's really what I want to talk about.  It's so rare for me to see a Hollywood blockbuster and not come away disappointed on some level because they've either dumbed it down or felt the need to spoon-feed the audience.  'Inception' did neither of those two things.  It threw you in at the deep end and declared, "If you can't keep up, I don't care, so you might was well just leave the cinema" - a couple of people did.  It's an achievement, not to mention a mark of the clout Nolan obviously has, that he got away with keeping the film as bum-numbingly long as it is.  Great directors before him have been forced by the Hollywood cognoscenti to cut, cut, cut until the film resembles chopped liver instead of the full cow they intended (okay, bizarre metaphor - not sure where that came from).  

A few years back, being a bit of a fan of Crusader history, I was excited to hear that Ridley Scott was taking on the period.  The resulting film, 'Kingdom of Heaven' was ... well ... disappointing.  As was Oliver Stone's take on Alexander the Great a few years before.  But then, ah ha! they release Director's Cuts and they're a gazillion times better.  As
so often happens, the big Hollywood Scissors had hacked the theatre release into a shape they believed the idiot masses could deal with (because we're all idiots who can't handle layered characterisation and moral ambiguity and intelligent detail, aren't we?)  The Director's Cut of 'Alexander' remains flawed, but that of 'Kingdom of Heaven' is up there among my favourite films.  In it, Scott completely re-frames his story, playing down the heroics of the no-more-than-adequate Orlando Bloom and fleshing out the other characters and the themes into a well-rounded, satisfying historical piece.

Scott is, of course, no stranger to Director's Cuts, having done the same with his iconic 'Blade Runner'.  The story goes that he was made to add the voiceover by Ford/Deckard to the Theatrical Release because Them With the Power thought that audiences wouldn't 'get' the film without the explanation.  Harrison Ford himself was apparently so disenchanted with the idea that he did the whole thing in a bored monotone. 

Which brings me back to 'Inception'.  With its complicated ideas, morally ambiguous 'heroes' and cleverly structured, twisty plot, how did Nolan get it past the Hollywood Scissors?  Actually, I don't care, because the fact is it was 2.5 hours of my life well spent. 
If you haven't caught it already, what are you waiting for?  Seriously. 

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jennygordon

January 2016

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