Monday, August 06, 2007

The comic approach to WoW


I have, on and off, been playing World of Warcraft for some time. As a game it's pretty good but then you have to remember this is quite astounding praise as I am pretty much not a video games player. The phrase "electronic mazes" more or less sums up my jaded view.

I could spend the next two hours telling you where I think WoW (as it's called) misses the point - not least of which is the repetitive bashing of gormless creatures who never learn. However, may I say that by far and away the best part of the game is the human interaction of chat and it is that, and strangely not the excellent graphics and stylish enemies, that makes WoW as good as it is.

Anyway, I took one of my minor characters, called Firelight, and turned her into a comic book hero. Using the Comic Life program on my Mac, I got screen grabs (print screen for the PC users out there) and dropped them in the program, taking all told about three hours to do it to create the whole production. Writing it as I went along (believe me there was no story there when I started out) I am quite pleased with the end result.

If you want to see this in its eight-page full colour entirety, please see the Personal Web Page link in the sidebar or go to http://www.gled.demon.co.uk

If it amuses you - and privately I think there is at least one good joke in there - please leave a comment.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Spectators through telescopic sights

Jarhead strikes me as a movie which transcends that tired old cliche of a war film being anti-war. This is a war film that misses war.

Not avoids it, because the participants chase it. War and the events of 1991 simply outdistances the soldiers we follow, despite all their earnest endeavours.

I once saw a statistic that said 98 per cent of troops in World War Two never saw action, never confronted the enemy. That was how it turned out in this one, too.

Sam Mendes, whose direction made "American Beauty" such a good film and Walter Murch, whose fine editing made "Cold Mountain" almost an outstanding film, took the tale of Anthony Swofford's memoirs of being a Marine in the first Gulf War to demonstrate that all it amounted to was months and months of dirty preparation and sweltering heat and four frustrating days later, it was over. All without engaging the enemy.

Swoff, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, becomes one of the US Marine's elite - a sniper. He endures the training, the ritual humiliations, the early arrival in Saudi Arabia, the boredom, the tension and the angry exchanges between fellow-Marines, demotion, the scorching heat and the fear of an enemy he is told is a million strong and just over the border. He is close to war but it is out of arm's reach.

Is this important? Only in that he has been trained for it and in all training, you yearn to put your skills into practice. Swoff wants to prove himself but the gods of war have other ideas and the destiny of the foot soldier in a fast moving war is out on the fringe.

Our Marine sees a fellow soldier shot dead in training when the man lifts his head under live fire, sees friendly fire kill men on his own side when US planes swoop in, sees blackened statuesque bodies among the carnage and wreckage on the road to Basra (which he has had no part of), confronts Bedouins who tell him they have had camels killed, hears distant gunfire and when his position is shelled, wets himself. But the war doesn't come any closer, no matter how much pride the Marines have in their history and readiness.

Only once does our sniper have an enemy in his sights and then the order is rescinded as he goes to squeeze the trigger. He watches, blank faced through shattered glass, as the air force is called in to do the job brutally that he was going to do elegantly. The hope was the elimination of one officer might prompt hundreds of others to wave a white flag.

He can only watch his role superseded by the machinery of a remotely directed war. As the marines said: "Welcome to the suck."

There's personal pain too in that the girlfriend at home eventually abandons Swoff. We see a telling scene of a "wall of shame", where similarly abandoned troops put up pictures of the women folk at home who have found someone else. Perhaps his girl Kristina joins the gallery.

Despite their misgivings of what awaits them the company goes home to a predictable hero's welcome but we see the Marines, back in civilian life, doing mundane jobs, enjoying everyday pleasures.

Our hero knows that part of him still has his hands on a rifle in the desert, but the opportunity has gone. The war has moved faster than the infantryman can: the only time he gets to fire his weapon is when it is all over, shooting pointlessly into the night sky. A celebration they survived the boredom and the heat and an enemy they never really saw.

This is a film about reduction. Reduction of hopes and personal ambitions. Reduction of the fighting man to a spectator of horrors and emptiness. Tellingly we see the squad of troops slowly whittled down by the rigours of training, the weeding out of the unsuitables. In the desert, we see the army reduced as we focus in a smaller group, eventually down to two - against a nightmarish background of burning wells and the fine rain of oil.

Jarhead may not figure in the pantheon of great war movies, but it makes it own contribution to the cause of making people think about conflicts. There are sacrifices to be made, but heroics belong in Hollywood and not in the real world. Before leaving for the war the Marines cheer the helicopter gunship scenes from "Apocalypse Now," but for them war is to be as remote as a movie on a screen.

They were there but missed it all by a mile.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The colours of shadows and secrets

Having seen a lot about "Memoirs of a Geisha" I didn't expect much from the film, but it is far better than I expected.

We do live in a time where, for movie fans, there isn't much to be discovered about a film before it is screened. Advance information, trailers, sneak peeks, inside stories... the whole film is pretty much dissected before we settle into our seats to see it, and of course the critics have gone over it so thoroughly we know every nuance of opinion.

No, I'm not complaining: I visit Metacritic often to get a "global view" of the film, so I'm as guilty as anyone in wanting to know plenty about it before I see it.

What's left to discover though is the joy of actually seeing a movie in motion, as it were. A film, like any creative event, is more than the sum total of its parts. So it turned out with "Memoirs of a Geisha."

I have to say first off that it is a pretty slim story. For a while as I watched it I wondered if I was watching a modern Cinderella - brutalised child with fearsome guardians escapes in some way to find happiness where the bullies cannot - but apart from a few moments that dwell on the traditional wooden platform shoes worn in Japan there wasn't too much emphasis on footwear.

So a girl is sold by her impoverished family into what amounts to be slavery, rises up through the ranks to become a stunning Geisha and achieves happiness. Well, maybe... the film is slightly ambiguous at the end, with Ziyi Zhang (playing Sayuri) admitting the geishas could only be "wives of the night"

Incomplete, and in some ways still a slave to giving comfort while drawing what satisfaction they can from being a living piece of art. Certainly slaves to a tradition that was about to be suppressed if not entirely extinguished by the outbreak of the second world war.

The movie did not explain everything I might have wanted to know about the role of the Geisha in Japanese society. Sadly the politics of the house in which the Geishas grow up, as well as the practice of acceptance by wealthy and distinguished men, slipped past me. But then perhaps all this is about unattainable love rather than an study of what Japan once was.

The second world war does provide the fulcrum point in this. Sayuri suppresses her love for Ken Wattanabe but is only liberated from some of the constraints of her calling when the Americans arrive and Japanese society changes. Some of the people change too, but the old ideals still exist. But again, this wasn't a film about society whatever the parallels in the world around the main characters.

The film is about jealousy and love, about patience and ideals. It is also a movie about bridges and water.

Early on we are told that the young Sayuri (as Chiyo, played wonderfully by an unknown Japanese child actress, Suzuka Ohgo) has obvious water in her nature and as such can overcome many things. In the nature of water to move resolutely and at times slowly, so does she. We see water flowing and gathering. It rains, too, to drive the point home. The young girl is drenched before she is beaten for something that she was forced into. Above all we see a number of bridges, emphasising the bridging between times and different outlooks.

Above all I appreciated the use of colour in this film. Early on there are many reds and yellows, but as the time of war and conflict (in the Geisha house and in the greater world) closes in the colours turn to predominant blues and greys. Reds become muted as if passions are suppressed. Later on we see a long length of red fabric in a flowing river, as if time flows past passion, submerging it.

If you see the poster of this film you are aware of the four colours that dominate: the blue of Ziyi Zhang's eyes, the red of her lips, the black of her hair and the almost bleached colour of her face - the traditional make up that covers and removes any suggestion of emotion, of need.

Strangely it is a film that has little sunshine in it. I found it too dark and jarring early on - yes, deliberately made so because we needed to see the shock of the children taken from their seaside home to a city they never knew existed, feel the darkness they felt. But even allowing for this the movie was hard to watch in the first half hour. It was only when it settled to a longer, slower pace that we could begin to appreciate the characters and their places, the changes that are going on around them all and even within them.

Eventually, doors are opened to reveal sunlight in a rich and beautiful garden. Sayuri at last can step out into the sunshine even if, as I said before, it is somewhat inconclusive. Our last shot of her is walking on a path. We just don't know where it may lead.

Overall, perhaps this isn't a great film but it is certainly a better film than many said. Although dogged by controversy of Chinese playing Japanese (and it shows) there are good performances from all the main characters, a sense of events and a destiny that can never be truly fulfilled. And colour, too, woven into fabrics and the world.

There is one moment that has to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate the colours and the scale. The lovelorn Sayuri stands on a cliff to throw a handkerchief to the wind, to try and release her love for the man she can never have. The airborne camera pulls back to leave her just as a rapidly reducing figure in the great expanse of blue-grey seas and islands and cliffs, until she becomes insignificant and is eventually lost to sight.

It's for moments like this we go to the big screen.

And of the Geisha herself? An older Siyuri says in a voice over at one point: "She paints her face to hide her face. Her eyes are deep water. It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for Geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Truth, fiction and talent

How easy is it to spot talent in a writer? And having spotted talent, should we assume that the author is decent, honest and above reproach?

Perhaps because we like to think books, having been burnt and ripped apart in many ways, should hold the moral high-ground while television and movies crawl around in the mud at the foot of the hill. It's almost as if we would hope books have an inbuilt superior quality so we can have a point of reference to everything else.

Equally quality should be so obvious that recognition comes naturally.

Recent news about publishers and authors have left us doubting that.

The Sunday Times offered twenty publishers and literary agents two established books, as typed manuscripts, for consideration. V S Naipaul's "In A Free State" and Stanley Middleton's "Holiday" had both won the Booker prize some thirty years ago but were sent out as if they were new.

The paper gleefully noted that almost all the replies were rejections, saying this indicated that the publishing industry can't spot talent and is too interested in celebrities and what it described as "bright young things."

The two original authors however weren't surprised. Middleton commented, "People don’t seem to know what a good novel is nowadays" and Naipaul said: "With all the other forms of entertainment today there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is."

The paper also recalled Doris Lessing submitting work of hers under a pseudonym to two of her own publishers. In the 'eighties she submitted "The Diary of a Good Neighbour" under the name Jane Somers, and was delighted when they rejected it. She knew even then that quality of writing wasn't enough as judgement was often made on name and reputation. One publisher did apparently say however the style was reminiscent of early Doris Lessing work.

Of the incident Lessing later said: "I wanted to cheer up young writers ... by illustrating that certain attitudes and processes they have to submit to are mechanical, and have nothing to do with them personally, or with their kind or degree of talent"

Rejection of notable books isn't new. The thing authors tell you is having written the book, you have to keep trying. Evidence of this is universal, such as in the case of Robert M Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which was rejected by 121 publishers. The one who accepted it found they had a best-seller on their hands.

This problem isn't confined to popular books. In the world of academia, papers are rejected for seemingly non-academic reasons. According to Steven Pemberton, writing on www.sigch.org (that's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, if you want to know), "Studies quoted showed that papers were significantly more likely to be accepted if they confirmed existing beliefs than if they contradicted them."

He adds: "Other studies showed that a paper is more likely to be accepted if it is written in complicated language rather than clear language (alas for us all), and that important problems do not get the priority that they would seem to deserve."

Meanwhile the latest fuss over words on paper has manifested in the States. The author James Frey has publicly admitted that, having been featured on Oprah Winfrey's TV show which helped propel his book "A Million Little Pieces" to the top of the best-sellers list, he did in fact tell a number of lies in it.

This wouldn't matter in all kinds of books but Frey's is an autobiography. Admitting on TV, when grilled by Ms Winfrey, that he lied might not seem to do the book's future prospects much good. But then, he's already sold a lot of books so perhaps it really doesn't matter now.

Worse from Winfrey's point of view was that she went public with a defence of the author when he was being questioned over the book's authenticity a few weeks ago. Then she said the controversy was "much ado about nothing." She now felt she needed to apologise for that intervention.

Truth, in many place as and at numerous different times, has been an expendable item so perhaps we should not be surprised if its absence does not trouble authors occasionally.

But having written something, would-be authors would like their work recognised if it does have a glimmer of talent. That seems to be a harder thing to pin down in contrast to "authors" from the world of show business and sport who receive plenty of money and unquestioning fawning from publishers for their ghost-written efforts.

These people can, in the way we can expect from the forthcoming autobiog from Kate Moss, simply say they are telling their "side of the story". In other words it can be as biased as they like to make it. It might not be good and it might not be true but what does that matter?

Lessing herself once said: "What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate."

We know the energetic promotion of second-rate and even third-rate exists in so many areas of the arts and popular culture. But in the superior world of publishing the principle takes some getting used to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Munich: copy or coincidence?

As a Steve Spielberg enthusiast (I draw the line at the use of the word "fan") I was looking forward to seeing his film "Munich".

A tale of revenge, it covers the harrowing story of the Israeli agents who set out to eliminate (aka killing) the ring leaders of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by pro-Palestinian terrorists.

But maybe a little less keen to see it now that it has emerged that there are strong links between what Mr S has done and a relatively unknown cable-TV film from 20 years ago. Enough strong links that some people are claiming "Munich" is in many places a near-copy of "Sword of Gideon."

This latter film starred, among others, Rod Steiger and Michael York. It was based on the book "Vengeance" by Canadian author George Jonas.

As indeed is "Munich" - hardly surprising perhaps as getting the inside story on the work of spies, secret agents and assassination squads isn't something that journalists or authors can do every day.

But the problem is that according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (by Jon Weinbach on January 13) there are a significant number of scenes the same and indeed similar angles in the latter film. Not least appears to be an incident in a London hotel in both movies that wasn't in the book at all.

There are apparently other similarities.

Spielberg's lot say they have not seen the earlier film and anyway, there are bound to be similarities between films on similar subjects. They also consulted other books and a documentary to get their story.

Michael Anderson, the British director of "Sword of Gideon" doesn't seem to be raising any protest over any of this, and he may be right to do so.

Except it would in my view be proper if "Munich" was a remake to say so. Hollywood does too many remakes as far as I am concerned. But pretending a new movie is nothing to do with an earlier film seems wrong if there is actually a direct relationship.

Anderson incidentally also made the "Dam Busters", the original "Round The World in 80 Days", "The Yangtze Incident" and a film of one of my favourite spy books, "The Quiller Memorandum."

But back to this issue. Weinbach points out that the rights to "Vengeance" and any remake of "Sword of Gideon" are held by Universal, who are distributing "Munich." There is therefore no question of any legal claims or suggestions of wrongdoing.

However the journalist also says that Robert Lantos, the producer of "Sword of Gideon," is troubled by the closeness of some scenes and also quotes him as saying: "It's a testament to the cunning and foresight of Spielberg's publicity machine that 'Sword of Gideon' has not made it onto anyone's radar."

Of course, movie people often believe their work should be consulted. A director who did an animation of the first part of "The Lord Of The Rings" was reportedly annoyed that Peter Jackson didn't talk to him about what he was going to do with the live-action version. I'm not sure any director has to talk to another director over what they are doing, however similar they seem.

Another problem with "Munich" according to a gaggle of critics (A scribble of critics? A raucous of critics? Okay, there's sure to be a proper collective noun I don't know) is simply one of length.

The film weighs in at over two and a half hours, which once more tests the patience and bladders of movie-goers. Mind you, the 1986 "Sword of Gideon" was 146 minutes, so maybe it was bound to be a hefty movie at best.

While I am sure "Munich" is a complex tale (though according to some it is rather repetitive and at times turgid in following this prolonged tale of hunting people down) I have to say let's look at the clock, chaps.

Once again, the heartfelt plea goes up to directors from Man With Rabbit: Stop being self-indulgent and use the Editor and his/her editing machine!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Too many big questions over King Kong

I began to wonder, watching King Kong the other day, if Peter Jackson knows - after the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy - how to make a short film.

Or merely a shorter film, perhaps.

His latest movie is far too long and thus too self-indulgent. It could easily have an hour lopped off the film, including much of the first hour which labours to show how and why the film producer sets off on a quest for Skull Island.

Now beware, this piece contains spoilers - which is a ridiculous warning as the plot of King Kong by now must be pretty well-known.

The first hour of the movie also shows how Naomi Watts' character (Ann Darrow) is attracted to this venture. Unemployed, hungry and we must assume grateful for the kindness of rogue-like producer Carl Denham (played by Jack Black), who buys her an apple before her meal. My, he does spoil her.

Yet this over-long opening relies on two key elements that are treated badly. We see this mysterious old map in Denham's possession with no explanation how he came by it, and the way Darrow takes an interest in Denham and his project is poorly written. Moments after Darrow refuses Denham's offer to make her the star of his film he casually mentions the name of a playwright she admires.

Denham had no idea that would be the trigger to catch her attention so the fact he drops the name of writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) lacks any kind of believability.

They could have sorted the first hour out with Denham and Darrow bumping into each other on a New York street and she saying: "I'm an out of work and actress and hungry but I admire Driscoll's writing" and he responds, "Hey, I'm making a film because of a mysterious lost map I've got and Drsicoll is writing it for me."

Ten seconds later they could have been on the boat.

There are so many gaps in this film we can compile an impressive list of unanswered questions.

How is it Skull Island is shrouded in fog, making it hard to find, only at the beginning? We get nice weather after they land...

Why did the lookout, seeing the wall of rocks ahead, shout "Wall!" instead of a more usual warning? Usually "Rocks!" or "Land!" does the trick. Or "Iceberg!" in the right waters.

When the ship hits the rocks in heavy seas, it bumps off them. Really, without more serious damage?

When the ship is stuck on the rocks and the crew throw stuff overboard to lighten it (including a table and soup tureen) why didn't they throw all those heavy bottles of chloroform - bearing in mind they hadn't found Kong at that point?

Why are there remains of a lost civilisation on the island along with dinosaurs - are we meant to think ancient peoples managed to live long enough to build alongside even more ancient creatures?

How does the native who kidnaps Watts find her cabin on a ship that we might assume is completely foreign to him?

How does Watts avoid losing her arms when she is torn from the ropes holding her as a sacrifice for Kong?

How does Ms Watts' clothes stand up to so much without tearing - or even more to the point, how did she not get a single scratch until right at the end of her time on the island?

How does the woman survive being tossed around like a ball by Kong without losing consciousness or suffering whiplash?

Why does Kong's lair have skeletons in it to suggest he kills them for food when we see him eat bamboo shoots, presumably as he is a non-meat eater?

How did people survive running between the legs of panicking dinosaurs - running the same way as they were? But at least I now know that dinosaurs run at the same speed as adult humans.

How come, if dinosaurs can be killed so easily by smaller creatures, falling off cliffs or tangling with Kong, there are any left at all on Skull Island? I imagine over millions of years even a large island can't sustain such a rate of attrition.

What makes the natives on the island disappear from the story halfway through?

How is it bullets from lots of guns on the island do not harm Kong but, at the end, the beast is fatally wounded by guns from aircraft?

Just how many sailors were on that ship? Given the number killed on the island it must been a lot. Clearly the boat was able to sail home, halfway round the globe, with less crew than they arrived with and the smaller crew was also able to get the drugged ape on board.

Even assuming they somehow got the monster ape on the ship, how do they successfully keep it sedated for a journey of several thousand miles - and if they did, when did they feed the creature? If Kong is a vegetarian a factor in the life of a veggie-eating creature is eating a little, often.

Indeed, where exactly did they keep the ape? It wasn't that big a ship.

How do they get Kong ashore in New York, across town and into the theatre without anyone noticing?

How long did it take to make the chains and cuffs to hold the ape in place on the theatre stage? I ask this because the people on the ship must have ordered them in advance by radio with exact measurements. Can you imagine the problems if they hadn't been ready in time?

Why did five planes fly in to attack Kong and after three are smashed down by the ape, we still see three planes?

Why on earth was this film remade?

Despite its frequent chases, manufactured dramas and unanswered questions we might wonder not at the size of King Kong but why scenes like the monster insect valley were included, other than to kill more of the crew.

Having said all that, the movie does open very promisingly with shots of the down and out in depression-era New York - and one memorable moment shows a vaudeville act dance cut to the same gyrations of a man being arrested. Probably the best moment in the film, apart from the fall of Kong off the skyscraper which had a delightful if tragic grace.

If I had to pick the best thing in the film it would be King Kong. Yes, the movie was about the creature, true, but the Andy Serkis-led CGI was stunning and believable.

Next best thing was Naomi Watts, who had a good interaction with the massive ape, even if I didn't believe she would perform a juggling and comedy dance routine on the edge of a cliff.

After that I found very few of the characters either believable or interesting - especially Jack Black, who simply did not convey any kind of feeling of being an obsessed film producer.

I expect, despite more questions than answers, the film will wow audiences who like a chase or two. My one hope is that the movie world will say the film has been remade once too many times already and doesn't re-make it again.

But who knows?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A quick on the draw future

The US TV series series "Firefly" never made it past episode 14 - testimony to the wisdom, yet again, of how television works in the land of the free.

It was written by Joss Whedon, who knows what he's doing. That's the guy who made his name with "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", perhaps the only TV series in the history of the medium that far outshone the movie it followed.

Okay, I know "Firefly" is science-fiction and what the heck does it matter if it's shown or not? But having seen the first double-episode I have to say it is a shame that it wasn't continued a little longer at least.

I got to see the first episode on DVD and immediately felt regret I won't get to see more than the fourteen made. No doubt I will eventually get round to seeing the movie follow on from it, called "Serenity."

The series set up is familiar to anyone who has seen either "Star Wars" or for that matter the old BBC corn-fest "Blake's Seven" - an everyday saga of folks on the run from a big, bad government. And galactic bad governments are as about as big and as bad as you can get.

Whedon however wisely ducked the TV sc-fi mentality that decrees shiny space ships, neat uniforms with swooshy badges and sliding doors that go "fsssshh" as they open. His characters are a hotch-potch of cowboys and thugs and twentieth century-type soldiers, right down to camouflage jackets and colt 45s. Doorways are nautical style and they talk of their craft as a boat.

The name of the craft is Serenity as it moves with a languid grace. "Firefly" is simply the class of banged up old freighter they fly.

This series is a western in space. All of which allows the traditional one-person-versus-the-power-crazed conflict to show through and allow people to determine their own morality or allegiances.

It may be set in some semi-distant future but in the western tradition people ride horses and carry guns in leather holsters as they move through the spaceport with its rusting spaceships and packing cases (yes, I know, very Star Wars before Mr Lucas discovered polished metal) and there is enough oriental dress and language to suggest it's all a very broad based culture. These people have a lot of banter which has a naturalness of casual intimacy with the time. No holo-decks, phasers or light-sabres for these vagabonds. Any old thing will do.

From the TV company viewpoint that must have kept costs down.

But despite the show's obvious wit and seemingly relaxed style something clearly didn't connect with television audiences in the States. Or with the TV company showing it.

Perhaps it was the sexual angles (one of the cast members is a "companion", or if you prefer as the captain of the Serenity does when he introduces her, a whore) and the fact there is both a preacher on board (called a "shepherd") and a member of the crew who would willingly sell his captain's life in return for money.

There's also the understated references to the fact that China is big in the future. The characters utter Chinese phrases from time to time and perhaps this undermined the good old USA's feeling that the future is theirs alone.

Television sci-fi generally doesn't do religion and lust, in what I've seen, is kept under a tight rein on most star-ships. Betrayal is usually reserved for misguided ideals, not cash. But you can tell the series might offend some with lines like:

Character: "I do know my bible, sir. On the night of their betrothal, the wife shall open to the man as the furrow to the plow, and he shall work in her, in and again till she bring him to his fall, and rest him then upon the sweat of her breast."

The Captain: "Whoa. Good bible."

More tellingly in our own age of promising smooth, bright technology the boat "Serenity" isn't much of a craft to swoon over. It's ugly and suffers from a danger of running out of fuel. An inconvenience that the Star Trek series avoided by having some kind of permanent power source.

There's none of this beaming up nonsense either, preferring good old hydraulic ramps to get people onto a planet. They could use the shuttle but the Companion has it as her work-bedroom.

Above all, there is no overbearing mission or directive in "Firefly" other than staying alive. It's pretty lawless out there on the edge of civilised worlds. That's why things err to the side of necessity and basics.

Whedon himself said in one interview that he had not given up on the show and wanted it to continue in any format. He also said, as he'd never work with Fox Television again, he would consider reviving the series if someone bought the rights from Fox - who not only never showed all the episodes made but even screened them out of order.

So there is hope out there, after all.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Oscar, start your engines

We are, as film pundits everywhere know, entering that part of the year marked out as the start of the Oscar season.

The season ends on March 5 with the statuette-giving bonanza at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood - but before then the little matter of the nominations announcement must be negotiated. This takes place on January 31 and until then there will be a lot of hype and promotion.

So how many movies will there be for consideration this year for the best picture title?

Three hundred and eleven.

These films qualify by being more than forty minutes long, were screened theatrically in 35mm or 70mm format within the Los Angeles County with paid admission in 2005 and ran for seven consecutive days. Importantly in these times of alternative media to the cinema, they weren't seen any where else in public before screening.

While 311 seems a lot (and represents the first time in 32 years the number of nominations has been over 300) it doesn't match the first year of the awards by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1927-28 the total of nominations was 562. In 1982 the lowest ever number of nominations was received: 175.

Which film that lean year came out vote as the best (note I didn't say was the best as Hollywood has a habit of selecting some less-than-great films as the best ever) film that year?

It was Ghandi - a worthy enough film except that it beat ET. Personally, I would have taken Spielberg's fantasy ahead of Ben Kingsley's marathon but the Oscars - until Lord of the Rings - have never thought much of sci-fi or fantasy.

I am sure at this point you are ready to challenge my assertion that some rather forgettable movies have grabbed the "Best Picture" gold statuette, but in 1994 Forrest Gump was considered better than The Shawshank Redemption, which was streets ahead in all sorts of ways.

Two year later The English Patient was deemed better than Fargo or Secrets and Lies, and in 2002 Chicago came out ahead of The Pianist. Put that one down as a vote for ho-hum music (yes, you guessed, I wasn't thrilled by the movie) over the mostly true story of a man who could play real music.

But on to the 2006 nominations. Already the influential Los Angeles Film Critics Association have given Ang Lee their best director award for Brokeback Mountain and handed it the best movie title too.

I was sorry to see David Cronenberg's excellent A History of Violence was only good enough for runner-up prize in both best film and director categories, so Brokeback Mountain must be quite something - especially as the New York Film Critics Circle also gave the best director and film awards to the same movie as their LA counterparts.

Meanwhile the Golden Globes awards are due to be announced in mid-January. Nominations for best film include the two above as well as Good Night and Good Luck, Match Point and The Constant Gardener.

Currently I don't have a favourite, but all that could change. Just depends what the local cinemas are showing when I want to go to the flicks between now and March.

But there is, despite the accolades handed out, something odd about the Oscars. Unless you have a thing for posh frocks, movie stars weeping in public or reading out interminable thank-you speeches to everyone and anyone however incidental, the result is far more interesting than the event itself.

I doubt I'll even get to watch it live on TV, even if I wanted to. There's always the usual hype about an audience of almost a billion is usually way off the mark. Apparently about 40 million people watch in the States but isn't that big an attraction overseas.

Time differences, maybe. But maybe it's also that most people are like me. We want to see who's won and then forget about it all until next year.