Monday, July 30, 2007

Mike & Rachel's Wedding

It would be more traditional, of course, to accompany this entry with a photo of the bride and groom looking all elegant and glamorous, but I simply couldn't resist this rather marvellous snap of Jenny's horror at the sight of a tumbling load of wooden bricks. Admittedly it was rather shocking, but we didn't realise it would cause her quite this level of trauma.

The wedding was fantastic - you might say a new level of fantastic, in fact. Great readings, all very carefully chosen and perfectly evading the cheesy cliches you sometimes bump into at these events. The whole shebang was really very moving, possibly due to Mike being such a big girl and breaking down into whimpers every five seconds. Beautiful location, wonderful people and rather marvellous desserts - all-in-all, a superb day.

It was marred only slightly by our taxi being 45 minutes late, which resulted in a very wet, very cold and slightly scary (there was a definite sense of mild peril) wait in a pitch black forest in The Middle of Nowhere, Norfolk, with only the militant rage of Chris, the righteous anger of Dave, the cow hunting of Sedger and the inappropriate singing of Nadia, Jen and Hena to keep us in good spirits. We eventually found our way back to civilisation, though, and it at least gave the day a rather adventurous climax!

Congrats to Mike and Rachel, who are currently swanning about somewhere in Italy, for putting on a spiffy day and, you know, getting married. Woohoo!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Transformers (2007) review

OK, deep breath.

Where to start?

First off, I won't be reviewing this as a Transformers film, or comparing it to the stuff I remember from my childhood, or which I read in comics as a teenager. There's simply no point, as this film has nothing to do with any of that.

So, instead I'll look at it simply as a standalone film.

I was generally entertained for most of the film, in a typical being-bludgeoned-over-the-head Michael Bay kind of fashion. It's the kind of film where you almost don't have time to consider whether you're enjoying it or not, there's so much audio-visual mayhem going on. On the other hand, once it's finished, you realise that it was an utterly empty experience.

Let's deal with the stuff I liked first:

Shia Labeoeoeieieieiuuueoeouf. This guy is great! I didn't like him in I, Robot - but that was mainly due to his 'irritating sidekick' style character. In Transformers, however, he's fantastic. Really captured that Harrison Ford/Michael J Fox style of natural acting, which can switch between comedy and 'serious' absolutely seamlessly. As such, any scene that he's in was noticeably better than ones without. Can't wait to see him in Indy 4!

The visual effects. Dear god, these were fantastic! Practically flawless, and one of the first times that CG has felt properly 'there', to the same level as a animatronic or puppet version. The rest of the technicals were of similarly fantastic standard - this is a very, very well produced film. With the notable exception of the script, of course...more on that in a moment.

Peter Cullen. Despite being saddled with some seriously rubbish dialogue, Cullen did a great job. It might just be nostalgia speaking, but he really managed to inject a bit of character.

Other than those three elements, however, this was a remarkably shoddy film.

The biggest mistake? All the military and political scenes. Seeing the soldiers in Qatar and later in New York was ok, with some great action, although most of it was still fairly superfluous. It seemed mostly to be a big advert for the companies that make military hardware than anything else.

All the Jon Voight stuff, and anything relating to the Pentagon, hackers and Sector Seven, though, was utter guff. It was simply intensely [i]dull[/i]. This was particularly true in the first half of the film. When we [i]should[/i] have been focused entirely on Sam and Bumblebee's attempts to woo Ms Fox, all of which was highly entertaining and brilliantly reminiscent of the golden age of 80s action-comedies, instead we had to keep cutting back to dry offices, meeting rooms and made-up computer talk. The problem for me was that it was all so tiresomely generic - it really could have been footage cut out of any other random disaster/sci-fi movie. It's been seen so many times before, and it utterly sapped the energy of the film. How much better would this film have been if we'd seen it entirely through Sam's eyes, as this larger world was revealed? The military could still have shown up at the end, could still have been involved, but there was really no need to give them such a prominent role.

Then there's the muddled action. Sure, much of it was fantastic - the military's assault on Scorponok (a total non-entity, unfortunately), for example (my prior comment notwithstanding), was awesome, as was Prime's head-to-head with Bonecrusher. However, so much of the rest was shot in such major close-up that it was impossible to see what was going on, and the geography of the end battle was seriously perplexing at times.

This was compounded - or perhaps caused in the first place - by the crappy robot designs. Now, I'm not saying this from a 'purist' point of view. I don't mind that they've changed the designs from the G1 robots - there's been bjillions of Transformers incarnations over the years, some good and some bad. That they rejiggled them isn't what annoys me - that the redesigns were so uninspired does, however.

This is never truer than with Megatron and Starscream who, in both plane and robot mode, look almost identical - especially given that their scenes are almost all action-based, thus filled with wobbly camerawork, lots of blur and fast movement etc.

The general aesthetic was oddly fragile looking, too - it felt like these robots would just snap in two, or get their gears and levers jammed on something. There are so many exposed parts, all you'd have to do to stop one is stick a long pole in-between a couple of struts!

Then there's Frenzy (I think that's what he's called), the little mincing spaghetti robot. What the hell were they thinking? So many of his scenes were played out as if they should be scary, or at least slightly freaky. Instead, it was just hugely camp and a bit odd - almost like there had been a massive miscommunication between the director and the special effects guys. And why on earth could nobody see him, when he was wandering about in plain sight? Very odd.

There were also numerous action scenes that started to be fantastic.....then inexplicably stopped. The first car chase between Bumblebee and Barricade, for example. Given it was a Michael Bay film, I got rather excited as this began - I knew it'd be fantastic, no matter what the rest of the film was like. Instead, it stopped before it even began. Same happened with the Prime-Bonecrusher fight on the freeway, which ended rather quickly.

Then there's the Prime-Megatron battle, which turned into a total non-fight, and was mainly just two robots falling over constantly. Not exactly the epic final battle between to arch-enemies that have been fighting for thousands of years.

Finally, there's the general dialogue. While Shia somehow rescued his, the rest was decidedly ropey. No more so than Optimus', which ended up sounding more like a patronising school teacher, endlessly repeating asinine platitudes and blatantly obvious moral absolutes - while everybody else seemed to completely ignore him. This was no truer than at the end, where you had Optimus going off on yet another speech, while Sam and Ms Fox get jiggy on Bumblebee's bonnet and Ironhide and Ratchet look on in a perving manner, totally ignoring their leader's 'wise words'. The end result was that Prime came across more like a bumbling, slightly senile old codger, rather than a military and visionary genius.

Add in the bizarre over-acting of every black actor in the film, all seemingly willing to hammer home a bunch of stereotypes, followed by John Turturro apparently trying to upstage them all, and you've got a seriously odd film experience.

This was a film which had big stompy robots, but the filmmakers made them say things like "my bad." I guess that just about sums it up right there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Story up

I've got Simon to post one story up, will post the next one when it comes back from the tutor..marked. I hope people recognise the main character, and would appreciate feedback.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Final pieces submitted!

We were rather last minute (or I was, at least) but we've finally handed in our final coursework for the Creative Writing: Science Fiction and Fantasy course that we've been doing for the last twelve-or-so weeks. It was thoroughly enjoyable throughout and I look forward to hopefully meeting up with members of the group again in the near future. With luck we'll be putting together a little anthology book of all our stories, too, which will be a nifty memento.

I'll have my final story - 'The Detective and the Robot' - up on the site ASAP. It's an expanded and massively reworked version of 'The Detective', though goes off on a considerably different tack. I believe Nadia is also planning to put her stuff online, but I'll let her write about that (if she ever bothers to write another post!!).

Meanwhile, we're investigating going to Bruges in August. Wee!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Looming deadlines and writer's block

Back at university, entire semesters would go past with hardly any work to do, then we'd suddenly find ourselves deluged by multiple coursework projects, all to hand in the same week, leading to a manic final dash to get everything ready.

Other than occasionally strenuous FXhome release deadlines, I haven't had to worry about that kind of thing for years. Just recently, however, I've ended up in a similar situation, what with work busier than ever, my film-related work more active than it has been for yonks and, of course, our Creative Writing course that we're doing up at UEA.

Typically, a whole bunch of deadlines once again converged, the most troublesome of which has been the final piece for the Creative Writing course. My plan had been to take the Detective character from The Detective (see stories on the right!) and spin him out into a slightly longer tale. Easier said than done, especially given that my head has been focused on entirely different characters for the past few weeks.

This has proven to be more of a problem than normal. The whole point of the 1st person narrative in the Detective stories is to try something I don't normally do, and write from the point of view of a rather extreme, unpleasant character, in 1st person, while also playing with all kinds of noirish cliches. All well and good, but leaving Keila and Kamran behind in order to write in the voice of the grouchy, robotist detective was difficult. If only I'd chosen to write in good, old fashioned, easy peasy 3rd person perspective!

Ah well. I've finally got a hook into the story, so will have it finished by this time tomorrow, ready to hand in on Tuesday. Nothing like last minute!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Funky film work

Back in the day, I used to make films. They weren't particularly good but they were great fun to put together. More importantly, they taught me a lot about what not to do. Unfortunately, just as I felt like I was grasping what was necessary to make something decent, I finished uni, got a job and found myself with precious little time to direct.

Fast forward a few years and I've found myself working on quite a few productions, here and there. I've stepped back from the directing ambitions to work on other areas - specifically writing and effects, two areas that spin naturally out of my work at FXhome.

I've just this second finished fixing up the English translation subtitles for NightCast, a Swiss action movie (a rare thing!) directed by my good friend Marco von Moos. Marco, of course, is the inimitable Sollthar from the community. I've also been doing some writing with Ashley Wing, director of Between the Lines, who is working on some very exciting future projects.

That's the nifty thing about working at FXhome - you get to meet a real variety of filmmakers from all over the world and get to be a part of their work, even if only in a tiny way.

Talking of work, this week proved rather entertaining as we did a quick greenscreen shoot in order to have some new promo material, for which we actually employed the services of a model for the first time - that's right, it's not going to be me in every single damn video! Our giant new greenscreen courtesy of the chaps over at really helped out, so for once compositing should be smooth and easy!

Sounds like Nadia's just got back, so time to sign off. Until next time. :)