Identity and Japan (Seven Samurai – Ghost In The Shell – Lost In Translation)

As is common,  I had a mental breakdown within the first few weeks of university.   Almost everything I had known was either gone or irrevocably changed.  Every reference I used to define myself was different so I had to redefine who I was.  I’ve since been told that this is called ‘becoming an adult’ and that I should stop being so melodramatic and get on with it.  So I did.   One year on and the question “Who am I?” still sits within my subconscious relatively unanswered; and when one day I decide to have a bit of a Japan themed movie marathon, I realise that this sort of question, the question of identity, isn’t exclusive to anxious teens, but adults, and even entire nations too.

I tried to watch Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) around two years ago and didn’t manage it.  I returned to it now, a little older and with more of an attention span.  If you haven’t heard of it its the story of a town who, under the threat of a gang of bandits, hire a group of samurai to protect them.  If this sounds familiar thats because it formed the basis of John Sturges’ 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and by extension its rather poor 2016 remake.  (I couldn’t get through that film the first time either though I doubt I’ll return to it) Like Sturges’ seven gunmen the Samurai fend off the bandits at great personal cost;  leaving the survivors to lament that although they may have won a victory for the farmers, the Samurai have ultimately lost.

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Identity comes into Seven Samurai in it’s historical context.  In the early 1950’s Japan was getting over the devastation left by the Second World War miraculously well.  However,  the new, post war world they found themselves in was entirely different from the one they knew before. After all, until 100 years previous the country had been incredibly isolationist for over two centuries under Sakoku. (Bit of history for you there)  The Japanese where finding that their cultural heritage was becoming more and more irrelevant in their current time.

Take the characters.  Like Kambei, (Takashi Shimura) the oldest and wisest Samurai.  He knows who he is;  he may be worldweary and weatherbeaten but his confidence is what makes him so enigmatic and such a good leader.  Alternately Kikuchiyo (Toshiru Mifune) Who despite being the most boisterous, loud and confident has no clue who he is because he is desperately trying to be something the society he lives in says he cannot be. (i.e. a samurai when he is the son of a farmer)   Kikuchiyo is an anomaly whom no one can rectify much to everyone’s annoyance;  perhaps characterising the mood of the Japanese in the 1950’s.

The next film was Ghost In The Shell, (1995) an adapted manga.   I’m not much of a Anime fan,  I’ve never really taken the time to get into it other than Studio Ghibli which is essentially a separate movement of animation altogether.  Its a richly detailed film following the same thematic lines as Philip. K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and by extension Ridley Scott’s 1982 film adaptation Blade Runner.  The concept of humanity’s steady amalgamation with technology has been a growing obsession in pop media.  Ghost In The Shell itself is cited as one of the Wachowski sister’s inspirations for The Matrix trilogy as well as Spielberg’s approach to his 2001 film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.  The film has even recently received it’s own live action remake (which is reportedly lacklustre, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t bothered.  Too Many Remakes!)

Above all though, and much like Seven Samurai, the film is damn pretty;  going as far as to have a four minute montage of the fictional city in which it is set.  The animation presents an amazing attention to detail which is stunning; especially when you think that it is predominantly hand-drawn with only bits of CG thrown in for special effects.

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The films plot follows Major, A police-officer/G-Woman trying to solve a mystery of political and philosophical intrigue.  The theme of identity is obvious here as the plot centres heavily around people having their cybernetically enhanced brains hacked and having false memories put in place.  As well as this, Major, who has had her body almost entirely replaced by cybernetic prosthesis wonders if she is even a person any more.  Along the same lines as ‘if I replace a spade’s head and then later its handle, is it the same spade?’  Beyond the material, what are we?  What’s the difference between you and me?  A collection of experiences that has taught us how to behave.  What if experiences could be manufactured?  Just as Major finds in the henchman of the film’s antagonist The Puppet Master. Are they even real people if what makes them them is false.

Ah yes, Lost In Translation…    Sofia Coppola’s 2003 romance is one of those films that inspires a massive crush on Scarlett Johansson; like The Girl With The Pearl EarringThe Prestige or (if you’re a bit weird) Under The Skin.   This film follows Rob Harris, (played by Bill Murray of all people) a washed up actor who is visiting Tokyo to appear in a marketing campaign for a Japanese whisky brand.   At the hotel he is staying at he meets relatively newlywed, Charlotte, (Johansson) who is bored out of her mind thanks to her inattentive photographer husband.  Both are utterly disorientated by the acutely alien culture that surrounds them and the two strike up a friendship.

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Lost In Translation‘s take on the theme of identity is a lot more relatable to you or me than in the previous two films.  It’s not as broad as a nation trying to come to terms with its cultural heritage or as high concept as losing ones self in a technology that, as of yet, does not exist.  Coppola gives her two characters on opposite ends of their lives two questions.  ‘Who am I? and Who have I been?’.  Rob, well into his midlife crisis is dissatisfied with his choices and lot in life; (whether he consciously admits this to  himself or not) and Charlotte having just graduated with a philosophy degree (“yeah I hear there’s a good buck in that racket”) is bewildered as to what she will do with her life next.  Tokyo as a setting serves as a metaphor for the baffling and opaque world in which our characters find themselves.  The language barrier, often mined for humour as with Rob’s experiences with the director and prostitute, mirror both he and Charlotte’s inability to communicate with each other’s partners.

The connection between these films beyond their setting did not occur to me until much after viewing them.  If you ever worry as a creative that you’re just traveling the beaten path then you probably are but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  With matters of the human condition the issues are unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.  And what does Rob whisper to Charlotte at the end of Lost In Translation? What makes their dire situations seem less hopeless?  The answer (to me at least) is that it doesn’t matter; to us.  The answer to your problems is unlikely to be the same as the answer to theirs.  All we need to know is that there is an answer.  It’s up to you to find it, and yourself along the way.

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Polaroid

I’ve mentioned that recently photography is one of the few things keeping me sane this summer.  I’ve owned a Canon 70D for almost two years now and only started really taking pictures with it eight months ago;  before that it was just used it as a film camera.   what changed was that last Christmas I was gifted an old Polaroid 600 type by my friend, Ryan.  The first picture I ever took on the 600 turned out awfully; that is to say, it didn’t turn out at all.  The second however was taken by my Dad, who worked out how the flash worked.  Hey, I said photography was keeping me sane, I never said I was any good.

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This camera sparked my interest in photography.  It’s hard to pin down why but an analogue image will always bear some sort of interesting dynamic.  Perhaps it’s the expensive nature of the medium; Its a pricy hobby I’ll admit.  The upshot is if you take a photo, you’re damn sure about that photo!  You’ve thought about the composition, the light and the subject before you even think about pressing the shutter and even if it comes out wrong, that level of preplanning will yield interesting results more often than not.

But what can it do?  The controls are basic.  You can change the light intake, somewhat like controlling the F-Stop or aperture on a DSLR camera.  Light is more of a consideration in a polaroid camera as not enough will leave images looking like this…

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The light intake has three settings; light, normal and dark.  The switch (Pictured below) will change how much light the chemicals are exposed to.  unfortunately there’s no real way of knowing how much light you need or which setting is more appropriate in given surroundings without experience; so really, just practice.

 

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The camera has a flash which you may or may not use given your chosen preference.  I tend not as it often gives images a flat, washed out look, instead using the light of the world around me.  Lastly there is a limited focal length control.  a small lens can be slid across the lens which is more suitable for closer shots up it 2 feet. (Not a macro camera, then)

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I imagine Ryan found the 600 on eBay where you can pick one up for anywhere from a tenner to £50.  Of course this way means that you’re buying a potentially getting on for 30 year old camera that could have developed faults or sustained damage.  Luckily, my camera works perfectly well (and I am NOT carful with it) but there is an alternative.  The Impossible Project sells refurbished old cameras.  This is of course more expensive with cameras costing around £90 and up. (Yes, you can also get a fuji Instax camera for about £60/70 but my 600 can come up with better images and is a considerably older system)

The Impossible Project are the sole provider of film for Polaroid cameras as they bought the remaining factories and equipment after Polaroid stopped production in 2008.  Standard film (8 exposure packs) for the 600 type can be found on their website as well as on Amazon for slightly cheaper.  When you get it right these images look fantastic.

And even when it goes wrong they look fantastic. (mostly)

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(Shutter on the 600 is bloody massive so its hard not to jolt the camera a bit in the beginning – hence the blur)

600 film also comes in a variety of types, such as monochrome which needs more light to come out well I believe.

Duo-chrome film; I.E. like monochrome but with a specific colour,  is possibly my least favourite to use, given its a little limiting.  That said, I’ve come up with with some pretty cool pictures.

As I say;  Polaroid stopped making film in 2008.  You can still find packs of unopened Polaroid film today for varying prices.  I found some for about £15 but these packs come with 10 exposures rather than 8 and pricing is more or less luck of the draw. (or eBay bid)  I love how these turn out.  Soft and sepia.  I will say that the exposures pictured below only expired in 2009 which is relatively recently.  Buying expired film is a risky business for obvious reasons.

(Right Image credit to Lydia and Robert Byron)

The Polaroid Spectra (or image system outside the US but Spectra sounds cooler) was released  in 1986 and was aimed more toward more professional users, I.E. opticians, businessmen, even police for recording evidence and the like.  The main difference that sets it apart from the 600 is the build quality which is far superior, resulting in better images and a sturdier camera.  My Spectra is a refurbished Full Switch.  I’ve had it for about two months and I love it.

Full Switch Spectra‘s come with considerably more controls than it’s 600 counterpart.  This includes the light intake setting and flash but also an auto focus system and timer. (The auto focus can be switched off but the camera does not have a manual system.  There are SLR Polaroid cameras that provide this but you know…    mula)

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(The Spectra makes a helpful beeping noise when it finds a focus – the left most switch turns off the beeping for those who do not appreciate it; helpful or otherwise) 

As for image quality, my refurbished Spectra is obviously far superior to my 600 which likely spent many years an attic.  The only conceivable downside is that the market isn’t as big for Spectra film so The Impossible Project don’t bother making anything beyond colour and monochrome exposures. (Polaroid probably never made the equipment anyway) in any case what we do get is beautiful; observe.

(Expired Spectra film is definitely out there but harder to come by.  I’m looking)

This summer has been the longest of my life,  thanks to ridiculously short university years (considering what we pay for) and my folks inexplicably deciding that they’d like to live in Somerset.  luckily I have something to focus on besides train-spotting    (literal or otherwise) Thank you Polaroid,  thank you Impossible Project; and thank you Ryan.

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By the way I have an Instagram for anyone who appreciates polaroid images, as well as my digital photographic musings.

Doctor Who Series X

As far as Doctor Who is concerned we are living in a dark time.  I’ve written about my contempt of the way in which Steven Moffat is running the show at great length. (look here for that particular rant) Now we learn that he, as well as the current incarnation of the Doctor are being put to bed and do you know what?  I’m sad. (Just a little)

From this, the 10th series of the revival of Doctor Who I’m seeing a glimpse of perhaps what Moffat wants us to see;  albeit through the distorted lens of quite bad writing and over-showy set and lighting design.   Bill, (Pearl Mackie) is in my opinion the best, and certainly least annoying companion we’ve had in ages.  She’s not the impossible girl, or the girl who waited or any other kind of contrived bollocks.  She’s just a normal young woman (Ok, she has a pointless tragic back story but I’m ignoring that).   I’ve always liked Capaldi and It’s a damn shame he got such bad luck with the writers because he’s cool even when what he’s doing doesn’t make any sense;  I’ll be sad to see him go at Christmas.

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What’s particularly annoying is all the little references to better times.  I.E in episode 8 when people gather around Magpie Electricals to look at the televisions inside; a reference to a Tennant era episode which I recognised instantly, causing anguish at the show not being as good anymore rather than the intended elation at recognising a bloody logo.  There’s also the matter of John Simm’s return as the Master.  Utterly underwhelming.  He turns up.  Has his evil plan imidiatly thwarted (literally about five minutes) and then hangs about for the rest of the episode for seemingly no reason before dying off screen.  John Simm’s initial three parter is possibly the best the revival ever got.

Moffat’s era, especially with Capaldi, has also grown a lot less subtle in attempting to appear more inclusive.  Unfortunately the writers appear to think Skins never happend and that making Bill gay is some sort of revolutionary gesture.  The first episode is way too focused on her sexual orientation and in my opinion it just comes off as a little condescending.  I’ll say no more in that vein (I’m white, middle class and more or less straight; what would I know?)

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My criticisms aside, there is notable improvement.  Series X is definitely better than VIII or IX by a long shot.  The characters are likeable.  Even Matt Lucas’ Nardole whom I admit I was determined to hate. Missy (Michelle Gomez) has grown on me,  even when placed next to her amazing predecessor.  Bill as I have said is charming and likeable and of course Capaldi is wonderful even through the bad script.  There’s now just one problem. They’re all gone.  Capaldi is leaving at Christmas,  Bill, weirdly, has got exactly the same fate as her predecessor, Clara, and become an immortal time traveler with a companion of her own.  Missy has been killed off by possibly the worst writing ever.  I.E a laser screwdriver to the back and an assurance that there’s no point regenerating as it was on ‘the highest setting’.  And finally Nardole is looking after some humans on a spaceship orbiting a blackhole.  There is absolutely no way to get all of these characters back without some very clumsy writing.

Maybe Chris Chibnall will have better luck as show runner when Moffat moves on; who can say.  This show had a massive impact on me and many others growing up;  whether thats from the original series or its revival.  I’m sure we’d all agree that if things don’t get better soon; maybe it’s time the show dematerialised for a bit; and that is a very hard thing to say.

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Baby Driver

Recently I’ve been spending most of my time in Somerset.  This is after spending the first, getting on for twenty years of my life in London, so obviously I have to come up with different ways to keep myself busy.  Photography has been the main way, and that means finding interesting things to photograph.  I visited the city (England’s smallest city) of Wells;  about 20 miles north of Bristol and 5 miles south of the town of Glastonbury.    This happens to be the place where in 2006 one of my favourite films was shot, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz.

If you had asked me last week what were Edgar Wright’s best film’s I’d have said Hot Fuzz followed by Shaun of the Dead and then Scott Pilgrim but that Scott Pilgrim was my favourite because I love the comic so much, but now I’m not so sure.  Because on the 28th of June I once more visited the small city of Wells, to it’s very small independent cinema and witnessed what could very well be Wright’s magnum opus…  Baby Driver…

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Baby Driver is captivating from beginning to end.  It has all the brilliant features of Wright’s editing and cinematography but it’s so much more subtle and masterful in this film that unless you know what you’re looking for you don’t notice.  It’s constant soundtrack is brilliantly implemented into the narrative and the film in general.  The script is easily as funny and clever than anything in the Cornetto Trilogy if not more so;  yes I know that sounds impossible and even a little heretical.

After watching it I immediately raved about it to anyone who would listen and was asked what genre it was;  a question I was surprised to find I couldn’t answer.   It’s almost a composite of many genres without being too showy about that fact.  I suppose it’s a gangster or heist film really but it wouldent look right sitting next to Donnie Brasco, Resevoir Dogs or The Italian Job.  This film just… is,  emphatically and tantalisingly.

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The casting and subsequent performances are wonderful.  Ansel Elgort has had a bit of bad luck picking jobs before this with The Fault in our Stars and the Divergent series but he’s actually perfect for this film.  Stoic yet amusingly endearing,  Baby is a great character to root for. Kevin Spacey’s (squee) Doc is the film’s father figure while also being one of the main villains though this role switches about a lot.  Jaime Foxx is simultaneously funny and sinister as Bats and then there’s Jon Hamm as Buddy.  I really don’t want to reveal anything about him as a character but needless to say he’s good and if you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about.  If I have any criticism of the film it’s that maybe it needs more women in it.  The two larger female rolls are Debora (Lily James) who is Baby’s love interest and Darling (Eiza González) who more or less ends up as Buddy’s love interest.  Both are good characters however,  just a small criticism.

From a technical film making perspective this film is flawless.  It glides from scene to scene in the way only Edgar can.  It’s the kind of film that I watch and feel a little depressed about because I may never make or even be involved in a film as stunning as this. Wright has supposedly been on this project since he ejected from the Marvel Ant-Man film in 2014 and even that almost doesn’t seem like enough time to think up the entirety of this film from the amazing script down to the colours that connote the subtlest detail of narrative (although reportedly  Wright first had the idea in the 90s which might just do it.)

It’s films like this that show what the film industry could be doing, when instead it churns out endless uninspiring mulch year after year.  It’s original stories such as these that are really what cinema is all about.  I urge you, reader, if you haven’t already,  go and watch this film.  In fact, even if you have,  go and watch it again,  it’s that bloody good.

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Help

Prone as I am to bursts of self-indulgent creativity, I mostly keep the results private.  That was until when told to come up with a three-minute film based on a very vague stimulus for my course, and I happened to remember some forlorn poetry I drunkenly scrawled rather a while ago now.   Here is the final result, Help

Film is a relatively new art-form, at a little over a century old; though I’d say the debate about whether or not films are art at all is long over.  Auteur theory saw to that whether you agree with it or not.  From this project, however, I’ve learned something.   When I was about 15 I studied for a GCSE Art course under a no doubt passionate but somewhat disillusioned teacher. (like all secondary school art teachers, I suppose)  I had to make a depicting sculpture climate change and ended up with a cardboard smoke stack, protruding from which a smoky hand (crafted from spray-painted cotton wool) reached out for a paper-mache Earth.  I wasn’t too passionate about this piece but for whatever reason I actually ended up winning an award for best sculpture in the class. (£10 and a Paperchase notebook)

How did I feel about this?  Guilty.  I was far from the most talented artist in the class but the difference between me and them was that they were doing their own thing; their passion elevating them above the petty confines of the assignment brief.  That Paperchase notebook sits in my bed-side table, unused, as a constant reminder that even if you win the competition, or get the paycheque; if you’re trying to be an artist then everything else should come secondary to what your art means to you and what it instils in others.  Help was the first time I really put myself in the firing line and then released the result for others to see.  Moreover, if it hadn’t been for a fantastically talented lead actor supporting cast and crew and editor, not to mention a wonderful producer who was a kind but firm guide throughout; I may have missed out in learning that if you want to get even close true art you must put in something of yourself, otherwise, what’s the point?

Magicians

I feel like not enough people have seen The Prestige by Christopher Nolan.  It’s a film about two rival magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale with Scarlett Johansson as an assistant and DAVID BOWIE (!!!!!) playing Nikola Tesla.  It’s certainly not Nolan’s best film, in my opinion, but it isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination as long as you don’t mind non linear storytelling. (Which, if you’re a Nolan fan is impressive)

I bring it up because it’s one those Nolan film’s that is kind of a metaphor for film-making itself.  Inception does the same thing, with Cobb’s ‘dream team’ (ha) behaving a lot like a film crew. (Note: If you know who The Nerdwriter is, you’ll know he has a visual essay on this.  if not, go have a look on youtube)

The Prestige echoes film-making in the way it’s two main characters attempt to suspend their audience’s disbelief in the name of entertainment; creating an illusion.  That’s all film-making is, illusion; and that’s not even a remotely revolutionary idea either.  My flat-mate once offered to teach me how to do the ‘is this your card’ trick and I declined because, really,  the mystery is worth more to me than being able to do it.  That said, I know people who can’t understand why I study film; people who prefer to just consume entertainment, and that’s fine, it’s no different than me and the card trick.

One of the first film essay’s I ever wrote was a detailed analysis of that scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex attacks the jeep convoy and consequently I know it back to front; it’s leaps and bound in tension and suspense are masterful on Spielberg’s part.  But, for me at least, that’s where film differs from the card trick.  Rather than spoiling the fun of the illusion for me it just enriches it.  Some of the best fun I can remember while being off with the flu is going through The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions and Appendices (something like 15 hours) and seeing how it’s all put together.

It’s an interesting way of seeing film-making; to see oneself as a film-maker and an illusionist.  Perhaps I should start wearing a top-hat.

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Me Being Magical – Photo Taken by Nick Boreham

 

Moments In Time

When I was looking for university courses last year I, at one point, found myself at Ravensbourne for an interview for their Digital Film Course.  I pride myself on the fact that it was probably one of the better interviews I’ve ever given (I’ve had some bad ones believe me).  However, at the end the interviewer asked if I had any questions myself and wanting to make a good impression I racked my brains for anything that sounded vaguely clever.  I failed and ended up asking why the course was specifically called ‘Digital’ Film.  The interviewer all but rolled his eyes and replied that, in film making there was (and I quote) “a lot of cock waving”.

The interviewer was referring to the polarising debate between chemical and digital methods of film making.  I’ve wanted to be a film maker for getting on for about three years now and I’ve owned my own camera for over a year (A Canon 70D) but I’d never really given much thought to still photography.  That was until my last birthday when a close friend gifted me a Polaroid 600 type camera.  Using it over the last few months has severely peaked my interest in photography.

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For me there are two things that make chemical polaroids so much more valuable than digital images.  The first (rather obviously) is that they literally are. I spend roughly £2 per photo on my 600 type.  I suppose there is a slight payoff in that most polaroid cameras are significantly cheaper than a decent DSLR but then if you use the polaroid often enough you will start to burn through rather an embarrassing amount of money.  I was discussing this with a course mate recently and he brought up that due to the film being so expensive you’re more likely to make every shot count, which is very true.  Secondly, and this is where the cock waving comes in, there is a certain…romance to a polaroid, something real.

To me in my very amateur view, photography is about capturing a single moment in all it’s detail.  I much prefer shots taken without the subject knowing they were being watched.(Creepy, I know.) With posing you tend to lose the reality; the facade we raise but unthinkingly drop when alone in our thoughts, leaving them presented in our expression and body language.

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Recently I’ve taken to carrying my 70D around with me to improve my photography skills. Improvement is slow but it’s early days and I’m having fun with it.  Here are some of the better ones.

Digital and chemical photography are both valid for different reasons.  Digital is obviously technologically superior but loses the romance that polaroid retains.  I suppose it’s down to a personal preference.  I rather like both.

Split

I won’t claim to be an expert on M. Knight Shyamalan.  In fact, I haven’t seen many of his films.  I am a fan of Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko’s Avatar franchise which Shyamalan made a very bad live action version of so I wont say I hold him in the highest regard either.

I don’t think anyone held Shyamalan in the highest regard up to as little as two years ago.  After a successful hit with The Sixth Sense in 1999 it went a little downhill and he gained a reputation for very bad horror and thriller films.  Then in 2015 he released The Visit a film which I haven’t seen, have heard bad things about but has been heralded in any case as ‘Shyamalan’s  return to form’.   Beyond this brief background I wont go into whether or not Shyamalan has returned to anything; I thought I’d just mention where I stand on the guy.   As well as this, I actually went out to go see Manchester By The Sea but they had sold out…  I prebook now.

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I’ll start with the positives.  James McAvoy’s performance is brilliant.  He plays Kevin,  a man with 24 personalities (although we only see about ten in total and about five in any detail.) The cinematography is interesting.  I like to think Shyamalan shoots like a film student (I would know). ie, trying to be a bit different regardless of weather or not it’s effective but at least it’s refreshing if not everyone’s cup of tea.

Narrative wise, it gets a little confused.  I’ll avoid spoilers but I feel as though the film starts off as a psychological thriller and ends up trying to be a horror movie; and not a good horror movie.  As well as this Shyamalan sneaks in one of his twists after the credits and it’s handled so awkwardly it made me physically gag.

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Performances besides McAvoy leave something to be desired.  Betty Buckley playing Kevin’s kindly psycho-analyst is a decent enough performance. Our protagonist, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy),  is for reasons I wont reveal, meant to be quite emotionally shut down,  however, this doesn’t really have much to do with the narrative on the whole; she’s just a boring cut-out.  More so for her companions.  they’re only there for too reasons,  to slowly lose items of clothing and die (That doesn’t even count as a spoiler).

When the credits started to roll, me and my two friends all had the same reaction; confusion.   We couldn’t decide if we liked it or not. after time to reflect I’ve decided that it an excellent performance trapped in a very bad film.  Well done to McAvoy.  As for Shyamalan, maybe we should stop giving this guy work.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)

Netflix’s newest series is an adaptation of the children’s novels from the late 90s and early 2000s by Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket).

I thoroughly enjoyed this show.  It’s funny and provides enough mystery to make me want to watch the next episode immediately (which I can because thats how Netflix works, yay)

Neil Patrick Harris does well to portray  Count Olaf considering he’s following Jim Carrey who played the same roll in the 2004 film adaptation.  While he is no where near as physical as Carrey (As this is not possible) Harris makes the roll his own by playing to his own strengths, ie, dry wit and ego.

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If I have any criticisms, one is the direction, which I believe is to blame for the overall blandness of the three main protagonists, rather than the actors themselves.  Another is the over reliance on sets, green screen and CGI which at times can alienate from the narrative and characters.

A second series is likely according to various sources, and I await it with happily with the hope that they keep up it’s current standard.

The Rise and Fall of Steven Moffat

I completely missed that BBC’s Sherlock was back until I walked in on my flatmate watching the second episode with her sister.  “Oh look, Toby Jones” I thought, followed by “ah… he’s back”. 

By ‘he’ I’m not referring to the TV detective, but the programme’s show runner, Steven Moffat.  To understand my apprehension, we should go back in time a little.  Moffat was known, among other things, for writing for Doctor who under the then show runner Russel T. Davies; who had been in the position since the shows revival in 2005. Moffat had gained a reputation for being behind the darker more disturbing episodes such as The Empty Child two-parter, The Girl in the Fireplace and of course, Blink.  These remain some of my favourite episodes of the show to this day, and I’m certain I’m not alone there.   Change was inevitable when Davies stood down in 2008 but there was no worry that Moffat couldn’t easily fill the roll.

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Moffat’s first full series was pretty good.  The scenarios the Doctor and his companions find themselves in were interesting.  The baddies were scary and thought provoking though if I have any criticisms they are that the climax is a little ridiculous and way over the top sentimental.  The sixth series onward is where the problem starts.  The narrative of the show gradually became more and more overcomplicated, convoluted and confusing.  For example, the Doctor ages considerably more rapidly, sometimes suggesting that several years have passed for him between episodes or series, alienating the audience from his character.  Additionally, in series 8 a character is introduced, developed and then promptly killed off in the climax purely for the emotional impact, which of course there is none, you only just introduced him, you idiots!  Moffat, I think, approached the show runner role from the perspective of a fan rather than someone trying to tailor the show to a contemporary audience, as Davies had, causing the show to become as I have said, convoluted and alienating.

Now we get to Sherlock.  The series was dreamed up by Moffat and co-writer on Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, on train rides up to Cardiff.  It is, on the whole, brilliant.  A fantastic visual guide to the innermost workings of the mind, as well brilliant mysteries to unravel.  Sherlock is similar to Doctor Who in many ways.  It centres around an almost godlike, titular protagonist who has a run of the mill companion to humanise him and make him more identifiable.  It takes the best parts of Doctor Who without the holdbacks of trying to appease both children and the adults who watched the original show.

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on the first of January 2016 Sherlock returned in a one off special, The Abominable Bride.  An episode set in the 1800s, where Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories are set, whereas the show is usually set in the modern day.  I really don’t like this episode.  The idea is brilliant, and in fact the first half of the episode works very well.  But now we get to one of the biggest problems with Moffat’s writing. (spoiler alert) it turns out that Sherlock in the modern day is running the case in the past as a simulation in his head to work out another case. (ie, Moriarty’s apparent survival that was the cliff hanger from the last series.)

This is Moffat’s issue. It’s convoluted nonsense.  He wants everything to be connected.  Another example of this can be found in the most recent series of Doctor Who.  The Doctor proclaims that he chose his current face in his recent regeneration because it was the face of a man called Caecillius in a 2008 episode (Both characters were played by the same actor, Peter Capaldi).  In that episode the Doctor learned he should always try to help people by saving Caecillius and thats why he chose his face.  It’s all utterly pointless though and jars awkwardly because that was not intended when they cast Capaldi for the roles in 2008 and 2013.

Moffat’s attempt to create a better suspension of disbelief only succeeds in drawing attention to the plot-holes and making the whole thing ring horrifically false.  The Sherlock special would have worked beautifully as a standalone piece, but instead it ends on a confusing and dissatisfying note because none of it was real, ergo, what was the point?

This is why I was apprehensive at Sherlock‘s return, and unfortunately, I was right to be.  I’ve gone on so I’ll be brief.  They spend the whole first episode writing out a character I get the impression they feel it was a mistake introducing.  The second episode comes closest to being half decent (Yes, Toby Jones was creepy and brilliant) but its story is a little over complicated and ends on the most ridiculous cliffhanger (Seriously, I’ve heard it described as Moffat randomly flipping through a book of plot twist clichés and selecting one at random.  It’s ridiculous.)  The last episode isn’t great either.  It just looks as though they had written themselves into a few corners and the emotional payoff is minimal if there at all.  If anything good came from it, they do seem to be hinting that it’s over without being too comital, so with any luck they won’t make anymore.

That was a very negative paragraph (and post) but I do feel passionately about both Doctor Who and Sherlock and it grieves me to see them both not doing so well.  For Doctor Who perhaps I’m getting a little too old, who knows?  The same cannot be said for Sherlock.  As for Moffat I have no choice but to respect him as a writer. I’d just like to know what went wrong.  For now I may go for a Netflix binge to cheer myself up.

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