Source Code – my immediate reaction

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Er… OK then.

I should probably qualify that with some words.

Source Code is actually a very enjoyable film, but anyone who can’t let go of logic or disbelief could be niggled to death (hopefully) by its conceptual inconsistencies. I got off lightly.

Duncan Jones is forming something of a pattern though, but it’s a good one. There’s a direct line between Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell in Moon, and Jake Gyllanhaal’s Colter Stevens in Source Code…

– Both men are stuck in situations that are not what they seem.
– Both men are in a pretty poor shape, emotionally – enduring more than a fair amount of confusion, helplessness, anger and loss.
– Both men are being royally screwed by The Man.

And thankfully, both protagonists are played with real range, and in the case of Source Code, evoke enough sympathy to paper over the cracks of some not entirely cohesive science fiction.

It doesn’t matter. Jones is definitely a director for us Brits to be proud of. And as long as he is allowed to continue exploring his ‘What if’s’, then we should keep on watching them. Until he does a Richard Kelly on us.

But remember, if you want to avoid the HI McDunnough look, try not to think too much about how it all plays out.

The Killing – it’s not The Wire, OK?

I was chatting to a former boss yesterday and overheard him talking up Danish thriller The Killing, explaining that it’s “better than The Wire“.

Now, The Killing is by all means a truly excellent piece of telly*, which everyone should see. But comparing it, or anything else, to The Wire, is not just misleading, it’s potentially offputting.

Here’s why: the Wire has now reached a mythological status for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Such is the praise heaped on it that it, or anything compared to it, almost seems too intimidating a proposition for those poor souls who’ve not seen it yet.

What if you didn’t like it? What if, after hearing everyone you know say how amazing it is, you watched two episodes and found it confusing and unrewarding? What if you were fool enough to admit this to your friends? They’d beat your face off with a rolled up copy of the Guardian as soon as look at you. How dare you not like the Wire!

The thing is, nothing will ever be as good as the Wire. It is king of its own castle, worlds apart from anything remotely like it. We need to accept this, and move on.

Like a dearly loved relative – everyone should get to know it, love it, think about it and its place in the wider world for a bit, cry when it’s gone, and then just try to live out the rest of our lives.

But if you want a more accurate comparison, think State Of Play meets 24 but longer, and in Danish, and with questionable knitwear. That’s the Killing.

But OK, if we’re going to do comparisons, here you go…

1) The Killing is a crime thriller (and little else)

OK, it might be the best crime thriller I’ve ever seen, but the Killing has few pretensions to social commentary (well, save for a vague subtext about racism) or offering a treatise on institutions and morality. It’s 20 hours of telly, tightly focussed on one murder case. And it’s incredible for doing just that and little else.**

Most shows give a murder case an hour at best, or two hours if it’s a film. The Wire dealt with one set of murders in series two, but this was interwoven with a much more involved story about the death of The Working Man. The third series dealt with a series of missing bodies alongside an exploration of the argument to legalise drugs, and a subplot about Carcetti’s political machinations. In short, whichever series of the Wire you’re plugged into, there’s a lot under the bonnet.

2) The Killing is not a show about characters

In that 20 hours, the Killing’s key players don’t get more than a smidgen of  development. They’re by no means one dimensional, and they don’t suffer for being handled and presented with little more than the barest efficiency (Sarah Lund and Theis Birk Larsson are the only characters that I personally had the slightest sympathy for, and Sarah loses points for wearing that jumper in three consecutive episodes).

I can change, Bengt. I will change (my jumper)

Yet, in a mere thirteen hours of series one, the Wire gave us Omar, Bubbles, D’Angelo, Wallace, McNulty, Freamon, Shardene, Keema, even Baltimore itself. All of these players felt real and someone you cared about. The Wire is about many things, but above all, it is about its people.

3) The Killing is story, pure and simple

It’s a real feat of storytelling to make a single murder case watchable for 20 hours, but the Killing has pulled it off brilliantly.

The fact that it manages to do this without giving us a set of people to really get behind, or causing us to think much about the wider world, is astonishing. It shouldn’t work, and yet it really really does.

4) The Killing wants your love

If it wasn’t Danish, The Killing wouldn’t be confined to the category of sleeper hit, but would find an audience desperate for its next Waking The Dead fix. In spite of its favouring of story over characters, and in view of its love of four minute recaps and multiple cliffhangers, The Killing wants your love.

Going by the Wire’s insistence on “lean in” dialogue, its sprawling cast of characters, its sheer bloody-minded approach to drama and its refusal to play the enticing tricks that every other show relies on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that actually, it doesn’t give a fuck whether you watch it or not.

As long as all your mates do…

*At the time of writing, I’ve seen the first ten episodes of the Killing
**I reserve the right to hate what they do with the second half of the series

Title win – would the book now please write itself?

So ages ago, like, four years ago, I had an idea for a book, well, a title for a book actually.

This use of this image is ironic or something

For the longest time now, everyone I’ve mentioned it to say it’s brilliant (they probably just said they like it), and immediately have very clear ideas about what would happen in the book.

Annoyingly, none of these people have offered to write it for me. This irks me. So, in a bid to pressure myself to get it done, I’m putting the title out there. Here goes. The title is this:

MIRROR, SINGLE, MANEUVER!

I mean, COME ON! It practically writes itself!

What’s that? I will have to write it?

Grr! OK. I’ll write it then.

But there, it’s out there. You literally heard it here first, people. Watch this space on developments.

Two great Devil posters

I’ve not seen the film Devil, and if you read this post, you’ll forgive me for not being in any hurry to.

But I do rather like what they did with the posters for this film. I only saw the second today, but it felt like a clever bit of design work.

Here's the first Devil poster I saw last year. I really only like it for what they did with the 'down' button/V combo.

Here's the other poster. I think this does a great job of catching the eye.

I’m still in no hurry to see the film, mind.

A review of Monsters in less than five words

About four years ago I saw a film called Primer, a no budget science fiction film about two engineers who accidentally invent a time machine, and try to wrap their heads around the complexity of their actions, and the power at their disposal. Primer won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, and Kermode gave it a decent enough review, and in spite of it being at times impenetrable and wilfully ambiguous, it really left its mark on me.

It’s a film I often recommend to people, even though really, it’s definitely more to be admired than enjoyed. Primer commands repeat viewing, which is always a bonus. It also makes no concessions to its audience, in fact, it probably credits them with too much intelligence at times. This approach has earned Primer a cult following, and its story sparked one of the most fevered and complicated debates that I’ve seen anywhere online. That’s not the real reason I like it.

The main reason I love Primer is because it’s the work of a first time director, Shane Carruth, who also wrote, starred in, scored, edited, and performed countless other tasks to turn the film around (his parents are even listed in the credits as the film’s caterers). And he did all of this on a reported budget of $7,000.

Anyone watching the film might find that hard to believe. Its shots are grainy and burnt out (it was shot on super 16mm and then blown up to 32mm), but Primer looks very much like a credible movie, and there’s nothing that really that gives its budget away. What really impressed me was that Carruth had no prior experience of filmmaking. No shorts. No ads. He was an engineer, with a pretty brilliant idea, and he taught himself everything he needed to realise that idea.

It’s this sort of endeavour that I find truly inspiring, and one that the film industry should be holding up as an exemplar of what can be achieved for very little money. But apart from some warm reviews, I can’t say I was ever swept away by the media’s coverage of Primer.

Thankfully, there’s no such danger of overlooking Monsters, which doesn’t really deliver any of its B movie promise, but somehow manages to be compelling, beautiful and thought-provoking (if only just to try and figure out what kind of film it actually is).

It’s the first feature-length effort from visual effects whizz Gareth Edwards, and you’d be hard pressed to read anything on it that doesn’t trumpet the fact that it was brought in at around $15,000.

You won’t believe it.

I came out of a screening thinking it was made for $100,000 and was still impressed. Then I read that it was made for a sixth of that sum, and I can’t decide if that’s not just a brilliant bit of marketing and a punt at trying to shift some “pro-sumer” cameras. This post from Slashfilm explains how the film was made for so little money, and it’s probably feasible, but I don’t know. The film feels a little too polished (the sound and score are just superb) and some of those extras were just a little too good.

It doesn’t matter really. If Monsters is a $15,000 film then it’s a great sign that even if we’re all broke and the Film Council is dead, we can still have great cinema (that doesn’t involve gangsters). And even though Edwards is not a novice with only interest and time on his hands, his efforts will hopefully inspire more people to get up and get involved.

If that was all that could be said about Monsters, it would be enough. But luckily, it’s also [Review alert] somehow very bloody good [As you were].

Just don’t ask me what kind of film it is.