Seppuku: A Lesson In Shame

In Feudal Japan, a warrior – samurai – would, if captured by his enemy or in order to prevent falling into enemy hands, having brought dishonour on his clan, commit ritual suicide rather than live in shame or be tortured.
In modern day Japan, suicide is still seen as a way to end one’s life if one feels a sense of shame for being unable to support the family or unable to attain the high standards in life expected of them.
In times past, a politician or person of high social standing, a film or television personality could, overnight, see their career reduce to ruins. The sense of possible disgrace, public ridicule and personal embarrassment was self policing and helped to maintain a semblance of decency in society.
With the explosion of social media, reality television and the all encompassing World Wide Web, this seems to have got lost. There is an almost insatiable need to be entertained and humoured. When seen first time on film, a train coming into a station scared and fascinated people, but quickly became mundane when people realised it was harmless entertainment; a new medium. So has been the way with media and entertaining.
Things that used to shock became everyday and, like everything, if it happens in the media it filters down to the general populace. Sexual promiscuity is fine. I saw it on a reality show. Having no sense of embarrassment, along with no discernible talent is fine. I saw that on a ‘talent’ show. It is not just television. The get-ahead-at-any-cost mentally is reflected in the relentless pursuit of technology and upgrades to that technology, usually mere months after the last iteration.
Banks ripped us off? Oops, we will reduce our bonuses, sorry. No jobs lost; no grovelling apology. Politicians taking advantage of age old home allowance laws? Plenty of exposure, not one resignation or moment of contrition from an avaricious, cheating seat holder. It has got so that even those accused of actual punishable crimes, show no sense of shame, no covering up as cameras thrust toward them on their walk to or from the courtroom.
The things that offend are no longer a collective agreement; where one may argue that public nudity is inappropriate, another would as strongly argue that the human body is natural thing and was never meant to be clothed! Freedom of speech, of expression, the liberal belief of everyone has a right to be, is a beautiful and laudable thing. What happens when, as it seems has happened, we affluent, over fed, consumer crazed, must-have-it-now society of the West, get that? It is, nobody is seeing it, the absolute power.
Shame, self pride, was the unseen guardian of society. If it’s power has waned to such an extent, that the only people truly vilified are rapist and pedophiles, what is going to stop anarchy?

Listed: Films I enjoyed in 2014

People love a list. Whether it is the order, the ease of information, or an OCD, general malaise, people love a list. People who write love a list more than most. When I speak of people who write, I mean fellow bloggers, journalist – ‘list’ is in their job! – and other sporadic scribes. The think about list is, once you begin to think of one it sparks tangents and makes writer’s block – argh! – a phantom fast fading. And so to my list. I had planned to make a ‘Top Ten’ of films of 2014, but quickly realised that though I had seen plenty of films in 2014, a lot of them were released before then. As I wracked my brain, trying to remember theatrical releases I had viewed, I noticed that, even though I had easily seen over ten 2014 films, several of them could not be categorised as films I enjoyed. That, of course, is another list. For now I will concentrate on, in no particular order, my favourite films of 2014.

1.) Guardians Of The Galaxy

The much anticipated, though not exactly well known, comic book adaption, hit the screens in late summer. A motley crew, pulled together by circumstances, as opposed to some over riding desire to fight for the greater good, GOTG made the likeable Chris Pratt a superstar. Playing the lead role of Peter Quill or the little known Starlord, he invested humour and dynamism into the character. Aided and abetted by the warrior alien Gamora, played with fierce gutso and  – more believe than her previous outings as a badass The Losers? Colombina? pur-leeze! – Zoe Saldana rocks as the literally green assassin. Dave Bautista, as Drax, finally gets a role that allows you to forget he use to be a wrestler. Vin Diesel uses his one line – ‘I am Groot.’ brilliantly. But Bradley Cooper gets a special mention for making a genetically modified racoon – that looks ridiculous written down! – utterly believable. GOTG is probably my favourite comic book film of 2014, high praise indeed when going to pick number…

2.) X-men: Days Of Future Past

I am a HUGE X-men fan. I collected the comics for years and am slightly protective of the ‘for cinematic purposes’ manipulation of the characters – it’s all wrong! Sorry. Anyway, like I say, I am a fan of the X-men. I loved Bryan Singer’s first two instalments, loathed the god awful Final Stand. Matthew Vaughan saved some face with the retro X-men: First Class. Great film, still wrong, but good film none the less. Allow me a moment of geeking out. In the comic of the same name, Day Of Future Past, the story was exactly the same. In a horrible future, mutants are hunted and slaughtered or captured by highly advanced robot sentinels. So I knew it was a solid story. In the comic, Kitty Pryde is sent back, but as the character is not established in film and Hugh ‘Wolverine’ Jackman is huge – though the second Wolverine film….yuk! – Wolverine is sent back in time.

Even though the story is the same, the fact that they decide to send back a different character instead of following the comic book, really works here. They do an absolutely brilliant – genius! – strand with the sentinels being organically adaptable in the future. This was a film that I was chomping at the bit to see and it did not disappoint. But as far as raising the bar goes, look no further than…

3.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Let me say right of the bat; Captain America: The Winter Soldier is awesome! I enjoyed the first outing, the establishing of the character and laying of the back story. No way did it prepare me for the epicness of the follow up! When this film flashed up on my subscription service, over the holidays, as being available for viewing, I rewatched it immediately. Over two hours long, it feels and moves like it is a ninety minute film. If you like comic book movies and have not seen this….what am I talking about? If you like comic book movies, you’ve seen this!

4.) Interstellar

Christopher Nolan. Jonathan Nolan. These boys know how to make a film. Obviously i am a fan of the Dark Knight trilogy, but my favourite Nolan film is Inception. In fact it was my favourite film of 2010, absolutely blew my mind. Interstellar comes pretty damn close. This is another film of massive scope and breathtaking execution. Like another space film before it – Gravity – it can only truly be appreciated on the big screen. Nolan makes eye popping, glorious, large scale, immersive, cinema films. Everything is big, close up, filling the screen. See it on the biggest screen you can.

5.) In Your Eyes

A bit of a curve ball  here. In Your Eyes tells the story of a man and woman from opposite sides of the USA who become psychically linked, thus able to observe each others life. This is not a film that got a theatrical release. By pure luck – well, stalking – my favourite film and television writer, Joss Whedon, let be known to his many psychotic fans, that he had penned a new film and left a link. I watched it and loved it. Starring one of my favourite quirky looking actresses, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks is fantastic!) In Your Eyes is, for a linear film with conventional storytelling, unlike any other film I have ever seen.

6.) Edge Of Tomorrow

After Oblivion and the laugh-out-loud-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Jack Reacher, Tom’I’ll jump up and down on your sofa’Cruise was looking on the fast track to has-been-ville! Then came Edge Of Tomorrow. Playing a media consultant who finds himself reluctantly thrust into the armed forces and forced to defend the planet against an alien race, the Cruiser gets to play his best role since being a contract killer in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Ably supported and matched by the feisty Emily Blunt, Cruise shows humour, fear, desperation and the long missing star quality that had him dominating box office receipts for most of the nineties. If your not a Tom Cruiser hater – there are many – but have trepidation about seeing his films of late, I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

7.) The Grand Budapest Hotel
A late comer to my films of 2014 is the quirky Wes Anderson comedy tells the story of the exceptional concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, M Gustave, played quite brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes. It tells the story of how a grateful patron of the hotel leaves Gustave a priceless painting, much too the furious disappointment of her extended family. Thus follows a story that takes in a prison escape, the second world war, murder, romance, a monastery and priceless art. It looks beautiful, the story moves at a pace and the performances are superb. Definitely one to see of you have not.

8.) The Raid 2
After the kinetic, pulsating screen explosion of kicking and punching fury that was Gareth Evans’ announcement as a major filmmaker in The Raid, he brought out the sequel. As the initial film seemed entirely complete as a film and was such breath of fresh air in the genre of martial arts cinema, it was hard to see not only where Evans was going to go with a sequel, but how he was going to top the original. With this second film, buoyed by the success of the first, he had more money to work with and it shows. It looks fabulous, the sets are rich in colour and detail, a definite upgrade on the previous outing. The action is, as one would expect, bigger and more expansive. The story also works, involving more characters and higher stakes. Like the first film, The Raid 2 blitzes through ferocious action sequences and stunning violence, whilst still keeping an eye in the story. I would not say that the sequel surpasses the original, but it definitely matches it.

Rant, Bond Rant.

I do not watch Doctor Who. There are two reasons: 1.) As a child it scared the bejesus out of me and 2.) Idris Elba.
With the recent Sony hacks that have hit the news,  the leaked emails and what not, one story that piqued my interest – the whole North Korean insult debacle is so boring and not at all surprising.  Did they really believe a dictator,  known for his whims and prepared to go to war with his neighbour, would let this slide? That is another blog. – back to my interest peaked.

After Angelina’s death glare,  and various supposedly ‘racist’ missives,  an ‘interesting’ – according to the UK press anyway –  leak has surfaced concerning Idris Elba. Apparently, there are plans afoot to put the sometime Norse world guardian, Luther lead and part-time deejay, in line to be the next and, first black, James Bond.  Hmm.
Here in Blighty,  the more right of centre twitter feeds have gone crazy. A black Bond? Black?! Bond is white! That is one of the more pleasant responses. The others hark back to the sixties and seventies and remind one of the bigotry that still bubbles under the surface of polite,  liberal, British, society.
The character of James Bond was created by Ian Fleming. A British super spy,  beloved by generation after generation,  it has spawned twenty-three films and,  after Fleming’s initial twelve novels,  there have been twenty-five further novels by various authors,  all following the template of the original works. So the character is firmly established. Some might even say a British institution. A white one.
So as a black man,  what is my stance on Idris Elba being a potential Bond? Not that it matters, but I think that he should be white. 100%, Caucasian, British white.  Why?     Because he is.

Unlike the other characters in the agent’s world; M, Moneypenny, Q, that are interchangeable,  as they all have obvious code names, unchanging jobs. James Bond is the character.  There are other agents; other double ohs, but there is only one James Bond.
A tangent: Doctor Who. The BBC program about an intergalactic alien, has, even with the advent of time, always inhabited the form of a middle class, a British white man, since its inception in the early sixties, it has never been challenged over its rigorous adherence to this particular trait.
The reason for this, I believe, is one of the enduring differences between the black experience in the UK and that of those born in the US. It is also the reason why an enduring white character can be spoken of as potentially – on celluloid – becoming black.
Every screen incarnation of James Bond has been created stateside. The films, though they have a considerable amount of UK input, are steeped in American production values.

Slick, bold, showy. These are not typical British flourishes. Doctor Who is British, BBC, through and through. Stagy and received pronunciation. As it ever was.  The US like and ‘do’ change. Mix things up, shake stuff around, it is a strength and a weakness. British do not do change.

When they do it tends to be at a glacial pace. A Doctor Who that is not a man or white, probably will not manifest in my lifetime. Want another example? Modern twist on Sherlock Holmes have been hits both here and in the US. The US version, Elementary, has retained the Sherlock character as a mildly autistic, white male. The Watson character, however, has been updated. Watson is now a Chinese/American, woman.

In the UK the characters have remained resolutely male. Not that this is a problem. The British version is utterly brilliant. It just illustrates the difference between the UK and the US.
Until the UK adopts the same approach to programming, black faces adopting major roles will always be tokenism, creating their own work or relying on the whims of the powers that be.

Outerstellar

Sometimes, many times actually, reviewers get carried away and lavish praise on films that, frankly speaking, are the equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes.
You know the sort of thing; not a bad film by any means, in fact, they tend to be good films. They’re just not as fantastic or brilliant as the reviewers would have you believe.    Today I went and watched a film that has received much praise and kudos for its scope and execution.

Of course, there have been the dissenting voices, those who will damn with faint praise and remain completely unmoved by the cinematic spectacle. These are the same reviewers who no doubt raved over the brilliance of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ (do not get me started!) Back on topic – Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

So, just in case you are bored of reading, let me say right away that this film is epic. Admittedly I am a fan of Nolan’s works – The Prestige, The Dark Knight trilogy,  Inception – so my expectations were pretty high anyway. Though, as I freely admit, I am a fan, I did not think the final Batman film was as enjoyable as the previous installments. It was good, but not fantastic.

With the high praise and hyperbole surrounding his latest endeavour, it was always going to be a real task to match it. In my humble opinion, he absolutely does and then some. Though it does not compare to the cinematic scope and visual brilliance of Gravity, storywise, it delivers both intellectually and emotionally.

Utilizing one of Nolans’ – the brothers – favorite themes – time – the film, whilst not as mind-bending as Inception, still offers up some bold and thoughtful story strands. The overwhelming arc of connection whilst simplistic and, if I’m being picky, an easy plot device, works well and pulls the film through just when it looks as if they have been too clever. Interstellar is a great, grand and brilliant film. Go and see it.

Thank you ladies, thank you.

Only two weeks into my weekly review of random short films and I’m already thinking of branching out! This week I am reviewing/highlighting a YouTube video. Yes, I realise that technically most short films would also fall into this category, but this is not a short film. Nor is it – you’ll be happy to know – an “entertaining” funny vid. My review today is for an interview by THR (The Hollywood Reporter) of actresses. The round table – as they call it – had Oprah Winfrey(The Butler), Amy Adams(American Hustle), Octavia Spencer(The Help), Julia Roberts(Osage County), Emma Thompson(Saving Mr Banks) and Lupita Nyong’o(12 Years A Slave).
Though the gathering is set up as an interview and there are questions asked by the interviewers, mostly it is just these amazing actresses discussing their craft and eventually asking their own questions of one another. The other lovely thing is the obvious respect they had for each other, most having enjoyed the works of their peers over the years. Beside an interest in film and the celebrity persona, the lesson of watching this interview for any aspiring screenwriter, director, actor or actress is the insight into how much work being an actor/actress is. The perspective these actresses have on their careers; the roles they choose, the approach, the hurdles, the sacrifice, really show that this is a profession for those who love it. You cannot just like it and be a working actor or actress. This is a profession, an environment, for the committed only. Of course there is the odd person who gets ‘lucky’, but for the people who have careers, bodies of work, ‘lucky’ is not going to cut it.
The emotion and energy these ladies invest in their roles and then, as one forgets, the promotional work that follows taking a role, a film, literally takes over their lives for a period. The fact that they come over as levelled headed and humble and appreciate where they are and what it took to get them there, is a testament to their commitment, talent and courage. If you have any interest in film, watching this interview will open your eyes.

watch it here – http://youtu.be/OgZsPepO9Z0

And because it is brilliant, inventive, and I wish I had written it!(Also feeling a little guilty for not actually reviewing a short!) Cat Jones ‘Flea’ http://t.co/8U0tyDKS4S – watch it. You’ll thank me.

What about the rules?

For your fledgling scriptwriter, filmmaker, auteur, there are certain precepts that are recommended. Try and avoid voiceover; don’t film conversations flat on; don’t be static. For the director, Ivan Barge and screenwriter, Matthew Harris, these loosely defined rules were obviously missed. In their seven minute short film, “Snooze Time” they happily ignore all those rules, fashioning an engaging and clever film. Following the lives of Evie and Thom, the film charts their lives from young, awkward couple to an elderly Thom being watched over by his long time, committed spouse Evie, whilst in a hospital bed. 
   To take a seven minute film and encompass five decades is some achievement. The  meticulous attention to detail and the use of the mundane, everyday activities as story momentum, is clever and inspired. The images are accompanied by a poetic voiceover, charting the passage and relentless advance of time. Justyn Pickles’ music mirrors the voice, a constant, unavoidable rhythm.
   A story about the one thing that no one can control; time. A beautifully executed and complex subject, presented in an understandable, relatable way. You will not hit the snooze button whilst watching this.

Watch it here – http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2014/10/15/snooze-time/

’12 Years…’ a rave?

Two things: I am not a big fan of Steve McQueen (director, not long deceased movie star, he was alright). ‘Shame’ was just a horrible, soulless film – my personal opinion – that was trying too hard to be clever. Secondly; actors must absolutely love him. Even though I did not enjoy ‘Shame’, the acting was outstanding and the same can be said of ’12 Years A Slave’. Everybody in the film is good. Is the film good? Yes. Is it great? I don’t believe so. Here is why.

I will watch Chiwetel Ejiofor in any film. He is a fantastic actor, brilliant in every role I have ever seen him play. As the lead in ’12 Years…’ he is very good, given the direction the script and story took. Having not read the book, it is difficult to know how close to the source material the film is. Having said that, I felt the film lacked emotional focus in a way that another ‘true’ story – ‘Roots’ – on the same subject covered nearly four decades ago. As much as, if you did not already know, you feel some indignation for his predicament (spoiler alert) having being pulled from his comfortable life as a free, family man and cast into slavery, I am not sure that the name of Solomon Northrup will resonate for this generation of black people and others who see this film, in the same way as Kunta Kinte does for those of my generation.

The characters of Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender as the brutal, God-fearing, Edwin Epps, dominate the second half of the film. Even Mistress Epps, played by Sarah Paulson, is a more interesting character, fiercely jealous and condescending of the ‘help’ and especially Patsey, whom her awful husband takes a shine to.

The film is good and looks wonderful, as you would expect. McQueen is to be commended for bringing to light a little known facet of the slave trade. It would have been even more interesting had he been able to find a British based story, considering he is, after all, a British director. The story of Northrup is not, as shown, exclusive to him and his treatment and that of others who suffered the same such fate, though abhorrent, is well document in both film, word, and documentary.

In terms of subject matter, casting a magnifying glass on a particular black experience, this is, unfortunately, in my opinion, an uninspired choice of black history. The name of Solomon Northrup is not one that will go down in cinematic folklore, even though his story was worth telling, he had already told it.

Going old school

Toward the back end of 2013, as work slowed and the holidays came into focus, I turned my attention to that which dominated my life for the last two months of the year: film. Obviously it was my own film that was dominating my life, which I enjoyed greatly, but it also inspired a renewed appetite for all things film and television. A general craving of knowledge along the lines of ‘how did they do it?’. So I ended up watching a lot of films. Some I had seen before, others for the first time.
Having made a couple of films myself now, I can appreciate the effort and dedication and focus and sheer will it takes to get a project completed. It is hard and mentally draining work. I mean it is easy to be an armchair critic, trolling on YouTube clips and declaring how awful a performance, story or director was, safe in the knowledge you have not, nor will not, ever do it. The wonderful web gives any chimp with a keyboard the ability to vent an opinion. I have read disparaging remarks on Scorsese’s Goodfellas, seen verbal wars over Twilight saga, Star Wars saga, LOTR, watch the websphere almost explode when various actors are mooted to play fictitious comic book characters. Everybody has an opinion.
I’m no different. I have seen a few films deemed masterworks in my time and wondered what the hell all the fuss was about! I have watched films that I know are kind of awful and enjoyed them immensely. I understand that films are entertainment. It is nice if you can learn something some times, but I really want a film just to entertain me, whether it be with brilliance or sweetness or clever plotting or basic good vs evil. As long as it entertains me, I am good. As long as it entertains me!
Like I said, I watched a lot of films over the holidays. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like a terrible film to put you in a foul mood on a winters grey day. If you want a really shitty mood, watch two terrible films! Such was my fate on a few occasions over the festive period. Netflix and its ilk are great services, ready to watch films when ever you want. Unfortunately the volume of dross to quality or even passably good films on offer is soul destroying. I mean these film companies do realise how many films have been made in the past century don’t they? There is really no good reason to be allowing a person to pay money for some of these films! I swear even people related to the stars of some of these films would not watch them!
I have two subscription services I pay for and though their post nineties fare is adequate, they only seem to go back as far as 1970! Have they not heard of Frank Capra? Or Cagney, Stewart, Flynn, Davis, Fontaine or Marx Brothers to name a (very!) few?
I have suffered films so appalling that I have truly pondered how they possibly got funded. Somebody green lit Kick Ass 2! Even after reading the script! No wonder Jim Carrey bailed on the promotional tour. Against violence? More likely against association with god awful films! Rappers should also stop being allowed to make films. Man with the Iron Fist? Wow. Really not good. There is a reason Rza (even with my name I am compelled to ask what kind of a name is Rza?!) that filmmaking is collaborative. Other people are suppose to be involved to minimise the chance of a massive ego turning a film into an almighty turd. Take note. Not as bad as Kick Ass 2 though. And whilst I’m at it, ranting that is, Bruce Willis must be stopped! The last Die Hard was so risible that I turned it off after half an hour. Only Sly Stallone can milk a franchise and most of the films be watchable – though he may be pushing it with The Expendables.
No doubt I too will make a film that will make people want to hunt me down and ask for those hours of their lives back, through some financial recompense. Hopefully it will be on a film I did not write!

That’s what I’m aiming for!

Even though I am currently concentrating on filmmaking and writing, and thou I love and admire a good film, my true love is television. The television serial has always held a fascination for me. The building of a story, characters, themes, and subplots, over a period of weeks or months.

If the serial has a good central character/hero/heroine, you watch, aching as they make both good and bad decisions. That is what great television does; it makes you feel like you know the people you are watching. You talk about them at work or with friends. Even post major plot surprises on Facebook. Television is, even though we know it is not real, personal.
Last night I watched Homeland. The ever-watchable Clare Danes, even playing the less than sympathetic Carrie, was brilliant. As was Mandy Patinkin as likable, but singleminded Saul.

It was, in its third season, one of the better episodes. In ‘Still Positive’ an episode credited to Alexander Cary, the Brody family subplot was what raised this episode to brilliance.

Morgan Saylor, who plays the surly teenage daughter, Dana, was fantastic. The episode, the writing, perfectly captured the teenage girl becoming a woman in one scene.
Dana has a conversation with her mother, Jessica – the easy on the eye Morena Baccarin – telling her she wants to change her name, the burden of baring her father’s tainted name and, by association, reputation, too much for her.

In a look, Jessica conveyed understanding. This was not the playing up of a silly little girl. She was not just acting up. Dana had been disappointed, like so many women before her, by men. By her father, who she wanted so badly to believe, then by her first love, Leo. Jessica understood. She helped her daughter change her name. Brilliant, emotive, riveting, concise television. Exactly the sort of work I want to produce one day. Everyday.