Chico and Rita

I went to see Chico and Rita last night. I thought it was a beautiful looking film, wIth great production design. The cars and backgrounds were particularly stunning. It had some lovely animation ( although a quite a few dodgy bits as well.) Best of all it had a brilliant Jazz and Cuban soundtrack with lots of great musical sequences.

Pre Revolution early 50’s Cuba. Chico is a talented piano player who spots Rita singing at a bar. They sleep together but fall out the next morning thanks to the arrival of Chico’s girlfriend.

A friend gets them a gig and they gradually become a succesful professional act. Rita is offered a contract in the states without Chico. After they row she decides to accept.

Later, poor and broke Chico follows her  but she has become a big solo star, married to her manager. Jealous of their relationship her husband gets Chico deported. Years later the two of them meet again, when their luck has changed.

As a film it hasn’t really stayed with me. I don’t think this is because the characters are immoral or unlikeable as one review suggested. I think they are very likeable, believable and realistic, which is an achievement for animation.

The problem is the star crossed lovers story. Despite the fact it spans decades of their lives it doesn’t develop Chico and Rita’s relationship. I think if they’d had been together as a couple dealing with the stresses and strains of life it would have been a stronger narrative. With such potentially rich characters I could see this working. But as it is, the boy-meets-girl-looses-girl plot repeated just doesn’t quite sustain it.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt1


I saw this tonight. OF the movies, I feel like it was the best Harry Potter so far. This despite the fact that it doesn’t have an ending.

Voldermort’s power is growing. He takes control of the ministry of magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron and Hermione must go on the run and find a load of Horcruxes ( or was it Crackwhores?) the magical Macguffins they must destroy in order to kill Voldermort.

Mainly I think it’s better because of the structure. Unlike the other movies it doesn’t take place at Hogwarts and so can dispense with a lot of that Enid-Blyton-Jolly-hockey-sticks style plot and just go with a classic hero’s journey structure instead.

Also it focuses in on Ron, Hermione and Harry who are really what it’s all about and although there are still lots of extraneous characters, they are not allowed to hog(wart) the screen time from the leads. Who have all got much better as the movies have gone along and turn in really good performances.  Helped by a script that really focuses on the relationships between them. There’s also some great action set pieces and David Yates keeps it all moving with a sense of impending dread.

Some things don’t work so well. A few scenes came across like Lord of The Rings or King Arthur and I didn’t really give a shit about the death at the end. But overall it was really enjoyable.

Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives

I saw this yesterday also, after Robinson in ruins. A double bill of experimental art movies!

Uncle Boonmee is dying. He is visited by his sster in law and a nephew. They are staying at his home to help look after him. He shows them round his farm. Then one night at dinner his dead wife arrives as a ghost and his dead son arrives as a monkey-monster. They are benevolent and seem to be there to help ease him into the spirit world.

The film had some great moments. I particularly liked the visual representation of the visiting ghost-wife (double exposure floating in and out) and the monsters-son (black chewbaccas with red eyes). Also the beautiful sequence of stars inside the cave.

I fell asleep at some point during the middle and woke up about ten minutes later. In my semi-dream the dialogue was all in English and my brain began to interpret it to the nearest equivalent words. When I woke up and started reading the subtitles again it still made no more sense.

The main story had disappeared and there was a long unconnected vignette about a princess who meets a magical catfish by a waterfall and has sex with him in exchange for him making her young again ?!? Eventually it returned to the main story.

I haven’t clue what it was all about. On Imdb it say’s it’s about Boonmee recalling all his past lives, which I didn’t get at all! But it was an enjoyable film with a dream feel to it, full of beautiful images. It also had a slow meditative feel, reflective of this Buddhist strand of Thai culture.

Robinson in Ruins

I saw this film yesterday. It’s a strange experimental travelogue round the south of England featuring beautiful images of nature and industrial settings. It is also quietly hypnotic and the pace is slow and relaxing, rather like a meditation. 

Vanessa Redgrave is the unnamed narrator of the film. She tells us that her research institute came across this ‘found footage’ and a diary belonging to a mysterious character called Robinson. From these they have pieced together the documentary.

Robinson, she tells us, slept rough and filmed these images around the time of the economic crash in 2008. He  noted the history and provenance of the things he filmed each day in his diary along with the daily news. These  stories and entries, Redgrave delivers over the related images in a calm factual manner.

They  relate to the erosion of the countryside and common land. From the middle ages up to the present day. How it was sold – first to the landed gentry for farming, then to the American Military for missile bases and then to private energy companies to transport gas and oil.

These stories are interspersed with information about the stock market crash  and with scientific reports on global warming. So that I think what you’re supposed to take from it is that Capitalism has sold nature for a quick buck and for political ends.

I didn’t even attempt to absorb this mass of historical and philosophical information. The detail seemed totally irrelevant. In fact the silent moments where the camera lingered on shots of nature were the strongest moments of the film.

My favourite line of narration was something along the lines of: ‘Though people find it easy to imagine the collapse of ecosystems through global warming. They can in no way imagine the collapse of capitalism, which is in itself just another system. – The suggestion is that not only is nature fragile but also humanity and it’s systems that it thinks are infallible.

To me the film pointed up the futility of human actions, the way all these multi million dollar military bases had been built and crumbled, much like the castles and ruins that also feature. All these things that had such purpose at the time now just lie forgotten – because history and nature eat everything.


Let me In

I saw Let me In a few days ago. It is an American remake of the Swedish film – Let the Right One In.

I thought it was a good film. Some single scenes feel stronger and some weaker. But over all I think I liked the original film better. I haven’t seen the original for a while but I remember being blown away by it, which I wasn’t by this.

Maybe it was because this time round I knew all the plot beats and so there were no shocks or surprises. But I couldn’t help compare the two films and, though this one has definite improvements, I think Let the Right One In is better.

First, how I think Let Me In is better –

It uses the dramatic midpoint as the opening hook of the story – which I don’t remember from the original and is a great exciting way to start in. It cut out a whole B story from the original film involving the village drunks a few of whom get attacked. This hones the film, but they did kind of provided some comedy and tonal variation in the original.

It uses the old photo trick to  strengthen the back story of the Abby’s ‘father’ showing him as a young boy very similar to Owen. This is a great extra bit of story added with minimum effort.  I also love the creepy addition of a scene with Owen ( Kodi Smit-Mcphee) in the weird Halloween mask.

Now, how I think Let me in is worse –

Often it seems like a shot for shot remake. I prefered the kid actors in the original film, I thought they gave subtler performances. Although the kids are good here, their characters are a bit more extreme.

The film was over scored. It has that Hollywood thing of music over everything. All kinds of grating sound and music fill every mundane moment to ramp up the scariness. Then when Abby and Owen are together the film jumps to this kooky love theme which jars completely with the rest of the score and even distracts from the actors subtle performances.

Stylistically the film does this thing where it follows the lead and everything else is in very shallow focus. This is great for reveals, but feels unnecessary in other places. Like why is the mum’s face not shown at all it seems an unnecessary extra gimmick.

I think it would be interesting to watch both films again one after the other and compare them, they both have stronger and weaker sequences throughout. In the end it goes to show – it is the story and characters that are brilliantly strong and any number of directors could interpret it differently.

Phil Parker at the LSWF – on Viral Video

I watched Phil’s London Screenwriters Festival talk last night on viral video. I thought it was interesting. Film on the internet is a massive growth area and there’s already lots of great content out there on youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and other sites. Most of the stuff is made for the joy of doing it and putting it out there, by film makers and amateurs.

It’s  a great alternative to festivals to showcase your work and get feedback. My  graduation short  which did okay at festivals has been seen by far more people on line. It found a receptive friendly audience on Vimeo. Where it got nearly 20,000 hits, and also on dailymotion where it got around 15,000 hits.

But it hasn’t made any money on the web. Nor does it result in any of these people subscribing to or watching my other videos. My hunch is that very little web video makes any or big money. I think you need some luck and a constant stream of related content to achieve this. Am I wrong? Have  I failed to understand Phil’s model? A good talk that’s forced me to do a little research!

Phil suggested that just one succesful viral video on Yahoo could make £200,000!!!!! But Here’s the smallprint on Yahoo’s advertising rights from their upload contract:

Yahoo! reserves and has the right to sell, license and/or display any advertising, promotional and distribution rights in connection with Your Video Content and Yahoo! will be entitled to retain all revenue generated from any sales or licences of such advertising, promotional or distribution rights. 

If they reserve the right to all the adverstising revenue I don’t  see how you could make any money from Yahoo from your video going viral? Maybe like youtube they offer some revenue sharing over a certain threshold. Is this the case?

With Youtube can apply for a partnership – which means you share revenue from ads placed over your video content.This seems to be at You tubes discression and requires your video/s to get over a threshold of 10,000 hits and a certain number (100s) of subscribers before  they  start revenue sharing. They then run google ads on your videos and if you get the clicks you make money on these. I have tried to discover the rates for this but, It is a bit difficult since  when you sign a contract with youtube you are forbidden from discussing it!?! and also the rates vary depending on what the advertiser bid to place the content.

It seems that if you get very lucky you could earn over a 100k a year on youtube, which to me sound bloody good. But I don’t think people set out with this model, they just capitalize on it when it occurs, because going viral is a fluke right?And to keep getting hits you need to keep feeding the fire with the same kind of content.

Some quite good article on youtube

My dinner with Andre

 “What does that mean: a wife, a husband, a son? A baby holds your hands and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground, and then he’s gone. Where is that son?”

I love the end of this film. It’s about how identity, emotions & the world are fluid. You can travel & ‘search’ for your ‘identity’ or try to ‘fix’ it to people and things around you but it’s all passing by – like water through your hand & all there is is Life. A brilliant last line.

And then  you get a shot of the waiter at the end- who they have treated all the way through as an archetypal waiter – It makes you think about how – he’s someone’s son too – as is everyone.

Another Year

I saw this today. I enjoyed it very much but I think after all the reviews I was expecting the best Mike Leigh ever. In my view it doesn’t top the classics – Secrets and Lies, Life is Sweet and Naked.

Compared to these films it has a very different subtle flavour. It lacks their dramatic arcs and the big emotional finish, but I don’t think that was really what it was going for, and the characters dictate a different type of story. That Mike Leigh is just as interested in following.

Tom and Geri are a married couple in their sixties, content and happy together. Over four seasons and four Sundays they are visited by various friends and relations all single and unhappy with their lot. They are kind and caring to everyone. On the surface they’re engaged but they’re also very protective of their own little world. Strong emotional boundaries help them keep the problems of others at arms length.

Tom ( Jim Broadbent) is an geologist prone to plain speaking outbursts and Geri ( Ruth Sheen) is a therapist with a platitude for every occasion. It’s her view of life in particular that I think informs the film. There is a strong similarity between how Geri deals with Imelda Staunton – her depressed client at the start of the film and how she deals with her depressed friends. Both  actors give subtle understated performances.

The films other strong focus, is their friend Mary (Lesley Manville, playing the Mike Leigh neurotic, but with a humane touch) She has a crush on the couples son, and is avoiding the attentions of their alcoholic and equally dysfunctional friend Ken(Peter Wright).

The film explores ideas of  maturity and pragmatism vs neurosis and projection, Interdependence vs codependence. Can friends help each others be happy or only themselves?  How ruthless do you have to be to protect your own happiness? Does happiness come from being in a loving couple? Can singles be happy? – not in this story it seems!

Overall it’s is a film with lots of themes none of them shouted on the surface, more like currents underneath, subtle ideas that are intertwined with character rather than pasted on to the story.

The Arbor

We went to see The Arbor yesterday. A film by Clio Bernard. It’s an experimental documentary. Portraying the life  of the late Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar, who died around ten years ago, and the stories of her three children.

The film concentrates on Andrea’s eldest daughter – Lorraine Dunbar, who has had a terrible life of drugs, prostitution, abuse and prison. It climaxes with a quite horrible turn of events in her life.

The interesting thing about the film is the way it’s been made. The voices of the real people were recorded and actors portray them in the film lipsynching to their words. It is reminded me of those old Aardman Lip Synch films –  especially one Peter Lord made called Going Equipped that was about a young offender.

The technique works well with real actors, though it does starts to fall down when the dialogue gets emotional. The other brilliant thing they do is stage segments from Andrea’s first stage play ( also called The Arbor) in the centre of the estate where it was set. Locals stand around in the background watching the scenes and giving them an extra dimension.

All these imaginative techniques give interest to what is a very bleak story. A story that goes part way to debunk the myth that being a successful artist writer can change lives.

London Screenwriters Festival – summing up!

I have just spent a three day weekend at the London Screenwriters Festival.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and I met quite a few writers – all of whom were very friendly –  most also starting out, and in the same boat as me. As well as attending numerous workshops, panel discussions and interviews – that you can read about in the other posts…

The first time organizers did fantastically well to put on such a festival and I would definitely consider going again.