Monday, 22 February 2010

The best action films

A while ago I posted this question on my facebook status:
What is the best action film ever made?
Before I knew it, a right old debate was going on about the greatest action flick of all time. So I thought I'd detail what we talked about and just how we justified our insane ramblings.

Matt said 'Speed' was his favourite. An uncommon choice, but I see his point. It's a simple concept with very clear tension - if the bus drops below 50mph, you're all dead! There are some great moments in the film, but a lot of the time is spent trying to work out what to do, which means a fair bit of expo-style action. Still, a great film!

Stephen mentioned 'Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark', which, in my opinion, has one of the finest chase sequences of all time, made all the more exciting by John William's amazing score:

Inevitably, the great 'Face/Off' got mentioned - a film that could have been a complete joke. It also had some very risky casting for an action film - John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. But it turned out to be a great movie, with some cracking scenes. I'm a huge fan of this particular one - badass Travolta!!!

I listed my own top 5 action films of all time:

'Die Hard' is generally considered a classic, and proof that characterisation has a strong place in action films.

'Terminator 2' took everything that worked in the first film and amped it up to the next level. For crying out loud, it gave us this scene!

'Predator' gave us one of the greatest horror icons of all time and some kick-ass moments:

'Taken' is my No.4, simply because it's so bloody ruthless:

'Face/Off' was my number 5 (see above)

We also mentioned John Woo's 'Hard Boiled' which features an incredible one-shot action sequence.

On the theme of extended shots, I'd say this is the finest of them all, featured in 'The Protector':

There was a lot of discussion about the greatest action sequence, which brought up some classics. A lot have been mentioned above, but I think this is one of my favourite scenes from Joss Whedon's 'Dollhouse'. An incredibly realistic fight scene:

Dollhouse Season 1 Episode 6 - Fight between Echo and Paul from Mr Seb on Vimeo.

Before I could say it, David got in with 'Flashpoint' for a great martial arts battle between Donnie Yen and Colin Chou:

Scott Adkins got a mention for his skill in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' - some amazing stunt and martial arts work:

There's a lot more to say but I'm running out of time. But what you can see from the above comments is that it's all about preference. Some people love 'Die Hard' and others love 'Speed'. Personally, I love a good action sequence, even if that does mean sitting through 100 minutes of Jean Claude Van Damme's acting.

So, what's your favourite action film of all time? And why?

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Damsel in Distress

Feminism - because ugly women need a hobby too!

There are 3 reactions to the above statement:
  1. Laughter
  2. $#^$£!?#@~!£$%#!!!
  3. Huh?
If you responded with #1 - stay quiet. If you had #2 - well done! And #3 - go away and google "boobies" for 'research.'

We (still) live in a world where some people see women as inferior to men. This makes people angry (and rightly so). Consequently, this breeds a class of person known as "feminists". I say known as and "feminists" here as the people I'm talking about are not Feminists with a capital F. There are people out there who believe Feminism is hating men and fighting for female superiority. The internet (the fucktards' breeding ground) warrants things like this:

If you want a committed man your best bet is to go to the local mental institution.

Witty when you think about it! And.......

Women are only good for one thing: raping and killing! No, wait, that's two things...but you get the general idea...

Isn't the internet fun?

In actual fact, of course, Feminism is about equality for all - both sexes. Because of people calling themselves Feminists when they aren't, we get:

Anyway, I digress. I'm not a Feminist as I don't know enough about it to call myself one - and I'm a strong believer that to label yourself as something, you should know everything about it [insert rant about Christians who haven't read the Bible here]. However (as we take fecking ages to get round to the point of this post) Feminism - or Feminist views - in fiction, interests me a lot!

I blame Joss Whedon - that Feminist, Humanist, Atheist, writing guy!

His work has a lot (and I mean a lot!) of Feminist angles to it. Something like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' - Joss takes the classic stereotype of the helpless blond and turns it on its head, making her a hero. By the end of 'Angel' season 5, the most powerful character to enter the Buffyverse is (probably) Willow.

'Firefly' also features some strong women characters - Zoe is a hell of a lot tougher than Captain Mal and River is a "helpless" girl who turns out to be a destructive killing machine! Joss loves his strong women characters.

Take a look at his speech for Equality Now - even if you're sick of the guy, what Whedon says is both inspiring and insightful - why does he create such strong women characters?

It is essential to address the inspiration of Joss Whedon's strong women (besides what he talked about above). In fiction, one of the strongest female characters has got to be Ellen Ripley ('Alien'). Here's a woman that almost single-handedly destroys the mother of all monsters! A very strong character and a brilliant woman.

Then we have Sarah Connor ('The Terminator'). Through the first film we saw her grow from an ordinary young woman into a powerful survivor. Then in 'Terminator 2' she was portrayed as a badass killing machine.

There are many other strong women characters who take a powerful active role in fiction, such as Max ('Dark Angel') the sisters from 'Charmed' etc. However, there are also classic conformers to the "damsel in distress" role. As I look around at girls aged between 10 and 16 (that didn't sound wrong!) I see a complete undoing of Feminism. The 'blame' at the moment lies with 'Twilight.' Here's a female lead who does nothing but get saved time and time and time again by men! I won't go on yet another rant but really it needs no explaining.

There is a tendency to take a "strong women character" and essentially turn her into a "man with tits." Women aren't the same as men. To make a strong female character is not to make her the same as a man.

In my opinion, to make a powerful woman in fiction, she should be equal to a man - be able to do what a man does - but also retain the very thing that makes her a woman. I'm not talking about those two things either. I'm talking about the different outlook a woman has - the personality, the emotion, the sentiment etc.

That brings us to the end of the post. And having said all that about the equality of women, I ask you - why did I write this? Why did I feel the need to post about strong women characters?

Because - to take from what Joss Whedon said - it's still an issue. People are still creating female characters that are absolutely useless and - in the space of 90 minutes - destroy years of work of Feminists.

To finish, let's play a game - below are a series of pictures. You have to tell me (in the comments) which characters are strong women and which ones are a Feminist's worst nightmare.

1) Megan Fox in 'Transformers' (bonus points if you can tell me her character's name or a single line of dialogue she has!)

2) Faith, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

3) Nancy, Oliver Twist

4) Clarice, 'The Silence of the Lambs'

5) Hermione, 'Harry Potter'

Sunday, 14 February 2010

'Shaun of the Dead' analysis

Here's an interesting post from last year (I'm still not used to calling 2009 "last year"!) discussing the structure of 'Shaun of the Dead'. When you look at it like this, it's fairly basic. So if you're interested in writing a horror/comedy and wondering about the film's success, take a look:
00.00 Studio leaders (& Dan Mudford’s cool soundtrack)
01.00 Liz: I want to live a little! Shaun: Okay. Tomorrow.
03.30 Titles
04.00 Shaun, living as a zombie at home with Ed, gaming.
05.00 Peter: Ed has to leave. Not students anymore.
06.00 Shaun can’t tell Ed. Ed: Ain’t doing nothing for Pete.
07.30 Liz’s VM message: book table for 8, not 7.
08.30 Nelson’s corner shop. / Person faints at bus stop.
09.00 Work: Team mocks & ignores Shaun. / Selling.
10.30 Stepdad Philip: See you tomorrow. With flowers!
11.30 Shaun ignores Liz’s call to look professional. 8pm.
12.00 Buying flowers for mum. Sees man eating pigeon.
(Inciting Incident of the Zombie story)
Read more.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

'I Am Legend' - alternate ending(s)


The ending of 'I Am Legend' is drastically different to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, which is easily my favourite book of all time (see here for a review). While the film is a poor adaptation, it is an exceptional movie in its own right. The ending has been slated by critics (in fact, the entire 3rd act has!).

To sum up, the vampires attack Neville's house and chase him into the basement where he discovers his 'cure' for vampirism has worked. Here's the original ending showing Neville's sacrifice to save the cure:

The voiceover at the end clarifies why Neville is legend - he essentially gave hope to the entire world. In Matheson's novel, this is very different. The entrance of Ruth is where things change:

She is in fact a member of a 3rd race - not human, not vampire - a form of mutated infected. In the finale, this new breed is already in the process of wiping out the vampires. They kidnap Neville and he gets a glimpse of this 3rd race's lifestyle - they live together calmly in a solid society. They look on Neville with fear. He soon realises that while he once saw the infected as an intruding, terrifying plague on the world, he is now in such a position. The infected are now the norm and Neville - being the last human ever - is legend. To us, vampires are things of myths and legend, but to the infected, humans fit that bill.

So now you know the ending of the novel, take a look at the alternate ending to 'I Am Legend':

As you can see, this is slightly more fitting with the original climax. Neville realises that the infected are indeed evolving - they are not just mindless monsters. It also sends a message of hope: first of all, the infected may one day be able to live alongside the humans peacefully. Second, there are probably more humans out there so society can be rebuilt.

When I saw 'I Am Legend' at the cinema, and heard the voiceover saying what Neville's "legend" was (that he invented the cure) I was royally pissed off! "No it isn't!!!" I cried. However, had I seen this alternate ending, showing Neville survive in the way he does, I would have been all the more pissed off and 'I Am Legend' wouldn't be one of my all-time favourite films. Let me explain......

For an entire movie, these monsters spend their time trying to kill Neville. And he kills them. Then all of a sudden, he manages to.....what? them out of it?! WTF!? Impossible! That would have ruined the entire film for me. But I can see the appeal of the alternate finale - it's very touching and suspenseful as hell! But just all too sentimental and implausible for my tastes.

'I Am Legend' is a great film and I've already said the book is my favourite. I'm just very glad this story exists in so many forms - it's been a huge influence on my writing and will continue to be forever.

So what do you think? Which ending is the best? For those who have read the novel, were you as angry as I was at the differences? Do you think the alternate movie ending would have worked better? Let me know.

Friday, 5 February 2010

That was a great war film!

I'm currently writing an article on war films for student-led e-magazine The Back Seat and it got me thinking - do different rules apply to "modern" war films that don't apply to, say - stories about the Battle of Agincourt? If a film were to appear that portrayed Hitler as a stand-up guy doing the decent thing and ridding the world of all those horrible Jews, there would definitely be an outcry (and rightly so!) *

But what makes a brilliant war film? I don't imagine people typically enjoying Saving Private Ryan in the sense that you'd smile and walk away feeling all warm inside. However, I'm sure most would agree that it's a brilliant piece of cinema.

How can you possibly decide what a good war film is? If it portrays things as accurately as possible, does that make it "better"? Does that mean that Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is complete tosh simply because it gets Hitler's death ever so slightly wrong? Does fact = good? Apparently, the American public were genuinely shocked and appalled by what they saw in mini-series Generation Kill:

There seemed to be this huge revelation that not all soldiers are respectful, honourable gentlemen - some may not even be nice! Some are sexist, racist and they actually want to kill! I was annoyed C4 picked up Generation Kill, only to slot it in late night after True Blood and not once did I see a single advert for the series. That makes me wonder - did they believe it would be in bad taste to advertise a war series that - rather than showing conflict in a purely negative, thought-provoking light - actually portrays war how it is - ambiguous and on occasion a positive experience?

Kid In The Front Row says some interesting things about the responsibility of film makers:
As fictional writers and directors; we are able to have a dramatic impact on audiences. Right now, films like the Harry Potter Series and 'Twilight' are watched and loved by millions of teenagers worldwide. Do the makers of these films have only the need to entertain, or is there a responsibility regarding the message and intended meaning of these films?
Anyway, I don't want to get too bogged down in responsibility, but I am interested in what you think makes a great war film!

So what is it? I'm a huge fan of the genre, mainly because it provides a unique opportunity to tell stories that would simply be impossible in any other medium. There is the issue that people (particularly males between the ages of 12 and 18) will find war "cool." If I watch the sniper scene in Saving Private Ryan, I can't help but think to myself - "that's pretty awesome!" Does that make me a bad person? Does it make me a good person because I cry a little bit when Wade dies in the same film?

So people - what is your favourite war film and why? What makes a war film truly spectacular? I'm really eager to find out what other people think about this issue!

* No offence intended, I'm merely making a point.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Tetris god

There aren't words to describe the awesomeness of this! You'll never play Tetris the same way again.......

Monday, 1 February 2010

We are writers

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."


If you're a writer, you're a writer. You're going to keep writing whether you succeed or not. And it's that unfaltering dedication that makes you succeed. If you don't make it in this life, maybe you'll succeed in heaven? But what if - like me - you don't believe in heaven and hell?'ll just have to make it before you die!

Get crackin'