Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Body – (Stephen) King of the Castle (Rock)

I wrote this months ago while in Cyprus, and, even though it was written in a spur of the moment and I don't necessarily agree with it all in hind-sight, I have tried not to change too much.
Anyway, it's kinda fun to look back and the ending still makes me smile.

Chapters 7 & 8 of Stephen King's novella, 'The Body', are two of the most inspiring, interesting and thought-provoking chapters of fiction I have ever read.

Chapter 7 is a short story; making it a story inside a story. This technique is also used in Rob Reiner's film adaptation, 'Stand By Me' when our protagonist, Gordie, tells his friends a story around the campfire.

However, the story in chapter 7 is a far cry from a tent full of projectile vomiting; it tells of an older kid, known as Chico, and the turn of events that lead him to go off and explore the world for himself.

In this fictional 'The Body' universe the reader is absorbed in, this is Gordie's first published story. And, like with most things, the first time is the most important, as Gordie describes in the following chapter . . . . .

We start chapter 8 with a sense of self-deprecation; he focuses on the bad elements of the story and talks about how derivative it all seems in hind-sight. He talks about writing the way he had been told or the way his favourite authors did.

He goes on to talk about writing things he knows very little about (in this case sex) and about creating characters that are more experienced than he is and, in turn, more interesting and exciting. He also mentions writing along the lines of pre-set, dull and occasionally offensive, stereotypes. But then we have a silver lining . . . . .

He tells the reader that it was the first time that something felt like his story. The fact that despite - and possibly because of - its problems, it was a turning point and he had finally written a story that felt personal.

I, for one, find this incredibly moving and powerful for one simple reason: I am that guy.

I write occasionally and it would be a more frequent occurrence if it wasn't for some the same issues Gordie had; especially the one about finding your own voice when all you really hear are other peoples. I feel like a baby; I try to speak but just find myself babbling nonsense, and, if I do manage to form a word or two, they are simply replications of what I have heard from those around me. I am waiting for the day when I can turn what I have learnt from others into something personal, something that belongs to me and me alone. I’m waiting to grow up, essentially.

These two chapters have led me to where I am now; sitting writing this.

So, whatever you think of Stephen King, you can't deny that he has a gift. For he has done something extraordinary; he has inspired someone to be creative; to sit down and write something. And that is something people often take for granted; the gift of inspiration.

Pretty fucking melodramatic, right?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #3: Ransom – One Tin of Gloss, Please

Again I went for something slightly above my set 'trashy action movie' criteria. But, even though it is the work of a high-profile director (Ron Howard) and stars ex-'superstar' Mel Gibson, 'Ransom' had never made it onto my radar.

Gibson plays high flying business man, Tom Mullen, whose son is soon kidnapped by a bunch of criminals asking for $2 million. They know about a certain skeleton in Tom's closet and are certain it'll be easy money.

Tom gets the FBI on the case but learns that traditional methods aren't going to get his son back, forcing him to take matters into his own hands.

Now, if you ask me, that is a perfect set-up for a brutal revenge movie, with Gibson getting the chance to crack some skulls on the way to saving his child; something akin to 'Taken'. This opportunity is wasted, however, and what we're left with is something more dull, but possibly more interesting.

This approach gives the filmmaker time to ask questions about society (who are the real scumbags: the poor committing crimes to get a better life for those they love or the elite feeding off the members of society too weak or poor to do anything about it?). Such questions are thought-provoking and it's important that they be asked, but the film never really seems to form its arguments. It's as if the studio heads were too scared to have the film say something with any conviction. Leaving the audience to answer any moral questions for themselves is all well and good but not if you are going to leave key elements feeling glossed-over and unsubstantial.

Such glossing over also softens the blow emotionally. Scenes that should have had me laughing/crying/cheering/booing instead left me cold and feeling uninvolved.

Not to say it isn't well done; Howard supplies solid and, at times, stylish direction and the majority of the cast are fine (though it doesn't help that any emotional engagement relies on fearing for the safety of a dumb kid). But it all feels disappointing.

Ransom had the chance to be an excellent revenge thriller but instead half-heartedly went for something 'thought-provoking' . . . . . and far more boring.


Monday, 1 October 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #2: Crimson Tide – R.I.P Tony Scott

I wrote this before hearing of the tragic death of Tony Scott. So I would just like to take this chance to say thank you, Tony, for making intelligent blockbusters that have been wowing audiences for 30 years, and will continue to do so far into the future.


Up next was Tony Scott's submarine based thriller, Crimson Tide.

The world is on the brink of World War 3. Russian extremists have rebelled against the Kremlin and announce they are willing to start a nuclear war against America. In response the US government sends out some of their nuclear subs, including the USS Alabama, captained by Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman).

Ramsey's First Officer has been taken ill and Denzel Washington's character, Ron Hunter, is appointed as his replacement.

A disrupted message then causes a mutiny on the ship, with half siding with Hunter and half with Ramsey. These two vastly different men must settle their differences before the world is blown to smithereens.

It's these two characters who provide the most interesting drama; with Hunter representing the modern way of thinking (more analytical/theoretical/philosophical) and Hackman representing the old-school (gung-ho etc.). But Hackman is more than just the 'oorah' stereotype and his character is written with far more depth and exploration. This allows for some riveting verbal confrontations giving Hackman and Washington the chance to flex their acting muscles. The best examples of this are written and delivered with a sense of rhythm that transforms the scene into a thrilling verbal action sequence.

Hackman and Washington are ably supported by a fantastic cast, with even the smallest roles played superbly. Such superlative acting elevates the whole experience and, at times, delivers thrilling, heart-in-mouth moments.

However, such moments aren't always as great as they could be and towards the end, many opportunities for gripping verbal exchanges feel wasted, instead relying on standard blockbuster clichés. One early exchange touches on the meaning of war; but such thought-provoking moments are never replicated.

I can't finish his review without mentioning the unsung star of the piece: the submarine itself. The sets provide moments of both claustrophobia and of emptiness. With metal corridors and countless knobs and dials, at times it feels like a spaceship. It's a whole different world under the sea, and the set design reflects that perfectly.

Crimson Tide does what the best films do, it takes the audience out of their comfort zones and provides them with new people to meet, new problems to face and new worlds to explore . . . . and eventually destroy.