Avengers: Never ending cast of thousands

I’ve been thinking about Avengers: Age of Ultron since I saw it a week and a bit ago.

I’m not a huge fan of heroes creating their own problems to solve, vis a vie Ultron. But I get it is less complicated for the heroes to go around pulverising robots than killing people. We can all just go for the ride with most o f the violence on this. Only Hulk enables insight into the experience of being a witness to such violence and that was interesting.

Not sure why you enter a super hero world, but I’m not holding my breath for Avengers: End of Nuclear Proliferation or Hulk: Age of Flood Mitigation or Iron Man: Saying No to Slavery, or Thor: End of Terrorism. I guess that would be like asking Mulder and Scully to investigate a non alien abduction or a jewellery heist. This is not cinema verite. So fighting an army of murder bots is guilt free catharsis. Hulk smash on with no regrets.

Avengers: Age of the Scooby Gang

Avengers: Age of Ultron was a big, messy Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. In fact, I know which one. It was I Robot, You Jane from the very first series. Sciencey-minded Willow scans a book that had trapped the Demon Moloch into a database and ends up dating him online. He builds himself a robot body and does bad stuff and is put down by Buffy and the Scoobies. In this film version, Willow is Stark, and Scarlet Witch and Xander is her twin brother and Jarvis, (in a Giles accent) does all the cool internet stuff instead of Cyber Wiccan Jenny Calendar.

Exactly. The. Same.

Except ok it’s not quite the same. Because there are sub plots that need attention, precisely because they are glossed over by the actual film.

Glosses on the glossy glossed over scenes

Like the bit where Stark’s business is responsible for killing people. This motivation for action never really gets addressed. Yet two central characters are pretty much told to get over it and chose the side doing the least human destruction. This is problematic at best.

Anyway, the main stuff that Iron Man and Dr Banner/Hulk do instead is dance around their Dr Frankenstein working with Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde deal. I don’t mind this, but their ethical differences could have been highlighted beyond a couple of funny lines from Banner.

And I do like when Banner is funny. I think James Spader as Ultron out Irony-ied Robert Downey Jnr’s Iron Man too. Spader is always excellent, and always playing a character you want to slap. I just wish Banner had had a couple of smart lines for Ultron on this. So many daddy/science/violence issues to explore.

Ultron: Age of the Industrial Washing Machine.

Ultron: Age of the Washing Machine, Cleaning up Society.

I saw what they tried to do with Hawkeye and it worked, but only up to a point and that point was his speech to the Scarlet Witch. Plus there was his significant other’s one liner.

Captain America came off better in this film. As the moral compass he could be bland, but he was the butt of some sweet recurring jokes. He also added insight into the other characters.  Mainly though, Steve Rogers spent most of his time doing balletic sideways triple Salchows with shield moves (10/10), and developing skills to lead the Learner Driver Avengers (Falcon, Scarlet Witch etc). More importantly, his arc segways into Captain America: Civil War. I see that Iron Man is slated for Civil War too, but equally, Stark could have stopped there, on the lawn talking about getting a farm and making the absent Pepper even more absent.

Does the premise for Civil War sound a bit X-Men? What with politicians and regulation and enhanced vs enhanced?

 

Preliminary plans for designs for the Military Industrial Complex that the Starks profited from and birthed Captain America.

Iron Man: Military Industrial Complex. Preliminary sketches for the system that the Starks profited from and that birthed Captain America.

Avengers II felt like the end of the Hulk franchise as a separate entity. If he shows up again, in any film, I want his story to have moved forward somehow.

As for Thor:  more Thor on his crucial vision quest with handy knowledge about the continuing plot would have helped. Am wondering if it fits into Ragnarök, or Avengers III, IV etc.

Which brings me to…

Avengers: Black Widow Drives the Plot

I am pondering Black Widow’s subplot, since it mainly revolves around ‘female’ stuff and moves towards a love interest that seems a tad unworthy of the complexities of her character. She is the pragmatist, and is always without a mask and without special weapons, and must do what she can with her wits and training.

As Stark and Banner banter over tech ethics, while Thor is off on some kind of cave dive and Hawkeye is at home knitting, Natasha shouldn’t be pleading the case she is a monster like Banner. As the pragmatist, she should be preparing for the next step in combating the big bad, or seeking the kind of therapy that say Faith did after a fight.

Not being able to have kids doesn’t give Black Widow her dark side. Doing everything she did to survive her childhood and training and beyond created her persona. Dr Banner released some inner angst through hubris and the Hulk is his punishment. Black Widow is nothing like Dr Banner or Hulk. She is squaring the ledger on her former life. Hulk is doing no such thing.

It is, in fact, Black Widow and Captain America who are the different sides of the same kind of character. Steve Rogers is about nobility, justice, brotherhood and pure motivations while Natasha Romanoff has lived through lonelier, more corrupt and morally complex experiences. Rogers depends on certainties, including about how people see him. Romanoff depends on the lack of certainties, including about how she is seen. Both are vulnerable because of this.

Where things become less practical for the Black Widow is in this film’s version of her emotional life. By the end, she is some forlorn abandoned waif, when she has never been a victim, even when it looks like she is. And this is meant to sustain the motivation to propel her into whatever next film Black Widow appears in? I get the back to work vibe that Cap and Black Widow try to convey in the final scenes, but she didn’t need victimising.

From earlier films we’ve learned Romonoff doesn’t *need* anyone. Of them all, Black Widow is the most self-sufficient. She doesn’t need cultural and behavioural translators like Thor and Rogers. She not a child, emotionally, like Stark, and although she doesn’t have the responsibilities of Hawkeye, she is not unpredictable, like Banner. If anyone should be in charge of the Avengers or Shield, or say, her own film franchise, it should be Natasha. In fact she and Nick Fury are alike too: slightly questionable, heroic, sly and shifty and catalysts of action.

Or Avengers can become the Scarlett Johansson series, since of all the characters, her’s remains the most mysterious, even compared to beings from other realms. Black Widow is as worthy as any character of political subplots rather than semi-romantic ones.

In her own film, her arc wouldn’t be finished, since Black Widow changes the dynamic of whatever film she is in. Her role in Winter Soldier made that film more able to reflect on the meaning of identity, lost chances and bygones. In Avengers I, Black Widow made the film about mutability and manipulation, reflecting Loki back to himself. In Avengers II it was about revealing something of her inner life and taking risks that save the day and not herself.

Visible Screen Writing Lines

The thing about knowing something of how stories are written is that sometimes the scaffolding sticks out. So, when I wasn’t overloaded by the visuals I was finding myself looking at those tent pole moments that hold the narrative reasons for the action up. It was all there, the hero’s call, the rejection, the return, the revels, the moment that binds all the team together after being ripped apart, and the loses and the wins.

Tent Pole: Casting Exposition

The entire section where the Hero Blokes explain why there is no room in the plot for their girlfriends was annoying. It felt like a Screenwriter’s Apology to His Audience. These characters weren’t missed.  We bought the ticket to see the Avengers, not their significant others. Actually though, that argument falls down because of the Hawkeye subplot. Avengers II says: men get to go avenging because of the support of their families, while the women folk, it seems, in their important work (understanding the universe and running corporations), don’t deserve support or attention from their men and/or the writers of stories.

Which is to say, Avengers aint changing Hollywood, even if Joss Whedon’s on board.

Tent Pole: We are Family

The bit that was most obvious as a story telling tool worked well as the aha moment. It was exactly like in Serenity, when Jayne did something he would never do in pushing his drink over to the Doctor, in order to show the crew becoming one team again. Avengers had something akin to this, but it was a moment of collective frisson for the characters as much as the audience. It was much less subtle than in the Firefly spin-off but it worked on the entire cinema audience, who reacted as one with an intake of breath. It brought everyone together, Avengers, audience, all of us while it was clearly a call back to the late night after-party scene. Top marks in class for that moment.

Conclusion

The film did what it said on the box: action, one liners, action, more action. If it felt unfinished, or packed too tightly, it was because it is unfinished. Super heroic lives, for all the skills, magi-tech and violence, are a lot more like life than films in this way. So maybe it is cinema verite! Way to go me for contradicting my very first argument. We have finally arrived at the Never Ending Story we were promised.

They remind me of Westerns, if all films in that genre used the same actors (check), similar locations (Monument Valley – check) and were all linked in a continuing conflict of farmer/soldier vs other (check).

Anyway, these Marvel films will just keep going, without denouement.  Like John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards  returning to the desert at end of The Searchers, the task is complete, but never the quest. There’s no hitching the Avenger’s wagon train horses to a rail post any time soon.

So, after all this I guess my  special enhanced (in)human power is being able to see these tent poles and plot shallows from kilometres away and, when it is warranted, still being able to enjoy the story as a story.

 

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Betting the farm

In farming, there are certain paddocks you leave fallow. It is said crop rotation means no one area is ever completely exhausted of nutrients. I’m thinking of this space as one which I’ve left fallow while I recover. It’s not like I haven’t been busy though.

There has been art and writing and work and life. I finally submitted my novella as part of a collection to a competition. I’m quite nervous about it, which means I care, which means it’ll hurt if nothing comes of it. But pain like that is something I’ve grown used to.

It means I’ll keep going. There will be other chances.

But why all this about farming?

I grew up on farms and in farming communities. Some imagine farmers as a pragmatic and practical type of people. Folk, who work hard, make hard decisions and generally, are salt of the earth. As far as stereotypes are concerned, there are reasons for them.

However, farmers are also massive risk takers and total sentimentalists, who put everything they have and are at stake. Farming is an identity and a vocation. Much of what they do depends upon their own physical abilities. Yet, a lot more depends on stuff farmers can’t control much: weather, pests, Customs and diseases, commodity prices linked to markets that fall and rise on whims, government policy, and on staying competitive compared to places where people earn so much less. Just in the attempt to produce something.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

One bad business decision, or one unexpected rate rise or government policy change and farmers lose the house and land they live on. Or they spend years in negotiations with banks and government for bailouts and overdraft extensions for the 15 year drought. Finally, when it does rain, it floods and whatever topsoil that wasn’t blown into the ether as dust now washes away.

Having experienced much of this as a child, I wouldn’t be a farmer for anything. Not that there aren’t rewards, but there is plenty of heartbreak.

Having said all that, I realise writing has a lot in common with farming. It’s a gamble. Or a massive trust exercise. Farmers and writers take all their wisdom and talent and bet on the conditions being right that someone will, not only need what they produce, but recognise the value, place and quality of it, and then pay enough so they can make that bet all over again.

Actual 1940s sheep.

Actual DRM free sheep.#straya

Farmers look at long-range forecasts, commodity indexes and talk to agronomists and other experts. Writers look at the media, the market place, and talk to editors and agents and publishers. Both do what they need to do. Same diff.

Farmers and writers generally take a while to learn all the skills they need. They may even take classes, or take advice from their peers, and industry experts, attend seminars, form community supports, but generally, both roles are independent.

Farmers and writers are often their own bosses, who are responsible for their own decisions and, the results of their calculations, or miscalculations. And sometimes live on other work when they can’t live off what they really want to do.

Both roles are often thankless, and largely anonymous and ignored. Most of the work happens in behind the scenes type tasks, sometimes in regular chores and other times in fits and spurts, while the finished product conceals the discipline behind it. The glossy book cover, that flour or wool? Think about all the hours it took to produce, refine, transport, market and deliver to you to consume.

Of course, if there were no farmers neither you nor I would have much to eat or wear. If there were no writers no one would physically starve or shiver in the cold night. But we wouldn’t be culturally, historically, spiritually, nourished nor much comforted. Even for the least interested person, they too, read and watch the odd bit of TV.

I guess then, while I think I’m a lot like my mother, with her abilities and interest in art and writing and also performance, I realise I am also my father’s daughter. He wanted nothing but to be a farmer. I want/ed to be a writer. He bet everything on his dream, and it gave him a bit. Not exactly what he imagined or wanted, perhaps. But still.

My bet is different and yet, entirely the same.

 

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Shock of the real

Historically speaking

If you leave aside plots, the need to pack events into neatly paced blocks of action, continuity issues, language and location, most of the difficulties to do with depictions of historical events are related to how actors do not generally look like their characters.

Take for example The Man Who Would Be Bond – the series about James Bond author Ian Fleming. It was a gorgeous piece of television, with authentic feeling locations, sets, clothes and music, but simply put, the cast were too pretty. The actors, perhaps more familiar as Tony Stark’s dad and Irene Adler from Sherlock, as Fleming and Ann, were too beautiful compared to photos of the couple.  Similar could be said for Sons of Liberty, which is full of drama and conflict as a group of disparate Bostonians drive the birth of a nation. I mean just look at a painting of say John Hancock and then at Rafe Spall or Ben Barnes and Samuel Adams. Or watch Bright Star, it’s good, but Ben Wishaw especially is a bit of a way from John Keats, even though he looks thoroughly like the kind of person we imagine impoverished Romantic era poets to look like. Yet even allowing for painting not equalling reality, the stories we see can’t capture how people were, even if actors and writers talk at getting to the ‘essence of a character’.

It’s just as well there are no depictions of Ragnar and Lagertha from Vikings because it seems there are historical evidence for their existence.

In one sense it doesn’t matter. Anyone mistaking a film or a program or a novel, even by such exalted authors as Hilary Mantel, for history is, wrong. But on the other hand, I wonder if it does us damage. The media are so at pains to present the airbrushed, symmetrically adorned carefully managed vision of humanity that reality is sometimes a shock, or worse, a disappointment.

If you believe Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, then this portrait will be a bit of a shock.

If you believe Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, then this portrait will be a bit of a shock.

There is no doubt the camera loves a certain kind of beauty, as do casting agents and directors but no matter we say, no television drama or film or play can really reflect history as it happened because nothing can.

Everything we imagine about the past is imagined

Memory is deceptive and flawed, evidence can be sketchy or misinterpreted or conflicting. There is little certainty and when there is, often it must be massaged to fit into formal story telling conventions and techniques. This is the tension between all life and art. Life is messy, the past is not finished and seeps into the present in myriad ways, and unlike both, we want our stories to be concluded at a proper finish, neatly tied together and delivered with some kind of meaning.

Which brings me to Broadchurch

As a police procedural/courtroom drama/social commentary/murder mystery/family saga this is strong stuff. It is not neat, and is full of false conclusions and never feels like some kind of beautified history, although the location and camera work is pretty stunning. I can’t say I’m enjoying the program though. It’s just not an enjoyable set of intertwining stories, but I’m transfixed by it. Sometimes I wait to finish an entire episode because it is uncomfortable viewing, other times I watch a couple in a row.

It’s all the words television critics say of programs like this: powerful, riveting, compelling etc. It’s multiple perspectives and visual reveals of characters and their motivations tell a lot about what we all think we remember about the past, even when it was recent, and what we lie about and why.

Sometimes it feels too real, especially Olivia Colman’s Ellie Miller, with her eyes on their ’emphatically tragic setting’ and David Tennant’s tortured Alec Hardy. Plus the interactions between Miller and Hardy are a delicately balanced sharing of awkward private pain and stilted UK bobby camaraderie. Having said that, all of the cast are pretty good, but they have weighty stuff to work with as everyone has their secrets.

Ridiculous Premises

Talking of crime. It seems over the course of a career you can’t be an actor without playing a police officer or detective of some kind in some place. There are a flood, spawning, flotilla, range, (I don’t have a group word for a collection) of cop shows. But as they multiply in number, ever increasingly ridiculous premises are needed to distinguish each from each. So you get Forever, which is a homicide + medical investigation series set in New York but with added immortal. As if Captain Jack Harkness was rebooted, complete with Welsh actor instead of Welsh location and dead humans replacing aliens.

Then there is Sleepy Hollow, which unexpectedly turned into a police procedural + supernatural history conspiracy about the rise of  hell, centred (of course) in Sleepy Hollow (because where else?) and featuring a 200-year-old plus ex-dead Colonial soldier. And I haven’t even mentioned Supernatural, which is not strictly a police procedural, except when the guys imitate police or Mulder and Scully to investigate the weird.

Everyone from Washington to Daniel Boone are invoked by Sleepy Hollow, but you wouldn't know it based on this portrait.

Everyone from George Washington to Daniel Boone are invoked by Sleepy Hollow, but you wouldn’t know it based on this portrait.

This is not new, by the way, there was alien cops with Alien Nation (for anyone who remembers the 80s), vampire PIs such as Angel and then copycat Moonlight and DA staff with special skills in Medium. Now I note there’s iZombie with a zombie in a coroner’s office helping police and eating the odd brain. I wonder how far can these dramas be pushed? What new directions are out there?

And yet, no matter how ridiculous these programs get, they remain full of the beautiful (if sometimes damned).

Back to the real

This all leads me back to a consideration of the real. Death is one of the realest things there is. No art quite captures what it means, or feels like, although we try, as humans, a lot.

The stories we tell about death make it painful, or a fantasy, or identify it as a motivation for others, or reduce it to factory-like settings in morgues with over sharing yet almost blase MEs (looking at you NCIS). They never make it real though, not really real. And thus, unless a program is of the quality of Broadchurch, we don’t feel it either. This plethora of cop shows make of death a fast food entertainment, or puzzles to be solved, or a by-product of apparently bigger mysteries, rather than the point. Which is worrying and completely human.

So we move on, onto the next episode, next case to be solved and body to be identified by the ghost of a cat and her Wiccan lawyer companion with her best friend, a  Yoruba priestess police officer who together uncover and battle a corporate conspiracy to heat the world and bring on the end of modernity ahead of a new steam-driven industrial age based in New Orleans.

There we go, we have our next ridiculous premise.

 

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A Bond’s deeds are his word

Never been much of a James Bond fan. I blame the constant repeats over school holidays when the only other choice on TV was football. The villains were melodramatic and their goals so overblown and their henchmen so expendable. If I were a super villain who invested a lot in training my posse at Bad Guys Academy Inc, I wouldn’t spend their lives so easily.  I also wouldn’t stand around and explain my Nefarious Plans while the Hero works out how to avoid being killed by my aforementioned henchmen. If you want a job done, do it yourself, I say.

Anyway, as the UK’s answer to America’s Westerns, they are chock full of high stakes drama, occasional gambling and fighting words, damsels in all sorts of distress, gun slinging and bad alcohol.  I think though these Daniel Craig ones have got rid of some of the stupidest stuff, like a bit of the overt sexism and given Bond a back story. Plus parkou.

Skyfall

The lifestyle takes a toll on this Bond; as well it should. Bond may mumble nothing more than a few lines in any film but he’s not a robot. He gets hurts and apparently it means drinking and pretending to be dead for a bit. But this death and returning to life is the entire theme to Skyfall.

Bond wasn't at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

Bond wasn’t at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

A Bond film with a theme!

The first half of Skyfall was fairly typical Bond but it sets up a few themes for later, like the Exploited Orphan scenario. The second half gets interesting as he must hold conversations of more than a couple of words and explode his childhood home as a decoy to save his boss. It was an un-typical day away from the office for Bond, as it was dark and Scottish and a bit Arthur Conan Doyle Baskvervillian (issues of defending the inheritance, death and property. Finally, it wasn’t about wresting control back of the world from a ridiculous over actor, but one facing Bad Dude’s bad wig/dye job and his quest for revenge.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

Literally, this time it was personal

In her defence of spooks, M is right, the enemy is in the shadows and Bond’s natural home is there, which is why he is necessary. As a person, Bond is barely functional, but as M quotes Tennyson, 007 is more than the sum of his scars and ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ despite the damage is exactly who Bond is. He might as well have it as his motto.

Moreover, Bond is exactly Ulysses. Like Ulysses of the poem, Bond has spent decades running around the world but never going home. Now he does go home, so he can go out into the world renewed.

His return is entirely predictable in its Freudian allusions, what with the escape via the priest hole, the destruction of his home by fire, the baptism in the frozen lake, and the death of M. Surely I don’t need to spell it out?

Ok so I’ll spell it out  

The tunnel of the priest hole is the womb and the tomb. It is the underworld of the dead and a cocoon for the living. It is from whence Bond the man emerges after the death of his parents as a child, and from which he escapes death to come to the frozen Dantean limbo between the old (house) representing his past and his future. Of course his future is near a grave yard, but hey, confronting the possibility of your own death is a part of life for everyone.

Anyway, in this limbo he is baptised (in the lake),  which cleanses him of his past. He says he never liked his gloomy home, but still, blowing it up is a bit transgressive and for this he gets dunked. After this, he literally follows the light to confront his nemesis.

Aptly, his enemy is trying to murder M, who is Bond’s boss but mostly his professional parent: M as in Mother. Agent 007 is almost the entirely the creation of M so it is only right Bond saves her by defeating her enemy. That M dies in his arms, almost certainly re-enacts or completes what Bond lacked as a child – closure or a good-bye to his parents. And it happens where Bond’s parents are buried. It is the circle of death.

And so Bond is reborn.

He can properly return to London and to working for the man. The new M.

None of this needs Hamlet-esque soliloquies lamenting the cruelty and frailty of life. Bond remains always, a man of action. His deeds speak for his transformation and anyway, he hasn’t got time to explain, what with the shooting and the grenades and exploding helicopters, and it doesn’t matter. If we get it, we get it, and if we don’t it’s still a rollicking adventure.

Shadows within

M’s speech before the Minister where she quotes Tennyson brought to mind Harry’s speech justifying his actions before his own death by firing squad in the 1980 film Breaker Morant:

George: Yeah, but killing a missionary, Peter?

Harry: It’s a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn’t been in uniform. They’re farmers. They come from small villages, and they shoot at from behind walls and from farmhouses. Some of them are women, some of them are children, and some of them… are missionaries, George.

M and her agents aren’t fighting guerrillas in the 1901 veldt of the Boer War, or the Vietnamese soldiers this Breaker Morant film indirectly addressed. No, M says they are fighting elusive and shadowy enemies. But rather than commentating on world or e-threats, once more the Bond franchise finds the shadow within. In Skyfall, as in Goldeneye, the enemies are those created by MI6. Instead of Sean Bean’s 006, Javier Bardem’s Silva’s target is personal: M. Once more a Bond film is a violent Freudian family spat, like Goodfellas, only with British accents and stiff-upper lipness.

My question is, am I right in thinking this is unusually meta for Bond, or have I been missing something all these years? Does it mean I have to bother when the new ones come out?

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Friends like these

I’ve been re-watching Sherlock because what the hey and also summer  programming in Australia partly consists of repeating Sherlock and little else new or entertaining.

Any who, I realised this program was misnamed. Sure it features the rude, scarfed, and cheekboned Holmes with and without the ‘ear hat’ but the main thing it is not a story without John Watson. We don’t start with Young Sherlock and his time at school solving swimming pool murders. No. We start with sad grumpy PTSD Dr Watson who discovers the friendless Holmes.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or somesuch.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or some such.

Of course, the crime solving adventures were always from Watson’s point of view as he was Conan Doyle’s narrator. Watson was represented as close enough to the every-man to translate the marvel that is Holmes for the rest of us.

The point is that this Sherlock’s Dr Watson is a lot less every-man and yet remains our guide to Holmes, because almost instantly there is friendship between these seemingly broken-ish people. There is frustration and puzzlement too, but mainly friendship.

Any military surgeon is no slouch in the smart stakes, they just have a narrower focus than Holmes, what with his blog enumerating the eleventy billion types of paint chips or ash or whatsits. Thus, this Watson is practical and emotionally intelligent and short-tempered, especially with Holmes. I like Martin Freeman’s take on him: his loyalty, outward self-sufficiency and uncertain and resentful vulnerability. And I think Freeman has the more difficult role. I like how his Watson notices the emotional stuff and even more I especially like how Molly Hooper notices the stuff Watson misses.

I appreciate these contrasts between them because it means this series is more about the development of their friendship and less about crime solving. It should stay that way, too, even if future episodes (?) have to negotiate Watson’s family life. I especially note how Mary Watson and Sherlock are equals and therefore able to be friends. Hopefully, there will be more of this dynamic, baby or toddler or now more likely teen Watson, notwithstanding.

Mary’s storyline had its cop out though. She doesn’t have friends. Despite being in hiding from her former life for a while, the only lasting connection she has made seems to be Watson (and then Sherlock).  I think this is wrong. And the same goes for Molly. Surely she and a friend would go down the pub and complain about insensitive geniuses? It doesn’t have to be a major part of the story, but an occasional allusion to the emotionally more rounded lives of other characters is ok, especially to contrast them to Sherlock, who ‘doesn’t have friends…just has one’.

Anyway, we need more stories of friendships. I don’t mean Carrie Bradshaw conversation set pieces that sees all issues through the prism of shoes and the boyfriend for unrealistically remunerated newspaper columns. Friends joke about important stuff and lament the mundane, whether personal, professional and the political. They complain and disagree and learn from each other. Friends sit at hospital bed sides and talk repeatedly about the same things. Sometimes they work together and often friends don’t. They hang out and do nothing or go on epic adventures or for brunch. They share secrets and maybe values. This shouldn’t be a mystery to story tellers and it shouldn’t be rendered shallow or worse, absent, by writers.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other but something must cement the connection, like gravity does.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other, but something must connect them, like gravity between planets and their moons.

Fiction generally doesn’t always greatly honour the importance of friendship unless it you’re thinking of 100 billion years ago with Cagney and Lacey, or as a point along a path to something else. That something is else the romance. This delayed but inevitable romance has been around since the intellectual sparring of Shakespeare’s Benedick and Beatrice became Maddie and David in Moonlighting or Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally or Mulder and Scully in the X Files or Castle or Bones or for an Australian example, Blue Heelers, or whatever.  It may start as a kind of friendship or rivalry in a workplace, but it’s always leading somewhere: mainly crime solving and suspected alien babies.

Elsewhere, friendships are cast in terms of distractions from the work, like in these randomly selected examples: Rosemary and Thyme and Scott and Bailey and Danger Mouse (with his Penfold, shucks DM).

Also who is Olivia Benson’s best friend in SVU? Where are Clara’s friends in Doctor Who? In fact the only Doctor Who episode that featured a friend plot was Blink. Even in this episode the friends joke about their own crime series Sparrow and Nightingale, and their friendship is over-written by romantic sub plots. Can main characters have friends?

Fiction doesn’t have to work like this. So I want to know, where are great modern female friendships on TV or film or literature, as subtle, entertaining and well-rounded as Sherlock and Watson?

 

 

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The Crux of The Crucible

I went to see The Crucible at The Old Vic via CinemaLive at Cinema Nova. This is my second such expedition. I saw Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch the same way a while ago. This play-as-film but is a play thing works. It doesn’t feel too cinematic yet I don’t seem to notice I’m removed from the direct experience of ‘being-in-the-theatre-ness’ of a truly live performance. If you have a better way to describe that feeling please let me know…

The usher joked it was a play to be endured rather than enjoyed, but I did enjoy it. It was certainly intensity in ten cities….but the story wasn’t what I thought it would be. Mind you my preparation for this play included not reading or watching anything at all.

All I knew was Arthur Miller/McCarthy. Thus, I thought it intriguing the notion that criticism of legal argument was felt to be criticism of the court, which wasn’t allowed and I was momentarily distracted by considering what our examples today would be…Peter Greste et al in Cairo, maybe WikiLeaks…

Basically though, I thought the play was a commentary on relationships. Yes, there was teen hysteria and witch craft trials (and call outs to the McCarthy era), but to me at least, it felt like a play about an imperfect, but average couple negotiating serious adult stuff, including something like postpartum depression, employee management and infidelity.

The Proctors lose and find each other, they each discover what they believe and what they stand for individually, while working out what they mean to each other, in a small community swept up in religious fervour and petty feuds.

There’s apparently been plenty of praise for Richard Armitage as John Proctor and rightly so, but the entire ensemble just gets it. From the girls who eventually form a Greek Chorus of manipulative crazy in the court room to husbands desperate to save the lives of their wives, there is no performance to fault.

Natalie Gavin made her Mary Warren memorable under the pressure of both Proctor and the judge Danforth (an imperious Jack Ellis). There are wry laughs at the court scenes, especially involving those with Giles Corey and that helped getting through the really intense stuff later.

The Proctors complement and yet contrast each other and that made them real to me. Anna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor made a deep impression. Quieter than her husband, her Elizabeth is no less powerful in revealing her convictions and self discoveries, even as Armitage’s Proctor gets to deliver all the grand speechifying about identity and guilt.

Anyway, here is Richard Armitage speaking about the play in a real interview (as in not some Hollywood-lite ET News-esque 5 second fast food thing that seems the lot of traditional media interaction with any sort of theatre type these days).  I’m not even sure I agree with all of his conclusions but hey, he played the character and they are his learned comments.

Unless you take my high school curriculum into account, I’m no expert on theatre, but Yaël Farber’s direction didn’t make it feel like some post- whatsit self-conscious commentary on modern western life. No, Arthur Miller’s 60 year + old script did that. However, it felt alien, or foreign enough that it seemed faithful to events described in Salem from 1692/3. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with Farber’s direction of the actors, her vision of the set and the stage craft.

The theatre in the round worked for me too as more intimate but also ‘artistic’. Artistic too, is deliberate in this play, due to its themes and setting. It’s a story that involves a lot of ‘public performance’ in court and for Salem residents. The witch-girls are performing or ‘pretending’, deliberately lead by Abigail, as is the Reverend Hale, as he later reveals, while each of the residents play their part in a town where everyone is suddenly judged and mostly found wanting.

Thus, that this performance feeling is heightened somewhat is fitting, as this becomes a study in how some crumble under the elaborate pressure of accusations and threats and imminent death while others rise above it all.

And that is entirely the point of the title.

So if you get the chance, prithee go see it at the cinema, if not I hear a rumour of a possible download of it.

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Pictures in less than 1000 words

Non-selfie absorption

When I was about 11 or 12 I was given a camera. It was a Hanimex 110 FF with a slot to insert the flash, which consisted of a double row of bulbs that died in a quiet but glassy sphffft sound upon each single use. Imagine a sudden blaze of glory like from photo journalists old movies – it was exactly the opposite.

Opening shot. The old Hanimax still looks a picture.

Opening shot. My old Hanimax still looks a picture.

There were no selfies, but I took photos of the farm, of a visit to the zoo, of trips away. As fun as it was, it was also anxiety-making. I only had so many shots. I had to figure out when extra light was needed so as not to waste the flash or the film. And there was a lot of mistakes. Fingers over the aperture, the unfocused views, and over exposed films. There was also the cost. Film was expensive and mistakes or not, development of them had to be paid for, so too the replaceable bulbs. There was a time cost as well, with the processing, which took weeks between trips into town. Such tension in the wait. Even now I suspect there is unprocessed film lying about.

Anyway, I’m not sure when exactly that I stopped taking pictures but I did.

Much, much later, I worked/interned for a uni run newspaper publication. I did the editing, wrote stories, and took the occasional photo.

Some time after that I worked with a Master Photographer. I found the words and with the light, the angle, his camera and immense skill he made cunning pictures of items and places few would find photogenic. He somehow made things beautiful.

Eventually, I got a phone with a camera and even then I didn’t take many photos. It was the legacy of worry,  of such unease I continued to put my eye up to the tiny screen.

Double shots

About five years ago I bought a digital camera. I’d spent six months looking at what I could afford and what was possible. And then I chose something Nikon because red. It’s a little slow in focussing so sometimes pictures are fuzzy. But I’m no longer fussed. It doesn’t matter if I take a thousand photos or one. There’s no longer a wait to see them and I seldom print them.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn't go faster.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn’t go faster.

With a different phone and apps (like Instagram, but also others) I take more photos now. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer, but I’m certainly a more relaxed one.

I’ve found while you can spend any amount of time and money on understanding photography and getting the equipment, mainly it is, for me, about recognising each opportunity to take that one shot or a thousand.

Other times it’s about being there. No picture required.

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