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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

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One of us is not of this world...
One of us is not of this world…

Twitter Plot Summary: Parnassus is immortal after a deal with the Devil. He will lose this when his daughter is 16. Guess which birthday is coming up for her?

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Mystery

Director: Terry Gilliam

Key Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer.

Five Point Summary:

1. Lily Cole looks like an ALIEN!
2. Verne Troyer: Legend.
3. Gilliam crossed with modern Britain = very peculiar.
4. This is a very dapper Devil.
5. Did I mention that Lily Cole looks like an ALIEN?!

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 15 August 2010.

Doctor Parnassus (as I will conveniently abbreviate the title as) was always going to be an awkward film to watch. Not so much for the plot or the actors or the frankly superb directorial abilities of Terry Gilliam, but for the fact this was Heath Ledger’s last film. I was unsure if the story would work bearing in mind he didn’t shoot everything, but I am happy to report that the film does mostly work, at least from a narrative perspective.

In brief, Christopher Plummer is some immortal chap who does a deal with the Devil, quite literally, some time in the past. They have an ongoing game taking place between them, which culminates in the pair of them fighting to steal or coerce five souls into joining their side by the time Plummer’s daughter turns 16. Although clearly the spoon-faced actress playing the character, Lily Cole, seems older than this anyway. She’s a good actor but she looks a bit like her mother was inseminated by some alien creature. It’s the only explanation I have for her MASSIVE forehead.

Now, either I wasn’t paying enough attention when watching the film, or they didn’t really explain why all of this was going on. I think I was focusing on either the strange combination of Terry Gilliam visuals with the normal world – more on the normal world stuff later- or I was overly concerned with the aforementioned spoon-faced actor (seriously, it freaks me out). You could argue that Gilliam is emphasising the differences between the real world and the world inside the mirror, but seeing Homebase so brazenly promoted feels a bit iffy. I’ve always thought of Gilliam films as existing in a completely separate universe to our own, so combining the two is a little jarring.

Good performances all round from Christopher Plummer, Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man, fact fans), Lily Cole, Tom Waits as Mr Nick – The Devil in other words – a great character with no real expectation to win, he’s more interested in the game itself; and of course Heath Ledger. He showed a lot of personality as a secondary focal point of the story, the fabulously named Tony. Tony is in effect a con artist (his backstory is slowly revealed, calling into question if he really did have amnesia at the beginning of the film). Strictly speaking the film is really about Plummer’s character and his struggle with mortality/immortality. You might even say that Tony is a cut-price Parnassus, in that he gives off the impression of morality when in fact he’s just looking after himself.

Even better was Verne Troyer as the equally fabulously named Percy. His character is a long time companion of Dr Parnassus who doesn’t degrade into a farcical character. He is in essence the little voice in Parnassus’ head that keeps him afloat on the high seas of morality. Many a time does Parnassus need someone to confide in, or someone to bounce an idea off to make sure he’s doing the right thing. And pretty much every time it’s Percy who’s there being a physical moral compass.

Heath receives some upsetting news. He won't be reprising his role as The Joker.
Heath receives some upsetting news. He won’t be reprising his role as The Joker.

The sequences from within the mirror, all featuring Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell (“my wife said you weren’t a very good acterrr, and I agreed with herrrr.”). Whilst each actor does a sufficient job with the role, at the same time the change in the character’s face is a little jarring, none more so than Colin Farrell, who gets a much extended sequence at the climax of the film. The sequence goes on for so long that I had already started to forget the good work that everybody else had put in up to that point. I can’t blame him per se, I thought he did a good job in Phone Booth (yes, I enjoyed that film. Somebody had to), I just don’t think the script was quite as strong as it should have been for the climax of the movie.

Okay, I get that the whole hanging Heath Ledger thing from the start of the film is an elaborate scheme of smoke and mirrors (with a brass pipe thing that stops his neck snapping or other such nonsense), but there were so many switches and reversals it was hard to keep track of who was good and who was bad. Who exactly am I rooting for in all of this? Perhaps the point at this stage was we’re not supposed to be rooting for anyone. Perhaps they’re all various shades of grey and ultimately as long as Christopher Plummer’s character gets some resolution then all is well. Hmm. Saying that, whilst the whole dream sequence stuff is a slightly confusing mess, the conclusion of the story puts all the characters where they deserve to be, and satisfies the need for a happy ending, of sorts.

In many ways it’s a classic Terry Gilliam film, with heavy doses of fantasy mercilessly dropped into today’s modern world. It’s almost as jarring as the lead protagonist being played by four men – Homebase must have paid something towards the film as their logo is shamelessly flaunted on the screen about halfway through the film. It adds an air of realism to the surreal goings on of the Imaginarium, but to plug it so shamelessly took me out of the story for a good few minutes. I did also question why the troupe performed outside of a night club at the beginning of the film, a proper “fantasy meets reality” moment. It all becomes clear eventually.

Whilst this is certainly no Brazil or Twelve Monkeys (if you want the true Gilliam experience, rent or buy these two first), it holds its own in story terms and is reasonably solid despite the loss of Heath Ledger. The rest of the cast and crew pulled together admirably but its just a shame that it almost loses its way in the last 20 minutes.

Favourite scene: The first trip inside the Imaginarium. Gilliam at his finest.

Quote: “Don’t believe everything you read. Especially The Mirror.”

Silly Moment:  When they run out of Heath Ledger footage and have to use three other actors to portray the character.

Score: 3.5/5

Inception (2010)

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Which will spin longer, the gun or the totem that has been specifically designed for spinning?
Which will spin longer, the gun or the totem that has been specifically designed for spinning?

Twitter Plot Summary: Cobb has one last job to do before going home. That job is to infiltrate someone’s dreams and steal information. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Genre: Action/Adventure/Mystery

Director: Christopher Nolan

Key Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy.

Five Point Summary:

1. Hang on, you’re all in the Batman trilogy!
2. Pete Postlethwaite!
3. Dreams are weird, more so if you’re Leonardo DiCaprio.
4. How long does it take the van to hit the water?
5.  Sorry, how many levels down are we going?

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 07 August 2010.

In this day and age I think it’s all too easy for the big studios to put out sequels, adaptations, reboots and re-imaginings rather than invest time and money in original ideas. It’s a rampant beast in the Hollywood system at the moment, which is why it’s always nice to see an original movie do well. And if there’s one thing you can easily say about Christopher Nolan, it’s that he makes some very good films.

Inception takes on the concept that it is possible to implant yourself into somebody else’s dreams and extract important information. Nolan doesn’t dwell for too long on the technology in question, preferring instead to discuss the mechanics of the system and how the entire process works. Suffice to say, and I’m summarising as succinctly as I can: for five minutes spent in the real world, you will spend an hour in the dream. This is later expanded when further dream layers are introduced (an hour in the first dream level is a week in the second, a week in the second is months in the third, and beyond that lies near-insanity!).

Right in the middle of all this is Cobb, who is an expert in entering dreams and stealing information. Unfortunately he suffers from a rather important sub-conscious flaw in that his dead wife follows him everywhere in the dreamworld. This plot develops throughout the film and would be unfair of me to spoil it any further.

There are some frankly excellent set pieces littered throughout the movie, from the initiation of Ellen Page’s character in the dream world to the weightlessness that the second dream level is subjected to, to the assault on the mountain base in the third layer, although they could have elaborated on some of these layers a bit more, but only really if they had an infinite running time. It would certainly make a good TV series. Just don’t let the BBC get their hands on it, most of their drama programmes are so similar they could be interchanged with one another.

One part of the film is unintentionally hilarious, but only if you’ve ever watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Throughout the final climax, where we have characters spread across three layers of dreams, in the first layer a van is reversed off a bridge to give all the characters a “kick” to wake them up. As time is slower in the second and third layers, the van seems to move in slow motion for what seems like (and probably is) half an hour. For us in the cinema, it was like the scene in Holy Grail where John Cleese runs up the hill several times towards the castle, with him being no closer after every cut. Admittedly he then just appears at the top of the hill and kills a guard, which doesn’t happen here, but it felt similar and most amusing at the same time. It was almost like a “meanwhile, in the slow moving van” moment.

I have to spend a bit of time praising the performances by everybody involved. Michael Caine is as good as he can be considering he’s in the film for all of five minutes. Same again for Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his apparently long suffering partner in crime, and who has come a long way since his time in 3rd Rock From The Sun (a shame he wasn’t in the final season as much as the show needed, it fell a little flat without him, but that’s for another discussion).

I don't think I'll ever get used to these newfangled hotels and their strange layouts...
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to these newfangled hotels and their strange layouts…

This is the first time I’ve seen Ken Watanabe in a proper role – I’m ashamed to say I’ve only ever seen him as the faux Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins. His character also goes through the ringer and whilst not doing a massive amount with the role, he does enough to get the character’s personality across, even if his motives aren’t always 100% clear.

Cillian Murphy, likewise, does a fantastic job as the son of Peter Postlethwaite (who has a great death scene face). He has quite a meaty and emotional role and his character has a satisfying and similarly emotional conclusion. Ellen Page did well with the role she was given, but I didn’t think the character was as fully developed as it could have been. A strong performance but the character was essentially a cypher to help progress a bit of the plot. And to mess with Leonardo DiCaprio’s dreams. If only it had been so in real life…

It was also fun to see Tom Hardy with hair. My only other experience of him as an actor was as a bald, young clone of Captain Picard in that mixed bag of a movie, Star Trek Nemesis. I couldn’t help thinking I’d seen him in something else, and spent a good 40 minutes certain he was Patrick Marber of Day Today/Alan Partridge fame. But alas it was not the case, and his occasionally fruity performance made him one of the standout characters.

The ending is appropriately vague so you can take your own meaning from it, which is a nice touch. Without giving too much away there are several points in the film where it is implied that literally everything we’ve seen is a dream (Cobb obsessing with “getting home”). There’s a sequence early on where Cobb is chased by a group of bad guys, in a similar way to how a person’s sub-conscious reacts when you do something out of the ordinary in someone else’s dream.

But… the ending does allow for both sides of this, so it depends on the individual watching the film rather than having it dictated to you in the script, which is a very good technique. Even better is the fact the movie has done some big business at the cinema, although a lot of this can probably be linked to the pre-release trailers advertising this as being from the director of The Dark Knight. With any luck this might inspire the studios to invest a little more in crafting original stories. I mean, it can’t just be Christopher Nolan doing stuff like this can it?

Favourite scene: In a film full of them? If I had to pick, it would be the hotel corridor fight scene. Logistically challenging yet expertly done.

Quote: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” (Pulls out a grenade launcher)

Silly Moment:  The van falling off the bridge to elicit the wake up “kick”, and taking about 30 minutes of the film running time to do it.

Score: 5/5

Dead and Deader (2006)

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"I'm sorry Mr Cain, but your career is dead."
“I’m sorry Mr Cain, but your career is dead.”

Twitter Plot Summary: Dean Cain’s bitten by a scorpion and becomes a half-zombie. He goes looking for the rest of his unit and the people responsible, blah blah.

Genre:
Action/Horror/Comedy

Director: Patrick Dinhut

Key Cast: Dean Cain, Susan Ward, John Billingsley, Colleen Camp, Armin Shimerman

Five Point Summary:

1. People sometimes ask “What happened to Dean Cain?” This is the answer.
2. So the zombies are created by scorpion bites? Okay, I can go along with that.
3. Did they really need to do a black stereotype in this day and age?
4. Star Trek alumni! That means it’s worth watching!
5. Susan Ward. Can’t act.

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 01 August 2010.

I went into this film with absolutely no idea what to expect. Quite literally, I didn’t read about the synopsis, the list of actors, the year the film was made, etc etc. I think sometimes going into a movie completely blank can help you enjoy it, although thanks to the rise of broadband and the information overload we are all subjected to these days, it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid spoilers and the various other aspects of the film that may ruin your enjoyment of it when you finally get to the cinema, which might explain why Cloverfield was such an enjoyable film. But I digress.

The only thing I knew for certain about this film is that it has zombies. That’s it. Now the average zombie movie fan will know that you’ve got a 50/50 chance of a zombie movie being absolutely terrible. It could go either way. This one thankfully falls on the good side of the fence, but if they’d gone down a slightly different route it could have been abysmal.

The film opens with a small army unit advancing on a small hut in Cambodia or somewhere along those lines. There’s some strange science stuff going on and, after a brief zombie attack, the hut explodes. Then, the intro sequence. And after that, I finally noticed the lead character was a bleached blonde Dean Cain of Lois and Clark fame. I’d seen his name in the credits but I didn’t twig that it was Superman himself until nearly 10 minutes into the film. I blame his hair colour. Because I wasn’t paying too much attention when the characters were introduced, I have no idea what their names are, so I’ll just go with Dean Cain, Susan Ward and Token Comedy Sidekick.

He wakes up on a mortuary slab, having died in the opening explosion. Turns out he’s a zombie but has retained his personality (his skin gets gradually more pallid as the movie goes on, a nice touch). After a brief discussion with the doctor, Dean Cain experiences pain in his arm and cuts some live scorpions from inside him. It later transpires that the scorpions are infected with something whereby they attack your brain and infect you, turning you into a mindless automaton. The self-inflicted wound soon heals, meaning Mr Dean Cain is in essence an unkillable superman.
He soon realises that at least one of his former soldier buddies is in another part of the base, infected with the same zombifying scorpions. The soldier escapes before Dean Cain can get there, and makes its way into the kitchen, where we meet Token Comedy Sidekick. After a brief scuffle in which the Doctor and Psychiatrist are bitten, turned and subsequently killed, Dean Cain and Token Comedy Sidekick are arrested for their murder, but not before a brief demonstration of Dean Cain’s new desire to eat raw flesh. As the hunger pains take hold, he finds some beef and chews on that, much to the disgust of Token Comedy Sidekick. After their arrest, and in true A-Team style, they promptly escape and make their way out into the world in chase of the zombie soldiers.

As a Star Trek fan I enjoyed the (too) brief appearances of Armin Shimerman (Quark in Deep Space 9) and John Billingsley (Phlox in Enterprise). Unfortunately they’re only in the film for the first 15 minutes, and events take a proper turn for the silly shortly after their final appearances. But I guess it’s still a pay cheque for them at the end if the day.

Dean Cain SMASH!
Dean Cain SMASH!

It’s about halfway through that the main villain rears his ugly head. Surprisingly it’s the actor who played the bad guy in The Mask. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else since then, so obviously it came as quite a surprise when I recognised him. Unfortunately as villains go he’s not very good, sticking to traditional pantomime villainy – his plan is to use the zombifying scorpions to gain everlasting life. Bit pants, quite frankly. The whole ‘zombie soldiers’ thing had a lot of potential in the first half of the movie, but it devolves into a standard tale of revenge and Dean Cain trying to make sure he doesn’t accidentally eat Susan Ward or Token Comedy Sidekick.

Which brings me onto another point. If there’s one thing the film doesn’t need it’s a comedy sidekick, a sidekick who gets progressively more irritating as the film goes on. There’s a sequence shortly after they have fought off the remaining zombie soldiers in a bar, where our plucky trio have to escape from the police and break into a fancy dress shop for a new set of clothes. Cue the obligatory scene of Susan Ward getting changed next to a mirror (no nudity here folks, just FYI). So, bearing in mind that we have a wise-cracking black guy as the sidekick, and this is a zombie film, what do you think he’s going to end up wearing? You might have guessed it – he wears a bright red Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ coat. Yeah, most amusing.

Ultimately there’s a showdown in the bad guys base, where zombies run rampant and Token Comedy Sidekick gets eaten by a crowd of zombies. Except he doesn’t, because Dean Cain and Susan Ward find him hiding in a cupboard. Bit of a strange one, that. The movie ends with good winning over evil and with Susan Ward planning a session of necrophilia with Dean Cain. I’m sure by this stage he’d be cold to the touch, all things considered she’d be better off going with Token Comedy Sidekick. Except that the comedy sidekick never gets the lady, he just sits and watches from the sidelines (hopefully not literally).

As zombie movies go this isn’t too bad, but with a few tweaks to the script, focusing on the army base narrative perhaps and less of the daft humour, then this might have been an essential zombie film. As it stands, a pleasant lack of CGI aside, it’s only going to appeal to the hardcore zombie fan. This is more Return of the Living Dead than Night of the Living Dead, so keep this in mind if you plan on watching this.

Favourite scene: Armin Shimerman explaining to Dean Cain that he’s dead.

Quote: “Dead or alive, men are all the same.”

Silly Moment:  It’s full of them, but Token Comedy Sidekick dressing up a bit like Michael Jackson wins it.

Score: 2.5/5

Predators (2010)

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Banzai!

Twitter Plot Summary: A group of disaparate crims (and Topher Grace) are dumped on an alien planet and hunted. By Predators.

Genre: Action

Director: Nimrod Antal

Key Cast: Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Walter Goggins.

Five Point Summary:

1. “I’m Batman… I mean, er… Royce”

2. Hey look, Danny Trejo’s in…. oh, never mind.

3. Fat Morpheus.

4. The ‘iPod’ Predators have been watching The Passion of the Christ too much.

5. Adrien Brody’s nose is rather distracting…

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 28 July 2010.

So, after seeing many films come and go at the cinema and not making the effort to actually go (with the exception of Iron Man), I finally made my way to the Apollo Cinema and watched the latest film about crab-faced alien hunters (and crab-faced is being polite, I could have said something much more unpleasant). In fairness, I have to say that I don’t think the film was too bad at all.

Looking back at the Predator films we’ve seen before, Predators fits nicely between an homage and sequel in its own right to the Schwarzenegger vehicle that kickstarted the franchise. Stylistically it’s nothing like Predator 2 (hunting Danny Glover in a hot and sweaty city environment? Really?), and the PG-13 near travesty that was Alien VS Predator. And as for Requiem… The Pred-Alien could have actually been quite good with the right script. Hey ho.
The plot of the film sees eight disparate characters literally dropped into a forest (with parachutes, obviously), and in true movie fashion they decide to stick together, safety in numbers and all that.

One thing I would like to see in movies like this is, literally, more fighting amongst the characters. In the original movie they were all members of the same unit, so a bit of obedience to the chain of command is expected. But in this case, they’re all from different nations and different armies, and each of the cardboard cutout stereotypes each has a unique weapon to distinguish them from the rest (except Topher Grace), so surely there’d be a lot more friction than there actually is? A bit of a scuffle when they first arrive and a little bit of verbal jousting throughout (and a bit of a fight early on between the prison convict and the African warlord chap). It’s all a bit too convenient in scripting terms. From this initial gathering we learn that they’ve all been dropped onto a Predator hunting reserve the size of a planet. There’s a nice build up of suspense for the first 30 minutes or so that teases the approach of the Predators and throws in the obligatory heat vision shots to establish what we’re dealing with. There’s a sequence early on that has the group attacked by Preda-Dogs. Some initial reviews claimed the CGI dogs were a bit of a letdown, but in my eyes the CGI was surprisingly competent. The lack of noticeable CGI throughout the rest of the film certainly helped – I don’t see why film makers today can’t just use practical effects if they can’t make CGI look good.

There was also a lot of preamble before the film was released about the fact we would see two types of Predator – the original design from the Arnie movie, and a new, sleeker, “iPod” style Predator for the modern day. Again, my scripting preference would have been a proper fight between the two styles of Predator, with our group of characters stuck in the middle, trying to escape from the planet. Elements of all of this showed up in the final film, but it feels as though they decided to play it safe instead. What we end up with is an entertaining film that just needed a small push in the right direction to make it an essential action movie.

"Yeah, so my nose is huge, what of it?"
“Yeah, so my nose is huge, what of it?”

The new Predators themselves are nicely designed, although it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that they were any different to the original, but this soon became apparent when our motley crew of killers and rapists (and Topher Grace) find an original design Predator being crucified, for want of a better term, at the Predator base camp.
Kudos to Laurence Fishburne for a suitably bat-crazy appearance as a survivor from a previous hunt. He makes his appearance just as the movie reaches an awkward lull in the action, so provides a nice distraction leading into the final third of the movie. I also thought the Yakuza character was surprisingly good despite only having about five lines of dialogue. Adrien Brody also stands out in an action hero role. He showed some of this promise in King Kong, and it’s a totally different role to what I saw of him in the frankly excellent The Piano. He’s doing a very good job of avoiding being typecast, and I have to say I think he does an excellent job here, even if he channels the spirit of Christian Bale’s Batman. It’s difficult to respect a character when all you want to do is give him a throat sweet.
Remember that shot in the trailer where twenty-odd Predator laser sights all appear on Adrien Brody’s chest? Well surprise surprise, but that money shot is not in the final film. Rodriguez even said after the fact that the shot was filmed solely for the trailer. It would have made for a much more entertaining film if it had been a planet full of Predators and not a paltry three (well, technically four). They could have easily made it look like a whole army of them, a la James Cameron’s Aliens.

There are a few other elements that I was less keen on. The dialogue is somewhat lacking and uninspired, but fits perfectly with the action tone of the movie (so really I shouldn’t complain), and there is a minor twist towards the end (I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched the film yet), a twist that is mostly unnecessary. Again, a few tweaks to the script and it could have been fantastic instead of merely “good”.

If you’re into your action films and have enjoyed any of the previous Predator movies then, unlike the characters of this movie, you’ll be in your element here. If, on the other hand, you’re not a fan of science fiction or action movies, I have to ask… Why are you even reading this?

Favourite scene: Hanzo’s all too brief sword/katana fight with the Predator.

Quote: “All right you guys, I got to umm… I have to… you know… pee.”
    “Women pee, men piss.”
    “And what do you do?”
    “I unleash.”

Silly Moment: Adrien Brody doing the original Predator “mud camouflage” thing. Do something new, guy!

Score: 3/5

Building a Universe: Adventures in Writing

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I love building universes. I didn’t realise this until quite recently, but whenever I start writing a new project half of the fun is in creating the characters and, more specifically, the world they inhabit. Case in point, and I keep coming back to this, but my current and ongoing work with my Adventures of Trent Samuels audio series.

As I’ve stated elsewhere on the Random Stoat blog (I’ll be copying those posts over to this blog in due course), the project started as a loving homage to the old science fiction serials from the 1930s-1940s. 15 minute episodes with a cliffhanger ending that would be swiftly resolved at the beginning of the next episode. My original idea was to stick very closely to that format, leaving the characters as 2D caricatures and not developing the story beyond its very basic premise. As time has gone on and the project remains in a vague state of production limbo (all my own fault), I’ve been tinkering with the story on and off to the point where the universe now has depth

Trent Samuels is set in an alternate 2007 where space travel is possible and other worlds near to Earth, relatively speaking, support life. One of these is the planet Sponge, a dry planet ruled with an iron fist by Tony The Absorber (see what I did there?). Sponge has a feudal system, with many smaller kingdoms under Tony’s all ruling empire. Tony is the main villain for the first two series, then a few of the smaller villain from lower down the food chain get their chance to try killing Trent.

As part of the first series, Tony The Absorber (originally a cardboard copy of Ming The Merciless who has since become a unique character in his own right) steals a huge amount of water from Earth resulting in widespread ecological damage and political upset. Admittedly I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this, but I used a global water level simulator to determine what the planet would look like if water levels were reduced by 500 metres. The results were interesting, to say the least. South America and Africa, South Africa in particular, are the winners as far as additional land mass is concerned. The same also applies to the islands in and around the Philippines and the UK, which would see a massive increase in available land.

Now, on top of this I also decided that in this alternate 2007 the world would be governed by a single global government as a result of warfare between the USA and the USSR during our Cold War period. The resultant nuclear warfare wiped out both nations, with the eastern USSR forming New Russia and Canada annexing Alaska and forming Canadia. The lower sea levels also lead to the return of a land bridge between the nations of New Russia and Canadia. Silly I know, but it gets better – due to the reduction of water levels in Trent series 1, Australia and New Zealand are left uninhabitable. If you also factor in that the Amazon rainforest has now become a giant Amazon warehouse and that Japan has gained sentience and flown off into space (with its entire population safely ensconced in protective domes), you can see that I’m possibly a little bit odd. In fact, scratch the “possibly”.

I’ll admit that as far as the characters go, they’re all still mostly caricatures. But they do have a bit more to them than when I first started the project. I think if I tried to give them too much history or unique characteristics it would detract from the original intention of the series. An intertwined narrative is almost necessary these days, but there’s a certain charm to having archetypes just going about their business, saving the universe and all that. I also like to leave a little bit to the audience’s imagination. World building is fun, but you don’t want to give away everything.

Mud (2013)

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mudPlot Summary: A couple of 14 year old boys find a boat stuck in a tree on a nearby island. They find a man living there and decide to help him both reunite with his girlfriend and make his escape from the law.

Genre: Drama

Director: Jeff Nichols

Key Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland.

Five Point Summary:

1. The Deep South looks awesome.
2. How many times do they have to drop the S-bomb?
3. Living on a river has it’s good and bad points.
4. Has everybody suffered from bad relationships in the past or something?
5. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

Mud is a film all about relationships. It’s chock full of them. New ones, old ones, those that bond families together, the works. Most of these revolve around Ellis, a fourteen year old boy living on the river with his parents. They’re all going through a tough time, as Mum wants to move into the town and Dad wants to stay on the river. Ellis’ best friend is Neckbone, a boy around the same age as Ellis who lives with his uncle, played by Michael Shannon.

The story sees Neckbone taking Ellis to an island where there is a boat randomly stuck in a tree. There they meet Mud, a man with no name and nothing he can rely on other than a gun and the shirt on his back. Again, this hints at Biblical subtext with the boat being a scaled down version of Noah’s Ark which, once repaired, will help him escape from the tides that are threatening to sweep him away. It’s a new beginning.

From this point, the boys help Mud repair the boat, acquiring parts and supplies to make the boat seaworthy and, more importantly, get it down from the tree. This is interspersed with Ellis’ first steps into the world of dating and dealing with women, where his standard response is to punch other guys in the face. Without wanting to give too much away, his ‘girlfriend’ May Pearl reinforces the opinion, set into Ellis by his father, that women will only let him down.

It’s a rare thing when child actors don’t irritate me, so that’s one of many things that director Jeff Nichols got right. The performances from Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are spot on, with both inhabiting the roles almost perfectly. Neckbone, no doubt due to his upbringing, drops S-bombs with reckless abandon, yet you feel that all of his bolshiness is just a front covering for the fact he’s had a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing. It’s no help to him that his uncle is dysfunctional himself, fishing for oysters, living in a trailer, and offending women with his bedroom interests.

Ellis is no better; whilst he’s grown up with his parents, their growing disparity has left him with a somewhat twisted world view – he’s told on multiple occasions by different characters that women are snakes, that they will twist your words and your own self to the point that you don’t recognise who you are. Throw in a literal pool of snakes and we’re talking an obvious Biblical metaphor/simile, which is no surprise given the American Deep South setting.

McConaughy is similarly excellent as the titular Mud, whose relationship with the boys, with his love interest Juniper, and with ex-sharpshooter now river living old grump Tom, remains vague until the final third. He’s an enigma until then, described as a compulsive liar and living in his own world. He’s the very definition of grey.

Juniper, played ably by Reese Witherspoon, is another shade of grey, with our perception of her coloured by Mud’s loved-up appraisal of her and the counter-argument of old Tom who, rather handily, calls her a snake. But then he also says Mud is a compulsive liar, so is he really the best person to listen to? Tom may be Mud’s father, or he may not, but he fills the father figure role for him perfectly. Pay attention to his backstory, as that will come into play before the credits roll at the end.

There’s a lot more that’s bubbling under the surface, but to go into any greater detail would spoil your enjoyment of the film. Suffice to say, Mud’s in a fair bit of trouble with the authorities and a snake-like guy who’s trying to hunt him down. The movie’s final act is combustive, but not a “Hollywood” ending. I would go so far as to argue that the finale and where the characters end up is indicative of how real life actually is. Thankfully the script stayed true to its routes and we’re left with a thoroughly fantastic film.

That was quite a serious review, wasn’t it? I’ll try and include some funnies next time. Badgers.

Favourite scene: Mud saving Ellis after he’s bitten by a snake.

Quote: “This river brings a lot of trash down, you gotta know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go.”

Silly Moment:  Not silly per se, but when Ellis and Neckbone first visit Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, the implications of what Galen wanted to do with the girl who storms out are most amusing.

Score: 4/5