Fantasy Film League

I quite like the idea of a Fantasy Football League. All that tracking of stats appeals to the geek in me, I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s stats about football which is something that I have no interest in whatsoever. If only there was an alternative version where the stats were based on something that I’m interested in.

Enter Fantasy Film League. The Fantasy Film League works on a similar principle to Fantasy Football League. You have $70m to cast a film. From that money you have to pay for a director and six actors. You then give your film a title and it’s entered into the competition. Each week, the people running the competition take various box office information and for each member of your cast who is in a successful film, your film makes some money. Full details are on the web site. The competition starts this week and will run until next year’s Oscars.

If this sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because the competition ran for the few years back in the mid-90s. It then vanished without trace for about fifteen years before reappearing last year.

I took part last year, but my film didn’t do very well. This year I’ve taken it all a bit more seriously. If you think that your film can do better than mine (which is called Return to SW12) then please enter the competition.

The FFL web site also has a facility to set up private leagues. I’ve set up a ‘davorg’ league so that my friends and I can have a private competition amongst ourselves. If you want to join my league then you’ll need the code number, which is 2857ed1a.

Come, join in. It’ll be fun.


Leaving LoveFilm

Earlier this week I closed my LoveFilm account. It’s a shame as I’ve been a customer for a long time, but I really couldn’t justify continuing to pay them £13 a month.

The LoveFilm service has two problems. A small one and a big one.

The small one is that I have a wide taste in films. This means that when they send me two random films from my list there’s a better than even chance that I won’t really be in the mood to watch at least one of them. As an extreme example, I once had a Mike Leigh film for about six weeks before I was in the right mood for it.

But that’s just a tiny problem. I could ignore that if it wasn’t for the other problem.

The second, and far larger problem, is the inherent fragility of physical media. And the stupidity of the general public.

The older ones amongst you will remember the excitement that came with the introduction of CDs. You will have seen things like Tomorrow’s World presenters spreading jam on CDs and still being able to play them (or maybe I imagined that). After decades of fragile vinyl records we finally had a medium for music storage that was nigh-on indestructible.

Of course, it turned out that this was bollocks. Sure, CDs were harder-wearing than vinyl had been, but it was still possible (easy, even) to damage them. And when DVDs followed using similar manufacturing technology, they proved to be just as fragile as CDs.

All of which means that if you lend a DVD to several random members of the public, then it will get dirty and damaged. And before too long it will become unplayable. Of course that wouldn’t be a problem if people were careful about looking after DVDs, but in my experience that’s never going to happen. The DVDs that LoveFilm get back will often be covered in smudges and scratches. And in some cases, they will no longer play.

So there’s a good chance that you’ll be sent a DVD from LoveFilm that just doesn’t work. Often it’ll just be a bit grubby and a quick wipe with a cleaning cloth will fix the problem (but it’s still an issue if it doesn’t affect the film until you’re 45 minutes into it). Other times, no amount of cleaning will fix the problem. We had a copy of Before the Rains recently which had huge pock-marks in the surface. It wouldn’t even load the disk menu,

LoveFilm say that they check all disks before they are sent out. But clearly this is a process that doesn’t scale. I suspect that actually they check a random sample of the disks. And that the problem is so bad that plenty of damaged disks still get sent out.

I estimate that over the last six months or so, about one in three of the disks that I get from LoveFilm have some problem. In most cases it’s just a case of whipping the disk out and cleaning it, but enough of the disks are proving to be unplayable that I decided I had to cancel my membership.

And cancelling your membership isn’t easy. You can’t do it over on their web site. You need to phone them up. And you speak to someone in an Indian call-centre whose job is to get you to reconsider by offering you special deals. I had to repeat “No, please just cancel my account” about four times before I got anywhere. This is a shame as it gives a bad impression of the company. And all the previous customer service I’ve got from LoveFilm (largely through their excellent Twitter account) has been exemplary.

I don’t expect to be parted from LoveFilm for too long. They already have a streaming service. But it’s only available to subscribers to the physical media service. Once they follow Netflix into offering streaming-only subscriptions, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back. A Bluray player I bought just before christmas is internet-enabled and already has a LoveFilm application installed (although it’s currently disabled).

It’s worth noting that a streaming service solves both of the problems I mentioned at the start of this piece. Not only does it do away with physical media, but it allows my to choose any film that I want to watch.

In the meantime, I’ll be getting my films at home from other sources. Probably a lot of stuff from FilmFlex . I’m considering adding Sky Movies to my Virgin Media package. I might even go back to my local DVD rental shop (although, that will still have the physical media issue).

Has anyone else left LoveFilm recently? What were your reasons? Where do you get films from now?


Clash of the Titans: Random Thoughts

I saw the original Clash of the Titans in the cinema when it was first released. It’s been a major source of enjoyment for me ever since and it was therefore with some trepidation that I settled down in the Clapham Picturehouse to watch the new version this afternoon. I’m not going to write a full review, but here are some random thoughts that went through my head while I was watching it.

  • In general a pretty good remake. Very similar plot, with some nicely updated effects.
  • Yay Pete Postlethwaite! Always the mark of a quality film.
  • Only three of the gods had speaking parts (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon). There were some well-known people playing other gods but they were only ever seen briefly in the background. Hardly worth them turning up.
  • Nice Bubo joke.
  • Nice to see Skins actors doing well in Hollywood. Actually, thinking about it, it’s just the Stonem family.
  • It bugged me all through the film that I recognised the woman playing Andromeda. It was electro-girl from Angel.
  • That Gemma Arterton is gorgeous.
  • I know it’s only vaguely based on Greek myths, but surely some things should be fixed? Perseus and Andromeda end up together. It’s written in the stars. That can’t be changed.

Alice in Wonderland

I’ve just got back from seeing Alice in Wonderland and I’m now feeling rather depressed and am starting to despair for the future of the film industry.

Let’s get the positive aspects out of the way first. The cast is wonderful and the acting impressive. I particularly enjoyed the little comedic touches that Anne Hathaway brought to the potentially quite bland White Queen. The visual effects were also fantastic. Burton’s imagination together with state of the art technology has given us a wonderful vision of how Wonderland should look.

So what didn’t I like? Well, firstly, I saw it in 3D. It’s the first time I’ve seen a 3D film outside of an IMAX so I didn’t really know what to expect. And it was all a bit disappointing. It was disappointing because the technology didn’t really seem to be ready for the mass market. During fast-moving sequences things got far too blurry. It was also disappointing because the 3D effect wasn’t very convincing. The image just had a background plane and two or three foreground planes. It looked a bit like cardboard cut-outs in a child’s theatre toy. And lastly it was disappointing because directors (or maybe it’s cinematographers) are still unable to resist the temptation to fill 3D films with shots that wouldn’t look out of place in a “This is 3D” demonstration film. Fight scenes were full of swords being jabbed in your eye and chase scenes all had overhanging branches to whiz impressively past. It was all very obvious.

But that’s not my major reason for disliking the film so much. That’s down to the plot. I don’t know if you’ve seen the film yet, but did you know it’s not a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s book? No, Tim Burton decided that what we wanted was a kind of “Return to Wonderland” plot where he mixes scenes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with “Through the Looking Glass” and a nineteen-year-old Alice. On Alice’s return she meets up with all her old friends and gets embroiled in a battle between the Red Queen (aka the Queen if Hearts) and the White Queen. In the end she has to fight the Jabberwock in order to save the day.

It’s terrible. It makes no sense whatsoever. Ok, I know that complaining about logic in a Wonderland story is somewhat ridiculous, but what I’m saying is that I don’t understand why Burton had to play with the plot like that. It’s like my objections to the BBC’s Merlin. I worry that a new generation of children will be introduced to the story through a warped version and won’t ever read the real version. Burton ended up with a pretty good fantasy plot. Why did he have to attach it to the much-loved Wonderland characters? Why not just go off and make a film with his own characters? I don’t really feel that using the Wonderland characters added very much to the plot. This story could just as well been told using characters from the Narnia stories or the Lord of the Rings.

There were two things that Burton did in the film that I may never be able to forgive him for. Firstly, whenever characters mention the Jabberwock, they call it “Jabberwocky”. “Jabberwocky” is the name of the poem. The  creature has always been the Jabberwock, The second point also involves the poem Jabberwocky. The Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) recites some of the poem in the film. But he does it wrong. Verses are muddled up and lines are changed. It’s appalling. It shouldn’t be allowed.

I really wanted to see this film. Burton and Carroll looked like they were going to be a fantastic match. I’m massively disappointed that the film was so bad.



According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a new film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a distribution deal in the US. The article suggests that this is because Darwin’s work is still a rather contentious subject in the US. They quote the christian film review site MovieGuide describing Darwin as “a racist, a bigot and 1800’s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder” (although they don’t point out that the quotation is taken from a book review and was not written in reference to this film).

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers has a slightly different theory. He says that the US’s antipathy to evolution is only part of the story and suggests:

One reason it probably isn’t getting picked up is that it isn’t a blockbuster story — it’s a small film with a personal story. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, but it’s not a Michael Bay noisemaker with car chases and explosions, or giant robots, or a remake of a 1970s cheesy TV show. That makes it a tougher sell.

Whilst I usually agree with PZ, I think he’s wrong here. It’s obvious that the film isn’t a blockbuster and I agree that the blockbusters are what the US (and, indeed, much of the rest of the world) audiences want to see. But films still win distribution deals if they’re not blockbusters. And I think that this film would have found a deal had it not been for the subject matter. Oh, and the title. I haven’t mentioned the title yet. And I think the title is a direct attempt by the film-makers to grab some publicity by annoying the American creationist movement.

The film is called Creation.

I mean, come on. Nothing could have been more calculated to garner publicity in the US. It’s not even an appropriate title for a film about Darwin. Darwin’s ideas say nothing at all about creation, they only cover the creation of new species of life. Darwin had nothing to say about how life originally came into existence.

There’s a common creationist misunderstanding about evolution. When they talk about “Darwinism” (as they like to call it) they are usually covering a far larger area of knowledge than the one that Darwin wrote about. Because they see Darwin’s work as an opposing theory creationism, they assume that it must cover the same ground as their nonsense. They therefore assume that “Darwinism” tries to explain the creation of the universe, the creation of the solar system, the creation of the Earth, the beginnings of life on Earth and the diversity of life found on Earth. And, of course, it doesn’t.

Obviously people who agree with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection will tend to also hold non-biblical views on the rest of the subjects in my list, Darwin’s work only ever covered the last item on  the list. So to say that something you’re calling “Darwinism” addresses all of these subjects is nonsense. So to call a film about Darwin’s life and work “Creation” is equally nonsensical.

I don’t know if Darwin ever did any research into the earlier items on my list. I’ve certainly never read anything by him where he discusses the origin of either the universe or the Earth. But creationists like to bundle all of these topics together so that “Darwinism” can be seen as being in direct opposition to their fairy stories.

This new film sounds very interesting to me. It looks at how Darwin realised that his work explained the existence of so many different species on Earth without the need for divine intervention. It also examines how that knowledge effected his relationship with his deeply religious wife. I think that if more people in the US saw this film then it would help people to see that Darwin was a just a man doing his best to explain the natural world rather than the antichrist that creationist groups like to portray him as.

So it’s a shame that more people in the US won’t see this film. As I said before, I feel sure that the film-makers deliberately chose the title to court controversy. There’s no other explanation – the title makes no sense. It seems that their scheme has backfired on them. They might have gained some more publicity for the film (although notice that the original story I linked to was from Australia), but appears that very few people in the US will get the chance to see their film.


Misunderstanding Time Travel

I promise I’ll get round to a longer blog entry over the weekend, but I couldn’t resist commenting briefly on this paragraph from Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

It is very silly and of course cannot submit to close inspection. Making brief visits to an unalterable past is one thing, but how about that pesky butterfly effect? Why doesn’t he recognise Clare on their first meeting in the “present” – and why can’t he “remember” his future
journeys into the past?

Now I know that I’ve spent longer than most people either reading or watching stories about time travel. But I can’t believe that anyone seriously doesn’t know the answers to those questions. Why doesn’t Henry recognise Clare when they first meet in the present? Because those meetings haven’t yet taken place for him. Why can’t he remember his future journeys into the past? The big clue is in the word “future”.

Without understanding that, you’re missing the fundamental paradox in the plot of the Time Traveler’s Wife. If you really find it that confusing, I can understand why you would only give it two stars.

Do many people find basic time travel concepts like this hard to follow?


Watching the Watchmen

I saw Watchmen yesterday. I was pretty nervous as Watchmen is one of my favourite graphic novels and the film had a lot to live up to. I’m happy to report that the film was great. I recommend you go and see it.

From this point on, I’m going to assume that you know the plot so be warned that there will be spoilers.

Firstly the look of the film is spot-on. Snyder has used the original comics as the storyboard for the film and there are huge numbers of shots which are almost identical to panels from the comics. A lot of work has obviously gone into making the film look as much as possible like the comics. Even the actors seem to have mostly been chosen to look as much as possible like the original drawings. I was particularly impressed by how much Jackie Earle Haley looked like the unmasked Rorschach.

Secondly, the plot is about as close as you could hope for. There’s one major change that I’ll discuss later, but otherwise the film follows the comics pretty closely. As always when moving a book to film, there are compromises that need to be made. There is just too much plot to get through in a film (even one that’s over two and a half hours long). Snyder has resolved this problem by removing a number of sub-plots. We still get all of the plot as it concerns the main characters, it’s just some of the minor characters that we lose. The policemen are only ever seen at the beginning in Edward Blake’s flat, Dr Malcolm Long is only seen when he is dealing with Rorschach in prison, Bernard the news vendor and Bernie the comics fan are only seen briefly at the end and Joey and Aline don’t appear at all.

In the comics we get a lot of our information about what is happening in the wider world from Bernard’s comments on the newspapers that he sells. In the film that’s replaced by footage of news broadcasts. We also see nothing at all about Nova Express and we only see the New Frontiersman when Rorschach sends them his journal.

Other than that, there is a big of jiggling with some scenes. Rorschach’s three visits to Moloch become two, Dan and Laurie decided to rescue Rorschach when they are still in Archie. There are a number of minor tweaks like this, but I really don’t think they matter.

There’s one major plot strand that is missing. And that’s Tales of the Black Freighter – the pirate comic which Bernie reads for free at Bernard’s newsstand. But I really didn’t miss it. I know I’ll be drummed out of the Watchmen fan-club for this and I’ll be forced to hand in my blood-stained smiley badge, but it always felt a bit unnecessary to me. Oh, I know it gives some nice counterpoints to what is going on in the “real” world, but I don’t think that Watchmen is ruined without it. I understand that a film of the story is being made for release on DVD later this month. I hope that satisfies the fans.

Oh, there was one small plot change that annoyed me. Laurie no longer smokes. I assume this is an example of Hollywood censorship. Good guys don’t smoke. The Comedian still has his cigars – but he’s morally dubious at best. Laurie’s smoking was an important part of her character (she sees it as a weakness in herself) and, if nothing else, gave her a good reason to accidentally set off Archie’s flamethrowers. In the book she’s looking for the cigarette lighter. In the film she’s just pressing buttons at random.

And now I can’t put off any longer talking about the huge plot change that was made at the end. This is where the spoilers really start.

In the book, Veidt’s plan is to build a giant mutant squid which he teleports into the centre of New York City. This destroys much of the city and as it dies the squid is primed to send out telepathic waves of anguish which send many people mad. The idea is that the world’s governments will see it as an attack from an alien race and will put their differences between them and join forces to combat this imaginary enemy. Sounds a bit silly when you describe it like that, but in the book it comes across really well.

In the film, this plan is changed. Instead of dead psychic squid, Veidt reverse-engineers the secret of Doctor Manhattan’s power and uses this to launch attacks on a number of major world cities. The result of the plan is the same. World governments join forces to fight Doctor Manhattan (who has left Earth and won’t be back) and the few people who know the plan have exactly the same moral dilemma as they had in the book – if they bring Veidt to justice for killing millions of people then the world will know it was a trick and will almost certainly return to the brink of all-out nuclear war.

So the change really doesn’t effect the outcome at all. Which raises the question of why Snyder changed the plot in this way. I’m sure there are hundreds of theories all over the internet, but mine is quite simple. I think it was easier to film this way. A giant squid is hard to film convincingly. And whilst I would have loved to have seen a filmed version of the carnage at the beginning of chapter XII, the scenes in the film with the city destroyed and no dead bodies (as they have all been vapourised) are almost as effective.

If you’re one of the massive Watchmen fans who are putting off seeing the film because of the lack of the squid, then I urge you to put your misgivings to one side and go and see it anyway. Yes, it’s different. But it still works in exactly the same way as the book did.

I admit to being somewhat biased in this review. I love the book and now I love the film too. I can’t wait to watch the DVD looking for all of the little references that I have, no doubt, missed (I did, however, spot the Mr Gorsky joke in the credits). I’m also writing from the perspective of someone who knows the plot inside out. I’d be interested to watch the film wilth someone who doesn’t already know the book (a hard person to find in my circle of friends) to see whether it still all makes sense when you brain isn’t filling in the plot for you.

I said to a friend on Twitter yesterday

If it’s “V for Vendetta” good I’ll be happy. If it’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” good I’m walking out.

It’s better than “V for Vendetta”. It’s easily the best Alan Moore adaptation I’ve seen. It may well be the best comic-book adaptation that I’ve seen.

I highly recommend that you go and see it.


This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Last night I watched This Film Is Not Yet Rated, the documentary about the MPAA‘s film ratings system. It was an interesting film that raised a number of valid criticisms about the ratings system, but ultimately I think it was too intent on blaming the MPAA and completely missed a far deeper issue.

First the good bits.

It certainly seems strange to me that the people on the film ratings board are all anonymous. The MPAA says that this is to ensure that they are free to do their job without the threat of any kind of coercion, but if that’s really a problem then surely it can be addressed in other ways. Having an anonymous group of people making these decisions really doesn’t encourage people to believe that this process is fair and open.

The film also demonstrated that the ratings have been wildly inconsistent over the years. For example gay sexual scenes always seem to be rated more harshly than similar straight scenes. Or, perhaps that’s not inconsistent. Perhaps that’s completely consistent, but bigoted – which would, of course, also be a problem. It’s also the case that sexual content is often rated more harshly that violent content. For example, all of the extreme violence in American Psycho was fine, it was a relatively brief sex scene that had to be re-edited in order for the film to avoid an NC-17 rating.

All of this shows that there are problems with the way that the ratings system is administered. But in my opinion there are deeper issues that are completely outside of the MPAA’s control which also need to be addressed. In many (probably most) cases I agree completely with the ratings board’s decision to give a film an NC-17 rating. There was some spectacular naivety shown by some of the film-makers interviewed when they expressed surprise that the ratings board didn’t want their films seen by people under the age of seventeen. Of course there are some things that should only be watched by adults. And remember that NC-17 is the only US film rating that has any kind of age restriction. It’s not like the UK where you can give the film a 12 or 15 rating. Anyone in the US can see an R rated film as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

So the NC-17 rating shouldn’t be avoided. It should be used more. There should be many films released each year that are given an NC-17 rating. But that doesn’t happen currently because an NC-17 rating is seen as commercial death for a film. Many cinemas won’t show NC-17 films, newspapers won’t carry advertisements for them and some DVD rental companies refuse to stock them.

This is the fundamental problem. The NC-17 is avoided for commercial reasons when actually it should be embraced. There should be a market for NC-17 films. But something in the puritanical US society won’t allow that. Adult films (and I don’t just mean that in the sense of porn films) are doomed to commercial failure by the moral majority. Can’t they see that this is counter-productive? If there was an acceptable market for NC-17 films then you wouldn’t have so many people trying to push back the boundaries of what is acceptable in a R rated film.

There are definitely changes that need to be made to the way that the MPAA’s ratings board works. But I don’t agree that they need to rate fewer films as NC-17. If anything they should rate more films as NC-17. And the rest of the US film industry (in particular the distribution sections) need to promote NC-17 films more.

film religion

The Golden Compass – A Review

I saw The Golden Compass last night. In summary, I thought it was a pretty good adaptation. At times it moved a bit faster than I wanted it to, but that’s only to be expected from a two-hour film based on such a complex book.

If you read on, there will be spoilers for both the book and the film. But if you’re a friend of mine then I fully expect that you’ll have read the trilogy years ago.

It started badly with a voice-over that gave more details about multiple universes, dust and the alethiometer than I thought was strictly necessary. The terms “alethiometer” and “golden compass” are used interchangeably in the film which I also found pretty annoying.

The next scene was also a disappointment. It was a scene that didn’t appear in the book and served to introduce Lyra, Roger and the Gyptian children (particularly Billy Costa). Whilst Dakota Blue Richards impressed as Lyra, it’s a shame that the other child actors weren’t up to her standard. The only thing I found occasionally annoying about her performance was her “yokel” accent. But that’s a fair translation of the book where I found Pullman’s use of “ent” instead of “isn’t” in Lyra’s speech to be just as annoying.

After that the film manages to tell most of the story of the book. There are obviously some simplifications. For example, they don’t mention the fact that the Panserbjørne can never be tricked, so Lyra’s tricking of Iofur Raknison (renamed Ragnar Sturlusson to avoid confusion with Iorek Byrnison) isn’t as impressive a feat as it should be. Other scenes were missed out completely. Two that I particularly missed were Mrs. Coulter’s party (so we didn’t get to meet Lord Boreal) and Iorek Byrnison cleaning his armour once it was retrieved.

At this point let me reiterate the spoiler warning from above.

The most surprising change was the ending. The film misses out the last part (one or two chapters I think) from the book. The film ends with the children freed from Bolvangar and Lyra heading north to meet Asriel. In the book, she meets Asriel, stuff happens and Asriel successfully opens a portal to another world which he and Lyra both go through. That’s all missing from the film. I have no doubt that it will be included at the beginning of The Subtle Knife, but I was very surprised not to see it in this film.

On a more positive note, the special effects are very impressive. The daemons are a very important in these books so it was vital that they were portrayed realistically. And I think the film-makers achieved that. The daemons are very convincing, even when Pantalaimon is changing shape. It helps tremendously that they have such a strong cast of voice actors for the daemons. Even Asriel’s daemon, Stelmaria, who speaks about two lines is played by Kristen Scott-Thomas.

And what about the portrayal of religion? How much of that was cut out? Well, there’s really very little religion in Northern Lights and I didn’t notice any of it missing. The Magisterium is still the Magisterium. The Authority is still the Authority and Asriel’s theories about dust are still described as heresy. So, no, in my opinion there’s nothing important removed there – because there was nothing that needed to be removed. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the other two books where the religion is far more explicit.

film religion

Damned If You Do…

The story so far:

The people behind the films based on His Dark Materials decided to remove any direct references to god in order to avoid offending religious people.

However, the Catholic League decided that the cuts weren’t deep enough and called for a boycott of the film.

Now we get this:

Christian groups such as the Catholic League have criticised the movie and charged the intentional removal of anti-religious themes as a ploy to encourage kids to read Pullman’s pro-atheism books.

So you remove the church from the films (wrongly, in my opinion) only to be accused of doing it to encourage more children to read the books. There’s no way to win in this situation.

And anyway, since when was encouraging children to read such a bad idea? And if christianity is such convincing view of the universe why would you worry if children came into contact with alternative points of view? Sounds to me as though some people are worried that children exposed to alternative explanations of the universe might just see through the nonsense of religion and start thinking rationally.

Which would never do.