Monday, February 27, 2006

Review: Illustrious Energy

Note: This was written on the bus home, on the iMate JasJar, which I have on loan from Vodafone for a story I'm writing for NZ Management Magazine. Thanks, I guess, to our sponsors!

18 February 2006

What a fantastic afternoon. On her way to work, Marie dropped me off at the Auckland Domain, home of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I was there to see a free screening of Illustrious Energy.

To get to the museum, I had to walk - a pleasant task under any circumstances, but even better on a stunner of a day like today.

The domain is a special place for me. When my sister and I were little, our mum used to take us to the domain and museum regularly - it felt like every sunday. But we never got bored, looking at exotic pottery, ancient suits of armour or my favourite, the captured mitsubishi zero aeroplane from WWII.

Anyway,back to today. What a magnificent film. The story of chinese immigrants in post-gold rush Otago, torn between the hope of wealth and longing for home. Made in 1987, it was being shown today as part of the museum's chinese new year celebrations.

Director was Leon Narbey, cinematographer on Whale Rider and Number 2. Needless to say, production values were very high on illustrious energy, even though narbey admitted the dvd we were watching was from an inferior print, some of the interiors were too dark, some of the exteriors were too bright, we lost the extreme edges of the frame, etc. Now there is someone who cares about their work.

In the q&a session afterwards, someone asked if the movie was profitable. Narbey and producer Chris Hampson laughed. "of course not; these things never are!"

That brought back other memories from my childhood. Though some remember the 80s as a time of conspicuous consumption, I was separated from the world of business and in the midst of non-profitability, from church to mum's embroiderers guild to the waitakere ranges protection society. I grew up around people who did things because they were there, not because there was money to be made. That's had both good and bad results in my life.

New zealanders are known for being fairly reserved (emotionally, anyway), but when it comes to our art we are raving lunatics. Long may that cintinue, even as our film industry becomes world class and insanely profitable.

Is it possible, I wonder, to have both?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lights, camera, no action - Film - Entertainment -

Lights, camera, no action - Film - Entertainment -

Australia's having trouble getting enough film work for its big sound stages, the ones used for big films like Superman Returns.

New Zealand is likely to face the same thing, with King Kong over and (if I recall correctly) the Narnia sequel being made in Ireland not here.

Our two countries should market ourselves together. We've got a lot to offer in this part of the world.

Kingdom of Heaven

Saw Kingdom of Heaven Friday night. Well, Marie saw all of it - I fell asleep through exhaustion. I'm about to watch it fully again, but first I'll blog about it (after all, I did catch the gist of it).
  • Marie knew nothing about the background of this, and enjoyed it. I knew it hadn't done well at the box office, and had also attracted criticism over it's historical accuracy and philosophical bias. However I tried to watch it as if watching for the first time, and enjoyed the parts I stayed awake for. (Believe it or not, I slept through most of the battles, surround-sound notwithstanding)

  • It was an engaging story, that helped me understand this part of history that neither of us knew much about before. Sometimes the story of an individual or a family helps us understand a time and place like nothing else.

  • Visually stunning. Absolutely amazing. But somehow, we didn't care passionately what happened to Balian, our main character (portrayed by Orlando Bloom). Tried to figure that out, and came up with two theories:
    • Orlando Bloom's just not that great an actor? I'm actually loath to say this, because I have just an inkling about what kind of tough job acting is. But maybe he didn't have what it takes. Liam Neeson did a great job, but his was just a supporting character.

    • Alternatively, maybe we didn't know enough about Balian to begin with. Within ten minutes (I think) his wife and child are dead, and he kills his priest. We don't know if he's the kind of guy who usually kills people, or if this is something unusual for him. He just comes across as an angry man, and not in the way that makes us sympathetic towards him.

  • Apart from this main heart that's missing in the story, everything else - the attention to detail, the sets, the costumes, the fights, the supporting actors - were fantastic.

  • A note on historical accuracy. There's a documentary on the special features which looks into the portrayal of the crusades which generally agrees with the film's premise. But what nobody addresses directly is why the Christians took Jerusalem in the first place. We hear nothing of Muslim militancy; instead we are left to infer that the Muslims of the 9th and 10th centuries were peace-loving, pluralistic peoples. Sure, there were some like Saladin that did get a reputation for mercy, but it's a misrepresentation of the concept of Jihad to assume the Muslims wanted to just live in peace, and the Christians were the ones waging war for land and glory.
What's really sad is that the film did so badly after such an incredible amount of work. Just goes to show - character and narrative are the most important part of every story.

Questions to take away:
  • How can I create characters that people love - and yet have hard edges on them, etc.
  • What is 'narrative drive' and can I have some?
  • Is there still a public appetite for historical epics? Gladiator seems to be the last one that was commercially successful - Troy, Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven have all been disappointed. Meanwhile, fictional epic adventures like Lord of the Rings and Narnia have soared. What does this mean? Does it mean anything?

Friday, February 24, 2006

News Roundup

Thought it might help me in my copious news reading if I compiled the links here, in some sort of subject classification. And if anyone else reads this, all the better!


Sequels galore
  • We've known Indiana Jones IV has been on it's way for a while; now Jurassic Park IV is announced. Where did all the original ideas go? Mind you, it's proof that the underlying ideas are workable, or at least, bankable.
  • Meanwhile, sequels also announced for Batman Begins and Superman Returns. What are they calling them? Batman Continues and Superman Returns Again?
NZ / Australia
Business Model

Two Ladykillers

The Ladykillers (1955):
  • I had to stop myself thinking "That's Obi-Wan!" every time Alec Guinness had a line. What a great voice. What a great actor! He was genuinely creepy in this one.

  • Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom together, 20 years before the Pink Panther sequels. How cool is that!

  • What a delicious black comedy plot! And this plot most definitely comes from well-defined characters, ie if the characters weren't like they were, the story wouldn't happen. That's a good story.

  • Makes great use of genuine suspense. One of the best surprise endings I've ever seen - and so quick!

  • Very nice nuanced acting from all the main players - quite unusual compared to other British 50s films I've seen that come across like stage plays.
The Ladykillers (2004):
  • Brilliant remake. Just enough of the original, and just enough brand new material to make it work. For me, anyway.

  • The music was fantastic. Eerie, and suffusing the whole story with a bit more depth and spirituality than the original. While the original was just a dark comedy, this version is a cautionary moral tale of divine order triumphing over human will. Or maybe it's just that our new surround sound system made the negro spirituals sound really really good...

  • Tom Hanks is great. He plays a character who is a bad actor - the character is, not the actor playing him. That's good acting!

  • I note from IMDb's trivia that Tom Hanks deliberately didn't watch the 1955 version, so as not to be influenced by it. Good call.

  • While the 1955 version showed a fairly uniform culture in England, the 2004 version fairly went out of its way to show us a multi-cultural society - and not just black and white either, but black hip-hop (or hippity-hoppity!) and black church, and southern gospel vs. classical studies gospel (the Professor's conversations and cross-purposed misunderstandings with Murva). Very interesting and funny in a funny way.

  • Recurring imagery of the barge under the bridge, like they did with the train in 1955. Interesting that it's okay to show a body fall into a pile of garbage now, but it wasn't okay in 1955 to show a body falling into an empty train cargo carriage.

  • As well as extra spirituality, this had a whole extra dose of culture, with quotations from Shakespeare and, most notably, Poe.
All in all, both versions of Ladykillers were very satisfying film viewing experiences.


Kolya is a good film! Saw it a few weeks ago, after it had been recommended at a Writer's Guild thing. Really good story, and I love subtitles.

One of those sorts of stories where you know what's going to happen, he's going to get real close to the child, etc. ... but you still watch anyway, because the acting and the story was done so well. The political backdrop was cool too, especially how he sees the former secret police guys in the crowd at the liberation of the Czech republic.

Great movie, and deserving of the kudos it gets.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reviews: The Second Chance - Christianity Today Movies

Reviews: The Second Chance - Christianity Today Movies

Steve Taylor, one of my favourite musicians of about 10 years ago, making a movie! Awesome. And it's PG-13! In yer face, those who think a Christian movie will likely be naff.

I'd better reserve a bit of judgement until finally seeing it - assuming it gets released here ... hopefully!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

An idea whose time has come

Intel, Disney, Cisco Invest in Entertainment Startup - 2/14/2006 - Electronic News

I'd appreciate this in NZ. For a frequent DVD consumer like me it can be a real hassle waiting for the next Movieshack DVD to come through the post. That's despite them being very speedy with their deliveries.

Books Into Films - New York Times

Books Into Films - New York Times

I tell ya, everyone's making films these days! Good to know as a writer choosing - shall I do a novel or a film - go to Random House and you might end up with both! Certainly a lot less complicated. Perhaps.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Telegraph | Expat | Former diplomat to boost Anglo-Indian relations on stage

Telegraph | Expat | Former diplomat to boost Anglo-Indian relations on stage

Hilarious! I don't know if I'm related to this guy...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Short film idea - finally!

I got a complete, fully formed idea for a short film today. It came from just two lines on the radio news! I love the creative process - you never know when "it" will happen.

Comedy Weekend

This weekend just past: My Beautiful Laundrette and Hot Shots Part Deux.

Okay, so My Beautiful Laundrette is probably more of a dramedy or tragicomedy than a straight (pardon the pun) comedy. But it still had some very funny moments.

Laundrette reminded me of Monsoon Wedding in its complexity and realism - although Wedding came across more realistic, this one a little more scripted-sounding. Maybe that's a misperception, simply because Wedding is in dialect while Laundrette is in English.

It had an interesting premise: a young Pakistani guy falls (back?) in love with his ex-skinhead childhood friend. I'm sure that didn't ring any bells on the cliche-meter! It's a strange idea, done very well so it seems believable.

I think that believability owed a lot to the acting, because the script left a lot of questions unanswered. How did Omar and Johnny meet originally? Were they lovers previously, or are they getting together the first time?

Ultimately, the answers to these questions don't matter. We're just seeing this slice in the lives of these two and a whole lot of others. Good film. Didn't wow me as much as Monsoon Wedding, but that probably reflects on my tastes rather than the quality of the story.

Hot Shots Part Deux was just fantastic funniness. You enjoy it so much more when you've seen lots of other movies - let's see, Casablanca, Apocalypse Now, Wall Street... oh, and of course, Rambo!

I just wonder why they don't make movies like that anymore - stories with not an ounce of seriousness about them, yet with enough plot to keep you engaged ... rapid-fire gags, so if the foreground is slowing down, just look in the background for something funny.

When you're in the right mood for some shallow laughs, Hot Shots Part Deux is fantastic. Made me feel great.

Gratuitous Flesh

Doves of War, episode 2 aired on Thursday. Still a good story, and good use of suspense (ie I want to see what happens next ep), but some stuff I felt was just chucked in to get young male viewers watching.

I'm talking about boobs. Not many (only two, in fact), but there was a scene in a strip club where you can just tell the director and/or camera guy was just going crazy on the lingering shots of pole dancers, etc.

Sure, it was relevant to the story. But was it necessary?

Like any red-blooded male, I can't help but like the sight of the female body. But I don't want to have it flashed in front of me. I wouldn't go to a strip club in real life; I don't want to be taken to one on TV.

I sound like a real Grinch here, but this is what I feel. I suspect I'm not the only one.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I failed and why that is good

My script "The Fall", submitted to the Kairos Prize for spiritually uplifting screenwriting, came back to me today. It didn't make it in. I'm over the moon, because I wouldn't have known what to do with it if I won.

This is an important part of my learning curve, and the best part of it is - even though I didn't get in the finals of the competition, I got some detailed feedback from someone who is a) in the industry (or at the very least speaks the language and can tell me why the script didn't make it), and b) has the spiritual background to appreciate what the script was aiming for.

An entry fee well spent. Next step, a workshop with writer Paul Margolis in March. I can't wait!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

DIY Film, Book, Music Festival

Film Festivals . com - People

This'd be nice to go to if I was anywhere near the Egyptian.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

WGA Awards - A Celebrity Show

Sam Longoria Filmmaking Blog: WGA Awards - A Celebrity Show


Oh my poor DVD player...

Y'know it was just a few weeks ago our VCR/DVD combo was working fine. On a Sunday night I'd watched Veronica Guerin and left the disk in the machine.

Monday morning, the screen was frozen on the menu. Yikes! Normally it helps to eject the disk and start again... but "no disc" came up... double yikes!

After testing a few other DVDs - and throwing a cushion at the TV - I decided it was time to actually take it in for repairs.

Turns out if we had a cheap and nasty $80 DVD player - as opposed to our luxurious DVD/VCR combo - we could've had it replaced then and there.

Instead, we have an "optical receiver" that needs replacing, which will take at least until next week to get there.

Not happy.

Sure, at least there's the DVD player on Marie's laptop. But its quality is patchy - sometimes it's great, sometimes it skips and trips like a drunkard. What unspeakable suffering this is causing me! Oh the humanity!

Not to mention the 14 inch screen compared with our TV's 29 inches. And the fact we have to move the laptop over to where the TV is to watch comfortably - so inconvenient, all that plugging and unplugging...

Now when did I become such a spoiled brat!!?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ignore this

Fan-Financed Film

Fan-Financed Film

Brilliant idea, especially for cult brands. (Well, only for cult brands, because brand new brands won't have enough fans!)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Startups Bank on Mobile TV

Startups Bank on Mobile TV


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Arf, arf, arf

So there we were, Mum, Marie and me, in the upstairs room that used to be my room many moons ago. And Marie asks me, what did you read when you were little?

So I disappear into the next room, where the books are (I tell a lie, books are everywhere, but many of them are in the next room... which was also my room some fewer moons ago). I come back with a big yellow book: 50 Years of Popeye.

I don't recall how I got it. Maybe it was a bargain mum picked up at a book sale, or maybe my grandparents got it for me... they had a habit of getting me grown-up stuff, which I didn't appreciate at the time, but now I look back and appreciate the sentiment. Y'know what they got me for my eleventh birthday? Art of the Byzantine Era. Can you believe it... but I digress.

So Popeye. One of my childhood heroes ... along with Michael Knight, Captain Kirk and Doctor Who. I loved the Smurfs, too, but none of them qualified as heroes.

I showed it to Marie, who by then had forgotten the question and was getting to know all the stuffed toys in the room. So I started looking at this grown-up book about a kid's comic - from a grown-up's point of view. Or at least a 30-year-old.

The funny bits were just as funny. The difference between the drawing style of the 1920s and the 1970s was just as amazing. But what I never understood before was the story behind the story - how Popeye, introduced as an incidental character, single-handedly took over the comic strip almost independently of his creator.

Y'see, Thimble Theatre - as the comic was called back in 1929 - had a steady cast of characters: Olive Oyl, her brother Castor, and her boyfriend Ham Gravy. One day they needed a ship, and a captain. The first guy on the scene - Popeye.

It seems, though, that series creator Elsie Segar had written many of his own values and personality into the one-eyed sailor. Because he kept coming back and playing an important part in the story.

And the rest... is history.

This reverie made me think: people of my generation, or even most people born after WWII, have a lot of knowledge on story brands.

Whether it's the baby boomer who knows everything about the Beatles (I've met a few!) (and yes, that's a story brand, there was just more music than usual)... or someone my age (born mid-70s) who knows their Star Trek inside out... or a generation Y-er, or whatever, who knows everything about 24, or Grey's Anatomy, or ER or ... you get the picture.

The point - and yes, there is a point here, er, somewhere - is that we not only know about the stories themselves, we are of necessity exposed to the marketing and business procedures under the bonnet of the programme. Hence the perennial popularity of "Behind the Scenes" exposes.

Story literacy. It's the challenge of anyone who wants to write today - your audience instinctively knows more about how to craft and market a story, and therefore need surprising more, than the audiences of 50 years ago.

Adora Svitak - Welcome to Adora's world.

Adora Svitak - Welcome to Adora's world.

Just after blogging about the 10-year-old Indian boy who makes feature films, I get this email:

Simon, you’d want to introduce Adora Svitak to your country., 8 year old internationally recognized writer. Please write to me to interview her.


Site feed added

Thanks to ADM's suggestion, I've added a site feed for any and all of you people out there that actually read this! :)

It's underneath the archives - "subscribe to feed". I couldn't lay my hands on an orange RSS button.

Guardian Unlimited Film | News | Veteran actor, 10, writes and directs his own film

Guardian Unlimited Film | News | Veteran actor, 10, writes and directs his own film

I thought I was articulate at 10 years old!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Doves of War

Doves of War, the new NZ drama on TV3, is absolutely brilliant. If you'd asked me if this little country can produce something along the lines of Manchurian Candidate I would've looked doubtful, but thankfully, this programme has proved me wrong.

Great plot, very ambivalent protagonist - yet you back him, even though he seems to be a bad guy, covering up the truth.

Nice international flavour - although comedienne Ginnette McDonald wasn't too convincing as a... I'm not even sure what nationality she was supposed to be. Ah the perils of typecasting. She'll always be Lynn of Tawa to me.

As I say, absolutely brilliant writing work by Greg McGee, one of NZ's top TV writers. I would like to shake that man's hand one day.

And of course, there was something just as compellingly watchable on another channel - Dragon's Den, a UK show where inventors and entrepreneurs pitch to the 'dragons' a group of investors. Very interesting, especially to listen to what the investors wanted to know.

It made me think, I'm lucky to have been so inculcated with marketing, because it's just in the way I think now. Sure, TV and film is art, but it also represents an investment from someone, so you need to think the way investors think to understand how you'll get some money.

Fascinating stuff. Can't wait to get our broken VCR back from the repairers to tape one or other of these great Thursday night programmes...

An update, 4 Feb:

According to Mediacom's media newsletter, ratings were really disappointing for Doves of War. They were also in the states for Commander in Chief, which I really enjoyed the pilot of. Hm. Maybe I don't have mainstream tastes...

Local television attracts high advertising revenue :: The Big Idea :: an online community of New Zealand's creative industries

Local television attracts high advertising revenue :: The Big Idea :: an online community of New Zealand's creative industries

Fantastic news. Well done local industry, of which I hope to be a part very soon.

New Zealand director lands encore role in Narnia sequel - 03 Feb 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure

New Zealand director lands encore role in Narnia sequel - 03 Feb 2006 - Lifestyle & Leisure

Well done Andrew! But why Ireland... ?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Broadband usage in NZ doubles in 2005

In the News : Telecom NZ Limited

More broadband connections = more people able to view TVs, movies etc. online without interruption.