Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Receive...

I wrote a rant the other day. Perhaps you read it? It appeared on the Mundane Meanings Collective blog, as well as my own blog and my facebook page. It's sort of what I do. I write things, and put them out there for people to read. I've done it many, many times before, writing rants, short stories, scripts, reviews, random musings, vague ideas and one time, a poem. It rhymed and everything! People have read them and, in many cases, given me comments and criticism, both positive and negative. Once or twice, someone has disagreed with something I've said. There was a short debate, or a brief altercation, but nothing more than that.

This latest rant though, wow. Did not see that coming! Reactions were extreme. Most of them were contained to my facebook page, and most of them are no longer there (I'll go into why in a moment). The rant itself wasn't anything particularly different or special when read next to other, similar rants I've written. I talked about something which annoys me, in this case random strangers poking their noses into your business when they've never met you before. As I often do, I used specific examples from my own life to illustrate why this annoys me. In this case, I happened to mention that on one day, when some random wanker told me to "cheer up", my thoughts turned to the events which had recently occurred within my life, and which had been on my mind at that moment. In the original version of the rant, I briefly discuss what those events were, in one sentence, simply as a way of putting into context what I was thinking and feeling.

It was this one sentence which got people talking.

The sentence contained some pretty personal information, stuff that some people, and I do understand this, aren't comfortable talking about. However, that said, I'm generally a very honest and open guy. I don't really have any secrets, and any I do have aren't secret because I want them to be, but because others have confided in me and requested that they stay private. As such, I will sometimes go into things about myself which some people may think are a bit personal or uncomfortable if I feel they're relevant. On this occasion, the sentence in question did also refer to other people. Now, I freely admit it, those people almost certainly don't want me talking about them in this manner on a public forum. However, these two people were never going to read it, the only people who were going to read it that they would've had any contact with already knew, and I made sure that I didn't use their names. Okay, it was obvious who they were, but only if you were one of the aforementioned few who knew about the whole thing to begin with.

Also, and lets be clear here, these are people who have screwed me over. I'm not saying that's why I put it in there, and I'm not saying that's something I'm dwelling on particularly. It's just another reason why I had no problem saying what I said. There was absolutely no malice in it, no desire to create offence. I was simply illustrating a point.

The reactions to the rant started slowly. The first few were simply people agreeing with me, giving their own examples of strangers poking their noses in, and pointing out how they dealt with the situation. Then, things snowballed pretty quickly. While I was getting notes from people saying they admired the honesty and openness with which I'd written, there were a couple of others who thought that I shouldn't have been.

Suddenly, the point of the rant became lost, as people were focussing on THAT sentence, telling me I was either brave for using it, or a little foolish. And then came the most extreme reaction. One individual went off on a rant of their own, in which they called me a hypocrite, accused me of overreacting, listing each and every event I had mentioned and telling me why it wasn't a big deal in the slightest, or how I brought it on myself in the first place. They then went on to tell me they'd never been more ashamed of a human being in their life (Bin Laden may have committed countless acts of terrorism and be responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, but me being honest? Shameful) and that everyone would lose respect for me because I couldn't let it go.

Did they speak to me beforehand? Ask me for more detail? Nope. Not at all. They just attacked me without getting their facts straight. It angered me, and I responded in anger to it, writing another rant of my own, one which, I will admit, I maybe shouldn't have written without having some time to cool off first. It's a moot point now. And so was my initial rant. The focus was lost. Now all people cared about the one sentence, and the comments which had come about as a result.

I left it alone for a while, just reading other peoples comments and seeing the reactions. I found it interesting that I could write this whole piece, and have most of it be forgotten on account of one sentence towards the beginning of it. I wasn't going to change it though. Yes, some people had reacted negatively to it, but that's no reason to censor something. The point of a rant like this is to provoke a reaction, and I'd certainly done that! Why sanitise it, just because you don't like the reaction you're getting? As far as I'm concerned, that's nothing but cowardice. If the time came that I ever regretted what I'd written, then fine. I would have no one to blame but myself.

Despite all that, I have now cut the offending sentence, and any comments which make reference to it (which includes pretty much all of the more extreme ones). I want to stress, here and now, I didn't do so because of the reactions to it, and I didn't do so to save anybodies feelings. I did it for one reason, and one reason only. A friend asked me to. They didn't attack, they didn't judge, they didn't demand. They simply said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here because they used a lot more words, "it makes me uncomfortable, could you take it down please." Someone I care about asked me nicely. Lately I've been finding out who my true friends are, and in a way, it's almost funny that the only thing that can make me censor myself is something so simple as one of these people, who I care about dearly, asking me to do so.

But don't think for a second that I'm going to change. Expect me to be honest and open in my writing, sometimes brutally or uncomfortably so, and I won’t be censoring myself to make others feel better. Ya know, unless you ask nicely.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

It Might Never Happen

The other day I was walking through town, on my way home from yet another rough day in work. I was pretty tired, kinda grumpy and just generally not at my best. Fall Dog Bombs the Moon by David Bowie was playing on my ipod, and I was simply trying to let the world pass me by. And then a stranger walking towards me said something to me. I didn't hear him over the sound of the music, so went through the labourious process of getting my ipod out of my pocket, hitting the pause button and taking my headphones out, thinking all the while, if you've interrupted the Thin White Duke to ask me for sixty pence so you can get "home", home being a codeword for drugs and/or booze, then we're gonna have a problem. Turns out, it was worse.

"Pardon?" I said.

"Cheer up. It might never happen." came the response.

I paused, looked this person up and down before rolling my eyes, shaking my head and walking on. Why do complete and utter strangers, people who have absolutely no idea who you are, what you've done or what you're thinking, believe that they even have the right to speak to you, let alone tell you to cheer up? I just left it alone, but what I wanted to do was start shouting at this guy, to tell him "Never happen? Fuck you, never happen! It's already happened, you insufferable prick! I'm dealing with it, I'm doing okay, but I haven't had the best day. And you know what? You've just made it worse. Thanks." Well, actually, what I really wanted to do was set him on fire, an act which is a bit of a theme with me lately, so much so it's been labelled "the Paddy Prescription" by a close friend, but still.

I honestly don't understand the mentality of people who do this. Do they honestly think that by telling a random stranger "it might never happen" they're improving things? Imagine you're walking down the street and you see someone who looks a little bit grumpy or sad. Do you think "I've never met that person, have no idea what their problem is, but I'm going to get involved!" like a crazy person, or do you just walk on and leave them to it, like a normal person? Sure, if someone's in real distress, then I might see if there's anything I can do to help, but saying to someone who's that bad "it might never happen" isn't really going to cut it.

People are judgmental. It's a fact, and we can't help it. You see someone, or hear them say something, or read a comment, you form an opinion of them based upon it. It's only natural. But the people who feel the need to impose their judgments on others, those are the ones we should round up and shoot (this week. Next weeks shooting is for the people who talk at the cinema). Another recent example happened to me on my formspring account. For those unaware, formspring is a website where you set up an account, and people ask you questions. Any questions they like. Your answers are then published on formspring for all to see. You can even link it to your twitter and your facebook accounts so people can see the answers there as well.

I was asked a question by a friend on formspring which I thought was badly worded. I mentioned as such in my answer, simply as a way of pointing out that I wasn't sure I was actually answering the question which the questioner has intended. Someone else read this, a total stranger (albeit one who must follow me on either formspring or twitter), and decided to ask me "Are you always critical of others?"

I'm sorry, what? I point out that I thought a question was badly worded, and suddenly I’m always critical of others? As it happens, I am critical of others. They suck. Are you another? You suck. But I'm also pretty critical of me. And I generally keep my criticisms to myself, or if I do point them out, I do so without causing offense. And even then, that's only for friends. If I don't know you, the worst you'll get is a slight scowl as I walk by you and the street. From the wording of the question, I'm pretty sure the same person then asked me another question at a time when I was feeling pretty down, but had good reason to (see above). I'd been pretty angry and depressing on both twitter and facebook, and was asked a question which can only be the online equivalent of "it might never happen". It just annoyed me more that a total stranger was trying to worm their way into my life and thought they knew how to fix it without knowing what the problem was!

Some may say "then why be on a website where people can ask you anything?" In fact, one did after making similar judgments about my good friend, Nicki. Probably the same one, again judging from the phrasing, though tellingly, this person remains anonymous when asking questions. Nicki put together a well written and thought through answer. My own thoughts? I'm asking for questions, I'm not asking for judgements. Don't think you know me when you've never even met me.

If you don't know someone, then don't think for a second that you're allowed to speak to them about their problems. The next stranger to tell me it might never happen is getting the Paddy Prescription, and as they burn, I'll tell them "It might never happen to me, but it's sure as fuck happening to you now, eh?"

Monday, 15 March 2010

A Comment On Futility

Please note, if you haven't seen Torchwood, the following contains spoilers.

I wasn't going to write anything about this. I mean, sure, our visit to the Ianto Jones memorial at Cardiff Bay over the weekend annoyed me, but Drew pretty nicely summed up the reasons in his own rant. Go and read it. It's a fine piece of writing. Just paste this into your browser and off you go:-


Once you're done, make sure you read the comments. Take your time, I'll wait.

Done? Good. So, you read the comment which states the following: “I think it's commendable that a character in a show is loved enough to mourn. I hope the characters I write get so well loved.

It's sad, pathetic and geeky beyond belief. However, why the fuck not. It's a break from the misery we read in the papers and see on tv everyday.”

Yeah. It's this comment which has gently nudged my annoyance into blog mode. I was originally just going to respond in my own comment on Drew's note. But, er, it got a little longer than I intended. And it's not exactly complimentary to the person who wrote the original comment. And this is the edited version! I got a lot more personal in the original version.

Let me start by saying that I don't know this guy. I've met him briefly, once or twice, but we've never had what you would call a meaningful conversation. As such, my assumptions of him are based largely on what I have seen and heard through the internet, an entity which can twist things beyond recognition if you're not careful. As such, it's entirely possible that my views on this person and his opinions are entirely wrong, and if this ever turns out to be the case, then I'll be the first to admit it and retract the next sentence.

This guy is an idiot, and exactly the sort of person who I can see paying regular visits to the Ianto Jones memorial. For those not aware (and who were too lazy to read Drew's note), the memorial is exactly that. A heartfelt memorial to a much loved man, the aforementioned Ianto, who died while aiding in the defence of his country from a hostile force. This man worked in Cardiff Bay, and the entrance to the place where he worked is now covered with letters, pictures, flowers and other such tributes to him. It's massive, and it's incredibly moving. Or, it would be moving, if Ianto wasn't a fucking fictional character!

If anyone still has doubts about this, he was engaged in a serious relationship with an immortal time traveller, and the hostile force which killed him came from outer space.

The first series of Torchwood was, at best, a bit hit and miss. It couldn't quite seem to work out what it wanted to be, and for every good episode, there was also an absolute clunker ("Cyberwoman"). Many of the characters were just annoying and one-note, and the BBC's idea of a grown-up spin off of Doctor Who seemed to mean nothing more than "Doctor Who, but with swearing and smut". Things picked up in the second series, which had a much larger hit to miss ratio, and also developed the characters, taking some of them in interesting directions and adding dimensions. Ianto was probably the character who developed the most, gaining, as well as a character, a dry wit which made him one of the highlights of most of the episodes. You actually cared when they killed off two of the main characters at the end. It was a vast improvement. Finally, with the five part "Children of Earth" serial, Torchwood fulfilled its promise. This was five episodes of brilliant television, and was the proper grown up Who we'd been waiting for. It was dark, it was twisted, it was disturbing, and it was riveting stuff.

Ianto's death was handled well. It wasn't done for shock factor (though it was shocking), but rather served the story and the characters. It made sense in terms of the show, and it worked. Yes, it was moving. Yes, he had become a good character that you cared about. Otherwise, it wouldn't have worked. But he wasn't real.

Sadly, many people didn't quite get this last part, and so began the "Bring Back Ianto" campaign, or whatever they call themselves. Letters were written, petitions were signed and the bloody memorial was erected. And this is the part I don't get. There's a large problem with science-fiction or fantasy, one which rears it's head an awful lot. Due to the very nature of the stories being told, dead doesn't always mean dead. When you're dealing with things beyond the norm, be it aliens, magic, superheroes, gods, monsters, science gone wrong or whatever, then bringing characters back from the dead isn't much of a stretch. The problem is, it happens all the time, and the fans are fed up of it.

Unless the resurrection of the dead character is handled incredibly well, and this is increasingly rare, then it renders the initial death ultimately pointless. When a character dies these days, no one cares any more, as they know that, most likely, they'll be brought back later on. Very few deaths stick for long, but it happens so often that it's become annoying. However, people are stupid. Kill off a character and make them stay dead, and you'll get a backlash again. Suddenly the fans are unhappy that their favourite character is dead, and they should be brought back straight away.

The writers can't win. Personally, I'm of the opinion that dead should be dead. I thought Ianto was a great character by the end of it, and was saddened by his death. But bringing him back would undermine it completely. I hope he stays dead.

But back to my original point. The comment on Drew's note annoyed me in several ways. First, the idea that in these harsh times, the memorial is just a bit of fun to take peoples minds off the misery of the real world. What? I'm sorry, but the vast majority of that memorial is not a bit of fun. Sure, a few of the things on it are obviously there to take the piss, but most of them are from people genuinely mourning a fictional character. Trading in misery over something that's real for misery over something that isn't doesn't sound like a bit of fun to me. It actually sounds like the kind of thing that can get you sent to the psychiatric ward of your nearest hospital to be honest. Misery is misery, whatever it's for, and getting that way over something which didn't actually happen strikes me as... well, insane.

Second, the statement that the commenteer (made-up word) hopes to one day write a character that people react that way to if they're killed off. Dear lord, I hope I don't! I've created plenty of characters in my time, and somewhere down the line, I plan to kill a fair few of them. They'd stay dead too. I'd hope that people would be sad when the character was killed, sure, but if anyone reacted with that kind of extremity, I'd be nothing but embarrassed. In the immortal words of William Shatner, get a life!

The Ianto memorial can be seen as a real memorial of course. It’s a memorial to human intelligence and common sense.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Review - A Single Man

A Single Man was one of those times where I went into a movie with almost no preconceptions about what I was going to see. I knew it was Tom Ford's directorial debut, I knew Colin Firth was getting rave reviews for his performance, and I knew the very basics of the plot. Other than that, I didn't really have any notion of what I was about to see.

So, the basics of that plot then. Colin Firth plays George, a professor of English, whose lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), has been dead some months now. We follow grief-stricken George as he lives what he intends to be the final day of his now empty life.

Colin Firth is the best thing in A Single Man. He plays George perfectly, never losing the grief which drives him even during the lighter moments. It's easy to undersand why Firth has been oscar nominated for this performance, as it's also light years from the sort of thing we've come to expect from him (I'm looking at you Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones). This is no idealised, romantic lead, but a lonely and desperate middle aged man who feels he no longer has a place in the world, and you can't help but feel for him.

So much has been made of Firth's performance though, that the other performances do seem to get short shrift. Nicholas Hoult is brilliant as Kenny, the student who forms a bond with George, displaying a near perfect American accent and giving what may well amount to his best performance since About A Boy. Julianne Moore as George's best friend, Charley, is also wonderful, though, lets be honest, who expects anything less from her these days.

The performances are by far the best thing in this film. Tom Ford, moving from the fashion world into film via the costume department on the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, acted as screenwriter (the script is based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood), producer and director, his first time in all these rolls, and both his fashion background and his inexperience in these rolls come to the fore. The film is shot well, but there soon becomes an overeliance on slow motion close-ups and other camera tricks. While some of these work (in particular an early shot of George driving past his neighbours house and watching the children at play), after a while it merely becomes an annoyance. Used sparingly, this kind of shooting can look beautiful (as a few of them here do) and have a point. The number of them used in this film only works against it, however, often making the film come across as pretentious and self-serving instead.

Likewise, the script telegraphs everything within the opening twenty minutes. The ending is obvious right from the start, and there's not one thing which happens which you didn't see coming earlier on. The cast, who it has to be said again, are stunning, do their best to cover it, and the dialogue itself is well written, but the actual storyline comes across as having been adapted clumsily.

That said, I haven't actually read the novel, so it's entirely possible that this was already in there. But, as any good scriptwriter knows, what works in prose doesn't always work on screen, and in an adaptation, you have to work around this.

I wanted to see the film more out of curiosity than anything else, and that seems to be the word which best sums it up:- a curiosity. It is worth a look, for the performances if nothing else (did I mention how good these are?), and Ford does show some promise. If he can curb some of his showier tendencies, then he has the potential to be an excellent director. I for one will be interested to see what he does next.

Oh, and much as he deserves it, Firth won't win the oscar. That'll go to Jeff Bridges. Trust me on this.

(Addendum: It did)

Review - Legion

The angel Gabriel comes to Earth, and it spells bad news for the human race. Gabriel is looking for a certain child he wants to kill as part of a plan to bring about the end of days. Only a good angel, who teams up with some unlikely human allies, can prevent the Apocalypse. It makes for a cracking film, featuring Christopher Walken as Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer!

But enough about The Prophecy. This review is about a different Angel movie.

In Legion, God loses faith in humanity. Whereas before he sent a flood to wipe out the human race (and all the others), this time he reasons that we've built pretty good flood defenses (except in Gloucestershire) and sends angels instead. Angels who possess people, turning them into rather demonic type creatures. For some reason. One angel though, Michael (Paul Bettany), decides he wants know part of this plan, and seeks to save humanity. By saving a few errant humans in a diner. One of whom is pregnant. With a child who means something important to the future which is never really made clear.

Cue lots of shooting down zombie types (this seems to be how angel possession manifests) and... er... no, that's pretty much it.

Legion looked like it could be a pretty fun action movie. It's the kind of thing we don't normally see from Paul Bettany, plus the whole "wrath of God" thing often makes for a good story. The problem with Legion is there is no story. Nothing is explained and nothing makes any sense. Character development? Plot twists? Even exposition are all largely absent. There are some vague attempts at each one, but the writing is so bad that it all falls flat.

The characters are all one-dimensional cyphers, making any attempt to develop them or build their relationships utterly pointless. You just don't care about them at all. It's not helped by the acting. There isn't one actor in Legion who looks anything but bored. The usually reliable Dennis Quaid is wasted here, and he clearly knows it, sleepwalking through the film to the paycheque at the end. Bettany himself is on record as saying that he really enjoyed the shooting of Legion. You wouldn't know it to watch him. He coasts through, apparently as bored as everyone else.

In some films, this can be saved by the action sequences. After all, it's an action movie, so the script, characters, acting, none of it really matters. As long as the action sequences are plentiful and fun, then you can still get by. Sadly for Legion, it's action sequences are a massive let down. They are badly choreographed and badly shot, making it difficult to work out exactly what's going on at any one time. The end result is that these are just as boring as the talkie bits (which think they're being worthy when in fact they're nothing but cliche after cliche). Also, why are angels wings bullet proof, but you can cut them off with a knife?

Throw in a dodgy English accent from Kevin Durand as Gabriel (because everyone knows angels are English), an absolutely nonsense ending and some pretty crappy effects, and what you end up with is an early frontrunner for worst film of 2010. It's going to take some beating.