Swim, Test, Shop, Film, Sleep

Yesterday I kind of wilfully skipped a day. At some point in the evening I realised I wasn’t going to write a post, so I just said, “Fine: that’s allowed.”

Today I started by going for a swim. After my new regime of exercise last summer, I got out of the habit once I started a new contract. So it was good to get back to it. (Which is not to say I haven’t swum or gone to the gym in all that time, but it’s been a few weeks at the moment.)

After that I took a HackerRank test for a new job opportunity. It’s a site that does programming tests. This one was, I suspect, a disaster. I hate doing that kind of thing: you’ve got a timer running, and the problem you’re trying to solve is unlike anything you’d have to do professionally… Anyway, suffice to say, it didn’t go terribly well.

This evening was all about falling asleep in front of the telly. We tried to watch 20,000 Days On Earth, the film about Nick Cave from a few years back. I got it a few Christmases or birthdays ago, but hadn’t got round to watching it till now. I enjoyed what I saw of it, but there was definite falling asleep on the sofa and missing chunks. Oh well, it’s a DVD: we can always go back.

Oh yes: there was also a trip to Westfield, the time-void where hours go to die.

Swim, Test, Shop, Film, Sleep

Oscar Action

Went to see Hidden Figures tonight. I absolutely loved it. It’s a feelgood movie about space, computers1 and civil rights. What’s not to like?

And yesterday we saw Moonlight, which is strange and interesting, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I got as much out of it as some did. But I spent a couple of hours this morning reading reviews of it, whch I don’t do with every film, so there’s that.

And a couple of weeks ago we saw La La Land. Which is a bit of pointless froth, but is fun enough.

Anyway, that means that on the day before the Oscars I’ve seen three of the nominated films. I don’t think this has ever happened before.

In fact I might never have seen that many Oscar-nominated films in any year at all.

  1. Original and modern meanings. []
Oscar Action

All the Things in the World

Do you ever look around and think how amazing everything is? How it all got there? And I’m not talking about the grandeur of nature, the glory of the universe, and all that. I’m talking about all the human-made stuff.

I have often found myself in the middle of a city, or looking out of a train window at a bridge or power station, and thought, “Wow: people built this. Just ordinary people, like me, actually made all this.”

Look at ancient buildings and you realise that they used to do it without the help of modern machinery, too.

And then think about the infrastructure that’s carrying these words from where I’m typing them to where you’re reading them. Hundreds of miles of fibre and copper cables across the country. Thousands of miles of undersea cables. Satellites, and the rockets to launch them.

We’re pretty amazing sometimes, us humans.

Like I say, I’ve often thought about this kind of thing. But today, while not at work because I’m a bit under the weather1 I had a slightly different version of it.

I had a sudden, overwhelming sense of how much cultural work we have created. Specifically stories and TV and films. Though in fact it was comics that really triggered it.

As I say, I’m not at my best, so I wanted something simple. I ended up reading a bunch of comics on Marvel Unlimited. And no matter how many I could read in a day, I could only make the tiniest of scratches in the surface.

And in TV, Netflix seem to have a new original series or two coming out every week.

It’s not all great, of course. But just think of all those people, writing away, acting, filming. Making things.

  1. I have a vague memory of someone in a film or TV programme mis-saying that as “beneath the weather,” but I can’t think who, or where. I kind of want it to be Josie in Twin Peaks, but I’m not sure. []
All the Things in the World


You’ll have noticed, I’m sure, that after my brief comments on the three Star Wars prequels late last year, I didn’t come back and say what I thought of the sequel. Which was, after all, the main reason I watched the prequels in the first place.

That was lax of me, but in honour of the DVD of The Force Awakens having arrived, here we go now. I won’t go into much detail, though: many pixels, and hours of podcasts, have been generated discussing this movie, and the internet doesn’t need mine at this late stage. But I’ll just quote what I wrote privately after seeing it the first time:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: I loved every moment, every frame from the scroll onwards. No, before that: from the logo appearing on screen.

Hell, I think “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” comes first.

Anyway, this is a flawless movie. OK, exaggeration: but it is a wonderful, masterful piece of work.

The other thing I thought was, “Move over Empire: there’s a new best Star Wars film.”


On things never seen

There’s a programme on Radio 4 from time to time (and it has made the transition to TV) called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. In it Marcus Brigstocke gets a guest to try things that they have never tired before. Conversation ensues, and it can be amusing.

Anyway, the title clearly derives from how unlikely it is that anyone (of a certain generation or three, at least) will not have seen it.

In case you’re worrying, I saw the original — back when it was just called Star Wars, without the Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle — in the cinema (probably second run, not first, but still). And the second and third, of course.

But then there was the prequel trilogy. To be honest, when The Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think I was all that interested. I had known from early on that Lucas had planned the original as part of the middle trilogy of three. But by the time the prequels started, it had been so long that it just didn’t seem very important, you know?

And more importantly, in 1999 when it came out, I had a small child. We weren’t going to many films that weren’t aimed at like two-year olds. And after that, there was always something more interesting, more pressing to see…

I mislead you slightly, here. I did, in fact, see The Phantom Menace, after a fashion: on a shonky old VHS, with a three-year old sweetly chattering on the sofa next to me throughout. It hardly counts. And I definitely haven’t seen the others.

And I know everyone says, “Don’t bother, don’t waste your time, they’re terrible;” but they can only say that because they’ve seen them. And now — now there’s a new one coming down the line. Episode VII, The Force Awakens is due out in December, and I’ll certainly want to see it. Of course, it will follow on from Return of the Jedi, and it probably won’t matter if you haven’t seen episodes I-III; but it just wouldn’t feel right to not see them.

So I intend to watch the prequel trilogy. I was going to start today — the fourth of May be with you, and all that — but events got in the way. Still, over the next few weeks I’ll watch all three, and report back here.

Wish me luck.

On things never seen

A Bridge Not Far Enough

Spoilers ahead.

I watched Bridge to Terabithia last weekend. It is probably the saddest film I’ve ever seen, and despite all the plaudits it has received, it has at its core, I think, a heart of darkness. It is not a bad film, but it has a dark soul.

I came to the film cold. I’ve not read the book; indeed, I’d never even heard of it when the film came out. The book is described in terms of being ‘much-loved‘ and a ‘classic‘. It was published in 1977, when I was 12 or 13. So I expect I missed it because I was ‘too old’ for children’s books, and not yet old enough again for them. And I had other concerns in that year.

So all I knew about it was the ‘from the creators of Narnia’ tag line, a quick read of the blurb, and the fact that my daughter (6) was interested in it.

As the early scenes unfolded I realised that that I had read a review of it, though. All that I recalled was a complaint to the effect that in the book, the girl was supposed to be plain, even boyish-looking, while in the film she was Hollywood-pretty (if dressed a little unconventionally compared to her schoolmates).

I think that review explains why my opinion of the film differs so significantly from that of most reviewers: they all seem to have read the book. Inevitably they review the film in comparison to it, and fuelled by their knowledge of the plot.

So they can describe it as ‘bittersweet’, as having an ‘uplifting’ ending; even as ‘transcendent’ (I think that last came from one of the mini-documentaries on the DVD). Because as they watched, they knew what was coming.

I’ve often thought that some films — the later Harry Potter ones are particular examples — must be all but incoherent to anyone who hasn’t first read the book on which they are based. The Potters can get away with it, because so many have read the books first. But in general a film — or any adaptation from one medium to another — must work on its own. It is a separate, new creation, and has to stand or fall as such.

In one sense at least, Terabithia fails on this account.

The trouble is not lack of coherence; rather it is excess of impact, and lack of recovery time. There is certainly some foreshadowing: it is plain that something bad is going to happen. But the tragedy when it comes — and make no mistake, the story is a tragedy — is too deep, too dark, too sudden. Yes, true, that’s how it would be in real life; and I’m not suggesting that movie viewers, including children, should be completely protected from darkness, tragedy or loss. But here, suddenly, shatteringly, we are no longer watching the film that we thought we were.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But the film’s fatal flaw — or at least the cause of its failure to achieve the uplift suggested by reviewers — comes after the plunge into darkness.

It is the lack of recovery time, and the content of what time there is. Yes, a significant amount of time for the characters is compressed into a few swiftly-edited scenes. Perhaps enough time is represented for the boy, Jess, to come to terms with his loss, or at least to begin to do so. But it is not enough time for us to do so.

And perhaps because the fantasy elements were (rightly) understated earlier on, we have what feels like a tacked-on fantasy ending. And it’s not even the tacked-on fantasy ending we might want. Me, I’d have liked Jess, the talented artist, to to have ripped out the page of the film’s continuity, said, “No!” and sketched a new one.

That, of course, would have made for a saccharine ending, like the false ending in Brazil, or the original cut of Blade Runner. It would have been deemed a mistake (not least because of differing from the book), or at least have been very hard to make work. It would have betrayed the story.

But the ending that we do have betrays the story too, I think, in a different way. The descent (ascent?) into fantasy may show that Jess had become closer to his little sister; but it writes Leslie out of his memories of Terabithia. It ceases to be their magical place, and therefore fails to honour her memory.

Of course it is all to help him to come to terms with his loss; but as his Dad tells him, it’s by remembering what was special about her that he can keep her alive.

Above all, though, it all happens too quickly: maybe we, the viewers, could have had just a little more time?

I can only assume that the book does, in fact, provide a more gentle exit for its readers, for it to be so popular. Though of course, you can take a book at your own pace.

Yet despite — or more likely, because of — all of the above, it’s a film that will stay with me for a long time; that I’ll probably watch again; and whose source-book I’ll certainly seek out.

A Bridge Not Far Enough