Film Reviews, Reviews

A Heathers Review? How Very.

heathersHeathers wasn’t particularly well received when it was first released in 1988, but has recently reached the iconic status of a ‘cult classic’. It also has a kick-ass musical with some of the best music ever that’s going to be on Broadway very soon (and you have no idea how excited I am about that). I can totally see why. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater on a quest of murderous revenge against the popular kids and what they represent in society complete with fast witty dialogue and croquet – what’s not to love?

The answer is not much. The writing is quick and clever with many iconic lines that have found their way into my own idiolect (“What’s your damage?” and “How very” being amongst those) and the main characters are engaging, if not necessarily likable. Veronica is a particular triumph of characterisation, with just the right amount of black humour (“If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being. You’d be a game-show host.”) and unimpressed bewilderment to make the audience root for her despite the fact that she, y’know, kills people. Throw in a dash of 80s fashion (mmm those shoulder pads) and you’ve got yourself a classic.

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Check out those shoulder pads.

 

In fact, as is the case with many of my favourite films, it’s the characters that make this film. Christian Slater does a delightfully creepy turn as Jason Dean (apparently modelled on Jack Nicolson), somehow mixing ‘sociopathic killer’ with ‘kicked puppy’ in such a way that – while you’re never in any doubt he’s anything less than crazy – you can’t help but want to give him a hug, and Lisanne Faulk’s Heather McNamara is nothing short of adorable. For a rollercoaster plot involving death by drain cleaner, a red power scrunchie and multiple people all named Heather it’s the more genuine and low-key interactions between the characters that really bring the film to life, and the ending with Martha Dunnstock honestly melted my heart.

It’s not a film to watch if you’re easily offended, with some of the dialogue straying very close to the risqué (“Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”), but then 80s teen films have had a wonderful irreverence that their modern counterparts have never quite managed to capture. There’s just something about them that has a casual confidence; they’re not out to please anyone, they just want to tell a good story. Most modern films try too hard to get us to like them, throwing in explosions and 3D effects and more straight white love triangles than you can shake a stick at. Heathers doesn’t care. Heathers just wants to tell you about homicidal teenagers, and boy does it do that.

There is one major failing of the film that cannot be ignored, however, and that is Kim Walker as Heather Chandler. Chandler is supposed to be the ultimate Queen Bee, the embodiment of every high school bully, the kind of girl even the Pope would want to bitch slap. But Kim Walker’s not scary. She’s not mean. Even the greatest and most iconic line in the entire film, “Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”, is delivered reluctantly after an obvious hesitation. It’s a testament to the great writing that the film suffers only a little for it, but when the entire plot hinges on Heather Chandler being mythic bitch it doesn’t work when she seems like the kind of girl you could easily meet in church on a Sunday.

But, as I said, the film still works – it works very well. Heathers is the kind of film that stays with you after you’ve watched it, and isn’t that really the mark of a successful movie? And it’s not just the enjoyment factor – Heathers teaches you life lessons too. Namely not to tell a loner in a trenchcoat who shows up in your garden in the middle of the night that you wish your best friend was dead, because you might just get what you wish for…

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

Character Profile (NaNoWriMo2015)

I posted this a while ago to my other (now defunct) blog, but in the run up to NaNo next month every bit of prep helps, and if someone else can get some use out of it then I’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside.

This was Frankensteined together (yes, I did just use Frankenstein as a verb) from various character profiles I’ve found floating around the Internet. I’ve picked out the bits I find most useful to focus on, mainly breaking it down to the basics to get a good shape of the character in my mind.

Here we go:

Name:

Aliases:

Nicknames:

Sex:

Birth date:

Place of birth:

Height:

Weight:

Clothing size:

Shoe size:

Left/right handed:

Sexual orientation:

Hair:

Eyes:

Accent:

Tattoos:

Scars:

Distinguishing features:

Place of residence:

General clothing style:

Family:

Friends:

Enemies:

Education:

Occupation:

Skills:

Phobias:

Quirks:

Common verbal patterns:

Favourite: – Food: – Music: – Book:  

Good qualities:

Bad qualities:

Key past experiences:

Romantic/sexual background:

Personal goals:

Professional goals:

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

How To Ruin Your Social Life (NaNoWriMo Edition)

If you haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month (more commonly known as NaNoWriMo, or just plain NaNo), congratulations. You’re probably a nice, normal, sane individual with responsibilities, a social life and a healthy sleep schedule and I heartily suggest that you keep it that way and close this page straight away. If you’ve already heard of it, or even worse entered it before, I’m afraid it’s too late for you. The best hope is to attach yourself to an IV drip full of coffee and kiss your loved ones goodbye – at least for the next 30 days.

For those who didn’t already know and are now terrified about what weird cult they’ve stumbled upon, allow me to explain: NaNoWriMo is an annual event run by non-profit organisation The Office of Letters and Light which involves crippling yourself socially and emotionally for a month – that is to say, attempting to write 50,000 words or more in the 30 days of November. It’s really fun, I swear. You’ll only cry a few times.

If you haven’t been scared off yet, are feeling particularly masochistic or are completely insane, here are the five things you’ll need to do in order to ruin both your social life and emotional well-being in one go.

  1.  Decide on a plot. Or don’t. That may sound terrifying, but it is a tradition for some to ‘pants’ it through November, or, to put it into non-NaNo speak, to make it up as you go along. This can mean anything from having a basic plot but no notes or plan to sitting down on November 1 without even having thought about it. Both planning and pantsing are equally valid and it’s whatever works for you. Me? I have a colour coded folder and mind maps.
  2.  Have that conversation. If you’ve done NaNo before then you know the one I’m talking about.
    “I’m doing NaNoWriMo next month.”
    “NaNoWhatNow?”
    “NaNoWriMo. You write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.”
    “That’s crazy.”
    “I know.”
    “So what do you win?”
    “…50,000 words you wrote? A sense of achievement? Sleep deprivation?”
    “Why are you doing it then?”
    You then undergo the obligatory crisis and come out on the other side with strengthened resolve. Honest.
  3.  Become aware of the other NaNoers. This can be anything from just acknowledging that they exist and that you are not alone in your madness to actually finding moral support on the NaNo forums to, in very extreme circumstances, leaving the house and actually socialising with them. Crazy, I know, but then this is NaNo, and anything can happen.
  4. Stop reading articles telling you how to do NaNo. I know that’s super hypocritical of me to say that in an article about how to do NaNo, but take it from a procrastination expert that once you’ve read the twentieth article on how to up your word count you’re not even fooling yourself that you’re being productive anymore. Seriously, stop it. Close this window and go and do some planning or something (please don’t really).
  5. Actually write the damn thing. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the only way to win NaNo is to write 50,000 words. There’s no shortcut, no neat tricks. It’s just you, your characters and a bucketload of coffee. And it’s fun. You’re creating. You weave plotlines, get to see your little characters develop (or get tortured emotionally and physically) and at the end you come out of it with a novel, or most of one, and it’s a wonderful feeling to look at something that you made.

So if you don’t mind losing all your friends and not seeing sunlight for a whole month, then I highly recommend National Novel Writing Month. It’s hard work, but boy is it satisfying, and at the very least it gives you an excuse to get high on sugar at 3AM.

Film Reviews, Reviews

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review

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I have to admit that I never planned on watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. A friend of mine had free cinema tickets, and various people wanted to see the new Mission Impossible, the Bad Education movie and The Visit with none of us of able to agree on something. Eventually I called a compromise with U.N.C.L.E – it billed itself as a spy film, and I’d heard it didn’t take itself too seriously, so it would hopefully appease all parties. I’d also seen a few vague comparisons to Kingsman, which we’d all liked. So I went into that cinema hoping that it wouldn’t be too bad. By the time we left we were all declaring it our new favourite film.

Think back to the old James Bond films with Rodger Moore, Sean Connery and Piers Brosnan. It was a better time, a time when Bond could blow up the ridiculously-named villain’s HQ, kiss a beautiful woman and make a dramatic escape on a jet ski all without spilling his martini and no-one complained about property damage, mentioned terrorism or tried to psychologically profile him. Then remove the alcoholism, sexual harassment and terrifying thought that that man is the one protecting our country, add a slightly weird cameo from David Beckham and you have The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The film is based on the 60s TV show of the same name which was essentially American Bond and with that knowledge you might sensibly assume that the reboot film would set out to capture the spirit of these old thrillers. The real triumph of the film, however, is that it realises that the TV series could never be taken seriously in the age of the hard-drinking depressed Daniel Craig Bond and so sets out to be the exact opposite of that with its tongue in its cheek and a premise that sounds like the daydreams of a twelve-year-old boy.

The plot is certainly aptly melodramatic: set during the nuclear arms race of the 1960s, an American and Russian spy team up to prevent a billionaire couple from creating a nuclear missile to sell to the highest bidder, as well as each secretly trying to retrieve the plans for their own country. U.N.C.L.E presents this premise beautifully with a garish opening montage set to the blaring brass theme from the original show, and then goes on to reveal the hero’s name as Napoleon Solo like it’s no big deal. Nuclear missiles, crazy scientists and chase sequences in motorboats are all presented to us like they’re completely natural, but in the background you can practically hear the film squealing and wetting itself with glee because something else exploded. And that’s what I loved about the film; it’s not comedy in the traditional sense – yes, there are jokes and running gags, and it’s the master at comedic anti-climaxes – but it’s funny because U.N.C.L.E knows what it is and it loves it.

It’s a film that knows what its strengths are and plays to them. It’s also completely aware of its audience, and knows that the way to success for an action film is characterisation. Just look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier: as good a straight action film as it is, its real heart is in the relationships between the characters, particularly Steve with Bucky, Sam and Natasha. U.N.C.L.E goes the same way, creating complex characters in an uncomplex world and making the audience fall in love with them. The forced partnership and eventual reluctant friendship of American spy Napoleon Solo (to push the comparison further, the Bond equivalent, although he often seemed more Sterling Archer than 007) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin is equal parts hilarious and adorable. Illya himself deserves particular mention, being a tragically adorable angry Russian puppy with an interest in women’s fashion who already has his own fandom of which I am most definitely a proud member. Even the obligatory romance between female lead Gaby Teller and Illya is better done than any Hollywood romance I’ve seen recently, giving both parties equal agency, not letting it distract from the main plot and not even glancing in the direction of a love triangle with Solo, and for that I applaud the writers.

Speaking of equal agency, the film does some wonderful things with its gender roles (that this article sums up pretty well). So many films would have used the 1960s setting to excuse putting the female characters in the background, but U.N.C.L.E has no time for that kind of lazy writing. Gaby is established as a three-dimensional character with her own skill set that makes her an integral part of the group. The main villain is Victoria Vinciguerra rather than her husband, and she proves herself a worthy adversary, not just hiding behind a group of henchmen like so many female villains do. It would have been so easy to make her husband the mastermind and Victoria merely some sub-villain for Gaby to face off against while the men handled the real danger, but instead U.N.C.L.E sets the bar for female characters in action films. Historical accuracy my arse. In fact, Gaby has entered my list of favourite film heroines, partially because she’s a badass car mechanic with no time for the men’s bullcrap and partially because her dancing is adorable.

That article I linked to earlier pretty much sums up my feelings about The Man From U.N.C.L.E actually. It’s fast paced explosive tongue-in-cheek fun and the critics who claim it’s bland are entirely missing the point. The Man From U.N.C.L.E wasn’t made to be a cinematic masterpiece. It wasn’t made for critics. It was made because spy thrillers have lost their joy, because everyone needs a hot-tempered KGB agent with puppy dog eyes in their life, and because films seem to have forgotten how to have fun. And in my eyes, that does make it a masterpiece. So suck on that critics.