Thursday, 30 May 2013

Best day ever?

I awoke to a text message from my brother, Glenn, that said "ring me as soon as u get this!"

I didn't know what to expect. Glenn gets excited very easily and I often receive similar messages, but I called him right away.

"Scott, guess who I've just got an email from?"

My immediate thought was Hollywood talent agent Beth Swoffard.

"No, not Beth Swoffard"

I was out of ideas.

"John Ondrasik," he said.

For those who don't know (read: for those who haven't met me or can't hear things I say), John Ondrasik is the person who writes under the name Five For Fighting. He is also my idol.

I knew what the message was about.

"I got in touch with his manager... he said 'here are lyrics - direct from John'"

My heart skipped a beat.

Back in September, 2001, the whole World was shaken. I was too young (I still am) to understand exactly what had happened or why. A benefit concert was held a month later, dedicated to the brave men and women involved.

The event was called 'The concert for New York city' and among the many charitable performers was Five for Fighting. Soon after this, Ondrasik wrote about the experience and shared the lyrics to a song inspired by that concert.

I read those lyrics.

Five for Fighting's new albums came and went, and each time I waited for the track list, waited to read those words again, waited to hear that song.

'The Night of New York'

It never came. Along the way the lyrics were lost and despite many efforts, neither Glenn nor myself could ever find them. 

I understand what an emotional back-drop the song has and how the feelings it evoked may be completely accidental to Ondrasik's words, whatever they were. But the emotion elicited, for whatever reason, was enough to keep this song firmly in my mind over the next decade. 

And today, I can read them once again.

Glenn forwarded me the email. Before he hung up the phone he said "best day ever". I told him, for once, his hyperbole was not misplaced. This just might be the finest day of our existence.

And then he addressed the fear I'd had since I discovered the nature of the message. After over ten years of imagining... how could it possibly live up to my expectations?

It's like returning to Disney World once you're all grown up. Will it still be as magical as all those years ago?

"Scott..." he said. "It's as good as I remembered"

I can barely recall a single word, but I can recall the importance of every one. After twelve years, I have it. In my inbox. Waiting.

I think it's time to take one more ride on the runaway train...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Problem at the doctors surgery

There seems to be a conflict of interests at my local doctors surgery...

I was sitting in the foyer, waiting to have my mole investigated. My gaze drifted along the walls (mainly to avoid catching eyes with the plague victim on my left) at various posters and ad campaigns regarding the threat of obesity. Heart disease. Diabetes. High blood pressure.

And there, beside these blown up warning signs, was a vending machine.

A vending machine waiting to charge the next desperate soul for some gallstones. (No, they're nothing like gobstoppers.)

Make your mind up, NHS. Do you want us to avoid eating Mars bars or not?

It's just confusing. Some poor, fat sod with gout is going to walk all the way to the surgery, nearly pass out from the pain, and pick up a Wispa Gold for his efforts.

It's like holding an A.A. meeting in an off-license.

The items sold in vending machines are bad for us. Not just if they're eaten on occasion (being 'treat-wise' is a marketing ploy. If you only smoke crack once a fortnight you're still smoking crack more than you should), they are bad for us all the time. They contain a concoction of ingredients that are impossible to recreate in nature. Early homo-sapiens did not survive on Revels.

However, until we develop foods which are as healthy as they are nice tasting, chocolate and crisps will rule. A person should have the right to choose when and if they buy junk food. I do accept this.

But right next to the obesity posters? Behave. I could sympathise if this was the USA, where the moment people stop getting fat is the moment the economy collapses.

But the NHS is like a black hole - there will never be enough money, and the money saved from obesity related illnesses could help other causes a great deal.

Hell, it might even be enough to buy a drinks machine too! Dr Pepper, anyone?

Monday, 27 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness - what I would have liked to see

(All opinions expressed here are based upon my one-time viewing of Star Trek: Into Darkness at the cinema. I cannot remember the exact dialogue)

At the beginning of the movie, when Kirk asks Bones what Spock would do in the same situation, Bones replies "he'd let you die".

At this point, Kirk should have said "that's why I need him". Because Kirk chooses to save Spock, the audience is allowed to believe that he respects Spock's decision-making and values the opposing thought process even more than his own life. By adding "that's why I need him", we can get a larger dramatic payoff from a later scene, which will strengthen the idea of their core relationship.

I would have cut the part where Spock asks Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) for help. I've got no time for senseless crowd pleasing. The scene added nothing.

Instead, Khan should present the terms "hand over the soldiers or the Enterprise  and all its crew are destroyed". Spock will consider this, look around to his despondent crewmates, and tell Khan that he cannot hand over the soldiers.

Kirk, while still aboard the opposing ship, will smile as he realises Khan's bluff has been called. Khan needs the soldiers, so he can't destroy the Enterprise where they reside. The Enterprise crew will relax.

Khan will then propose a counter-offer: send the soldiers, or he will kill Kirk. Spock has ten seconds to reply, and as Khan puts the gun to Kirk's head and begins to count down, Kirk will tell Spock that it's okay, that he knew this moment would arrive, some day, and he needed Spock to be in captains chair to ensure the rest of the crew's safety (thus fulfilling the "that's why I need" him presupposition from the beginning of the movie).

To Kirk's outrage, Spock will cave. He will tell Khan to return Kirk in exchange for the pods.

Kirk will arrive on the Enterprise and run at Spock, shouting that he gave him the captains chair to make decisions that weren't based soley on his heart, to make the most logical decision. And he'll ask "how could you throw it all away, just to save me?" and Spock will reply "I didn't."

The opposing ship will blow up and we find out about the plot to remove the soldiers and send the missiles armed.

In this version of events, we get a moment to feel that Spock was trying to save Kirk, which, hopefully, as human beings, the audience should empathise with. But the twist comes from Spock admitting to Kirk that he didn't act purely to save him - it was incidental. It's a cold sentiment but one that Kirk values. His decision to reinstate Spock was the right one, and the idea that Kirk needed to save Spock at the beginning of the movie is fulfilled. Spock chose the logical answer that did the greatest good, it's just by chance that Kirk was saved to accomplish that. Had another route have created the most good but lost Kirk's life, that route would have been chosen instead.

I'd want this idea to be reiterated at the end of the movie also. Maybe at that inauguration/ceremony/funeral thing (whatever that was) or back on the Enterprise. Kirk can say something like "you know, you could have just sent the warheads over at the first time of asking, before he threatened my life..." (so he addresses that potential plot hole of not sending the armed warheads on Khan's first time of asking) But then he'll add, "ahh but then Kirk here would have bitten the dust aboard the ship with Khan... and you just couldn't let that happen could ya?" (But something less terrible!) He'd be teasing Spock, to Spock's humourless expression. Then Spock will turn solemn and say "one day, a decision I make may end your life, Kirk", and Kirk will say "on that day, it will be the right decision".

This way more weight is added to the characters' relationship. Spock and Kirk are mutually inclusive. Two sides of the same coin. We see a thought process from Spock that means Kirk is not the priority, the greater good is. This is tinged with sadness, the thought of Spock being so brutal about Kirk's death and Kirk's apparent satisfaction with that notion. But that's why it's dramatic.
In the real film, when Kirk is dying and he congratulates Spock on his decision to send the armed warheads onto the other ship, the part where Spock says "it's what you would have done" falls completely flat. There is no previous suggestion of this line of thinking. It does not offer an emotional pay-off without convincing the audience that he has a reason to believe it. Why is that what Kirk would have done? Why does Spock believe he should act in the way in which Kirk would? A few additional lines of dialogue could have completely rectified this and made the film that much more enjoyable.

I'd also remove the unnecessary display of Alice Eve, semi-naked. Kirk can still be a player without shoving it in the audience's face.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness and JJ Abrams

I can't imagine JJ Abrams ever making a film which, on a fundamental level, does not work. Mission: Impossible 3. Star Trek. Super 8. They're all completely functional movies. Highly entertaining, too.

Into Darkness is one more to add to the list. It features a number of terrific edge-of-your-seat action sequences, stunning visual effects, and spicy dialogue between the conflicted leads.

I am giving it a full recommendation. Star Trek: Into Darkness, is a highly entertaining, completely functional movie.

...But that is all.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, per se. I suppose I wish all movies were as good. And, honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn't be. It was far from original (big bad villain out to destroy the big bad world yadda yadda yadaa blah blah zZzZzZ). It is a very traditional three-act 'buddy picture', set in space.

All films should be as good, narratively speaking. But Abrams' films are so quickly digested that I'm never satiated. Their surface so shiny. Their innards so hollow. Into Darkness had moments where I was meant to feel something - no doubt I did at the time. But it doesn't linger.

This is what is stopping Abrams' movies from being stone cold classics. They are lacking in the replay value that Spielberg's have/had. They're lacking in depth.
The disconnect stems from the writing. Though I hesitate to say that it's a bad script, or that the movies I prefer have better ones, I know I want nothing more from Abrams' in a visual or audiological context. Nor do the films I prefer have superior CGI or action sequences.

My problem is with my emotional connection to his films and this is a writing issue. The Into Darkness script works from a technical standpoint but there are entirely flawed movies which have more impact than Abrams' back catalogue, and, for me, these are the more worthwhile pictures.

Abrams' next movie will be Star Wars: Episode VII and I have no doubt he will produce a very entertaining movie. But I want more now. I'm done with great movies.

Great movies are so last year.

Fortunately, as neither Alex Kurtzman nor Damon Lindlof (Abrams' long time writing collaborators) have their nauseatingly pristine mitts on the script, I think we just might see something special. Something memorable. Something to arrest.

Come on J.J., give us a new hope.