So, what happened to the other Bonds…?


There is a theory, and not a very good one, that the name James Bond is a nom de guerre that comes with the 007 job, thus explaining all the different incarnations over the years. This theory is typical fanboy fodder – we just love to tie up all the loose ends – and it even seeped up to the film makers themselves, with DIE ANOTHER DAY director Lee Tamahouri wanting to include a scene where a retired Connery Bond passed on advice to the then-active Brosnan’s Bond. This would have been fascinating and no doubt a lot more watchable than the godawful CGI parasailing sequence that somehow found its way into the film.

But if this theory is true*, then what happened to all the other Bonds over the years?

The first incarnation of Bond died of emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver aged 44.

Waiter! 40 Bensons and a Vodka Martini.

The second incarnation retired in anger after nearly dying when a British Navy sub sub capsized his lifeboat…

“Is that a submarine in your pocket, or…?”

After some years advising the Chicago Police Department (“He pullsh a knife, you pull a gun…”) he’s now happily residing in the Darby O’Gill home for the elderly.

After the tragic murder of his wife, the third incarnation…

Do you get Fry’s with that?

… suffered from a severe lack of self-confidence, and on his second mission had reconstructive surgery to look like his predecessor. But whatever he tried, he could never quite get the hair right…

Matching the eyebrows was the hardest part.

He later died in a foolhardy attempt to retrieve diamonds from an orbiting satellite.

 
The fourth incarnation enjoyed a long and successful career…

It’s like you’re actually there!

… but was tracked down and beaten to death by this man…

… who was set free by a sympathetic jury once his defence lawyer successfully proved he had suffered years of mental anguish at the hands of the deceased. A Venetian pigeon was a key witness.

The fifth incarnation caused a scandal when he turned down an offer from M to rejoin MI6. He eventually moved to Sandford in Somerset where he became the manager of a branch of Somerfield.


The sixth incarnation was last seen driving an invisible car off a cliff after seeing the film Mamma Mia.

Though there are reports that he’s been seen as a gun for hire in Ireland…

 

 

 

Of course, these are just theories. Feel free to add your own.

 

 

*And it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny: Connery, Moore and Brosnan all make reference to the death of Diana Rigg’s Contessa at some point… THEY’RE ONLY FILMS, PEOPLE!

Trolls, Holes, Gremlins, Goonies and seeing movies at the wrong age.

Really enjoyed Troll Hunter the other night, but slightly baffled by its 15 rating for ‘sustained intense threat’. I watched it with the kids (10 and 12) who were thrilled, but never terrified.

But then my poor kids have been subjected to all sorts of horrors over the years. I made the mistake of showing them Gremlins when they were way too young, and they never made it past the first hour, and this has subsequently put them off ever watching it, or its sequel, ever again (the merest suggestion sends them running from the room).

And yet they both loved Joe Dante’s more recent and much more frightening movie The Hole…

So I guess it all comes down to timing. This blog post was inspired by a chat with my friend Jo who revealed a friend of hers didn’t get The Goonies. I didn’t understand. He’s about the same age as me, and everyone in my generation loves The Goonies. Was he mentally deficient somehow? Missing a gene? No, he’d simply made the mistake of seeing it in his 30s and for him it was a bunch of annoying kids running around.

I first saw it when I was 12. I was in California on an exchange trip and feeling very, very homesick. The previous film I’d seen on that holiday was Mask…

Aaargh! Laura Dern!

… so my hopes weren’t high. But The Goonies was a non-stop roller coaster thrill ride, that made me laugh so much I thought I’d puke, and the people sitting around me were giving me some very concerned looks. For me, it’s one of the most pivotal films of my childhood. Beyond reproach.

Similarly, esteemed critic and Jessie Birdsall look-a-like Mark Kermode has frequently said he just doesn’t get Star Wars. And I totally understand this: to really feel the full power of the force you need to have seen it between the ages of 5 and 12 (I was 5: first generation Star Wars fan and it ruined my life).

So be wary of film ratings and remember that age and context is everything. The Omen (first viewing aged 11) is far scarier than The Exorcist (I was 21), but nowhere near as ball-tighteningly horrific as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (I was probably 3) or the ultimate horror… the video for Bohemian Rhapsody (age 2).

Pixar’s Brave… or playing it safe?

Just returned from enjoying Pixar’s Brave. An entertaining movie, if – oddly for Pixar – an entirely predictable one. The story lacked suspense or surprise, and got by on the charm of its characters and the stunning locations.

This movie was to represent many firsts for Pixar: first period piece, first female protagonist and first female director. But then about a year prior to release it was quietly announced that director Brenda Chapman was no longer working on the project (though she still retains a co-director credit). This is not an unusual move for Pixar. Ratatouille suffered a similar setback with the original director Jan Pinkava being replaced by Brad Bird, but it is perhaps more notable that in this case a woman was replaced by a man.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Chapman speaks for the first time of the heartbreak of being removed from Brave, and wonders how women can gain more positions of power in Hollywood. Pixar, for all its genius over the years, is starting to come across as a bit of a boys’ club, with no women whatsoever on the famed brain trust and one too many movies about Cars. Surely there must be a some women in the organisation who can add a few x chromosome into the brain trust mix?

I doubt the truth of what really happened will come out anytime soon, and it’s a fact of life that directors and writers are often fired from movie projects, particularly in the perilous world of animation where Directors’ Guild and WGA rules don’t seem to apply. But I wonder if Brenda Chapman’s more personal version of Brave might not have felt so pat, might not have been so obvious? Might it not, for all its flaws, have been more interesting?

Co-writing with a director

I’m on hols in sunny Spain, relaxing at my in-laws’ place halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, the perfect place to work on script revisions between important sessions of poolside vegging…

It’s essential to have somewhere quiet to work…

I’m currently working on a project with director Jon Wright. We’re on a deadline to deliver our latest draft by the end of the month and we’re swapping revisions while I’m out here. This is nothing unusual; this script has been written in locations as varied as the Royal Festival Hall, the Sundance Festival, a friend’s flat in Whitstable, and assorted trains from Waterloo. We’ll write together, one of us pacing as the other types, or solo, swapping rewrites over email.

More recently, as the script nears the final furlong, the rewrites have become more focused. I’ll often open Jon’s latest Final Draft file to find it in 150% mega-large print as he scrutinizes the script line-by-line, and this perfectly illustrates the advantage of co-writing with a director. Jon is the guy who has to make this work. He’s the one who’ll be standing there on location with the day’s pages, surrounded by an eager cast and crew, each with a million questions for him, and if he has a script that doesn’t work then he’s stuck, and that’s no fun when the clock’s ticking and each second represents a fistful of dollars.

So he will take some of my more fanciful stuff and give it a reality-check, turning something that looks cool on the page into something that can actually be shot. The running gag while writing this has been me turning in an awesome action sequence and then reassuring Jon that it’ll be a doddle to film. He somehow resists the urge to thump me and we then work together on knocking it into shape, breaking it down into set-ups, and trimming the dialogue down as far as it will go.

I love co-writing. Movie-making is a collaborative process and any screenwriter who wails about actors and directors changing their script should perhaps consider writing novels instead. But more than anything I would recommend writing with an experienced director; it’s an incredible learning curve, rooted in the realities of day-to-day film-making. If you get the chance take it!

PS. Bear in mind that Jon has been writing this during the post-production and release of his latest film GRABBERS. It has a wicked script by the mighty Kevin Lehane and is on release in Ireland on Aug 10th, at Frightfest later this month and in the UK later this year.

Check out the trailer…

Ending trilogies and The Dark Knight Rises (spoilers)

Please be warned: there are spoilers below. If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, then please come back when you have…

Winding up a trilogy is hard. You only have to look at the tombstones in the vast Graveyard of Part Threes to see how the mighty have fallen: The Godfather, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien, and The Care Bears have all fallen at the final hurdle.

Even the greatest trilogies have limp, if not actually bad, final acts: Return of the Jedi, Back to the future 3, and  Spider-Man all have okay conclusions, but they’re not quite as good as previous episodes (though BTTF2 was a bit of a shambles in my humble opinion).

And the number of the truly outstanding conclusions is very small indeed: Toy Story and Lord of the rings are the most recent ones I can think of, and now I think we can add Dark Knight Rises to their number.

Why do so few of these work? There’s a strong argument that the second act of any story will always be the most interesting. It’s where your hero has everything thrown at them, you’re not bogged-down introducing the audience to your characters and their world, and you can have fun and ramp up the conflict all the way up to 11, knowing full well you can end on a whopping cliffhanger for part three.

But I don’t necessarily buy that for all movies. Very few film makers know that they’ll be seeing a trilogy through to the end. Peter Jackson is perhaps a notable exception, but most directors and writers need to prove themselves with part one before they can even begin to think about parts two and three*. Certainly the makers of the Matrix seem to have been caught on the back foot with this, and Alien3 killed off the survivors of Aliens in a mean-spirited way, suggesting that that the only way forward was to ignore the past. Return of the Jedi took characters that had been made complex and exciting in The Empire Strikes Back and did virtually nothing with them, essentially remaking the first Star Wars with a bigger effects budget.

So why did The Dark Knight Rises succeed where others have failed?

Christopher Nolan has stated in interviews that when he was making Batman Begins he had no idea that there would be any sequels, he concentrated on making the first movie as good as he could. So there was no LOTR-style master plan.

When I’m working on the third act of a screenplay I’ll almost always find that the solution to any story problem is not in what I’m writing now, but in something I wrote back in act one or two. Sometimes it’s something seemingly inconsequential that suddenly has a new resonance and it can mean that you end up looking at your story in a completely new way. It’s one of those golden rules of screenwriting, and the Nolan brothers and David S. Goyer have executed it beautifully; finding the themes that worked so well in the previous movies – part one’s fear and part two’s chaos – creating a new kind of anarchy for part three and stacking the odds against Bruce Wayne/Batman in a way that trumped the previous films without actually repeating the same beats. On top of this come new themes of loyalty and sacrifice that constantly remind you that you’re watching the finale, and that anyone can die.

As anyone who caught the end of The Amazing Spider-Man will know, a story is often about the protagonist asking ‘Who am I?’ To say that Bruce Wayne has suffered an identity crisis in this trilogy is something of an understatement, but here he faces a mirror image of himself: an orphan who clambered up from darkness with hatred in her heart, and a inversion of himself, a masked man who shows his henchmen no loyalty whatsoever and demands the ultimate sacrifice from so many of them. So Bruce must put aside his anger and hatred, recover from his grief, and offer himself in sacrifice to Gotham.

And when Batman tells John Blake that ‘You’ve got to wear a mask to protect those you care about’ we now have a hero who knows what he has become, where his place is in the world, and what he must give in order to save the day. Bruce Wayne’s story has come to a definite conclusion.

In the past, Batman has often been less interesting than his villains, but not this time.

TDKR is not a flawless film; it takes its time, but it never bores and the payoff is well worth the wait. To paraphrase George Lucas; ending a trilogy is fun because you get to tie up all the loose ends, but ending a trilogy is hard because you have to tie up all the loose ends.

*And if you think the graveyard of part threes is big, just have a look at the Cemetery of Trilogies That Never Got Past Part One… Flash Gordon’s “?” ending, anyone…?

Spider-Man versus the dreaded sequel bait

Be warned, the following contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man then avert your gaze!

Took the family to see the Amazing Spider-Man in all its 3D glory at the weekend.

 

There were terrific performances throughout; Andrew Garfield has wanted to be Spidey since he was three and he gives his all, Emma Stone is as smart and watchable as she ever is, and Martin Sheen is… he’s Martin Sheen! When he’s not acting, he gets arrested for civil rights protests, and for that, we love him and truly believe that he’s the morally-centred Uncle Ben. Director Marc Webb wrings every drop of acting juice out of his performers, and the 3D swinging-through-New-York stuff was almost worth the extra moolah that the cinemas extort from you… almost.

But the story… The one thing that drives me nuts these days is franchise sequel bait syndrome. I watched so many threads set-up in this story, only to then see them unravelled, abandoned and left as loose ends for the sequel(s): what happened to Peter’s parents, Norman Osborne’s fatal illness, will Peter find Uncle Ben’s killer, to name but three. And had these been cut, the film might’ve been a good twenty minutes shorter, bringing it under two hours, saving my bum from numbness and my eyes from 3D strain.

This strikes me as being symptomatic of the producers being in charge of a bigger franchise. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies had his unique style all over them, he was driving the ship and he told stories that were self-contained. Yes, there were sequel hints at the end, and overriding story arcs, but nothing that bogged down the story you were watching at that moment, and certainly not to the level they do in this new movie. In Amazing Spider-Man there are great chunks – entire scenes – that have little to do with the story you’re watching now and everything to do with the story that has yet to be written. Marc Webb is a fine director, but I’ll be surprised if he’s back for the sequel as this time round Marvel’s producers are running the show and they have a master plan. I guess that’s all well and good for a mega-studio riding high on the success of The Avengers, but there’s an arrogant assumption that I’ll be back for episodes two and three, and at thirty-six quid a pop for the whole family that’s (taps calculator) a lot of money!

I’m currently working in a script that’s practically gagging for a sequel, and I know all too well the temptation to drop in all kinds of hints to whet the viewer’s appetite for future adventures. Fortunately we’ll be working to a very, very tight budget and we can’t afford to waste a word or a scene on this indulgence, so we’re obliged to tell our story and that’s that. So when in twenty years’ time I’m working on Spider-Man 15: We Finally Get Some Answers, and I have the luxury to indulge in franchise sequel bait syndrome, feel free to digitally slap me around the face with this blog post and demand a single story, well told.

Update: I was wrong! Director Marc Webb is back for the sequel. And good luck to him.

 

 

“Thag no like change.” From cave paintings to 3D

Thoroughly enjoyed The Artist the other night. A really charming film that’s basically Singin’ in the rain without the – er – Singin’. In other words it’s that old story about one form replacing another. Change creating upheaval in an artist’s life.

There’s a lot of that about at the moment. Music download sales finally overtook physical recently, and in my day job everyone’s fretting about the decline of physical book sales as eBooks rapidly become the predominant form. And just the other day I shared a cab with a screenwriter and director; the former romanticising celluloid’s organic qualities, while the director preferred the flexibility offered by high-quality digital.

Tonight I watched Werner Herzog’s Cave of forgotten dreams, the latest of his excellent documentaries. This one featured prehistoric paintings from the Chauvet caves in the south of France. Some of the paintings are over 35,000 years old and represent humanity’s first artistic endeavours. Herzog looks at one likeness of a bison, painted with eight legs blurred in a depiction of what he calls ‘proto-cinema’, and imagines how it must have looked with a fire burning and the flames throwing shadows on the cave walls. It’s an almost hallucinogenic moment in a really engaging film.

And this is is where the storytelling urge began. Our ancestors seeing something that moved them and wanting to capture it and share it with their contemporaries (except Neanderthals, they apparently showed no artistic flair whatsoever… which is why they’re now all PE teachers). And that urge is still with us now, whatever the form.

When The Artist was first released, I read many reviews wryly suggesting that Hollywood would no doubt be lining up a whole slew of copycat silent movies, cashing in on the phenomenon. But, as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened. Maybe they figured out that moviegoers went to see The Artist because of the great story and the engaging characters, or maybe it’s because Hollywood is still so mesmerised by 3D it can’t be arsed to go back to silent movies.

But it’s never the form that endures. Oh sure, 3D, Kindle, HD and iTunes will excite people for a while, but the reason they keep coming back are the stories; that little flutter in the heart when we’re moved by something. Vinyl, celluloid and hardbacks will probably always be with us, even if they become sidelined and niché, and when the apocalypse comes we can go full circle back to cave paintings. Only this time it’ll be mushroom clouds or hordes of zombies we’ll be painting. That’ll give Herzog’s descendants something to talke about 35,000 years from now.

Threads – Kes with nukes

Last night I watched THREADS, possibly the bleakest thing ever to be shown on television (and we gave the world Eastenders).

I watched this when it was first broadcast in 1984. I was 11 years old and obsessed with the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. I was a happy, normal kid most of the time, but the idea that we could be wiped out on the whim of leaders in the US and the Soviet Union did tend to make one a little jumpy. I recall sitting in class at Middle school when a siren – one very similar to the four minute warning siren – went off in the middle of a lesson. Everyone froze, even the teacher… till she remembered that some buildings nearby were being demolished and this was a detonation warning. Still, nothing like the cold chill of imminent annihilation to clear the mind for double maths.

So, would THREADS stand-up after all these years? Emphatically, yes. Written by Barry Hines, author of the magnificent novel  A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE, THREADS is combination of documentary style and Ken Loach realism. Based on the findings of Operation Square Leg, a report into the effects of a nuclear war, this seems as relevant now as it did then. Chillingly, the whole conflict is sparked by a Russian incursion into Iran, so not a million miles from today’s headlines.

There’s an ensemble cast, but for much of the story you follow Ruth (played by Karen Meagher) who has the bad luck to fall pregnant by Reece Dinsdale just days before the attack. You see the devastating aftermath of the attack on her family, the birth of her baby into an apocalyptic Sheffield, and then jump to 13 years later where society has descended into a new medieval dark age, where feral teens communicate in half-fogotten English (insert your own just-like-my-town-centre-on-a-Saturday-night joke here).

But the bit that everyone talks about is the attack itself. If you’d asked me what I remembered about the film before I watched it again, I would have said the mushroom cloud hanging over Sheffield, the woman weeing herself in the high street as everyone around her panicked, and the silent flashes of white hot light incinerating everything in its path. All incredibly powerful and quickly recalled over 30 years later.

Considering the budget and VFX available at the time, this is still an incredibly effective depiction of a nuclear attack. And the clever use of still photography works with the documentary style while also giving a scale to the destruction.

But upon viewing again, the real reason this works is it takes time to establish the characters in the real world. The Ken Loach style of realism makes you care for these people as the armageddon hots up around them (though this was directed by Mick Jackson, who later gave us Whitney Houston in THE BODYGUARD). There’s also a wry recognition of the hapless local councillors who, with very little training, try and control the chaos before falling out with each other and then suffocating in their own bunker.

Of course, this wasn’t the only 80s nuke drama. Oh no, I watched them all, including the big-budget THE DAY AFTER. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, this was like an episode of Dynasty where everyone gets vaporised. The effects were impressive at the time, but curiously don’t seem to have dated as well as the simple VFX of THREADS.

But my favourite, if one can have a favourite nuke drama, was WHEN THE WIND BLOWS. Based on the Raymond Briggs comic book, this animated film followed poor Hilda and Jim, two pensioners who put all their faith in the official government survival pamphlets. Voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft, it has to be the most moving and affecting of all of these. It also has a cracking score by Roger Waters and David Bowie.

These days, movie apocalypses are brought to us by zombie and viruses, but the nuclear threat is still there, and with stockpiles of weapons piling up in places like North Korea there’s probably a greater chance of a limited nuclear conflict than ever before. So why has the nuke drama fallen out of fashion? Is it a case of been there, nuked that? Or do we just not want to think about it? Sorry if I’ve ruined your day 😉

Research, Vikings and Bernard Cornwell

I recently finished a first pass on a spec script that I’ve been working on for a few months.

I’ve been a good boy and left it alone for about a week, just to give myself enough distance so that when I read it again I might have a bit of objectivity and be less precious about making cuts and changes.

During that time I thought I’d go back and just revise some of my research. The script is a children’s adventure film set in Anglo-Saxon Britain and I did some fairly considerable (for me, anyway) research on the period, including the following books…

Out of all of them, Michael Woods’ IN SEARCH OF THE DARK AGES was by far the most thumbed and useful; it was packed with information and still seems to be the best book on the dark ages and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Just a shame the TV series isn’t available on DVD.

But the others were all very useful too, particularly for cross-referencing, and I slowly began to piece together a document with ideas that appealed to me and I would use this as a one-stop fact-checker when writing (I do a lot of writing on the move and don’t always have access to books or the net).

In addition to these books I had a whole folder full of websites, and also eBooks of TERRY JONES’ MEDIEVAL LIVES and Brian Bates’ THE WAY OF WYRD, though I refer to these less, probably because they’re not on the shelf staring at me (I find that eBooks can easily be forgotten, mainly cos one doesn’t have to dust the buggers every few weeks).

And in the last week I decided to read my first ever Bernard Cornwell THE BURNING LAND. This novel is set about 100 years after my script. Politically, his Britain will have changed considerably in that century, but the day to day grind of life wouldn’t be too different. I stumbled across it in the library and the quotes on the back boasted of Cornwell’s historical accuracy, so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a cracking read and I can see why Cornwell’s so popular and I was gratified to see that many of historical touchstones were mine too, but one thing niggled. His hero, Uthred, seemed very familiar. He’s a ruthless, heroic warrior (much like Cornwell’s Sharpe), he plays by his own rules and clashes with authority (much like Sharpe), he’s quick to shack-up with the ladies (Sharpe again), and he has dry, sardonic gallows humour (hmm…). And I know just the guy who could play him in the movie…

Still, if it works, it works. I was surprised to find that THE BURNING LAND is book 5 in a series. I had no problems jumping in enjoying the book so late in a series, but I also stumbled across the synopsis for book 6 recently and very little seems to have changed, so maybe the bigger arc is more of a slow slope.

But I learned a lot from the Cornwell book and I’ve added plenty of notes for the next draft of the script. If you’re interested I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Here are those research books in full…

IN SEARCH OF THE DARK AGES, by Michael Wood. Best book on the subject that I’ve found.

LINDISFARNE HOLY ISLAND, English Heritage book. Good on archaeology nitty gritty.

NORTHLANDERS, gritty comic book series with bloody Viking action. Good fun.

A HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN by Neil Oliver. Really accessible and easy to dip into. I have the DVD of the TV series too.

THE TIME TRAVELLERS’ GUIDE TO MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, by Ian Mortimer. Entertaining and informative. One of the first books I read and instrumental in my decision to switch the story to the dark ages (things are too settled in Medieval times for my story).

A.D. 500 by Simon Young. Written as a guide book to Britain in A.D. 500. Fun, though too early for my story.

TERRY JONES’ MEDIEVAL LIVES – fun and informative, but the wrong period for me.

THE WAY OF WYRD by Brian Bates. Good on magic in Anglo-Saxon Britain.

THE BURNING LAND, by Bernard Cornwell. Sharpe axes!

Cosmopolis

Went to see this the other night: seven people walked out during the screening and, as the credits rolled, a guy just along the row from us leaned over to his girlfriend and pleaded ‘Sorry’ loud enough for the whole cinema to hear (and got the biggest laugh of the evening).

This film seems to be polarizing people, and I’m definitely in the ‘didn’t like’ camp. Pattinson was fine, as were Juliet Binoche and Paul Giamatti, but it was alienating and obtuse and not as clever as it thought it was. And maybe that was the point, but I’d love to have seen Pinter* or Mamet have a stab at the dialogue in these vignettes; it could’ve been poetic and enthralling, but instead it felt like a series of drama school monologues.

And I know this isn’t your typical narrative-driven cinema, and I won’t usually be this negative, I’m generally a half-pint-full, well-they-didn’t-set-out-to-make-such-a-terrible-movie kind of bloke, but this one had me fidgeting like a six-year-old.

This is the latest in a series of movies I’ve seen where a director in his dotage is indulged by a studio and the results have been disappointing: Scott with PROMETHEUS, Malick with TREE OF LIFE and now this. Fair play, they’ve earned the right I guess but I’ll definitely think twice before parting with my Odeon points again.

*Yeah, I know he’s dead…