Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Review (of sorts) - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Anyone who has been following me on Twitter, or for anyone unfortunate enough to have encountered me personally today, will know that I have spent the day in a ridiculous state of excitement about the release of a certain movie.  Almost from the moment I opened my eyes this morning I was counting down the hours till the 6.50pm screening of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Yes, really.

I dutifully went along to the cinema this evening to see…well, mostly to see Jeremy Renner but let’s not dwell on that.  I’ve been raving about going to see this movie for weeks now, so I fully expected people to ask me what may seem like a very reasonable question – ‘was it good?’

Well, it depends on your definition of good.

Whenever I go to see a silly movie – and there is no getting around the fact that this is a very silly movie – one of my favourite things is later reading all the terrible reviews.  The best ones are from people who not only thought the movie was silly, but were surprised by this.  It’s called Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – the clue is in the title.

It's very much a movie of the Ronseal variety.  The story catches up with the now-adult siblings who have grown into leather-clad, gun-toting Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, saving the world with dubious one-liners and inexplicably American accents.  They are drafted in by the mayor of a village tormented by some witches with a sinister plan of some kind but honestly by the time you get to that kind of exposition you’re probably not listening any more.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

The action is suitably bloody, if a bit repetitive, and thanks to the 3D most of it seems to be hurled in the general direction of the audience.   There’s a decent amount of humour – mostly snickers as opposed to laugh out loud moments – and there’s some enjoyment to be had from the fact that the leads do seem like they’re in on the joke.  No one seems to be taking themselves too seriously.
It’s not without faults (clue’s in the title, remember?) – with a premise like this there’s scope for it to be funnier, more outrageous and generally more chaotic, and I would argue it could have benefited from an 18 certificate instead of 15.  It is also seriously lacking in the bad guy department – Hansel and Gretel seem so capable in their roles as hunters that Famke Janssen’s Grand Witch never feels like a match for them and they never seem to be in any real danger.
With a movie like this, it’s all in the expectations (see also: Drive Angry, Battleship, Snakes On A Plane) - before seeing this movie, I expected to see Hansel, Gretel and witches.  I expected to enjoy the performances of the two leads, to laugh a little bit, to be entertained for a couple of hours and to come out of it thinking it might be cool to be a witch hunter.  All boxes ticked.

Anyone expecting more than that, remember, it’s called Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Unleash The Armchair Critic - My Oscars Roundup

It’s all over…for another year, the deliberation, speculation, armchair analysis and ‘who are you wearing’ is put to bed as another Oscars all-nighter comes to an end.

As a movie lover, the Oscars are the biggest night of the year for me.  It’s also become tradition for me to watch the entire ceremony, a decision that I usually question on an existential level somewhere between 4am and 5am every year.  Now that I’ve had four hours’ sleep and a chance to review which parts were real and which parts were semi-conscious hallucinations, here’s my roundup of my highlights and lowlights of this year’s ceremony:
The Highlights

5.  Channing Tatum dancing across the stage; Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a song-and-dance routine; Seth MacFarlane belting out a bizarre movie twist on Be Our Guest.  What’s not to love there?

4.  The legendary Christopher Plummer showing everyone else how awards are supposed to be presented.

3.  The Avengers partly Assembled – even if their skit was a little under (or over) rehearsed, awkward and not half as funny as someone obviously thought it was, I still get a kick of seeing them, um, assembled.

2. The cast of Les Misérables – I could actually leave it there as just seeing them on the red carpet was a highlight but the musical performance was one of the best things I saw all night.  It was a real (cliché alert!) goose-bumps moment and is the only thing I’m likely to re-watch on YouTube more than Channing Tatum’s dance number.

1.  Jennifer Lawrence.  It’s rare that the person who most deserves to win actually does.  I know a lot of people predicted – and were rooting for – Emmanuelle Riva for the Best Actress award but in the opinion of this armchair critic this was Jennifer’s award.  Also, how classy does one need to be to fall up the stairs and still look that cool?

The Lowlights

5.  The Jaws gimmick.  What was that?  I am usually the first person to cringe when the speeches go on too long, but this was a dire way of dealing with it.  To be fair, if I’d known about it before hand, it probably would have sounded like a funny idea, and in many cases it worked, but when it had to be used to full effect it seemed crass, rude and just a little bit arrogant.

4.  Live from the red carpet.  This would be fantastic if any of these shows were actually, um, live from the red carpet.  It’s an unwritten law of awards season that we must endure ceaseless inane questions about dresses, which becomes quickly tiresome as we creep past midnight here in the UK.  What is the point, though, of being ‘live from the red carpet’ when you are in fact in a studio, looking at photographs of dresses, or in the studio, looking at clips of the nominated movies and only occasionally recalling that there are movie stars arriving who are infinitely more interesting than the ‘experts’ hired to talk about them.

3.  Bandwagon alert – Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director.

2.  Award presenters – what was going on this year?  Timing seemed off, jokes were weird and seemed to constantly miss their mark, and then there was Kristen Stewart.  Given that she is possibly the most sullen successful actress of all time, she’s an odd choice for an event that’s meant to be a celebration, but pairing her with Daniel Radcliffe, who oozes charm without even trying, just made it that much worse.

1.  The speeches – some people keep it short, coherent, funny and relevant.  Others, well, don’t.

Following the Oscars example, I’m going to declare a tie – step forward Seth MacFarlane.  Hours later I’m still on the fence about his performance as host.  His jokes ranged from the very, very funny to the ‘did he really just say that?’, the audience didn’t always seem to get him and the over-long, terribly self-aware opening with William Shatner was over-the-top.  On the other hand, he was, at times, hilarious, the section with Ted was movie-magic at its best (yes, I totally thought the bear was real), and he is far more handsome than Billy Crystal.  Overall, I wouldn’t be sorry to see him back next year.

Finally, it wouldn’t be an Oscars ceremony without a little bit of outrage from me (I still haven’t recovered from the Toy Story 3 injustice) so I’m just going to say it – Hugh Jackman was ROBBED!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Songs and Scenes

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that this weekend is New Phone Weekend for me.  In other words, it’s a weekend of updating contacts, figuring out how stuff works and basically trying not to throw anything expensive out of any windows.  Tonight I discovered one of the best things about New Phone Weekend - the music.

New Phone Weekend for me is usually the time when I’m putting together new playlists – discovering new songs and stumbling across old favourites.  The process is normally followed by what's known in my house as a 'musical interlude' – an hour or so when everyone else gets some peace and quiet while I drift off into other worlds, accompanied by whatever soundtrack the random selector picks for me. 

These are some of my favourite nights because this is when most of my writing is done, with my eyes closed and my computer off.  

Writers have different ways of bringing characters to life.  Some write full biographies, some measure their characters by how they would react to a particular moral dilemma, some probably even have conversations with that character just to see what they’d say.  Maybe some, like me, write the characters without even realising they’re doing it.  My way, as it turns out, is through music – the way I get to know my character is by knowing how they react when they hear a particular song.  Does it remind them of something wonderful, or something painful?  Do they sing along like no one can hear them, do they dance only when no one is watching, do they imagine themselves on stage at the X Factor or do they just want to turn down the volume?  Rock?  Pop?  Country music?  The answers to these questions tell me everything I need to know.  Through the songs that come on when I least expect them, I begin to see snapshots of that character’s life at different points inside and out of the story I’m telling, and some of the most important scenes in every story have taken shape during a musical interlude.

Whether I’m on the bus, walking to work, or, like now, just sitting on the sofa listening to some music, a lot of my ideas come from the music in some way or another – not from the lyrics but more from the way I feel when I hear those songs.
I wish I could tell you I have some hugely impressive catalogue of respectable bands that provide the soundtrack when I’m writing, but anyone who knows me at all – and knows that I can recite all the words to The One And Only – would guess that’s a big fat lie.  In fact most of the songs with the highest play count are firmly in the Guilty Pleasure file.  Still, I’m sure all crime writers listen to Glee, right?  Right?!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Pros and Cons of Plotting

I know, it’s been a while.  I offer no excuses.  I have been a (whisper it) bad blogger.  I aim to be better.  I will be better.  Probably.  Maybe.

So, the title of today’s post is of the Ronseal variety.  As the beginnings of a new novel take shape in my head, I’ve been contemplating the pros and cons of plotting.  Now, for the purposes of clarification, I am not referring to the pros and cons of having a plot.  Of that, I am more or less in favour.  I could write something without one, it would be entertaining and indulgent but much like this paragraph, it would ramble on endlessly without much of a point.  For the purposes of this post, when I refer to plotting I’m really referring to planning. 

So the question really is to plan or not to plan?  Do you write a one page outline or fifty- page manifesto that documents every movement of your main character and half a dozen subplots?  Or do you just wing it and see what happens?

I have a foot in both camps.  For my last novel I did a mixture of both.  I had an idea of beginning, middle and end but had a stronger idea of my main character and the situation she was in and built a plot around that.  Once the story had grown arms, legs, additional heads, tails and the neck of a brachiosaurus it was time to do some planning.
I’ve used various methods, ranging from the sensible, bullet-pointed, double-space Word documents, to the “where is that bit of paper with that thing written on it?” approach.  I’ve used the colour-coded post-its, the spiral-bound plot notebook, the ‘keep everything in my head and let it flow’.  All, except that last one which almost never works, have their own merits, and have been useful exercises between drafts and edits, but what about before the first draft?  How much plotting do you do before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?  How much plotting is too much?

Although I have already used the phrase ‘pros and cons’ several times, for me to present such a list might give the impression of some kind of specialist knowledge.  Since I am an expert on almost nothing (unless you count Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which if you don’t, you should) I will amend my criteria a little to Plotting – Reasons I Think It’s An Ingenious Idea and Reasons It Probably Isn’t.

1.        Direction – it’s always good to know where you’re headed, isn’t it?  Being lost is no fun.
2.       Motivation – for writer and character both.  How many hours are lost to sitting in the dark, wondering where in the world this story is headed next, with nothing being written in between?  That’s just me then? Right, moving on – it’s also useful to know where the characters are headed as it helps feed into their actions throughout the story.
3.       Continuity – plotting prevents that 2am panic as you realise that Character A couldn’t possibly have done that terrible thing to Character B because that terrible thing happened before they met and so on.  I hope.

But then again:
1.        Being lost can be fun, especially when you find your own way out.  Plus, I’ve never been very good at reading a map.  Sometimes it feels good to not to know where it’s all heading and just see what happens.  If, like me, your characters become like real people to you, they’re just as capable of growing and changing as we are, and things might head off in a direction you didn’t intend.
2.       Sometimes not knowing how it all ends can help make your characters more believable.  If I don’t know something, neither does my main character, which sometimes helps if they’re meant to be clueless.
3.       Demotivation – isn’t it a bit like reading the end of a book first?  Do I still want to write a story once I know how it ends?
4.       It’s not really going to stop that 2am wakeup is it?

I’m hoping other writers will chime in here with their thoughts, particularly as it varies depending on genre, but for me I think it falls somewhere in the middle.  I’m writing character-driver crime fiction so a balance is good – I want to let the characters develop but at the same point I need to create suspense, tension and above all I want to make these characters suffer (I’m nice when I’m not writing, honest!) so I think some kind of outline is important to ensure I’m throwing everything I can at them.  On the other hand, I’ll probably change my mind about that again in an hour.  That’s the beauty of plotting – there’s always room for change.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Festival of Writing 2012...An Afterthought or Two

Friday 7 September, 4.57pm

“What have I done?  What have I done?  This is going to be the worst weekend ever.”

Sunday 9 September, 5.25pm

“Why does it have to end?  I’m not ready for it to end.  That was the best weekend ever.”

A lot can happen in three days.

There may be some reading this who will know exactly what I mean.  For everyone else, I am referring, of course, to the Festival of Writing, run by the lovely and frighteningly organised people at The Writers' Workshop.

At 9am on Friday morning, I embarked upon my first long-distance train journey, headed for the beautiful city of York.  Having boarded the correct train and identified my seat with minimal imitation of a deer caught the headlights of an oncoming car, I was feeling very sensible and grown-up.  Passing the time with self-satisfaction and tourist-level interest in the scenery flying by, I barely felt the ripple of trepidation about the festivities ahead.

Fast forward to the University of York campus, where lines of people are snaking back from the registration desk and voices bounce around the hall and strangers smile timidly at each other and old friends race to greet each other.  It’s all going on at once and I’m having flashbacks to Freshers’ Week.  I just want to lie down till it goes away. 

The horror of facing an entire room full of strangers would fill a thousand pages on its own.  When that subsides it begins to settle on me…this is a writing festival.  I’m surrounded by writers, real writers, and agents, and publishers, and people who are experts on everything and in every way smarter and funnier and more exciting than me.

Then I have a lie down and remind myself that I am not actually thirteen years old.

Fast forward another few hours, and I’ve already met some people who I am sure will become life-long friends.  I’ve shared stories and conversations with wonderful writers.  I’ve heard brave souls read their work aloud for the entire festival to hear, and applauded them all.  I’ve made so many great memories and it’s only the first night.

Any attempt to list the highlights from Saturday’s workshops and keynote addresses would be pointless.  I might as well just post the entire programme.  How would I even choose?  In one hour-long workshop a fully-formed character came to life from nothing more than a pair of letters and a number.  In another I was taught about suspense by a writer I respect and admire.  Later, I had the ultimate light-bulb moment when I discovered exactly what kind of writer I am and always have been.  Add to this some well-placed Jurassic Park references, a character motivated largely by prawns and some serious celebrity spotting and you have the tip of an iceberg made entirely of highlights.

I made a weary and weak attempt to summarise the weekend on Twitter, describing it as “superb, intense, emotional, inspirational.”  It was all of those things and much more, but someone else helped us say it much better in three short phrases.  “I do.  I do.  I can.”

If you don’t know what that means, I only have one thing left to say…Festival of Writing 2013.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Five Thoughts on a Friday: Amongst other things, prawns

Welcome to the new Five Thoughts section of What Happens in Hayden.  On a Friday. Hence the title.

Here I’ll be sharing a round-up of the top five things on my mind each week (or just the first five random things that pop into my head when I’m writing it).

Here’s what’s been bothering/amusing/distracting me from writing this week:

Editing Lessons

The good news?  I have been writing.  The bad news?  While editing my work in progress I’ve had enough ‘D’oh!’ moments to fill an entire blog post all on their own.  This week in particular I have learned that the delete button is not my friend.  The delete button is bad.  He (I’ve decided it’s a he.  His name is Del.  I know, imaginative, right?) sits there, inches away from my fingers, whispering to me, enticing me to jettison entire sections of perfectly serviceable prose because it’s not quite right.  There nothing wrong with that, is there?  No, nothing wrong at all, until it’s three in the morning and you remember that really funny exchange between two characters that would fit perfectly in this chapter.  ‘Now where did I save that? Oh…’

Delete button = bad.

Big Brother

No, not that one.

Our fearless leaders have unveiled details of their Communications Data Bill, outlining plans to protect us and ensure that our democratic way of life endures by, um, spying on us some more.

Now I’m not saying that Orwell would be rolling in his grave (standing watching over us with his arms folded saying ‘see?  I told you so’, maybe).  I’m also not saying that somewhere buried under the sound-bites and jargon there isn’t something that resembles a good intention (where is it that the road paved with those leads to again?).  What I am saying is that while I recognise a need for law enforcement to move with the times and keep up with innovation in technology, I feel like every time I open a newspaper I read about another new project that will chip away another small piece of my privacy.  It’s all for my own good, I’m told, but I shudder at what lies at the bottom of this very slippery slope.

Resident Evil

On a completely unrelated (ahem) note, this week saw the release of the latest trailer for Resident Evil: Retribution, prompting from me the kind of geek meltdown that even infrequent visitors to this blog will have come to expect. 

I LOVE the Resident Evil movies, and no, I don’t even have the decency to be ashamed about it.  What’s not to love?  Zombie apocalypse, stuff exploding, Milla Jovovich as the coolest monster killer since Buffy – in 3D!  The new one looks like it might be the best one yet.  I could go on, but by doing so I would inevitably reveal that I know far too much about the Resident Evil games.  Instead I’ll let the trailer speak for itself…

If you didn’t think that looked like the most fun you could have in a multiplex then…well clearly you’re just not as amused by a zombie apocalypse as I am.

I almost had Gary

Yesterday Walt Disney World announced some of the celebrity narrators for this year’s Candlelight Processionals.  Since I’ll be celebrating my birthday at Walt Disney World, and my birthday happily coincides with all the pre-Christmas goings-on, I was just a little bit excited about finding out who would be narrating on my birthday.

I opened up the link on my phone, anxiously scrolled down to see the name…and it was none other than Gary Sinise.  Cue another geek meltdown (it’s been a busy week.) 

Then I read the list correctly.

I won’t be seeing Gary Sinise at all.  I’ll be seeing Isabella Rosselini.

Now before I have Ross from Friends kicking down my door, I have nothing against Isabella Rosselini.  I’m sure she’ll be a lovely narrator, but I wanted Gary!  For five blissful minutes there I thought I would be hearing the Candlelight Processional narrated by Lt. Dan/Mac Taylor himself.  I should have known better.  I just don’t have that kind of luck.

The King of the King Prawns

The absolute highlight of my entire week was courtesy of a giant King Prawn.  Anyone who knows me may at first be shocked by that statement – after all, the mere sight of a prawn generally sends me running, screaming, from the room.  This prawn, however, is different.  This one has a Spanish accent.

Pepe the Prawn hijacked the Disney Movies UK Twitter feed this week to answer the questions of his army of fans.

I could write about the fantastic use of social media to promote a movie blah, blah, blah, but I’ll be honest – it’s just funny.  It’s really funny.

Here, Pepe reveals the best way to cook a prawn...

So there you have it – a little bit of politics, some zombies, and a giant felt prawn.  We have it all here on What Happens in Hayden.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Movie Monsters of a Different Kind

I am guilty.

I have been neglecting my blog, leaving it to languish unloved, unfed, and – though not exactly unusual – unread while I was off tending to other matters.

I would like to be able to report that I’ve been distracted by issues of epic importance or even –whisper it – finishing editing my book, but that would be a big fat lie.  What have I been doing?  Well…I’ve been at the movies.

Yes, really.

Alright, so I’ve not been there the whole time, and I have also been embroiled in the painstaking process of taking apart my manuscript, fixing the problems and putting it back together again, but mostly, I’ve been at the movies.

It started with a little plastic card.  Actually, it started before then, when a budget limited by the demands of Walt Disney World vacations forced me to choose between three different movies I desperately wanted to see.  It’s something of a first world problem, I’ll grant you, but a problem nonetheless.  Fondly recalling my days as a student, when my disposable income seemed substantially larger and one or two movies a week was the norm, I decided I’d had enough.  Now for a monthly fee I have a little plastic card that lets me see as many movies as I like. 

Problem solved.  Well, sort of.  Now I have new problems. 

I’m moving right by the outrageous amount of time I’ve since spent in a darkened cinema, and the fact that seeing The Avengers multiple times has unleashed a time-consuming new obsession with Jeremy Renner, and going straight to the real issue – other people.  Not all the other people, but a select few.  You know the ones…

The Facebook Addict

You’ve seen them, the person so addicted to Facebook, Twitter, emails, My Fitness Pal, the picture of Justin Bieber on their screen, that they can’t endure a two hour movie without looking at their phone – in all its luminescent glory – approximately 72 times.  We get it okay?  You’re a popular, important person and you want the whole cinema to know it, and no, that bright, shiny light from your phone illuminating the twenty feet around you is not in any way irritating.

The Aura Crusher

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are the only person/couple/group in a cinema, someone will feel compelled to sit beside you.  Right beside you.  This sort of behaviour is not confined to the realm of cinematic entertainment – bus travel also brings it out in people – but the dark room/long movie combination makes the awkwardness extra special.

The Statue

I blame modern cinemas and their sheer vastness for this.  The anxiety and strategic planning that go into choosing a place to sit are just too overwhelming for some people, inevitably resulting in paralysis – usually at the entrance – that will last approximately half the length of the movie. 

The Oblivious Bystander

I have some empathy for the Oblivious Bystander.  They have wandered in off the street, looking for somewhere warm and cosy to catch their breath and they’re left completely confused.  They don’t understand why they’re in a darkened room full of people, all staring intently at the big, bright screen with moving pictures, or why they’re the only ones continuing to talk at full conversational volume.  Though I find the endless prattle about someone’s pregnancy or how this guy cheated on that girl just a little bit distracting, I feel bad for The Oblivious Bystander.  They’ve paid £7.80 just to come in and catch up with their friends and those inconsiderate actors are talking the whole time!

If you have encountered these people at your local multiplex and, like me, have not yet learned how to function in adult society without experiencing a spike in blood pressure, there are ways of avoiding them.  Go to an earlier showing.  Stay at home and watch DVDs instead.  Be generally more tolerant and understanding (I’m totally working on it.) 

But where would be the fun in that?