Thursday, 28 April 2016

Film reviews and writing news (& newsletters)

Firstly, you will notice there is now a "sign up for the newsletter" whatsit on the sidebar to the left of this.  This is specifically for news about my creative writing activities, not for general blog stuff.  Do sign-up though, I promise you won't be spammed!  Not everything I write is smut, either, so you might even discover something you enjoyed reading...
I'm working on a sequel to "The Charcoal Knots".  It's the first time I've ever set-out to do a follow-up to a completed story, and I'm finding it an interesting experience with some distinct challenges.
When I finished "The Charcoal Knots" my sappy romantic streak was sad for my characters, and part of me wanted them to have another chance to make their relationship work, but their story seemed to have come to a natural finishing point.  But as it turned out, soon after I began having lurking ideas of how that second chance could come about, and decided there might be a sequel in the offing.  Both characters have clearly got some emotional kinks to work through, and some self-acceptance issues to work on; and there's still room for them to explore the other kind of kinks a bit further while they're doing that. 
I started working on this story in response to a writing prompt in the form of a photograph (of a well-known actor holding a business card and looking a trifle puzzled).  I wrote it with the intention of it being simple, straightforward PWP - "porm without plot" - and nothing more.  The characters took control ( that is so weird when that happens but I've got to accept it when it does).  They decided it was going to be more than just aimless happy filth, and of course, being characters out of my head, they found through their exploration of a mutual kink that they were kindred spirits, and made a powerful emotional connection. 
So it turns out I'm not writing simple smut at all, I'm writing about sexuality and sexual kinks as a means of personal development and a path to increased intimacy.
One of the most classic pieces of writing advice ever is "write what you know".  Ahem, well, after years of being single and celibate, that's not entirely what I'm doing.  Certainly bondage and femdom have not been part of my life!  But I do know the experience of yearning for a closer connection with someone, and realising one has projected one's own needs onto them.
Well, I'll keep writing.  I have so many writing projects at the moment, it's ludicrous.  And I'm trying, piecemeal and in some confusion, to build a platform as a writer online as well, and trying to market myself; and wishing it all happened a bit faster >heaves small sigh< well, busy is better than bored, heaven knows.
I know impatience doesn't help, it just feeds the voices of self-doubt.  Begone, impatience!
I'm also trying to re-establish my former career as an artists' model.  It's well over ten years since I was last modelling but I've found it comes back to me as if I last did it a few months ago.  It is (though it's an odd metaphor to use in the circumstances!) like riding a bike.  The muscles don't forget, it seems.  Crossing my fingers for this to be a good move and to build up enough of a practice to be able to pay my bills. 
I'm not entirely sure I wasn't misleading myself badly as I tried for all those years to make a career at Kew.  Much though I dislike the Fluffy Californian White-Light-Bollix speak of phrases like "live a more authentic life", I do wonder if I hadn't got sidetracked into a completely inauthentic one.  So while I still have money to live off, I mean to commit myself properly to trying again to live my way, not the racing-rat way.
It means being broke, of course, but hey, what the heck?  I have enough experience of that, goodness knows.  I know a few coping tricks.
Secondly, I've had a bit of a movie-wallow lately.  This is because I'm trying to relax my brain in the evenings and entering into someone else's story helps me do that.
I had been looking forward to "The Huntsman - Winter's War" as I do love a good fantasy and a fairy tale reimagined for an adult audience.  Unfortunately I thought it was pretty to look at but dreadfully incoherent in script terms.  It has some good special effects, lots of Chris Hemsworth in leather, an outstandingly nonsensical plot and Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon as sarcastic dwarves.  There are a couple of characters who appear to be going to be important, but who then play no further role (or even get wiped out), and enough plot holes to bring down a house.   Not much else one can say about it.  It passed the evening easily enough once I'd switched my brain off.  Harmlessly entertaining twaddle which at least concludes that even for those who've been trained all their lives never to love anyone, in the end love will find a way.  That's got to be something, right?
"Jane got a gun" on the other hand I thought was excellent.  

It's had a pretty chequered career en-route to our cinemas, and some of the reviews I've seen were more interested in rehashing this history and licking their lips over it than in the film itself.  Particularly galling was the one that referred to the film as "Natalie Portman's vanity project"; grrr!  So the male co-author also plays one of the leads (extremely well, I might add, but still...) but it's a personal vanity project for the female lead?  Shame on you, reviewer-who-shall-be-nameless. 
"Jane got a gun" boasts very good performances by all the leads, great New Mexico locations, great photography, a strong script and a powerful climactic gun-battle in a beseiged farmhouse.  It doesn't fudge the brutality of post-bellum frontier life, but allows its characters to hold on to their humanity and make credible choices when they do the right thing.  I'm a big fan of Natalie Portman and I thought she was really excellent as the eponymous heroine, a capable frontierswoman who is formidably strong, morally decent, and refreshingly rounded and vulnerable, while the ever-watchable Joel Edgerton is terrific as the former fiance she turns to for help.  Noah Emmerich is also very good as Jane's dying husband, a hard man who has found a modicum of redemption and is allowed the grace of living by it to the end.  An almost-unrecognisable Ewan MacGregor has a whale of a time being utterly vile as the main antagonist.  
Love finds a way here, too, but grittily and painfully, and with regrets and compromises and losses on the way.  So my advice on this one would be to ignore those sniffy reviews; this is an intelligent slow-burn western with a marvelous heroine, and it's well worth seeing.
That's the two films I saw in the cinema; now on to the ones I saw at home last night.
"Love comes to the executioner"; good grief, what a weird movie.
It's almost rather good; but it has a hopelessly rambling shaggy-dog story of a plot, and it never settles on a consistent tone.  The leading man seemed a bit non-plussed by things a lot of the time, too.  It was if he was channeling Jim Carrey but without having Carrey's unnerving fusion of mania and repressed pain; leaving the poor lad just gurning furiously through too many scenes.  The story and the script kept slipping between genres, moving between sick jet-black comedy and light screwball comedy, with occasional forays into "angst-ridden small-town poverty".  That interplay of different tones of comedy is ferociously difficult to pull off - even Billy Wilder didn't always manage it - and sadly this doesn't quite get it right. 
I was only watching it for one reason, of course.  I'm a Renner fan.  And Jeremy Renner is very, very good in this.  To be honest, he completely unbalances the film; his performance is so real and assertive and raw it's as though he's fallen in through the floor from another, darker, better, more bitter prison movie happening on an upper storey.  The "dead man walking" scene made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
So, my verdict on this would be, see it for Renner, but don't expect much of the film itself.
And finally, because I couldn't get to sleep after that; the 2004 "King Arthur", which popped up as a late-night offering on (I think) Channel 5.  Corblimey, what a farrago.
I liked the idea of a movie based on a possible historical basis for the King Arthur story.  I love trying to winkle out threads of real history deep in the weave of legend, so this could have been just my cup of tea (sorry, terrible mixed metaphors there!).  But oh dear; such fabulous locations, so much money spent on fake snow, and such a good cast.  And what a mess of burnt porridge at the end of it. 
There were so many things that just didn't work, and so many that looked thrown in for the hell of it.  Roman soldiers did not fight with mediaeval broadswords.  The Saxons did not invade via Scotland.  The withdrawal of the legions was over half a century before the date this story was supposedly set in.  I don't think anyone, even the Chinese, had trebuchets in the 5th century.  The classic Arthurian names - Lancelot, Gawain and so forth - just don't work taken out of their Romance period and dumped wholesale into the very early Dark Ages.  And where the hell did all that tar come from?  And where the hell did all the corpses go?  And why did they all go to the seaside for the final wedding scene?
And Keira Knightley's bust seemed to keep changing size, which was a tad bizarre. 
And so on, and so on.
The very good cast tackled underwritten and cliched roles manfully and womanfully, and they all looked great wearing their improbable mixed-period armour and wielding their anachronistic weapons.  They were paying their mortgages and keeping their kids in shoe leather, and they were all doing a sterling & professional job of it.  Thanks to them, it wasn't so bad as to make me give up; but it was not good.

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