For the Kids

Last week I had the mid-week/end-of-summer lull from Hell. The weather was beyond miserable: four days of back-to-back torrential rain and howling wind. Having exhausted every avenue of the Internet and TV for entertainment, there was only one thing for it…catch up on all the latest cinema releases.

Naturally I opted for the latest foreign language, independent, art-house releases, Step Up 3D and Piranha 3D.

What? I was miserable! I wanted cheering up! So which is “best” (let’s just compare them to each other rather than actual films)? There’s only one way to find out…FIGHT!

Step Up 3D Piranha 3D
What masquerades as plot New York dance troupe must win street-dance battle to save loft commune of unemployed thirty-somethings pretending to be teenagers. Prehistoric fish eat people.
Cast Kathy Najimy from Sister Act and Hocus Pocus has 1 line of dialogue. That girl from the Eminem video. A man with an amazing body and a girl with flicky hair. Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue, him from Sliders,Ving Rhames and Vanessa from Gossip Girl. Oh, and Kelly Brook full frontal (MY PRECIOUS EYES).
Jump out of seat to clap moments. The dance scenes are genuinely impressive. Hats off to the choreographer. There’s something quite “old Hollywood” about a street dance scene and the 3D works better than in some other attempts. I also liked a montage to the super Chromeo track Fancy Footwork. A totally out-of-nowhere naked lesbian swim (if you like that sort of thing). A gruesome scene including a speed boat propeller. A floating male member (dismembered).
Ask for refund moments. Every line of dialogue involving the word “team”. A ludicrous plot hole (how would you not know your best friend had a sister?) A scene in which Christopher Lloyd is so spectacularly OTT, he chews more scenery than the piranhas. Richard Dreyfuss in dreary Jaws puns. How mighty have fallen etc.
Bare boob count 0 Lost count after 100.

The verdict? You can only rate these films in terms of enjoyment value, neither are going to be winning any Oscars any time soon. What’s interesting is that despite the different age restrictions these films are both aimed squarely at teenagers (a good few piranha viewers were well below 18 in my screening). Based on that assumption, Hollywood producers must have decided that teenage girls want high-octane dance sequences and overcoming obstacles to love, while teenage boys want blood splattered boobs (and plenty of them).

If this is what teenagers want out of films, do they want the same from what they read? I don’t think I could write the cringe-worthy dialogue from either of the films above and sleep at night (sorry screenplay writers). I won’t be doing so in my books, my conscience won’t allow it. But is that what my target audience wants? If this is what sells, maybe I should sell out and write Glee style “We’re all in this together” scenes for girls and torture porn for boys. No. I’d rather credit the market with more intelligence; I hope, like the rest of us, the teenagers in the cinema were in on the joke. There’s nothing wrong with pure entertainment value films like Step Up and Piranha as part of a balanced film diet. They’re the equivalent of doughnuts; great as long as you have your five-a-day too.

Perhaps it’s an insider Hollywood bluff; maybe LA producers commission deliberately awful scripts! Intentional unintentional humour? Maybe in an glass office right now some poor writer is being asked to create a script that’s so bad it’s good! “Dancers, Jim! Naked dancers being eaten by fish! Make it happen, Jim!”

That’s both cynical and depressing, so I’ll move swiftly on. Look at it this way, both films were hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny. Whether that was intentional or not, they snapped me right out of my gloomy lull. Next stop, Burlesque!

The Tributes

I resisted Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games for a long time, which is why I’ve only just completed the first book in the trilogy the week the final chapter, Mockingjay is released. Man, I’m excited about this book, but it wasn’t always the case…

I stayed away for two reasons, the first being hype. I hate hype. Does everyone love that feeling of unearthing a treasure all by themselves or is that just me? When you stumble across something in a random visit to Waterstones or Oxfam? I even live in hope of Amazon throwing up an accurate recommendation! I love surprises and hate being told what I should like. A recent victim of “The Hype” was the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World movie. Fans told me I should expect the coolest, funniest, cleverest film of the year. It was mediocre…but maybe if the bar hadn’t been set so high by the buzz it would have managed the vault.

Advance word of The Hunger Games first reached me via friends at the writing colony Litopia and hilarious blogger Rich at Four Four . I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The second reason for my hesitancy was, what I perceived to be, the glaring similarities to other works. For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where a destroyed USA forces teenagers of the remaining districts to compete in a blood-thirsty reality TV show. The teens get a Next Top Model makeover before killing each other in a variety of gory ways until the last one standing wins. Now, hang on, I thought. Isn’t that just Battle Royale or (the film version of) The Running Man?

It really bothered me for some reason! It seemed so unoriginal, so derivative and so I vetoed the first book. But the thing with hype is, if it doesn’t go away after a while, you have to take notice. Furthermore I figured there are only so many original story ideas in the world, or so Joseph Campbell thought in his book Hero With a Thousand Faces. My own novel sticks pretty rigidly to his hero archetype and so do many of my favourite books – who the hell do I think I am? The originality police? Perhaps for every big success there is a genre doppelgänger? Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch pre-dates Harry Potter, for example, and that didn’t bother me at all.

Book one of The Hunger Games eventually arrived and, sharpened knives at the ready, I got to work. I’m so, SO glad I gave the book a chance. Is it like Battle Royale? Yes. It is better than Battle Royale? Oh, yes! The real boost to the book is the main character, Katniss Everdeen. Collins has written a teenage character so hard, so strong, so clever and yet so real they should teach modules about her in school. What distinguishes Katniss from some of her contemporaries is how fantastically capable she is. Without heralding her as a role-model, Collins quietly creates a believable and truly sympathetic character. Katniss’ initial coolness develops into a still-waters-run-ocean-deep persona, and you not only fall in love with her, you respect her. The excellent characters (for I adore quirky love interest Peeta too) elevate the franchise above Battle Royale, in which I didn’t find the teens nearly as endearing.

I’ve decided to make myself wait a few weeks before I read the sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay because I want the tension to last – delayed gratification. But I’ll readily admit I was wrong about The Hunger Games…sometimes the hype is spot on. Read these books NOW before the film version casts Michael Cera or something and the second waves of hype arrive!

A.N.Other

Where to begin? My sexay new site (thanks Kerry!) would be a little empty without a blog, but I approach the world of blogging with great trepidation. With any blog there’s that assumption that people give a tiny rat’s ass about what I have to say. Perhaps if I had some expertise, but I’m really not claiming to be an expert on anything (unless you want me to write about my time as a Lead Behaviour Teacher in East Sussex schools? No? Thought not).

So I look upon this as a journal-like collection of my thoughts on writing and things that inspire me (books, other writers, films and music mainly). If people other than my mum want to read it too, hurrah! If there’s anybody out there please comment underneath my sad little ramblings so I know I’m not alone! I’d be especially interested in book or movie recommendations (I can’t just watch Labyrinth forever).

I’ll start Blog Part 1 by sharing a bit about my “writing journey” (CRINGE). I suppose I’m embarking on a second career as a writer and if I write about my experiences so far, that might be of interest/helpful to anyone in a similar situation. It’s terrifying, but the decision to throw myself into the inky depths of the writing ocean is absolutely the right choice for me. I figured out that writing was as near to a vocation as I’m ever going to get, so I want to do it wholeheartedly, but as writers know this is a doom and gloom time to begin a writing career.

Where am I at right now? I don’t know how much I should be sharing at this critical stage, but I’ll be as open as I dare to be for fear of jinxing my odds. Somewhere in the grand publishing halls of London, alongside arching walls and Renaissance murals on the ceiling, sits my début novel. Editors in Timelord-style robes ponder my fate like capricious tyrants, casting their dice.

Okay, that’s how I like to imagine the publishing industry, a side-effect of the waiting lay-by on the book highway. At present, I’m waiting, filling my time with the only thing I can do – writing. I have a supremely talented agent who’s doing the selling, so in the interim I’m passing the time, checking my inbox every five minutes and ringing my own mobile to check it’s still working.

Remaining optimistic is hard. Some days I look at my own writing and seriously expect the worst – back to the drawing board with a new project. But other days, and today is a good day, the final goal of seeing my book at an airport feels like it’s creeping an inch or two closer.