Wednesday, 23 February 2011

True Grit

I ventured to the cinema at the weekend to see the Coen Brothers latest offering, True Grit.

At the BAFTA's recently Roger Deakins, the Director of Photography, rightly picked up the award for best cinematography. It was a much needed relief moment from The Kings Speech picking up virtually every other award. Just like it's original the wide vistas and perfect attention to period detail looked fantastic 100 feet wide in the cinema.

I had purposely not read any of the critics takes on the film prior to going to see it, other than it was widely accepted that the Coens had gone back to the book.

As the final credits rolled my immediate thought was that it was a bit of a departure for the Coen Brothers, but as a friend of mine pointed out they had touched upon this genre with No Country For Old Men, but this was a much bigger foray into the western. Probably a more accurate assessment would be that it was a more commercial film for them than usual. It is of course a remake of a classic, which I'm never in favour of, and certainly the Coens other remake, The Ladykillers, was a big disappointment. I always find it frustrating that Hollywood very often cannot produce an original script these days. However, they have certainly pulled it off this time. The Coen Brothers are now in pre-production for The Gambit, starring Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. That's certainly an interesting pairing: a great actor paired with a . . . actually, I'll leave it there.

The original True Grit, directed by Henry Hathaway in 1969 and starring John Wayne in the title role, actually wasn't all that great, but this adaptation of the book I thorougly enjoyed. At times I found it difficult to understand what Jeff Bridges, as Rooster Cogburn, was actually saying, so thick was his accent. In the original John Wayne remains immaculate in his collared and starched white shirt throughout. Bridges Cogburn was somewhat more believable, if not a little disgusting in appearance, but much more in keeping with his character than Wayne's depiction. At one point we see him in a one-piece long john with stains in all the moist areas! Another noticeable difference is the amount of times I found myself laughing at some of the lines that Bridges character comes out with. This most definitely wasn't in the original! Bridges was truly fantastic in this. As a piece of trivia I also noticed that the eye patch on Bridges Rooster Cogburn was on the opposite eye to John Wayne's Rooster. Le Bouef, played by Matt Damon, was also a great improvement on the original, but then that wouldn't be difficult! Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is superb and I think we will be seeing a lot more of her.

Overall a great film. There were elements where I thought it dragged a little, and moments that I felt it was rushed, but overall enjoyable from beginning to end.

Finally I recently saw a trailer for a film starring Martin Sheen called The Way, with the northern Spanish pilgrims route of the Camino as it's central subject. If you've been a reader of my blogs you'll remember I cycled the Camino back in August last year with my best friend Pauline. So as you can imagine, I'm very much looking forward to it's release, in the UK and USA mid April.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Impatient queuing

What a strange species we are, very accepting, since time began, in that strangest of sciences: queue strategy. Well, we like to think of ourselves as patient in this matter that it.

I popped in, as is my frequent practice, to the Beach House coffee shop today, and was lucky enough to bag a table immediately, the only one available as it happened. As I sat there, content with my frothy cappuccino and the dry humour contained within the pages of Stephen Fry's latest literary offering, The Fry Chronicles, I observed the new arrivals to the coffee shop.

Not as fortunate in their timing as myself, they stood and waited in the hope that a table would become free sometime soon. Though most waiting were in couples, not a word was spoken between them as they stared at the occupants of each table, surveying the sweet comestibles and caffeine-rich drinks in their possession, trying to estimate how long it would be before they would leave.

I could almost hear the contempt in their heads as they stared at the single people, myself and my hardback book included, having the audacity to occupy a four-person table for themselves. Not that they would ever think of sharing, such is the British way.

Then, quite unexpectedly, some customers they had thought would not leave for an age, suddenly start pulling on their coats. A certain level of anxiety now kicks in. Could they possibly take longer to button up their coat, pull on their gloves and collect their belongings?! Don't they know that these people have been waiting almost three minutes?! Then there's a rush, rugby scrum-like, to get to the table, even before the previous customers have completely left, just in case someone should try to beat them to it.

And all this time not a word spoken between them.

So now they have their table and await the attentions of the circulating waitress. Has she noticed them? Weren't they first before the couple she is now serving? All this time, as they wait to place their order, they remain silent. Conversation, removal of coats and general relaxation cannot begin until the order is placed. It's as if there is a time limit, beyond which they would have to leave. That somehow the waitress holds a magic code that enables them to engage in conversation.

At last, the agony is over and the waitress takes their order with a beaming smile. Now the coats can be removed while passing comment on the attitude of their waitress and the lifetime it has taken to be served, before turning their attention to more important matters such as the weather and observing smugly some new arrivals having to wait for a table.

One of the great comedians of our time, Eddie Izzard, once delivered a wonderful comic scene of supermarket queuing strategy: The telltale sign of a cashier arriving at a till and placing money inside. The gold at the end of the rainbow signifying the possible creation of "the new queue". Trying not to draw attention to himself, or the new about-to-open till, Izzard would begin to position himself so that once the cashier opened for business he could athletically leap into first position from the stagnant queue he was presently in.

And so we spend our days, queuing for the bank teller, the post office counter, the supermarket cashier, airport check-in, and not forgetting our friendly waitress.

Patience people, patience.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Ever since I was a small boy of 4 living on a caravan site in Scotland, I have told imaginary stories. As described in a previous blog I think it came about as a need to create a safe world for myself.

I am currently writing a new feature-length screenplay in collaboration with two friends. Writing in a team can be far easier and progress the script along at a fast pace, as is the case this time.

Our story centres around the publication of a book by Nicholas Notovich in 1894, and we have set the film in that period also. I won’t bore you with the details here but if you’re desperate to know about the book then by all means do a search on the author.

Over the past few years it is safe to say that my writing has improved greatly, but more importantly my understanding of the craft of screenwriting has improved, and continues to do so. I recall when I first put pen to paper, as it were, thinking that it was just a matter of having a good idea for a story and then hammering it out. Oh how wrong I was and how quickly I became unstuck with a story that was only fit for the bin.

It’s been several months now that we have been developing the ideas for this script, and we have yet to start writing the script itself! We’ve invented characters that have an entire biography, a biography that you will not see in the finished script but without it our characters would be lifeless. It sounds strange to say that we write all this detail about these imaginary characters, but believe me, it helps. You get to know them as if they were real people, so it becomes easier to write about their behaviour in any given situation, just as you would about real family or friends.

The part I most enjoy at this stage is the research. What an amazing time 1894 and thereabouts was. Joseph Pulitzer was on the scene, who’s name would become famous for the Pulitzer Prize awarded each year after his death; Charles Darwin had recently published The Origin of Species; the Suez canal had not long opened; a trans-Atlantic cable joined America and Europe in telecommunications; the American Civil War had only been over for twenty years; and sail ships were being replaced by steam ships, crossing the Atlantic in just 6 days.

We discovered so much about that period it was difficult to know what to leave out!

Some research also brings you into contact with people you wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with. Just now we are talking to the archive department of Columbia University in New York City about a piece of literature that they hold the original for and that plays a part in our story.

If this wasn’t enough to keep me busy I’m also attempting to rewrite my original screenplay that I haven’t touched for three years.

Long may I have the ability to create these imaginary worlds.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Groundhog Day

I am a huge fan of the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as the journalist with attitude Phil Connors and the apple of his eye Andie MacDowell. I'm sure many of you will have seen the comedy which centres around the repetition of one day in Phil Connors life, that particular day being Groundhog Day. He is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the event from the town's square, Gobblers Knob, but little does he know that he will be covering the event over and over and over again, repeating that same day for a very long time. If you haven't seen it then it is a must see.

In the film Phil Connors uses the fact he is repeating every day and that no one else can remember what happened in a previous repeat, to his advantage and tries to persuade Andie McDowell's character Rita, to be attracted to him. He goes to toe-curling lengths to try and win her over. At one point he quotes a French poem to her in a cafe, and it's English translation fits his feelings for her well and the nature of his dilemma:
The girl I will love
Is like a fine wine
That gets a little better
Every morning

There are many memorable quotes from the film. One of my favourites is when Phil comes down to breakfast on the morning of the second Groundhog Day and speaks to Mrs Lancaster, the B&B owner:
"Do you ever have déjà vu Mrs Lancaster?"
"I don't think so but I could check with the kitchen."

It just so happens that the groundhog in the film bears Bill Murray's characters first name, Phil, and indeed is the actual name of the real groundhog in Punxsutawney. Today, 2 February, is Groundhog Day. Legend has it that if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from it's burrow then it will leave the burrow signifying winter is about to end. If however it is sunny and it can see it's shadow then winter will continue for another 6 weeks.

Well, Punxsutawney Phil has made his prediction for 2011: At dawn this morning he emerged from his burrow and did not see his shadow, so he predicts winter will soon end and there will be an early spring.

In celebration, and a tip-of-the-hat to the movie, I went out today to do number of things I have done many times before:

My first exploit was out on my bicycle for a run into the city centre and back. My favourite route takes me along a disused railway track called the Innocent Railway, which I have written about before, and then around a large hill in the centre of the city called Arthur's Seat. On the way home I ventured into my local coffee shop, The Beach House, on the promenade, for a cappuccino and scone. As you will know from previous blogs I used to own a coffee shop myself and I am delighted that the Beach House emerged a couple of years back, now becoming my local haunt. Later in the afternoon I threw together some disparate ingredients into a pot with homemade stock and made a large batch of homemade soup for the freezer.

This evening, coming up with the last thing to do in recognition of poor Phil Connors repetitive life is easy: I'm going to settle down with a pizza to watch, you guessed it, Groundhog Day. I've seen it many times before but I'm guessing it's still going to make me laugh.

Then I'll probably say a prayer for World peace!