Scene Unseen:
Broadcast News: Time Off

"I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time."

Film  When was the last time you watched a film and as well as thinking 'Great dialogue' you thought 'And that's how human beings talk'. It's an exceedingly difficult tightrope, because for most of us, the things that we say are generally rather banal -- its the message which is interesting not the way that its presented. In a film, both need to be serviced otherwise the audience will become a bit twitchy by the second act. So the writer and director are generally left with a choice -- produce something hyper-stylised (see Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino) or so called hyper-real (think Dogme 95 or Mike Leigh) or something in between (see everything else). The trouble with both approaches is that no one talks like that and those of us who do generally get stared at.

Broadcast News is one of a handful of films which I've come across which somehow manages to have interesting dialogue and sound like real people talking. This quote is one of many in James L Brooks' script which is something we might say every day. How often have you asked a friend, 'Do you want to go for a coffee later?' and both known when and where that engagement will take place? The real magic here is that the information being passed isn't about location it's about character. In other words, the easy option might have been "Do you want to meet at the Starbucks on Fifth Avenue' or whatever. Instead we don't really find out where the place is, what the thing was or when it happened. What we get instead is another titbit about the friendship or relationship which has developed between these two characters. But it also gets the people together for an important conversation.

But the film as a whole is littered with moments which feel utterly real, a startling thought in story which concerns itself with the packaging of news for a local station in the US. When Holly Hunter finally goes out on a date with William Hurt she breaks off for a while to go and visit her best friend Albert Brooks at home to find out how his first shot at reading the weekend news went. Now we might do this in the toilet on a mobile phone, but it still feels like something that might happen in the real world -- if only because no dates ever go perfectly. There is a great moment in that same scene when Holly and Albert have a row then after a few seconds become quite reasonable so that they can discuss something else. This is something I've seen happen with my parents quite a lot -- and me if I'm being honest. You'll be arguing about something but break off briefly to decide what to have for tea. In another film, Julia Roberts would have walked out on Hugh Grant and the tension would have gone unresolved. But real life isn't like that. Or is it?
Music Oh. Um. Pfff. Here we are at album four (barring live albums and offcuts) in the Alanis Morissette odyssey. In the liner notes to So Called Chaos she thanks "The people who come to my shows and listen to my music with such open hearts - thank you for seeing in yourself what you see in me." Well thanks to you for the thought but somewhere along the line I stopped seeing myself in your songs. The universality you brought to such personal themes in Jagged Little Pill became something which is simply personal. I feel as though you're saying things and I want to care but without some kind of context, something you've never felt the need to rely on before, I'm lost. Considering that in interviewers you've been promoting this as having a lighter tone than previous albums because you're in a happy relationship, in places the piece actually feels a bit sinister. Whether intentionally the empowerment of previous records has been submerged. At time the lyrics are just painful or confused. More than ever I feel like your therapist. Do you have one?

Where are we musically? For all the soul searching this is certainly the poppiest of the four (even more than Under Rug Swept). It's co-produced by John Shanks who has in the past worked with Melissa Etheridge and Stevie Nicks and more recently Celine Dion (?), Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch. Obviously its not clear how much of his sensibility was brought to the material but in places it feels (and god I hate typing this) repetitive and bland. For example, the portentiously titled Doth I Protest Too Much seems to last forever and in fact its only four minutes long. Sonically, in terms of the sounds being used the variety we've come to expect is available. But too many times you feel as though you've heard certain tracks before -- its a construction issue -- as though though each ends in the same way.

I really hadn't expected to write this negative review. But too many things irritate and I'm being harsh because I've come expect so much. The princess of the literate lyric goes even further here. The Grudge begins with '14 years 30 minutes 15 seconds I've held this grudge / 11 songs 4 full journals thoughts of punishment I've expended' which is fine and interesting but hardly the stuff of lighters aloft in a stadium. In Out Is Through she works the five syllable nightmare 'understandable' in and what's only one beat under 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' Six of the ten songs are lists. That's not funny. But I think my biggest problem is that most of them sounds absolutely fine in isolation. I raved Everything on its release as a single. Out Is Through will be the next one and might do quite well (good chorus). But overall I feel like I'm being harassed by an actress shouted random passages of Elizabethan verse with a pub band warming up in the background. Oh. Um. Pfff. Then again, parts of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie grew on me eventually, so anything is possible.
Life Oh um errr ... or ten things which have led me to give a definite pause in the past two days:

(1) The man ahead of me in the queue at Starbucks yesterday who was asked what he wanted and simply said: "A coffee."
(2) In the credits to the Steven Soderbergh film Full Frontal Brad Pitt is given as playing 'Brad Pitt / Himself'
(3) The Carla Bruni album quelqu'un m'a dit. If ever I go mad and I'm hearing voices can hers be the only one I hear?
(4) The summer and its ongoing commitment to making my brain malfunction. Time and again I keep missing really important things.
(5) BlogLines -- I've been searching for a great News Reader and there it was all along. Thanks radio Suw!
(6) Why can't a find a decent backpack under twenty pounds? I don't want big rubber labels, bright colours and two shoulders straps. And I don't really need all that space.
(7) This
(8) The ongoing reverence of that Footballer's Wives character popping up in Bad Girls as though tv crossovers have never happened before (I heard someone call it a 'unique' television event). What about Star Trek, the Buffyverse and Clive Mantel appearing in Holby City. Look at the late lamented Caroline in the City -- one series featured both Chandler from Friends and Daphne and Niles from Frasier.
(9) Finding out the new Harry Potter film might be quite good and realising I'll have to sit through the first two again so that I'll know what the hell is going on.
(10) Work stuff. Long story.
Film Not having seen the Universal films referenced within except for in glimpses from other film and homage I came to Van Helsing without the main images from those films in my head ready to be destroyed. I still came away with a vague sense of disappointment, because for all the exciting set pieces, the deftly realised monsters and the weaving cinematography, the central characterisation and our way into this world is extraordinarily two dimensional and so much like the recent Underworld in moments when we are supposed to care so that the upcoming peril has greater meaning. By the end you want to care more for the overall storyline but you haven't been given enough tools or understanding for that to happen.

Perhaps we've been spoilt. The Joss Whedonverse has created an expectation that even the most extraordinary supernatural narrative can also include a medition on some great theme and moments of heartbreak. This is also true of the film versions of The Lord of the Rings (which this film stylistically mirrors). But both of those allow the heroes time to breath -- whether its Buffy in a graveyeard or Frodo on the road to Mordor, there are moments in which they literally sit down and talk about the impending doom. It also gives the viewer / audience a breather to think about that doom themselves. In Van Helsing that hardly happens, and when it does the dialogue is often of such plodding banality, first draft place holders rendered in celluloid, that its entirely up to the charisma of the actors to carry it off.

And so the dicotomy because for much of the time it is entertaining for that very reason. Hugh Jackman carries over the charisma of Wolverine (and characterisation -- this too is man without a past) and exhibits some of the vulnerabilty of an early Eighties Harrison Ford (although in places I kept picturing him in a Clint Eastwood bio-pic some day). That Kate Beckinsale can be the all action hero is just a matter of proving again her flexibility -- I thought her a bit wooden and uncomfortable in Underworld but here, even in that velvet corset, flashes of her romantic comedy persona come and go. David (Faramir) Wenham is also good fun in the typical sidekick exposition role working out what to do next when the increasingly convoluted (yet strangely repetative plot) stalls. If there is a weak link its Richard Roxburgh -- not because he doesn't try his hardest but because this version of Dracula lacks a depth and he simply isn't given enough to do. In the moments when he could be at his most terrifying he's turned into a giant special effect.

Which is rather the overall problem with Stephen Sommers film. At key moments characters walk through an environment being stalked by some invisible evil -- the imagination runs wild trying to picture what kind of menace might befall the 'victim' and then it appears and time and again you're left with the impression of 'oh its a special effect' or sometimes 'oh its a great special effect' -- pulled out of the action the tension disipating as the meanie jumps out of a window. Also a couple of the action sequences go on too long without ratcheting upwards -- and in one case a battle ends then begins again repeating everything much as it happened before in a slightly different order. But for all this, there are still enough entertaining moments to be worthwhile. Too many ideas then but not enough time given for talking about them.
Elsewhere The Shakespeare Weblog has recieved one hit so far today. So someone is reading it. Little acorns etc.
Referrer Logs I'm surprised I haven't had any hate mail. Many hits today from that search. But please. Don't get me started again.
Life think today was the actual first of the summer days. It had all of the conditions. Massively bright environs, light refreshing breeze, that kind of wierd darkness which decends in the time between being outside and inside. I notoriously don't get on well with the Sun. We had a discussion in my teen years about whether it wanted me to get too hot to think at important moments and I lost so I tend to stay indoors when there are important decisions to be made. I didn't have any of those today, so perhaps that's why we could come to some kind of inderstanding.

Bumped into the afformention Joseph in the street (told you I would). Congratulated him on the book (after chewing my way through a mouthful of crisps which I'd popped in my mouth moments before hand) and I think he was happy to hear that I'd bought two copies and I was talking the thing up on the weblog. Another old work colleague, Sandra, who I hadn't seen for a while was with him. She looked happy.

I'm off to Manchester for the day tomorrow for my usual cd buying / film binging day. I think I may end up seeing Van Helsing if only because it sounds loud flash and annoying and I'm in that kind of mood.
TV The new bumber issue of TV Cream-Up is around and as well as an onsite report from the Play School reunion ...
"Fred Harris claiming that he learnt everything he knew about presenting from Julie (Stevens). He told the story of how she once did a make in complete silence, and when the director came down to ask why she'd not read out the script, she said she'd spotted there as no microphone on her so she just carried on, saving them a retake."
... there is also an 'expose' of failed magazines or the ones that got away. I somehow managed to buy an odd number of these and wallow nostalgically about the three issues of The Box I have stashed somewhere. I also have the issue of Cult TV they mention with the picture of Friends on the cover ...
Shakespeare didn't write any of his plays as we see them now. This isn't as controversial a statement as it might at first seem. When we go to the theatre now to see Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet are 'edited' versions of the plays, cobbled together by contemporary editors from a number of sources which we know are mostly acurate. Mostly. I was amazed when I read about all this while studying for my A-Levels. There are many versions of the plays and roughly fall into two camps, the Quartos and the Folios. Now at the time, bootlegging was rife and so these printings were often from not entirely trustworthy sources -- we have the editing together of the recollection of actors; a written copy of the script sold afterwards by a minor actor looking for some fast cash to supplement their pitiful actors earnings (the issue with this being that this not be Shakespeares final version of the play); a stage hand's version full of directions; a non-contemporary version of the play which has appeared a hundred years after Shakespeare's death. Different camps will argue endlessly about which can stake the greater claim for accuracy. This article tracks the history of the First Folio, one of the original collected works, now considered to well -- not too good really, and how a cult has developed around it's inception.
Shakespeare Will in concert: "I've always loved Shakespeare," said Paul Dorgan, the Salt Lake City pianist who devised the concert's program. "He's such a musical poet. And there are references to music all through the plays. A lot of them use music, too -- some of it quite elaborate." ... Decker's recitations in the concert include Caliban's speech from "The Tempest" -- describing the sounds of a mystic island; Sonnets 8 and 128; a speech from "The Merchant of Venice" beginning "I am never merry when I hear sweet music . . ."; and "If music be the food of love, play on . . . etc" from "Twelfth Night."