Monthly Archives: September 2014

TV Review – Marvellous

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Toby Jones with Neil Baldwin

I watched this on the BBC the other day and I have to admit on reflection I have mixed feelings about it. It is based on the true story of Neil Baldwin, a registered clown known as Nello, who was once the kit man for Stoke City, and counted many famous people amongst his acquaintances.
I suppose one of the reasons I have mixed feelings is because of the concept was what a ‘friend’ is in the programme. Perhaps it is just me but a friend is not somebody that I just met yesterday; they are someone that I have known for a while, who I trust based on experience of being with them and whose well being and happiness is a concern of mine. The latter is a point I am concerned about with people who I have only just met, but the trust element is what takes time.
In Marvellous there is only one instance when placing faith in someone to give him a lift home forgets about him, leaving him stood waiting trusting they would come, until Malcolm who is his friend just happens to come across him by chance. My main concern about the show is this point that yes you can get to know people very quickly if you are inclined to do so, but please you really need to spend time with someone and learnt to trust them before you can know you can rely on them. Most people in the world are people you can trust and rely on, but there is always a minority you need to be careful of trusting.
Beyond that slight issue though, Marvellous is absolutely fantastic. I’m not particularly religious and I am certainly not a football fan, but I felt as if I could relate to Neil Baldwin because he is dedicated to his world. He is dedicated to his faith in the Church of England, and he is dedicated to his favourite Football club Stoke City, he is dedicated to the birds that he looks after, and he is dedicated to helping the students of Keele University. He fills his life with everything that he loves, and thinks of good things rather than dwell on anything bad. He gets sacked from his job as a clown in the opening scenes but he just moves on from it, not taking it personally and not letting himself be held back because of it.
Equally though when it comes to the banter he experiences at Stoke City when he is left as the butt of the jokes, he gets his own back in the most spectacular fashion. He might let a lot of things wash over him, but he is certainly not a door mat.
I also loved the scenes near the end, when he is struggling to cope with negativity and the true value of friendship comes to play. Two people in particular Malcolm, and Lou Macari give back to him what he has given to them; joy even in the face of despair. Both of them do this by connecting with his passion for football, perhaps because of his interests it is the one they can understand the best, but it helps him to find joy in every other aspect of his life again as well.
Marvellous can be heart breaking to watch at times, but it is a beautiful example of how being nice, being dedicated to what you love and having friends who would be there for you when you truly need them. It might be a show about a man who has learning difficulties, but I watched it as being about a man who simply had a perspective about living that we can all learn from, and while we need to be cautious in who we trust, being nice and friendly is a marvellous way to live.

 

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Tony Curran with Lou Macari

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The Key To a Great Story – Sub Plots

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In my post on ‘The Mash-Up’ I talked about how you can add depth to your story, by going beyond having one of the basic plots, to combining two or more of the basic plots together in a mash-up.

One of the other ways in which a story can have more depth by having more than one plot, is to use a sub-plot. These are plots within the main story, that add extra dimensions to the story being told. They run beneath the current of the main plot, and how I usually find them is as part of the story of a minor character.

From the perspective of the minor character, they are the main character, and the plot they are living through is the main plot. That is how well a sub-plot should be written. It needs to be as good as the main plot; there to give balance to the story, to develop the characters around the protagonist, (or even be a plotting scheme of one of the antagonist’s companions) and the very best sub-plots at some point interact directly with the main plot of the story and have on effect on the outcome.

fangorn forest

‘It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn. A great power has been sleeping here for many long years. The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.’

When Gandalf the White speaks these words in the Two Towers film, he is doing one of two things; he is ending the task that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli had started at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring when they set out to save the two hobbits, and he is setting up Merry’s and Pippin’s own plotline.

In the great scheme of things, Merry and Pippin have a sub-plot in the Two Towers, that runs under the current of one of the two main plots. Their actions to encourage Treebeard and the Ents to march to war, are of great benefit to the outcome of the War in Rohan, and in the longer term to the outcome for Gondor as well. The fall of Saruman is the beginning of the fall of Sauron.

‘Avalanche in the Mountains indeed’

The inclusion of this sub-plot, especially in a story with so many prominent characters, shows the amount of depth that is possible in a story, and how different characters can had an effect even if they aren’t part of the main tale.

I do have a rule with sub-plots though, they have to be relevant. Sub-plots that have no connection to the main plot, simply draws the audience away from the main plot WITHOUT purpose. When they have impact, the reader will think ahead about how this is going to change and/or benefit the direction of the main story. When they don’t the sub-plot screams out to be cut from the story entirely. It becomes padding.

There is an exception; when the sub-plot is part of a story arc. But that’s the topic of my next post.

Film Review: Serenity

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serenity

I’m in a browncoat-mood at the moment having recently reviewed Firefly, so I felt it was a good moment to review Serenity as well. The film is the follow up to the television series, which was cut short when it was cancelled by the network. Here in lies one hint of just how special Firefly/Serenity is; TV shows that get cancelled don’t get movies.

Stargate is the only other show I can think of that got a movie, but after ten series they had an established fan base, and it was a TV movie. Firefly is only fourteen episodes long, and only eleven of them were aired originally in the states. And they got a movie so that some of the storylines established in the series could be resolved.

I have to admit that I came to be a browncoat via the film initially. I saw a teaser trailer for the cinema release on the television, and completely forgot about it. Then I saw the same trailer for the DVD release, and the words ‘I aim to misbehave’ caught my attention again. Aim to misbehave in whose eyes I thought, because the audience would surely agreed with whatever actions the characters would be undertaking.

In a sci-fi film, where the majority of my experience comes from watching Star Trek and Stargate where the established authority’s are the good guys, what would the story be like where the good guys aren’t the clean cut and polished officers of the utopian future?

In answer, EPIC. The plot, the visuals, the characters, the soundtrack: the whole package is epic. There is no other word.

Serenity is and probably always will be my all time favourite film. It is in my opinion heads and shoulders above the like of LOTR and the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Inception all of which had much bigger budgets etc. Even compared to other genres like the wonderfully quirky Amelie; the heartfelt and structural genius of Richard Curtis’ Four Wedding and a Funeral; the heartbreak of Never Let Me Go; and the beautiful setting and story of Under the Tuscan Sun, all of which have their places in my heart, Serenity tops them all.

I was hooked from the moment the opening scene finished. At the time when I first watched it I was learning a lot about how to write a screenplay, and how it differed from prose. From that scene alone, I learnt more about how script worked than I have in the eight or so years since I first saw it.

It opens with a very quick introduction of how the solar system the film is set in was formed via a classroom lesson where a younger version of the character of River is in attendance, being taught about the War that took place a few years before the TV series. It turns out this is only a dream that River is having whilst in a laboratory being experimented on under the observation of the Chief Scientist and her brother Simon, who’s come under cover to break her out. It then turns out that this is holographic security footage being watched by an Operative of the Parliament in charge of finding the wanted brother and sister fugitives. He establishes the peril the characters face by explaining why the authority is so desperate to get them back and how far he would go to get them.

In less than five minutes the back story, and the underlying threat and plot are outlined. In the next five minutes, you’re introduced to the crew of the Firefly-class ship called Serenity. It is a ‘walk though the entire ship’ scene reminiscence of Sorkin’s West Wing, which introduces most of the main characters, their relationships to each other, their role in the job they are preparing to carrying out, and the general tensions between Simon and the Captain that tie in with the threat proposed by the opening scene.

You don’t need to have seen the TV series to understand the film, because everything you need to know is laid out for you, but it’s not an information dump, it is a brilliantly structured set up for the film. None of the information you’re told is irrelevant; it’s good because not for a single second in any part of the film, is the audiences’ intelligent insulted by having obvious markers of ‘look at this’, ‘pay attention to this’, ‘this is relevant’ moments when key information is being conveyed. It is seamlessly structured, subtle, elegant, and entirely natural.

You learn information without realising that you’re been told something that turns out to be extremely important. When you watch the film again, like I have, you have moments where you go ‘aaahhh that’s important, that relates to what happens later on, oh how awesome is this script structured.’ I think I shouted that on my second viewing and gained a bemused look from my Dad, but I didn’t care, I was enjoying myself. The truth learnt in the film is hinted at throughout the entire film, and woven together beautifully. The only other example of such an elegant plot teaser is the ‘Bad Wolf’ of Doctor Who.

So when I say epic, I mean epic. It is the first film I have ever watched where I finished the film and immediately sat and watched through it again. And then I watched it again the next day. The only other film I’ve watched twice in one day was Never Let Me Go but there was a five hour gap between viewings not a five minute refill my teacup break.

If you are budding scriptwriter, or even just a writer in general, than you need to see this film to see a master at work, and Joss Whedon is one of the best to learn from. If you just want to see a sci-fi film that a little bit different, full of well rounded characters who go up against all the odds, then watch Serenity.