I Am The Immortal Iron Fist! (we know!)

Having just finished binge-watching both Netflix’s shows, Iron Fist and The Defenders and, for the most part, enjoying them, here are my belated thoughts on the latest additions to the MCU – Marvel Cinematic universe – televisual rostrum. This blog will focus on Iron Fist.
In order of preference, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were great shows, setting up and defining the lead and central characters perfectly. Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer whose sense of duty and justice is fuelled by rage and a fearless need to defend his city, New York, as the Daredevil. Jessica Jones, a reluctant superhero, imbued with superhuman strength and a sense of right that she fights to suppress, feeling her involvement in any situation immediately makes it worse and Luke Cage, bulletproof and super strong, he only wants to keep his neighbourhood safe, feeling that, with his particular gifts, he is duty bound to do so.
All the aforementioned shows created compelling and believable central protagonist, their foibles and struggle relatable and recognisable. In Iron Fist, the fourth and final character to be introduced before all the characters being brought together, the previous formula is, inexplicably, ignored.
Danny Rand, who is – as he tells us repeatedly as though he suffers from some form of braggadocio Tourette’s – the immortal Iron Fist, is a man who returns from obscurity, having been presumed dead, to claim his billion dollar fortune and occasionally fight bad people – not particularly impressively for a person who had trained everyday since childhood to be a warrior, but I will get to that.
Iron Fist suffers from a few problems, one being the comparison with its better predecessors, second being miscasting and perhaps the biggest issue is the writing. That is not to say the writing is bad. It is great for just about every character except for the oft-mentioned immortal Iron Fist. In a thirteen episode series – thirteen hours of my life! – the only character who does not evolve is Danny ‘I am the immortal Iron Fist’ Rand.
Rand’s purpose is also muddled. Having returned to New York to….truthfully I not sure what his reasons were for returning to New York. Fifteen years have passed since he disappeared, presumed dead, he returns to his father’s former company building, looking like a hobo and is mystified as to why nobody will accept that he is Danny Rand, somehow still the rightful owner of fifty-one percent of the multi-billion-dollar Rand corporation, even though all the world thought him dead.
A superhero, martial arts series, which is the loose concept of Iron Fist, turns into a tedious corporate power struggle show. Did I say martial arts? Right. Aside from saddling Finn Jones, the actor who plays Danny Rand, with the Herculean task of making Rand relatable, he also is supposed to be a fierce martial arts warrior – the immortal Iron Fist. Unfortunately, everybody he fights seems to be a more competent martial artist than he is. In both shows! In The Defenders, Daredevil exhibits a level of fighting prowess that the immortal Iron Fist could only dream of matching.
The wide shots favoured in the better fight films of modern times do Jones no favours, though he does noticeably improve between Iron Fist and The Defenders, but not enough for him to convince as a character of true formidable fighting skill. Perhaps that was the reason Iron Fist was so much exposition as opposed to action, with the little action there is involving the immortal Iron Fist lacklustre. That is not to say all is lost action wise. It would seem, as is the way of television, that Danny needed a love interest – not to mention something to save the show from martial arts mediocrity – to that end the character of Colleen Wing, played by a fantastic Jessica Henwick, lifts proceedings every time she is in a scene. Her fight scenes are also some of the best in the series.
It is a pity that the fight scenes for the central character are so underwhelming, as the aesthetics of the rest of the show are quite impressive, likewise the performances from just about every other actor. Even the pacing is quite good, even if there were times when I wished someone, anyone, would fight.
In conclusion, Iron Fist is passable entertainment without ever reaching or even threatening to reach the heights of previous MCU fare. What is more unfortunate is the fact that Iron Fist is the launch pad for The Defenders, thus thrusting the perennially dull Rand, ‘I am the immortal Iron Fist’ quote in tow, front and centre of a series with far richer characters.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard – a review

The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in a pretty formulaic buddy-buddy action movie. At just under two hours long – a tad on the lengthy side – it is, nonetheless, an enjoyable waste of a couple of hours.
Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a bodyguard who is at the top of his profession. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Amelia Roussel – an underused and underwritten Elodie Yung, better known for her turn as Elektra in the Netflix Daredevil series – who is also an Interpol agent. Michael’s business is ruined when a high profile client is killed moments before he successfully completes the protection detail.
Two years later Michael, his reputation in tatters and his relationship over, is doing smaller lower profile jobs – a cameo from Richard E. Grant as a nervous, pill popping lawyer, is suitably amusing as Reynolds’ Michael tries to maintain the previously high standard of service that saw him rise to the top of his profession, even as his demeanour betrays the fact that he could not care less about the job.
Elsewhere, back in the past, we see the President/Dictator of Belarus, Vladislav Dukhovich – Gary Oldman covering the bills with one of his stock-in-trade villain performances – killing some poor teacher’s wife and child, because he had the temerity to speak out against the oppressive regime. Back in the present, the same teacher is in the Hauge, giving evidence against Dukhovich as he is tried as a war criminal.
The evidence, unfortunately, is not sufficient as there is no physical proof. Samuel L. Jackson is Darius Kincaid, a clinical Assassin whom Interpol have in their possession. He has the necessary evidence needed to put Dukhovich away, but will only testify if his wife – an extremely fiery and foul-mouthed Salma Hayek – is released and cleared of all charges.
With a deal in place, rookie field agent Roussel is tasked with escorting Kincaid to the Hauge trial. When the security motorcade is ambushed by Dukhovich’s men, Roussel realises that Interpol has been compromised and reluctantly calls her ex-boyfriend, Bryce.

Initially, Bryce refuses to help, but when Roussel tells him she can get his life back on track, he agrees to help. He has reservations once more when he finds out it is Kincaid, a man who has tried to kill him multiple times.
As mentioned above, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an enjoyable film that springs absolutely no surprises whatsoever. Jackson is on cranked-up-to-eleven, full muthafucka spitting form, playing a hitman who happens to have a supreme talent for killing, a talent that has got him handsomely paid, whilst embracing all of life’s riches, good and bad. Reynolds’ good guy caught in a bad situation face is in full effect also.
When the two leads are together on screen the film sparkles, with them playing perfectly off of one another. Every other aspect of the film is as one would expect. There is gun play, fighting, a villainous master plan, a villainous rant, really weak female characters – even though there are quite a few prominent female roles – and chase scenes. An action comedy by numbers.
As I alluded to earlier, the film is on the long side at just under two hours. There are several chase scenes that would have been better served by a more ruthless editor, especially one Bond-esque waterway scene. There was also a surprising amount of CGI, with a lot of the leads scenes noticeably studio shot.
Having recently been spoilt by the glorious cinematography and colour in Dunkirk and Atomic Blonde, the visuals of The Hitman’s Bodyguard were comparatively lacklustre, even looking fuzzy at times.
Minor film geekery aside, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an entertaining romp, with enough pace to not flag too much and the stars doing what the best ones do, raising a mediocre film to a good one.

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Atomic Meh – a review

Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron and featuring James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman is the directorial effort – a full debut if you will allow – of David Leitch. Leitch, an actor, stuntman, writer and producer, came to prominence as one of the co-directors on the brilliant Keanu Reeves starrer, John Wick. With its simple premise and brisk execution, John Wick was one of the best action films to come out in the last few years.
One of the reasons for its success was given as the expertise of its two directors in stunt work and action set piece coordination. This expertise is evident in Atomic Blonde. Every fight scene, almost as impressive as John Wick, is fluid and kinetic, the sound design implemented perfectly for every punch, kick, knee and bullet. There is one fight sequence towards the end of the film that is so gratifyingly violent it is almost worth the admission price on its own.
The statuesque Theron is perfectly cast as Lorraine Broughton – not the greatest spy name – an MI6 operative sent into cold war Germany, in nineteen eighty-nine, to retrieve a list that contains a list of all the undercover operatives in Europe. The situation is complicated by fractious East/West relations as the Berlin wall is seen as the symbol of oppression that it was and some other nonsense wherein the operative who had the list was an old flame of Lorraine. Lorraine is told her contact in Berlin is David Percival (McAvoy) an agent who has been undercover for some time in Berlin.
Cards on the table, I must admit I did not love this film. It was by no means terrible or even bad. It was just okay. The biggest problem is the convoluted story. The ‘missing list’ story has been done so many times it is becoming its own sub-genre! It was done fantastically in Skyfall and to great comedic effect in Spy. In Atomic Blonde, the list is seen as so vital that every covert agency and nefarious group in the world wants it. I, however, didn’t care.
A spy ‘thriller’, punctuated with some great action scenes, Atomic Blonde is unnecessarily complex in the story with one never sure if any character is who they purport to be. It also utilises a, in my opinion, detrimental style in the telling of the story, with a beat up looking Lorraine recalling the events in a debriefing meeting, post mission. The story is shown in flashback, interspersed with tension free moments of her being questioned in the present.
As far as I can see, the title of the film only serves as reference to Theron’s stylistic nod to eighties Debbie Harry and – a little misguidedly – her explosive fighting style. I say it’s misguided because – and I cannot emphasise this enough – it is not an action film. There is too much Tinker, Tailor and not enough Die Hard for it to be a true action film, which is a pity because, as I alluded to earlier, the fight scenes are truly spectacular.
With the talent on show the acting is, of course, top class. McAvoy as the caddish Percival is probably the standout alongside Theron’s Lorraine, though I feel Sofia Boutella as the callow French spy Delphine Lasalle is very good, she is not served by an underwritten character. The story also suffers from – especially in the first hour – pedestrian pacing, the constant back and forth really slowing things down.
Roland Moller, who plays the chief antagonist, Aleksander Bremovych, is basically asked to deliver a clichéd villain’s performance, with his introduction, by – believe me this not much of a spoiler – killing a quivering youth with a skateboard, is so heavily signposted it fails to elicit any real impact. After his show of Alpha maleness, he is barely seen for the rest of the film.
Technically Atomic Blonde is very good. So uninspired by the story unfolding on the screen was I that I was able to appreciate the deliberate silver-whiteness of the colour palette, aiding the eighties feel of the film. Though I liked the sound design in general, I did not love the soundtrack. Having said that, Theron’s Lorraine using George Michael as a sound suppressant in one fight scene was inspired.
Atomic Blonde is not the worse way to spend two hours and I would even say the fight scenes are worth the admission price, but if you were hoping for an engaging story and action flick, Atomic Blonde misses the mark.

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Fairly Fearsome Future

I think this blog is going to be short. I made the mistake of missing out on doing a daily blog last weekend and find myself in the midst of the purgatory that is writer’s block. I have ideas for a few stories, feature length script ideas, I also have several projects that need rewrites and/or reworking, not to mention the distinct lack of blogs.
I have started writing scenes on cards. You would think with all the technology and programs around – Final Draft, Scrivner, Celtx – that working scenes out in a random, as-they-come fashion, would be easy. It isn’t. Something about clicking and dragging, as opposed to the shuffling about of 3 x 5 cards, is just less appealing and interrupts my creative process.
Meanwhile, other ideas are crashing in on my psyche, completely unrelated to any of the stuff I am trying to focus on. It is as if my brain is hardwired for procrastination, with the smallest thing taking my focus away from the task at hand. This blog is a case in point, I’ve been writing it for three days and I have managed less than two hundred words!
I think the thought of writing a feature length script is affecting me. There is no reason it should, as I have written longer pieces and shorter bits, but that one hundred to one hundred and twenty pages of a complete – no, I am not going to think of a trilogy! – story, beginning, middle and end, is strangely daunting. It is the building of a compelling story, with interesting characters, driven by an unavoidable goal, plus engaging the emotions that is the challenge. It is exactly what every film guru tells you, what every great film shows, what every screenwriter is trying to and believes they are doing when they embark on a screenplay.
So, it is obvious now, as I write this babbling blog, what the issue is. It’s fear and not the weird, but strangely real fear, of succeeding. Nope, this is proper, I could royally fuck this up fear. This is the fear where you write something and end up second guessing yourself, lacking the courage of your convictions. This is the kind of fear that makes one write derivative works, clichéd works, boring, safe work. The sort of stuff that no one, not even your nearest and dearest, can get through when you ask for their feedback.
Perhaps I am being a tad melodramatic. The fear of writing horribly is all too real though. No one starts writing and tackles rewrites with the thought of producing something sub par. In the mind, it is always a great idea. Then you put it on paper and start, hopefully, to see the flaws. If you’re fortunate, they are easily fixed, more structural than poorly thought out.
Sometimes one can become wedded to a bad idea, desperate to make it work. I myself have many an unfinished script or story where the excitement of an idea, when you think you have an original take on something, turns out to be a bit rubbish or not as compelling on the page as it was in my head. What is the alternative? Give up writing? No chance. Even as I wrestle with the notion of perhaps not becoming an Oscar, Emmy or Bafta award winning scribe, or not being good enough to make the slightest dent in the lowliest of film festivals, I know that I want to write.
The thought of not writing or making a film has not really occurred to me as a possibility or probability. Maybe, even with the advancing years and a lifetime of experience, I still retain that almost necessary naiveté, believing I can still make my way in the cruellest and unforgiving industry that is film and television. Only time – and a herculean effort – will tell.

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Dunkirk – War Kills: a film review

So, I did what I said I would do and went and watched Dunkirk, even though it is a war film and I am really not a fan of war films, but as it was a Christopher Nolan film, I made an exception. And I am glad that I did! My head is still hurting from the emotional impact of the piece. It is a film that has deservedly garnered five-star reviews.
With an incredibly sparse script, this is a story told how film should be, without all the clever exposition – though there is a tiny bit -, just a full on visual and aural assault. It is so evident in the storytelling that this is a subject that is close to Nolan’s heart. After a quiet, sedate opening, that last less than two minutes, the bombs, literally and aurally, start dropping.
Besides the sound, in an age where the ability to film in 4K or 1080p digital is available to anyone who can afford a high-end mobile phone or even just a good DSLR camera, Nolan, a real film lover, resolutely shoots on celluloid. With Dunkirk, he shot the film on 70mm celluloid and it looks spectacular for it. The colour depth is astounding, everything looking real without looking overly enhanced or saturated.
The wide shots of the beach have you staring as if you were actually on the beach, sand and soldiers as far as the eyes can see. Nolan’s obsession with water – Inception, Interstellar – continues in Dunkirk out of pure necessity. There is so much of the channel in this film, one could get seasickness. So many shots display the vastness and isolation that the young men feel as they wait and struggle and strive to escape the hell of the war and the impending arrival of the German forces.
Hans Zimmer is at the peak of his powers on the soundtrack, his powerful melodies carrying the emotion of war as much as the bombings and air raids. As much as the picture is captivating and the sound both deafening and enveloping, it is the way that the film makes you feel that is especially powerful.
Fear is a terrible and powerful thing and in the faces of the young soldiers, hoping and praying to get back to a home that, with a keen eye, can be seen on a clear day from the beaches, makes the fear tangible. Exposed on an open beach and piers, as they wait for transportation that may or may not be coming, the sound of an incoming enemy plane, laden with bombs, a horrible siren of death and they can do nothing but cower and pray that, though they are prepared to die for their fellow countrymen on the field of battle, the bomb does not drop on them and instead hits some other poor unfortunate soul.

At just over an hour and forty minutes long, Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s shortest films in some years. Not that the running time affects the storytelling. If anything, it enhances it, such is the tension when watching, it is hard to know if it would have been possible to maintain that tension over two hours.
As has been popular recently, there was an appearance by a famous face, one that is not known for acting. After Ed Sheeran turning up in the omnipresent Game Of Thrones and David Beckham lending his thespian talents to Guy Richie’s latest effort, King Arthur, neither of which I have seen – sorry, I don’t watch GOT and I’m too far behind to start now – both cameos getting a critical bashing, it was a risk for Nolan to cast a pop star whose magnitude matches Ed Sheeran’s. Not only did he cast Harry Styles, he of One Direction fame – I know the band, but please do not ask me to name one of their tracks! – he gave him a proper role, an acting role and he was good.
Looking the right age to play a young soldier, Styles blends in seamlessly with the surroundings, his stratospheric fame not affecting or impacting the performance. Nolan claimed to have no notion as to who Styles was before the shooting of the film. Perhaps this is true, but if Styles global fame can entice a new audience, a younger audience that probably would have no interest in Dunkirk and its place in history were it not for their idol, then the casting, accidental or not, will have been a stroke of genius. Just like the film.

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Bloggus Interuptus

I have not been blogging with my usual regularity. Life has got in the way a little bit and I decided that I wanted to get some editing practice in, just as a way to keep in with the ‘I’m a filmmaker’ narrative I keep telling myself. Frameline.tv is my go to for lonesome film practice needs. Their site has great information for a would be filmmaker and they also have a load of RAW film clips to work on – editing, colour, effects – take a gander.

links to my own efforts are below.

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Stuck On Story

There are, apparently, many methods to use when coming up with a story or an idea for a story. The most common and by default, most popular, is the different perspective story. One reads or sees or is told of an incident or happening and tries to imagine it from a different point of view. There is also the method I favour of imagining what happened around the incident to cause it.
My normal approach to coming up with a story is to have one scene in my mind, it could be a short scene or even just an encounter, it may not even lend itself to a particular genre or even hint at a story, but once I have a scene played out in my mind, my brain will start building a story around it.
As tempting as it is, I will not start writing until I know how my story is going to end. I know if I start writing I will just waffle on, hoping that the story will work out. It won’t. Not that I plan the story or script out from beginning to end. Oft times I don’t even know what characters I have, introducing characters as I need them, a very first draft way to work.
There is a school of thought that says one should begin with a log-line, the story encapsulated in one sentence. This is supposed to help you stay on course whilst writing, the central premise of the work nailed in the log-line. It is not something that I have tried with any great conviction, as I have always found it difficult to come up with a log-line and anyone who pays any attention to any of the many filmmaking gurus who populate the net, will understand my anxiety at not being able to nail my story in a sentence.
According to just about every filmmaking guru ever, one should be able to tell one’s story in a sentence. If you cannot sum up your idea in a sentence, it is probably not very good. Admittedly, every classic film can be described in a sentence, but not necessarily a compelling one. Besides, what is of interest to one person is not always of interest to the masses.
The story, the script, has to come first, everything else is secondary. We have all seen beautiful films that did not quite work – “cough, cough” Avatar “cough, cough” – because the story was only written to serve the visuals or some new technological advance. Technology should help to enhance storytelling, not the other way around.
Write what you know is another popular gem that is bandied about by many a screenwriting sage. Though, on the face of it, this is good advice, what if you know very little? What if what you know isn’t particularly interesting? Some people have an encyclopaedic knowledge of stamps, but not many would want to see or write a film about that. If people only wrote what they knew about, some of the greatest and most imaginative literary and cinematic works would never have come to be.
This where the procrastination is both dangerous and a necessity. It is the fine balance between creative rumination and avoiding tackling a story or project. Sometimes one needs to take a step back from a project, let it sit awhile and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. One does not want to leave it too long because each work has its own momentum, a momentum that once broken can take a long time, months, maybe even years to get back.
Like any skill or discipline, as ethereal as fiction writing can be, the more you do it the better you become. Unless you repeat the same mistakes over and over, one cannot help but improve with consistent application. So it looks as though I’m going to have to contradict myself and launch into writing a story without an end in mind. After all, practice makes perfect.

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