Category Archives: Film

Favourite quotations

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Studying English for 20 years gave me a collection of useless quotations that are constantly rattling around in my head. Here are the ones I actually thought it worth writing down!

“I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.”

Emily Dickinson

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.”

Walt Whitman

“These fragments I have shored against my ruin””

TS Eliot

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

TS Eliot

“It’s a good thing to be loved, even late.”

Samuel Hamilton, East of Eden by John Steinbeck

“Up to 40, girls cost nothing. After that you have to pay money, or tell a story. Of the two it’s the story that hurts most.”

James Bond, Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

“It is an intoxicating moment in any love-affair when, for the first time, in a public place, in a restaurant or a theatre, the man puts his hand down and lays it on the thigh of the girl and when she slips her hand over his and presses the man’s hand against her. The two gestures say everything that can be said. All is agreed. All the pacts are signed. And there is a long minute of silence during which the blood sings.”

Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

[On being asked by Tiffany Case why he had never married] “I expect because I think I can handle life better on my own. Most marriages don’t add two people together. They subtract one from the other.”

James Bond, Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

“She was wearing something blue that did her no harm”

Raymond Chandler

“I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognised apprehension that, here at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

“Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature.”

Michael Faraday

“For a smart girl, you’re good at stupid.”

Georgia, Georgia Rule

“I feel like Dorothy when everything just turned to colour.”

Don Draper, Mad Men

“Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey monkey, underpants.”

Lorelai, Gilmore Girls

“You can’t get old as a woman without having at least one lousy man in your life.”

Mr Brooks

[When asked if his whole body was built in proportion to his height] “No, love. If I was I’d be 8′ 10”!

Wade Dooley

“He looks at me like he’s the spoon and I’m the dish of ice-cream.”

The Jane Austen Book Club

“Get your mittens round your kittens.”

Ray Fontayne, Grease

“When they circumcised Herbert Samuel, they threw away the wrong bit.”

Lloyd George

“Ninety per cent of politicians give the other 10 per cent a bad name.”

Henry Kissinger

“I like baseball, movies, fast cars, whisky and you.”

John Dillinger, Public Enemies

“This is her picture as she was:
It seems a thing to wonder on,
As though mine image in the glass
Should tarry when myself am gone.”

The Portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“Here, at the age of 39, I began to be old.”

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

“I brought a jar of anchovy paste, half a dozen potato farls and a packet of my own special blend of Formosan Oolong and Orange Pekoe, but I was set upon by a gang of footpads outside Caius and they stole it all.”

Adrian Healey, The Liar by Stephen Fry

“No woman Veronese looked upon
Was half so fair as thou whom I behold.”

Sonnet on Ellen Terry by Oscar Wilde

“His eyes are sparkling like a rippled sea at sunset.”

Jeremy Clarkson

Hud: You’re a regular idealist
Nephew: What’s wrong with that?
Hud: I don’t know. I just ain’t never tried it.

Hud, Hud

Hud: Let’s get our shoelaces untied. Whaddya say?

Hud, Hud

“I think I’d miss you even if we’d never met.”

Nick, The Wedding Date

“Let me see if I have this straight. You’re going to date a different girl every week for the rest of your life, and then you’re going grow old and die alone in a log cabin by a lake somewhere?”

His ‘n’ Hers Christmas

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Mark Twain

“We took risks, we knew that we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.”

Message to the Public, Captain Scott

“In one of the Bard’s best thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.”

Anagram of “To be or not to be…”, Hamlet by Shakespeare

“I can remember a reporter asking me for a quote, and I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of soft drink.”

Joe DiMaggio

Breaking Bad

Periodically good...

Periodically good…

“Thank God!”

That was my reaction when the credits rolled after the final episode of Breaking Bad. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a great concept, and I gave it a 7 out of 10 overall – but that was only half-way through the first series! It bewilders me that its user rating on IMDb is 9.5. The problem was that Breaking Bad really was bad, at least in relation to its potential. The writers and production team took a great concept and turned it into a kitchen sink drama without the likeable characters, humour, excitement and pathos that any good drama needs.

Let’s start with the positives. The concept of making a show about a high school chemistry teacher who decides to cook meth when he finds out he has terminal cancer in order to provide for his family was a good one. It had the potential to create all kinds of opportunities for black humour and excitement as the hero lived a double life and tried not to get caught. Unfortunately, the writers ignored the other parts of the formula that generally controls what makes a good TV series.

First of all, the main characters have to be likeable. Now, some characters worked well. Hank was initially presented as a racist redneck, but we learned to respect and even like him once we got to know him. Todd also benefited from being cast against type. He seemed to be a dutiful and polite underling who knew his place in the hierarchy and wanted to improve himself, but he soon showed himself capable of unthinking acts of violence and brutal treachery. Unfortunately, the hero Walter White, his assistant Jesse and his wife Skyler and son Junior were just not likeable enough.  If viewers are expected to devote more than 45 hours of their lives to watching more than  60 episodes, the least they should be able to ask for is a cast they want to watch. Walter’s only redeeming quality is that he was supposed to be committing all his crimes on behalf of his family, but it was a family that didn’t appear to deserve his generosity. Junior was a nagging annoyance who was never really fully developed, and Skyler was the worst example. Walter loved her, and we were obviously meant to understand that love and even feel a little of it ourselves, but her character oscillated madly (and implausibly) between saint and sinner, housewife and brazen criminal and tramp. When she went out on the street to chase after Walt after he had taken her baby, I couldn’t even be bothered to look up from playing Tetris on my iPhone! I was glad she had to suffer. Now, was that what I was supposed to think? Had I been cleverly inserted into the head of Walter? Was I identifying with him in his enraged and vengeful state? If only. 

The casting didn’t help, either. People may complain that US TV dramas are peopled almost exclusively from the modelling agencies of New York and LA, but the studios do that for a reason. It may not be very realistic, but people like to watch beautiful people on screen. It’s a short cut to the kind of emotion that we were meant to feel (but didn’t) towards Skyler. The only good-looking actor or actress on the show was Krysten Ritter, who played the part of Jane, and she was killed off after only 10 episodes. It’s no coincidence that we wanted her romance with Jesse to survive, whereas we couldn’t have cared less about the Whites’ marriage. To understand what I mean, let’s have a look at another similar show based on a similar concept. Dexter is based on the idea that a blood spatter analyst by day is a serial killer by night, and it’s given an intriguing twist by the fact that his sister is a homicide detective in the same city of Miami. The casting here is perfect. Michael C Hall plays Dexter, and Jennifer Carpenter is his sister. They make an attractive couple – attractive enough to have been married once in real life! – and Dexter’s wife is played by Julie Benz, another attractive blonde. The differences in casting and character allow the audience to relate to Dexter in a way that’s not possible in Breaking Bad. You might think it should have been impossible to relate to a psychopath, but Dexter’s character has apparently been softened over time, perhaps because the writers realised the audience would never warm to someone who never felt emotion towards anyone. Smart choice. Matt Groening realised the same thing when Homer replaced Bart as the star of The Simpsons and was rewarded with a softer voice and a more cuddly image.

Another way in which Dexter scores over Breaking Bad is in the script, which is inevitably episodic but tries to take advantage of all the opportunities for black humour afforded by Dexter’s double life. The voiceover helps. We can then hear the viewpoint of a serial killer even while we watch his pretended reactions. For some reason, Breaking Bad largely avoids making us laugh. There are a few giggles at the expense of Hank or Skinny Pete and Badger, but – again – it’s a story of wasted potential. Of all the opportunities writers could be given for black humour, this was surely the best the writers would ever see, and yet they can’t bring themselves to inject any delicious double meaning into any of Walter’s or Jesse’s comments on the game they’re playing. Even Shakespeare saw the potential in the gatekeeper scene in Macbeth. If he saw Breaking Bad, he’d be tearing his hair out!

Altogether, my main complaint about Breaking Bad is the lack of emotion, whether in terms of our reaction to the characters, the lack of humour or the absence of real excitement or pathos. Some episodes do hit the heights, but they only show up what is all too often missing. Series 5 Episode 5 (“Dead Freight”) is the prime example. Suddenly, we are on Walter’s side, as we desperately hope he manages to pull off the rail heist. That kind of guilty pleasure is par for the course on Dexter as we pray he escapes to kill another day, but it’s largely absent from Breaking Bad. The moment in the following episode when Walter demands: “Say my name!” is a sadly rare example of a scene that is gripping, spell-binding and hair-raising as Walter reaches his apotheosis as a drug lord. However, the mythic power of the name ‘Heisenberg’ is never exploited to its true potential, and our heart strings are generally left untugged at. That is largely due to our lack of sympathy for the characters. Why should we feel any suspense or excitement when we don’t care what happens to them?

The other consequence of our lack of sympathy is any kind of emotional engagement during the finale. The final episode should have been a chance to sum up what the series was all about,  show the inevitable consequences of the hero’s ‘vaulting ambition’ and yet still move us to tears as he gets his comeuppance, but Walter White was doomed from the start, and Jesse gets away scot free!

In sum, Breaking Bad ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ been a contender. It had all the makings of one of the great TV dramas but ended up unaccountably not following the recipe. We may say we don’t like ‘formulaic’ Hollywood dramas, but the viewing figures don’t lie. Give us high-concept drama with likeable heroes, deadpan humour and emotional climaxes, and we’ll glue our keesters to the bleachers.

To boldly go…

To boldly go...

Which one did we see again…?

When it comes to boldness, Captain Kirk beats Hollywood hands down. The Starfleet captain takes impossible risks and doesn’t believe in a no-win situation, while the studio bosses know that the best way to make money is to back sure-fire winners, and that means remakes, sequels and – if you’re lucky – the odd prequel. Why take the risk of commissioning an original screenplay when the vast majority never become box office hits. Cinemagoers have to take their share of the blame, of course. “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly,” as the Good Book tells us, and the popularity of the film franchise is simply a reflection of what we, the customers, want to see. The paradox is that we often end up going to see the latest ‘hommage’ even though we don’t really want to. We are so attached to the original that we know the latest version is never going to be as good, but we’re also so attached to the original that we can’t resist coming back for more!

The film franchise works because it sticks to a successful formula, and Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness are good examples of its power, popularity and durability. There are many ingredients in the formula, but they almost always include a popular, comic book storyline and characters, exciting special effects, an iconic soundtrack and – crucially – enough one-liners to keep us smiling in the midst of all the death and destruction.

Comics

In their search for guaranteed winners, the Hollywood studios have focused particular attention on comics. Where would the blockbuster be without Superman, Spiderman or Iron Man? The advantage of such stories and characters is that they bring with them a passionate existing fan base and the opportunity to elevate the action above the everyday through super powers. However, like football fans, moviegoers prefer a fair fight, so most celluloid superheros seem destined to have their powers taken away from them for large chunks of screen time. Iron Man follows the pattern, as Tony Stark comes up against an equally ‘super’ opponent while his suits suffer various (in)convenient but predictable malfunctions, and even Captain Kirk has his beloved USS Enterprise confiscated after he disobeys the prime directive. Kirk may not have super powers, but his whole appeal is based on strength of character, leadership and determination. In a kind of echo of the famed Kobayashi Maru test at Starfleet Academy – which he only passed at the third attempt by hacking the computer program to disable the shields of the Klingon warbirds – Star Trek Into Darkness sets up multiple impossible situations from which, somehow, Kirk and his crew manage to escape unscathed, once by a miraculous, last-ditch rescue of Spock from an erupting volcano and once by a kind of ‘Scotty ex machina’ as the Chief unexpectedly pops up inside the enemy ship to disable her weapons systems. The effect of these deeds of derring-do is to elevate the actors that perform the rôles. It’s surprising how many movie stars have had their careers launched (or relaunched) by a blockbuster. Where would Harrison Ford be without Han Solo or Robert Downey Jr without Tony Stark…?

Special effects

Looking back at Jaws and Star Wars – the original summer blockbusters – it’s easy to be disappointed by the special effects (unless you opt for a digitally remastered print). Whether or not it’s true that someone’s sneaker was used as an imperial spaceship, any kind of suspension of disbelief is almost impossible for a modern audience that has come to expect multi-million dollar FX and CGI graphics. The costumes, the monsters, the explosions – every aspect of a modern blockbuster has been refined to guarantee the maximum bang for the studio’s buck. Star Trek Into Darkness follows the template set by Star Wars in terms of the number of shots of spaceships, and the number of suspiciously humanoid aliens amongst the crew of the Enterprise recalls the famous scene with Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker searching for Han Solo in the cantina on Tatooine. The scene when the admiral’s flagship crashes into Starfleet headquarters was particularly impressive. The dust cloud looked rather reminiscent of something that happened in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre on 9/11, but maybe I’m just imagining that!

Music

John Williams did more than most to establish the blockbuster as a guaranteed money-spinner. His soundtracks for Jaws, the Star Wars trilogy, Superman, ET and the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter films (and others) have cemented not only his place in the pantheon but the popularity and greatness of the films themselves. Iron Man doesn’t have a strong musical theme, but there is a great moment at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness that proves the value of having one when Spock and Kirk are discussing where to go on their five-year mission. Spock defers to Kirk’s ‘good judgment’, and then the Star Trek theme starts up powerfully in the background. Gripping stuff!

Humour

From ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’ to the one-liners of James Bond and John McClane, blockbusters have always relied on humour to defuse tension and allow each dramatic climax to build higher and higher. The banter between Tony Stark and his robots was sadly missing from Iron Man 3, but Star Trek Into Darkness had its fair share of amusing moments, mostly arising from the usual jokes about Spock’s inability to feel human emotion, but the director could show a little subtlety, too – I particularly liked Captain Kirk’s scar in the shape of the Starfleet logo…!

All told, we’re probably better off with a healthy supply of rehashed, imitative revivals of old classics – especially since we miss them horribly when they’re gone – but that doesn’t excuse bad film-making. A summer blockbuster can be just as shocking as a low-budget, straight-to-video horror flick, but that just goes to show that most people simply want to see a good movie – whether it’s an original screenplay or not. For your typical franchise film, that means it has to show its originality in other ways. Roll on Man of Steel