The return of Community opened with a Glee parody during which the ensemble cast sang about how this year things were going to be lighter and more normal. Say it ain't so Joe! Was one of the most interestingly radical sit-coms of recent years going to try to muscle its way into the mainstream. It could do. It has one of the strongest and broadest casts. There's not a single character that I don't like and even the bit parts (pop-pop) shine with unusual brilliance. And the one liners and physical comedy could survive a transition from an out there postmodern feast of in jokes and parody to a more straightforward character driven comedy. Now they even have star cameos from John Goodman to help push them into mass popularity. So are we going to lose strange in the service of audience? We needn't have worried. A quick 2001: a Space Odyssey dream sequence and the deranged falling apart of Jeff later and we're back on comfortably uncomfortable territory. The second episode was even stronger as Annie fought off an evil Annie. The jokes are as sharp as ever and it's almost unique in making you both laugh and feel cleverer by the end of it. Go Greendale and the Human Beings.
We're almost at the end of season four of Breaking Bad. I've always been a huge fan, but there comes a time when you begin to hope that a good series will come to an end. The Sopranos, in its damn near perfection, chose almost exactly the right moment to finish. Of course, there were characters I would have liked to see more of, stories which were ongoing, but Kurt Vonnegut always argued no one ever walks out of theater complaining 'that was too short'. Of course, Deadwood was the opposite. A series cancelled like Rome because of the enormous costs which couldn't be justified in the light of an enthusiastic, but ultimately small audience. Deadwood has all the feeling of unfinished business. It's hard to re-watch because you know the various strands and arcs are going to be left dangling. But what of Walter White and co, what of Breaking Bad? Well, Vince Gilligan, the show-runner, has spoken in the past of how he always liked to write himself into corners, as a way of creating surprising twists and conclusions in finding the solution to his self-inflicted problems. Now the problems are beginning to rack up though. Walt's cancer has largely been forgotten about, which is beginning to feel dishonest. Hank's investigation meanders along but his inability to spot Walter has gone from a tense situation to frankly annoying. Recent episodes have picked up momentum and the season could still be saved by ending (and I don't mean that to sound sarcastic). A real sign that things aren't going well: the glimpse of something cryptic early in the episode which arrives later used to be a great technique, trousers flying in the desert wind, a teddy bear's eye floating in a swimming pool, but now it is just that: a technique, a quirk. And often one that fails to surprise.
Following the success of HBO's fantasy epic Game of Thrones, I (like many) decided to read the George RR Martin novels on which the series is based, despite the man's ridiculous middle initials. The first surprise was the similarity between the book and the series, not only in obvious things such as the characters and plot, but also in sensibility. I had assumed that the HBO feel, the ambiguity and complexity we've come to expect in the wake of TV dramas such as The Sopranos, was something added, but that, along with tranches of the wonderful dialogue had been lifted straight from the book. I haven't read fantasy since I was a kid when I seemed always to be reading Lord of the Rings or The Silmarrilion, although in all honesty it wasn't until the Peter Jackson films came out the I actually read Lord of the Rings all the way through from beginning to end. In fact, when I was a kid reading the book all the way through didn't seem to be the point. I was reading for the story as such, I was reading to enter a world. It is no accident that most fantasy novels come equipped with maps, as indeed do Martin's own Tolkien inspired epic. These are not books so much as places.
Spurred on by simply wanting to know what happens next, I finished the second book (The Clash of Kings) and am now half way through the humongous Storm of Swords. Admittedly this is perhaps not the best way of reading a series, one book after another in such a short period of time.
And I have noticed some weaknesses in Martin's writing style, witty characters tend to 'quip' rather than 'say', rogues 'growl' rather than 'say' etc. There are And some of the good characters make so many bad decisions that you begin to lose sympathy for them. Things seem to go relentlessly wrong. People have bad feelings about things and then those bad things happen and it happens again and again, so much so that you wonder why they don't act on their bad feelings. Yet, having said this, there is something refreshing in having a fantasy series that instead of fueling wish fulfillment continually frustrates with an almost crushing pessimism. It almost feels good to close the book and come back to the real world in which, okay we don't have dragons, but at least there are far less ambushes.
It has been a rare occasion when I've actually met film makers. Sometimes it has been inadvertent. Walking through Venice it's not unusual to bump into a film set. I saw Donald Sutherland one morning, shooting what turned out to be the excremental Italian Job remake. Despite The Fighter, I'm still not entirely sure what the point of Mark Wahlberg actually is. I also saw Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp filming The Tourist, which was (it has to be said) another movie that steamed, not because it was sexy, but because it was like a freshly laid dog turd on a wintry morning pavement in January. Of course at festivals I've had the opportunity to actually talk to film makers, ask them questions about their films etc. Most are quite wary. The film has just been finished and they are uncertain as to the reaction it is going to get, and, if it has already screened, whether that festival reaction will translate into box office and critical acclaim elsewhere. At this year's festival I had the opportunity to interview two directors who I admire very much: Sono Sion and Yorgos Lanthimos. I found it difficult to formulate questions that weren't in some ways readings of their films, but in the end we had very stimulating conversations. Venice has the advantage of only showing world premieres and so this means that directors are very fresh, the reaction hasn't solidified and the answers they give are not rote learned. Surprisingly, neither Mr. Sion nor Mr. Lanthimos asked me to be in their next film. But on reflection I realized this was most probably because it was obvious I could speak neither Japanese nor Greek.
I'm not going to write too much because I have already written a blog at cine-vue.com and am about to write two long reports for Electric Sheep and Film-Philosophy. However, I will note that the winner was deserving, the quality was generally high, the disappointments were few and to some extent predictable. Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights was only good when it should have been brilliant: the sort of film that niggles, that you will insist is worth seeing without actually having the courage to recommend it to anyone. Aside from the major players who are already heading for general release, the smaller treats were films like the magical Vivan Le Antipodes! and the Canadian film Cafe del Flore with a fantastic Vanessa Paradis.
A personal treat was getting to see Al Pacino and William Friedkin, or Billy Friedkin as I feel able to call him now. They were both in story telling moods and Billy even offered to sing a song.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.