Author of Time Rep and Note To Self

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A guide to eating in the cinema

As you are probably aware from my post last week, I went to see The Martian recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, if there was one thing that spoiled the experience slightly for me, it was the sound of people all around me eating and munching and chewing and slurping and rustling and gulping and crunching and chewing and eating and eating. Now, aside from the fact that any sensory stimulation whatsoever coming from the people within the cinema completely breaks the immersion (asides from emotional reactions to the film, such as laughing or screaming, which I’ll accept), this is a film about a guy having to ration potatoes and bread to stay alive, so having the sound of the guy two rows behind me munching through his Doritos wasn’t the most appropriate of things to be hearing in this film!

I’ve come to the conclusion that many people just don’t understand that when they go to the cinema, they are not sitting in their own private living room, and therefore they cannot behave however they please. They are sharing a space with other paying viewers, and have a duty to display a degree of self-awareness and behave appropriately. Now, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo from Wittertainment already have a very good code of conduct here that details very specifically how one should behave in a cinema to ensures everyone enjoys the film. However, I would like to add my own thoughts to this, specifically around eating. Here are my rules:

  • Really, really think about not eating or drinking anything in the first place

This sounds radical I know. I mean, the cinema is all about eating a box of popcorn as big as yourself, right? It’s all about paying an insane amount of money for a Coke, isn’t it? Well, maybe for some people, but for me it’s about going to see a film. Is it really so unbearable not to eat or drink during the film? Is it really that hard to have something to eat beforehand so that you’re not munching during the film? Or heaven forbid, just waiting until the film is over before stuffing your face? I don’t think so.

To be honest, if I was ruler of the world and took a particular interest in the food policy of cinemas, that would be the only rule: No eating. However, I do appreciate this is a little heavy-handed, so for those people who absolutely have to eat something during a film, here are some additional guidelines:

  • Don’t bring your food into the cinema in a plastic bag…

Rustle rustle rustle. Rustle rustle. Rustle rustle rustle rustle rustle. Rustle. Russelrusslerusslerusslerusslerussle. This is the sound of someone hunting around for their Maltesers underneath the tins of beans, the loaf of bread, any everything else they’ve bought for later. If you need to carry your food into the cinema in a bag, make sure that bag is silent, like a nice Jute bag or something.

  • …and the same goes for packaging…

News Flash people – a bag of crisps is noisy. A chocolate wrapper is noisy. The foil you need to peel off of your tube of Fruit Pastilles is noisy. I know this sounds obvious, but it if was, then why do so many people fail to realise this?

  • …and the food itself

Here’s another thing that seems to be a surprise to some people – when you put something in your mouth that makes a noise when you bite into it (let’s say, a crisp), that noise does not stay within the confines of your mouth. Your mouth is not soundproof. You are not the only person able to hear the crunch of the crisp because you are hearing the sound coming from within your own head. Sound travels. Everyone else can hear it. So think about the food you are bringing into the cinema. Preferably, it should be silent food (like jelly babies, decanted into makeshift pouch constructed out of kitchen roll), but if it isn’t – if you really need to eat those salt and vinegar crisps – eat them quietly! Put one crisp at a time into your mouth, and suck on them until they silently disintegrate onto your tongue! Crisps taste better and last longer that way anyway, right?

  • Time your eating with events in the film to disguise the sounds you might make

Are you watching a crazy car chase with the sounds of screeching tires, car horns and explosions blasting in your ears? Then now is a great time to rip open that bag of Skittles as noisily as you like, stuff as many of those sugary pearls in your mouth as you can, and chew like crazy. At the same time, when you’re watching a quiet, tender moment between two characters, don’t take that as a green light to rummage through your Sainsbury’s bag for the Minstrels. Michael Bay films are perfect for the conscientious noisy eater, since on average there’s usually a large explosion every 45 seconds, so they can munch and rustle and chew as much as they like.

  • No-one wants to smell your food

Don’t you just love the smell of that pungent, artificial cheese they pour over the nachos you can buy in the cinema? Well, neither does anyone else, so don’t bring them in with you!

  • Think about people with allergies

Yummy, peanuts! Oh wait – the person with a nut allergy two rows down has had to leave the cinema because their skins gets unbearably itchy, even if they are exposed to the scent of nuts in the air. Oh well, never mind – at least you got to eat those peanuts! I mean, you couldn’t have possibly watched the film without those nuts, could you? They make the whole experience!

Anyway, that’s it! Do you think I’ve missed anything in terms of guidance for eating in cinemas? Let me know in the comments section!

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Go and see The Martian, then read this. Or just go and see The Martian.

So I’ve just returned from having seen The Martian, and I have to say I rather enjoyed it. In fact, I would go as far to say I loved it. There are many great things to say about the film, from the witty script to the fantastic performances (particularly Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney), however one of the things I appreciated the most about it was all the things it chose not to do. So for bit of a change, I’m going to review this film by listing all the crap things it could have done, but chose not to do instead. It goes without saying that if you haven’t seen The Martian yet, this next bit contains loads of spoilers, so don’t read on if you know what’s good for you!

No, I really mean it. This next bit has serious spoilers in it, and I don’t want to hear any whinging about how you weren’t sufficiently warned. And if you haven’t seen the film and are thinking to yourself ‘well, I’m not going to see the film anyway, so I might as well read on’, that’s a bad idea. See the film. It’s great. Then come back here and read the next bit. It really is that good.

Last chance. Spoilers ahoy.

Okay, let’s go:

1) No protracted first act leading up to the bit where things start to go wrong

A lesser film might have decided to start at the mission launch, or the first touch-down on Mars with some emotional speech from the commander about how they are the first humans to set foot on the planet. Instead, The Martian ditches all that, and within two minutes the setup is complete – there are some astronauts on Mars, and everything is starting to go wrong.

2) No member of the crew goes insane / disagrees with their orders / tries to sabotage the mission

We all know this trope in sci-fi: everything’s going fine, but then a member of crew loses it and screws everything up. This film had ample opportunity to have a crew member go nuts (in particular when they take a vote about whether to spend another couple of years in space to get Mark Watney back), but it chose not to go down this road. All the astronauts just followed orders and did their job, which was refreshing.

3) No family for Mark to worry about

This was a great omission. There were no scenes of Watney welling up as he held a photo of his wife, or crying as he watches footage of his kids (I’m looking at you, Interstellar). He just cracked jokes and got on with surviving.

4) And he didn’t go mad either

Again, the film had ample excuse to have Watney slowly going mad, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The guy’s alone on Mars for a ridiculous amount of time, so the filmmakers had every excuse to go down this road. But they didn’t, which is good.

5) No attempts to shoehorn in self-indulgent artistic shots for no reason

Like that bit in Gravity where Sandra Bullock adopts the fetal position. I mean really.

6) Nobody died.

I was really expecting at least one death in this film at some point, and a cheap death at that. Perhaps the captain would sacrifice herself to save Watney at the last minute to make up for the fact that she left him on the planet. Or some arbitrary accident would kill a member of the crew. This would have been deeply unsatisfying, given they all spent so much time going back again for the sake of one man, so losing one crew member would have rendered the rescue mission pointless, returning with a zero-sum total. I was really expecting someone to buy it, but they didn’t. Which was nice.

So that’s my list of everything The Martian could have done wrong, but didn’t. If you haven’t seen it, then I’m very disappointed that you have read this far, despite my warnings. I told you there were spoilers, but you didn’t listen did you? Did you?!?! Now go away and think about what you’ve done.

New book! New book!

That’s right – I’m pleased to announce that those lovely people at Diversion Books are going to publish my third book! The release date is still TBC and I’m not going to give away what it is about for now, but if you keep checking my blog every now and then (every few minutes would be good so I can get my numbers up, but don’t worry if you can only do it hourly), at some point I will start dropping a few teasers, before finally revealing exactly what it is I’ve been working on…

For now I will give you three hints:

1) It’s a comedy

2) It involves time travel

3) It’s a sequel

Stay tuned…

I went to No. 10 Downing Street today!

Not a great picture (it was dark, sorry), but I did have the honour of being invited to Number 10 Downing Street today, due to the work I do with Comic Relief… Come on Red Nose Day!!!!

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Excellent point, BBC News! Oh, wait…

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Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry

Hello everybody! I’m so sorry I haven’t been updating my blog much over the last few months – the truth is, loads of stuff has happened since my last update in August, I’ve been busy with work and out of the country a bit, and as a result I just haven’t had the time to write about it all. In no particular order, this is just some of what I’ve been through since my last update:

1) I’ve watched some films.

Here’s a list and a quick summary of the films I’ve seen, and what thought of them:

Godzilla: Very good. I think you see the monster enough, depsite some complaints I’ve read of people feeling short-changed.

Pacific Rim: Like Godzilla, but with even fewer female characters in it. There’s a good joke where one robot punches a Newton’s cradle, but other than that it’s pretty standard stuff.

Edge of Tomorrow: Fantastic high-concept sci-fi, can’t believe it didn’t fare better at the box office. Tom Cruise is great in it as a PR coward who slowly becomes a badass.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Hugely entertaining and funny sci-fi caper. Far exceeded my expectations, and I think even better than the core Marvel films.

Frozen: Classic Disney fare with strong female characters and a great message about not being ashamed of what you are. “Let it go, let it go….” sorry.

Interstellar: Hugely over-rated, 40 minutes too long, unnecessary use of Matt Damon, and a contrived, cop-out ending. Science = magic, kids! A real pity – I had high hopes for this. I don’t understand why everyone is going nuts about it.

Hunger Games Mockingjay: A great adaptation of the first half of the book. Finnick’s speech about secrets is ruined, but otherwise they did a good job.

The Imitation Game: A real gem of a movie about Alan Turing, the mathematician who solved the Nazi Enigma code. Wonderful performance by Benedict Bumdbedebum

2) I’ve met some people:

I met David Beckham and Paralympic Gold Medallist Jonnie Peacock in September. The meeting was nothing to do with them endorsing Time Rep unfortunately – it was to do with my day-job! Both thoroughly nice blokes.

3) I’ve been traveling:

In September, I went on holiday to America, doing a bit of a road trip around Washington State and Oregon with my wife. Starting in Seattle, we drove (and by that I mean I drove – Lucy doesn’t like to drive abroad) to Snowqualmie (where they filmed Twin Peaks), then down to Mount Rainier, then over to Portland, then to Cannon Beach (where they filmed the Goonies), then up to the Olympic National Park, then back round to Seattle. I was thinking about posting some of the 200 photos of what we saw and doing a bit of a commentary on the highlights, but then I figured no-one would care. Even my friends look a bit bored when I show them the photos (and one of them has an owl in it, so they’re pretty good photos), so I’m sure total strangers will find them even less interesting!

4) I’ve been writing:

Boy, have I been writing. This book I’m working on is quite complicated, and much longer than anything I’ve done before, but I think it’s coming along quite nicely. I haven’t said much about it so far, but it’s basically a murder mystery set in the future, written in the same sarcastic tone as Time Rep. The title I’m going with at the moment is The Electric Detective, but that may change – I’ll see how I feel.

Anyway, that’s it – just to say I haven’t forgotten about this site, and I will add updates when I can – I just think it’s a better use of my time to be writing my book than to be updating this every now and again with random musings, but I did want to stop and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year, which I’ve now done, so I’ll be off.

See you later (hopefully not in four months)

Breaking the fourth wall

If there’s one thing I always love in movies, it’s when they break the fourth wall. Now, for the uninitiated of you out there, let me briefly explain what this means. Breaking the fourth wall is where a character on the screen acknowledges the world outside of the one in which the movie is set. It is usually done by a character either talking or looking directly at the audience. Of course, the two greatest examples of this are as follows:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (in which he constantly advises the audience on all matters pertaining to being awesome):

Ferris-Bueller-ferris-bueller-7917503-1920-1080

Trading Places (when Billy Ray turns and gives a long look to the camera after being told he might find bacon in a ‘bacon, lettuce and tomato’ sandwich):

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There are of course other examples, but these two are my favourite. So why do I like it so much when movies do this? I’m not sure, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that it happens so rarely. It’s almost as if the film is breaking some sort of code that prohibits it from happening, so when it does, it’s like the film is being a bit naughty.

The same cannot be said however, for movie posters. In movie posters, it seems almost mandatory that the characters acknowledge the outside world, and they way in which they do so is carefully designed to tell you all you need to know about the film in the two seconds you spend looking at it on your way to work. So far I have identified four different categories that these posters fall into:

1) The characters look embarrassed / ashamed / confused / annoyed about the situation this movie has put them in

These films are generally mindless, high-concept capers in which the main characters are thrust into a situation that takes them out of their comfort zone, with ‘hilarious’ consequences. Everything is resolved in less than 110 minutes (or should be), and all the characters grow into being better than they were at the beginning of the film. Nobody dies, and somebody usually falls over at some point. Vince Vaughn generally stars.

Notable examples: The Internship, Delivery Man, The Dilemma, Sex Tape, The Five Year Engagement:    Posters1

2) Loads of characters are in shot, and most / all of them are looking directly at you. The poster makes you feel as though you have arrived just after an interesting incident that you will only find out more about if you watch the film.

These films are again high-concept capers, but generally with a more adult theme. There will be at least three gross-out moments, one of which will probably involve somebody’s penis. There may also be a joke involving a pet being used to cover someone’s bum.

Notable examples: American Pie, The Hangover, Brides Maids (that’s two words, idiots):   Posters2

3) The characters look knowingly at the camera with a wry smile, their faces are usually cast half in shadow. If there is more than one character in the poster, the scale goes all weird as if everyone secondary to the plot has just been miniaturised accidentally.

These films are typically action movies where loads of cool shit happens. Things blow up, there is usually an exciting opening sequence, a girl will get undressed at some point for no reason, and the third act will involve a fight on an unconventional means of transport. The movie will also be 25 minutes longer than necessary.

Notable Examples: X-Men, Iron Man, Star Trek, any Bond film, Pirates of the Caribbean:     posters3

4) Only the main character is aware of the world outside the movie. Everyone else in the poster is preoccupied by something or someone else.

 

These films generally have a more complicated plot, and not necessarily a happy ending. You may generally dislike the main character and wish that they get their comeuppance.

Notable examples: The Hundred Foot Journey, The Wolf of Wall Street, Home Alone:  posters4

 

I’m sure there are more categories, but that’s all I can be bothered to come up with for now. So why do movie posters break the fourth wall so often, even though most films do not? Well obviously it’s to get our attention. You see, as human beings, we can sense when somebody is looking at us, and feel a compulsion to look back. It harks back to the days when we were constantly scoping out our surroundings for threats, and as such we have no choice but to look at these posters. It’s instinctive, much like the urge to switch off the television whenever The X-Factor comes on.

 

So in other words, you could say these posters are designed to exploit a primeval fear buried deep inside the recesses of our mind; a fear that we are being hunted. And I suppose we are being hunted in a way, only the predators in this case are movie executives, circling around us with their posters, their billboards, and those adverts you see on the sides of buses. And Vince Vaughn.

 

Nice to know, isn’t it?