Author of the Time Rep Series and Note To Self

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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):

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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?

The top 27.5 lists of stuff that’s good of all time!

If there’s one thing people love to read, it’s a good list. Indeed, when I first set up this website, I read that a really easy way of creating ‘content’ (you know – that word that only marketeers use to generically describe ‘entertainment’) was to do a list of something, like a top ten this, or a top five that. And do you know what? I think they’re right. I mean, you only have to turn on the television and switch over to Channel 4, and there’s a 1 in 3 chance they’ll be screening something like “The top 50 gadgets of all time!” or “The top 100 children’s television shows of all time!” There are literally hundreds of these programmes out there (and I’m sure we’re not too far away from “The top 100 ‘list-shows’ of all time!” rearing its head at some point), and the reason for that is that they are just so bloody popular.

The internet is the same – there are countless blogs with countless ‘top whatever’ lists out there, but there is one major difference I have noticed to the lists you see on television: an aversion to round numbers. You see, I was searching the internet for “the top time travel plots of all time”, and one of the first links that came up was a “top 22”. A top 22? What is that about? Can’t we just have a top 20? No, apparently, the list needs to be 22 in length. I assumed there are just too many good time travel plots out there to squeeze into a more concise list, but when number 22 is Timecop and number 18 is Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, you begin to suspect that maybe the intention was for the list to be a peculiar length all along.

So I began to see if this trend of not having “round number” lists was unique to time travel plots, or if there were others out there. Turns out, the internet is full of them. These are my favourites (and please note – to break with internet tradition, I have stuck to a top 10):

I particularly like the last one. You see, not only is it a list of the most creative camping DIY projects, but it covers clever ideas too. Now, that’s pretty broad, wouldn’t you say? I mean, there have been loads of clever ideas over time, like the invention of wheel, the discovery of penicillin, and intorduction of squeezy Marmite onto supermarket shelves in 2007. So what’s the number one ‘clever idea’ on that list? What was deemed the greatest thing mankind ever thought up? I’ll save you the bother of going there to find out – it’s using beeswax to waterproof your shoes.

You’ll never guess what happened to me…

Finally – I’m back! I’m so sorry I haven’t been writing much on this blog recently, particularly since I said in the post before last that I would try and update the site more often. That hasn’t really happened has it? I want to give you an amazing excuse for my absence, something along the lines of the following:

You’ll never guess what happened to me – back in April, I was sitting down at my computer, ready to write yet another hilarious blog entry, when my entire house was beamed aboard a giant spaceship and whisked off to another planet. The reason for my abduction was because an alien race had obtained a copy of Time Rep, and they wanted me to explain the ending. Unfortunately, my explanation infuriated the aliens, who threatened to either execute me, or make me go on national television and participate in their version of the X-Factor as punishment. I pleaded to be executed. 

In the end I reached an agreement with the aliens – I would re-write the ending to a standard they were happier with. In this new ending, exactly the same thing happens, but at the last minute a fight scene takes place, all the characters inexplicably get caught up in a car chase, and something explodes. There’s also a tiger in it.

The aliens were much more satisfied with this ending, as they felt it provided a final action scene to maintain the pace of the story. They also liked tigers. As a reward for my efforts, I was granted a three month guided tour around the galaxy. I had an amazing time travelling the cosmos – I glided through glittering nebulas, drifted through thousands of black holes, and touched the very corner of the universe (turns out it’s a square). I saw things no other human had seen before. The only downside to all this was I had no internet access, so I’ve been unable to update this site until now. So I’m very sorry for being away for so long, but hopefully you’ll agree this is a pretty good excuse.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and I don’t have a pretty good excuse. I just haven’t been able to think of much to write about, so rather than write something I haven’t been happy with, I decided not to write anything at all.

But wait – there is some good news in all of this. You see, while it’s true I haven’t been updating this blog recently, I haven’t just been sitting around in my pyjamas watching Marvel’s Agents of Shield since April. Oh no. On the book front, things are progressing rather nicely, and I hope to have loads of new stuff to share with you very soon.

Watch this space…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Ever since the first Iron Man film, I’ve been a big fan of the relentless stream of films set in the Marvel universe (yes, even the first Thor film). So I was very excited about the latest entry in the series: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now, for me, Captain America isn’t the strongest character in the Marvel canon. He’s a little bit straight-laced for me; a little bit too perfect, and I like my heroes to have flaws. Character flaws make me be able to relate to a protagonist better, because I’ve got flaws coming out of my ears (as well as wax, since one of my flaws is that I don’t clean my ears enough). With Captain America though, I cannot think of a single vice, vulnerability or character defect he has, and that makes me suspect there’s something behind the scenes we don’t know about him that makes up for this. Maybe he likes to burn ants under a magnifying glass in his garden when he’s not doing press ups. Or maybe he has a disturbingly large porn collection under his bed. Either way, he’s just too perfect.

Despite my ambivalence towards Captain A himself, I had high hopes for this film. Regardless of who the lead character is, I’m fascinated the twists and turns that occur in the fantastic world Marvel has established in its films. No, really – Marvel could make a film focussing on the adventures of the guy who paints the toilets in Shield’s headquarters, and I’d still go and see it. So what did I think? Well, I sort of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I just felt it could have been better. Now, I’ve done a couple of blog posts about films before, but this time (inspired by a friend of mine), I thought I would break my criticism into two camps: Wot I liked, and Wot I felt could be improved (before you get to the colon at the end of this sentence though, you should be aware that there might be one or two spoilers ahead):

Wot I liked:

  • There was a really interesting plot here, and I think the film had a very serious point to make behind its glossy action exterior, about the nature of surveillance and whether or nor we are surrendering our freedom willingly. At times, The Winter Soldier played out like one of those great 70s political thrillers, and having Robert Redford (who was awesome, as you would expect), only emphasised this through his pedigree. It was just a shame the film’s potential was suffocated towards the end by the action, which I will come onto later.
  • Scarlet Johansson. Great as ever.
  • Like a lot of the other Marvel films, this one didn’t take itself too seriously. There were lots of good gags in it, particularly the one about breakfast.
  • I thought Anthony Mackie was great as Falcon. In an interview he did recently, he said he was really excited to do the role because he could be a superhero for his kids, and I thought that was pretty sweet. He looked like he was having a great time in this film.

Wot I felt could be improved:

  • I wasn’t sure why this was called Captain America: The Winter Solider. The Winter Soldier was only a secondary character in this film, and not really the focus of the story. The film was about project Insight, not The Winter Soldier. You might as well have named the film Captain America: The Notepad Where he Writes Down Stuff, and it would have been just as meaningful.
  • I’m not sure it was the right decision to make Captain America the lead character for this film. As I said earlier, Scarlet Johansson was a plus point of this film, but there’s more to it than the fact that she looks rather nice in a leather cat suit. I think this film would have worked much better if her character (Black Widow) was the lead, and Captain America was in support. In fact, in many ways, she was the lead in this film – she is the one who knows more about what is going on, she’s the one closer to Nick Fury, and she’s the one who makes more sacrifices at the end when she has to reveal her past in order to expose Hydra. This film would have been much stronger if it was a Black Widow vehicle, rather than Captain America.
  • As interesting as the plot is, everything goes out of the window in the final act. Okay, this is a comic book movie, but the aerial acrobatics and the sheer scale of what happens in the last twenty minutes is just so ridiculous, its no longer possible for the audience to suspend their disbelief. I think the filmmakers wanted to out-do The Avengers with an epic climax, but in the end I think they went too far. This film would have worked better with a more restrained ending, less reliant on guns blazing. Some sort of battle of wits or something.

Anyway, enough of what I think – Captain America, how many stars would you give this film out of five?

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Only one!? That’s a bit harsh, Captain. I give it three.

Two minutes of your life that you won’t get back

Sorry I haven’t been able to update my website for so long – over the past few weeks my job has been rather stressful (I’m not a full-time author, in case you didn’t know), and in order to get everything done that has been required of me, I’ve had to work some pretty long hours. As a result, it’s been difficult to think about anything other than work when I’ve arrived home late at night, and the last thing I’ve wanted to do when I’ve got back is sit in front of a computer screen and start typing, despite the fact that I really enjoy what I do for a living. I’m a wrestler, you see.

Okay I’m not really a wrestler. In truth, I have an office job (albeit a rather unusual one), and I’ve still got a lot of stuff to do before everything is all wrapped up. That said, I don’t want to let my real-world commitments stop me from updating this blog. It’s just hard to stop thinking about work at the moment, and if I’m not careful, I’ll just end up writing about that. Oh wait – that’s all I’ve been doing for the last two paragraphs. Let me try and change the subject, otherwise this will be two minutes of you life that you won’t get back.

That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it? I was in the elevator with a friend of mine the other day and he was talking about a bad game of football he’d watched recently. That’s every game of football as far as I’m concerned (I don’t do sport), but in this case the game was apparently rather boring, even for someone who enjoys watching overpaid men run around trying to get a ball to a place.

To digress for a moment, have you ever noticed how 90% of all sport just revolves around getting a ball to a place? Tennis – get a ball to a place. Golf – get a ball to a place. Cricket – get a ball to a place. Football – get a ball to a place. Rugby – get a ball to a place. Basketball – get a ball to a place. Pool – get a ball to a place. Baseball – get a ball to a place. As a species, why are we so fascinated by people who are very good at getting balls to places? Sometimes I just don’t understand the world, although from experience it’s probably me who’s the weird one.

Anyway, back to my friend and the football match he didn’t enjoy watching.

“So yeah, that’s two hours of my life I won’t get back,” he said.

I thought about what he’d just said for a moment.

“Have you ever wondered what that phrase actually means?” I asked.

“What?” my friend said, a smile creeping across his face. He smiled because he knows what I’m like, and correctly anticipated that my question was going to be followed by a smart-arse remark.

“Think about it,” I said. “That’s two hours of my life I won’t get back. What does it mean? It implies that there are scenarios in which you do actually get time back, but when does that ever happen? That football match could have been the best match ever, but you still wouldn’t have got those two hours of your life back.”

“I guess,” he said.

“So why do we say it?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just something people say, isn’t it? But you’re right – you would never get any time back, so as phrases go, it’s a bit pointless really.”

“Actually,” I said, “I’ve just thought of two scenarios in which you would get the time back.”

“Oh?”

“Let’s say you watched that match on a plane, and you were flying west across two time zones. When you looked at your watch at the end of the game, the time would be the same as when you’d started watching the match. So you could then say, ‘That’s two hours of my life I just got back’.”

My friend sighed.

“And the other scenario?” he said, slumping against the elevator wall.

“Let’s say you were watching the football match on the day the clocks went back…”

At this point, the lift announced in a synthesised female voice that it had arrived at its destination.

“Bye,” my friend said.

Anyway, that’s the end of my story. I will try and update this site more often, and it should be easier over the next few weeks as hopefully my work should ease off a little and I should have some holiday soon.