The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 18 October 2010

You've Got A Friend

The great thing about The Social Network is that everyone comes out it looking like an arsehole. Mark Zuckerberg, superbly played by Simon Amstell, is a passive-aggressive sociopath nerd. His friend Eduardo Severin has no understanding of the appeal of Zuckerberg’s ‘Facebook’ creation and, despite majoring in business, makes poor business decisions. Sean Parker is a complete idiot; he’s a dickhead who thinks he’s cool, which is why casting Justin Timberlake to play him is so interesting. And the Winklevoss brothers, both played by the same guy, are exactly the sort of private-school-educated rowing-club idiots that give higher education a bad name. That said, Harvard comes out of this film looking like a whole university packed with arseholes. And nearly everyone in this film is a misogynist.

Aaron Sorkin takes a bunch of unlikeable characters, and makes them interesting, and gives them great dialogue. Occasionally there are classic Sorkin moments where someone is asked a very non-sequitor-ish question simply so that another character can give a slick comeback; this seems to be the entire point of the Rashida Jones character. It’s all beautifully structured and put together, using a flashback device in an artfully understated way. The opening scene is a bit full-on, one of those scenes where you wish you could switch on the subtitles in the cinema, but after that it settles down.

Anyway, recommended, go see.

It’s a strange feeling watching a film about such recent history. Facebook is still so new that some of my friends have only just joined, like mad luddite technophobe peasants. The film goes into some detail about who had the idea, when in retrospect it seems obvious. In fact, not just in retrospect; Facebook was just doing what MySpace and FriendsReunited were doing, but without the clunkiness and having to pay for stuff. FriendReunited is a good example, because for a long time it had more members, but it lost the initiative because it stuck up paywalls and because it had limited functionality.

The film also addresses the area of privacy, an ever-present concern with Facebook as new people join, forget to check their privacy settings, or allow an application access to their information. But that was, I think, Facebook’s USP – it’s a look-at-me-site where you choose who can access it.

That said, it can only be a matter of time before something else comes along and all the bloody Farmville-type games drive people off of Facebook for the sake of their own sanity.

Before the movie there were a few trailers for films no-one in their right mind would ever want to go and see. Some Planes, Trains & Automobiles knock-off with someone in it who isn’t Jack Black but who might as well be. A film called Red which seems to be basically a US remake of New Tricks with Bruce Willis in the Dennis Waterman role. Plus a film which I can only describe as Mike Leigh Hammers Another Rusty Nail Into The Coffin Lid Of The British Film Industry. Thank goodness for LoveFilm, that’s all I can say.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Single Bloke

Last night watched the first part of Single Father, a new BBC drama thing starring David Tennant. I won’t be bothering with the rest.

Why? Well, to begin with, it was so remorselessly tragic it became ridiculous. Nearly every scene was an attempt to jerk tears. Nearly every scene was like those clips they show at the Bafta awards, loads of histrionics and dribbling noses. With ‘calling lump, could you make your way to the throat please’ music throughout.

Now, I have no problem with this sort of drama. I loved Cold Feet, and every episode was pretty much all about making you cry. But first it made you care about the characters, and it did that by making you laugh. Not so with Single Father. It was all about death and nothing else.

That said, the actually scene where David Tennant’s character is informed of his wife’s death was astonishingly mis-handled. He rushes to the place where she works (because this is set in one of those parallel worlds where nobody owns a mobile phone) only to be informed that his wife has been involved in a tragic accident. He breaks down in tears, and it’s so beautifully acted you can almost hear the applause from the Bafta audience.

Except... his next thought is to ask about his children. At no point does he ask how is wife is. All he knows, all he’s been told, is that she’s been in a road accident. He hasn’t been told she’s dead. So the fact that he doesn’t ask whether she’s alive or not is kind of a glaring omission. And for the next ten minutes I was watching, confused, waiting for the moment he’d receive the bad news, as I wasn’t sure whether all the characters were fretting over the news of an accident or the news of a death.

Anyway, David Tennant’s character is so grief-stricken at the (lack of) news, he speeds down a motorway, only to be stopped by some policemen. Who chat to him and then leave a man they know is suicidally depressed by the side of a busy road to make his own way home by motorbike.

And then there was a caption saying ’10 Weeks Later’ or somesuch and I started swearing. Because the first 10 weeks, that’s your story. That’s the journey we care about. But that’s also the bit that’s going to be extremely difficult to write, and is going to require serious research. And I hate those captions, because they're always about the writer skipping over a difficult bit – when it’s difficult bits that are the most interesting to watch, and which give good writers a chance to show what they can do.

Reading some of the comments this programme has received on the internet from people who’ve been through similar experiences – this show didn’t seem to have been researched at all. It felt more like those Mitchell & Webb sketches about the lazy writers. Because by the end of the episode, we were well into soap-opera territory, of troubled kids and adulterous affairs. Such a pity, given the great cast.

Oh, and it was probably the most fairy-lights-on-the-stairs programme I've ever seen.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Warriors Of The Wasteland

Yesterday saw the release on download of my latest Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish ‘Deimos’. I expect the CD release will follow simultaneously. The story features the eighth Doctor Who, as portrayed by Paul McGann, his companion Tamsin Drew, played by Niky Wardley, with other characters played by David ‘Tron’ Warner, Tracy-Ann ’Eastenders’ Oberman, Susan ‘Torchwood’ Brown, Nick ‘Hello Mum’ Wilton and with Nicholas ‘The League Of Gentlemen’ Briggs as the villainous Ice Warriors. As you’ll note, all these actors share the same coincidence of having middle names which are the same as films and television programmes they’ve appeared in. Funny that.

The play was recorded way back in August 2009, back when I was 35 and unmarried. It was written over about 3 weeks in mid June/early July 2009, just after I’d delivered The Eternal Summer. With barely two months between starting the script (the synopsis having been written, developed and approved the month earlier) and the recording dates, it was quite a rapid turnaround, which is kind of ironic given that it’s being released now I’m 37 and a few days away from my first wedding anniversary. Is it any wonder I sometimes have morbid fantasies about being killed in a road accident and having all my yet-to-be-released bits-and-bobs seeing the light of day after my tragic death, Salmon Of Doubt style.

As Deimos was so hot on the heels of The Eternal Summer, and would be a job with no room for fannying about, I decided to do the opposite of The Eternal Summer and write something which would be very robustly plotted and tightly-structured. With strong, broad-strokes characters (but which develop) and, most importantly of all, an actual, conscious Theme. It’s all about forcing our heroes to make difficult moral choices, and seeing which way they jump. Inspired by an interview with Paul McGann saying he wanted to do a Doctor Who story about what makes the Doctor tick. Well, Deimos was my attempt to tell that story.

Buy it now.