Film Review | Ant-Man (2015)

ant man paul rudd evangeline lily michael douglas peyton reed edgar wright poster review marvel cinematic universe

I watched this today! It was a rather excellent movie. Lots and lots to like about it. Very funny; I think one my favourite jokes was towards the end, when Michael Peña’s character was giving the second tip, and he started talking about the art he liked. It amused me, because normally the joke would be “this guy doesn’t get art”, but it’s subverted when he goes off on a tangent about how he prefers one artist over another. Very good. Lots of excellent jokes.

Also! I particularly liked the shift to the legacy orientated way of looking at things. One of the more interesting superhero concepts, which isn’t really explored so much, is the fact that mantles often are passed on. Because the movies tend to start with the “original” character, rather than their successors, we haven’t seen that yet – it’s entirely possible, though, we might yet see Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan becoming Captain America at some point in the future.

Anyway, though, I digress. (Wasn’t Anthony Mackie very cool as Falcon?) I quite liked the fact that we saw Hank Pym passing on the mantle of the Ant-Man to Scott Lang – it wasn’t perfectly done, but it was quite well handled, I felt. I’m hoping that, eventually, whenever we next see Ant-Man, we see Hank and Scott, to further this mentor relationship.

But, on the other hand, the flaws were very much apparent in the film. I’m not sure whether this is because of the films troubled development, or just some general flaws, but whatever.

First up is going to be Darren Cross, AKA Yellowjacket. In the run up to this film, the question of weak/underdeveloped Marvel villains has been floating around a fair bit, so the question was closer to the forefront of my mind while I was watching this than usual. Aaand… I mean, I understand the basic idea of wanting to focus on the hero, rather than the villain, especially in the first movie, and especially one in which you’re trying to set up essentially three main characters – Scott, Hank, and Hope.

But I really do think that Cross could have been much, much better. He was a rather two dimensional character, I felt; acting like a megalomaniacal villain simply for the sake of it. For consideration: What if Cross didn’t want to militarise the Pym Particles, but to use them for altruistic purposes? That sort of shrinking/growing technology could solve more than a few food shortages with relative ease. I always think that the best villains are the ones you can entirely understand the motives of, and perhaps even agree with. You’ve got a very easy set up here – Cross wants to use the technology to help as many people as he can, but Pym is reticent, selfish even, about sharing the technology, because of what happened to Janet. The conflict comes from that – it’s far more morally grey, because both parties are technically “right”, yet neither will compromise. It’s a little bit different, it’s more nuanced, and wouldn’t even require much more screentime for Cross. Just a few tweaks, and the film is likely a lot stronger, in terms of it’s narrative. You can still have Cross suit up to fight Scott, because he wants to stop Scott from, as he sees it, hurting a lot of people.

(Oh, and, hey, there’s another angle for the mentor thing – because Cross was once Hank’s protegee, he could have been the Ant-Man. Differing views split them apart though. Is that correct? Who deserves to be the hero? Etc etc etc.)

Second problem, or noticeable error, would be in the treatment of Hope van Dyne. And that’s… difficult. I mean, it’s already been extensively discussed about the fridging of Janet (though it seems like she’ll be back eventually), but that’s not quite what I wanted to talk about.

Ant-Man does arguably have some similarities to this comic here, which did stand out as I was watching it. Hope was essentially already far more competent than Scott, and probably a better choice for the job than he was, yet Hank was making choices for her (Hope: “Don’t blame yourself for mum’s death, it was her choice”). And… Well, to be honest, I think it was actually “okay” here, insofar as this sort of trope can be okay. It’s obvious that Hank is grieving, and he’s determined to keep her safe – the movie straight up says that Scott is expendable. (Which made me feel validated, albeit less smart, because I’d been sat there going “oh yeah this is obviously because Hank thinks Scott is expendable, wow I am so great at picking up on this admittedly quite obvious subtext”)

But then at the end, Hope does get the Wasp suit, which is a culmination of the arc between her and Hank, so I think this is probably not going to be much of an issue should the characters ever return. I mean, taken on it’s own, I think this film actually doesn’t do so badly – it’s just that in context of everything else, it’s a little difficult to completely give this film the all clear.

Though, you know, those are both fairly mild concerns. It really really was an excellent film, that was really enjoyable to watch – it was refreshing to meet a new character, but I appreciated the inclusion of other MCU elements to give a bit of texture to the film and it’s world. I thought Paul Rudd was brilliant, I thought Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily were brilliant – the whole cast did really well. Fantastic visual style to it all as well – the shrinking elements worked excellently throughout. They were one of the most important things to get right, and this film absolutely got it note perfect.

I enjoyed Ant-Man very much, and I am really looking forward to seeing him return.

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A Brief History Of Time (Travel): Doctor Who (1996)

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I was browsing this website, and I found this, which is the most comprehensive breakdown of the production of the TV Movie that I’ve ever come across – bits and pieces I’d heard before, but a lot of it was new information to me, so I figured I’d share.

Potential casting choices for the Doctor:

  • Rowan Atkinson
  • Jeremy Brett
  • Robbie Coltrane
  • Timothy Dalton
  • Ralph Fiennes
  • Ian McKellen
  • Ben Kingsley

There’s plenty of others, too – three of them actually went on to be the Doctor, with John Hurt, Christopher Eccleston, and Peter Capaldi having been considered at some stage or another. (Capaldi isn’t actually on that list, but he mentioned it in an interview a while ago. Moffat was there with him, and was quite surprised!) There’s also a couple of future Masters on there – Derek Jacobi and Jonathan Pryce – as well as a couple more Curse of Fatal Death Doctors, with Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant having been considered. Couple of Americans too – Jeff Goldblum, Aidan Quinn, Gary Sinise and also, weirdly, Rob Lowe. Which I suppose wouldn’t have been weird at the time, but I’ve only ever seen him as Chris Traeger, which is a weird image!

Before Paul McGann, Liam Cunningham was the frontrunner for quite a long time. (Davos from Game of Thrones)

Potential Casting Choices for the Master:

  • Ben Kingsley
  • Steve Buscemi
  • Jim Belushi
  • Christopher Lee
  • Tom Selleck
  • Jeff Goldblum
  • Jonathan Pryce (who was the Master later on anyway)

Lots of Star Trek alumni were considered for the Master, actually – Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Leonard Nimoy (who was at one point considered to direct), Michael Dorn, Scott Bakula, and Patrick Stewart.

Also quite a lot of weird choices. Musicians, mostly. You’ve got David Bowie, Sting, Mick Jagger, as well as Tom Waits and Phil Collins. (I don’t know much about those last two, but they complete the set of musicians.) Another weird one is Chevy Chase, who I can only picture as Pierce from Community. Can you imagine that? If the TV movie had ended up being Chris Traeger vs Pierce Hawthorne. Mental.

For quite a while, the frontrunner was Christopher Lloyd, as in Doc Brown, but Fox weren’t keen on the idea, because of the cost of hiring him. In the end though, Eric Roberts was paid a higher salary, so it’s all moot anyway.

They were also going to include a ‘big name’ actor as Borusa, who’d be the Doctor’s (and the Master’s) grandfather in this series. Some of the names they kicked around were Peter Cushing, Richard Attenborough, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Hopkins, but the frontrunner was Peter O’Toole – and he was actually willing to do it!

It is rather insane to think about all the different talent that was at one point connected to the TV movie. I mean, I’ve enjoyed it each time I’ve watched it, but it’s hardly the most amazing thing ever – they were just so ambitious to try and get these people to do it, weren’t they?

Very, very strange to think about what might have been. Anything on there strike you guys as being weird or interesting? Or even (whisper it) better than what we got?

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Interview with Dan Ladle, author of ‘Jump’

dan ladle jump science fiction interview independent author self publishing eco terrorism

I first began corresponding with Dan little over three months ago (well, ish), which was the beginning of a fairly lengthy conversation about his self-published debut novel. That, eventually, became this; and so I present unto you my interview with Dan Ladle, author of Jump.

So, first of all, can you tell us a little about how Jump was written? From when you had the idea, to the process of writing the book, and then the eventual publication, were there any major changes in terms of characters or plotlines?

The problem with time travel is that it can get extremely complicated very quickly, so I needed a way of getting my ideas in order. I discovered a thing called the Snowflake Method, devised by a guy called Randy Ingermanson. It is a way of planning your novel from start to finish and takes you through a number of steps to create a finished manuscript.

You start off with a single line summary of the whole story, then slowly expand it again and again. The most important part, for me, was the character profiling. I wanted the characters to be central to the storyline and this allowed me to write the plot around them, as opposed to slotting them into situations. The planning took me around six months. I actually started writing the novel in April of 2012 and finished it eight months later. I only wrote during my lunchtimes at work!

Apart from swapping a few scenes around here and there the story stayed pretty faithful to my original idea.

What would you hope is the main take away from Jump, for the audience? What are the most important themes and messages of the novel?

My family are a big influence on my life. I grew up with biology, archaeology, engineering and chemistry being discussed in the house. My wife is training to be a primary teacher and has worked in ecology and environmental management. We have a son who is mad on dinosaurs. All of these things influenced the creation of Jump.

I hope that my interest in, well…everything, comes across in the book and gets other people thinking about the way the world works and how the human race effects the planet we live on. I don’t think we need a time machine to make things better.

You’ve made twitter accounts for several of the characters in the novel [Peter James, Andrea James, Emily Harrison, Michael Cooke, and so on and so forth]. Do you think this sort of multi-media engagement with characters is going to become more prominent in future, with all novels?

If you are a new author and are thinking about creating Twitter accounts for each of your characters, my advice would be to book about six months off work to do so. I wanted the accounts to be as real a representation of the characters as possible, which meant I gave them different foibles. For instance, Jonny is not too hot with technology, so all his tweets have no capital letters or punctuation (some might argue, I wouldn’t have too much trouble mimicking this behaviour).

Of course, it also meant I had to Tweet (convincingly) about quantum physics, paleontology, saving the Earth, mechanical engineering and Information Security as well as the softer interests such as fashion, music, and art. Some of these were easy, some not so much, but a couple of the accounts have over 200 followers and they get retweets and references in online magazines, so they must be doing something right.

It’s a fun way to do marketing, but can easily take over your life.

[Just to note – you need to scroll down a little bit see the ‘in character’ aspects, as recently Dan revealed to the followers of those accounts that they were, in fact, fictional characters. Presumably that came as something of a shock to some people, but really, half the population of the internet is fictional to some extent]

Were there ever any points at which you attempted to have Jump published traditionally?

I would suspect that most authors, upon finishing their first book, think – “I’ll just send this to a few publishers and see what happens”. And this is, in fact, exactly what I did. There are several obstacles when you try to do this. The first of which is that the number of publishers accepting unsolicited electronic manuscripts is higher than zero. But only just!

Some of the publishers also take a long time to review the work. So long that, by the time I finally received any response I had already decided to try doing it myself.

Can you tell us a little about the process of self-publication? Merits vs drawbacks, and what led you to go down this route? Is there anything important about it you think aspiring authors should know?

There are obviously some positive things about self-publishing, not least of which is the fact that you can take a hundred thousand word document, upload it, then start selling copies almost immediately. It was a very positive thing from my point of view. When I came to create a paperback version of the book it was a little more difficult. You need to follow specific formatting guidelines, but again there is so much online help available that it didn’t really cause a problem.

The difficult parts are probably the ones that come afterwards, promotion has been an uphill struggle and I’m still doing my best to get the book noticed.

How do you feel about recent developments with Kindle Unlimited, and the way this changes the amount of money authors receive?

The main difference I have noticed with the new Kindle Unlimited payment scheme is that, about 90% of the Tweets from authors now say things like “read my super-fantastic wonderfully exciting bestselling (sic.) novel for free … … … on Kindle Unlimited”! Which just means that it isn’t actually free at all, as you have to pay a monthly subscription to access their books.

I suspect, like most changes, this new marketing model will be good for some authors but less beneficial for others. Only time will tell who are the winners in this, although my money would be on Amazon.

As a self-published author, what do you do to try and spread the word about your book? What have you found to be the most useful tool in promoting your book?

The internet is a big country, making yourself heard above all the racket is easier said than done. The best way to do it is to have constant updates on as many websites, forums and social networking sites as possible. The more you post the larger an audience you build up. But the posts have to be relevant and make sense, so you can’t go onto a steam engine appreciation society page and tell them how great your book about e.g. a horse named Phil is, unless it’s a horse named Phil who is intimately acquainted with steam engines.

Personally, I’m an active member of a number of online groups which celebrate the late great Sir Terry Pratchett. If you are part of communities like this, and the group rules don’t forbid such things, then it’s a great place to post links to your books and stories. You’ll also get feedback from people who share some of your viewpoints on life, which is incredibly helpful.

In what ways have you drawn on your own experiences when writing? I know, for example, you’re planning a novel called Pancreatically Challenged, which is about someone with Type 1 Diabetes – a condition you yourself have.

Pancreatically Challenged isn’t going to be a novel so much as a discourse on what it’s been like having Type 1 Diabetes for nearly forty years. The highs and lows (which may be the subtitle) as well as how technology and science have changed Diabetes management beyond recognition.

My life has actually been a very interesting one, growing up with three older brothers and parents who write, I’ve had jobs in science and technology and am interested in all sorts of things. As I built up a picture of all of the characters in Jump I assigned them certain traits or behaviours which were all, in some way, facets of my own personality.

Thankfully I have a really bad memory! So when I write I can’t draw on real-life conversations, experiences or arguments as I remember them wrong, so I have to create them all from scratch each time.

I know you’re a large Terry Pratchett fan. How would you say his writings – or those of other authors, like Asimov, Crichton, and Baxter – have influenced your own, if at all?

I’d say I’m more of a medium than a large!

Pratchett was and is my favourite author; I wrote a piece which explains a lot about what he meant to me when he died earlier this year. The one thing I would like to think his writing style has given me is an interest in creating multiple threads within a story, which all interweave and then come together to create a sort of oratory crescendo.

I also try to live by his writing advice which, to paraphrase, goes something like – “if you’re writing fantasy don’t read fantasy. Read about nuclear physics, read about basket weaving in the 15th century, read about breeding iguanas, but don’t read fantasy or you’ll just end up producing an inferior copy of what has gone before”.

Oh yeah, and I have a tendency to use too many exclamation marks!!!

If I had to liken Jump to any other particular author’s canon it would probably be that of Michael Crichton. Certainly the idea of a bleeding edge piece of technology causing catastrophic problems is a fairly standard plot device in his novels.

How do you manage to balance working on several different projects concurrently? I know from your Goodreads page that you’re currently writing three books (Devamped, Pancreatically Challenged, and the provisionally titled Getaway), so how do you make sure you balance the amount of attention you pay to them, as well as maintaining real-life commitments?

Sadly, the main project I have to work on is having an actual job. If this were not the case then I would be happily juggling my time between short stories, books and random posts on social media. However I do have a life and responsibilities, so I only really get to write during lunchtimes at work.

When I have the chance, I take my laptop, go sit in the kitchen and get on with whichever thing I am presently feeling inspired about. I’m just planning on restarting Devamped, which is going to be a comedy about a vampire who is involuntarily re-humanised. Getaway has changed into a short story called Pathfinder, which I have submitted for a competition. Pancreatically Challenged is going to continue whenever I’m not doing something more interesting.

I also have a number of other things buzzing about in my head, but when it gets to the start of lunchtime I just pick whichever one I’m in the mood for and run with it.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the people reading this interview?

Read more!

And thus, the interview is concluded. I’d like to extend a massive thanks to Dan for taking part in this; you can find him on facebook, twitter and Goodreads. He also has his own blog.

You can find me on facebook and twitter as well; to check out some of my posts about writing, and hopefully eventually some more author interviews, check out the index of my blog

My review of Dan’s book, which I gave a 7/10, can be found here. You can also buy his book from Amazon here, both in print and electronic formats. 

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Book Review | Jump (by Dan Ladle)

dan ladle jump science fiction interview independent author self publishing eco terrorism

Several months ago, I was contacted by Dan Ladle, a self-published author, who asked me to take a look at his book. As you can likely guess, I have actually looked at the book – in fact, I gave Dan about 6500 words of commentary on the book. And now I’m reviewing it! Later on in the week, I’ll actually also be posting an interview with Dan, so definitely check back for that, because it’ll be pretty interesting.

Jump, as a story, follows two groups of people. The first is the EARTH Force, a group of people dubbed to be “ecological terrorists” by the mass media, who go to desperate lengths in their attempts to cultivate, protect and preserve the environment, but are being torn apart by internal conflict over how extreme their methods are to be. The second is a group assembled by the military following the development of the Jump Box – a time machine. This group – including physicists Michael Cooke and Celia Jones, inventors of the box, linguist Emily Harrison, scientific specialist David Moulder, archaeologist Andrea James and engineer Peter James, married couple, as well as Colonel Robert Masterson, who leads the group – are instructed to use the machine to travel back and forth through time, gathering data that can help to save the planet, which by this point in time is in pretty dire straits.

Unbeknownst to Masterson and his team, however, they’ve been infiltrated by the extremist faction of the EARTH Force, who are using the Jump Box to change the past – in the hopes of, ultimately, removing humanity entirely.

It’s a very clever, and timely, premise – like the best science fiction, Jump uses the language and imagery of technology to give a story about very current and important concerns. Something I liked about the story was the fact that, actually, essentially everyone involved had pretty similar end goals: to save the planet. The conflict comes from how they approach the solution to the issue, and how extreme their approach is. It was refreshing to see the military actually focusing (at least initially) on the environmental potential for the time machine, rather than jumping (haha, “jump”) straight to the possibilities for weaponising the technology.

Throughout, I did get the slight nagging feeling that I’d seen a plot like this used somewhere else – I think it was probably a couple of episodes of ITV’s Primeval – but despite this, Jump manages to present it’s own spin on things, and keep a more or less distinctive feel to it. It’s a fairly inventive plot, with quite a few riffs on familiar ideas, which sets the book apart from others of it’s ilk. There’s a couple of twists throughout the novel – both of which I managed to guess, but only through paying attention to the occasional spot of slight foreshadowing threaded throughout. I think it’s entirely possible that the second of these twists would take many readers by surprise; it builds upon the earlier, more predictable one, and reframes the entirety of the novel in a rather different light. It’s certainly one of the cleverer aspects of the novel.

Jump is written in a very simple, clear style of prose – but that’s certainly not to its discredit. Given the style of prose, I think it’s essentially the sort of thing you could expect anyone to be comfortable reading, whether they’re young or old. The only exception, actually, is the occasional curse word (no more than four or five in the entire book, only two of which beginning with an F) and some infrequent-but-moderate sexual references.

Some people probably would find it lacking; you’re never going to get long essays analysing the sentence structure or imagery employed throughout, but you’re certainly going to get a group of people who read the book, and enjoy it too.

The characters in Jump are something of a mixed bag, to be honest. They’re all rooted, essentially, in archetypes – you’ve got the soldier, you’ve got the linguist, you’ve got the physicist, and they rarely rise beyond the roles afforded to them. Certainly, they’re enjoyable to read about – physicist Michael Cooke is charming, and Robert Masterson shows a surprising level of depth at times – but equally, there’s plenty of moments where things feel rushed or underdeveloped. The big standout is where the main dissenting character quite literally says he “doesn’t respond well to authority figures”, with all the attitude of a Badass Who Doesn’t Play Well With Others™ – it’s a moment that comes out of nowhere, and seemingly only exists to signpost the fact that this character is the one who’s going to swim against the current. There’s also rushed relationships (they insist they don’t normally do this, but sleep together on their first ‘date’, and decide they love each other not long after, over the space of just a few days) and some cliche interactions between the female characters (the men really just don’t notice when someone is interested in them, do they?), but on the flip side, there are plenty of nice character moments for each individual. (With regards to the aforementioned relationship, one intimate scene wherein they discuss tattoos sticks with me, as does their eventual ending together)

(Having brought up the topic of those slightly cliche interactions, I realise I should clarify that there are four main female characters, and a few background ones, compared to 6 main male characters; I can’t remember if the book passes the Bechdel test or not. There’s not really any LGBT characters, but I don’t recall the ethnicity of any character being stated, white or otherwise. Draw your own conclusions from this; whilst the book is hardly groundbreaking in terms of representation, nothing jumped out at me as being notably offensive.)

I do want to single out the main villain, Darwin, who’s leader of the more extreme faction of the EF. Darwin is actually a genuinely quite threatening character when he’s first introduced, exuding a real air of menace, which is something that continues throughout as he blackmails the other, more moderate, EF members to support his cause, slowly wresting control of the group away from the far more hapless former leader, Jonny. One particular moment of actually quite horrifying blackmail revolved around Darwin’s possession of some “intimate” photos he shouldn’t have had – it’s a stand out moment, that really cemented the character as being quite foul. Admittedly, the end Darwin comes to does perhaps undercut the menace, but it does make him much more of a tragic figure.

Jump is, however, by no means perfect. The easiest thing to notice and pick on is the mistakes in editing and formatting; sadly, there are quite a few. On some levels, you’ve got to be understanding of the fact that proper editing is expensive, particularly for first time self published authors – but equally, when you’ve got near constant grammatical errors, more than a few examples of missing punctuation, the occasional spelling mistake, and some weird formatting, it does begin to remove one from the flow of the story,

Which is not to say the story does flow, exactly. Or at least not in the sense you’d expect.

Has anyone seen those “story rollercoaster” pictures? Like, you have however much buildup (going up the rollercoaster), maybe a twist (that’s the loop-de-loop), but eventually there’s a climax (the highest point of the rollercoaster), and then the eventual resolution.

If you’re following that analogy, Jump is essentially a “story drive” – ie one long, straight road, that doesn’t quite go anywhere. For a while, it feels like it’s something resembling a slow burn thriller, except that’s not exactly right; there’s not really any huge increase in tension, merely a forward plot motion. Details are revealed, and information is divulged, but there rarely feels like there’s much drive to plot – it feels very much like you’re just going through the motions. This isn’t true all the time (waiting to learn Darwin’s backstory was quite a page turner) but it is definitely something I was conscious of. There isn’t exactly much of climax either – for all the potential of the premise, the two groups are largely kept separate for much of the novel, and their eventual meeting is dealt with very quickly. From that point on, the novel feels like a very drawn out process of tying up loose ends and wrapping up different plotlines.

It is, essentially, a bit of an odd ending – in part because it takes so long, but it also feels like the book never quite began in the first place. There’s lots of drawn out build up, and then without any great change of pace, suddenly every character is in a relationship with another one, and they’re all walking off into their own respective sunsets. It’s something that does, ultimately, feel a little lacking.

This is, perhaps, a review that’s a bit at odds with itself. But then, so is Jump – there’s lots of good things, and lots of not so good things. It’s definitely enjoyable, but in some regards, it can also be a let down. A lot of things would probably come down to taste – I’d say that if even one of the things I described caught your interest, you should check out the book, because you likely will find things you enjoy. Just like I did really – it’s been difficult to properly discuss the things I really enjoyed without delving into spoiler territory, but hopefully what I have said is enough to pique your interest!

As it is, though, I’ll give this book 7/10.

Be sure to check back in a couple of days, when the interview with Dan will be posted! You can buy Dan’s book, Jump, here.

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On the Subject of the BBC

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I live in Britain – London, specifically. And, I should point out, I am not a particularly patriotic person. My political views are left-leaning, but largely lack definition. I say this as preamble and context leading to the main statement of this piece, which you’ve probably guessed already:

The BBC is one of the most important institutions in the UK, alongside the NHS, and the licence fee should not be cut.

At the minute, the license fee for a colour television is £145.50 per year. That’s about £12.13 per month, and works out at just under forty pence per day. (You can see a full breakdown of the costs here.)

The question is, what do you get for forty pence a day?

Well, for a start, there’s TV.  Over 30 different drama programmes – Jonathan Creek, Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Sherlock, Last Tango in Halifax, and so on and so forth. You’ve got all sorts of soaps, like Holby City, Casualty, and of course Eastenders. There’s sitcoms like Citizen Khan, Not Going Out, and Mrs Brown’s Boys. As well as that, there’s also children’s programming. Things like TeletubbiesTracy Beaker, Blue Peter, Deadly 60, In the Night Garden, Newsround. On top of that, you have documentaries – there’s nature documentaries, some of which are with David Attenborough. All sorts of historical documentaries, with special ones produced to commemorate different anniversaries. As well as that, you’ve got all sorts of sports programmes, like Match of the Day, and talent programmes, like The Voice or Strictly Come Dancing, and talk shows, like The Graham Norton Show.

Then, after that, you’ve got radio programmes. There’s 59 different BBC radio stations. These radio stations are not just limited to news, or music – you get comedy, drama, panel games, sketch shows, documentaries, plays. Look, here is a list of the output from just one of the 59 BBC radio stations.

But that’s not all!

Because, you see, the BBC licence fee also pays for online content. Now, the obvious ones that you’d think of are the BBC News website, or maybe the BBC Sport website. There’s also BBC Weather, and BBC iPlayer – where you can see, yet again, the sheer variety and range and breadth of content being produced by the BBC.

Those are the obvious ones, mind you. But it barely scratches the surface.

You’ve got the BBC Bitesize website, a resource for students from Key Stage 1 (5 – 8 years old) all the way up to A-Levels. I guarantee that every single student in the UK, and a huge percentage of teachers, have used and benefitted from that website.

There’s a food website. A travel website. An arts website. An earth website. A history website. An ethics website. A website full of advice for teensAnd there is still more on top of that!

The BBC offers 24 hours news coverage on a variety of far reaching topics, on several different platforms – TV, Radio, online, apps, etc etc etc. It is, more or less, the most impartial and most reputable news service in the country.

That is what you get for 40p a day. Forty pence a day for all of that.

Obviously – and I do want to stress this – the BBC is not perfect. It does need to be criticised, and it does need to be carefully and objectively considered, rather than viewed with rose tinted glasses.

Thing is, though? The best argument for the license fee is the amount of content we get from it.

The license fee is a bargain, not a burden.

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The Flash: Why I love Harrison Wells

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So, over the past year, one of my favourite TV shows has been The Flash. It was a genuinely fun and compelling show, with an amazing cast and quality writing, which was always really exciting to watch. Cannot wait for next series, I’m really looking forward to it.

One of the key things I liked so much about The Flash was the character of Harrison Wells, played brilliantly by Tom Cavanagh. (Spoilers from here on out, by the way.)

Wells is Barry’s mentor. He helps him to save others, supports him in his endeavours, and teaches him things about his own abilities. But the fact is, he has a secret agenda – he’s actually the man who killed Barry’s mother, Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash. He travelled from the future to kill Barry in the past because he hates him that much.

“I come here to destroy you, but then to get home, I have to be the one who creates you”

There’s a really interesting irony at the heart of this, which is summed up by that line – Wells has to be the one to create his worst enemy. Every interaction they have, even though Barry doesn’t know it, carries with it a history – and a future – of so much conflict and hatred for one another.

But, brilliantly, it’s not that simple. Because Wells does begin to care about Barry.

I know that rage. I used to feel that rage every time I looked upon you. And now, somehow, I know what Joe, and Henry, feel when they look upon you with pride, and with love.”

I suppose it could be argued with relative ease that Wells is simply lying here, with the hope of manipulating Barry, but I like to believe it’s a bit more complicated than that – the fact that his hatred for the Barry he knew, and his love for the Barry he has come to know, can and do coexist is one of the more compelling aspects of the narrative, to my mind.

It’s an interesting new take on the idea of the hero’s mentor being the hero’s enemy, and one which also presents some compelling possibilities for future stories: Barry will, eventually, have a “first” meeting with Thawne at a point before he’s Harrison Wells (presumably played by Matt Lescher in this instance). There’d be a lot of parallels between these interactions, and the ones we’ve already seen on the show so far – the positions would be reversed, with Barry knowing and hating Thawne based on past interactions that are all still ahead of Thawne.

How would Barry deal with him? Is he able to do anything to stop him, knowing that he has to keep the past – and future – intact? (Actually, given the weird timey wimey nature of The Flash at the minute, how much of this is still predetermined?)

Or, in a moment of maximum dramatic irony… Will Barry’s hatred of Thawne lead to Thawne’s hatred of Barry? Will Barry create the Reverse Flash, in much the same way that Wells created the Flash?

Honestly, I think it’s likely. And I am really looking forward to it.

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Spider-Man Movie Pitch

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Alright then, Spiderman. I have had some thoughts on this new movie!

On Spider-Man

Mostly I have few requirements for Spider-Man (I’ve been meticulously hyphenating his name, because it makes me feel like a proper nerd and everything). I’d say the most important thing, character wise, is that he should be funny. It’s kinda difficult to get it right, maybe because you don’t want it to be facetious, and you don’t want it to be quippy in a gimmicky way but I feel like, with the general track record of the MCU, the humorous aspect is probably dead set to to be done right. There’s also some directorial stuff – Spider-Man, when he’s swinging around, should really look genuinely quite amazing. I don’t really know much about the director (nor does anyone else, really) but I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make that that kind of quality will be assured.

On Peter Parker

I have recently realised that pretty much any permeation (iteration? interpretation? depiction?) of Peter Parker wherein he isn’t a straight white guy adds a new and more compellingly layer to the story. (For example, linked here, this version of Peter Parker wherein he’s African-American) The ship has sailed on that one, given the casting of Tom Holland (who I am sure will do excellently), but I still think it’d be interesting to depict Peter Parker as gay or bisexual, because it reflects a lot of the original themes which played a crucial role in the character, back when he was first envisaged – the idea of someone who was a bit of an outcast, who represented the underdog. That basic idea is what comes into play, if depicting Peter Parker as gay.

The way I’m thinking they’d depict it is relatively subtle, in a nice kind of way. Throughout the film, you’d have references to MJ, this person Peter has a crush on. Everyone who’s reasonably familiar with Spider-Man has some idea of MJ, so they know who we’re referring to, even though you don’t actually see MJ. So, anyway, you have Peter’s friends, giving him a bit of a good natured ribbing about the crush, scenes like that. And then towards the end of the film, Peter can pass this guy in the corridor, and feeling a little more confident – perhaps because he’s been out being Spidey – says to this dude:

“Hey MJ”
“Hey Peter”

MJ, of course, stands for Mark John Watson.
It might be nice if we’ve seen this guy around a few times, in different scenes across the school. Perhaps a roll call scene, where the teacher calls him ‘Mark’, setting up the eventual “twist” at the end. I quite like that idea.

On the Supporting Characters

Okay, so if Peter Parker is going to be in school, then that means that we’re going to spend a not inconsiderable amount of time with his friends – I’m sort of imagining this taking place with maybe 50% or so of the scenes in school, and with Peter out of costume, to really explore the angle a teenager, gifted with powers most kids could only dream of, but ultimately dealing with his life becoming far more complicated than ever. None of the characters in the MCU at the minute really have secret identities; Peter, on the other hand, does.

Let’s say, then, Peter can have two to three friends, as well as a school based antagonist. The antagonist is of course Flash Thompson, who’s a bully, and quite a bother for Peter and his friends. Something which I’ve seen proposed online would be for Flash to be bullying people because he’s closeted; it’s Spider-Man who inspires him to come out, and be less cruel to others. That could, if handled well, be a pretty interesting subplot to include, because it’s showing the way in which heroism can impact on and inspire others – as well as forming an interesting counterpart to Peter, if he were depicted as gay.

One of the friends could be Harry Osborn – but since he’s been done twice before, it might make sense if this film decides to eschew the use of him. (Then again: How about Peter in love with MJ, whilst Harry has an unrequited crush on Peter? Could be an interesting angle for future Green Goblin appearances)

Bringing us onto Peter’s two other friends, we’ve got Felicia Hardy, being set up potentially as the Black Cat for sequels, and providing another LGBT character (As nice as it would be, it seems unlikely that Flash or Peter would be depicted as LGBT; at least with Felicia, there’s a comics precedent. Still, I’m trying pretty hard to make the lineup for this film as diverse as possible.)

The next friend, who would form a pretty important part of the narrative, is Kamala Khan. She knows Peter’s secret, and she encourages him to do a lot of what he does. Essentially she’d fill a role not too dissimilar from Cisco on The Flash; really enthusiastic, and really enjoying the world of superheroics, You’d have references to and maybe briefly see her family, but they wouldn’t really take focus. There’s going to be quite a few scenes between the two of them, where they confide in each other and joke around and all that. It’s a little bit of a departure from the Canon, but it seems like a good way to introduce Kamala.

Obviously, in terms of Peter’s home life, he’s living with Aunt May. There’d be references to Uncle Ben, but very few to his parents; presumably at this stage in Peter’s life, he’s essentially as content with the death of his parents as he could ever be, and what’s bothering him more is the death of his Uncle. The idea of “With great power comes great responsibility” is still a motivating factor, obviously.

On the villains

This is actually quite a difficult one, thinking about it. A lot of the more iconic villains, like Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, have been done, and done quite memorably. My own favourite Spider-Man villain is the Lizard, and of course he’s been done… I think it’s important to keep this story small scale, because Spider-Man, I think, works best when he’s just protecting his own city, or even his own neighbourhood.

So…

I mean, Wilson Fisk is worth considering, because he’s quite heavily associated with Spider-Man, given his appearances in the cartoons and whatnot, and Vincent D’Onfrio does play the role amazingly well. But I think that it might be difficult to portray Fisk in an all ages Spider-Man movie in the same way he was in Daredevil. Perhaps the majority of the violence could be implicit? If done correctly, it could still be suitably horrific, yet suitable for younger kids – but that’s a very fine line to walk. If this were an origin story, I’d be tempted to try and involve Uncle Ben’s killer in some capacity. That could still be possible – if the origin is told in the opening credits, a la The Incredible Hulk, then perhaps a thread of Spider-Man investigating Uncle Ben’s killer, and then being lead to a weakened Fisk, who’s trying to rebuild somewhat… That could potentially be quite a strong plot to use. If Fisk is still in prison, and he’s pulling strings from there, that’s an easy way to limit the violence, and keep it a little bit more PG. (Or, you know, 12A.)

Alternatively, if it’s being kept school based, the idea of the Jackal (Miles Teller, who’s a teacher at Peter’s school) could be a route worth exploring… though it’d probably be advisable to avoid all the complicated clone stuff. Potentially Mysterio could be worth dealing with, however the angle from which I’d approach him (the illusions he uses providing a more psychological threat with less punching) might not be the most interesting for all age groups. Still, I reckon there’s probably a pretty strong Mysterio movie, somewhere, and it’s likely that might be the direction they go in.

On the tone

Something I’ve been wondering about, as I’ve been writing this, is the possibility of voiceovers. With the exception of Iron Man 3, it’s not really prominent in superhero movies – although they are pretty common in comics themselves. It might help to establish the tone, to use the voiceovers, and let Spider-Man… Not quite break the fourth wall, but make jokes and comments in a way that are sort of outside the narrative. Again, it’s a tricky thing to get right, particularly if you do use Fisk, but I imagine if handled carefully, it could be quite successful.

Music is also important in establishing the tone – not to step on the toes of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it could be nice to see, say, some scenes of Peter swinging around set to some upbeat music. As in, not a film score, but an actual song, which the audience will know? That could be worth considering; at this point I’m just kicking ideas around. Essentially though, I’d approach this not as “The Amazing Spider-Man”, or “The Spectacular Spider-Man”, but “The Friendly-Neighbourhood Spider-Man”. If they could actually get away with this as a title, that’d be nice.

Essentially, the most important part of this movie is to be really fun, and enjoyable to watch.

The post-credits scene

Oh, well, this one is obvious. Kamala Khan gets her powers here. A Ms Marvel movie can follow a few years later, after the Captain Marvel movie, with Peter as a supporting character in her movie. Kamala has inhuman genes… so potentially they could follow up on that fish oil plot from Agents of SHIELD. Maybe have her drinking the stuff (do you drink fish oil? Or, like, fry things in it? And is it halal?) throughout the movie, and then the end credits sequence shows her… say, stretching for a pen, and then her arm actually stretches. The final line of the movie is her saying “What.”

Alternatively, if this isn’t placed so well, timeline wise, in terms of when they do Captain Marvel and when they do Inhumans, maybe a short meeting between Spidey and Daredevil could work. That’d make sense if you did use the Fisk plot – presumably in Daredevil Series 2, most of Matt’s attention is going to be divided between Punisher and The Hand/The Chaste, so a sort of “Thanks for dealing with Fisk while I was busy” scene might make sense.

So, any thoughts?

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