Saturday 24 July 2010

Toy Story 3 - Pixar hit another home run

I went to see Toy Story 3 last night, and before I went in, I was torn between outright trepidation and child-like excitement. I remember going to see the first one at the cinema when it first came out, and thinking it was one of the best things I'd ever seen, and when the second one was better, Pixar managed to win me over to the idea of sequels. But a third one? In my opinion, only Back to the Future ever managed to make a third film that was as good as the preceding two.

I've already spoken before about exactly why I love Pixar, but Toy Story 3 just proves my point. Yet again, they have concentrated on making a film with a good plot, plenty of adventures, and characters that you care about. Let me say that last part again - they've created characters that you can really root for, or loathe, depending on whether they're good or bad. Pixar delight in telling a good story, and they put this love of storytelling above everything else. It's good, old-fashioned escapism. They also make damn good short films, and the Day & Night short that accompanies Toy Story 3 really explores the boundaries of animation.

The Toy Story films have always been films that celebrate the power of imagination, and the wonderful worlds you can create with a handful of toys, cardboard boxes and household detritus. As a writer, this is a concept I can back 120% (meaning I could backtrack 20%, and still be completely behind it). But as a 27-year-old who has problems with the concept of 'growing up', it really speaks to me on a different level. I was the kid who didn't have any friends where I lived, and would spend hours playing with different toys by myself. They were mostly my brother's, as I favoured Lego and Micro Machines, but I also had an awesome toy farm that my dad built for me, and more stuffed animals than I knew what to do with (I am the extremely proud owner of a full set of Gummy Bears).

I freely admit that I still have a fierce attachment to a lot of my animals now. Nowadays I just collect them, getting a new one whenever I go somewhere new (and people bring them back as souvenirs for me, so my friend Mark brought me a toy Kiwi from New Zealand), but a lot of those stuffed bears and dogs mean a lot to me. In the aftermath of break-ups, or redundancy, or difficulties in social interactions, my toys were still there. The photo illustrating this post is of Aston, a cuddly dog I got in Hamley's a few years back. So where adults, particularly parents, were upset by Toy Story 3 for the concept of children growing up, and leaving home, I was more upset by the idea that you could outgrow your toys. Sure, I don't play with mine any more, but they're still there. One scene near the end even had me in tears - and I'm such a hard-hearted bitch, the last film that made me cry was probably Bambi. For Pixar to wring such emotion out of an essentially cold person is incredibly impressive, and to do so in such a mature way, using simply facial expressions on animated toys...other filmmakers need to study their methods, they really do.

In essence, I only have two problems with Toy Story 3. The first is that it made me cry - I don't like it when films make me do that, because it reminds me I have emotions and therefore vulnerabilities. The second is that there just wasn't enough Timothy Dalton! Honestly, I could listen to that guy all day. Still, there's plenty of the delightful Michael Keaton to keep me happy, who is so perfectly cast as Ken that all the other studios that make celebrity-stuffed CG suckfests should sit up and pay attention - i.e. do not cast a celebrity for their status, cast them because their voice suits the role.

I realise I haven't discussed the plot or the characters, but to be honest, I'd rather you just went to see it. Please, for my sake. Go and enjoy the stunning visuals, the sparky dialogue, the bonds between the characters, and the genuine heartfelt passion for storytelling. Then come home, fish out a childhood toy, and remember how you felt when you were little, when anything was possible in your imagination. If you think carefully, maybe it still is...

Friday 23 July 2010

How They Met

Here's my attempt for this week's Fiction Friday challenge on the Write Anything blog, also submitted to the Friday Flash collection. The prompt was;

Pick two established characters, either from your own work or others’. Now write the scene/story of their meeting.

I decided to go with Commander Melissa Hunt and Dawkins, from my current web serial, The First Tale, which is part of the ongoing Tales From Vertigo City project. You don't need to have read it to read this flash, as it takes place outside of the scope of the serial, but in a nutshell, Dawkins is an inventor, and founder of the Vertigo City Resistance, and Liss is his prize commander. This, dear friends, is how they met.

* * *

Pounding footsteps rang out in the street. One pair of scuffed boots, followed by six pairs of brand new leather shoes. Her breath came hard and ragged, her muscles screaming in protest. No amount of training could prepare her for a chase on foot. Not when she’d run the last two miles through Vertigo City’s antiques district, and her pursuers had been in a car. Their car now sat idling on the main street as they followed her through the maze of back streets.

She swerved to avoid an old woman carrying a wicker basket of carriage clocks. Judging by the thuds and shouts behind her, at least one of her pursuers failed to follow her example. 

An alleyway opened between an antiques bazaar and a junk shop so full its wares spilled out onto the street. Liss threw herself around the corner, diving into the cool darkness between the buildings. Shots rang out behind her as bullets slammed into brickwork. Cement dust showered her back.

“Shit! Shit shit shit shit shit!”

The back wall of a building blocked the end of the alleyway. She whirled round to see five Weimar Corporation thugs advancing toward her. Panic gripped her gut. Two men tapped hammers against their open palms. Two more carried knives, while the fifth held a revolver. All five wore crisp black suits, Weimar armbands around their upper left arms.

“Ah, cornered at last,” said the gun-toting heavy. Comb tracks ran through the styling cream that plastered his hair to his head.

“What are you going to do, shoot me? That would be a bit anti-climactic, wouldn’t it? All this chasing me around just to gun me down in an alleyway. Hardly heroic, is it?” Liss tried to inject bravado into her words.

She glanced around the dead end; she saw only a rusty door to her right, and piles of damp boxes to her left. Bars covered the few windows that looked down into the alley.

“Oh shut up, Hunt. We’ve been after you for weeks and now we’ve got you. We know it’s you that’s been attacking our cars all over town,” said the heavy.

“Someone has to stand up to you lot. Might as well be me,” replied Liss. She hoped they couldn’t hear the tremor in her voice.

“Kurt, we have to take her in. I mean, she’s not even Resistance,” said one of the other thugs. His knife wavered.

“Maybe not now, but she could be,” replied Kurt. His thumb caressed the hammer of the revolver.

The door to Liss' right burst open. Rust flaked off the handle when it hit the wall. An elderly gentlemen in a tweed waistcoat and trousers sauntered into the alley. He held an impressive hand cannon, trained on Kurt. An automaton followed, its copper body glinting in the fading light. Liss thought it held a pair of hand cannons, until she looked again and realised the cannons were actually its hands.

"I'd drop the gun if I were you, dear boy," said the gentleman. He consulted a gleaming gold pocket watch. Liss felt a wave of awe at his cool, leisurely manner.

"What the hell are you doing here?" asked Kurt.

"I am here to lend my aid to this rather pretty young lady," replied the gentleman.

He nodded at Liss, gesturing to the open doorway behind him. The hammer-wielding thugs started forward. The automaton fired a blast into the ground in front of them. The spray of stone dust forced them back.

Liss ducked into the door. A set of rough steps led downwards, lit sporadically by flickering torches. The stairs must lead into the tunnels beneath the city, and only the Resistance lived underground. She gazed at the gentleman's back, wondering if if could be true.

He darted back inside the door, and shots rang out in the alley as the automaton closed the door behind them. The gentlemen slipped past her and headed down the stairs, beckoning her to follow.

"You, I do believe, are the notorious Melissa Hunt!" he said. His voice echoed in the darkness.

"How do you know who I am?" asked Liss.

"I keep tabs on all noble Vertigo citizens who take a stand against Weimar. Your efforts have been most impressive, dear girl! One could hardly not take notice."

"Then who are you?"

The old man stopped beside a torch and looked up at her. The light flickered in his watery blue eyes.

"My assistant here is my automaton bodyguard, Two. I am Dawkins".

"THE Dawkins?"

"Yes, my dear. Welcome to the Resistance."

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Blog Awards

The very super Gracie Motley has been kind enough to give me these two awards, and it's now my duty to follow the rules and pass them on to others! Unfortunately I can't give them back to her, which is a shame as she's lovely, but I shall endeavour to do my best.

The Versatile Blogger Award rules:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award to fifteen bloggers you think deserve it.
4. Contact each of the bloggers you chose.

Seven Things About Icy
1. Other girls like fairies or unicorns, but I have wanted a pet griffin since I was little.
2. One of the first things I remember writing was a mock newspaper article about the great flood that swept away the original Tyne Bridge. This is notable because I typed it up on a BBC computer, using the font 'Jupiter' for the headline.
3. I studied art when I was in my late teens, and one of my final projects was a giant 8ft painting of Homer posing as Michelangelo's David, albeit holding a 'Censored' sign over his family jewels.
4. I have a penchant for steel-boned corsets, and feel nostalgic for the days when people still considered good posture to be important.
5. Starting my web serial was a complete accident, kickstarted by my posting a flash fiction that prompted people to ask what happened next. Up until nineteen episodes in, I still had no idea how it would end.
6. When I get stressed or angry, I calm myself down by doing mental arithmetic. Something about numbers is very soothing to me.
7. I assign moods and colours to strange things - to me, Tuesday afternoon is an autumnal orangey-brown and feels very melancholy.

Now for the One Lovely Blog Award rules:

1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

There are a lot of bloggers I'd like to give them to but it seems Gracie beat me to it... So if your name isn't here but you've recently received an award from someone else, that's why I haven't named you - you don't want the same award twice, surely? To avoid claims of favouritism, they're also listed in alphabetical order.

1. Adam Byatt of A Fullness in Brevity
2. Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror Writer
3. Brian at The New Author
4. Carrie Clevenger of Mindspeak
5. Cathy Olliffe
6. Chloe Kovac at Randomitronica
7. Eisley Jacobs
8. Emma Newman
9. Jo Finlay of Zombie Cupcake
10. Jodi Cleghorn
11. Leslie R. Lee
12. Pamila Payne at The Bella Vista Motel
13. Sam Adamson of Future; Nostalgic
14. Sophie Bowley-Aicken
15. Writer's Block NZ

Sunday 18 July 2010

The Silence and the Noise


You miss the silence when you live in a city. Noise surrounds you, pressing in on you, constantly swaddling you in a shroud of sound. Babies cry, competing with too-loud TVs, while phones ring and sirens scream and people shout to be heard. The sound muffles the real world, as our world becomes what we hear through televisions and radios and telephones. You long for silence, you miss it. You wonder if it still exists out there, if any part of the world still experiences quiet.

So you leave the city, go just beyond the suburbs. Countryside unfurls around you, and you see the world anew. The universe turns down the volume on life. A sudden panic grips you as you wonder if you've gone deaf. Do you still exist, if you hear no noise? Does the world still exist, if it produces no sound? The panic subsides when birdsong cuts across your paranoia. The clear melody, warbled with such finesse, soothes your mind like a lullaby from Mother Nature herself. You hear the roar of blood in your ears, and feel truly alive. You do exist, and for the first time in a long time, you are not a product, producer or victim of the noise. You are simply you, reconnected to the universe. Thoughts drift into your mind, you feel creative. You feel alive.

But a part of you misses the noise, the hubbub, the constant stream of sound. The noise was a comfort, a constant companion. It walked with you in dark places, and dampened idle worry with its onslaught. Out here, the silence feels lonely. You are alive, but you could be the only person alive. The noise proved other people surrounded you, but the silence forces you into isolation. Do other people exist if you cannot hear them?

So you return to the city. At first, the noise feels threatening, and it overwhelms you. But you settle into the cacophony, and escape into the mindless chatter of shouted adverts and one-sided mobile phone conversations.

It doesn't take long to miss the silence.