Monthly Archives: June 2012

Back to the future

The movie industry isn’t particularly renowned for originality – witness the plethora of sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and ‘re-imaginings’ clogging up studio production slates and giving ire to anyone interested in seeing something new every so often. And did the world really need a prequel to The Scorpion King, Tremors or 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, itself a remake of the 1974 original, which had, in turn, inspired a belated sequel (I know, it’s confusing)?

Of course it didn’t. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (either version) was primo horror fare, this isn’t quite The Godfather we’re talking about. And one shudders to imagine what the prequel involved: a young Leatherface paying his first visit to the hardware store for piano wire and a nail-gun? Mom and Pop Leatherface presenting their son with My First Little Chainsaw at Christmas?

Pretty pointless, really. But I’m not totally averse to the notion of prequels, providing the right source material can be found…

Triassic Park

An excitable Scottish billionaire constructs a fantastical theme park, recreating the long-gone Triassic era. All turns to disaster, however, when tourists realise that incremental changes in climate and the excruciatingly slow evolution of various strains of fern don’t make for a very exciting holiday, and visitor numbers drop vertiginously.

Terminator -1: Procreation Day

The sperm and egg which will one day become the future Sarah Conner team up to defend humankind against a relentless computer chip which can’t really do much and is rather immobile but will one day form part of the future Terminator’s CPU.

The Omen – Let’s Play the Waiting Game

Extremely slow-moving drama, with a running time of three billion years, as Lucifer hangs around the barren netherworld of his exile, smoking too much and waiting for the stars to align so some prophecy or other comes to pass and he can assume dominion over the world. Look out for the scene where the fallen angel plays chess with Death for 230 million years. Then they get bored and switch to Connect 4 for the next eight million.

Internally Debate Hard

John McClane ponders whether to visit his wife in Los Angelesor stay at home watching Moonlighting reruns instead. He then ponders whether or not to wear a vest that day. Starring Hayden Christensen as McClane and Bruce Willis as the vest.

The Matrix Reworked as Farce

Super-powerful, self-aware computers begin construction of an enormous fantasy world to enslave the human population, seemingly unaware that it would be far easier to use unthinking but equally warm-blooded animals. Like hippopotami. And that the energy-giving sun is blazing like billy-o a mere thousand feet above them, just beyond the low-lying toxic cloud.

Apollo 12 – Fairly Uneventful

Humdrum account of the not-at-all ill-fated Apollo 12 space mission, during which everything passes off pretty much as planned.

Squeak

Young Sydney Prescott begins elementary school one year to the day since her older sister was bullied to tears by a really mean girl in gym class. Now a pop culture-fixated juvenile psychopath is playing a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse involving nursery rhymes which reference themselves in a self-consciously post-modern style that initially seems clever but quickly becomes tiresome. Cameo appearance by Wes Craven as a furry pencil-case.

Willie Wonka: Oomps, I Did It Again

A thrusting young entrepreneur builds up a confectionery empire by using slave labour from a fourth world country populated by orange-faced dwarfs, and getting kids hooked by filling his products with Scrum-diddly-E-numbers. A tragic accident involving the Chocolate Swirl-o-vator and a batch of Diet Wonka Koke shatters his mind, turning him into a reclusive weirdo in a top hat.

Ocean’s 10

Surprisingly gritty account of the early lives of all those smug tools in nice suits, before they reinvented themselves as cheeky chappie ordinary decent criminals. Brad, George, Matt and whoever the hell else weld together the halves of crashed cars and beat the wrong man to death for informing on them to police, to the accompaniment of a funky David Holmes soundtrack.

Babe: Makin’ Bacon

Shortly after giving birth to a plucky little piglet called Babe, an unfortunate sow is butchered and processed into a wide variety of tasty pork products, including chops, hickory-smoked rashers and those disgusting feet things they eat in Cork.

ET the Barbarian

Aggressive, expansionist aliens with extremely long fingers send their top warrior on a mission to destabilise Earth before full-scale invasion. Entry into our atmosphere alters his brain chemistry and transforms him into a croaky-voiced peacenik.

Gladiator – Guy Who Sweeps Up the Coliseum

Stirring tale of a young slave with ambitions of becoming a mighty gladiator, ruling the amphitheatre and, like, getting all the chicks and glory and that. But it ends in tears as he gets drunk on an amphora of honey wine and slips into the tiger pit.

JFK – Magic/Johnson

A young magic bullet, minding its own business, is inveigled into a wide-ranging conspiracy to assassinate the American President. The bullet is promised, by Lyndon Johnson, Sam Giancana and Joe Pesci in a nasty wig, that nobody will ever know. But he begins to suspect he’s being set up as the patsy…

The Lord of the Rings: The Legend Begins

Ooh, let’s see…how about something like The Hobbit for a title? A doughty man-midget with hairy feet, travelling in search of adventure, comes across a magical ring which is sought by a Dark Lord who… Oh.


Light, reflected

I’m not greatly fond of high summer, for reasons that are odd and obscure even to myself. There can be something stark and depressing about the season; time can feel sluggish, sickly somehow. It’s hard to hide away in summertime.

But it’s also the most sublime time of year in many ways, with the greatest capacity to dazzle and amaze. Where I live we get a beautiful light on summer evenings, or rather, a range of beautiful lights: from soft ochres to vivid reds, from a wash of organic colours to slashes of something so brilliant it nearly looks artificially generated.

Facing west towards the Atlantic, you can watch the sunset being played out as drama on a giant, skyscraping screen; all that’s missing are the velvet curtains rolling across as we fade to black, show’s over, time for bed.

The day dies slowly, languorously; it’s reluctant to go, it drags out the farewell, like an elemental orchestra returning with just one more refrain, one final flourish, and then another, and then just one more, and one more, and one more.

If it’s been a hot day, the sky is a bleed of orange and purple, vibrant and dramatic. If the day was a little cooler, maybe the sun is now drowning slowly, submerged in a layered sea of scarlet and tan.

Or perhaps there has been rain and shafts of warm sunlight are now breaking through the crust of cloud overhead, making the skyscape cinematic, almost painterly: off-yellows and strong shadows, a chiaroscuro of the elements.

At times like that you smile to yourself, and think: the universe likes me today.

Or maybe you just think. It’s natural to get contemplative while looking at the summer evening sun. And today (June 21st) is the solstice, the longest day of the year, the slowest, most languorous dying into night. The longest time to look and think about light. Reflections on reflections.

To remember back: reading that popular science book a while ago, last summer actually, and how a lot of it was about light, that was the central contention, how everything basically is light; the entire universe described as light evolved to different stages: matter, radiowaves, ultraviolet, that book, this thought, you. Remembering how fascinating and literally wonderful you found that.

And that brings you onto thoughts about light and looking at light, and how we can never actually see the real thing we’re looking at, the heart of matter, because the sub-atomic interaction of the object with the light changes it ever-so-slightly, alters it so minutely that only God can tell the difference but this is philosophical not practical so it still matters. You think about the fact that what you see is infinitesimally but crucially different from what it would be if you weren’t looking.

And then you dawdle along a different mental path and arrive at this realisation: we cannot see anything in the present, because everything we see is light that’s been reflected off an object a microsecond before – or more, minutes or years or millennia more, in the case of stars.

Stars and aeons, stretching across time and space. Insignificant man struggling to impose order and will on blank chaos, struggling to draw his design across the canvas. And you think about art, visual art and its relationship to light. You think about how and why artists are so fascinated with it; how light is everything in visual art because light is everything we see – we only ever see reflected light, we literally can’t see the object itself, even before it changes.

Then you notice a slight chill in the air, maybe your skin notices before your mind does, and you think about these long, light-filled days. Light as everything we see and everything we are, everything that is.

Remembering back again, to something written years ago: “There is hope in the purity of light. Light is straight, constant, unyielding. Light wrestles tachyons and reins in the wilder elemental forces. Time bends but cannot defy light. Light is simple and unconquerable. This explains the literary fascination with light, the blinding pearl, the subconscious leitmotif. e = mc2 is not a mathematical formula: it is a poem to the universe.”

Then you notice it’s dusk; the light is almost gone. The late evening air now has that eerie twilight tint, like a blue filter placed over the world to gently usher us into darkness.

You close your eyes and finally stop looking. Show’s over. Time for bed.

 

Previously published in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section


Sum’ like it hot

Ah, summer – where would we be without it? Waiting anxiously for autumn to come along, presumably.

And where would we be without summer movies? I’m not just referring here to the annual blockbusters, but also what might broadly be termed ‘summer’ films: those with a theme, vibe or temporal placement within the warmest of all seasons. But how to spot them? Simply look out for these tell-tale clichés – sorry, I meant ‘signs’ – and enjoy the metaphorical ‘endless summer’ that is cinema:

 

The main character is a young boy from a damaged family who ‘learns’ something about life after finding a dead body down by the old Henderson place. Which is pretty ironical, when you think about it.

Or is an old geezer living in the endless flat plains of Kansas who feels a pressing urge to achieve ‘closure’ on certain issues before he pops his clogs somewhere around the two-hour mark.

Or is/are a group of sparky young girls hitching their way across America for some reason or other. Like, one of them is upset because her parents are divorcing, or some junk. Oddly, despite the fact that these ingénues are placing their trust in complete strangers – in a nation with the highest incidence of serial killers on the planet – nothing bad happens to them.

The film starts with a bunch of kids bursting out the doors of their high school and chucking their books in the hedge, to the strains of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (for Summer).

Any romantic couple that hooks up at the start of the summer is doomed to tragedy. One of them will die of a terminal illness before the first leaves fall from the trees.

Something disastrous happens during the annual Fourth of July celebrations. Ideally these are taking place in a New England fishing village, and even more ideally, the something disastrous will involve one of the pods on the carousel being tampered with and flying off into the night. Its occupants are then impaled on one of the ubiquitous white picket fences.

Unattractive nerds lose their virginity to preposterously good-looking foreign exchange students. On the beach, by moonlight.

Several of the characters surf. It is, apparently, a ‘source’ and can change your life, swear to God. The best surfer in the bunch subsequently ships out to ’Nam, man, where the VC show scant regard for the fact that he needs his legs to stand up on the board, and proceed to blow them off.

A trip to Rome results in a super-hot romance with a beautiful Italian (gender directly inverse to gender of main protagonist).

All baseball games are played under a softly setting sun, golden dust drifting gently through the air as the plucky little slugger at the centre of the action hits a homer – whatever the hell that is – and stirring orchestral music sweeps the audience along in a tidal wave of emotional manipulation designed to hide the fact that the preceding 106 minutes blew the big one.

Fat men waddle about the place, sweating like Phil Spector in an overly warm witness stand, fanning their face with a paper and remarking to everybody, ‘Whew – hot enough for ya today?’

The film begins with the narrator – usually Richard Dreyfuss, for some reason – intoning, ‘After that summer, my life would never be the same again.’

There are chronic water shortages throughout New York as a steaming heatwave lays waste to the city. The cheeky little scamps in the Bronx, though, somehow find water to spray on passing convertibles, soaking/annoying the driver who responds by swearing at them in a comical way.

A huge shark eats lots of bathers in a small coastal town.

A blazing hot sun appears in shot quite frequently.

The movie has the word ‘Summer’ in the title.

The credits roll over likeable potheads, pneumatic babes in string bikinis and fun-loving off-duty cops partying on down at the beach.


The name of the game

Recent decades saw Premier League football transformed from a sport for the working man to a branch of the global entertainment industry. The hype, glamour, wealth, rows, tears, ridiculous diamond-cross earrings…one could as well be enjoying a Bette Davis melodrama as watching 22 athletes kicking a ball.

And with the influx of foreigners to the English game, we had exotic names to match. No longer were all players called Tommy Robson or Ronnie Smith or Ronnie Robson. Now the Premier League is a footballing Tower of (Ryan) Babel, with all nationalities and languages represented.

Many names have been so colourful, unusual and cool-sounding that they make you think less of a sweaty, dull-witted ball-player, and more of a character in some yet-to-be-produced movie…

 

Juan Sebastian Veron: moody first lieutenant of Man from Del Monte-style agricultural tycoon

Gustavo Poyet: dashing South American Marxist guerrilla who smokes big cheroots

Mark Viduka: loose cannon cop played by Kurt Russell in so-so actioner

Mart Poom: weedy warm-up comedian in Vegas nightclub with “connections”

Nikos Dabizas: playboy son of Greek shipping magnate; dating horse-faced minor British royal

Emerson Thome: mediocre mid-nineteenth century American novelist

Mark Fish: cheesy sports reporter on little-watched cable TV station

Alpay: semi-mythical freedom fighter based in upper Himalayan region permanently wreathed in cloud

Fabrizio Ravanelli: arrogant, annoyingly handsome Milanese racing-driver

Darius Vassell: Star Trek android with idiosyncratic technological innovation in front cortex

Finidi George: unnecessary sidekick introduced to boost merchandise tie-ins on Barney movie

Uwe Rosler: 1970s East German professional assassin who wears horrible tinted glasses

Claus Lundekvam: 1970s East German skier stripped of world title after drugs scandal. Also wears tinted glasses

Boudewijn Zenden: Jedi master in one of those dreadful Star Wars prequels

Junior Lewis: token black character in Guy Ritchie flick

Stig Inge Bjornebye: Norwegian whaler with giant white beard rivalling the original Cap’n Bird’s Eye

Ugo Ehiogu: cannibal tribal chief from xenophobic Tarzan movies of 1930s

Lauren: international supermodel of either gender, famous for a studied sort of chic indifference

Alessandro Pistone: scion of Cosa Nostra family, holed up in Sicilian mountains

Sami Hyypia: shot-putter fondly remembered for hilarious 1980s incident when he accidentally brained an official

Daniele Dichio: Fabio-style model of amazing pecs and flowing Samson-esque hair

Bernt Haas: mayor of Cologne 1982-86, involved in monumentally dull rezoning scandal

Rufus Brevett: village parson in dreary adaptation of George Elliot novel about ruinous effects of Industrial Revolution

Titus Bramble: contemporary of Rufus Brevett

Christian Ziege: avant garde Berlin dance guru creating soundscapes so impenetrable they make Aphex Twin sound like Aqua

Rio Ferdinand: sexually ambiguous Portuguese crooner with permatan and hideous frizzy hair

Shaka Hislop: Emperor of Fifth Quadrant and Overlord of Known Multiverse in daft fantasy/sci-fi epic

Martijn Reuser: mousy Brussels bureaucrat who discovers unknown inner steel in claustrophobic spy thriller

Frédéric Kanouté: despotic ruler of Central African country; loves Mercedes, child soldiers and aid money

Jürgen Macho: villainous star of unintentionally homoerotic bodybuilding-themed Bavarian drama

Vedran Ćorluka: thinly veiled Aragorn rip-off in thinly veiled Lord of the Rings rip-off, probably played by Adrian Paul

Regi Blinker: vicious East End gangster with incongruously cutesy nickname in latest Danny Dyer abomination

Nicolas Anelka: underfed maths genius who inadvertently creates world-destroying super-weapon

Nigel Quashie: hyperactive, possibly bipolar commercial radio DJ with huge joke spectacles and puppet sidekick

Jacopo Sala: Everyman main character in whimsical but profound drama about the existential struggle of quitting smoking

Zoltán Gera: metaphorically and literally faceless intergalactic assassin in Iain M Banks adaptation

Carlo Nash: grizzled, hard-drinking bounty hunter with giant moustache, working Tex-Mex border

Tony Cascarino: low-level mob bagman so fat he wheezes loudly every time he takes a breath

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake: dissolute young aristocrat cultivating opium habit in 1920s Istanbul

Tal Ben-Haim: prosperous Nazarene merchant in indescribably hokey Bible picture

Ruud van Nistelrooy: urbane Rotterdam-based fence of stolen artwork in breezy but implausible crime caper

Bosko Balaban: title character of avant-garde 1970s cartoon much-loved by Croatians and incomprehensible to everyone else

Gianfranco Zola: Renaissance artist’s apprentice who becomes favourite of one of the more saturnine Popes

Ramon Vega: sociopathic Florida hitman with fondness for lime-green shirts and keeping fingers as keepsakes

Wilson Palacios: soul legend who literally took a shot at James Brown in heated royalties row

Igor Biscan: terrifyingly enormous KGB killing machine who tries to crush Bond’s head with his steel teeth

Abel Xavier: Messianic leader of hemp-wearing commune in sandblasted post-apocalyptic desert

Marco Boogers: bin-dwelling, snot-infatuated hero of scatological Roald Dahl-style children’s story

Francisco de Pedro: ancient Cuban band leader; still plays every day outside same barrio café

Brett Angell: lead singer in poodle-metal band Harley’z Angelz, best known for cowboy ballad Love Shot Down

Savo Milosevic: veteran of Balkans war, now obnoxious grenade-toting mercenary in Predator/Aliens/Expendables mash-up

Attilio Lombardo: doughty right-hand man to Garibaldi during Italian unification wars; wore giant feather in hat

Winston Bogarde: anthropomorphised rapping biro, almost certainly played by Will Smith, in manipulative kids’ flick

Tony Vidmar: ace fighter pilot in Battlestar Galactica-type hokum, bedevilled by useless special effects

Cobi Jones: neutered, unthreatening lead in tweenie phenomenon about school-kid with secret life as pop-star

Shola Ameobi: charismatic but violently unstable leader of Black Power faction in Oz-style max-security prison

Stephane Guivarc’h: Parisian academic dying of self-loathing in intense, geologically slow-moving drama

Mixu Paatelainen: short-lived and frankly inexplicable Finnish Pokemon, introduced to boost waning popularity

Gunnar Nielsen: leather-faced, cigar-chomping drill sergeant in vaguely fascist but fun boot-camp drama