Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Twist and Shout

Be unafraid. Everything I write here will remain Spoiler Free to avoid ruining your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the shit discussed below.

One of the most hackneyed plot devices in modern cinema appears to be The Twist. You know, where everything you’ve just seen is A Lie! Or an Elaborate Hoax! Or Deliberately Misleading! Where everything exists solely for a punchline, invalidating the complex shenanigans of the previous ninety minutes or, alternatively, validating a huge slab of tedious build-up. Far too many films exist today purely for The Twist. And I don’t want to sit in a cinema for two hours just to watch someone do a variation on screaming “Not really! It was all a dream!” at my head.

Just to be absolutely clear, twist endings don’t constitute a last minute re-write because the filmmakers have no idea how to wrap things up, or because a test screening of two hundred morons in a mall in the asshole of nowhere didn’t like the original ending. Twist Ending, using my definition, is deliberate. The whole film deliberately builds towards it. Most films should still be able to stand tall without the twist. Sadly, more and more, it has become the movie’s raison d’être, and everything else is just subterfuge and window-dressing.

Man, I am so damn bored of the Twist. Granted, there are fine examples of The Twist. Off the top of my head, I can think of The Usual Suspects, Se7en, Fight Club, and Memento. All fine films enhanced by their closing moments. Significantly, they would still all be fine movies without the twist.

But here is where the problems start. I guessed the twist of The Others about half an hour into the movie, and I was disappointed to find my guess was spot-on at the end of the movie. Tim Burton was never going to be able to top the twist of the original Planet of the Apes, so he sidestepped the problem with an illogical swerve that, whilst entertainingly maddening, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. One of the worst twists in recent years, for me, was at the end of Basic, the much-touted reuniting of Pulp Hitmen John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. Manipulative bullshit fakery that screams contempt for every single person in the audience.

Nowadays, it seems that M. Night Shyamalan has rummaged through Chubby Checker’s wardrobe to steal the crown and make himself King of the Twist. But with each subsequent movie, the twist becomes more and more important, and the actual meat of the film, the damn story, is merely a tool to get you there.

The Sixth Sense – Pretty good twist if you don’t spot it in advance. Unbreakable – My personal favourite of his films, because it’s the only film that doesn’t live-or-die by the twist at the end. Without the twist, the film would still hold up. Signs – Ugh. The rot is starting to set in now. Crop circles and glasses of water. Just silly.

But what really prompted this tirade was The Village, a film I had the deep misfortune to suffer through over the weekend. Easily snags a high place in the Worst Films I’ve Ever Seen List (and I think you all know how many films I see. And I also have a pretty good tolerance level for crap. So, this film must stink pretty badly, right?)

The Twist here renders everything that comes before it utterly meaningless. To keep myself entertained during the movie, I tried to think of the worst possible twist ending. Shyamalan duly delivered, and gave me my Worst Case Scenario Twist.

NOTHING in this movie makes sense. I lost count of the number of plot holes and inconsistencies. None of the build-up justifies the ending and the absurd contrivances needed to get you there. The ridiculous “Those We Don’t Speak Of” are spoken of in Every Bloody Scene! At one point, Sigourney Weaver proclaims: “What nonsense are you saying?”, a charge she would have been better off levelling at the writer-director of this cinematic atrocity.

Village People

Dickheads. Fuckwits. Morons. Assholes.

Call them what you will. I’ll call them Bigots and Homophobes. Sadly, these monosyllabic knuckle-draggers are my colleagues every single day of the working week.

I got asked if I was gay. Again. This seems to happen to me a lot these days.

They think I’m gay because I read The Guardian and not The Sun. I’m gay because I have no knowledge, understanding or interest in cars. I’m gay because I denounce Lad Mag Trash Weeklies Zoo and Nuts as both soft porn and shit.

Now I’m gay because I don’t care about football. I’ll explain:

“You watching the football tonight?”
“Nope.”
“Well, who do you want to win?”
“Don’t care.”
“Oh…Why?”
“I have absolutely no interest in football whatsoever.”
“What?? Are you gay?”

At this point, I walk away.

I don’t know what’s more ridiculous: the patently-false and insidious assertion that certain interests and pursuits are exclusively the purview of the heterosexual, or the vaguely amusing fact that my colleagues feel the need to promote their sexuality by roaring loudly about beer, birds and soccer.

For some reason, I keep flashing on the withering put-down Antonio Fargas fires off in Car Wash: “Honey, I'm more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Community Disservice

Every now and then, something New! And Exciting! is touted as the Latest Bestest Thing to come out of the Internet. It Will Change Your Life!

What a load of horseshit. There are genuine innovations and breakthroughs on the Internet all the time (like, say, weblogs). But for every real, useful service that appears, the Internet graveyard is clogged up with a hundred more useless electronic carcasses, gorged on bandwidth and strangled by their own worthless html.

A couple of years back, a whole bunch of “online communites” sprouted up, to put you closer to people with similar tastes, or similar desires, or similar postcodes. As far as I can tell, none of these virtual clubhouses worked at all.

At the moment, I’m mentally backtracking trying to remember where I’ve left a trace of myself in these Internet ghost towns, so that I can remove my details. I don’t need my information stored all over the place for no reason whatsoever.

First up on my Shit List is Friendster. The idea was this: you register, and your friends register, so that you are linked to your friends, and the friends of your friends, and their friends, and…

…and who gives a shit? I can easily get in touch with people I already know. I have their phone numbers, mobile numbers, e-mail addresses, postal addresses…I don’t need a website to provide a third party service in that regard. Cut out the middleman. Save me the fucking trouble.

And people I don’t know? Well, I don’t particularly care about them. If they are friends of friends, and they are sufficiently interesting, I’ll meet them in due course anyway.

And I certainly don’t need to contact people on the basis of similar tastes. I don’t see the value in contacting complete strangers on the basis that they also list Battle Royale amongst their favourite films. That is not the basis for a friendship, much less a casual conversation.

My main criticism of Friendster was that it was painfully slow when I first registered. Pages took aeons to load. I can’t be bothered.

The bottom line is this: I never contacted anyone using Friendster, and no one ever contacted me. So, with a couple of devastating keystrokes, my profile has been deleted.

Next on my list of Worthless Web Communities is Ryze. Clearly based on the premise of early Internet darling First Tuesday (which flamed out in an inferno of wasted millions, non-existent profits and raging egos. And I was in a position to know.) , Ryze is a networking community designed to get you in touch with relevant business contacts. Not a bad idea. But the worthless fucker never did shit for me. All I got was my “guest book” signed by people whoring services that had absolutely no relevance to my life. As soon as I get round to it, I’m going to vaporise my profile on there too.

Interestingly, my most fruitful online endeavour is right here. You’re looking at it. Sucker Punch has resulted in interesting dialogues and arguments and conversations with both friends and people I’ve never met. It’s helped me stay in touch with people I don’t often have the opportunity to see. It’s forced me to focus my mind on writing on a regular basis. Ironically, I’ve got no agenda here. I’m not trying to make friends or business contacts or cash out of this site, but it’s ended up giving me something tangible and satisfying without me asking for a single thing in return.

Thanks for that.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Jamming on the One

There are many things I could write about today.

I could write about my day out of the office yesterday, and the I.T. seminar I attended in Fulham Broadway. I could tell you that a room full of well-groomed suits-and-ties turned to glare at me when I walked in with my five o’ clock shadow, jeans and leather jacket. Fuck ‘em.

I could tell you that the seminar itself was Snoresville. I felt like Jeremy Northam in Cypher, struggling to stay awake during speech after speech. I could tell you how I flinched every time a bit of Business BallsSpeak was uttered. My favourite: business should plan “for the valley not the peak”. They should be shot for crimes against the English Language.

I could tell you how I decided not to return to work in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day enjoying a sunny afternoon in W1. I lay in the sun in Green Park, thinking that, a year ago, I would have been lying in the same spot with Beckett and Coupland, trying to avoid being hit in the head by a stray frisbee.

I could mention that I went to see and enjoy the much-maligned Be Cool in Leicester Square, with John Travolta reprising one of his signature roles as the effortlessly cool Chilli Palmer. High fives also to Vince Vaughan, Cedric the Entertainer, the late Robert Pastorelli, and especially The Rock in a superb turn as a gay wannabe actor slumming it as a bodyguard. A funny, cute and entertaining film, which nevertheless is never quite as funny, cute and entertaining as it thinks it is.

I could mention that I cruised the cheap bookstores and comic shops looking to snag myself some bargains, eventually walking away with £30-worth of books for £10. In Forbidden Planet, the overpoweringly sweaty stench of “Eau de Geek” assaulted my nostrils. Damn, can’t these nerds take a shower every once in a while? They are totally to blame for the continual perpetration of the stereotype of freakish basement dwellers, oozing all over their weekly stack of four-colour power fantasies. You know, all the comic lovers that I know are amongst the coolest, smartest and cleanest people I have ever met. Why can’t we be the template for the comic-reader stereotype instead?

I could also tell you that I wandered past my old office, now an empty husk of a building on the verge of being razed to the ground to make way for a “plaza”, which is just fatuous fancy talk for “mall”.

I could tell you all these things. But I won’t. Because there is something Bigger than all that on my mind:

Today marks the First Birthday of Sucker Punch. I’ve blown out the candles and toasted this momentous occasion, so let’s grab ourselves a slice of cake and look forward to the second year of the Punch. Shit, I’m just getting warmed up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Force is Strong in this one

Reasons why London is the Greatest City in Existence Part 594

We get to see Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith THREE WHOLE DAYS before the rest of the world.

At the Empire Leicester Square on May 16, there will be a back-to-back one off screening of all six Star Wars movies.

George Lucas will be there. So will Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew.

At other Leicester Square cinemas, the other five movies will be screened throughout the day.

There will be FREE performances of Star Wars music by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

There will be a selection of one-off activities presented by Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox – open to absolutely everyone.

The 501st UK Garrison of Stormtroopers will be on duty all day in the Square.

“Galactic Passports” to the entire event cost a mere £50 per person.

I fucking love this city.

Ball of Confusion

White smoke at night, new Pope’s delight. Or something.

I’m not overly interested in this latest turn of events. It’s a new Pope. Whatever.

But there is one element to all this that I am interested in. Something I find slightly insidious and disturbing.

This new Pope, Benedict XVI, has some views and opinions that, to me, seem horribly outdated and ever-so-slightly disconcerting, solidifying the gradual paradigm shift towards an Old World full of Archaic Beliefs, where freedom of speech is increasingly encroached upon, where all manner of freedoms are curtailed under the illusory belief that this somehow helps in the nebulous War on Terror, where what we say, think or do is monitored by Big Brother on the flimsiest of (legal) pretexts. And this man now has a hugely influential platform from which he can espouse these beliefs.

Here is a brief hit list of some of Benny 16’s “Beliefs”:

Opposed to Birth Control.
Belief in the celibacy of the Priesthood.
Opposed to the ordination of women.
Anyone who supports the “grave sins” of abortion and euthanasia should be denied Communion.
Opposed to homosexuality.
Has denounced rock music as “the vehicle of anti-religion”.

This dude used to be known as “God’s Rottweiler” and they just made him the Pope! He served briefly with the Hitler Youth. (Always a deal clincher on the old Papal Resumé, although he now claims he was Only Following Orders. Hmmm...) And he’s chosen the name “Benedict” which comes from the Latin word for “blessing”. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not feeling too blessed right about now.

Call me misguided, but I’m pretty sure that, whichever Almighty Being you believe in, He doesn’t want our lifestyles to be so restrictively monitored and policed by any religious figurehead. People, generally speaking, understand right from wrong, morality and ethics, and don’t need to be told how to live their lives. I haven’t murdered anyone (like, say, loads of Iraqi civilians), I haven’t raped anyone (like, say, the natural resources of numerous countries the world over), I haven’t stolen anything (like, say, the American Presidency in 2000).

The world seems to be having a swing back towards conservatism, with a right-wing American president bolstered by an even more hard-right cabal of cronies (Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al); a British Prime Minister leading a left-wing party virtually indistinguishable from the right-wing (Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss); a world that goes apoplectic at the sight of Janet Jackson’s nipple (we all do have nipples, you know. Nothing scary there.); and Terri Schiavo isn’t allowed a peaceful, dignified death, because the American Right uses it as yet another platform for their restrictive opinions.

This is the shape of the world in 2005. And it’s pretty fucking terrifying.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I only smile when I lie, then I tell them why

I really should be getting ready for work, but I just wanted to grab a minute to point you in the direction of Jennifer W.K.’s Hot Bloggers List (or, as I like to call it, Hot Idol).

I make it in at Number Five on the list, which just goes to conclusively prove two things: that Jennifer’s taste is as exquisite as her writing, and that I am undeniably Hot.

Now, I’m going to put on some asbestos clothes, and get my bad self off to work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Road to Mali

I have absolutely no interest in the death and subsequent funeral of the Pope. I have absolutely no interest in the nuptials of Charles and Camilla. Does this make me a bad person? Indifferent to current affairs and the mood of the world?

Nah. It just means I’m not too concerned with having my gaze forcibly directed onto events as proscribed by an unimaginative and deathly-dull world media.

So what? I still gots the movies!

Summer seems to begin earlier every year and, to prove it, the first of the Big, Dumb, Shouting, Exploding, Running Movies of the year has arrived!

In the dopey little village where I work, there is practically nothing in the way of entertainment, aside from a two-screen Odeon directly outside my work place. Last night, I figured I could duck in, watch a movie, and still get home in time to have something to eat, play with my daughter and cuddle up with my wife.

I walked in to a completely empty cinema. I can’t recall that ever happening to me before. But, damn, was that cool. A cinema just for me.

So I grabbed the centre seat in the centre aisle, plunked a tub of popcorn in my lap, stretched out, and awaited my Film #11 of the year, Sahara.

Sahara is B-list all the way, from the cast (Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz) to the plot (a bit of Indiana Jones, a dash of James Bond, a sliver of Romancing the Stone, and a huge dollop of the old Road movies, with McConaughey and Steve Zahn riffing on Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and Cruz as Dorothy Lamour).

But, it doesn’t matter. Because this is the kind of movie that the word “romp” was designed for. It was funny and exciting and as insubstantial as candyfloss, and damn good fun. I smiled non-stop for two hours, and that’s good enough for me.

That's Entertainment

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I used to work in the Television Industry, right smack-dab in the centre of Soho, haven for deluded wannabes, vacuous morally-vacant coke-snorting Nathan Barleys, vicious bastards of every persuasion, people without an ounce of creativity, but enough money to throw at things that they hope we don’t notice.

Of course, I was still a bit too wet-behind-the-ears to realise all this at the time. I was a Runner, just starting out. So, to me, this was My Big Break. I worked for a post-production company on the impossible-to live-off salary of £12,000 a year. I vividly remember my first day on a film shoot. Nothing fancy, but I was popping my Live Action Shoot Cherry, so I was excited. It was a one-day shoot doing the opening titles for a Pop Music Chart Show.

Film Shoots are notoriously long days, and it was a freezing day in the midst of a typically arctic London Winter. I worked directly and closely with the Production Manager on the shoot, who also happened to be both my boss and the Managing Director of the company. Fourteen hours after the working day had begun, the day was over at last. But there was a problem…

For the shoot, we had ordered, paid for and had delivered a “flat”. (In non-industry speak, a “flat” is “scenery consisting of a wooden frame covered with painted canvas; part of a stage setting”. Thanks, dictionary.com!) The flat was huge, and heavy, and thick. It must have been about 10 feet by 10 feet, on solid, unforgiving wood, bright red on one side, bright blue on the other.

After the models, and make-up person, and the director, and the crew had all disappeared home, we realised that the flat was still in the studio. The Studio Manager told us we would have to get rid of the flat, as there was another shoot due to take place the following morning.

But the Production Manager had forgotten to arrange for the flat to be collected, taken away and destroyed. And, anyway, she had dinner plans, and couldn’t possibly do anything about it. “AKA, get rid of it.”

I asked the Studio Manager if he had any thing I could break it down with. Nope.

I went back to my office to see if I could find anything I could break it down with. The only thing I could find was a teeny, tiny hand saw. The kind of saw that would make it difficult to cut through a thick twig.

The Studio Manager told me that he was closing up, so I would have to take the flat out and cut it up in the alleyway. Both my office and the studio shared the same alleyway. It was, of course, an alleyway in Soho. So it reeked. The place was full of shit and piss and puke and blood and discarded food and used condoms. And me, a tiny saw and a massive wooden monstrosity. And it was late and cold. Getting later and colder all the time. And then it started raining.

It took me about three hours in the rain and cold to get it all into small enough pieces to cram into a dustbin. My working day was now over seventeen hours long. And I still had to get myself home.

The last thing I remember was returning to my office to put the saw away. I sat in the kitchen for ten minutes trying to get warm, and I found a bottle of Jack Daniel’s hidden at the back of a cupboard. I poured myself a generous shot, and then I sat and wept. That is the first and only time in my working life that a job has broken me so badly. (Although it was only the first time I would be so horribly demeaned and abused over the next two years in the Heart of the Business. There was plenty more of that to come.)

And it was all for a piss-poor pathetic £12,000 a year.

It’s all seems such a very, very long time ago now. And I’m glad I finally turned my back on it all, and radically changed my career-path. But this is the article that I found that brought it all rushing back. Which just goes to show that Slavery is still alive and well and thriving in the Television Industry. Dammit.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Stairs in Their Eyes

Greetings, pop pickers!

My body is telling me that I should be in bed sleeping. Of course, my body is being held hostage by my employers, who insist that I actually come to work and, you know, do what I’m paid to do.

Yesterday, we were hit with an impromptu office move, which involved moving everything from the third floor of the building to the ground floor. In a building without a lift. So I spent the entire day dismantling desks, carrying them down three flights of stairs, and reassembling them. On top of that, there was the movement of PCs, monitors, printers, faxes…My legs were leaden by the end of the day. At one point, I could swear I heard them say, “Fuck off. We are not moving anymore. Sit your arse down and give us a rest.”

It didn’t help being the object of some unwarranted sniping by people who weren’t actually helping. I heard one of the managers saying, “This is the most work AKA has done since he got here!”, to which I fired back, “Well, you’re getting your fucking money’s worth out of me now, aren’t you?”

Not one of my better comebacks but, give me a break, I was preoccupied.

I shuffled home to an empty house. Mrs. AKA had packed up Buttercup for a night at her parents’ place, to give me the opportunity to collapse without distraction. Usually when the family disappears for the night, I indulge myself with too much pizza, too much beer and trashy movies.

Mrs. AKA had planned ahead to pre-empt my self-indulgence by preparing my dinner for me (I know, I’m a lucky man), and I couldn’t face more than one beer. Any more would have finished me off. I flicked through the unwatched DVD mountain, and settled on the magnificently cheesy Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors from Amicus, purveyors of cheap British horror anthology movies. A cracking cast, with big screen legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Donald Sutherland rubbing shoulders with Alan “Fluff” Freeman and Roy “Dedication” Castle.

I crawled into bed and slept badly, and now I’m in the middle of another day of lifting, carrying and aching. On the plus side, I’ve just been told that I am being rewarded for yesterday’s efforts with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I’m actually quite touched by that. In my previous job, I wouldn’t have even got a Thank You.

Right, finally got all that out of my system. The stairs are calling once more. I must away.

If you wanna be the best, If you wanna beat the rest, Ooo-oh dedication's what you need.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Close To The Edit

My milkshake, it’s better than yours.

Editors, sub-editors, copy editors…whatever you call them, they have an important role in the life of words. They make sure they look real purty, massaging them with TLC after leaving the murky screen of the writer, before lovingly putting them to bed on the pristine page of the reader, getting mangled facts and phrases into tip-top shape before they reach the wider world.

Or, at least, that’s what they are supposed to do. The reality, of course, is very different from the theory. Every Single Day I read something with a factual inaccuracy in it.

The worst offenders (in my opinion) are news outlets covering anything to do with the world of comics. Why are comics still regarded as the poor sickly bastard offspring of literature? I don’t know. That’s a whole ‘nother argument I’m not going to try and wrestle with now. All I’ll say is this: I can reel off a list of comics that are at least the equal of any list of books you can stump up. So there.

Anyway, to illustrate my point, here’s Exhibit One, from a Reuters article on the planned Watchmen movie:

“Pinewood Shepperton declined to comment on the status of "Watchmen", based on a cult classic comic book by Alan Moore, who also created "Hellboy" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".”

Now, I’m sure Alan Moore would be stunned to discover he created Hellboy. Must have been during some strange mystical fever-dream. The actual creator of Hellboy, Mike Mignola, would also, doubtless, be less than thrilled with this heinous misattribution of his creation. A mistake that manages to offend not one, but two writers. Reuters, consider yourselves named and shamed.

Next up, from a Guardian article on this summer’s forthcoming blockbusters, in a piece about The Fantastic Four:

“Hornblower actor Ioan Gruffud stars as head honcho Rex Reed (aka Mr Fantastic).”

Rex Reed? That’s odd. I could have sworn that Rex Reed was a New York-based film critic. Since 1961, when the Fantastic Four first appeared, Mr. Fantastic has always, always, always been Reed Richards.

None of this stuff is difficult to check. All you need is Google and a spare minute. There is really no excuse for it. After all, if you are paid to check the veracity of the information you are throwing out into the world, shouldn’t you actually do it?

But I’ve saved the best until last: The BBC just requested an interview with Bob Marley. They didn’t consider the fact that he’d been dead for 24 years as something that might impede the interview process. (And, no, it's not a belated April Fool.)

Useless bastards. The lot of ‘em.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I Pity the Fool

Reality television continues to float in the toilet bowl of broadcasting like an unflushable log of digital cack. Just announced this morning: Jamie’s Soup Kitchen.

Here’s the premise: Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver is going to train 15 homeless people to become professional chefs in a new restaurant buried beneath the Waterloo Underpass. The six-part series will follow the chefs-in-training right up until the opening of the restaurant, tentatively slated for the end of the summer, with the name “Beggar’s Banquet”.

The first episode is already in the can, apparently, although shooting for the series is being severely hampered by the fact that there is a lot of tension between Oliver and his protégées. The youngest contestant, 17-year old Avril Tonto, consistently turned the air blue in the kitchen by referring to Oliver as a “patronising cunt”, telling him “Stop spitting everywhere when you talk, you mumbling fuck!”

Oliver, attempting to build on the success of his popular campaign to improve the quality of school dinners, has attempted to placate Avril by naming one of the dishes on the menu after her: cod and chips, with the cod batter lightly marinated in Special Brew Lager, to be called “Poisson D’Avril.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair also appears in the first episode, turning up to give words of encouragement to the chefs-to-be: “It really is terribly simple. If we don't act now, then we will go back to what has happened before and then of course the whole thing begins again.” The contestants stared at Blair slack-jawed in befuddlement, but that didn’t stop a couple of them asking him if he had any spare change.

The show is due to air on Channel 4 in about a month’s time.