Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Well by Jimminy, Toy Story 3 is good, isn't it? I mean, really, properly, moving and beautiful and made with love. Two great films in two weeks (the other being the mighty Inception): what is the world coming to? Sadly, I have doubts that The A-Team will complete the trilogy of cinematic joy, but I intend to watch it anyway.

Anyway, I still need to see Inception again, I think, though I have lots of ideas about it. But I want to do a spoilery review, so I think I want to wait. Anyway, that's not really why I'm here. I'm here because... well, ultimately because of the folowing factors:

i) My parents met, while working at a brewery. The close proximity of alcohol clearly invested my conception with some mystical power, meaning that the more I drink, the funnier and cleverer I become.

ii) My attempts to escape my hometown of Bradford to somewhere good, like Cambridge, Cardiff or anywhere else at all, were thwarted by my ultimate lack of intelligence. So I was banished to Wakefield, where they let anyone in.

iii) Despite occasionally pretending I'm going to leave Wakefield, it has proved impossible, due to a bizarre collection of very good friends. Also the fear of finding another town with such a close wine shop.

iv) I've found a leaflet I want to share with you.

While doing my big clearout last week I found many things. My odd pictures from the past you have already seen. This is a cinema programme I have kept, for whatever reason, since 1995. Normally this would have been destined for the 'why did I keep that?' pile, and thrown away, but I decided not to.

Just recently I was bemoaning the paucity of choices available to the modern cinema goer. Currently, at Wakefield Cineworld, with its 9 screens, you can see all of the following:

Toy Story 3
Twilight: Eclipse
Shrek 4
The Rebound

That's your lot. And if you look at the Showcase up the road, which has seven more screens, you can add just six more films.

It's not a massive selection, by any standards. The tendency to fill the screens with the most obvious hits leaves out any room for smaller, more interesting films. Of the 41 screenings today at Cineworld, 17 are accounted for by Toy Story. Much as I liked the film, I'm not sure it needs to be shown 17 times in one day, at the expense of... well, virtually everything else. The only non blockbuster here is The Rebound and that gets a massive 2 screenings.

Now, back to my leaflet. If you went to the Showcase that same week as me in 1995, not only would you have seen my cool pony tail, you could have watched any of the following films:

Natural Born Killers
Star Trek: Generations
Pulp Fiction
Interview the the Vampire
Shallow Grave
The Lion King
Forrest Gump
The River Wild
Andre and Stayout
The Jungle Book
Black Beauty
The Road to Welville
The Specialist
Time Cop

Unbelievable, isn't it? I would easily put 3 of those in my top films ever, and there's some good solid smaler stuff too. And some crap.

The cinema is doing fairly well in Britain, despite the recession. But it really saddens me to compare what is on offer today with what we could see fifteen years ago. It's not that films have got worse - they are probably better, if anything. It's just that cinemas have given up being adventurous or interesting.

Anyway. If you haven't seen Inception or Toy Story 3 yet, go do so. I also have high hopes for Scott Pilgrim. See you soon.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

I was so much older then

There is nothing quite so cathartic, I believe, as going through your things and throwing stuff out. Sorry - one's things. Not your things. I haven't been throwing your things out. I've been rooting around under my bed, for this is where I keep my folders.

I have one folder of 'stuff' for each year of my life, from 1987 onwards. 1987 is when I started to have something resembling a real life, and accumulate letters, postcards, concert stubs and tiny mementos of the little things I wanted to remember. Things I might otherwise forget, or that have some nostalgic value. For example, I have a to-do list in the '1998' folder which reads as follows:

Write to Anna
Write to Mike and send him that tape
Clean up the white powdery stuff from behind the sofa
Write two songs for the Big If
Plan Monday worship
Buy a house
Go walking heroically

I like this list. I remember it being blu-tacked to my door for ages, and crossing bits off as I did them. (Interestingly, the one that remains un-crossed is the one about the powdery white stuff. I wonder what that was?) I like the little snapshot of my life it provides.

Anyway, there will probably be lots of me ruminating on this in the next few weeks, as Summer is when I tend to take stock of what's going on and get all self obsessed. All right - more self obsessed than usual. I have thrown a lot of stuff out - stuff that is no longer really significant to me and holds no real memory - and it feels good. But it also induces a state of reflection and, in some cases, realisation.

For now, please enjoy/despise these pictures I found. For some reason I have kept most of the ID cards I have owned over the years - Student Union passes, work IDs, buss passes etc. I think they present a fascinating study of a young man succumbing to the ravages of time.

I think I'm about 16 here. I am clearly contemplating a career in stabbing people and stealing their things.

Here we find me embarking upon my time at University. Clearly taking things very seriously. Little realising that being the cleverest person at a school in Bradford was not, actually, the same as being clever anywhere else.

A couple of years at university turns me into this grinning idiot, who clearly believes himself to be 'zany'. If I ever get to travel in time, I hope I don't meet this version of me, as he is an idiot and I would have to punch him in his stupid face.

My next foray into student life, this time on a PGCE. You can't quite tell, but my hair here is tied back in some kind of weird pony tail. Sorry, hair.  I do still appear to have the eyes of a violent killer. Which I'm really not, at all.

This is probably around the same time. Look at my lovely hair! And look at me, taking it for granted. Stroke it, man! Tell it you love it! Plead with it not to go.

At this stage I have become a teacher, and thus look startled and quite close to crying. I maintained this look for about three years.


I know, I know. I pierced my ear, dyed my hair blonde and grew an evil beard. But look - I've clearly gone mad. You can see it in my eyes. I believe this was about the point when I was really looking forward to the Phantom Menace. So you can see, I hadn't yet really experienced tragedy.

A few years later, post Phantom Menace, post 9/11, and look - I'm auditioning to be the guy who programs the evil computer in a Bond film. Looking at these, I'm starting to understand why my hair left.

Ah - wrinkles, receding hair and a clear sense of drinking too much. This is the me I start to recognise, seen here in a ID card for Dewsbury College. I taught there for a year, and quite enjoyed it. Especially Friday mornings, when I got paid to hang about with fashion student girls and chat to them while drinking hot chocolate.

And this brings us more or less up to date - my student card for my MA. Compare with the first photo and see the terrible toll the years can take. Still, at least I don't look quite so much like a heroin addict now.

 Anyway, that's the kind of self obsessed nonsense you can look forward to for a while. Though I'll probably review Inception in a bit, as by then hopefully enough people will have seen it to understand what I'm on about. And maybe even some more Star Wars stuff.

Hope you're not too miffed. Byeee.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Fett, Boba

Some more of my astonishingly enlightening Star Wars encyclopedia.


Fett, Boba.

Once upon a time, ‘Fett’ was an exotic, space age sounding name with no definable meaning. Now, sadly, it has been revealed that ‘Fett’ is simply his last name, thanks to the presence of his dad, Jango. So now he’s just mundane old ‘Mr Fett’. Boo! Similar indignities were heaped upon Jabba the Hutt, where apparently ‘the Hutt’ is a surname of sorts, rather than a mysterious title. How dull. Now I can imagine them getting bank statements, or filling in council tax exemption forms. I want my villains to remain inscrutable, Lucas!!!!



As in weight. As in size. As in fatness. If there’s one thing that will mark you for death in Star Wars, it’s being a fatty. Lucasfilm’s anti-fatty agenda is first noticeable in A New Hope when one of the first casualties of the Battle of Yavin is the aptly named ‘Porkins’. I mean, what kind of a name is that? Is it his real name? Surely fate cannot have been that cruel. But why would the rebels use a nickname – and a highly derogatory one at that – to communicate with the very men who stand between them and having their planet blown into eighty million pieces? It would hardly be good for morale. Anyway, I digress. Porkins buys it for being fat. And then we get Jabba. Fattest man-thing in the universe, and thus evil. Looking at the test footage, it is clear that Lucas always wanted the Hutt to be a porker. And then kill him. Because being fat is clearly the same as being evil.

I had another example but I’ve forgotten it.


General Grievous (an acrostic)

Get me, I’ve got
Ever so many lightsabres
Nicked ‘em from Jedi, I did
‘Elped myself to ‘em when they was dead
Rifled through their pockets for loose change too
And then scarpered
Legged it, or wheeled it rather, into the distance

Got a right terrible cough, I ‘ave
Reminding me constantly of that time
‘Im with the shiny head
Exploded my lungs with ‘is force powers
Vowed revenge that very day
On every living creature that could breathe easily
Unlikely I’ll be able to kill all of ‘em
So I guess I’ll jut ponce around in an inferior film achieving
                         relatively little until someone kills me in a
                                                 manner so banal I’ve forgotten it

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Things fall apart

Morning world. You look nice. Except your hair. Do something with your hair. Maybe put it under a hat. That would work.

Sorry. Your hair is fine. I'm just using transference to feel better about myself. My hair is... well, it's rubbish. I had it cut yesterday, and sat looking at myself in the mirror throughout. Who, I thought,  is this crap haired, fat faced troll in front of me? OK, there is still a certain striking nobility to my feautures that reminds one of a heroic prince or glamorous serial kiler. But heavens, all the various components of my face seem to be wandering apart from each other in a desperate bid to escape their collective shame.

And the hair! As always, once she had finished whirling scissors dangerously close to my eyes, the hairdresser enacted her favourite act of cruelty. She picked up her mirror and showed me the back of my head. Well, I say my head. She seemed to be mistakenly showing me the back of someone else's head -some middle aged, balding loser, for whom no haircut would ever again look cool or interesting. As she let me gaze upon the arid wilderness of my scalp, she smiled an evil smile.

And off I wandered, looking glumly into shop windows, freshly appalled at the discrepancy between my self image and the shambling zombie man I have become. But despair not, gentle reader. I did not wallow in this despair for long. For I have a way through these patches of darkness. I look at my feet.

It's not that my feet are brilliant or anything. I don't have amazingly sexy feet that make women swoon and men smash bricks into their faces in sheer envy. The brilliant thing about my feet is dead simple: they work. I can walk, and run, and bound excitedly up stairs pretending to be Ham Tyler in 'V', the 1980s science fiction show about evil lizards.

And as much as I can sit and moan about the sheer laziness of my hair, I'd rather that it was my hair that gave up than my feet - or my eyes, or fingers or anything alse for that matter. At my place of work there is a number of students who either can't walk at all or walk with extreme difficulty. And while they can sit and stroke their luxuriant heads of lovely wavy hair, and call my 'Mr Shiny Head' and laugh at my inability to convincingly use a comb, I'm not sure their superiority in the field of haircuts really makes their life better than mine.

Even more annoyingly, they don't really complain about it. You've seen what I'm like about my hair. Imagine if I was wheelchair bound. Or blind! Imagine what a pain I would be then. But no. These students, for the most part, show the kind of grace and acceptance of their lot that I can't even manage over a bald spot. So I try to think of that, when I'm whining about the hand I've been dealt by the god of haircuts, and most of the time it helps. If it doesn't, I just challenge one of them to a race. They are, without exception, rubbish at this, and I always win.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Why swearing is funny.

Recent musings by the magnificent and pondersome Glen Marshall have prompted a variety of thoughts in my cavernous and troubled mind. For those too busy / lazy / damn cool to click on the link (and it's my first ever attempt at such a link, so I hope you at least appreciate the effort), here is the gist of the conversation...

The area of discussion is a favourite of mine, being the space where Christianity and the so called 'real world' get all tangled up, to the extent that neither is quite sure, by the end, which is which. Kind of like when you get physically confused in a bout of passion and end up kissing your own fingers. Or something. Anyway, Glen was discussing whether Christians should watch 18 rated films, with a fairly strong emphasis on 'yes, that would be good'. Much cyber-space discussion ensued.

This issue is one that I enjoy a lot, for two main reasons. One is that I am a teacher of film and media, and thus I find discussions about audience response theory weirdly erotic. The other is that I really love films which confront me in some way, be that in terms of an ideological conundrum, a postmodern narrative structure, an exploding zombie's head or just some naked people doing a dance. I like transgression. I think it's something film does well, and I think it can tell us a lot about the world we live in.

Take, for example, swearing. I swear probably too much, and much of the time it is lazy, indulgent and reductive. Occasionally, however - and this is the important bit - occasionally swearing is really, really funny. And in that 'funny' is liberation. Because, when it comes down to it, the idea of swearing is nonsense. I mean, yes, if someone calls you a c*nt, then you may well feel aggrieved. But it isn't the word that did that. It's the intention. The word is meaningless. In fact, it's worse than that. It's a scapegoat, designated as such by wider systems of language to distract your attention from the actuality of what is happening. That person called you a c*nt! Now that means one of three things: a) you have cut them up on the motorway, b) you are their computer and you have just crashed, losing them hours of work or c) you are their best friend and this is a term of affection.

To demonstrate my brilliant and infallible point, I'd like to direct you to a video I saw recently. It is gloriously funny, and makes me very happy. I'm not yet smart enough to imbed videos (someone please tell me how), so you'll have to follow this link. I know, I know - there's a lot of homework in this post. You were just looking for something to do for five minutes while the kettle boiled. Well tough, you're mine now. Go to my link. I promise it will be worth it.

Here I am. I am an ace link.

Two things strike me about this. Firstly, the genius of its simplicity. Just putting a bunch of bleeps over Sesame Street. Easy.

The second thing that impresses me is its remarkable grasp of semiotics. As you know, words themselves don't mean anything - they are just signs pointing at 'meanings', So I write 'CAT' and you, seeing those symbols and recognising them, think - as I intended - of a small, fluffy four legged beast that purrs, drinks milk and brings you dead birds for no reason. The person who has, in this wonderful video, vandalised children's entertainment to give us some vulgar giggles, knows full well that when we hear the 'bleep' sound our brains don't read 'bleep' at all. Do they? Be honest. You can almost hear the '...k' at the end of each bleeped out word.

It's the same with my judicious use of 'c*nt' earlier. Yeah yeah - you thought I was being prissy, and probably thought I was a huge hypocrite for going on about how cool swearing is and then asterisking out vowels.Well ha, you, because it was all part of my brilliant plan. The written symbol 'c*nt' means exactly the same as its uncensored counterpart. Except it allows me to pretend I am maintaining some klnd of respectability while saying exactly what I like. Yay me. I'm not like those bad, non-Christian swearing people. Am I?

If there's one thing I honestly can't stand it is the insult disguised as flattery. Our world is full of it. People who rip into you under the pretence of 'only joking'. Newspaper articles hiding insidious prejudice under moral sounding arguments. Films and television programmes that tell their stories without sex, violence or swearing,  but quietly reinforce ideologies that prop up the powerful and diminish the 'other'. When we focus on how the insults are spelt, we miss the real damage. The stuff that comes in smelling sweet, speaking well, and getting away with murder.

F*ck that.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Is this... death?

Afternoon everyone. Happy July. half way through the exciting futurism of 2010 and still no flying cars or robots trying to murder me in the brain. But I do have a memory stick the size of a thumbnail which contains more data than my brain usually does, so that's a bit like being in Blade Runner I suppose.

Doctor Who and the football have both finished, leaving us with nothing to do but talk to one another and dance in the sun. Or, in our case, to wander around the internet in search of pictures of kittens. Well, I have no kittens for you, but I do have more Star Wars stuff. Enjoy. Or don't. It's your life.


Death Star Droid.

That’s why the original packaging called the toy of the snout-nosed threepio-like thing with insect eyes. It lived in the sandcrawler, not on the Death Star, which leads me to suspect that the toys were marketed by idiots, who got their information from the Bothans. Unlike the 90s figures, which were made by gay fantasists who thought Luke would look better if he has rippling pecs.



Apparently, what Obi Wan calls evil, Anakin calls good. He says so on firey death planet of doom, shortly before their long and tiresome light-sabre duel. In an otherwise reasonably scripted film, this is one of the really awful lines that is clearly inserted by Old Beardy to make some kind of point. As a concept, it’s quite profound, I suppose. The childlike division of the world into easily quantifiable moral compartments is worth challenging and the seeds for this are sown excellently by Palpatine, who ruminates on the subject while watching some giant blue squids have sex at the opera. The idea that concepts of right and wrong are subjective, that we are all powerless elements of a wider discourse, is a fascinating area ripe for exploration. How glorious would it have been to see the Empire rise subtly and seductively around our heroes – an apparently good and necessary force to combat the materialist agenda of the Trade Federation. Planets could have willingly subjugated themselves to the protection of the Empire and the idea of rebellion in the subsequent films would have been problematised: are they simply terrorists, opposing a galactic force for order?

But no. All this is turned into a conversation which effectively says

‘You smell.’

‘No – YOU smell.’

‘Ah, but I think you will find it is YOU who smells.’

‘What you call me smelling, I call… you smelling. Smelly.’