Thursday, May 29, 2008

...And The Circus Leaves Town

Being the unemployed bum that I am, at 3pm I was still in my bed staring at my laptop feeling my brain rot, devoid of ideas and willing for anything to distract me; so I decided to make the bold move out of my flat and on to the Meadows for a good solid walk and constitutional. The niceties of having a relatively large expanse of green for walking about on and melting from the world become more apparent as the days get longer and the Sun grimaces its little face and squeezes some heat out of its rays, not least because there’s no more satisfying place to have a smoke than blinking into the evening Sun with the wind rustling your hair like grass and the crisp quick air cleaning out your lungs.

And as I sat on the grass at 7.14pm, smoking my rollie and trying to give the general impression to any passers-by that I was a pretentious arseburger by writing nonsense in my Moleskine, I noticed that the Carnival had come to town.

There, on the Meadows, hemmed in by a circle of large white vans and with its back turned to me in every direction, was a Fun Fair. From where I sat I could just make out the odd distinctive detail; flashing lights, the high-pitched scream of an age-old ride suddenly cut short, bits of fluffy toys hung up around stalls and groups of large men huddled around talking.

I haven’t been to a Fun Fair since I was about 8. One of the reasons for this being that I’ve never been able to shake that sense of evil that pervades all my mental images of Carnivals. As a child I remember gazing up at lurid colours and characters that would crane over me with their painted faces, who would invite me and tease me, laughing in their own way that was alien to me in every sense as I tripped out on an overdose of candyfloss. I’ve always been slightly terrified of them and the mystery, romanticism and other-worldliness of the Carnie lifestyle.

At first I was reticent to peek inside but then I reminded myself that I’m a big boy now and no clown or fortune teller will emotionally destroy me over a 14 year period ever again. Steeling myself against all the bizarre and freakish things that awaited me in that encampment I crossed the threshold into the Fun Fair world.

It seems childhood lies or the world has changed. Before me all I saw were cheap stalls filled with cheaper cuddly toys and games that the cynic in me wouldn’t touch for knowledge of them being rigged. All the stall owners were in matching branded polo-shirts, security wandered from stall to stall. The rides were covered in safety warnings, metal barriers protecting everyone from themselves. Groups of teenagers in shiny clothes stood around or blankly pushed money into arcades. Fathers with young children tried to impress. Young lovers strolled along in a completely different world altogether. Blandness and straight lines everywhere I looked.

And out back were parked the vehicles of the Carnie folk. Twenty or so cars, some BMWs, a couple of Mercedes and not one of them older than five years. It seems a good time to join the Carnival.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Before we get started let’s just get this out of the way first: this article will contain spoilers about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If you have any interest in seeing this film (I can’t be arsed to re-type the title and from now on will refer to it as IJATKOTCS or ICOK for short) then for Spaghetti’s sake stop reading this now and go see it. The only thing more annoying than hearing a spoiler is mentioning an inconsequential detail such as, say, the crystal skull belonging to an alien race who were some sort of archaeologists of early human civilisations worshipped by the Mayans, and then having some cretin whine at you as a result.

Although even knowing that much about ICOK won’t ruin it for you. Sure in the first paragraph I may have given away the main thrust of the plot but since when has that been a problem for the Indiana Jones franchise? Indiana Jones films have always placed administering shots of pure ecstasy to the parts of the brain that deal with memorable movie moments over anything as loathsome as plot, which is no doubt why so many Indy fanboys still physically cream themselves at the merest mention of a man stuck in a lonely dark tomb with a whip, leather jacket and hat to match.

ICOK, as seems to be the vogue in a Hollywood desolate of fresh ideas or innovation (beyond scavenging whatever material it can from comic books and computer games), is a film 19 years in the remaking. In which time we’ve discovered the internet, the middle-east and, who would’ve thunk it?, whole brand new ways to shoot action movies. There’s been a lot of pre-game talk about how ICOK wasn’t going to be one of these CGI heavy films. They promised us classic stunts. Harrison Ford, we were assured, would be fighting fit and throwing himself about with no other visual aids but the fire in his soul.


Fair enough, an army of 23 gazillion demon hellspawn never appears on screen, no main characters are CGI mutations and there aren’t any spaceships (wait…) but there’s still all kinds of computer hocus-pocus that goes into making any action movie visually more impressive than they were 19 years ago.

Before I plunge into an in-depth analysis of ICOK (and I promise that despite this inordinately long pre-amble said plunging shall occur) I ask you to cast your mind back on the first three Indiana Jones films. I imagine even cultural Neanderthals who have never seen an Indy film will have those iconic images of rolling boulders, melting faces, machete hacked rope bridges and red lines across a map spring to mind. These are the memorable parts of a series of action films that had to titillate in the days before you could ask a computer to make a 65 year old man defy every natural law. And titillate they did, still do, and manage to do a damn good job of doing during the meanwhile.

But, as everyone knows, those numbers that follow the title of the series signify not the growing age and maturity of the piece but rather the multiples of special effects and all round gusto that are expected by whatever cigar chomping executives are financing the film because as we are all meant to know visual feats of awesomeness=quality. And so, where a simple high-speed powerboat chase down the canals of Venice may have sufficed before, ICOK has to drop an atomic bomb on proceedings before the film’s even got going. Just to warm things up. Literally.

I went into ICOK expecting a phenomenal opening scene because, let’s be honest, in order to enjoy Indy films all you really need to do is watch the opening and closing scenes and let your imagination paint in all the intervening boring stuff. What I didn’t expect was an intro akin to the Family Guy Chicken Fight. For starters Indy goes from being held hostage in a warehouse of ancient artefacts by a small army and fighting his way loose. He then hops, skips and jumps into a mad chase involving jeeps before fistfighting his way through various walls.

So far so Indy.

He then somehow lands fists flaying onto a rocket-on-rails which he uses to set fire to a group of pinko commie soldiers before riding it like a cocaine cowyboy into the middle of the desert. Slightly extravagant but all’s fair in an opening scene. Things take a turn for the hilarious however when Indy stumbles into what looks like a 50’s town but is actually a nuclear testing zone filled with plastic dummies. And then a nuclear bomb explodes.

8m X 8m rolling boulder. Single most destructive creation on the planet. That’s not raising the stakes, that’s going all-in blind on top of betting your mother, soul and dignity.

I mean, once your protagonist has begun the film by surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge you pretty quickly get the message that he’s sodding indestructible and that every action set-piece is going to involve a series of increasingly ridiculous scenarios that make past action Indy action scenes look like sedate episodes of Last of the Summer Wine.

It is slightly confusing how, after this immensely over-blown opening scene, ICOK for a moment becomes something of a social commentary. The lamenting over Indy’s new-found sense of befuddlement as he enters old age, a topic which Spielberg no doubt could have spun into an interesting Indy film by itself if he wanted the world to laugh at him, are mentioned and then strapped to a shuttle and jettisoned into the galaxy of Inconsequentialism as Indy appears to get more fit the more he smashes his body around. McCarthyism is also briefly plopped in as a token gesture to any Russians pissed off that the generic psycho-Nazi (sorry, Communist) villains may have been their grandparents.

And so, inevitably, Henry Jones Jr. (Indy’s real name, as ICOK seems intent on reminding you) gets back to adventuring and fighting at the first opportunity. The opportunity in this case coming in the form of crazy-rebel-youngbuck Mutt Williams who has scraps of paper containing a riddle about a crystal skull sent to him by blah-blah-blah-who-cares-the-important-thing-is-that-shit-happens.

I don’t know if there’s meant to be any suspense about the fact that Mutt is Indy’s son or not. My favourite line from Last Crusade is, ‘We named the dog Indy’, so the name Mutt acted as a decent enough signpost, and more importantly than that it’s FUCKING OBVIOUS from the start because Spielberg loves his schmaltz. Whatever, young Shia LaBeouf gives an entertaining and energetic performance, but that’s hardly surprising given that he’s the only character in the film who looks like he can’t ride the bus for free.

Ray Winstone spends the majority of the film wheezing away like he’s about to suffer a heart explosion, John Hurt acutely portrays a nursing home resident who regularly throws excrement at the nurses and Karen Allen has been barren for many a full moon now. Two of the most loved characters, Marcus Brody and Henry Jones Sr., have packed it in all together. In real life in the case of Denholm Elliott and career wise for Connery; although seeing Indy mourn over the death of his father did make me feel like I was being mentally prepared for the shocking and terrible day when Sean Connery actually kicks the bucket.

Still, huff, puff and wage their battle against the evil Irina Spalko they do, along a narrative path borne by action scenes like a non-stop rollercoaster so that by the end everyone, crew and audience alike, feels a faint sense of daze and confusion about how they got there and what just happened. The start of every action scene is a spawning point for an incredulously long chain of events that leaves one wondering how Spielberg plans his holidays.

A simple drive through the jungle with your wife and kid to the temple of your choice not enough? How about breaking out of a hostage situation and taking control of the truck, firing a rocket launcher at a big sawing machine thing, smashing into other trucks, inter-jeep-juggling of priceless artefacts, sword fighting, jeep leaping, cliff-edge driving, monkey swinging and bonnet bumping your way to your desired location.

But as the jeeps finally come crashing to a halt don’t think you can rest yet! Did we mention millions upon quadrillions of ginormous flesh-eating ants, who love nothing more than to consume humans in a gruesome fashion who swarm our plucky heroes as they pull their broken bodies from the wreckage and herd them towards a sheer drop to a wild river? And another fight. And insane stunts involving boatcars being used for strategic tree-catapult purposes.

It was immediately following this, as the boat full of OAPs casually hurtled over a sodding great big waterfall not once, not twice, but thrice that I began to think Spielberg was being a bit of a cunt. As the final temple revealed its secrets by lifting up its shafts into a giant phallic obelisk I could practically smell Spielberg’s dick cheese on the celluloid.

And the cheese did smell good. There’s no doubting Spielberg’s talent for the entertaining. The exponential explosions of action scenes had me laughing out loud with sheer joy. At one point I found my hands inadvertently clapped together which was slightly perturbing. There was a visceral sense of entertainment that made me feel like an 8 year-old child again watching my first Indy film. Given how many action films have been getting this so wrong the last few years it’s nice to see that someone can still do it, even if it does take the piss.

But ICOK isn’t an Indiana Jones film. Not in the same way that the first three were. It’s got the characters and the history, the jokes, references and everything else you’d expect to make you feel at home and comfortable but the possibilities for action films nowadays makes it incomparable to the early trilogy. For some people that will be too much and they’ll run away screaming about Spielberg being a monster who has vomited on everything that was good and holy about the world, while others for whom I wish a life not filled with tears, gasoline and fire will enjoy it or not for what it is.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lucky 7s

The longest any of your cells live for is seven years. That’s what I’ve been told since I was 7. But I’ve been burnt by facts like this before. The kind that are Gospel truths passed down by Sacred Word of Mouth which then turn out to be complete fabrications, and solely exist as means for those with superior intellects to laugh at us morons and the truths we hold dear*.

Well fukkit. The whole premise of this article rests on the fact that the longest a cell lives for is seven years. If this turns out to be false, I don’t care. I’ve lost too many childhood truths, I’m not going to lose this one. I do have faith in some things. Besides, what follows is more full of cod than an illegal Spanish Fishing Armada so it matters little. I’m too weary of ‘actual’ facts nowadays…

Moving on. The longest any of your cells lives for is seven years. This means that nothing about you is physically the same as it was seven years ago. Everything about you has grown, reproduced and died in seven years. Which could cause one to wonder what it actually is about ‘you’ that’s so fucking special, but the self is not my concern here as I fear it may get in the way of my point…

Like that.

This whole Lucky 7s theory does have some weight to it. If you’re the kind who’s convinced by Chapter and Verse Citations then Shakespeare talks about the Seven Ages of Man in a play*. The number seven can be found everywhere in society. Things like Seven Samurai remake, The Magnificent Seven, serve as poignant portraits of the changes that occur when cells are replicated and …altered… slightly. And that’s just one example out of many*.

Seven is a reasonably consistent yearly period between significant moments in life too. Oh yes. Let the facts do the talking:

1st Regeneration – 7 Earth Years
By age seven, the death of the last first born cell, most people have a pretty good idea how to eat, shit and sleep by themselves and so are deemed ready to be shipped off to have whatever passes for an education in these parts so that the next two sets of regenerated cells are suitably saturated with information.

2nd Regeneration – 14 Earth Years
The 2nd Regeneration brings with it a whole new load of cellular energy, activating hormones, rebuilding structures, readying the whole pink blob cell mass thing for genetic replication with another collection of suitable cells.

Socially it is a significant age where humans move out of childhood and start getting the ‘orn. Obviously.

3rd Regeneration – 21 Earth Years
Physical growth, sexual maturity and any other odds and sods are usually in place by now. Satisfied with a job well done each cell starts a self-destruct sequence.

A time associated with the death of immaturity and taking on complete self-reliance along with the world. And lots of fancy parties.

4th Regeneration – 28 Earth Years
A lot of particularly prodigious cell-types often self-destruct on the cusp of the 5th Regeneration. SIGNIFICANT*.

5th Regeneration – 35 Earth Years
Probably a hugely significant social event associated with this age in some non-Western culture. Saturation levels dangerously low.

6th Regeneration – 42 Earth Years
Nothing obvious but I still think there might be something to this.

7th Regeneration – 49 Earth Years
Ar ha! See, that’s kind of close to 50! Which is half a century! Ha!

8th Regeneration – 56 Earth Years
Self-destruct sequences begin to kick in,

And so forth into kerrrffflaaaaaahhhh. The fact that the system spirals out of significance is fine. We only live past our mid-30s cos we’re so gorram smart now at tricking Nature out of her fertilising bounty of corpses. Like most things in life we aren’t meant to go beyond a 5th season*.

Anyway, here I am just on the other side of my 3rd regeneration. The parties are sadly thinning out and the realisation is dawning that my 4th regeneration seems worryingly close and I should really be worrying about where I’m going to be at that point. I worry about whether my future cells will be financially secure. I worry if my unhealthy habits will cause them to be born slightly crippled. I worry if the memories passed on to my 4th Regeneration will be ones of happiness; of seizing the real world, the one outside this faux-world bubble of education that has shielded me for two Life Cycles, by its literal horns and steering it straight and true to the abattoir.

But I shouldn’t worry cos technically ‘me’ as I am right now will be dead by then.

And there are so many options open to us! So many frickin’ options! Everyday we’re bombarded with exactly how every 1 in 6 billion chance in the world has gone. Mainly if it’s gone badly. We all have these images presented to us everyday, of how the whole world is living*.

The threat of all those 1 in 6 billion chances, the billions of ways a life can go at any moment, the constant streams of information we have about what other people are doing, what they should be doing, how everyone thinks everyone else should be doing means it can be daunting for a species that until Google had been used to just about processing the empathic information of the Nation as some homogenous country blob and acting hostile to anyone who ain’t from round these parts. Now the different truths of opinions, ideas and beliefs of 6 billion people can be shared and accessed, everything can be argued against and questioned by someone.

It’s an amazing time for anyone who isn’t threatened by questioning their own beliefs every time a cell dies. And also capable of living in a relativist coma without their brain exploding. So no one. Soon we’ll just be flattened into apathetic pink jellyblobs.

So I’m going to use my 3rd Regeneration to find the 7 people in 6 billion who believe all this bullshit about 7 being a significant number*, form a cult and be re-born aged 28. Who knows into what world I shall emerge… I’m holding out hope for flying cars and robozombie armies but I fear seven years is just too short a time for one individual to make a difference.

Oh yeah, and there are seven days in a week. That's gotta be significant, right?

1. I’m looking at you, Fry.
2. Homework is to find out which play it is.
3. I can give you other examples. Probably.
4. Caps lock sincerity is binding.
5. Or album.
6. [Insert paranoid delusions of some evil media God in your contemplations here if so desired].
7. I’ll start with Dan Brown fans.