Monday, May 24, 2004

Mein Freund hat seinen Pass verloren

My German is lousy. Probably because of the stereotypical laziness that comes with being from an English speaking country. Why should I have to bother when most people in Europe speak English as a second language?

Well, this weekend I learnt that such a crazy level of arrogance can land you in a whole heap of trouble.

This weekend was, of course, FedCon XII. The largest Trek and Sci Fi convention in Europe and one that I was so impressed with 2 years ago I and my friends just had to return.

We arrived in Bonn on Thursday and made our way, by bus, to the Novotel. It wasn't until the following morning that we realised that my good friend Chris had left his coat on the bus. Furthermore, the coat contained his cards and more importantly, his Passport.

Fundburo (lost property office) became the first new word in my small and inadequate German vocabulary. We arrived there to find no coat and no English speaker. The poor man behind the counter had tried to help and on the 2nd attempt we managed to work out that if the coat had been recovered, we wouldn't have it until Monday due to office working hours. We were due to fly on Monday.

If it wasn't for the fact that we had a saviour staying at the convention hotel then we would have been pretty screwed. A quick call to Leena and she was able to escort us to the Polizei and rescue our weekend through the magic of being bilingual. It was at that moment, when Leena was talking to the Police in German while translating everything back into English when I realised just how backwards our language schooling is in Britain.

Within 30 minutes, the loss had been reported to the police and Chris had been put in touch with the British embassy in Berlin. This is were the craziness of the British foreign office became clear. In order to get an emergency passport for the flight home, we would have report to the nearest Consulate office on the Monday morning. Now Britain has a consulate office in every major city in Germany. Now let's bear in mind that only a decade ago Bonn was the capital city of West Germany. Was there a consulate office in Bonn? No. So tired and a little cranky we got a train to Dusseldorf. This was on sunday evening. In the waking hours of Monday we made the trip to the consulate office, in time to see the guard raise the Union Jack.

The emergency passport was issued quickly so we had enough time to salute the picture of the Queen on our way out before heading back to Bonn for our flight. Just before getting the airport shuttle bus we popped into the Fundburo. Chris' coat was waiting for him on the desk! I love sod's law ;-)

But hey... we had a great time and only missed a small part of the convention. I'll write a full report when I wake up.

One thing is certain... next year I'll know more phrases in German that Ein bier bitte!

Auf Wiedersien!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Van Sucksing

For those of you who saw The League and were baffled at it's sheer stupidity can be safe in the knowledge that it is possible to make an even worse action/adventure movie.

I should point out that this is my first foray into the world of Van Helsing so I come at it from purely a cinematic stand point. Everything that makes me cringe about hollywood is in this movie.

Starting with the characters. We have the dark, mysterious Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman). A rebel with a cause who's destined to be hated by the people while he secretly protects them. Yawn. On his adventures he takes with him Carl (David Wenham), the young friar who makes our hero's weapons and gadgets. He's a late 19th century Q, who is both nervous and annoying, yet you just know he will get his chance to prove his bravery. Yawn. Sent to the horrific Transylvania Van Helsing meets Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the pretty goth, who has vowed to slay Dracula to save her ancestors from eternal torment. She follows the similar hollywood stereotype of tough woman battling against the odds, clearly out of her depth, until the manly hero arrives to show her how it's done. She's kind of like Buffy the Vampire slayer but poorly acted and having never actually killed a vampire. So, pretty shit really. Yawn squared.

Ve have Coont Dwacular (Richard Roxburgh). The count, with the worst accent ever seems unable to decide whether he's supposed to be camp, deranged or a genius. In the end he's more of a cross between Captain Kirk and Dr Evil. A beautiful mixture of ham and eeeeeviiiiiiiiilll, muahahahahaha. Oh and did I mention the accent?

Most of the characters talk like they were rejected in auditions for the "I vant a viscount" adverts. Pure stereotype, pure insult. But clearly this is how americans see anyone from eastern europe. Meanwhile the ever so manly Van Helsing can't seem to decide between an english accent and an american one. Half way through the film I discovered that the pattern was english accent when he was just reading his lines and american when he had to try to act. Clearly not a good multi-tasker.

So to the story… Dwacular is trying to bring life to his thousands of spawn which resemble the nasty little creatures in Galaxy Quest after a can of red bull. Dwacular hatches an eeeeeevvvviiiiiiiiiilllllllll plan to achieve this, only to be stopped at every turn by a mixture of bad luck, stupid henchmen and our hero, big bad, Van the Man.

Van is sent by his secret organisation nestled deep under the Vatican (kind of like MI6 but with God on their side), to assist the non-Buffy in killing Dwacular. Along the way we meet Frankenstein and his monster, The Wolfman and Transylvanias version of santas flying sleigh.

In truth that's all there is to the story. It follows the similar hollywood pattern of early conflict to introduce the characters, followed by a dash of story and another battle in which the good guys lose. All hope seems lost until our heroes work out something trivial and race to the rescue and the innevitable final battle. What happens there I leave a mystery but if you choose to watch the film you will quickkly work out who will live and die. The characters and story are so formulaic that the film becomes a bore within 30 minutes.

The effects (of which there are too many) are impressive and that's about it. Even the music failed to inspire me.

This truly is the worst film of the year so far. I was gonna give it a 2, but to be honest such a waste of valuable hours in my life does not warrant such a high mark.

Van Helsing - 1/10

Solution - Kate Beckinsale should go back to being in British dramas about firemen. David Wenham should stop following the Bloom and Mortensen school of 'take any script that comes along'. Richard Roxburgh should move to panto and 'Van the Man' Hugh Jackman should be given a lifetime achievement award by the Academy as then maybe he'll retire, and people will stop talking about how this man is a good actor. He isn't. He is appalling.

Our glorious press.

It's times like these that it becomes more clear that the editors of many British newspapers rarely classify as human. In a week which saw some newspapers talking of disgust at criticism of British forces treatment of Iraqis, we now have to deal with the somewhat sickening truth that the News of the World and Sun newspapers want to destroy a womans life just to improve sales of their rags.

Maxine Carr, is a very stupid, very naive and very vulnerable woman. Her decision to lie to police and protect her boyfriend was a disgrace. Nevertheless, she had paid her price. She has served her time in prison and is now set for release. Documents containing details fo her new identity were stolen from a car recently and a court injunction was put in place to prevent publication of them.

Now the Sun and News of the World are challenging the injunction. They want, in true gutter-press fashion, to plaster her face and her new life all across their front page. All of it with little regard for her safety or (as they will claim) the memory of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Their only interest is in money.

Whatever peoples opinions of Maxine Carr and the crimes she committed, few could argue that she is not in danger. There are people out there who would hurt her if they could. Yet she has served her time. She has done her punishement and will spend the rest of her life contemplating what has happened.

Just like the killers of Jamie Bulger, I have no doubt in my mind that the right decision was made to release them and to give them new identities. Their crimes were committed at such a young age, we have to believe that rehabilitation is possible. If not, then what is the point in them continuing to exist?

Maxine Carr made a stupid mistake and broke the law in doing so. She protected a murderer she thought she loved. She didn't murder those girls. She has served her time. Now she should be allowed to live a new life.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

The descent into anarchy

I'd like to congratulate the people of Iraq today. A year on from George Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' speech and the Iraqis are truly a part of western democracy. A western democracy in which they do not have to fear the possibility of torture for speaking out against Saddam. No... now they just get tortured and abused by American and British troops.

With over 700 coalition soldiers dead and several thousand Iraqis since the end of hostilities, make no mistake, this is Vietnam.

It doesn't have the scale yet, there aren't millions of Iraqis dead and tens of thousands of US servicemen, but lets not forget that the conflict in Vietnam lasted for well over a decade.

The coalition of the willing is faltering. Politicians around the world are waking up to the fact that this is perhaps this biggest mistake made by western leaders in a generation. Of course, the question that now remains is, what can be done?

There are those who say we should pull the troops out now. The counter-argument being that Iraq will descend into anarchy. WAKE UP! It is already anarchy and on the verge of civil war. If 150,000 US troops (nearly a half of Americas ground force) can't maintain a peaceful situation then no-one can.

There are those who say we should stay. We should crush any rebellion with brute force. If history has taught us one thing, it's that the more devastation you wreak, the more resilient your opponent becomes. The British learnt this to their peril, yet 50 years on from the fall of the Empire and our politicians and military leaders still follow America blindly as it makes the same mistakes of occupation. How can we not have learnt the lessons?

There are those who say the UN should take over. I'd favour that option, but in reality the UN has lost all credibility. The UN is in it's worst state in history and in the coming years will have to face up to the same harsh truth that led to the destruction of the League of Nations. You cannot build unity on a basis of inequality. The US, Britain, France, Russia and China have too much power in the UN. As more nations emerge from living in the shadow of such former powers, the more questions will be asked and the closer we come to a complete collapse of our United Nations.

We cannot continue like this. We must not continue like this. Unfortunately, I don't have any answers.

Vol 2

I may be biased, but there is something about Quentin Tarantino's work that stirs my passion for movies unlike anything else. He is quite simply the greatest writer/director of a generation. His writing filmography contains so many defining movies that you have to ask the question "when will he screw up?".

Perhaps his biggest risk yet was the decision to split his samurai western martial arts revenge movie into two parts. Whether motivated by the films diversity or a realisation that twice as much money could be made at the box office, it was a decision that for me has paid off.

Volume 2 is a different movie to volume 1. In typical tarantino style volume 1 contained what would traditionally be the climatic fight scene. The culmination of the heroines lust for revenge. With the fight scene to end all fight scenes packed into volume 1, QT makes it abundantly clear that volume 2 is about story and character. That's not to say the fights, rare that they may be, aren't fantastic. It's just that we don't need it, because we've seen it before.

The characters are much deeper in Volume 2, yet it's Budd, rather than Bill that steals the show for me. So much so that I was left wanting to know why he turned out like he did.

Daryl Hannah proves that she can act and, along with Uma Thurman, provide one of the finest bitch fights (complete with cheesy insults) in recent memory. Meanwhile David Carradine shows us why Tarantino so desperately wanted him for the role of Bill. He gets the best of the trademark tarantino speeches and even finds time to liken The Bride to Superman. Oh yes, Tarantino gets to be geek again, with as many references to books, movies and comics as possible. Even the soundtrack feels like a collection of his favourite movie. And why not?

In the end Volume 2 feels much more like a typical tarantino movie, but unlike Empire Magazines Mark Dinning, I won't be marking the movie down for it.

---- Extract from Mark Dinning review ----

Had it come courtesy of almost any other director working today, Kill Bill Vol. 2 would most likely earn a further star on top of the three that follow. Unfortunately for QT, past glories demand he be measured by a tougher yardstick - the arrival of ‘a new Tarantino’ brings with it an unparalleled anticipation, a thirst that this time he never quite manages to quench.

---- END ---

To say that a director must be marked against a higher grade because of his past successes is appalling. Sadly, the little people at Empire seemed to have missed the point. For a much smarter review, check out The Guardians Peter Bradshaw.

Volume 2, is a remarkable feat of cinema. And the two films together illustrate just why I fell in love with the industry. If Volume 1 is an example of style over content, then volume 2 is the meat on the bones.

Volume 2 rating: 9/10 - The best movie of the year so far. This one is gonna be hard to beat.