Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is Brown really any better than Blair?

The press is really pushing Gordon Brown atm. He is so new and refreshing since taking over from the rancid corpse that was Tony Blair. He's gonna bring the troops home, distance himself from the US and show that silly little upstart in the Tories what a REAL leader is all about!

However, if you're like me and believe that foreign policy is far more important than domestic policy (you see foreign policy directly affects all aspects of domestic policy when you are a dependent nation like the UK), you'll see that Gordon Brown is not really that big an improvement on Blair.

He may be talking about pulling the troops out of Iraq, but this is something that is being demanded by many in the electorate anyway. Reacting to the electorate is not exactly rocket science (though it eluded Blair for most of his time in office). And I've got to say that if submitting to US demands for using RAF Menwith Hill for the ill-conceived missile shield is a sweetener for the US accepting our troop withdrawal then we our "special relationship" is no different to the one we had under Blair.

Announcing that the UK will permit the placement of radars and personnel at Menwith Hill via a statement to the commons hours before summer recess is nothing short of cowardice on the part of this government and it's Prime Minister.

It's reminiscent of that episode in the West Wing when the senior staff collect together all the bad bits of news to be announced on Friday ("trash day"), because most people don't read the papers on a Saturday.

Whether the missile shield works or not (and I don't believe for a second that it will offer much protection to US interests) is beside the point. It is a blatant act of warmongering aggression and one that will only lead to a major decline in relations with Russia and potentially China. I'm no fan of Putin but this new only gives him a reason to arm his nation further. For those who believe that Putin is a dictator who is hurting his own people, giving him an enemy to wage a cold war with is only going to solidify opinion in his country against the West rather than against him.

I will never understand the "special relationship". Shouldn't the role of every government be to garner strong relations with all nations? It doesn't even make sense from an economic standpoint. Most of our trade is with Europe, the commonwealth and the far east! Some nostalgic Brits go on about us positioning ourselves as experienced advisors to the new superpower. I mean we did control a quarter of the planet once. If this is the case then why is the special relationship so one-sided? It wasn't under Thatcher and Blair always dreamed of being just like Maggie!

All I know is that despite the rhetoric, Brown is no White Knight who is going to usher in a golden age for Britain. Unless you think having nuclear weapons aimed at North Yorkshire is a good thing, of course!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Transformers aka The Rock 5

As I sat watching Transformers at my local cinema a strange comparison popped into my head. Michael Bay is a lot like Derek Zoolander. You see Zoolander, despite being the hero of one of the greatest comedies of all time has only one look. Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face!

In the last 11 years Michael Bay has made only one movie. That movie was called ‘The Rock’ and since then he has remade the same movie over and over again. In fact, he probably holds the record for most remakes of the same movie, like ever!

For those who don’t know the Transformers story, it ain’t that special. Two sets of warring robots come down to Earth to do battle. And that’s about it really. The movie is an effort to bring a big budget family action paint job to a 1980s cartoon that should have been left to be remembered fondly. Naturally there were 30 year olds who screeched with joy at the news that their childhood heroes were on the way to the big screen. I was not one of them. I’ve never understood the adult love for transformers and I doubt I ever will. Like I said, I remember it fondly, but I wouldn’t want to own the DVDs now! But hey, fandom isn’t meant to make sense and I certainly have my own OTT fandom skeletons in the wardbrode!

I think what upset me from the moment Transformers was announced was the general Hollywood trend towards delving back 20-30 years and remaking, re-imagining, updating old shows and movies. The summer will always be the place for limited plot, high octane blockbusters and long may it continue, but at least the majority of blockbusters from ten years ago had a more original ring to them.

Summer 1997 saw the release of Men in Black, The Lost World, Air Force One, My Best Friends Wedding, Face Off, Con Air, Contact and Austin Powers. Now don’t get me wrong, not all of these were solid movies. Plus 1997 also saw the release of a certain Batman & Robin, but hopefully you see my point. On the whole, original summer movies varying from action to sci fi to comedy.

What about 20 years ago? Summer 1987 saw Full Metal Jacket, Predator, The Untouchables, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Dirty Dancing, Dragnet, La Bamba, Robocop, The Living Daylights, The Witches of Eastwick, Adventures in Babysitting, Innerspace and Spaceballs.

And what has Summer 2007 brought us? Spiderman 3, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Transformers, Harry Potter 5, Fantastic Four 2, Die Hard 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Oceans 13, Knocked Up, Hairspray and 28 Weeks Later. I look through this list and only the romcom Knocked Up stands out for NOT being a sequel or movie/TV remake. Again, this is not meant as an attack on all sequels and remakes. I have enjoyed some of the movies listed above, but I do feel it illustrates the general trend of unoriginality sweeping across Hollywood.

Some may disagree, but I’ll take summer 1997 or 1987 over summer 2007 any day.

Anyway, I digress.

The news that Michael Bay was attached to direct Transformers took me very much over the edge. I don’t think any other mainstream director has ever polarised viewpoints quite like he does. Nonetheless I made it clear that I can rise above my own pre-conceptions. I have been proven wrong before and left the cinema with my faith restored in summertime movies (Pirates 3 being the most recent example).

And then I went to see the film.

For 45 minutes I sat there actually enjoying myself. My initial fears about Shia LaBeouf were unfounded. He has clearly learnt to temper his annoying arsehole persona with a little more subtlety. In fact even the de facto love story starts out relatively fresh with some comical scenes in which Bumblebee plays matchmaker.

Hell, I was even able to ignore the walking cliche US army Captain fighting to get home to be with his wife and new born kid (yawn) and marvel at the cool special effects in the opening battle.

Yes, I was even able to ignore the bit were the Pentagon called on all geeks out there to help them work out what was going on and rewarded us with the usual stereotypical group of young nerdy looking boys and one hot looking blond woman who was better than all of them put together. Despite the awfulness of it, I took it with a smile.

And then Optimus Prime and his mates showed up.

The rest of the film was truly awful. Optimus Prime, the great hero from my youth was just dull and his lines so bad I actually pitied him. You see the problem was that the film had blown its wad way too early. When you break it down it is just a bunch of robots fighting with a love story tacked on. And once you’ve seen a couple of robots fight the later battles become just plain boring. Oh look it’s a cgi robot transforming again and attacking another cgi robot. Yawn.

Shia LaBeouf and Bumblebee are the only redeeming features as the movie takes us from underground lairs to the centre of LA with little or no reason and onward toward a conclusion that offers no surprises whatsoever. The love story is forgotten (except for a few closeups of hands holding when things get scary) in favour of more action and louder explosions. Everything I could get from this movie, I got in the first 45 minutes.

And then there was Jar Jar Binks!

What I hear you cry. Yes, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse Michael Bay throws in the most annoying cgi character since Jar Jar as a seemingly indestructible mobile phone/cd player/whatever wreaks havoc for our heroes throughout the movie. I think the character was supposed to be evil but also provide some comic relief. Failed to be either really.

All this brings me back to my original point that Michael Bay has only made one movie. Transformers is just The Rock with robots. Just like Armageddon was just The Rock with a big asteroid and Pearl Harbour was just The Rock with Ben "gobble gobble" Affleck!

It isn’t spoiling it to say that LaBeouf gets the girl and they make out under a beautiful setting sun at the end. Nor that the brave Army Captain gets back to his wife for a heartwarming embrace under a beautiful sunset at the end. You’d have to be a complete moron to not see it coming! Afterall, this is exactly what happens to Nic Cage in The Rock, Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbour and Ben Affleck again in Armageddon.

Michael Bay has only one movie! The Rock? Armageddon? Pearl Harbour? The Island? Transformers? They’re the same movie! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

Monday, July 16, 2007


A trailer has now been released for the as yet untitled JJ Abrams produced movie. It's currently being advertised simply as 1-18-08 which is the release date.

This one is being kept massively underwraps and the makers are clearly trying to plug the JJ Abrams connection. It should be noted that he is the producer, not the writer or director of this flick. However, his involvement is likely to be more than casual.

The trailer is one of the best teasers I've seen in years, but we all know that this is not a guarantee of anything these days.

The director (Matt Reeves) is a relative unknown who has done quite a bit of TV work. Scarily, his only movie directorial credit is The Pallbearer... a truly woeful comedy with David Schwimmer. However, that was a long time ago, so maybe he's learnt a lot since then!

Interestingly it's written by the very talented Drew Goddard. He wrote some fantastic 7th season Buffy eps, along with a number of Angel, Alias and more recently Lost eps.

It's early days (i.e. this one could be truly fantastic or truly shit), but it's got the internet community in a full-on buzz.

Most people are ruling out this being a Godzilla remake (thank god!) while there have been rumblings about it being a Cthulhu movie. I guess we will have to wait until January to find out.

There's lots of viral marketing going on with this movie with fake sites and real sites being setup in connection with it. Lots of denials and counter claims about what sites are real and fake. Very intelligent marketing if you're into that kind of thing.

Here's hoping this one lives up to the buzz.

Official site

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq - in the words of the veterans

I watched Platoon the other day. I always find it impossible to imagine what can lead people to act the way they do in wartime. It's all too easy to watch a film like Platoon and just say "that Sgt Barnes is an evil bastard...". And yet, to do so is to miss the point of the movie.

Vietnam was the event that changed the concept of war forever in my eyes. Everyone talks of World War 1 being the last time people would cheer the announcement of war. Well Vietnam marks the moment when (some) people finally noticed that war isn't black and white. It isn't about good and evil. It's all shades of grey. In Platoon Sgt Barnes had lost the capacity for showing any level of moral decency towards anyone outside his squad. But look at how his squad respected him. They trusted him above all things, because they knew he would protect them, and that was all that matters. He was brutal and nasty, but it is because of Vietnam that he became like that, not because he was like that from the start.

Which brings me to Iraq. Often compared to Vietnam and rightly so, the scale may be much smaller but the pattern of increasing violence and lack of public support is alarmingly similar.

Now American magazine 'The Nation' is to publish interviews and quotes from Iraq War veterans that detail the violence and random killings that have become part and parcel of Americas new Vietnam.

The ones I've read immediately brought me back to Platoon; one of the first movies to really highlight the human drama of Vietnam. Kids being sent off to war, many of them believing that what they were doing was for the good of their country; for freedoms sake, only for many of them to be turned into murderers and vilified by their country back home. Not because of the atrocities they committed, but because they lost.

Read the independent article

Selected excerpts

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned... [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little two-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs and she has a bullet through her leg... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me... like asking me why. You know, 'Why do I have a bullet in my leg?'... I was just like, 'This is, this is it. This is ridiculous'."

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'... [Only when we got home] in... meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

"I just remember thinking, 'I just brought terror to someone under the American flag'."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Yippee-ki-yay, Mofo...

If there is one thing I hate more than the constant glut of unoriginal remakes and sequels, it’s ageing actors deciding to reprise a famous role 10+ years after their previous stint. We’ve had Rocky and next year sees Rambo and Indiana Jones return to our screens. Stallone is 61 tomorrow, Ford is 65 next week. I hope I’m capable of taking on the entire Soviet military when I’m in my 60s! Go Rambo… Go!

Which brings me to Mister Bruce Willis. At only 52 he could be jumping from helicopters and shouting Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker for another decade or so yet, and if Die Hard 4 is anything to go by, I wouldn’t put it past him.

Let me say this, this movie is not a patch on the first Die Hard. Not even close. Yet I still left the cinema with a huge smile on my face, content in the knowledge that it is possible for an ageing actor to return to his most famous role without ruining my memories.

The plot is woeful. In fact it got me wondering what the studio exec meeting must have been like. Something like this?

Evil Exec 1: Mr Willis. Want to do another Die Hard?
Bruce: Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker
Evil Exec 2: That’s great. Now we realise you’re old…

Bruce dropkicks Evil Exec 2 through the window.

Bruce: Welcome to the party pal!
Evil Exec 3: Anyway, we thought we could do a movie that plays on the fact you are past it.

Bruce fires a ball point pen straight through the heart of Evil Exec 3.

Bruce: Take *that* under advisement, jerkweed.
Evil Exec 1: The point is, that we wanna make a movie in which your more traditional ball-busting skills have to take on some, what we in the biz like to call ‘cyber’ terrorists.
Bruce: Cyber terrorists? Who gives a shit about Cyber terrorists? Who the fuck is this?
Evil Exec 4: It would be a movie about an enemy that uses computers against the World. And by the World we mean the USA! USA! USA!
Evil Exec 1: Better still we could have the ‘cyber’ terrorists attack on Independence Day. It would be symbolic.
Evil Exec 4: Plus we could throw in loads of your old lines, make constant references to the fact you are old and instead of having your wife pissed off with you… Why not your grown up daughter?

Bruce strangles Evil Exec 4 using a shoe lace between his teeth.

Evil Exec 1: You see we have to be bigger and better than before. In Die Hard 1 you saved a building full of people. In Die Hard 2 you saved an airport and a whole load of planes. In Die Hard 3 it was a whole city. This time… this time Bruce, you’ll save the whole fucking country.
Bruce: How can the same shit happen to the same guy 4 times?
Evil Exec 1: You’re the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time Bruce. It’s what you do best.
Bruce: Story of my life.

The plot really is that basic. But in a way, that’s what gives this movie its charm. The bad guys motives (which are ludicrous beyond belief) aren’t important and neither really are his actions. What matters is riding shotgun with Bruce as he kills people in spectacular fashion.

There are some nice touches. McClanes view on heroism and how it has treated him in life is quite poignant. But this ain’t no touchy feely movie. This is about men (and occasionally women, but mainly men) killing every motherfucking thing around them. GRRR!

The villain ( Timothy Olyphant) does his job without ever being spectacular. Truth is it’s really hard to follow the likes of Alan Rickman, but he hams it up nicely.

McClanes sidekick is Dodgeballs and Galaxy Quests likable nerd Justin Long. Unsurprisingly, he plays a cyber-nerd who is the only hacker left who can beat the big bad. Add in a rather comical cameo by Kevin Smith as the Yoda-esque cyber-sage called Warlock and you’ve got the makings of a disaster.

And yet, this was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve watched all year. The action is spectacular and if I have a criticism it’s that, in an effort to be bigger and better Die Hard 4 goes way way way OTT. While Die Hard stretched the boundaries of what was believable, the stunts were still realistic; a fit guy actually could do those things. Here, McClane becomes a little less like the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and a little more like Jack Bauer; an indestructible superhero. But hey, it’s not a major gripe, and thankfully he’s nowhere near as annoying as SuperBauer!

I think the secret of Die Hard 4 being successful is that it follows the pattern laid down by Terminator 3. Everyone knows that Bruce is a bit too old to be doing this. And so the makers have given us a movie that takes the piss out of itself. It is not serious, and it’s completely OTT, hence the reason for having a plot with more holes in it colander. McClane should have died 5 times over before the first hour is up, but he doesn’t. Why? Because it’s Die Hard!

Great fun and totally recommended if you want a film that is pure brawn and zero brains. Let’s just hope they don’t make another one!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

George W or George III

Fun blog comparing American under the control of President Bush now and King George III 230 years ago!

Am not so sure the canadians will love the idea of joining up with the US to form a new nation though!

Happy Independence Day to all my friends over in that extremely scary place they call the US of A.