Monday, November 23, 2009

Blairs lies begin to unravel

As more leaked documentation comes to light, it would appear that the fingers are now aimed squarely at Tony Blairs government for covering up their plans to go to war in Iraq from as early as 2002.

These people should be hauled before a war crimes tribunal. And the sooner, the better.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

This Is It

Holly and I went to see the Michael Jackson movie last night for a glimpse of the singers ill-fated farewell concert. I have to say we were both very impressed.

The movie very much plays out in concert order showing us what would have happened and then cutting to the rehearsals that took place between April and June 25th. Without a doubt it would have been one of the most spectactular live shows ever combining new 3D thriller sequences, CGI sequences, Giant robots and all that crazy stuff. Couple this with truly mesmerising dance choreography and it would have been a stunning sight.

I guess the thing that no one knew when these shows were announced was whether Jackson himself could still a) dance and b) sing. As I experienced at the recent U2 concert, aging rockers inevitably can't hit the high notes from past glories (Bono was so bad he was quite funny).

With Jackson however, I was quite captivated. His voice (without the aid of mixing) was still impressive. To hear him singing 40 year old songs from the Jackson 5 catologue with only a small change in pitch was quite touching. As for the dance routines, he may have looked thinner than before and his hands may have been guant, but from the moment he stepped out for Don't Stop Till You Get Enough those feet were mesmerising.

Of course the one thing the movie ignores is Jacksons health during the rehearsals. Careful editing ensure that we will never know how hard it was for him to complete the kind of dance moves that people 20 or 30 years his junior would struggle with. Does he look tired during the rehearsals? Yes, but no more than any of the other dancers who are, naturally, in their prime.

The great tragedy of this film is that we are beginning to get of picture of how Jackson was able to make it through these non-stop rehearsals. Continuous relief from pain medications which had a sole purpose; that of keeping him on his feet long enough to complete the tour. Of course, this leads us to question not only Jackson himself, but the doctors, advisors and close friends around him.

While the movie masks over any suggestion that he may have been unwell, it is a question that some people will ask themselves for years. "Should I have done something to pull the plug on all this?"

Regardless, the movie is a showcase of a truly incredible talent. A man who took an interest in every aspect of his shows and was a consumate perfectionist. If you aren't a fan of Michael Jacksons most famous work then this movie offers very little, but for those who grew up loving Thriller, Man in the Mirror, Billie Jean et al it forms a fitting tribute and offers a rare, albeit fleeting, glimpse of one of the Worlds most legendary performers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The State of Democracy

We're 4 days into the Expenses scandal in UK Parliament with no end in sight to the revelations.  Today it's the turn of the Tories to face the scrutiny of the press with allegations that senior ministers 'flipped' their homes several times a year in order to claim the maximum amount possible in expenses.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is disgusted by the blatant greed of our politicians in the face of a growing recession.  I think what makes this one hard to fix is that throwing out Labour doesn't solve the issue.  All parties are guilty because the problem is at the heart of having 600+ people in positions were they can set their own salaries and expenses without true public scrutiny.

There was a time (granted it was hundreds of years ago!) that public service was viewed exactly as that; a service.  Of course corruption in politics is as old as Margaret Thatcher (and she's fucking old!), but the level of corruption this time round is quite hard to believe.

Anyway... I have figured out a solution to this problem that doesn't involve revolting against tptb and overthrowing all before us.

Here's the plan...
  • MPs get a salary
  • If the MP lives outside of a certain range (say 50 miles) they get a rented apartment in London in acceptable commuter distance to Westminster
  • The rented apartment should be nice but not OTT (2 bedroom furnished property in a nice area)
  • For those that live inside the range (50 miles) they can friggin commute like every other person has to.  The state can be fair, they can have their travel expenses paid for (but no travelling by helicopter or golden carriage)
  • No more expenses for furnishings
  • No more getting mortgages for second homes
  • Oh... and no more hiring your entire family to be PAs in your constituency office, they can still have money to set this office up and run it, but it has to be staffed through proper recruitment process rather than jobs for the boys (and wifes and mistresses and illegitimate sons!)
If an MP cannot survive on the basic £64,766 per year, plus free travel to work, plus a free, furnished apartment in London then they should quit and let people do the job who actually still believe that public service is about serving the public rather than lining their pockets.
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Friday, May 08, 2009

Nu Trek

Most of my friends are well aware that I set my expectations for the new Star Trek prequel very low. I’ve argued for a long time that I feel the franchise needs to be rested for a good few years following some really poor showings (Enterprise, Nemesis and Insurrection).

However, even I held out a glimmer of hope that I would find some snippet of hope in JJ Abrams’ new flick. And now, I’ve returned from the cinema in a state of shock. I have never walked out of a film and I’ve seen some pretty woeful movies in my time. After 10 minutes of Star Trek I seriously wanted to leave, the only thing that kept me going was having a fellow fan by my side to share in my pain.

For those not in the know, this prequel charts the backstory of our favourite characters; Kirk, Spock, Bones et al. But there’s a twist. Some evil Romulan from the future has travelled back in time to a point before Kirk was born and changed history. The result is a useful plot device which explains away why Kirk is not at all like the character William Shatner portrayed with such ham and dedication for 30 years.

To be fair, I don’t have an issue with changing characters backstory. Battlestar Galactica was re-imagined to stunning effect. Sadly, JJ Abrams is no Ron Moore. Rather he is beginning to show signs of George Lucas syndrome and as a result may be believing too much in his own hype.

There is no snippet of hope in this film. It is worse than even I had felt possible and symbolises everything that is currently wrong with the Hollywood film industry and its treatment of Science Fiction in particular.

Don’t get me wrong, Star Trek will make a fortune. It will quite easily be the most successful Trek movie in history and will therefore be regarded as a commercial success. But such success comes at a price for some Star Trek fans. I say some, because there are many flavours of Trek fans. There are those who will love this film because it is full of action and pithy one-liners.

Sadly, I’m not one of those fans. I was one of those kids who grew up watching science fiction that places storytelling at the heart of every episode. Sure even Trek of old contained action and ham-fisted dialogue, but these were a necessity of the TV industry. Without such action and drama, the show would have been too cerebral to garner the army of fans it built over 4 decades.

The thing that made Star Trek (and many other popular Sci-Fi shows of the time) so appealing, was that it found a balance between the needs of the studio (who required high peril and action drama) and the needs of the storyteller (who wanted to make the viewer think).

And this is where Hollywood has lost its edge. It has forsaken storytelling in favour of meaningless action, bland dialogue and an abundance of special effects. “Big budget” movies have become indistinguishable from one another. Transformers and this new Star Trek are the same film. Continuous action, limited dialogue and a very basic plot that can be explained in a one line pitch to a studio executive who has no prior knowledge of the craft.

“Robots crashland on Earth and battle each other against the backdrop of beautiful cityscapes and vistas”

“An evil alien goes back in time to avenge the destruction of his race, by wiping out humanity using an overly elaborate cgi MacGuffin”

Star Trek is virtually non-stop action for the entirety of its 126 minutes. The only time the action stops is for some brief attempts at comedy (Kirk goes into comic anaphylactic shock; Sulu forgets to start the engine of the starship; Chekov fails to pronounce his “Vs”. Everyone laugh!!). Sadly, because these comic moments all follow on from one another at high speed, the result is slapstick; Slapstick during a time of intergalactic crisis. Errrr!

The vast portion of the movie is overlaid with an almost continuous OTT soundtrack that is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Even the brief moments of attempted poignancy are coupled with a sappy score that again detracts from what is going on.

The acting is incredibly laboured, but I’ll avoid blaming the actors for this. They can only do so much with the material that is at their disposal. And the material is, quite frankly, not worthy of lining a real writers waste paper bin. A common forum post that appears whenever Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are announced as writers for a new project is “Hollywood: STOP GIVING WRITING JOBS TO THESE GUYS”. But it’s obvious why they get the gigs. They write commercially successful films (Transformers, MI:3… err The Island… err The Legend of Zorro). OK, so not all of them are successful, but they have recently had a somewhat golden dollar shaped touch.

The villain of Star Trek (Romulan Nero) is as one-dimensional as the plot. He is there purely to offer a threat and offers no other depth than a desire for vengeance, explained in a classic “Let me tell you my devious plan” moment. His eventual demise sums up this new movies complete deviation from the high principles of Star Trek, as Spock (and his proxy, Kirk) chooses to slaughter him in an act of vengeance that I had to see to believe.

The original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) makes an appearance which, I have to admit, was nice to see. Unfortunately, it too served only to highlight the lack of gravitas Zachary Quinto brings to the Young Spock role. I’m just glad Shatner didn’t get his way and make a cameo!

The final minute gives us the immortal Trek tagline, spoken wistfully by Leonard Nimoy. As the words echoed around the cinema, (“…to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life forms and new civilisations…”) I realised how out of place they seemed in this film. That final act is tacked on to provide a link to the past but in reality only serves to symbolise the complete opposites that this movie is and Star Trek of old, was. JJ Abrams’ Trek is nothing more than a jingoistic American ass-whupping in space. He may have splattered it with familiar names and shown us “the truth” behind famous stories (the Kobyashi Maru test), but JJ has failed to actually see what Star Trek is.

Star Trek will garner a new generation of fans with this film and its planned sequels. However, does anyone really believe that these fans will take the time to revisit the roots of Star Trek? Worse still, is it not more likely that these modern fans will be so fickle that they will jump from Star Trek to the next “Big Thing” that comes along? Afterall, these new fans are the same people that have just jumped from Transformers (via Indiana Jones 4) to Star Trek.

I’m happy to leave this “nu Trek” to the low attention span audience it deserves. I won’t be watching the sequel.

Friday, March 06, 2009


As with all adaptations of books its easy to get bogged down in details about whats been changed and which version is better etc. I've never been a fan of comparing books to their movie counterparts. The media are so different that its like comparing a washing machine with Albert Einstein! Nonetheless I do enjoy debating how books are transferred to the screen and working out why certain decisions are made in the creative process. Of course, if we have to do a direct comparison then in 99% of cases the book version is always "better", purely because so much more can be done in a book that can be achieved in a limited timeframe on the screen.

Watchmen is one of my favourite books of all time. The story is so layered and complex that when the announcement was made that a movie was coming I initially dismissed it. I didn't believe the story could be done justice on the screen. There are just some books that don't work well on film. I was precious about "them changing the story" despite my views in the previous paragraph.

Nonetheless I managed to look forward to the film knowing full well that the entire story could never be filmed in all its glory and that cutting a lot of the backstory would have to be necessary, but if done right it didn't mean the film could work as a movie in its own right.

My two initial reactions on walking out of the cinema somewhat bleary-eyed were "WOW!" and "Errrrr... what?!". Watchmen really is a movie of contradictions. There are times, particularly in the first half, when the scenes feel like they have been ripped directly from the book. It's almost like staring at one of those storyboards and suddenly being transported into the real thing. The look and feel is perfect and the crew should be commended on this. The story flowed beautifully and again didn't feel vastly different from the book. Rather it was missing many elements that clearly wouldn't fit in a 2 and a half hour film.

The final hour did seem somewhat convoluted and, while I'm sure the final 20 minutes will divide fans of the book in a huge way, this is not my main concern. The issue I and one of my friends had was that we just aren't sure if people who haven't read the book will get it. Rather than a complete adaptation, there are times when it feels more like a companion piece; something for the fans to watch alongside reading the book.

I may be wrong about this, and I look forward to getting the opinions of the people who have never read the book. It is possible that I am only seeing it as confusing because I know the source story so well and that some of the missing pieces of backstory seem to be too important to be left out. But I look forward to getting opinions on this.

In terms of enjoyment I really did love seeing this film. My fears were unjust and while I may have gripes about parts of the story I would have liked to have seen on the screen, I accept that it would be impossible to fit it all in. I don't need to state which "version" I prefer, as that should be obvious, but I do feel the movie stands on its own merit and deserves respect for what it achieves. This is what all movie adaptations should strive for. It's not about "bettering" the novel, but about providing a separate interpretation of a story in a different format.

For me the most important elements are there, particularly in terms of the characters. Again, while I have some gripes about Ozymandias, the key thing is that Rorschach is as he should be. His narration and posture (while masked and unmasked) are incredible and the actor deserves considerable praise for pulling this off. Similarly, there is no compromise in terms of toning down the content for the big screen. It is dark, gritty, harsh and uncompromising from start to finish. And the soundtrack is phenomenal.

In summary, see this film, whether you've read the book or not. I do feel something is lost by not reading the book, but I'll be interested to hear the thoughts of the uninitiated.