Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


Dubious Claims To Fame – 16

It is a shame that I termed these stretched anecdotes about minor brushes with celebrity as dubious – in hindsight, this one would be better classed as notorious.

I grew up just outside Glasgow, but close enough that I always called myself Glaswegian. My childhood weekends were spent, almost without fail, in the nearby town of East Kilbride. It is a vastly depressing collection of roundabouts connecting housing estates in which you could be lost for years, with a town centre that gradually expanded and was roofed over to form one of the biggest indoor shopping malls in Europe. They were unjustifiably proud of this, and I fucking hate shopping malls. I hate the sterile, homogenised design of them. I hate that there are prescribed paths that can’t be deviated from (as opposed to city centres with quiet side-streets), the piping in of nauseating music, the mandatory air-conditioning – which would be  a lot less appealing if they just called it what it is, recycled breath – and I hate the fact that every shopping mall offers pretty much the same shops and chain stores. I once read an in-house magazine I got with a pair of boots, due to a lack of other reading material on a lengthy bus-ride home, and the international shoe shop was celebrating that they had just opened a branch in Dubai. There was nothing in the picture to differentiate this Dubai branch from the one down the road from me. I fucking hate shopping malls.

East Kilbride was bigger than the town I grew up in, and my remaining grandparents both lived there, and so we regularly went to the shopping centre prior to visiting them. There was a nine-screen UCI cinema in the newest part of the centre, back when such things were a novelty, and for a very long time you had to travel to EK to find a branch of any of the many fast food “restaurants” that now (over)populate every high street. I spent too much of my life in that awful mall, as I also worked in it for nearly four years, and I consider it a blessing that I no longer have to venture there. I purposely avoid the much closer St. Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries too, such is my aversion to this clinical and uninspired shopping “experience.”

One day, many years ago now, I was in EK’s shopping centre and saw the huge crowd gathered around the (thawed-out) ice rink. The crowd sprawled all round the sides of the rink, filling both levels of the nearby food court and spilling all the way up both sides of the stairway that rose to a half-landing and then doubled back to reach the level of the cinema. People of all ages were pressed several deep against every barrier, craning to see. At the time it was exciting and novel, back when television and the people on it were magical and enchanted. It became clear that they were filming part of a talent show.

This was not your Pop Idol or X Factor, this was far more amateurish and (presumably) far less engineered into the guise of a soap opera. It was in the public conscious, certainly, but to a much lesser extent than those slickly produced, Cowell’s-pocket-lining contests which eventually followed. This was one man, then a household name on the back of his extensive performing and presenting careers, inviting people to get up on a makeshift stage and “have a go” – whatever their talent or skill, they would be filmed as he watched, laughed, or occasionally joined in as farcically as possible. The show was called “My Kind Of People.”

In hindsight, we all know precisely what kind of people were Michael Barrymore’s kind of people – and if you don’t know, watch a few repeats of Mock The Week or read this. Back then, though, he was most famous for Strike It Lucky/Rich.

There isn’t much to say, which is why I foreshadowed this by calling it a stretched anecdote, but I did stick around long enough to watch some jugglers and singers, and to see them film a few crowd shots. Barrymore would be seen driving around the country in his sports car, which he would then drive into each location. He was filmed a few times “arriving” on the empty ice-rink, doing laps and waving to the crowd, and we were all instructed to cheer and wave back. The way I remember it, it actually had more in common with Stewart Lee’s opening (fifteen years later) for his first series of Comedy Vehicle.

I think I watched the episode I had seen being filmed, but they had changed the opening and none of that footage was used – par for the course, as I discovered when I began working in the industry – however, as fleeting and disconnected as it was, that was probably the closest I’ve come to having a claim to infamy instead.

*** Edited to add the note below ***

I posted this blog to my facebook and twitter accounts, and am amazed that my friend Craig has been able to link me, almost immediately, to this very episode on youtube.

Quit While You Are Behind.

I’ve just watched the movie “2:22” and feel compelled to document the experience here. If you’d like the quick review, it’s not worth the time.

The plan was simple, the job was not.

So reads the back of the DVD cover, a slick and professional affair that makes the movie look like everything it is not – well-shot, action-packed, and good. I picked it up in Poundland, figuring that it was worth the risk at that price. In retrospect, naw.

I got a twenty-five minutes into it, watching a jumble of seemingly unconnected scenes, with characters unsympathetic in any respect. This led me to inform the world of Facebook that:
“I’m about a quarter of the way in, and so far it is the worst written, worst cast, and worst acted film I’ve seen in quite some time. One of those films that’s so bad it’s really fucking bad. Part of me wants to quit while I’m behind, part of me hopes it might yet redeem itself by having a decent plot. So far, no discernible plot is apparent. I paid a quid for the DVD, and suspect I was overcharged by 99p.”

The main thrust of the film is that, at 2:22am on 1st January, four robbers loot the safety deposit boxes in a hotel.
– Why that precise time? It is never explained.
– Why are there only two members of staff on? I guess Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) is a very quiet time of year for the hospitality industry.
– Why are the streets completely deserted? As we all know, everybody celebrates at midnight, then we’re all in bed by 2am.

The dialogue is clunky, and serves to facilitate and perpetuate a number of tedious cliches.

The main character, Gulli, is sitting alone at a hotel bar. A pretty girl is the only other customer. She’s been stood up, so she comes and sits next to him, saying “Look, I don’t normally do this, I just don’t really feel like being alone right now.”

Her conversation is overly punctuated with the word “cute” – his pet fish is cute, him telling her she has a nice smile is cute. His patter, however, is even worse.
“I’ve been drinking tonic and lime all night. I think I’m going to turn into a tonic and lime.”
He then tells the bartender that he’d like to pay for the tonics and lime, saying “I don’t know how many I’ve had” in a manner that suggests he’s somehow become drunk on them – this combination of water and fruit.

Despite setting an entire scene in a strip club, the only (half) nude shot in the whole film is preceded by one character telling another “Holy fuck, look at those tits.” It feels like they shoehorned brief nudity into a setting that would naturally be populated by naked girls. The “contains strong sex” warning on the back of the DVD cover must therefore allude to the two male characters who portray a TV actor and his oft-berated assistant. A noise complaint comes in from the neighbouring hotel room, and we see that the actor is lying on the bed, in only his underpants, with a ball-gag stuffed in his mouth. The assistant is wearing a black strap-on dildo, standing at the end of the bed and slapping him in the face with it. If this was an attempt at humour, it feels like the only deliberate attempt made. If not, then it is another trite made-to-shock sequence, with little substance.

Gabriel Byrne’s character (his credit is mysteriously missing from the ensemble list of seven names on the cover, despite being one of only two actors pictured there) is the kind of guy who ignores his own anguished child, punches the family dog after calling it to him and feeding it a treat, and later boasts of shooting it in the head. His co-conspirator calls him an animal.
“Are you done?”
“No I’m not done. I’m just getting started.”
Glad they got that hack line in too.

His wife is portrayed by an actress who doubled her screen time by inserting variations of the words “fuck” and “fucking” into her introductory scene.
“Where the fuck are you going?” she asks her ten-year-old son.
“What the fuck is that smell?” she asks her husband.
“Go, leave me alone again on another New Year’s fucking Eve,” she chastises him, before telling her son to “give your fucking father a hug.”
That’s pretty much her sole scene, though, so you can see why she made it last as long as possible.

The girl in the bar, too, doesn’t crop up again anywhere else. It becomes apparent that her estranged husband, the cop, is the guy who winds up investigating the crime. That sounds fine, and Tarantino would have worked it in beautifully if he’d only been involved. Instead, we have two characters who exist entirely seperately and are linked only by that expositional piece of dialogue.

There’s an old man wandering the hotel, contemplating various methods of suicide. He never comes into contact with the main characters, making his presence pointless. If you want to see a number of humorous scenes depicting someone trying several elaborate methods of suicide, go and watch the French-language film Delicatessen. If this guy’s plight is supposed to add weight or poignancy, then it fails completely, because it’s never made clear who he is or why he’s doing this and so you never feel for him.

The hotel is so deserted that the robbers can spend three hours wandering the corridors with guns, drilling the locks out all of the safety deposit boxes behind the front desk, taking hostages on numerous floors, and never get seen or interrupted once. There is initial tension when a phone rings, but this is instantly dissipated when one answers it and pretends to be the reception clerk. That was easy. Some passing cops come to the door, and decide that nothing untoward is happening – that old chestnut. When one of the robbers later gets shot in the shoulder (where else?), he is fine because it’s “only a flesh wound.”

Overall, the film feels like a mish-mash of styles, with some sequences slowed down and some edited like a music video. In the walking-through-the-club-to-pulsating-music-on-the-soundtrack scene, the cuts and delays aren’t even in time with the beat.

In summary, we have a film populated with characters about whom we don’t care; they are staging a heist which goes remarkably smoothly considering all the potential hiccups they encounter; it feels like they left in all the scenes that would ordinarily be deleted in order to move the story forward or because they are irrelevant; equally, it feels that if they HAD deleted such scenes the film would last ten minutes. The acting is universally atrocious, save for Robert Miano’s robber and Val Kilmer’s cameo (both scenes), the plot is as minimal as much of the logic demonstrated throughout, and, having spent 104 minutes watching it followed by time writing this, I’m now going to take my own advice and quit while I’m behind.

In short, if you want to see a film about a seemingly-simple robbery which then goes wrong, with unforgettable characters and situations, with snappy and memorable dialogue, with a fitting and realistic denouement, and which you will happily watch several times over – then invest in Dog Day Afternoon instead.

As for 2:22 – if you see the DVD in the pound shop, leave it there.



I Fail At Being A “Foodie”.

I’m not much given to dining out, my budget is limited and I’m still of an age where a social evening with friends is more likely to involve a pub, comedy night, cinema trip, or DVD night. My social group are not naturally given to going out for dinner, darling.

Birthdays and celebratory occasions are the exception, and then almost always exclusively limited to family. As time goes on, there are even less of us involved. Tonight, we went out to a local restaurant called Persia.

I remember when the place was an Indian takeaway, round the corner from a flat I later lived in, and outside which I saw my first (and so far only, touch wood) knife fight. I’d left the Oran Mor, heading for crap food on the way to the bus, when there was a ruckus. High stools were wielded, freshly-bought kebabs were thrown in defence, and after it died down someone reappeared from a side street brandishing a kitchen knife. He was standing on the boot of a parked car, holding it aloft like some deranged Glaswegian Lion-O, when I last looked – I decided I wasn’t that hungry, returned to the pub, and proceeded to drink for the next seven hours before catching the 6am bus instead. I love this city, but people get a bit mental when they’re buying food after a night’s drinking. Something about fried food brings out the worst in us, in every capacity.

Being unfamiliar with Persian cuisine, I looked the menu up online during the day. There were two reviews prominently featured on their page, and both recommended the same chicken stew dish. Faced with the menu, and deciding to try it for myself despite my hankering for the more predictable chicken shish kebab, it was disappointing. Not that it wasn’t nice, it was alright. Nothing more though, just alright. Maybe I’m a heathen, but I can’t get excited about chicken in a sauce served with rice – it was a staple of the family dinners we ate (or suffered) growing up, and the meal I had tonight didn’t taste any better or worse than Marks and Spencers are capable of. No disrespect intended, like everything else food is very subjective.

Nice place, good service, the starters were nice, and the mains looked pretty good. I think I just chose badly, and it’s the first and last time I order something based on a review. Chicken in a sauce with rice. Really, if that’s what excites you maybe you should get out more.