Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

DVD

A Spoiler I Never Saw Coming.

** This post contains spoilers to films that are a decade old, or more. **

I had no interest in watching the film Saw, released in 2004 and easily ignored in the years since. I am no fan of horror films, finding them to be tedious viewing. With ridiculous premises, nonsensical plots, awful dialogue, and an obnoxious amount of screaming, shouting, and shrieking, I am content to watch almost anything else instead. Despite the work it provides to the many talented prosthetics and special effects crews out there, I am especially keen to avoid the whole gore/torture genre that has arisen.

I do watch the occasional horror, hoping it will not bore me for its duration. Largely, the ones I enjoy are tongue-in-cheek and full of dark humour. An early job after I graduated saw me working on a then-innovative feature, its villains the undead German soldiers of World War Two. A short while later, I was loading-in gear for my favourite band, ahead of their concert that night. Having worked for and with them a few times, their singer enquired as to what I had been up to since he had last seen me at their previous gig. I happily told him:

“I’ve been working on a film about Nazi Zombies. What could be cooler than Nazi Zombies?!”

He looked at me and, deapan, asked “Have you ever seen the film Zombie Strippers?”

zombie_strippers02Above: Silly fun, as you would expect from the title.

I like Outpost, the former of those two, because so much of the menace is hidden in the darkness. It comes across more atmospheric thriller than gory horror, the threat as much in the mind of the audience as visible on screen. Zombie Strippers, the plot blatant from its title, is enjoyably stupid, very entertaining and contains some pointed satire. Robert Englund, the instantly recognisable anti-hero in a series of iconic films I have never watched, comes across brilliantly as the sleazy manager looking out for himself. As he reveals an arsenal of guns and displays his National Rifle Association membership card, he defiantly defends his incompetence with the weapons: “Hey, the law says I can own them, not that I have to know how to use them.

A good friend of mine loves horrors, and lives close enough that we have had a fair few film nights together. I introduced her to things I love and which I figured she might like, like Clue and Das Experiment, and in return she showed me the new Evil Dead and the second Human Centipede. I had not seen the original, as you will no doubt have guessed, but found the sequel comparatively watchable. Centred around a man so obsessed with the original film that he attempts to recreate it, there was a certain logic to it, at least. I find that lacking in a lot of horror, which contributes to my disinterest in it.

spoiler_alert

It is this same friend who adores Saw, and who finally convinced me to watch it with her. I held off for years because of the “torture-porn” tag that the franchise gained, picking up somewhere along the route that a character cuts off his own foot. I had no desire to witness that, staged as I knew it to be. However, I was eventually swayed by her enthusiasm and by my discovery that it stars Cary Elwes. He will always be, to my mind, the Lincoln green-clad hero who proclaimed “unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” When I first rented the VHS of Robin Hood: Men In Tights I watched it thirteen times in two days, and many more times after that. I can still quote vast amounts of it, a seminal movie in the development of my sense of humour.

My friend and I sat down together to watch Saw, ten years after its cinematic release and after a full year of her regularly telling me to check it out. The opening scene shows two men chained separately in a large industrial bathroom. A corpse lies on the floor between them. My friend helpfully explained “You think he’s dead, but he’s not. At the end he gets up and you find out he did it all.”

“Are you joking?”

“No. Sorry.”

It took me so long to be coaxed into watching it, and within a minute of it starting she had announced the ending. I was completely nonplussed, a feeling compounded by the recollection of our shared viewing of The Sixth Sense. That is a film with an infamous twist, and I had kept my mouth shut throughout – even when she asked me directly.

“Is he dead?”

“We’ll find out.”

“Oh my god, he was dead the whole time,” she exclaimed at the appropriate juncture.

“I know.”

She punched my arm, momentarily annoyed. “No! You were surprised too!”

In that instance I was not surprised, given that it was my DVD of it that we watched and given how parodied it has been in the intervening years. I will admit to being surprised at the spoiler she casually let slip during Saw though, inasmuch as it was entirely unexpected and I had no idea what to do with that information. I did not foresee that she would instantly ruin the very film she was desperate for me to watch.

Nevertheless, I will have my revenge. She loves Star Wars, but one day I will make her watch Psycho. Or The Usual Suspects. Or Planet Of The Apes. Or The Crying Game. Or Soylent Green. Or – well, you see what I am implying.

bible spoiler

 

 

 

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Dubious Claims To Fame – 22

I logged in to my Twitter account the other day, prior to setting up a dedicated account for this blog in order to try and reach a wider readership. So far, the blog page is being followed by ten people, and is not yet what you might call a roaring success. If you are on Twitter, you can help me change that if you are so inclined. Please be inclined.

I always have a quick look at my Timeline, to see what people I follow are posting, before switching to the “Interactions” page so as to avoid being swamped by a million new-tweet notifications. This has changed now that I have begun using Tweetdeck to manage my personal account, this blog’s account, and the account for my “Adventures In The World Of Stand-Up Comedy” blog. However, that was my routine on the day in question.

The top of my Timeline was filled with retweets from comedian Sarah Millican, and from them it was fairly evident that she had posted about swallowing her chewing gum. Most of the “funny” answers had already been given and, as I have an aversion to being in any way “hack” with my jokes, I was prepared to skip straight to the page telling me how little I had been socially interacted with since last signing in. That was when I noticed the tweet I was drawn to reply to.

tweet dr fox tweet

Neil “Doctor” Fox was a fixture of my childhood, his nationally-syndicated weekend chart show playing in the car on our way to or from various shopping malls, supermarkets, and trips to see one or other of my grandparents. More than anything, I remember the constant jingle that cut the word “Fox” onto a truncated sample of Robert Palmer singing “Doctor, Doctor,” from his song about having a “Bad Case Of Loving You.”

I tried to find a clip of that particular jingle, with no luck, but I did find this track by Kunt And The Gang. They appear to be offering sexual favours in return for a high chart position.

 

I have loved Chris Morris ever since I first stumbled upon an episode of The Day Today on BBC 2 one night, and mistook it for a factual programme for about thirty seconds. Its subversive genius soon became apparent, and it has subsequently made televised news impossible to watch. I was fortunate enough to then see the original broadcasts of his equally brilliant Brass Eye and the darkly twisted sketch show Jam. I have watched all of them innumerable times since, able to quote large amounts of all of them and awed by the beauty of his turns of phrase. “Proof if proof be need be”; “Quadrospazzed on a Life-Glug” ; “Cake is a made-up drug … A big, yellow death-bullet in the head of some poor user, or ‘custard gannet,’ as the dealers call them.”

“When dancing, lost in techno trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez. Then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly dawns… you’re jazzing to the bleak tone of a life support machine, that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue-flash road-mash; stretchers, covered heads, and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping soon you too will be freezer-drawered. Then welcome… mmm… ooh, chemotherapy wig, welcome. In Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jaaaaam.” – Intro to Episode 1

Brass Eye’s most infamous episode was the one-off special, Paedogeddon. From Wikipedia:

“To illustrate the media’s knee-jerk reaction to the subject, various celebrities were duped into presenting fatuous and often ridiculous pieces to camera in the name of a campaign against paedophiles. Gary Lineker and Phil Collins endorsed a spoof charity, Nonce Sense, (pronounced “nonsense”—”nonce” being British slang for people convicted or suspected of molestation or sexual crimes), Collins saying, “I’m talking Nonce Sense!” Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester and ITN reporter Nicholas Owen were shown explaining the details of HOECS (pronounced “hoax”) computer games, which on-line paedophiles were using to abuse children via the internet. Capital Radio DJ Neil “Doctor” Fox told viewers that “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me”, adding “Now that is scientific fact — there’s no real evidence for it — but it is scientific fact”.”

That last quote, from “Doctor” Fox, is one of many that I can easily recite verbatim. Here he was on Twitter, espousing an obviously nonsensical “fact” in reply to Sarah Millican’s tweet, and I replied without a second’s hesitation – quoting his own assertion about facts and evidence.

 

I did not expect a reply – I figured it would be an episode of his life that he would be embarrassed to be reminded of, since various celebrity interviewees later denounced the show while publicly expressing their anger at being duped. I did not anticipate a reply from Sarah Millican either, as she has previously ignored me. Kind of. We have a mutual friend, a professional comedian who once publicly posted the link to my film “Jerry Generic” – which is a short satire of stand-up and of hack jokes and topics. Ms. Millican “replied” to it, but only insofar as to send an unrelated tweet to the friend off the back of it. I saw it as I was named in the original tweet, but the reply was not directed at, and did not concern, me. I presumed that it was easier to tack a new message onto that one rather than hit the “compose” button, and took that communication to be an act of convenience rather than a personal slight.

It came as some surprise, then, to find a reply from Foxy a few days later. He had taken my tweet in his stride, seeming to praise me for making the reference, and candidly referring to the occasional repercussions of his appearance on that show. I accepted that at face value and decided not to reply further – instead resorting to just retweeting it for others to read.

tweet dr fox full


It’s All Fun And Games Until You Realise You’re Being A Dick About Music.

When I was eighteen, I knew everything. I knew that I was smart, I knew that I was funny, and I knew that the music I listened to was the only music worth listening to. I especially subscribed to the mantra “if it’s not metal, it’s not music.”

This elitist belief denied me some of the finest music ever made, and although my taste widened enough to incorporate a vast amount of classic rock and even some indie, as well as the punk I had discovered at the age of 16, I deliberately denied myself the pleasure of anything vaguely termed “dance music.”

It was not always this way, but my earliest album purchases – Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast and The Shamen’s Boss Drum – had seen me pursue the former as my way of (teen) life. I spent entire student loans on Maiden memorabilia, which is still in my possession (and soon up for sale.) I still love the latter album, but for years I stubbornly refused to acknowledge the artistry or musicianship involved in any of the music that got repeat radio airplay. There were songs that came out that I liked – Born Slippy by Underworld; Hey Boy, Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers; Around The World by Daft Punk – but in an age when music had to be bought to obtain it (or taped off the radio) I didn’t engage with these iconic songs enough to purchase them.

 

It all changed when I was nineteen, and it all changed because of a girl. I think the age had less to do with it.

It was a chance meeting: I had gone to a gig with a friend to see some band he was into, their name being the only thing I now recall about them. Afterwards, he was refused entry to the club night due to a lack of ID. He went home, and I went in to see a casual friend I’d seen at the gig and recognised from school. She introduced me to the group she was with, and one girl in particular caught my immediate attention. This was in April 2001.

On the back of this turn of events, I found myself with a new social life, going to The Cathouse every Friday night to hear the same music played upstairs that now, in April 2013, they still play downstairs every Saturday night. The girl I liked, she despised Iron Maiden, and her own all-time favourite band was Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode. “Haha, Depressed Mode!” I said, full of the ineptitude and cockiness that had helped render me entirely single for the duration of my life up to that point. This wordplay combined two of my favourite things – being a play on words and also a pop culture reference (it’s the name of a remix on Type O Negative’s Least Worst Of album) – or three of my favourite things if you include my longstanding habit of making quick-witted remarks at every available opportunity. Well, almost every opportunity – I’ve spent years learning that sometimes it is better to remain silent, for various reasons. Learning to enjoy the silence.

This conversation may have been the moment that changed my life.

I didn’t particularly want to belittle someone for their taste in music, finally maturing a bit as I then was, and I certainly didn’t want to do so ignorantly. Not to a girl I liked, anyway. I decided, perhaps for the first time, to check the band out before dismissing them out of hand. That way, I would have an informed opinion, grounds on which to judge them. If that sounds like a mixture of arrogance and common sense, then that is probably what it was.

It was the time of Napster and AudioGalaxy, of 56k dial-up modems that screeched intolerably as they downloaded one MP3 file every fifteen or twenty minutes. Depeche Mode had just released an album – Exciter – and I picked a track from it at random, probably based on the size of the file or the anticipated download time. I forget which track, although I think it was “Shine”, but down it came and I played it. To my surprise, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I downloaded the entire album, and burned it to CD using then-emerging technology. Given how commonplace downloading has become, the speeds now involved, and the gradual eradication of physical media formats, it is crazy to realise that a mere 12 years ago we still believed our VHS tapes were collectors items, while DVDs were some exotic and expensive novelty.

 

I enjoyed the “Exciter” album, and I went out and bought, on CD, in shops, the compilation albums “Singles 81>85” and “Singles 86>98”. The latter opened with Stripped, and I knew there was no chance that it could possibly be as good as one of my then-favourite tracks: Charlie Clouser’s remix of the Rammstein cover version. Again, I found myself proved wrong. Stripped, in its original form, is such a beautiful and subversive song. It far surpasses the excellent cover.

My eyes were opened, as was my mind, and I fell in love with DM and their melodic, entrancing music. I loved their experimentation with musical styles and with samples. I loved their music, I loved their lyrics, and I loved how dark and subversive they were. This is how it began. I started buying up their back catalogue on CD, including the occasional maxi-single when it appeared in the local second-hand record stores, and I picked up most of their early video releases in the same way. Again, those VHS tapes were collectors items at the time, yet they are now obsolete and (I suspect) largely worthless. I had been wrong.

I downloaded one of their tracks, so as to have a basis from which to decry them. And then I downloaded the rest of that album. Then I bought their two “best of” albums. Over the years that followed I bought the entirety of their back catalogue, various tribute albums, half a dozen second-hand videos, three or four DVDs, a paperback band biography, five t-shirts, a hooded top, some posters, most of singer Dave Gahan’s solo output, and tickets to see them on four occasions on three tours in two countries.

I think there was a valuable lesson in there, about prejudice, about arrogance, and about not being a dick. It has certainly led me to be a lot more open-minded, and was the first step in the considerable broadening of my musical taste. Not least because I barely listen to Iron Maiden (or even metal) these days, and now own a huge number of albums by The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Daft Punk. Underworld are one of my top five favourite live acts too.

As for this girl, who was the unwitting catalyst for this voyage of discovery? We dated for a few months, we stopped, we remained the closest of friends. She was there at the very start of my twenties, and she was still there at the start of my thirties. I trust and respect nobody on this planet more, and have mentioned before how her influence, inspiration, and significance in my life is second to none. This morning, I phoned the ticketline the minute it opened and bought our tickets to see Depeche Mode play live at the end of the year. It will be only their second Glasgow show in about twenty years. We were at the last one too, and I bought the officially-released live CD recorded on the night.

 

“You don’t have to come with me,” she said when I asked if she wanted me to get tickets, the nature of our friendship having changed although the fierce loyalty remains. “I’m happy to just go alone.”

I cannot imagine seeing them without her beside me. We made a pact shortly after we met in 2001, having just missed the Exciter Tour, that we would definitely travel to see them on the next tour. True to that, we went to Manchester and London in 2006 (when again there was no Scottish show), and saw them in Glasgow in 2009. I have every intention that we will see them together in 2013.

Now I am 31 and I am fully aware that I definitely do not know everything. What I do know, though, is that I was exceptionally fortunate to meet her.

 

 


The Naked Truth

I just watched the film “Amelie” again. It seems to have acquired something of a cult status, one of those few foreign-language films that gained a massive following without succumbing to the often-inevitable and usually awful Hollywood remake. I saw it in the cinema when it was released – if memory serves, I actually saw one of the early previews as a friend’s friend had managed to get free tickets via the local newspaper. This is just an aside.

There are a couple of instances of brief nudity in the film, and it reminded me of something I’ve observed in the making of film and theatre. It has been discussed a few times through the years with various colleagues, who have also picked up on the anomaly, because people who bare themselves to the world – on film or on stage – are afforded the utmost privacy when doing so.

By this I mean, if an actor or actress is required to be naked on a set or in a rehearsal, very often the room will be closed off. Only essential cast and crew are permitted access, presumably (and understandably) so that the person in question feels as comfortable as possible. I would imagine it is difficult enough to remove all your clothes, possibly engage in simulated sex, or deliver scripted lines, while under intense scrutiny – without the further indignity of feeling that every passing Joe has stopped by to ogle you in the process.

Nevertheless, when you think about it, it is a wee bit absurd. To be that insistent on privacy so that virtually nobody sees you nude while you prepare to be and are filmed, yet when the movie is released or the play staged everybody can see you nude.

 

 


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.