Monday, 31 December 2012

Another year over

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or in real life will know, I celebrate New Year. This year I had some very enjoyable festivities with some people, involving a certain well known drinking game.

For those of you who don't know, Ring of Fire is a drinking game, named after a Jonnie Cash song made famous by Ben. The rules are simple: every card in the ring carries a rule. As in a standard deck there are thirteen cards in a suit. One rule for each card. For anyone who can instantly remember 13 rules it's simple. For everyone else it's like having to play Star Wars Risk without being able to refer to the manual. There are more restrictions than the Labour government imposed on civil liberties. It makes drinking into work.

Basically, making numerous rules that no-one can keep track of to force alcohol on those who don't want it and deprive alcohol from those who do is good for no-one. People even had to read instructions on their phones every time a card was drawn, much to the emboringment of proceedings.Of course, I may just be bitter because I kept getting the "make a new rule" card and couldn't think of anything, making me the boring twat of the group but mleh!

This was swiftly followed by a game of "never have I ever..." in which the player names something they have never done and anyone who has done that thing has to drink. As someone who has never done anything of any interest, I drank very little. The irony of all this is that had I been simply drinking of my own accord I would have emerged significantly more inebriated at the other end than I did in this case.

All being said, I had a good night. Being out of the house was an improvement on my expectations.

After a while we went to a club which wasn't too packed or expensive. There I met a guy I had a dance off with during my last night out before I returned to uni in second year, a year and a half ago. We recognized one another and paid tribute to each others' dance moves. Much to my shame, he revealed he is in his thirties, at least a decade my senior. Any of you who knows anything about the way I dance or the state of my physical fitness will understand that there's no way I'll be winning dance offs in ten year's time. Any way, the chat was amicable, considering our past death match (of dancing).

Now on to music. I don't believe any kind of music is demonstrably better than any other in any relevant sense. Even in film I think it will probably be agreed upon in most societies in most times that, say, Anthony Hopkins, is a better actor than Megan Fox, but I think music is entirely contingent on society and circumstances. Popular music is only so because of the context in which it is born. This being so, the pop song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana makes my laugh, as so often its fans act as if they subscribe to some kind of alternative or act as if it is in some way better than mainstream music. When it came on this evening I realized it's just a single repetitive hook. Bo bo bo boooo ba ba ba baaaa bo bo bo boooo ba ba ba baaa. This is the same as any pop song by Rihanna or One fucking Direction. People can like whatever music they like as far as I'm concerned, but when people like music full of repetitive hooks then condemn other pop music for that same reason they need to shut their faces. I just hate people who pretend to be alternative. At lease other pop singers can hold a note rather than just shout *cough* Kurt Cobain *cough* Rant over.

2012 was a year that was built up to for a long time. "The Olympics" they cried, since 2005. "The Apocalypse" they cried, "The Jubilee" they cried. 2012! The year that was hailed from afar! But when it came it was pretty much the same as any other year. Except for the fucking Olympics and Jubilee. There was a bit of a recession, but not enough of a recession to be interesting.

But for me it was a good year, one of the best in fact, and will be remembered fondly. Any way, these are my reflections at this moment in time, sorry it's not more interesting. Headline of the Year 2012 is on its way later this week. Thank you for following me this year, my dear reader (singular). I think I will be boring you with sub-par writing for years to come.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

"So tell us, Alex, was the Hobbit the Tokien Phantom Menace?"

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or in real life will know, I love to say "I told you so". With the release of the Hobbit, I have decided that in the spirit of inferior additions to popular franchises, I will write a follow up to my popular 2011 blog post "The Hobbit: Tolkien Phantom Menance?".

Firstly, I have to say this: The Hobbit is nothing like The Phantom Menace. Beautifully rendered, well acted, solidly entertaining and consistently enjoyable, The Hobbit is a good, well made film. Yet it suffers from a couple of the same problems. 

I don't want to blow my own trumpet (if I could I'd never leave the house), but everything I predicted about The Hobbit has come true.

Upon writing, on April 4th 2011, I bemoaned the decision to slice the Hobbit in two. That sounds like what would happen if there was a Lord of the Rings/Saw crossover, but that may have actually been less horrific than this decision. What I didn't know at the time is that Jackson and team would be sharpening their swords once again to chop it into three. This remains the biggest problem with An Unexpected Journey in that there's just not enough going on.

The fact that the Hobbit was never going to reach the heights of Lord of the Rings was true from the start, and is down to the source material. The lighter tone (perfectly captured, I might add) detracts from its epicness, but this is necessary. Basically, they should have made the films the other way round to avoid anticlimax. As I said previously "How is seeing Sir Ian take Tim from The Office to steal some treasure going to compare with the epic battle with the Balrog, or the painstaking crawl up the slopes of Mount Doom?" If you want to add grandeur to a story, hiring that bloke who played various nondescript, interchangeable characters in various things is probably a mistake. Also, having a Goblin King that resembles Boss Nass? You would have thought Star Wars Episode 1 imagery would be avoided at all costs.

The modest source material is comparable to Star Wars prequels being tied down by their explanatory duties, but contrary to Star Wars, the Hobbit turns its prequel nature to its advantage to explain aspects of the Lord of the Rings in a way that wasn't done in the book due to it being written first. Also, the fact that the book was written first means it's a good story in its own right, rather than just a path to what follows.

I also complained about the number of Lord of the Rings actors who were signed on for the Hobbit, whose characters don't appear in the book. I stand by this, and since writing my original blog more were announced such as Christopher Lee and Orlando Bloom. The things in part one that were additional to the book were brief and felt peripheral to the main story, but I still believe they might pay off more substantially in part two and three. But as a standalone film, the scenes in part one with Galadriel, Radagast and Saruman felt irrelevant and didn't go anywhere. (Although as a huge fan I still enjoyed seeing these event put to screen)

So while there are some points on which the Hobbit was like the Phantom Menace, to brand it a failure in the same way is innaccurate and unfair. Its lighter tone is to be expected, and its only real failing is the fact that not enough happens due to being split in three to make more money, slightly akin to the Phantom Menace.

The final point on which I was right was that the Dark Knight Rises would be awesome. I told you so.

Thanks for listening to how right I was. For more accurate future predictions keep reading my blog.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Equality in succession

No sooner had the dust settled on Kate Middleton's uterus than it was announced that the long-awaited change to royal succession laws has been approved by all 16 “realms of the commonwealth.”

This long awaited change marked a crucial step in the liberalisation of the UK, as the position of head of state is no longer granted to the oldest male child of the current monarch, with no election or debate, to rule over us until death. Now, the monarchy is granted to the oldest child regardless of sex...with no election or debate, to rule over us until death.

It's claimed the bill “ends the discrimination of women in royal succession”, but this isn't strictly accurate. 99.9percent of women in the UK are still discriminated when it comes to the monarchy, so are 99.9percent of men. The long process of changing the rules of succession was embarked upon for the benefit of no living person. In nine months we will see whether or not it will become relevant after the death of William, but there's a 50percent chance it won't.

With the royal pregnancy marking the inevitable next step in the world's most upmarket soap opera, it almost feels like these archaic sponges are spawning offspring for the purpose of pissing off republicans, and keeping their personal lives in the media for a few minutes longer. Soon there will be the messy divorce, and the inevitable appearance on I'm a Celebrity... I'm dreading the live birth, with military parade and tedious Huw Edwards commentary.

If you're going to defend an institution like the monarchy, it's probably because of tradition. If you're going to tinker with it and change the rules, you're acknowledging that we can alter the way we choose our head of state to suit our times. With this in mind, it seems like now is the time to put an end to the monarchy. People argue it creates unity and patriotism, but perhaps people would feel greater allegiance to their country if it recognised their eligibility to be head of state. This change makes no difference to anyone who is currently alive. If the government cares about equal opportunities, it should abolish the monarchy so anyone has the chance to be head of state, regardless of gender, race, social class, religion, sexual orientation or political views, so we can proudly say we have more chance of being king or queen than a foetus.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

King of Popcorn

Early this year, for better or worse, the noble people of Bradford West elected one of the UK's biggest political characters back to Parliament. Like him or loathe him, George Galloway is without a doubt a strong voice for the causes he represents, so the film industry should now be quaking in its money that Galloway has set his sights on them and their overpriced snacks

Apparently one of the most pressing concerns to Galloway's constituents is not...ok, I admit I was going to find some more important local Bradford news stories at this point, but after a trawl through Bradford's local newspaper, I see that the price of cinema snacks may actually be quite high up their agenda.

In this interview with the Daily Politics, which Dead Ringers once described as "CBeebies for pensioners", Galloway explains why he's table an Early Day Motion against cinema confectionary prices. The precise wording of the motion is as follows

"That this House deplores the profiteering by cinema chains in the provision of catering to their customers where the prices of sweets, drinks and ice creams in the foyers are many times those on the high street; notes that this particularly affects families with young children at whom much of the merchandising is aimed; calls on cinemas to stop exploiting their customers by insisting that the stalls and franchises inside their buildings reduce their prices to a level commensurate with local shops and restaurants; and congratulates the cinema goers who are campaigning for fair prices."

Not only is Gorgeous George, and by gorgeous I mean borderline insane, making a complete fool out of himself by using parliamentary time on something so petty, he's also demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the subject in hand.

His appearance on the Daily Politics begins with him being asked why he is suddenly interested in popcorn and he replies "I had to buy it". That's a lie, isn't it George? You didn't have to buy it. I go to the cinema on a regular basis and I never buy popcorn. If you were at a cinema with an enforced popcorn buying policy, you should take your business elsewhere. That's the beauty of competition.

He blames having to buy popcorn on his kids. "You can't drag your kids, saying 'I want popcorn, I want have to buy it". Again, not true. What you're essentially admitting is that you're tabling an Early Day Motion attacking cinemas because of your own parental failings. Telling your children they can't have everything they want is a crucial part of being a parent. Sure, they might cry this time, but next time they will know that when you say they can't have something you mean it and that they can't have everything they want all the time. Otherwise you'll have greedy, materialistic, spoilt children, which will probably mean you have to disown them George.

The problem is that if Galloway had researched this for, I don't know, eight seconds, he would know that cinemas hardly make any money off ticket sales. Hollywood charge up to 90% of the ticket price for distribution. Either Galloway expects them to run at a loss, or they have to make their money back elsewhere, i.e. on snacks and drinks which people purchase voluntarily. His suggestion that people sell popcorn out side the cinema for customers to take inside shows his complete lack of knowledge on the subject. If this happened, cinema ticket prices would shoot up, making the cinema less accessible for everyone.

The way I see cinema snacks is a bit like lottery tickets. When something's funded by the lottery it's great because it probably means money is going somewhere it wouldn't if left to the market, but it's also money people have given voluntarily. If people want to spend large amounts on cinema snacks and subsidize my cinema ticket as a result, great! It's a system that works for everyone.

Part of Galloway's problem may be that he thinks "they throw you out if you bring your own [food]". Not at any cinema I've ever been to. Some of them have policies against your own food, but they never enforce it. You know why? Because people will take their business elsewhere. Probably when Galloway tried to take his own food in he did it while shouting about food prices and claiming to be fighting against the fascistic confectionery purveyors. Plus they were probably looking for any excuse to get rid of him. "George Galloway's here? Shit. How do we get rid of him? Is he carrying drugs? Does he have recording equipment? Shit! I know, get him for the bourbons!" 

What I do when i go to the cinema is put my previously bought food in a non see through bag. Clever, right? Once you're in the cinema it's too dark for the gestapo to see what you're eating when they do their mid-film inspeation.  Galloway appears to think they search you on the way in like that annoying Orange ad. Just replace "phone" with "food" and you get the picture.

I don't like the price of cinema snacks, but there's a reason for it, and if George Galloway was actually serious about doing something about it he would be fighting the distribution costs of Hollywood studios, not the price of snacks. He needs to do some research, not table EDMs to make up for his parental failings.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Yet another thing on religion.

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or in real life will know, I'll do quite a lot in the name of politeness. If I go into a food shop and they don't have what I want, I'll still buy something to be polite. I don't like using toilets in restaurants or pubs where I haven't bought anything. Except Little Chefs. I don't think anyone expects you to eat that stuff. But even I won't renegotiate my metaphysical or theological beliefs in the name of politeness.

It's a strange thing, to try and change someone's religious beliefs in the street. I wonder how many people it actually works on.

I know that for most British people religion isn't a big deal. They don't think about it. If pushed they'll tick Christian, because, you know, they have a Christmas tree and sort of think there might be something there. But are these people going to be persuaded to join a religion by a leaflet and a slightly disgruntled stranger who looks like they gave up washing for lent in 1983 and haven't got back in the habit?

I make these generalizations based on the religious groups I frequently see on the streets of Sheffield. On a normal Saturday there will be a Muslim group and a couple of Christian ones. A regular Christian group included a collection of angry hard line nutcases with a "We must all come before the throne of judgement" sign who believe "drunkeness" is a hell-worthy sin that no amount of good deeds can make up for. So I could discover a cure for AIDS, but go to hell for my celebratory magnum of champagne. Although I admit this is unlikely to happen. I'm not even looking for a cure for AIDS.

I also wonder what benefit it is to a religion to sign up people who are swayed so easily, by a couple of people shouting at them in the street. Sure, you've got them on your mailing list and they might come along to a free coffee morning, but as soon as the Mormons come knocking they'll up sticks to Utah, and coffee will be a thing of the past. And I hear the Mormons don't let their prey go so easily so they won't be coming back any time soon.

This doesn't really have a point to it. I guess I just don't think trying to nag people to join your religion in the street is a good use of time. There's not really much chance of changing anyone's mind now is there? So why do it when you could be doing something more worthwhile, like good deeds, masturbation or collecting stamps?

The reason is simple. People like to say "I told you so". As those of you who follow me on Twitter or in real life will know, I like a good "I told you so". So much I actually keep a recording of everything I say so I can reference it back at a later date. But I have no intention of doing it on Judgement Day.

The religious who clog up the already busy streets with their meager attempts at conversion do it because they think that when we all die and are faced with their deity, and he sends everyone except them to an eternity of torment they can say "ha! Told you so!". Which is the worst thing about being an atheist. You never get to say "I told you so". Your only reward is not wasting half of the only life you have on worshiping iron age imaginary characters.

But even if these people's religions are true, you would have thought saying "I told you so" would be unnecessarily adding insult to injury. When I've been told I'm about to be tortured for ever, someone saying "well, we did warn you" is just gonna piss me off. And if this isn't their intention, they should make a decent effort to convert people rather than their half arsed, angry, misspelled leaflets. You should put your whole arse in. I'm sure that's in Leviticus somewhere.

For now I'll put my faith in the idea that if there's such a thing as a god who in whose company I'd like to spend eternity, he wouldn't send messengers who look like an amoeba's embarrassing cousin with a message as incoherent as the Star Wars prequels in Welsh.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Prometheus and the Vatican

Ridley Scott's mediocre return to sci-fi, this year's long-awated definitely not an Alien prequel but actually an Alien prequel Prometheus was not a particularly good film.
While Alien mixed brilliant sci-fi themes and ideas with pure horror, and Aliens blended the genre with first rate action, Prometheus was happy to settle for some second-rate pseudo philosophical navel gazing set in space. Its skepticism of science and support of "faith" through its religious protagonist should be the perfect message for the religious right, but it turns out even the Catholic Church weren't happy with it.
The Vatican's newspaper, "L'Osservatore Romano", declared that the film "'mishandles the delicate questions raised by… the battle eternal between good and evil in yet another attempt to steak the secret of immortality'. Finally I've found something on which I agree with the Vatican. Of course, they then add a paganesque warning that it's a "bad idea to defy the gods" at which point we're reminded how backward and crazy they are.
Unfortunately for Scott even the people he was trying to appease with his film aren't impressed. Maybe by the inevitable Prometheus 2 he will realize that vilifying scientists and making a sci-fi film with a knee-jerk conservative ethos isn't the way into nerds' hearts.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Carnage, the company responsible for a variety of infamous student party events has caused controversy in Sheffield- home of the much criticized war memorial urination at one of Carnage's events- is ruffling feathers once again, this time with a "pimps and hoes" theme.

The criticism is in the form of accusations of sexism at the theme. This is probably true, much in the way any gendered theme, such as doctors and nurses, vicars and nuns etc. is sexist as it presumes gender roles assigned to certain jobs (although Carnage don't specify which side of the theme men and women are expected to follow, and I doubt they'd have a problem if men turned up as "hoes" and women as "pimps"). However, the criticism that it trivializes violence against women is unfair. If it was a beaten wife theme or some suchlike they might have a point. Violence against women is not a necessary prerequisite of prostitution, and to argue that it is could in fact be sexist in itself, as it implies that no woman who works as a prostitute does so as a result of a free choice, and only ever as a result of violence something which is simply untrue.

To mount this criticism of Carnage also seems a peculiar line of attack. "Carnage" is defined as the killing of a large number of people, yet the company use it as a positive thing, to suggest a particularly messy night out. This appears to be trivializing mass killing more than it's trivializing violence against women. Also, highlighting the disastrous consequences of a night out as something in its favour clearly suggests an irresponsible approach to drinking and could be said to encourage antisocial behaviour. While I believe in personal responsibility for actions, and wouldn't place the blame for the war memorial urination solely on Carnage, it seems that this would be a more apt line of attack.

A quick look at Carnage's website shows that it's not aiming to be classy. Endorsed by Loaded and Nuts, the website is full of pictures of various drunken behaviours and the sexualisation of young women. It makes no secret of its sleazy nature. Perhaps we should just trust people with self respect to stay away and let everyone else whore themselves out the violent pimp that is carnage.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

These aren't the toys you're looking for

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or in real life will know, I think George Lucas is a dick. Some people give him credit for making Star Wars, but once you acknowledge that the original trilogy is almost as bad as the prequels, and certainly suffers from the same flaws of bad acting, annoying comedy sidekicks, thin plots etc. you realize that Lucas is just a man who had one good idea once. Like Tim Berners-Lee.

However, one thing the prequel trilogy has in abundance that is really lacking in the original trilogy is racist aliens. During one of the long, long days I have to fill I was looking into racist aliens in Star Wars because there really isn't anything more important going on in my life. During my investigation I discovered this 1999 BBC interview with the man himself.

Lucas first defends Jar Jar Binks. Defending Jar Jar Binks is not something anyone should have to do. Not even George Lucas deserves that. If the government was defending Jar Jar Binks on Newsnight they would send a junior minister. The criticism of Jar Jar Binks that Newsnight chose to focus on was the one that points out how it's kinda racist to have an entire species of stupid, technologically backward, clowning frogmen who live under the sea, play drums and all have mock Caribbean accents. Some people would say that's very racist. Personally I thought it was great, but I am very racist.

Lucas's defence of the character goes as follows:

"Those criticisms are made by people who've obviously never met a Jamaican, because it's definitely not Jamaican and if you were to say those lines in Jamaican they wouldn't be anything like the way Jar Jar Binks says them."

Ok, so far so good. No one who has ever claimed Jar Jar Binks is racist has ever met a Jamaican person ever. Fact. George Lucas says so himself, and George Lucas is an expert. On his gap year he lived with a tribe of Jamaicans in their home under the sea. Also, it's fairly accurate to say that Jar Jar Binks doesn't speak like a Jamaican. What he does speak like is a ludicrous Jamaican stereotype that wouldn't have sounded out of place in a sitcom in the 70s.

"They're basing a whole issue of racism on an accent, an accent that they don't understand. Therefore if they don't understand it, it must be bad."

Once again, good analysis George. If you don't understand something it must be bad. Pretty accurate really. I don't understand Star Wars Episode 1. Star Wars Episode 1 is bad. Spot on.

It's also quite funny that he tries to thwart Jar Jar's critics by claiming Binks is too complicated for them. They don't understand the character. That's the problem. You need to read between the lines.

"The movies are for children but they don't want to admit that. In the first film they absolutely hated R2 and C3-PO. In the second film they didn't like Yoda and in the third one they hated the Ewoks... and now Jar Jar is getting accused of the same thing."

I'm actually with him here. R2-D2, C3-PO and Ewoks are terrible characters too. But way to imply your fanbase, which has made you a billionaire, is made up of backwards, inbred, fast-food eating lardass adult virgins who live in their mother's basement and masturbate over Lara Croft while complaining that the kids films they've devoted their pathetic existences to features a comedy sidekick. That's pretty much what he said. Maybe I'm just scared by such an accurate analysis of my personality.

"it really reflects more the racism of the people who are making the comments than it does the movie."

Star Wars Episode 1 features gungans, the comedy race of clumsy Jamaicans; Neimodians, the greedy Japanese bad guys who blockade a peaceful planet in a trade dispute; and a Toydarian, who owns slaves and is only interested in money and is basically a stereotypical Jew, right down to the little blue wings. But racism is in the eye of the beholder. It's also worth noting that Lucas did away with any new racially insensitive aliens by Star Wars Episode 2. Almost like it was deliberate....

We then discover Lucas's views on the cost of his merchandise, which was apparently set to make $1bn in 1999. George Lucas is "uneasy" about the cost of the merchandise:

"I wish there was a world where nobody had to get paid and people could just do things for free but they don't. All the tens of thousands of people that make the toys and the films, they all have to pay their bills and so they demand to be paid."

I assume he said this in the most sarcastic tone imaginable. Is he suggesting he wishes he lives in a world where the greedy peasants who make merchandise didn't "demand to be paid"? I'm fairly sure the $1bn isn't going to end up in the pockets of Chinese sweatshop workers. By the way, that's a nice BMW there, George.

If, by this point in the article, you think Lucas has taken the biscuit, in his final comment he puts it in his mouth and goes "Om nom nom nom nom!".

"Most people don't like toys and don't think children should be able to play with toys."

Yeah! Fuck you, most people! Why do you hate children?

Is he from Victorian times?

"But I'm a big fan of toys, and I think it helps kids be able to play and expand their imaginations. To contribute to that is I think a good thing."

Star Wars merchandising is basically charity work, isn't it? Lucas for a Knighthood, anyone?

"I'm not ashamed of doing anything"


Monday, 30 July 2012

The First Baptist Church is a reflection of the future of homophobia.

Another day, another church doing something jawdroppingly backward and bigoted. Today we travel to Mississippi and the First Baptist Church in Crytal Springs. The First Baptist Church has taken the unusual step of refusing to marry a couple because they are black.

This is, rightly, anger inducing, and the fact that a Church like this exists in 21st Century America, even in Mississippi, is alarming. What we should remember, however, is that the vast majority of Christian churches in the world are as bad as this one, as they refuse to marry gay couples, fight against gay marriage and systematically work to undermine homosexuality across the globe and yet are subject to less outrage than someone swearing on TV at 8.55. The Church of England's view is that gay marriage would redefine marriage in an unacceptable way and marriage should be between a man and a woman with the possibility for procreation.

The Church of England; one of the nicest, most wishy washy moderate branches of Christianity that exists; is morally equivalent, on the issue of marriage exclusion, to a racist red-neck church in Mississippi (although I hate to think what the First Baptist's views on gay marriage are). Yet it's not generally seen this way. The outrage of which the First Baptist Church will justifiably become victim has no equivalent for the rampant homophobia of the Church of England, the Catholic Church or any other major Christian church that would not only refuse to marry gays, but campaign against their right to get married anywhere.

There has yet to be a plausible case put forward for why it's better to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation than their race, but the reason why organisations like the Church of England don't receive the outrage they so clearly deserve can be put down to homophobia being one of the final acceptable grounds for discrimination amongst large portions of society, again, thanks to organisations like the Church of England and the indecision of thick-skulled weaklings like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It may take a while, but in a few decades, maybe longer, I believe we will be in a situation where churches that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation are as uncommon and newsworthy as the First Baptists are today, and religious organisations that discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation are shunned by society as if they were discriminating by race.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

100m Sprite

As anyone who has ever come within a hearing radius of me will know, I hate the Olympics. In fact, I hate the Olympics so much I've almost turned Olympic hating into a sport of its own. Not a proper sport though. Not a sport that people pay to see on a regular basis, but the kind of sport people only pay any attention to every four years when the TV is saturated with it. Like athletics.

Obviously the less public money is wasted on this awful event the better in my view, but the extent to which the London games has been whored to corporations who slap their logos on every available surface has gone beyond parody, particularly in contrast to the Beijing games. If you can say one thing for the Communists it's that they don't like advertising. Except propaganda. I digress.

You can purchase a bar of Dairy Milk declaring Cadbury to be the "official treat provider" of the games. Cadbury: the same Cadbury that was recently sold to German food giant Kraft and whose profit margins correlate with childhood obesity rates.

Does London 2012 have an official TV? Of course! Panasonic is the "audio visual partner" of the games.

Coca Cola is an official parter. A company whose ravaging of natural resources in developing countries is probably the reason they do so badly in water sports. Coca Cola are running the torch relay

Next is an "official supplier". Their website doesn't say what they're supplying, so I assume it's drugs.

Guess who the official restaurant is? MacDonalds! Personally I can't wait to see the athletes parade under the golden arches. Maybe they can get Usain Bolt to endorse Chicken McNuggets.

Now it gets funny. London 2012 has an "official oil and gas parter". Seriously. And guess who it is? BP! The ones with the massive gulf of mexico oil spill! I guess they're just in to piss off the Americans. 

The list of sponsors is a long one, with a host of increasingly inappropriate or irrelevant names vying for our attention. But perhaps this is a good representation of modern Britain. TVs, CocaCola, cars and fast food are what's important. Certainly not javelins and volley balls.

This wouldn't be so objectionable if everything wasn't emblazoned with Union Jacks. Why should I be forced into feeling "national identity" or care about the whole garish display when it's actually just a vehicle for corporate advertising? It would be easier if they flogged the entire thing off and called it "Pizza Hut 2012". It would certainly remove the politics from it. "Gay marriage and Lords reform aren't priorities", they say, as the Home Secretary is disturbed from her day to answer questions about Olympic security.

It would also help if the sponsorship wasn't so wholly inappropriate. One of the much trumpeted arguments for the Olympics was the encouragement of sport, but presumably the additional sales of MacDonalds, Cadburys, Coca Cola, cars and TVs created by these "partnerships" won't do public health any favours.

This has reached new levels of madness with the announcement that police; that is, public servants who aren't even working for corporations; have been instructed to empty snacks of non-official partners into unbranded packaging. Aside from the impracticality of this (do police have to carry an empty bag at all times in case they get peckish during the day?), it seems to run somewhat contrary to the principle at the core of capitalism: that of competition. If rival brands that have been selected by individuals; voted for with their money, if you will; are banned from a certain area, it becomes a virtual monopoly. And what about bringing money to local businesses? Luckily there was a climbdown on this particular matter, but surely the fact this was even considered by someone for long enough for it to be suggested is a sign that something's wrong.

In a similar vein, it has emerged that the crude "Wenlock" and "Mandeville" Olympic mascot toys are being made in Chinese sweatshops. I'm not precisely sure why this is a newsworthy revelation. If something is as cheap, poor quality and mass produced as I assume these toys are it's usually a fairly safe bet that they're made in sweatshop conditions. In this case, staff were being paid just £6 a day and forced to work with dangerous chemicals. This, again, shows the Olympics to be not a pageant of everything that's great about Britain and the world, but a festival of consumerism, as people buy disposable toys made by virtual slaves. As the mountain of discarded jubilee flags is joined by piles of Wenlock toys and happy meal boxes, the Olympics show themselves to be nothing more than another fleeting, disposable gimmick.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Lie: A Prayer

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Give a man religion and he will die of starvation praying for fish."

My abrupt return to unemployment has been, unsurprisingly, accompanied by an abrupt return to blogging. Today I bring you a video I found called "Why pray?". I know what you're thinking: prayer is so obviously useless that this will be an atheist video giving you all the reasons why prayer is stupid. Alas it isn't. Give it a close watch (it's only 2 minutes) as I'm going to be doing that thing where I talk through it and criticise every second in detail.

Have you ever wondered why so many people pray?

Albert Einstein said there are two ways to live. As if nothing's a miracle or as if everything's a miracle. Either life's a fluke and we're just a bunch of highly evolved animals (cartoon of smoking monkey on a rock) on a big rock lost in space, or there's a creator behind...creation. A god behind goodness.
Now, this is of course both a false dichotomy and a misuderstanding of Einstein. I also have a bit of a problem with saying that if science is true we're top hat wearing monkies on a rock with "satellites" (said sarcastically) that appear only in the video's "science" world view. Presumably the maker of this video has never used a piece of technology that uses satellites. This is contrasted with "animals" in the "god" world view (this is me being sarcastic now. If "god" created "animals" why can't I see any "animals" right now??). They also include polar bears and penguins at this point, two animals whose creation is never referenced in the Bible. Because it was written by humans in a part of the world where humans couldn't have known about animals from cold climates.

And if so then connecting with him in prayer is pretty much the most mind numbing thing you can do.
Ok, so I'm not a smoking monkey on a rock. I like animals. So there must be a god. With you so far. And connecting with him in prayer is awesome. True. Except the first premise, that there is a god, is still pretty shaky, and even if we accept that there must be one because I'm not a smoking monkey and satellites don't really exist, it's still a bit of a leap to believe we can connect with it. Although props to the makers for their honesty in showing God touching what appears to be a naked child at 0.27.

Archaeologists keep digging stuff up that shows we've always prayed.
Hmm. Thin on the detail here. Archaeologists also dig quite a lot of stuff up that shows we evolved from lower life forms. This section is helpfully accompanied by a cave painting, because if anyone's theological beliefs should be listened to it's people who had yet to discover fire. We're then treated to images of a variety of religious buildings. The polytheistic religions kind of damage your "creator", "one true god" claims, though, don't they? A better conclusion I would draw from this is that people have always made up religion.

Even atheists admit to praying sometimes.
Hmm. Accompanied by an image of a plane crashing. A religious organisation promoting the image of a crashing place? Awkward. Also, the fact that people pray when they're at their least rational, i.e. about to die, doesn't really help the argument. "Even pacifists might kill you in self defence" the mocking voice chimes "so why not just kill someone right now?"

Real prayer is a two way conversation... it? Really? Reallllllly? (Plus, another picture of God touching a child. I'm just sayin'...)

Jesus said "Ask anything in my name and it will be done".
So no-ones been praying for an end to famine, cures for diseases and all that stuff? I must say I'm judging Christians a little now. Oh, you do pray for those things? So Jesus was lying? NEXT!

We have a chance to ask for peace, healing, help or whatever we need.
Why don't you do it then?? People are dying!

Life matters, you matter, your choices, thoughts, prayers and actions echo in eternity.
Stoned much?

But in case you hadn't noticed, God is pretty much invisible and not always easy to hear.
Almost like he doesn't exist..

24/7 prayer does stuff to help thousands of people in hundreds of places...
Actually, that sounds really good. I guess if they do charity work and stuff we can excuse all the lovely, fluffly lies.

...connect with God in new ways.

People are learning to pray by just praying. Why don't you take on the challenge...of a 24/7 prayer room. Just gather your friends, find a place, pick a week, get creative in the space, and fill every hour of the week with a chain of prayer.
You're literally suggesting that people lock themselves in a room for a week and pray. Do you have any idea how crazy that is? millions are discovering God's real. Life's a miracle.
At this point we see someone literally being cured of illness. A bold claim.

And the most powerful thing you can ever do is to pray.
Short of actually doing something. Are you honestly suggesting that all those scientists looking for cures to diseases would have been better off praying? I'm fairly sure mortality rates were a lot higher a few hundred years ago when almost everyone was religious, and, I assume, prayed rather a lot. 

This video isn't saying "prayer can be nice and comforting" or "prayer can help you come to terms with your problems" it's literally saying "prayer is a two way conversation with god", "prayer can cure disease" and "prayer is the most effective way of tackling any problem". The organisation behind the video, 24/7 prayer, believes this so strongly that they're devoting time and resources to encourage people to lock themselves in a room and pray non stop for a week.

There are quite a few problems with the notion of prayer. An omniscient god knows what you want and how much you want it, rendering the act of asking him pointless. The idea that praying for a week somehow increases the likelihood of the god responding is strange at best. There's an episode of South Park, "Do the handicapped go to Hell?" where the children are worried about their friend Timmy, who is unable to go to confession (or, to transplant the example, pray) due to a disability, is going to hell according to what they have been taught at Sunday School. Does God prefer those more able to pray? 

If prayer had any effect whatsoever, on the scale it takes place its effects would clearly be visible. We would know what the true religion was, for one, as its followers were delivered from evil, were cured from disease, and were better off in every way. Religious people would presumably have longer life expectancies than atheists, and be more prosperous. In actual fact religion is often more common amongst poorer people.

Even if it had just some mild psychological consequences as a result of communication with God but general inaction on his part there would be some measurable differences between the religious and non-religious in, say, rates of depression, mental illness or suicide.

If prayer worked in any way that is implied by this video we would know about it.

It's a remarkable convenience that every test we can apply to religion, religious belief and practice always receives an answer that it can't be tested in that way, the effects of prayer aren't literal solving of problems, we need to have faith, don't tempt God and so on. Always the answers we would expect if, shock horror, there was no god and religion was made up by people looking for answers, or people looking for power.

Prayer is the most testable example of this. If it worked in any way we would know about it. It doesn't. Grow up. That's it.

As for 24/7 prayer, to dishonestly promote something demonstrably useless is one thing, but to actively encourage inaction for a week or more, with the promise of divine intervention, seems to be morally questionable at best. Of course, this will only work on people lacking certain key critical faculties or who have been severely brainwashed, but the same could be said of scams like payday loans or late night phone-in quiz shows which are routinely attacked for defrauding people. Prayer isn't a solution to your problems. It might feel better to share, but until you realise that action is the only way to affect the real world, nothing's going to change. Organisations like 24/7 prayer pretend to being doing something proactive to make themselves feel better while actually doing nothing at all. If they devoted their time and resources to something, anything, that actually helps people they might be able to justify some of their nauseating smugness.

"Two hands working are more useful than a million clasped in prayer."

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

John Terry hurts someone's feelings and ends up in court

So this is really stupid.

John Terry, who I believe is a footballer renowned for his questionable conduct, is currently on trial for being mean to another footballer. It is alleged that Terry called his fellow footballer a "black *expletive*".

It's absurd for this to be a crime. Why should the insult employed effect its legality? Who's in charge of deciding which insults should be banned? If he had hurled abuse at someone based on height, weight, intelligence, hair colour or anything else, there would have been no problem. Of course, this is still unpleasant behaviour, but does something being unpleasant now warrant a ban? For some reason if race, and to a lesser extent religion and possibly sexual orientation or disability, are involved it becomes worse in the eyes of the law. If John Terry had called Anton Ferdinand a "stupid *expletive*" this would surely have been more insulting as "stupid" is actually a word people can take offence at. But even if it's not, the idea that whichever is the more offensive should be banned is ridiculous.

People are mean to each other. It happens. But we can't possibly regulate every instance, or even a fraction of a percent of instances of this happening. If you did you'd have to arrest David Cameron and Ed Miliband every Wednesday. If I "racially abuse" a friend in a heated argument, I might be an idiot, but no more of an idiot than if I insulted her based on any other characteristic, and is a court case really going to solve anything?

In this particular case, Terry faces a fine of up to £2500. He earns sixty times that in a week. Also, it's transpired that Ferdinand wasn't even aware of what Terry had said. He didn't believe Terry had "racially abused" him until he rewatched the footage. He wasn't even offended by the actual incident. Ferdinand told the court he would have been ""very hurt" if he had heard John Terry racially abuse him." So now it's a court case based on the possibility of someone being offended, had they heard what someone else said. Is there really so much free court time that they can be used to settle disputes between footballers who have hurted each other's feelings?

I lose patience with people invoking Orwell, but when someone can be in court because someone else may have been offended if they had heard something someone may have said, we're beyond parody. And if the problem really is offence, re-watching the footage and making it famous through a high profile court case is surely going to offend more people who wouldn't have originally seen it. But all this is irrelevant, as being mean to someone because of their race shouldn't be a crime.

One of the top rated tweets on the issue was:
"John Terry who earns £150k a week could be fined up to £2,500 if found guilty of racism. Feels a bit like putting Hitler on a naughty step"
Not really. It's like someone who hasn't committed a crime being fined £2,500, not like someone who committed genocide having a slap on the wrist. What a complete failure of common sense and logic.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Pizzed Off

Written 2/7/2012
This isn’t a blog, it’s a letter of complaint. It’s not addressed to anyone because it’s addressed to the world.
Firstly, the institution of saying “have you tried x?” when it’s really fucking obvious I will have tried x. Allow me to put this in some context.
I recently moved house. Upon arriving at my new house, I was disappointed to find the keys didn’t work. I tried to open the door for roughly fifteen minutes. Keys can be tricky, and I believe the appropriate amount of time to persevere until giving up or seeking assistance is until your fingers are sore, so this is what I did. I didn’t seek help lightly, either. Unlocking a door is one of those things, that when you fail to do it after trying for ages then seek assistance, the person who assists is guaranteed to do it in one go and think you’re a fucking moron, like opening a jar or cumming. Add to this the fact that I will do almost anything to avoid making a phone call and you see that I wouldn’t have sought help unless absolutely necessary. I called the estate agent, who said “have you tried pushing the door and turning the key?”. HAVE YOU TRIED PUSHING THE DOOR AND TURNING THE KEY? “Oh my god! I tried turning the key quickly, I tried turning the key slowly, I tried pulling the door towards me and turning the key, I tried lifting the door handle, I tried pushing the door handle down, I tried turning the key back on itself, I tried putting the key in the hole, twisting it a little, pulling it back and twisting it again, but I forgot to try pushing the door! I’ll just try it and call you back if it’s still not working”. It’s the “have you tried turning it off and on again?” of the key world.

Secondly, preachy packaging. Today, as a result of having just moved, I broke my golden rule and bought a readymade pizza. The golden rule being never pay for borderline inedible shit. Aside from the fact it was like eating cardboard smeared with “topping flavour edible substance” that tasted of death, assuming death tastes of absolutely nothing, what enraged me most was that the second instruction in the “cooking guidelines”, after preheating the oven, was “remove all packaging and recycle the carton”.
For starters, who calls a pizza box a carton? No one. Not even twats. Even a twat doesn’t call a pizza box a carton. San Marco, you are worse than twats. This instruction also annoyed me because it reminds me that there are people out there stupid enough to put a pizza in an oven in a cardboard box, and that we have a legal system that allows these very very stupid people to sue companies that haven’t painstakingly explained every minute commonsense detail who then have to pay for the stupid person’s stupidity. “I’m suing San Marco cos I got hurted when I tooked the pizza out of the oven with my bare hands”. But the main thing that I object to about this instruction is “recycle the carton”. Don’t get all preachy with me. Do you recycle everything possible in the making of this pizza? Do you minimise your carbon emissions? The fact that this pizza was made in Ireland suggests you don’t, but even if San Marco make their pizzas on a fucking hippy commune out of recycled organic aubergine piss, I still don’t want to be told to recycle their fucking packaging. They’re just hoisting the moral burden on to me to make it look like they care. I say this as a committed, almost pedantic recycler. I’m not going to change my behaviour as a result of what I’m instructed to do on a pizza box. Everyone knows that you have to separate you cardboard from your other rubbish. If I’m the kind of person that doesn’t care about recycling, I sure as hell amn’t going to change my behaviour as a result of a bossy, preachy pizza box. Why should the fate of the box be decided by the “cooking guidelines”? They try to disguise it as a relevant instruction for the stupid people mentioned above, who will probably think their pizza won’t cook unless they recycle the packaging. It’s patronising and unnecessary.
Now, I’m going to go and throw this box in the rubbish. Fuck you, San Marco, fuck you.

San Marco is a trademark of Green Isle Foods Limited

Sunday, 1 July 2012

No tests please, we're British

I've made my views on nationalism clear before. It's impossible to define what constitutes a "British" person, such as by culture, religion, ethnicity and so on in a way that applies exclusively and universally to British people. It's the same with any other nationality, too. This is why the concept of changing nationality is so difficult, and we end up with the infamous and ludicrous Britishness test.

The Britishness test taken by potential Brits is widely recognised as being post ridiculous. It implies you need to have knowledge of British history, institutions and customs in order to be British, something which clearly isn't true of all native Brits. I can see the case for an English language test for citizenship as this is at least something which, if not held by everyone, is necessary in order to be a productive member of society. But above and beyond this it's difficult to say what standard should be met to gain citizenship. New citizens are currently required to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I can assure you if that were required of current citizens I would be out of the country in an instant. However, it does make a kind of sense. We have no codified constitution so don't have any universal values to swear allegiance to. The Queen represents the sovereign of this country, so an allegiance to her (and to democracy, as is also required) at least acknowledges the government of the day and some kind of recognition of British institutions. However, it's counterintuitive to some not make migrants jump through hoops to gain citizenship which is where the test comes in.

Finally Theresa May, who herself has jumped head first into British society after being left behind by the other astronauts, has decided to reform the test. She has decided to make the test "more patriotic". Now I can personally guarantee you that you don't have to be in the least bit patriotic in order to hold a British passport. You can, in fact, blog about how unpatriotic you are, publish hate-tweets about the royal wedding and jubilee or describe the London Olympics as a tedious, over-hyped garish money pit and continue to call yourself British.

Perhaps the best solution is to take a leaf out of the Judean People's Front's book. "If you wanted to be British you'd have to really want to be British" "I do." "How much?" "A lot!" "Right, you're in".

You could even have different versions to make it comprehensive:
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really hate the Germans"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to have a really irresponsible attitude to alcohol"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really enjoy talking about the weather"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really like Richard Curtis"
and so on.

The good thing is that Theresa May has gone for a slight variation on this. The bad news is I was only joking. From the 146 page "Life in the UK" handbook given to potential Brits she's removing information about how to read a gas meter, how to claim benefits and details of the Human Rights Act and replacing it with information about historical figures, knowledge of British inventions (including the structure of DNA) and an ability to recite the first verse of God Save the Queen.

Let's think about that for a second. The practical information that might actually be of benefit to people living in the UK is removed and replaced with information about historical figures. What we test people on is fairly arbitrary as, like I said, there isn't any range of questions that could be correctly answered by all British people, but if we're going to have questions, it at least makes sense to have ones which give the new citizen practical information about living in the UK. The HRA is perhaps unnecessary, but it's removal is probably more a reflection of the fact the Tory party hates it, and knowledge of DNA structure? Last time I looked DNA wasn't a British invention, and if we're going on British discoveries, why not have a test on America? An ability to recite God Save the Queen is of little practical use, as when British people are in that rare situation where singing is compulsory we scarcely move our lips while mumbling as quietly as possible so the person next to us can't here. Maybe that would be a more useful skill to teach potential Brits.

Not telling people about benefits, getting people to swear allegiance to the Queen, forcing British history on people and getting them to acknowledge Britain as a Christian country seems less like a positive reform of a shoddy system, more like an attempt by Theresa to impose her socially conservative values on people. It's once again a case of the party of small government being keen to use government to push its values on people when it feels like, which suggests small government is not an ideological part of the Tory party, but simply happens to temporarily reflect the economic interests of its voters. Shocking revelation, I know.

But what's the solution? I don't know, I'm just shouting from the sidelines. Obviously I'd prefer the abolition of the nation state to be replaced with a single global federation, but assuming that's not going to happen any time soon, I suppose there should be some kind of language test, but not much else. British "values" can't really be said to exist, and even if we could agree on some liberal democratic principles which potential Brits should share, there would be no way of knowing if people actually hold them. "Do you support liberal democracy?" "Sure, why not?" and this again has the problem of native British people who DON'T support liberal democracy. Although maybe this could be a way of getting rid of all those pesky fascists and communists. Maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all...

It has been brought to my attention that the relevant Judean people's resistance group is the People's Front of Judea, not the Judean People's Front. After misquoting Monty Python I will now be renouncing my British citizenship.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Badass

Ahead of the Expendables 2, due this August, I had a little rewatch of what is surely the most important scene in the Expendables. Here it is:

I say this is the most important scene of the film, because the Expendables is essentially a vehicle for the a-z of badasses, and this scene has the three most influential badasses in movie history all in one. Schwarzenegger only appears in this scene, and Willis in little more, but clearly Stallone slyly wanted to get them all in one together.

What's great about the Expendables (this will be short) is the comprehensive involvement of about 80% of the prominent action movie badasses from the past 30 years. Those that were missed out of 1 are in 2, Van Damme and Norris, for example, which only leaves out Dwayne Johnson, Wesley Snipes, Vin Diesel and a possible cameo from Samuel L Jackson, not really an action movie badass from the same mould, but that would be cool, wouldn't it?

I digress. While this is the most important scene of the film, and it certainly succeeds in the sense that fanboys such as myself are literally shaking with excitement at the presence of the three stars in one scene, aside from this, every single other aspect of the scene is horrendous and it's should be the second worst segment of film ever made (if it wasn't for the badasses), second only to "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" in X Men The Last Stand (note I haven't expressed any desire to see quasi-badass Vinnie Jones in an Expendables film).

Pretty much everything it's possible to get wrong in a short segment of dialogue is wrong, to such an extent that it almost overwhelms (I say almost) the power of the holy trinity of badasses.

Let's start with the dialogue itself. Part of the reason this scene seems to be such a mess is because we were expecting it to be written in English. Instead it's written in action movie badass, a dialect consisting of growls, functional plot points and, most importantly, wisecracks. The plot points are efficiently explained to allow for maximum killing time, although Arnie's reason for his early exit, "I'm busy", could have used a little development. The problem here is that whoever wrote the scene obviously wasn't a native speaker of action movie badass leaving it sounding forced and just plain weird.  Arnie's presence really shows up people who think all these badasses are equally bad actors. Stallone, while he was never going to win an Oscar, can say words in a way that sounds something like how a person says words when they're not saying the words they've been told to say. Willis is amazing, as everyone knows. Arnie, on the other hand, sounds like an automated Stephen Hawking talking into a pillow. He sounds like he's trying to belch out his guts while reading words he doesn't really understand. He's like a child reading Spot the Dog for the first time, if that child's voice was lowered 5 octaves and played backwards. Here he shows the sheer adequacy of Stallone's performance.

Again, I digress. When Stallone makes a wisecrack about Arnie's weight, I can't help but think that 80s badass Arnie, or even 90s family comedy Arnie, would have had a wisecrack putdown. Instead, there's an awakward silence, not helped by Willis saying "You guys aren't gonna start sucking each other's dicks are ya?". Go to 0.11. Then again. And again. There's a full three seconds of awkwardness where the actors and audience are left with that image in their brain. Willis then awkwardly laughs for another three seconds like when you tell a joke and no-one laughs so you have to compensate by laughing a lot yourself. Except it isn't like when that happens, it's actually happening. In a film they usually get rid of misfiring jokes before the final cut. It't not often you get to see a genuine awkward moment in cinema, but here it is, Arnie, Sly and Willis awkwardly glancing around the room and chuckling to themselves to break the tension. It's like they bumped into each other in a lift. Which sounds like the start to a very good joke.

The next few seconds, when the badasses "get down to business" are just horribly edited. The whole point of this scene is seeing the three badasses on screen together, so why they choose quick cutting close ups between the badasses is beyond me. Now go to 0.24. What does Arnie say? "Itsalilaninagawf" Come again? Was he only able to do one take? Has he just swallowed an entire Kellogs Fruit Winder? (you remember them, right?) Perhaps it's just difficult adapting to the impenetrable dialects of Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time, like trying to speak French then German in close succession, but even as a seasoned Arnie interpretor I found that challenging. It's almost like the film makers didn't know they could shoot it again. Now go to 0.34. Same problem. The combination of close ups, fast cutting, incomprehensible dialogue and awkward silences make this feel less like a planned and executed scene in a movie than a Cassetteboy composite of clips that were too crummy to make it into any of the badasses other films. The wink and sigh at about 0.50 is particularly reminiscent of Ruth Badger's wink to Nick Hewer in Cassetteboy vs The Apprentic (forgive me if this reference is a little obscure). It gets even more Cassetteboy-like when the camera angle on Schwarzenegger changes after "he loves playing in the jungle //CUT// right?" It just looks odd and unprofessional. Ok, then it gets really good: "Hey, why don't we have dinner?" "When?" "In a tauuusand years". This really doesn't need much criticism, except I feel bad for Sly. He thinks he's getting asked for dinner, asks "when?" only to be mocked by the Governator. Harsh.

The final few seconds pretty much sum up the scene. "He wants to be president" and Arnie's knowing wink are basically saying "you want Arnie in this film. Here he is. Yay" It's all a massive in-joke.

But the scene's problems don't end here.

The music is terrible too. The setting is completely irrelevant, and it's oddly lit to make it look really aritificial. Mise-en-scene wise the worst thing is probably costume. Willis is cleverly disguised as Harry Hill and Arnie's suit appears to have been tailored to his 70s measurements. He's wearing trousers designed to protect trees from forest fires. You're not fooling anyone with your ill fitting suit. Get back to your old folks home or running the world's 8th largest economy or whatever it is you do with your retirement.

It's not just the actors. This scene is incompetently made. The sound, set, lighting, music (what exactly happens when Willis says "I want him dead!" at 0.44?), costume. It's disjointedly cut, unprofessional and is jarring from start to finish, and awkward, overwhelmingly awkward. I watched it by myself and felt slightly embarrassed. Never have I seen such a resoundingly awful bit of film making from start to finish as this scene. It is the worst made scene I have ever seen. And I still love it.

Bring on Expendables 2.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Magic of Cinema


I'm not against magic in films. A fan of science fiction and fantasy, the suspension of disbelief is a perfectly acceptable necessity for certain films, but it's also possible to get it wrong.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Red Lights, a film where Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy set out to expose phoney mediums and psychics. [SPOILER] So far so good. But in the film's final five minutes, where its central antagonist and foremost charlatan has been dealt with and successfully explained, they decided it would be good if Cillian Murphy is magic. Not proper magic. Just the ability to bend spoons when he doesn't really want to, and to blow fuses. Literally.

Like I said, I'm not against magic in films, but when the point of a film appears to have been to look for rational explanations, and even taking the whole of Red Lights into account this is still the take away message, throwing in magic takes it from a film that says something about the real world to a film about magic. In an instant, it stops being relevant. Spectacle and unpredictability have taken precedence over substance. In a second, the long-built-up investment in the film and what it's trying to say is squandered.

I write this because I just watched The Green Mile. The Green Mile looks from the outset to be a prison drama perhaps in the mould of The Shawshank Redemption, possibly with an anti death penalty message. [SPOILER] However, as with Red Lights, its decision to involve magic manages to sever its connection to the real world and smother any message it may have had. Don't get me wrong, The Green Mile is still a fantastic film. It has some of the most intense scenes I've ever seen, phenomenal performances and is engaging in spite of its length. Of course it has problems. Like so many films, including Red Lights, it doesn't know when to end, but the main problem is the magic. It would have been possible to tell a story of a remarkable, and ultimately [ANOTHER MASSIVE SPOILER] innocent inmate of death row without giving him the ability to perform miracles. I should reiterate, even with this The Green Mile is an exceptional and outstanding film, but this additional suspension of disbelief is simply unnecessary.

There are examples of a "real world" film which use the supernatural well. The Sixth Sense, for example, works well (although I think if I saw it now the ending would annoy me), as the supernatural element is the entire point of the film. But M Night Shamalamalan (do doooo do do do)  follow up Unbreakable lands on the wrong side of the portal. Just. Unbreakable has a number of problems with it as a film. It takes itself way too seriously, for one, and is much too slow and over dramatic. But the main problem is the unneccessarily far suspension of disbelief required to buy into it. In Unbreakable, Samuel L Jackson's character suffers from a disease that makes him get injured very easily. A comic book fan, this has led him to search for someone at the "opposite end of the spectrum" who hardly gets injured at all. So far, so good. He finds Bruce Willis, who is the sole survivor of a brutal train crash. As a film viewer, I can accept that there are people who get injured more or less easily. I can also accept that there may be freak values such as Willis's character that are almost invulnerable. But where the film crosses the line is by giving Willis the power to tell if people are involved in crimes, or to sense things before they happen. This is put down to heightened "instinct". Even this could be better explained. There are countless real life examples of people getting a "bad feeling" which has caused them to take action on an apparently irrational basis that has ended up saving lives. This has been put down to subconscious noticing of tiny signs that something is about to happen. It's simply anticipating what would happen based on facts about the present, as we do all the time, but at a subconscious level. Alas, Shamalamalan feels the need to demonstrate Willis's power by having him "know" the colour of a gun he hasn't seen, for example, or know things about people he couldn't have known any way other than magic. At this point the film stops being about an extraordinary human being, an anomaly, a real life superhero, and at the same time stops being relevant to the real world. This isn't quite so much of a problem as Unbreakable is a film about comic books, and while interesting, doesn't have such a clear cut take home message as Red Lights. However, its serious tone relies on a believability that is sacrificed by the involvement of apparently supernatural abilities, which means the film needs to be a whole lot more entertaining to make up for it.

There are plenty of films that involve the supernatural and continue to take themselves seriously. The Shining, for example, loses none of its potency by the involvement of possibly supernatural forces, but where I think the line should be drawn is where the film is about something non supernatural, and is set in the real world, yet chooses to use it any way.

However, it's not just the supernatural, but a suspension of belief in general that can be a problem. One of my big problems with The Shawshank Redemption (again, a brilliant film) is the ending (again, it goes on too long)[SPOILER] where the two friend meet up in, I think, Mexico. Andy's escape and Red's release in close succession are just too implausible to be believable, and throw away a lot of the investment in the gritty real life prison drama that has been built up.

I guess my problem is this: when you watch a film, you establish the tone of it fairly quickly. In a film like The Green Mile you don't expect the supernatural, so your expectations are unprepared when something inexplicable occurs making it jar with you. On the other hand a film like The Lord of the Rings, for example, is fantasy through and through, so when fantastical things keep happening this is perfectly acceptable. What filmmakers need to learn to do is establish a tone then stick to it. Often these films are much better on second or third viewings as expectations are accurately attuned, but if you need to have seen a film already to appreciate it, this is a problem with the filmmakers not with you. Just don't use the supernatural if it's not necessary, and if you have a plot hole that can only be plugged with magic, perhaps you need to have a look at the rest of the script and see where you're going wrong.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

As easy as ABC...

For those of you lucky enough to follow me on Twitter or in real life, you will know my views on the postmodern druid that is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Now more than ever the people of Britain need spiritual guidance. We've got gays trying to get married, women talking back and people playing stringed instruments.

Today Dr Williams has made "one of his strongest interventions yet" on the issue of gay marriage. When I read that I was eager with anticipation. "What controversy will Dr Williams be stirring now? How will Iatollah Williams be fanning the flames this time? Will Rowan the Radical whip his church into line and lead the fight against homophobia, or will he come down like a ton of bricks on this sinful behaviour? We will finally know his true opinions!" Here's what he he said:

"Dr Rowan Williams said that the church was still "scratching its head" about its position on same-sex marriage... "Same with same sex marriage, where once more we're used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it.
"What's frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience.""So whatever we think about it, we need, as a church, to be tackling what we feel about it." "
Let's recap. One of Rowan's STRONGEST INTERVENTIONS amounts to saying "we don't know what we think, but whatever we think, we need to....look! A pigeon!" Williams resembles the final months of Gordon Brown, when in interviews he would look like he was thinking "oh just go away! stop asking me difficult questions!" Except both these people are in positions of considerable power and influence and should answer to the people they are supposed to serve.

Again, this is one of his STRONGEST INTERVENTIONS. It couldn't be more vague if he'd let out a protracted hiss before raising his eyebrows and humming pop goes the weasel. This is particularly odd considering the response to the government's gay marriage consultation by the Church of England.

The church, "led" by Williams, believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, should include the possibility of procreation and that the traditional institution of marriage should not be altered in any way. I don't really need to dismantle these arguments. If you're reading this you've probably heard and refuted them before, although I will reassert the point made that the Church of England was founded on redefining marriage. These arguments are essentially the same as those used by the Christian hard right in America, repackaged slightly for the audience of Songs of Praise.

This is pretty much the role of the Church of England in the gay marriage debate. It's the acceptable face of British homophobia. Less offensive and Catholic than the shrill ramblings of largely shunned and ignored morally corrupt paedophile protector Cormac Murphy O'Connor and his successor, career homophobe Vincent Nichols, the C of E, under Williams, makes it acceptable to oppose equal rights. Of course, the fact that gay marriage is not yet a reality means that they're not seen as reactionary outsiders, but what it's important to realise is that this very mild homophobia enables, legitimises and encourages people like Lisa Nolland of Anglican Mainstream saying things like...well, if you don't know already, you'd best click on the link.

Rowan Williams' stance may or may not be out of sync with his church (as we have no idea what he believes) but either way he should surely be providing some leadership on the matter.

I wanted to find a clip of Rowan Williams saying something interesting or controversial, but for those of you who know anything about the man, you will know this is about as likely as the miracles he claims to believe in. After trawling YouTube for longer than I ever thought possible on the subject of a man who I can listen to for approximately 11 seconds before thinking about something else (usually Obi Wan Kenobi or Gandalf) I found a video in which the Doctor is asked how he prays on homosexuality. Before you watch, let's put this in some context. Dr Williams believes that he is the number 2 guy in the correct and true religion. Well, he's never said anything so bold but it's implied by his position. He also believes that there is one true god, who is capable of literally anything, and has a rather important moral code we should be following. Homosexuality is a very contentious issue at the moment, so when Dr Williams prays to the omnipotent and omniscient god, bearing in mind that prayer works and Williams is the second most senior human on earth where God is concerned, you would have thought that if William doesn't know God's views on gays, he would do well to ask him and, if he does, he would pray for God to help the people who've got it wrong to reach the truth. That would make sense, and would really clear a lot of things up. So what does Rowan Williams pray for?

He prays for people on both sides of the debate to give each other a little space. He prays those on the radical (presumably modern, more pro gay) side prioritise the church over gay rights. He prays for a discussion. Oh, and he then admits Christians are actually not that generous.

Let's look at this more closely. Hoping only for debate suggests that God doesn't feel that strongly. If god doesn't have a problem with gays, as is surely implied by the fact that Dr Williams is happy for a debate with no obvious preference on either side, then the default position should be to treat people equally. There is no consistency or sense in Williams' view. It's almost like prayer doesn't work, and he's saying what he thinks will upset the fewest people. His vagueries are accepted as he clearly has a difficult job appeasing the bigots in his congregation, and underlying this is a tacit acknowledgement that he can't communicate with god, and that god has no relevance to the real world, which is why the church has to make secular arguments against gay marriage. But Williams is not the leader of a political party, he's the leader of a religion, and if God can't give us certainty, who can? It's also strange that someone who apparently wants debate would avoid debate at all costs by not expressing his view on any subject that appears to fall within his remit.

Williams manages to avoid saying anything specific at all in a way that most politicians would be envious of, but he doesn't even have to face the electorate. He's in a completely risk free position, particularly since he's announced his retirement, but still chooses to avoid the issue entirely. I'm not suggestign Rowan is an imbecile. Unless they do PhDs for beards, I'm assuming he has at least some intelligence (although Nick Griffin graduated from Cambridge. Qualifications aren't everything.), but surely that just makes him even worse, as he fails so spectacularly to deal with one of the most important issues of the day.

I'm not against vague religious beliefs per se. If you decide there probably is an entity we call God, it makes sense that it should be completely unfathomable to a human mind. However, if you're in, or even better head of, a religion like the Church of England, you claim to know enough about God to know specific the moral rules he ascribes as well as specific events he has been involved in and so on. To accept this, as you surely have to to call yourself a Christian, yet be the head of the church and unable to make a single specific statement about the god in question or the moral rules he prescribes, is nothing short of cluelessness or naked careerism.

Here's another example of a heap of impenetrable Williams waffle. About half way through, think to yourself "What is he actually saying?"

Absolutely nothing at all.

Let me be clear. If Rowan Williams thinks civil rights  for gay people are expendable to keep his church together that makes him a homophobe. If, during apartheid in the USA, a non racist preacher maintained that black people should have to sit at the back of the bus in order to keep their congregation together they would rightly be condemned. Yes, it is the same.

Rowan Williams is not a leader. He provides no guidance. He appears to have few beliefs at all about the nature of God or what he demands, yet he can sit idly by as his church attacks equal rights, before issuing vague statements (in the form of a strong intervention) calling for "debate" which he routinely dodges. I don't often look the the Bible for answers, but maybe it can help explain why Rowan Williams was created without a spine.