Hot Tubbing through Time

I’ve often wished I was born in the early 1980s. It was a time when classic films like The Empire Strikes Back, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future hit the multiplexes. Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Super Mario were the flavour of the day and meeting up at a games arcade was a social routine. Girls wore legwarmers, David Bowie, WHAM and Michael Jackson were on the radio and hip hop didn’t automatically equal bling and cash. Yes, Thatcher years or not, the eighties were a great time to be young.

So how does this relate to the subject of this post, Hot Tub Time Machine? Well, it’s a film where the four dysfunctional protagonists journey back to the 1980s (by way of a haywire hot tub) to relive the glory days of one fateful summer break. It’s more moronic, testosterone friendly fun, but it’s doesn’t have that ingenious edge that I’ve heard The Hangover is fabled to have perfected.

Hot Tub Time Machine’s hook is hearing how the characters recall how events originally happened and then seeing them play out differently, to humorous effect, now that they’re back in time. It’s thighs up, trousers down… ouch, plastic folk in the eye stuff. Though, “We could invite Twittagra” has to be one of the worst lines in film history. A story of losers who screwed up then and screw again when they’re given a second chance. It takes Back to the Future and does a Freudian, Jim Morrison rejection of taboo on the whole thing. Just like the eighties (and the sixties, too), the message here is ‘just do it’!

Kickass? You said it!

Note: I forget to write this on the day (05.04.2010), but I thought I would write it as if I had. – 24.04.2010

Today I went down to Leicester Square with two of my old friends from high school. Being Easter Monday, and one in which the weather was half decent, there were lots of people in town. Originally we’d hoped to stop off at a whole list of places around the theatre quarter and maybe a quiet diner. That didn’t materialise as we were all a bit tired out by the afternoon.

While in town though, we did head to the Vue cinema to see Kick-Ass. This film ticks all the right boxes for moronic action and crude teen humour. I’d heard little about the film going in, apart from the fact that the screenplay was written by Jane Goldman – Jonathan Ross’ wife.

Based on a comic of the same name, Kick-Ass is about a boy who actually tries to become a ‘real world superhero’. With no special powers, he’s quickly and brutally beaten up the moment he tries to dispense some justice to the local thugs. Back out of hospital, and now with fewer nerve receptors thanks to his metal plates, Kick-Ass once again takes his kind of amateur justice to the streets. However, Kick-Ass soon finds himself way in over his head as the unlikely target of a New York drug baron. And as if that wasn’t enough, some real superheroes have taken interest in him and are looking to get him more involved with their crime fighting.

This film certainly isn’t one to see with parents or anyone you care about below the age of 15. Its over-the-top violence, excessive vulgarity and taboo make it something that not all will take lightly, even though it is done with a knowing wink under all the serious Hollywood effects. Seeing it with my friends, I found moments of it highly amusing. If you’ve got a stomach for untrained lobotomy, aren’t easily offended and don’t mind seeing a 10-year-old swearing like a sailor, fuel up your heromobile and cruise down to see Kick-Ass.

Praise for Record Store Day

It was Record Store Day this year on Saturday, 17 April. And as the name suggests, it’s a day all about celebrating records and the independent stores that they are found in.

Though I had a very productive time indoors (working no less, while my housemates were out playing in the sunshine), I made no attempt to visit any of the handful of record stores still trading in Nottingham. A real shame, as a very limited number of Gorillaz’ ‘White Flag’ 10” vinyl singles were released as well as Blur’s ‘Fool’s Day’ 7” vinyl – the first new material the band has released as a four-piece since 2003.

Anyhow, I guess I’ll see what limited singles from Record Store Day I can salvage over time. I did however write a piece on vinyl for Platform that might interest follower lovers of vinyl. Enjoy and happy belated Record Store Day!

Crash of the Titans

How do you kill a god? Easy, make a remake of a classic 1980s film and watch them writhing in agony at the torturous dialogue and monster-sized plot fillers. Clash of the Titans really is a colossal mess. This remake, produced by Legendary Pictures, stars Sam Worthington as the ever-brooding, self-counselling hero, Perseus, and Gemma Arterton as his not-so-esoteric guardian and eventual love interest, Io.

When a battalion of soldiers from Argos topple a statue of Zeus, Perseus’ adopted family are killed by the gods’ supernatural retribution that follows. From there the story describes how humans have affronted the gods, so now the divine, armour-wearing immortals up top have commanded Hades, their lowly brother and keeper of the Underworld, to punish the humans by unleashing the Kraken. And so it falls to Perseus, demigod and son of Zeus, to find a way to rescue the mortals who triggered the death of his family at the hands of Hades by seeking out a means to destroy the Kraken.

Playing little attention to the original – save for the odd in-joke – Clash of the Titans moves from a fairly bearable bit of mindless fun to a clichéd string of bad one-liners and predicable outcomes. There’s so much that doesn’t even begin to have any real bearing on the character relationships and overall plot. Exposition is given for things but edited together in a way that doesn’t explain how characters in the plot learn of it. Your predictable band of enthusiastic warrior extras die one after another at the film’s self-proclaimed ‘low’ moment. And after not quite managing to jump in the saddle together (ahem, while on the boat to the Underworld no less), the moment when Perseus must bid farewell to ‘the only women who’s ever loved him’ is one of the corniest moments I’ve witnessed all year – the circumstances of it all are so absurd that I actually burst out laughing, a reaction the filmmakers hadn’t intended, but nevertheless elicited.

Action sequences are overblown, with the film constantly wishing to remind you, in cased you’d somehow been living under a rock since The Matrix, that CG can create monstrous giant scorpions as real as the real thing. And in cased you didn’t quite get that, here’s a bigger one! It all comes to a head with Perseus’ rush to the rescue at the eleventh hour: sword, princesses in distress and an even bigger mythical monster. I saw the whole film in 3D and was also bitterly disappointed at the limp experience it offered. The action sequences have the occasional pop out moment, but are otherwise a blur.

In the end it comes off looking like a poor man’s Lord of the Rings – in Greece. Liam Neenson and Gemma Arterton have a couple moments of sparkle, but nothing memorable. The makers of this film might like to look back and poke fun at the original Clash of the Titans, with its cheesy stop-motion animations and scale trickery, but it was a darn sight more entertaining than this, because it wasn’t trying to feature all and sundry of every other Greek mythology film ever released.

And that day, as I looked upon the silver screen in my tawdry 3D spectacles, the gods wept…

Lagos Stories

Africa is a huge continent, and home to many diverse cultures and people. To many in the developed world, Africa’s highly populated areas are portrayed as lawless plains and urban slums where drug running and corruption is riff. But to accept this conjecture without question is dangerous. Some parts of Africa can be dangerous, yes, and the country certainly has its fair share of villains, but it is also home to some of the most adaptable, forward-thinking nations in the world.

Case in point, Welcome to Lagos, the BBC’s recent three-part documentary on Africans living and working in Lagos. This documentary observed a collection of Nigerians from different classes, showing – in surprising detail – the eco systems, businesses and lifestyles there. The first episode focused on scavengers at the Olusosun rubbish dump. They sift through the humongous assortment of rubbish to salvage and recycle goods. When their salvaging is done they must also sell their finds to buyers. Practically all of the people on the dump live and work there. They build their homes and furnish them with whatever they can find. The work ethic and neutral respect among the scavengers is incredible, and, contrary to belief, they even have their own hierarchy and elected leader to keep order.

This series has shown a deep, more wholesome side of Africa to me. And it’s also reinforced my interest in visiting several countries in the great continent in future. Wherever you go in the world, music is a universal language. And the music and stories from Tony Allen (drummer in Africa ’70), Damon Albarn (the enlightened visitor, founder of Honest Jons Records – world music label, Mali Music and much more) and David Lowe (composer, Dreamcatcher) have also prodded my interest in seeing Africa, and its people, firsthand.

Journo Biz: Seth Schiesel

Seth Schiesel, technology reporter at The New York Times, only came to my attention in the last three weeks. I came across him on this divulging panel about games journalism (featuring Ted Price, N’Gai Croal, Geoff Keighley and Mike Snider), courtesy of FORA.tv – a pretty cool site for extended talks if you’ve got some time to kill and have a head for serious debate.

Although I’ve only read some of his work, Seth comes across as a highly competent and well-travelled journalist. He’s one of the few technology writers that I’ve seen who’s in a position to cover games for a mainstream audience and is actually covering them in a way that speaks true of the brilliance of the art form.

What’s also exciting is reading some of his reviews. One of my favourite things about alternative online games coverage is how experimental and fresh it can be, in comparison to the structures used in specialist coverage that I now know from top to bottom. On The New York Times website, Seth’s reviews have feature-like titles, make numerous references to other mediums and are written from the first-person. And best of all, no score – just facts, opinion and verdict.

With more mainstream tech journalists like him, we’ll start to see a greater volume of informed games coverage in newspapers and on television.

As I continue to develop my own writing skill, I’m keeping a close eye on mainstream games coverage (particularly from The Guardian), and I hope I can contribute to changing it for the better too.

Roots of British Hip Hop

Life is a funny thing. One day you’re hold up in a council flat, the next you’re earning a living making records. Well, at least that’s true for Roots Manuva, British hip hop visionary and alternative gospel music maker.

Roots (aka Rodney Smith) was used to crime having grown up in the rough neighbourhood of Brixton, South London. He used to be on the dole, involved in petty crime and a weed smoker, which sounds none to fulfilling to me. Eventually he found his calling in music. Having more responsibility in his life prompted him to be more proactive and use his music to say something worthwhile. Honest to the point of admitting his sins, Roots has always been one to look out for the little guys. He’s not about glamour and he’s not about money – this is what real music is about.

In his time he has made several studio albums and worked with loads of other artists, including Gorillaz, The Herbaliser and Banana Klan.

In October 2008, DJ Transformer (aka Ben Rayner) interviewed Roots Manuva on Fly FM, Nottingham Trent’s student radio station. And only last year, BBC2’s Culture Show did a whole featurette about his life, music and influence on British hip hop.

At present, I only have his Run Come Save Me album, but I love his unorthodox sound and real-world-hip-hop lyrics. Plenty food for thought.

What would you give to become a celebrity?

The increasing rise of celebrity culture is something that has dogged me since I awoke to the fact that media institutions, like Heat and OK magazine, are filling our minds with senseless waffle.

Having just watched Starsuckers, a documentary by Chris Atkins, on More4 that exposes our fixation on celebrities and how the media uses this for their own ends, it has reminded me of the kinds of people who want to work in the media – as well as those who feed off it.

From disgraceful stunts by PRs to fabricate news, to celebrity editors at tabloids (such as the Daily Mirror and The Sun) meeting people touting medical records on celebrities, to a Las Vegas-based couple grooming their son into a manufactured star by forcing him through a promotion-fest of a childhood, all of these were displayed in the documentary. It proved the, frankly, sickening lengths journalists, the paparazzi, PRs, businessman and politicians are willing to go to uphold the illusion of ‘celebrity’. By getting ordinary people to buy in to these figures, they can then have a huge influence on our actions.

But don’t think that I’ve been blind to such truths before this viewing. I’ve known for years that businesses and the media hope to exploit people by using celebrities. And this documentary, too, could be called into question, but it was pleasingly grownup enough to present alternative comments and corrections from those featured in the documentary.

For the record, I’m not against ‘icons’ as such, because we all have people and groups we look up to and don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. What is bad is children growing up with the mentality that being adored by millions, having piles of cash and poaching yourself a well known other half should be your eventual life goal. Unfortunately, the most obvious cause of this epidemic is the media. Their coverage of celebrities continues with production line efficiently, keeping the public in contact with their lives, their loves, their vices. Leaving little room for sensible thought.

Looking to the other side of the coin though, and as the documentary investigated itself, it’s not hard to make the jump from journalist or presenter to celebrity these days. This is something that doesn’t personally appeal to me. I don’t want to be alone, but I also don’t want to have thousands of people ‘following’ me. I believe, such a responsibility should only befall those with the modesty and maturity to deal with it – in the current media-driven Western world at least.

I sometimes wonder who some of my current course mates may become in future. Some of them may become PR managers. A few might go in to journalism and end up as the tabloid feature writers and celebrity reporters of tomorrow. Others might become the next generation of indie filmmakers that it’s cool to like. And a small section of them may become the next bimbo presenters, finding their natural home on the sets of Five News or E! Entertainment.

As far as my own status goes, I’m happy simply doing my job, having the respect of my family and friends, and maybe getting some unexpected appreciation from a reader from time to time. The thought of becoming another celebrity journalist scares me.

I don’t think Jeff Gerstmann, Adam Sessler or Veronica Belmont set out to become famous, but they can’t deny that their views on the world are now being listened to by a huge group of followers. So how would my views on the world and the way I write about it change if I were to become, say, the next Jeremy Clarkson, Charlie Brooker or N’Gai Croal? Right now that’s a thought almost as chilling as losing all memory of my childhood, because it’s something I’m certainly not ready for. And I hope it doesn’t come to pass.