Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Issue 10 - Is This The Real Life?

I sat, momentarily frozen, staring at the remaining bite of my slice of apple pie.

Its vaguely triangular shape and the patterned crust around its outer edge gave it the appearance of some majestic monster's ridged head, but was it more like a triceratops or the Alien Queen? I couldn't decide.

Suddenly embarrassed by my own thought process, I brought my fork to my mouth and the monster was no more. Peeking surreptitiously from under my eyebrows to see if anyone had noticed my temporary lapse of sanity, I paid the bill and hurried off to the cinema to see.....a children's film.

The cinema was already darkened when I arrived and snuck into a seat. The previews began; one in particular inducing uproarious laughter from my fellow patrons. My eyes now adjusted to the dim light, I glanced around me, only to see a room full of grown adults. The trailer we were all laughing so hysterically at? Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Yes, you read that right. Suddenly, my internal dinosaur/alien debate didn't seem quite so childish.

The main feature began. It was Planet 51 – a film so chock-full of jokey references and spoofs only adults would recognise (including an alien-shaped dog called, amusingly, “Ripley”), that I began to wonder what age group it was really made for.

Since that evening, a question has been bumping against the back of my brain, and I can no longer ignore it. The question is not, as it would seem, “At what point do we grow up and lose our imaginations?”, but, “Why do we grown-ups pretend that we have lost our imaginations?”

There was an advertisement running on TV throughout my entire childhood that had the slogan, “I don't wanna grow up; I'm a Toy World kid”. What nobody ever told me was that adults don't ever grow out of liking toys, they just buy more expensive ones, or pretend to buy them for their kids, instead.

You've only got to look at Pixar to see that fantastic things can come out of adults allowing their imaginations to run wild. (Where would the world of animation be without Toy Story?) The only difference is that, as adults, we have the ability, and therefore the added responsibility, of turning our imaginations into reality.

I recently saw Oprah interview Stephenie Meyer (author of the Twilight quadrilogy). When asked about her crazy imagination, Meyer commented that she had always “thought everybody was telling themselves stories all the time”. Oprah laughed and said that no, this was not normal. But I struggle to agree with Oprah. I truly believe we all have stories in our heads. Some of them get told – to others, to ourselves – but most of them are fated to float around up there for a little while and eventually be buried under a mountain of troubles. Or, more likely, boredom. Or paperwork.

Is it any wonder, then, that while we sleep, our brains have a little party of their own, off in Dreamland? Is it any wonder that, the more restricted and tedious our lives become, the more we watch TV? What is it that makes these things – Twilight, Harry Potter, The X-Factor, Star Wars, the trials and tribulations of Susan Boyle, even gaming, to a certain extent – so popular? Because they're about ordinary people getting to do something different. They are the classic tale of Cinderella re-told again and again for a world that is sick of being stuck behind a desk. (Huh. That just gave me a hilarious image of Louis Walsh as the Fairy Godmother.... Ahem. Moving right along...)

As a kid, I always felt slightly sorry for Peter Pan and the fact that he just didn't get it – he would never know what it was like to grow up, to experience life, to learn new things...But, what if he was the one that had it partly right? What if we've become too smug in our modern and professional existence to see that a bit of playfulness is good for us? Without meaning to go all John Lennon on you, what if we never bothered to imagine a better world? Where would we be? You can't get to Neverland without a bit of fairy dust.

As children, we all have that inner drive to play, to follow our dreams, but, as we get older, we push that aside and become embarrassed by our fantasies and random thoughts. Going back to the dreams can mean having to face ridicule and rejection because someone else doesn't buy into them, or see things in the same way we do. The fact is, some people can't see past the confines of their own, limited reality. They just see a piece of pie, and that's all they'll ever see.

We were never created to suppress our imaginations in adulthood; only to learn to use them for greater things. Every invention, every piece of engineering, every programme, every script, every charitable work, every book, every political ideal, begins with imagination. And imagination begins with a little freedom and a lot of humility.

Sometimes, it even begins with apple pie.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Issue 9 - Three Times The Bridesmaid...

I was discussing a friend's upcoming wedding with her when it suddenly dawned on me: I'm about to be a bridesmaid for the third time. It's a good thing I'm not superstitious, or that would be weighing fairly heavily on my mind.

It did get me thinking, though: where do superstitions like that come from? I can understand that many of them were probably, originally, just practical – e.g. walking under ladders makes you a prime target for beaning with a hammer; opening an umbrella inside the house is a good way to poke someone's eye out – but black cats and Friday the 13th? What's the big deal?

Wikipedia was no help, so I decided to do some proper research**. In true scientific fashion, various conflicting theories are tossed around as fact; ancient times and Druids and African myths are discussed; old, forgotten religions, misunderstandings and Biblical misinterpretations are sagely touted as the true origins – all of which led me to conclude one thing: nobody has a frickin' clue.

And then there are the contradictions. The number 13 is considered around the world to be unlucky. Again, there are various theories about the origin of this. (Some say it is because 13 is the supposed number in attendance at the Last Supper – the 13th being Judas Iscariot. Because of this, the Victorians considered it unlucky to have “13 at table” and the superstition surrounding the number developed from there. My personal favourite myth about the number 13 is that if you have 13 letters in your name, you will have “the devil's luck” – all because Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Theodore Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert de Salvo each have 13 letters in theirs.) However, in Italy, 13 was long considered to be lucky, and it was 17 you really wanted to avoid. Black cats are another problem. In Egypt, the cat was seen as a protector and was quite often worshipped; the Egyptians also believed a cat's eyes caught the setting sun's rays and held them safe until morning came. In the West, though, cats were associated throughout history with witches and, as such, if one crossed your path, you were in for a run of bad luck at the witches' hands.

It's obvious that, throughout the ages, superstitions have become muddled and mingled beyond recognition. So why do they persist?

As I doubt very much that there is a scientific basis for any of these beliefs (e.g. I'm pretty certain the fabric of Lewis Hamilton's lucky underpants does not actually have special properties that make him drive faster), I'm left to conclude that their powers, whether real or imagined, operate solely on the mind.

This conclusion is further reinforced by the number of superstitions attached to important or emotionally-charged events, like weddings. In addition to the aforementioned "three times the bridesmaid, never the bride", we also have doozies like "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue", "it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony" and "whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to get married" (I'm living proof that that one isn't true). Did you know it's the best man's duty to protect the groom from bad luck, and the bridesmaids are there to act as decoys for the bride, so the evil spirits don't know who to attack? No? Well, for goodness' sake, whatever you do, don't get married on a Saturday!

Monday for wealth
Tuesday for health
Wednesday the best day of all
Thursday for losses
Friday for crosses
Saturday for no luck at all

Of course, this is also an example of where, over time, superstition has spilled over into tradition. I'm not really one for following traditions. I often get vibed at for not saying “bless you” when someone sneezes.

“But you're supposed to do that, aren't you? Aren't you...? Everybody does...!”

Betcha thought you were just being polite, didn't you? Nope – the legends say that you must bless the person because either: (a) a sneeze indicates evil spirits leaving the body; (b) the heart stops beating during a sneeze and you need to bless the sneezer to get it going again; or (c) sneezing is a sign that the person may have caught the black plague and, by blessing them, you can hopefully stop them from dying. Funny, I always thought it just meant you had dust up your nose.

We all know the ones about breaking mirrors and walking on cracks in pavements, but how about these:
  • If you have a bad cough, make a sandwich with one of the hairs from your head (the bread must be buttered), feed it to your dog and tell him, “Eat well, you hound, may you be sick and I be sound.” I wonder how that would go down with the Humane Society these days.
  • A ringing bell means that a brand new angel has received its wings. Heaven must be getting crowded by now.
  • If you can manage to catch a leaf as it's falling on the first day of autumn, you won't catch a cold all winter. (Does this also work for Swine Flu?)
  • Dropping a fork means a man is coming to visit. I don't know who you get if you drop a spork. Maybe Captain Kirk. Or Eddie Izzard.

If you hold to any of these superstitions, at least they won't be much of a bother to anybody around you (with the possible exception of your dog), but there is one superstition that causes a heck of a lot of annoyance and bother to other people: chain letters. Honestly, the amount of chain mail I have failed to pass on should have made me the unluckiest person on the planet by now-- although...this failure could explain why my one true love has never declared his undying adoration for me. [Note to self: forward a couple of chain letters at first opportunity.]

If you're in the mood for testing a seasonal superstition, how about trying for a kiss under the mistletoe? It's supposed to mean harmony and fertility, and a young lady standing under the mistletoe cannot refuse to be kissed, or she may miss her chance of getting married the following year. I have yet to experience a mistletoe kiss, but I'm told it can work quite well in lieu of a good pick-up line. It can also get you a black eye.

Whatever you think about the subject, you've got to admit that human beliefs and superstitions are an interesting kettle of fish, and the reasoning behind most is more baffling than Kanye West's continuing popularity.

Now, I'm off to conduct a round of experiments, to document what happens when you find a four-leaf clover whilst walking under a ladder, or when you place a hat on a bed whilst wearing a rabbit's foot around your neck. I have a feeling the results may be inconclusive, at best.

Oh, yes – and if you immediately pass this article on to 30 friends, you will have all your heart's desires brought to you on a silver platter by a tall, dark and handsome man***.

** i.e. Google
*** Unfortunately, Johnny Depp was not available for this service at the time of publication.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Issue 8 - The Sequel That Equals

Why is it that there are so many terrible sequels in the movie world? Seriously, if I were to start listing all the overblown, boring, sloppy or just plain bad sequels ever made, this post would not be finished before Christmas.

There may be a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Perhaps the writers are pushed to complete the script in a hurry, to avoid a long delay between the first and second films. Perhaps the director feels pressured to make the follow-up “bigger” and more exciting than the first (which isn't always necessary, or possible, and sometimes only results in making it louder *coughtransformerscough*). Perhaps the first movie covered the most interesting period of the characters' lives and now there's nowhere to go with their development. (There's a very good reason most fairy-tales end with, "And they lived happily ever after..." - who wants to see Cinderella, post-wedding, faffing about the castle complaining that the servants don't do their jobs properly and that Charming hogs the remote?)

Or, perhaps we movie-goers expect too much. I mean, realistically, how many times can one man save the world before it all gets a bit old? (Unless his name is Bruce Willis, of course.)

I was driven to consider this after watching the particularly disappointing Step Up 2: The Streets. You may say that I deserved to be disappointed, watching a movie with a title like that, but I really enjoyed the first one. In true de Mented style, I have tabulated my thoughts in an attempt to discover where it all went wrong:




A heart-warming story throughout which you actually cared about the characters and what they were going through; that both made you laugh and made you cry.



Solid lead actors who were not outshone by their supporting cast, but were engaging and ably brought their characters through fairly convincing story arcs.


(Hang on...what were the main characters' names, again?)

A strong, clear message about learning where to set your goals and working hard to achieve them.


Not seeing it...

Choreography that showcased original ideas and a nice blend of different disciplines and elements of dance, making the most of the actors' individual strengths and styles.


Nope, nope, definitely not, e.g. why was there none of Hair's amazing tap-dancing in the finale?! There was even perfectly convenient rain that they could have used and everything!

Channing Tatum. Dancing.

Yes. In spades.

Yes, but he disappears after 15 minutes, leaving us with a very wishy-washy cast.

Is there some unwritten rule in Hollywood that says a sequel must simply squeeze every last drop of money out of a franchise, ignoring all concepts of art, entertainment and, often-times, respect for the characters? Surely, if you make a sequel that's as good as the first, it follows that you are then free to make MORE sequels, and therefore even more money?

There seems to be a school of thought that any good idea must be re-hashed until it's done to death, with no regard for the integrity of the story. I call this “The Ripley Effect”, in honour of Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien: Resurrection and Alien: PleaseDon'tLetThemMakeAnotherOne. Alien3 is the perfect example of characters we have grown to love falling foul of this make-a-quick-buck, “disposable” culture.

And then, there's the prequel. The major problem with prequels is that we already know what's going to happen to the characters, so there's no real tension in the narrative. The latest solution to this problem is the “reboot”. This involves either completely ignoring the films that have come before (e.g. Batman Begins) or going back to the beginning and changing the existing “cannon” in some way (e.g. Star Trek), to give the writers free rein in developing new stories and/or, in theory, killing off characters (or whole planets) as they will. So far, this appears to be an effective technique and has produced some great films. The majority of prequels, however, get it very wrong and feel like nothing more than cheap knock-offs.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are some sequels that equal or even surpass their predecessors. And James Cameron made all of them. OK, OK – that's an exaggeration, but it sure seems that way, sometimes.

So let's look at a brief overview of some of the best and worst sequels and prequels. Feel free to leave a comment with your favourite, or most hated, and why you think it did or didn't work.

The Good:

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
James Cameron at his finest. The film was not only technologically ground-breaking, it just plain rocked. An action movie with great heart.

Chalk another great one up to James Cameron. Good story, interesting characters, lots of guns, scary as anything...and that classic final battle between Ripley and the queen alien: pure movie magic.

Mission: Impossible 3
With all due respect to John Woo, the second instalment in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series was fairly woeful. A good action movie, perhaps, but it didn't have the right sort of feel. JJ Abrams got the series back on track with this third film, though. Fingers crossed he'll direct the fourth, which is in the works.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
is possibly my favourite book of all time, so I guess it's no surprise that I had some major problems with Andrew Adamson's movie adaptation. He got it very right with Prince Caspian, though. Many would disagree with me, but I felt that the modifications he made to the story were so well done that they felt as if they were part of the original book; the night raid on Miraz's castle is powerful, as is Peter's journey from pride to humility. That moment Lucy stands alone on the bridge, facing the entire enemy army, and pulls out her little dagger with complete confidence in Aslan...fantastic. It may not have done so well at the box office, but I loved it. (And, while we're on the subject, whichever executive at Disney made the decision to drop The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was an idiot. It was always going to be the best book to translate to film, and now we have to make do with a different director and major budget cuts. Bad form, Disney.)

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight:
What can I say? I've always been a Batman girl more than a Superman girl, and I love the darker side of Batman – I think Val Kilmer's take was the best in the “old” movies, because the point of Bruce Wayne is that he's just a little bit off-kilter. The new movies take that same approach, minus the cheesy one-liners but with the addition of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and the performance that Heath Ledger will always be remembered for. Genius.

Star Trek
If I start talking about how much I love this movie, I will end up repeating myself. Suffice it to say: read

The Bad:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
While I quite liked the second one, this third instalment left me wondering what the heck the makers' intentions were. So many threads of the story went absolutely nowhere. My overriding memory of it is as an incoherent mess. Also, a classic example of The Ripley Effect in action. Ultimately, it's a Disney movie - it's not supposed to end leaving two of the main characters – in whom you have invested so much throughout the first two movies – in a such an unsatisfying situation! Especially when there was another easy and much more satisfying alternative. Duh...

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Oh dear. This one suffers from many of the same problems as X-Men 2 and 3. Some very shonky special effects certainly don't help, either. It would have been good to see more of Gambit and less...well, to be honest, I can't really put my finger on it, but something certainly doesn't work.

Thoughts whilst watching this movie: “No. Oh, no. Wait, wait – did they just speed up the film???! Gimme another look at that! Oh, man, this is so bad it's laughable...”

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Oh. My. Goodness. The shark!! I'll say no more.

The Ugly:

Speed 2: Cruise Control
I like to pretend this movie doesn't exist. Well done, Keanu Reeves, for steering clear of it.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
By about 20 minutes into the movie, most of the characters were dead or well on their way to being killed off, and I couldn't have cared less. What a sad, sad, commercialised waste of a potential fanboy/fangirl [fanperson?] dream.

The Debatable:

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions
I did enjoy the heady geekiness of both these movies, I have to say. But, puh-leeease, the giant rave/orgy was SO pointless, and they're definitely not as re-watchable as the first. Nonetheless, they contain some good action sequences and some intriguing ideas.

The Star Wars franchise
It will be an eternal argument: which is the best of the original trilogy? The critics' choice is always The Empire Strikes Back, but I'm not ashamed to hop off the bandwagon and admit my favourite to be Return of the Jedi – Ewoks and all. Either way: a rare case of the sequels equalling or bettering the original. And then we come to Episodes I to III. I probably enjoyed them more than a lot of people did (especially Episode III) – I can even handle Jar Jar Binks – but all that CGI really gets my goat. I was crying out for one real set-piece....Just one!! But I think the biggest problem, in a nutshell, is the lack of humour. George Lucas just takes the whole thing far too seriously. Where's the fun?

The Indiana Jones franchise
Although Temple of Doom wasn't as enjoyable as Raiders, no-one would dispute that Last Crusade was a darn good ride. So it pains me to say it, especially considering it has two of my favourite actors in it (Harrison Ford and Shia LaBeouf), but the fourth, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was a let-down. If Steven Spielberg had stuck to his guns and refused to let George Lucas write aliens into the story, it would have had real potential. Even there, if he'd just left out that stupid scene with the fridge, all may have been well. *sigh*

Monday, September 14, 2009

Issue 7 - Dressed To The DS9s

There is one passion of the quintessential geek with which I have never found myself in sympathy: the pressing need to dress up and go out in public as their favourite sci-fi or fantasy character.

Let me say, here, that I have nothing against proudly showing your allegiance to the Jedi Order or your love of mutantkind by, for example, sporting a witty t-shirt from www.ThinkGeek.com (I, myself, am very fond of my HAN SHOT FIRST t-shirt and have encountered friends in strange places as a result of wearing it on long plane flights). I have even been known to model Princess Leia's plaits for the occasional fancy-dress party. I'm afraid, however, that I cannot bring myself to go the whole hog and roll up to a public event wearing pointy ears and a robe.

Does this make me any less of a fangirl?

My childhood town being rather skint on conventions, my first real introduction to this odd trait did not occur until the late 90s, when I attended several midnight premieres only to find myself standing in line for popcorn with a dozen Gandalfs or Obiwans, or listening to the "clack, clack" of plastic lightsaber battles raging around me as I camped in the hallway outside the cinema, waiting to be let in.

This practice, I have since discovered, is not confined to the depths of night or to World of Warcraft singles events. It is so prevalent, I have been forced to coin the term "Extreme Fantasism" to define it.* The main outlet for any Extreme Fantasist is undoubtedly the fan convention. You will find these everywhere from Sydney to San Diego and are the places to be seen for any self-respecting geek. For the Extreme Fantasist, much self-satisfaction is derived from attending a convention dressed as Spock and then running into Leonard Nimoy. For me, on the other hand, such an occurrence would be the height of shame.

Although the good ol’ U.S. of A. has more than its fair share of Extreme Fantasists, it by no means holds the exclusive rights. Whilst travelling home on the bus one Friday night close to the Witching Hour, I was shocked to see a coven meeting openly in Trafalgar Square. It was a moment before I realised that real witches most likely do not wear black pointy hats. Nor do they wear school uniforms under their robes and draw lightning-bolt scars on their foreheads. Ah, yes, "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows" had been released in bookstores at 1200 that night.

In most situations, I’m all in favour of expressing yourself and having some fun with fashion, but I admit I cringed openly when I arrived at a black-tie Star Trek event to find one solitary guest dressed up as a Bajoran ambassador. (She looked so pleased with herself, though, that I didn’t have the heart to remind her the event was in celebration of the original series and Bajor had yet to be discovered.)

I am not sure exactly where my reluctance to join the ranks of the sartorially challenged stems from. It could simply be a fear of making myself look like an idiot. It could be the result of years of subjection to horrific dance costumes (note to parents/teachers: if your child/student already has image issues related to their weight, don't make them dress up as a fat baby and dance in front of their whole school). Or, perhaps I am entirely missing the point. Maybe I should try it, just once - purely as a method of research, of course. Methinks a character with a full-face mask might be the best option…
*For a good example of Extreme Fantasism, see Justin Long’s character in “Galaxy Quest“.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Issue 6 - Airline Philosophy

Due to the shock loss of two of the dearest people on the planet, I found myself, last week, on a plane headed back to Australia for a fortnight.

I usually quite enjoy flying, but this time, understandably, the long-haul flight seemed interminable. In an effort to cheer myself up and pass the time, I decided to write down some of my more random thoughts in brief, Twitter-style sound bites...Unfortunately, having the ability to talk the hind leg off a donkey means that keeping things brief was never my forte (hence, why I prefer to blog rather than Tweet). Nevertheless, it served its purpose, and the following is the result.

  • They all told me to check in online. I didn't. Bag-drop line was sizeable. I checked in in under 5 minutes. Sometimes it pays to go against public opinion.

  • It's always a toss-up, isn't it? Do I go for an aisle seat with no view and get hit in the shoulder every time someone walks past, or do I go for a window seat with a spectacular view and get stuck in my seat when I desperately need to pee and the people next to me are asleep? Have yet to come to a definitive conclusion on this, but am thinking it might be a worthy subject for a Ph.D. I could be a doctor of seating.

  • An announcement just came over the PA. I have absolutely no idea what the guy was saying. Couldn't understand a word. Hopefully, it was nothing to do with my flight.

  • I love those moving walkways. Especially when they're bouncy, too. Why can't they have them everywhere? Down Oxford Street, for example – that'd be my kind of shopping: in and out and onto the next store ASAP. No painfully slow browsing and stopping every 5 seconds to avoid wayward tourists...unless I'm in Denmark Street, of course, spending quality time drooling over musical instruments I can't afford.

  • One thing you can rely on in any London terminal: there's always a Starbucks.

  • My hair's gone fuzzy.

  • There are no pens!! Why are there no pens in this terminal?! Darnit, now I have to go buy an expensive, tourist-trap one from the Harrods shop.

  • Aah, nice Harrods man gave me a discount because I didn't have quite enough cash on me. See, this is why I like Harrods: it's one of the only places in London that provides customer service. (Plus, I like the gaudy Egyptian Hall.)

  • Great. My spaghetti has heaps of garlic in it. Hope I don't sit next to a hot guy. Oh, I have gum. All good.

  • Aargh! They have “Star Trek”! My plans to sleep as much as possible just went out the window.

  • Thank God You're Here. Good laugh. Merrick Watts: what a legend. But does anyone else think Rhys Darby is like the Kiwi version of Ricky Gervais?

  • My hair's gone really fuzzy.

  • I love airline food. Vegan meals FTW.

  • Changi airport. Massage = cheap; hot chocolate = expensive. Rob Thomas song is playing – somebody has good taste. Very clean here.

  • Wait – Ewan McGregor has his own fragrance?? Surely he's having us on.

  • My hair is truly disgusting.

  • Our pilot's name is Captain Hook. Rad.

  • Nothing so picturesque as flying into an Australian sunrise over a stunning bank of white and pink clouds. A reminder that, even in the midst of great tragedy, we can find beauty and joy in the things God provides for us.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Issue 5 - The Price of Reason

There are certain things in life I wish someone would just get right. Simple things, which the majority of the Western World uses every day, like staplers and photocopiers.

I have been three years in my current job and not once, in all that time, have I had a stapler that staples. As for photocopiers: don't get me started. The current model I am forced to work with has a feeder that is capable of dragging the entire Yellow Pages through at once (completely unbidden) and then jamming on a piece of fluff. My relationship with a new photocopier does not reach a truce until I have worked out the exact position to place The Boot. In photocopier terms, I have discovered, The Boot is far more expedient than calling in an engineer. It also has the advantage of simultaneously relieving stress and letting the photocopier know who's boss.

You would think, by now, with the amount of usage these things get, somebody would have come up with a design that actually works. You know why I think they haven't? Because too much of the developers' time is wasted trying to unjam their office staplers and photocopiers.

Take jeans, as another example. I do not know one woman who doesn't struggle to find jeans that fit. Jeans are all designed for the Kate Mosses of this world, or, if those of us with a larger derrière do discover a pair that we can wriggle our way into, what do we find? The designer has automatically assumed we also have a beer belly to rival Homer Simpson's. We're women! We have curves! The general rule is hips: out; waist: in.

Starbucks' spoons. How hard can it be to come up with a type of plastic spoon without a razor-sharp edge that strikes mid-muffin and leaves you vaguely resembling The Joker?

Toilets! If Australia can make toilets that flush properly and don't require plunging at the first reminder of last night's curry, why the heck can't Britain and the USA do the same? This makes no sense to me. (On a personal note: WHY OH WHY does Britain have this insane policy of not allowing power-points and light switches in bathrooms?! I hate drying my hair in my bedroom!)

While we're on this subject of nonsensical things, why do they fill olive jars right to the top, so that you cannot possibly open the lid without getting covered in garlic-y brine?

Why don't they fill chip packets up? I don't ever recall asking for “half a packet of delicious, crispy, artery-clogging, potato-y goodness and half a packet of air, please.”

Why do they always discontinue the nicest-smelling fabric softener/perfume/air freshener/deodorant? And the best colour lipstick/nail polish/eye shadow/foundation?

Why do software upgrades always remove the best features of the programme and make it more unstable and completely incompatible with all your other programmes?

Think how wonderful it would be if producers actually made products that did what people wanted them to do! Surely, this is not too much to ask? Or is the price of reason in design just too high? Personally, I think the man who could make a common product using a bit of common sense would be raking in the cash.

But hey, what would I know? I'm just the consumer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Issue 4 - Hair Maketh The Man

(Here's one for the ladies and for discerning men.)


Not the musical, but the organic stuff we all have growing on us.

People spend millions trying to get rid of it; people spend millions trying to get more of it. Some people really need to spend some of their millions doing either/or (Donald Trump, I'm looking at you).

I am most fascinated by the role that hair plays in the consideration of a person's attractiveness; not only that, but how popular culture influences that consideration.

Particularly for men. Remember the undercut? Or the shave-and-peroxide phase?

Over the last 12 months or so, I have noticed a gradual shift in the popular perception of what is "hot" in a man and what is not. For several years, every teen idol and pin-up boy sported a variation on the Emo Fringe - the more side-swept, the better. The current poster child for the Emo Fringe is Zac Efron (although he stole the title from Pete Wentz, who was too busy having babies and Twittering about his personal life to notice). The Emo Fringe in its purest form was complemented by skinny jeans and layers of eyeliner. Oddly enough, tattoos would also get you points. In a way, it was the slick, modern, commercialised version of punk, with a hefty dose of glam rock thrown in.

And chest hair? Pffft!! Don't even GO there! A man didn't get anywhere in the fashionable world unless he was waxed and buffed to a shine. Only the most attractive of the most attractive could afford to get away with anything different. For a while there, it looked like Hugh Jackman was the only one managing to hold his own - ironic, really, considering his all-singing, all-dancing background.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I like a pretty-boy*, but I did feel like the look had become a bit tired. Then, one day, I opened a magazine and found not one, but two fashion adverts featuring very manly men with very manly chest hair proudly on display. What had happened?

Back-track about a year. Enter a certain young vampi-- sorry, a certain young actor by the name of Robert Pattinson. At first, Twilight fans were horrified. This was not the Edward Cullen of their fantasies! He was…scruffy! His hair had not been touched by a pair of straighteners! And what was that growth beneath his shirt?! But, he was…funny…and he sang like a tortured angel…and he played piano…OK, so maybe he didn't sparkle, but that was part of his charm…

Cue screaming girls and massive over-exposure.

There were other signs, too, that made me suspect the winds of change were blowing, bringing female affections back around to the more manly physique: Gerard Butler suddenly surged in popularity after bulking up for "300", mo's and beards were appearing here and there at random, I had never seen so much gush about a pair of thick eyebrows as I was seeing about those belonging to a certain supervillain named Sylar (and if Zachary Quinto grew a bit of facial hair? Look out! Fan girls everywhere were suddenly volunteering to have his babies).

My suspicions were subsequently confirmed by the attention surrounding a particular King. A King of Leon, to be precise. What's interesting here is that the Followill clan has always been a hairy bunch. In truth, they used to look like lumberjacks who had stumbled across 70s fashion a couple of decades too late. But one member, in particular, made some drastic follicular changes and - voilà! - all sorts of things were on fire.

You might be forgiven, at this point, for thinking I mean the bass player, Jared. He is the obvious heartthrob of the band: the cut jaw, the eyes, the cool movie star confidence; he's also formerly a proud supporter of the Emo Fringe - even Miley Cyrus loves him. But, no.

Instead, take one blue-eyed lead singer named Caleb, shorten his ridiculously long hair, grow and cultivate a nice tidy beard/longish stubble and you have a man who looks as good as he sounds. And, boy, is that good.

Now, if only we could get Dave Grohl to see that less is more, all would be well with the world of rock.

I've been thinking through my knowledge of pop history and have decided that I cannot picture any of the following without thinking of their iconic hair:

Jennifer Aniston - "The Rachel"
Salvador Dali
Prince Harry
Tom Selleck
Kurt Cobain (single-handedly responsible for the grunge mop)
Farrah Fawcett (RIP)
Danny Masterson as Steven Hyde
Freddy Mercury
Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow or Edward Scissorhands
Princess Leia
Amy Winehouse
Albert Einstein
Victoria Beckham (don't hate me, just face it - whenever she changes her hair, the whole world stops to look)
The Beatles
The Queen of Simple Chic, Audrey Hepburn.

Wanna get noticed? Storm the charts? Start a revolution? Then either get with the hottest hair trend, or start one.

*Although Harrison Ford will always be top of my list.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Issue 3 - T4 - Salvation?

I'm torn between my head and my heart.

But I'm also fascinated by something...

Let me start at the beginning.


Next, it was:

Then, out of America, came:

Followed by:


*...but we will get to that

Shortly thereafter:

Why the disparity in response between the two countries? Was it, simply, that England's large Welsh and Australian contingents were feeling patriotic about Bale and Worthington? Unlikely.

Is the British audience more willing to accept mediocrity? Possibly - look at the majority of its TV programming. But, then, I'm not British, and you won't catch me watching East Enders, either.

Are the English less hard-core nitpickers when it comes to their sci-fi? Not really.

Or...had they just been smart enough to avoid "Charlie's Angels" and therefore had no deep-set prejudice against McG? Strangely enough, I think this may be closer to the truth.

The more reviews I read, the more I noticed something: the majority of the haters weren't giving a solid reason for their thorough dislike of the movie.

  • "Too loud" - um...what?
  • "Not violent enough" - OK, perhaps. That was definitely one of the problems with Alien vs Predator 1 & 2, but hardly a killing stroke (pardon the pun) in this case.
  • "Too much action vs too little story" - sorry, but there actually was a story there, flaws aside (yeah, yeah, I'm getting to that).
  • "Christian Bale's Connor wasn't engaging" - fair enough, but this is the first of three movies - he's got to give the character some room to grow. Besides, as Bale has said, this really wasn't John's story - it was Marcus' - and one of the things I've always appreciated about Bale as an actor is his understanding of when to hog the spotlight and when to let someone else shine.
  • "The franchise is dead without Arnie" - are you crazy? Would you seriously have wanted The Governator wandering around, trying to equal his former glory? Remember Rambo 4, people...remember Rambo 4...

With each new review, I was left with the uncomfortable impression that the critics really only had two things on their minds: McG's name and Bale's rant.

Now, don't get me wrong. The movie wasn't the best thing I've ever seen, but it was enjoyable. As it should be. It certainly had far more of the "feel" of a Terminator movie than T3 did. I also appreciated the fact that, as with Star Trek, CGI was used sparingly and effectively. In other words, I don't think McG did too bad a job. Sure, the ending felt like it had been stuffed into a VacuSac and had the air sucked out of it (I'm guessing that had to do with the multiple versions and edits that were reportedly trialled), but at least we didn't have to put up with things exploding unnecessarily all over the joint and multiple close-ups of the hero's knee-cap throughout the most crucial moments, as we undoubtedly will get with Transformers 2 in a week or so.

hmmm....Bale's uncontrolled, f-bombing outburst on set. It's interesting to me how much this has set people against the movie itself. And how it comes up in every single negative review. Why? It has no impact on the tone of the movie. More likely it was the other way around - when you watch John go through intense situation after intense situation, you begin to understand the pressure Bale himself must have been under, day in and day out. I'm not excusing his behaviour, but I do understand how the mood of a role can easily rub off on you. It seems, however, that the Americans have taken this mis-step more to heart than the Brits have. Perhaps it's just that, as one of my friends said, the British don't mind a really good rant every now and then.

It does go to show just how a bit of bad (or good) publicity, or a pre-conceived notion, can taint the consumer reaction to something.


Now - as promised - to the problem with the story. Whilst most of the objections I've seen in online forums can be easily debunked, there is one thing that has been troubling me since the day after I saw the movie (yes, it took me awhile to realise this - don't laugh).

[spoiler alert]

Kyle and John are numbers 1 and 2 on Skynet's "most wanted" list...but, John is not yet the leader of the resistance and Skynet doesn't know that Kyle was/will be his father. How does that work? Now, I can accept that maybe John was number 2 for other reasons - something to do with the opening sequence, for example. Or, perhaps, the Terminatrix conveyed her mission to Skynet when she activated the machines at the end of T3. Either of those are perfectly plausible. But nobody (except John and Kate) knows what Kyle will become. Because it hasn't happened yet. The T-800s from T2 and T3 knew, but they were both destroyed in the past. The only explanation I can come up with is this: Dr Silberman and the staff at the institution where Sarah was locked up were the only other people who would have known about Kyle. Cyberdyne Systems is obviously dabbling in medical research at the beginning of the movie, so, perhaps that gave Skynet access to Sarah's medical records.

It's a stretch, but it will have to do.

To be honest, there are other problems with the story - there usually are, in time-travel movies - but they are relatively minor. However, the whole story hangs on this one. Hence, I am torn between my head and my heart. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie; on the other, I will have to turn my brain off the next time I watch it.

P.S. Sam Worthington: we love you and you're a fabulous actor, but next time you might want to get Christian Bale to give you a few lessons in "how to keep up your fake American accent". ;)

P.P.S. Anton Yelchin. I just couldn't finish this post without mentioning him. I liked him as Chekov, but he seriously made an impression on me as Kyle. Unassuming, unflashy, amusing; he plays the character exactly the way he should be played, and he creeps under your skin. Just like Michael Biehn did. My final, overwhelming impression as I left the cinema was, "Man, I could have kept watching him all evening." The kid's got a future. More, please.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Issue 2 - Never Without Controversy: The MTV Awards

The MTV Awards are usually an interesting study, but this year's Movie Awards, in particular, confirmed a number of things for me:
  • Sandra Bullock is still one of my favourite celebs (and one of the most down-to-earth).
  • I have no desire to see any more of Sacha Baron Cohen's naked backside than I already have.
  • Kings of Leon are one of the best rock bands of my generation. (Good to see America is finally waking up to them.)
  • Keeping the camera trained on expressive faces – like Rob Pattinson's and Zachary Quinto's – during comedic moments is always good value.
  • Kristen Stewart has a better sense of humour than people give her credit for.
  • Ben Stiller can actually act – he managed to look engaged, even interested, all the way through the longest, most rambling and ultimately strangest introduction I've ever witnessed. Oh, and he has great hair. That's completely irrelevant, but true, nonetheless.
  • J.J. Abrams is now even closer to the top of my list of people I desperately want to work with.
  • Somebody needs to teach Lil Wayne a few home-truths. Like, "That ego-trip of a speech made you look even more like a dope than you already do."
  • Plugging family members' careers irritates the heck out of me. I don't care if you are Denzel Washington.
  • I like Jim Carrey more and more as time goes by.
  • Twilight rip-offs are funny, even if you're a Twilight fan.
  • I think I just inadvertently and very publicly admitted that I'm a Twilight fan.
  • Damn.
The MTV Awards (...actually, most award shows...) has never really been known for the quality of its comedy. Still, perhaps it's time to consider a different style of host. Andy Samberg can range from hilarious (e.g. one of the night's highlights, for me: the song, "Explosions") to pathetically un-funny (e.g. whatever-the-heck that piece of stupidity/waste of talent with LeAnn Rimes, Chris Isaak and Forrest Whitaker was). Unfortunately, the un-funny moments seemed to outweigh the genius ones - unless I'm completely missing something, I just don't find fairly well-respected celebrities singing expletive-packed nonsense particularly original or entertaining.

I've been mulling over some options for hosts...Hugh Jackman did a stellar job at the Academy Awards, so I suppose the MTV Awards would be a bit of a step down for him...I would suggest Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto - the most refreshingly natural comedic team in a long time - but, considering the incredible success of Star Trek, I imagine they'll be too busy accepting awards next year to hand them out...David Tennant? That'd be cool, but the humour might be a bit too sophisticated for some viewers...seeing as Twilight is likely to dominate the Awards for the next few years, maybe they should just go the whole hog and have "the Cullens" host it. There's 8 of them - at least there'd be something for everyone...Paul Rudd. We love Paul Rudd...or how about we go back to one of the greats? I'd give a lot to see someone like Bill Cosby in the hot seat...arghh...who am I kidding? Like that'd ever happen.

Some final thoughts:
  • Biggest controversy - The internet has been buzzing with speculation for the last two days. Everyone had their opinion about the Eminem/Bruno stunt. All I can say is, props to Eminem for putting himself through it. Nice to see he (apparently) has a sense of humour.
  • Biggest beef - Megan Fox: you get to make movies with both Optimus Prime and Shia LaBeouf. This means your life is pretty good. Please smile.
  • Weirdest date combo - What the heck was Catherine Hardwick doing there with Billy Zane?
  • Best outfit - The little number J.J. Abrams wore for his keyboard solo.
  • Best "D'oh!" moment - Kristen Stewart dropping her trophy (nice cover, by the way). Honorary mention to Shia LaBeouf for not checking beforehand how to pronounce "Cam Gigandet".
  • Pet hate - To everyone, on every award show ever made: you don't need to bend down - the microphone can pick you up!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Issue 1 - A Child of Two Worlds

I will never admit to the number of times I have already seen "Star Trek". It would not help my social ranking - not that that's ever been much to speak of. I will say that I've not watched a movie with such child-like glee since the first time I saw the Star Wars trilogy as a kid.

Now, I know what you're thinking: those two franchises should never be discussed in the same blog. But I don't hold with the idea that you need to be either a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan. I've always loved both...forgiving the last few years of "Deep Soap Nine" and the disaster that was "Enterprise" (what was with all those anti-bac gel baths??)

And so, for me, I can quite happily exist as a child of two worlds. Unlike Spock. Ahem.

Spock. Now there's a blog-worthy subject. Only now am I discovering that I'm not alone in having hankered after Spock in days gone by. Women all over the world are suddenly coming out of the ready-room to admit that it was the pointy-eared one, not the sleazy Shat, who charged their dilithium crystals. (Side note to Trekkers/Trekkies: don't try to tell me the Spock/Uhura relationship came as a surprise. Any woman, at least, who was a fan of the show, picked up on the vibes between those two and, if it wasn't for heavy censorship - courtesy of 60's studio execs and Shatner's ego - they would have had their chance at romance in the original timeline.)

Ahhh, yesss. In this movie, there's none of this nonsense about killing off Spock and then concluding, "That was actually a bad idea. We'd better regenerate him." Oh, no. In THIS movie, we get two for the price of one.

Speaking of which, major kudos to Zachary Quinto. Imagine the pressure: not only do you have to re-define an iconic character, but you have to do it in the very presence of the actor who created him. Yet, apparently, no sweat. We know the man can evince the most magnetic serial killer in TV history; he also has the ability to utter a sincere-sounding, "Live long and prosper," with his lips whilst projecting a reverberating, "Up yours," with his eyes. Yes, there may have been others who could have convincingly played Spock, but, I think, only Zachary Quinto in all his Zachary Quintoness could have played him with such a delicate touch.

In fact, my hat is off to the entire cast and crew. I heartily agree with a fellow blogger's suggestion that The Academy should give the casting director an Oscar.

It's tragic, but the moment Greedo tried to shoot Han first in that &*@%! Special Edition of "Star Wars", I lost my faith in my movie-making hero, George Lucas. J.J. Abrams might just have stepped into that vacated position. Time will tell – but, George, take note: this is what Episodes I to III should have been. An over-reliance on CGI = a sensational suicide. One of the reasons we loved the original trilogy? Because it felt real.

I confess, I was privileged enough to walk the Starfleet-Blue carpet at the London premiere, and was immediately transported into the J.J. fandom. He appears to be a man whose fires of imagination are well-stoked. I swear, you can feel the creative energy leaking out of him. I remember thinking, as he and the stars left the cinema and I resisted the urge to call, "Oi, Poida!" to a bored-looking Eric Bana, that I was in for a ride of Guinan's-hat-proportions.

I wasn't disappointed. It's heart-wrenching, it's fun, it's hilarious, it's sexy. And Kirk didn't even have to get his shirt ripped. Not once.

If you'll excuse the indulgence, I feel I must now take a moment to address a few comments from my fellow Trekkers/Trekkies who did not like the movie:

WERE YOU PEOPLE EVEN WATCHING IT?? Or were you too busy being suffocated by the weight of your own pseudo-scientific nitpicking?

Oh...er...my apologies for that little outburst. (This blog isn't called "The Rant" for no reason.) But, seriously, some fans must have gone in searching for things to hate about it, instead of simply enjoying J.J.'s enchanting storytelling.

Enough has been said about the time-travel aspect of the movie. If you didn't like it, or fully understand that it's a stroke of genius which frees us up for more voyages with the Enterprise crew - without the sapped tension-level that would result from already knowing their fate - then you're screwy, or perhaps you don't remember the Doc's explanation about tangent timelines in Back To The Future. It's the best thing they could have done for our beloved and slightly beleaguered franchise. So build a bridge. Get over it.

Oh, yes – the re-designed bridge. What? Would you have preferred the dot matrix printer that – I swear – Kirk had in one episode?

Now, admittedly, there may have been as many plot holes as black holes, but don't try to tell me there were never any in the series. For example, can someone please explain to me where Voyager's never-ending supply of shuttlecraft came from? Or why, no matter which hostile alien race was currently holding the Enterprise crew hostage, they never thought to guard the Jefferies Tubes?

Now, to the greatest and most consistent complaint I have heard: that Gene Roddenberry would be turning in his grave at the lack of negotiating and philosophising in this re-booted universe.

Firstly, Gene Roddenberry doesn't have a grave.

Secondly, themes of friendship, teamwork, making something of yourself no matter the hand life dealt you, the nature of love, learning to be honest with yourself, the bitter root of hatred, revenge, genocide – are these not enough for you? Or do you need to spend three hours watching the crew float around whilst they try to figure out V'Ger? (Did they ever figure out V'Ger? I think I fell asleep.)

When it all comes down to it, these are not the things that stick in our consciousness.

What does stick?

Klingons. The Borg Queen. Data's love for his (apparently) sequentially hermaphroditic cat, Spot. "Everybody remember where we parked." Exploding consoles. Q. "Tea, Earl Grey." Geordi's VISOR. Odo's bucket. Seven's - erm - assets. Whales. "He's dead, Jim." Holodecks. Vulcan nerve pinches. Q. Those earwig thingys. "I'm giving her all she's got, Cap'n!" Ferengi lobal massages (shudder). "Khaaannn!" Q.
"Space, the final frontier…"

If Chris Pine can continue to make me smile whenever he steps onto the bridge in that gold shirt and exclaims, "Bones! [pause] Buckle up!", I'll continue to make the trek to let him do it, for as many movies as he and the rest of this crew are prepared to give us.