Celebrity Mash-Up

So the Avengers movie happened and made a packet.  And sure as night follows a once-glittering career, mildly tedious internet rumour has it that the ‘they’ who says stuff and controls world affairs is talking to Ben Affleck about directing a Justice League film.  Said Justice League film has, sadly, apparently been green-lit.  Or Green-Lanterned if you prefer.

The ‘they’ referred to above is clearly a collective noun.  Suck it up.

Is another shouty, pouty spandex-clad ensemble piece strictly necessary?  Does anyone actually want another outing for the Green Lantern, let alone see a character with wings named ‘Hawkman’ (see what they did there?) on the silver screen?

Frankly, who cares what you tell other people you want to see?  Not Hollywood – ‘they’ just check the box-office receipts.

But Hollywood has a problem that it doesn’t like to talk about.  Not that kind of problem.  Essentially, computer technology has advanced to such a state that more or less anything that can be imagined can be realised in photorealistic perfection, or at least that’s the public perception.  Familiarity, so the saying goes, breeds contempt – we’ve seen it all before.  In some cases, like the blowing up of famous, largely American, landmarks we’ve seen ‘it’ perhaps too many times.

Computer technology has also given rise to another, heavily publicised problem: Hollywood has to medicate itself against the disease of internet-borne piracy, with pirated clips available more easily and in better quality than ever before.  You could say that there’s a torrent of filesharing, five finger-discounted downloadable content.  Sadly that’s not even in the top fifty of the weakest puns what I’ve done.

Finally, as technology establishes itself it tends to become more affordable for the masses, which will eventually threaten Hollywood hegemony via uppity start-up production companies.

So, the reasoning goes, in order to keep packin’ ‘em into the cinema each new spectacle must be more spectacular than the last – and if we’re no longer to be Amazed by Spiderman then what about Spiderman and a pile of other Marvel superdudes?  Not Spiderman, obviously, because Sony owns the Spiderman movie rights.  And spectacle costs the sort of dosh that uppity wannabees don’t have, which restricts the market.

At this point one might reasonably ask the powers-that-be why they don’t try and do something for the mainstream that doesn’t involve a superhero or other easily franchise-able property.  One would be silly to ask – franchises have established audiences that can be relied upon to shell out for 3D-format tickets and merchandise, innit.  And you can’t say that for Terrence Malick’s latest.  

In all likelihood we’ll have some species of hologramatic madness thrust upon us in a few short years, but until then Hollywood needs to woo the masses and keep the money moving around, and they can’t rely on Marvel alone.

Luckily, the way ahead has been shown us by Dead Presidents Killing Supernatural Bods, or whatever the series will eventually be packaged in a deluxe Blu-Ray Boxset as (heard it here first – Abe Lincoln was just the first assuming it overcomes the marketing costs). 

If Avengers represents the apogee of the comic book franchise, the intellectual property mash-up is its logical evolution.  Given that we’re not going to get away from the flood of superhero films any time soon, here’s what I’d like to see:

Batman vs Bain:  We embrace Rush Limbaugh’s paranoid ramblings about The Dark Knight Rises and make the Shit Romney-baiting Batman film that Limbaugh saw at the cinema.  Bain, a Wall Street Supervillain, breaks Batman by engineering a corporate vulture-style hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises and then starts cutting staff numbers and benefits packages before targeting the unions and selling off assets.  Batman has to fight back by changing his company’s constitution to reclassify shares into A and B categories before forcing through an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.  Batman must gain control of the B shares, which have ten times the voting rights of the A shares, in order to protect his company’s core business from Bain’s diabolical asset-stripping plan. 

Captain Team America:  Exactly the same film as the Captain America one, but made using marionettes and Alec Baldwin instead of Tommy Lee-Jones.

Just For X-Men: Even with his mutant recuperative powers, at his age, Wolverine needs a little help looking fresh.  The film follows his attempts to buy exactly the right shade of chestnut brown hair dye, only to find that his local Boots has run out of stock.  Trading hours are nearly over – will Wolverine be able to hide his roots or will he have to wait until 9:30am tomorrow morning, or 10:00am on Sundays?

The Totes Amazeballs Spiderman: A mash-up of Made in Chelsea and Amazing Spiderman.  Peter Hillington-Parker is a super-powered, monied cretin with a no mark job given to him by Daddy which gives him an obscene annual income in return for doing nothing much.  The tagline is “With Great Wealth Comes No Responsibility”.  Our hero is targeted by Supervillain Saskia and other under-sized and over made-up Sloanes with predatory eyes, expensive taste and zero work ethic.  Hillington-Parker’s costume hangs in his wardrobe: the only moment in which he considers putting it on is when he is forced, heroically, to decide whether to wear it for the Kings Road pub crawl.  Luckily his class-bequeathed better judgement kicks in and he goes dressed as a Nazi instead.

Irn-Bru Man:  Heroin-addicted Anthony McStark likes nothing more than getting smacked up.  But when he’s kidnapped by a politically incorrect racial stereotype named Mandarin, he’s forced to rely on large quantities of Irn Bru in order to survive the hellish reality of coming off ‘the other’ treacly brown elixir while living with Robert Carlyle as a scene-stealing supporting actor.  Directed by Danny Boyle.

Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds is a fighter pilot given a power ring by a dying alien policeman and…no, it’s too ludicrous; they’ll never make that one.

Match Of The Day: Season Preview

Round one came and went, and what a blessed relief it was all round.  Yes, the Premier League kicked off in all its diving, referee-baiting, unacceptably offensive chanting, wanker players with a sense of entitlement-ing and Ashley Cole-based glory.  You can take your Olympics crowds with their positivity and polite deference to socially acceptable norms of behaviour and shove it up your arse, you faackin’ etc etc.

Of course proper League football with proper football fans who are properly bigoted is where it’s at, but you can’t watch Liverpool lose 3-0 to West Brom in League One. 

Some people have suggested that the Olympics experience has much to teach our national game, particularly in terms of that whole respecting people ‘ting.  Said people more usually hold up rugby as a shining example of what football should try and emulate.  That’s as maybe, but all I’ll say in response is that your average rugby fan is no less bigoted than your average football fan; he simply chooses to apply his bigotry to real life instead of at the match.  BOOM.

But I digress…Football’s back, and how sorely it was missed from our TV schedules.  And wherever there’s professional football on the telly, there’s crap punditry.

So here are my predictions for the coming season on MOTD:

More terrible shirts all round.  Fashion tells me that denim shirts are ‘back’ this season for the boys who care about fashion, so expect to see yet more shiny polyfibre atrocities of a Saturday/Sunday night.

Mark Lawrenson to make even less effort than he did at the Euros or in previous seasons and still make more money than you or I on the back of it.  Mark Lawrenson not to get punched in the face, inexplicably.

Alan Hansen: Poor. Shocking.

Harry Redknapp to offer opinions of truly scintillating vacuity even by the standards of MOTD pundits: “Nah, he’s cracking, a top, top lad.”

Mick Mcarthy.  You love him or you don’t.  I do.  I imagine that our Mick will probably start to at least try and offer some genuine insight but then stop because he has to defer to Alan Shearer’s periodic empty, wheezy-breezy noises that sound like words if you don’t listen too closely.  They can’t be words he’s using because words have meanings.

Joey Barton: won’t be a pundit, probably should be, but will continue to confuse Guardian journalist types who don’t know whether to applaud him for his ability to do a Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V combo – copy and paste, yo – on Twatter, or condemn him for his ability to start a brawl with himself if no one else is around.  To be fair, that reflection in the mirror was looking at him funny.

I actually have quite a soft spot for Barton.  He might have borderline-psychotic behavioural issues at times, but on the other hand he’s publicly reading things that snobs like me assume he would be incapable of reading.  Or indeed reading at all.  And if there’s one thing the world genuinely does benefit from, it’s pissing off snobs like me. 

Finally, Gary Lineker to do some puns.

Oh, yeah.  And some football highlights, but we don’t really understand what that fitba malarkey’s all about unless we get someone like Lee Dixon to explain in monosyllables what we’ve just seen on the screen and then proffer up something along the lines of “Oh he’ll be really disappointed with that.” like he works for Sky Sports ITV or something.  

Kirk out.

THAT Speech In Full: Scent Of A Woman

Out of order, I show you out of order.  You don’t know what out of order is,  Mr. Trask.  I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind to get back on the Metropolitan Line.  If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a FLAMETHROWER to the Metropolitan Line!  Out of order?  Who the hell do you think you’re talkin’ to?  I’ve been around, you know?  Victoria Line, Northern Line; I’ve seen ‘em all, even the Hammersmith and City Line and people think  that one was just made up so we could have more stops than New York.  There was a time I could see.  And I have seen.  Boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off, just so some old lady could get on the District Line at Fulham Broadway.  But there isn’t nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit.  There is no prosthetic for that.  You think you’re merely sending this splendid foot soldier back home to CanaryWharf with his tail between his legs, but I say you are… executin’ his soul!  And why?  Because the Jubilee Line is suspended beyond Southwark due to engineering works.  You hurt this boy, you’re gonna be worse than TFL, the lot of ya.  And South-West Trains, Chiltern, Virgin, wherever you are out there, FUCK YOU TOO!

Stan Helsing: Eulogy For The Spoof

Recently I watched the movie Stan Helsing, first because it was on and Leslie Nielson was credited as being in it, then out of a sense of ennui brought about because I couldn’t immediately find the remote and finally, after about 4½ minutes, out of a masochist’s compunction to get to the end credits, regardless of the cost to my few remaining reservoirs of grey matter.  

Stan Helsing is one of those films that’s cheap to make – you don’t have to employ writers for a start – and which presumably exist to keep the money moving round.  Like Michael Bay’s career they’re immune to critics, like M Night Shyamalan’s career they just won’t quite die. 

Stan Helsing: the giant mammary of a titular character is played by somebody called Steve Howey who, according to IMDB, appeared in teenage virgins’ favourite DOA: Dead or Alive.  You know DOA – it’s the one in which the female characters wear clothing that offers no protection from roundhouse kicks, let alone improvised weapons.  There might be male characters in it too, but not so you’d notice, what with all the bikini action on display and all.  I own it in several formats; Holly Valance is a revelation in it.

Stan Helsing: the laughable premise of the mislabelled comedy is that Stan is the simpleton scion of the house of Van Helsing.  Stan works in a video store called Schlockbuster, which is surprisingly not the lamest gag of the film.  He and his loyal sidekick Kenan Thompson, formerly of Kenan and Kel fame and far too gifted a comic for this sort of pulp, are planning to go to a Halloween party accompanied by Desi Lydic “the pretty but vacuous blonde one in the provocative outfits” and Diora Baird “the pretty brunette one with the impressive bust and shapely navel”.  Before the party they have to drop off some videotapes, encountering one movie reference after another until the whole thing eventually ends.  Oh and Leslie Nielson turns up in drag for about 5 lines of dialogue.  And Diora Baird’s chest gets groped a few times.  In the spirit of the level of wit of Stan Helsing: Diora Baird, Best Supporting Actress? Best Supported Actress more like!  Oh how we laughed; it was that or open our veins.

It goes without saying that, as per usual for this quality of film, the girls’ sole purpose in the film is to overstimulate the target demographic and that accordingly they don’t get any good jokes, but to be fair, the boys don’t get any good jokes either.  There’s a tangent here about chauvinism and how few decent roles there are for women, but truth be told, far as I’m concerned, women need neither protecting nor pandering to.  They shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal by the likes of me and ladies, if you ever meet a drippy, self-proclaimed ‘nice guy’ who tells you that you don’t need to worry about make-up and size zero and all that and that you’re all beautiful the way you are, do me a favour and give the condescending prick a kick in the balls: it’s the only way we learn.  Like you needed a guy to tell you that.

Anyway…It’s fair to say that Stan Helsing represents the next level of the devolution of the spoof genre.  And what a fall from grace it’s been since the high flying days of Airplane! and the bang for your buck of the first two Naked Gun films.  It says something of how far we’ve come when you realise that you’ve started to look back on the days of the Wayans brothers with fondness, although at least Scary Movie launched Anna Farris’ career.  

I’m speaking as a lifelong devotee of the Airplane!-style spoof – if you snapped me half like a stick of Brighton Rock you’d find the legend ‘I am serious, and please, don’t call me Shirley’ running through me.   Many years ago I sat in the cinema for my birthday and gurgled with delight at Loaded Weapon 1; I grew up waiting patiently as a trapdoor spider for Naked Gun 2½ to traipse across the TV schedules.  Airplane! remains one of the few films I can return to time and again, whatever my mood or level of hangover.  I even enjoyed parts of Mafia! which is saying something.

The inhabitants of the land of my birth traditionally sneer at American comedy – it’s broad and puerile and can’t compete with the subtle nuances and dry wit of our own, home-grown stuff like Benny Hill.  When it comes to American remakes of British comedy series we have a point.  And it’s fair to say that spoofs have always been hit and miss – hands up anyone who’ll admit to having seen Silence of the Hams or Spy Hard.  But, when a spoof gets it right there’s not a single British film that can match it for sheer joygasmic bliss. 

As a child I oinked and squealed with porcine glee at the hapless adventures of Leslie Nielson’s Frank Drebbin of Police Squad; I particularly liked the Psycho shower scene in Naked Gun 2½ even though I hadn’t heard of Psycho let alone seen it.  I just adored the idea of a killer singing along with a woman in the shower.  Likewise I’ve never seen the disaster B-movie on which Airplane! is said to be based.  I’ve no idea whether the scene in Loaded Weapon 1 in which Emilio Estevez opens up to Samuel L Jackson while the world listens via a police radio is actually based on anything in the Lethal Weapon series.  I don’t much care; it’s worth it to hear Samuel L Jackson say “Hell, I was breastfed ‘til I was 9 years old, and I still don’t understand women.”

Point being that movie references are fine, but the joke shouldn’t purely rely on the audience recognising the provenance – the joke should be funny in its own right.  The film shouldn’t be nothing more than a simple progression of movie references, and most of all, main and supporting characters shouldn’t be a direct reference to a specific character, like the Juno-clone in Disaster Movie.  At least Stan Helsing sort of gets that part right.

Likewise, spoofs are always better when the central performances are played totally straight without a knowing wink to the camera – think Robert Hays in Airplane!, or the mackdaddy of them all, Peter Graves. Peter Graves famously gave an exceptional deadpan performance in Airplane! as the pederastic Captain Oveur.  Almost as famously, he hated the script – he found it deeply offensive; if you watch the film closely you can see him grit his teeth through some of the scenes.  I occasionally wonder what he’d make of the current of filth that followed in Airplane’s wake. 

Too many performances, too many cherished jokes.  The best are cultural junk food, but even those who eat Kobe beef every night sometimes just want a burger.  And just because you’re making a burger doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it with as much care as any chateaubriand of an Oscar-baiting drama.

Stan Helsing marks a nadir, it’s like Oscar Wilde if he’d suddenly decided that saying ‘punilingus’ was a valid alternative to snide wit, like Ren and Stimpy after John Kricfalusi reprised their adventures a few years ago, like the Carry-On films being…even worse.  

Leslie Nielson passed away in November 2010.  I was as devastated by the news as I could be for someone I didn’t know personally, in fact had never met and knew only from a handful of performances.  If I weren’t dead inside, if I had working tear ducts, I’d have shed a tear for the lunatic genius of a man who never stopped doing the same thing he’d always done as an ‘serious’ actor: say the lines, never break character.  With Lloyd Bridges long gone and equally brilliant, it’s high time we said our goodbyes to the spoof genre and let it slip quietly into that good night with what little dignity is left to it. 

Otherwise we’ll just have to get used to more Stan Helsings, more films made by people with no discernible sense of humour, half-assed films made with no care or talent.  Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.

Claiming Credit For The Olympics

It may have escaped your notice, but London was recently host to a fortnight’s worth of partying, or of bread and circuses for the plebs, if you’ve been watching The Borgias on the television.  And with all the sexing and bloodletting and Jeremy Irons-ing, who hasn’t?

Like any host, London was pretty worried that between the weather, the corporate sponsors, security concerns, the creaking public transportation system and what we laughingly refer to as ‘food’, we might drop the baton.  Tension grew as the ‘ting approached, the question on everyone’s lips – would we be the ones to put the ‘limp’ into ‘the Olympics’?

As an aside, and to mix another metaphor or even risk a pun, I found it grimly amusing that certain un-named-for-reasons-of-libel corporate parasites insisted on referring to London as the host without the slightest hint of irony or self-awareness.

The Olympics was the perfect occasion for doublethink London to host – both professionally cynical and naively joyful, ruinously expensive despite what certain politicians with, dare I say it, an idiosyncratic approach to facts, might say.  Revenues have been down on what the tourist trap metropolis normally expects for August.  The budgetary woes have been written about to such an extent that the words used have lost all meaning.  Suffice it to say, a money spinner this was not.  Well, except tangentially for, like, all the corporation-ey people and, like, the International Olympics Committee and that and probably FIFA or sumfink, but that goes without saying. 

But none of that really matters.

Before the games, the British public had the opportunity to do what we do best – grumble for months on end about what a disaster it was going to be and then throw ourselves into it with reckless abandon like your dad on the dancefloor.  And throw ourselves in we did – even hipster twats forgot to affect an ironic disposition about the whole thing. 

And all things considered, the whole thing went off pretty darn well, even public transport was a relative frolic.  It goes without saying that the medal haul for Team GB was a welcome surprise, particularly given the slow start.  The circus proved a welcome distraction and we feasted on that bread, starved plebs that we are.  

Auntie BBC’s coverage was excellent, even if some of the commentary was a touch purple.  The editors contrived to give the highlights packages a sense of narrative cohesion that Sir Ridley Scott’s last few efforts have notably lacked.  I’m not entirely convinced that the nation has in fact arisen butterfly-like from the chrysalis of our post-imperial slumber, but it made for good telly.  One hopes that the Channel Four team was taking notes for their Paralympics coverage, which, lest we forget, is soon to commence.

In the short term we’ll remain a nation of dressage experts, connoisseurs of fencing.  We’ll even talk semi-seriously about how we’ve all gone off football for about five minutes until the season kicks off in earnest and we can all have a good laugh about how much money Chelsea spunked on Eden ‘can’t do a backheel without falling over’ Hazard.  Until he embarrasses your team, or mine.

It’s probably too much to hope that all those people who talked of plastic Brits might apologise, but at least the rest of us can sneer at their embracing of Mr Mo-bot as one of their own.  Yeah, we get it, you’re not just a bit racist, you just think that Team GB should be for the Great British.  Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that Mark Cavendish is from the Isle of Man.

Will the achievements of our athletes galvanise the nation to forge ahead as one and battle down the economic travails arguably being exacerbated by George ‘Hooverville’ Osborne and chums?  Not likely.  Will it encourage the nation to get exercising and battle the bulge?  For about two weeks.  Will the Spice Girls reunite to release a new album?  I hope not.  Will anyone ever again want to hear that bloody Chariots of Vangelis song?  Doubtful.

Will we even be able to maintain this feeling of goodwill?  Maybe until the next Eurozone crisis, in about half an hour’s time.

But until then normal service is suspended, we can forget our reserves of reserve and allow ourselves a collective smile of self-satisfaction.  All in all, we done good.  

Obviously when I say ‘we’ I exclude you and me both, because we just watched it on the box like the lazy, nay-saying buggers we are.

Paris, Je Voudrais Braaaiinnnnzzz

In 2006 a fussy, patchy little movie with a frou-frou concept caused enough of a stir finance-wise to convince its progenitor to make another one, this time set in New York. And indeed Emmanuel Benbihy is said to be planning to roll out his Paris Je T’aime concept to cover every major conurbation in the world. Soon enough he’s alleged to be doing Shanghai, Rio De Janeiro, Jerusalem and so on before eventually settling on less glamourous locales such as Newark. Or Gdansk.

The concept: a series of mawkish encounters suffused with the promise of romance against the backdrop of the eponymous city. After a couple of hours of these vacuous vignettes the viewer is so stuffed full of sickly sentimentality that he or she loses all higher brain function, goes on the internet, buys a ticket and shortly thereafter wanders around said city getting confused by pavements and staircases (hint: walk up or down, don’t stand blocking the entrance), and more generally clogging the city’s thoroughfares while boosting specialised parts of its economy. In other words they become what pedants tend to call ‘tourists’ and what I prefer to call ‘zombies’.

Essentially, Emmanuel Benbihy has made a career out of producing glossy adverts that star the likes of Ashton Kutcher, and you and I fall for it. Especially me, because I actually bought Paris, Je T’aime and enjoyed some of it. I’m particularly looking forward to Two’s Up In Margate – 18 short films about the joys of getting pissed up and having a shag in an alleyway in a provincial coastal town.

And some time around short film number 10 of brain-dead, drooling, shuffling, pallid humanoids emerging from Margate’s shadowy back streets it’ll occur to me that Brad Pitt’s pet project adaptation of the Max Brooks novel World War Z has missed a trick. Unless it hasn’t, in which case this twaddle has even less point.

The production is said to be troubled – moviespeak for “we started shooting without a script because that’s usually ok except this time it wasn’t because we forgot Michael Bay isn’t involved.” Well clearly the solution is right there in plain sight like a horde of the undead pouring down the Champs Elysees.

Brad Pitt is obviously too emotionally involved in the production when what the film needs is a safe pair of hands, a man who can organise a vast army of directors, actors, writers, cinematographers of varying levels of interest and inspiration. Brad Pitt, no, World War Z needs Emmanuel Benbihy. Or at least the Benbihy approach – Paris, Je Voudrais Brraaaaaaaaaaiiinnnnzzzzz.

Think about it – film as overview of the decade-long war against the undead, that spans the globe as a series of short films by different directors and crews, different actors playing the various roles, roughly according to the book. Obviously it would be necessary to ensure a consistency of zombie across each film. But other than that, go crazy. Personally I’d like to see Nolan’s IMAXed zombies, Tom Cruise getting bitten and then slowly turning, as captured by Paul Thomas Anderson. Christopher Walken as anything at all.

Especially Christopher Walken.

It might even be a nice idea to get directors and actors from each country in which the action takes place – Beat Takeshi Kitano channelling Zatoichi – there’s a bit in the book for which this would be appropriate. Or Alan Mak and Andrew Lau reuniting with Tony Leung and Anthony Wong. Or…You get the picture.

And who knows, maybe Benbihy would realise that there’s more to life than gooey travelogues starring Natalie Portman.

THAT Speech in Full: Pulp Fiction

Hello, little man. Boy, I sure heard a bunch about you. See, I was a good friend of your dad’s. We were in that Hanoi pit of hell together for over five years. Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience this yourself, but when two men are in a situation like me and your dad were, for as long as we were, you take on certain responsibilities of the other. If it had been me who had not made it, Major Coolidge would be talking right now to my son Jim. But the way it turned out is I’m talking to you, Butch. I got something for ya. [Holds up all day breakfast sandwich with egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and fried tomato] This all day breakfast sandwich I got here was first purchased by your great-grandfather during the first world war. It was bought in a little general store in Knoxville, Tennessee, made by the first company to ever make all day breakfast sandwiches. Up until then, people just ate more basic sandwiches like cheese or ham. It was bought by Private Doughboy Ryan Coolidge the day he set sail for Paris. This was your great-grandfather’s war sandwich, and he carried it every day he was in the war. Then when he had done his duty, he went home to your great-grandmother, took the sandwich out and put it in an old coffee can. And in that can it stayed ’til your granddad Dane Coolidge was called upon by his country to go overseas and fight the Germans once again. This time they called it World War Two. Your great-grandfather gave this sandwich to your granddad for good luck. Unfortunately, Dane’s luck wasn’t as good as his old man’s. Dane was a Marine and he was killed along with all the other Marines at the battle of Wake Island. Your granddad was facing death, and he knew it. None of those boys had any illusions about ever leaving that island alive. So three days before the Japanese took the island, your granddad asked a gunner on an Air Force transport named Winocki, a man he had never met before in his life, to deliver to his infant son, who he had never seen in the flesh, his all day breakfast sandwich. Three days later, your granddad was dead. But Winocki kept his word. After the war was over, he paid a visit to your grandmother, delivering to your infant father, his Dad’s sandwich. This sandwich. This sandwich was in your Daddy’s knapsack when he was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured and put in a Vietnamese prison camp. He knew if the gooks ever saw the sandwich that it’d be confiscated; taken away. The way your Dad looked at it, this sandwich was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes were gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass. Five long years, he wore this sandwich up his ass. And when he died of dysentery, he gave me the sandwich. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of bread, egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and fried tomato up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the sandwich to you.

Punch Drunk Scientology

So it turns out that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.  The very idea that he’s ‘making it up as he goes along’ flies very much in the face of what Tom Cruise, reportedly, reputedly understood the author of Battlefield: Earth to be doing when he developed Scientology.

Now Scientology, it’s fair to say, is a fairly divisive organisation.  It’s certainly highly secretive, beholden to its own practices and power structures and possessed of some beliefs of its own that appear from without as being a little…strange. It also arguably has an apparent scant regard for the beliefs of nonbelievers.  In the spirit of non-judgement, and for clarity, the above represents a standard description of almost any religion, denomination, cult or other belief-based organisation when viewed from the outside.

And like all religions, I personally find Scientology inherently fascinating.  It appears that Paul Thomas Anderson also finds it fascinating, if the whisperings about his latest film The Master are to be believed.

Whoa there, sparky, Anderson doesn’t really do films about stuff, now does he?  Punch Drunk Love, so far as I can tell, is a movie about what happens when Adam Sandler takes his job seriously instead of gurning a bit and talking like he hit his head one too many times as a child. Which is rather insensitive of him in these hypersensitive, easily offended times, non?  Adam Sandler: an actor of surprising depth and sensitivity, who’d a thunk it?

In my mammothly self-regarding opinion, Anderson’s skill as a director lies in coaxing career-best performances from his cast, in letting them go to town with their tics and foibles – giving them space to improvise like Miles Davis used to claim he did.

Hard Eight and to a greater extent Boogie Nights and Magnolia are ensemble dramas, more about characters and character studies than anything so mundane as plot.  Likewise, There Will Be Blood is more a vehicle for Daniel Day Lewis’ extraordinary turn as a milkshake aficionado than a mere story.

In fact, if you were to assess Anderson’s output based on plot and storyline you might well conclude that Boogie Nights is overlong and self-indulgent, a plasticky, sanitised take on the John Holmes story but worse than that sounds because it also involves Burt Reynolds.  Likewise, Magnolia is more a series of vignettes tied together tenuously at best that go nowhere, with a jarring, silly bit that comes from nowhere – you know what I’m talking about.  Type of thing.

So it’s probably fair to say that The Master will have less to do with ‘The Cause’ around which the movie is said to revolve and the primary reason for its infamy, and more to do with setting the scene and watching Hoffman, Phoenix et al do their thing.

So why, assuming I’m not wrong, create a trailer that appears designed to troll Scientologists and particularly one of Anderson’s former collaborators?  Controversy, like an ass-kicking Milla Jovovich in increasingly impractical outfits, sells.  The Master appears to be one of those mid-budget films that are almost guaranteed to lose money – the sort of film that studios don’t make anymore because they’re in the business to, you know, make money.  And while people may say they want to see grown up films, the ones that actually turn a profit tend to rely heavily on guns and girls, explosions rather than exposition.

Or put another way, I’d bet you any money that Paul WS Anderson has grossed more disgusting wealth to date with his gosh-darn awful Resident Evil series alone than Paul T Anderson has with his entire oeuvre.

And while obviously you and I are sophisticates who listen to jazz, read Nobel Prize-winning literature and prefer to watch proper movies by actual film-makers, actually you and I both know that’s a total lie.

So I’ll see you at the cinema for Resident Evil 5, yeah?

The Dark Knight Rises Again

According to stand-up comedian Karl Marx – not of the Marx brothers – history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

And so it was that a comic book…hero isn’t quite the right word… who shared some of the same roots as film noir except with a cape n’ cowl in place of a nifty trenchcoat-fedora-drinking problem combo, turned into Adam West, he of the paunch, the dancing and the bat shark repellent spray.

Decades later Burton’s gothic fairytales of grotesques and mad men begat Val Kilmer’s backside and George Clooney’s nipples.  And Schwarzenegger as a scientist.  Everything freezes indeed.  History repeated as tragedy, the Batman franchise was put on ice.

There were rumours of course, but nothing concrete: Schumacher feels guilty enough about Clooney to make the Batman film the fans actually want instead of the Batman film the toy company wants.  They’re doing a Batman: Beyond film, probably a sort of neon-nightmare techno noir.  No they’re not – they’ve cast frickin’ Dirty Harry to do Frank Miller’s paranoid fascist take on Batman as an egomaniacal retiree. No, it’s gonna’ be a Justice League movie because Wonder Woman isn’t an embarrassing anachronism and they haven’t already done enough to kill Superman’s cinematic reputation.  I have no idea whether Wonder Woman is an anachronism, but the hotpants and basque don’t inspire hope.  Let’s ignore Green Lantern for the time being.

Anyhoo, Batman slumbered on until films like Xmen and Spiderman proved that the public adores spandex.  Green lights were lit and several years and two films later Nolan had shepherded The Batman into a box-office smashing behemoth, like a fiscal Incredible Hulk.  Or the DC Comics equivalent if you prefer.

After The Dark Knight, the stakes were high and the knives were drawn even while the collective audience drooled in anticipation.  After all, as Nolan himself remarked, how many good third films can you name?

Plus there were persistent rumours about the studio wanting Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler, or Eddie Murphy whenever they fancied trolling the denizens of the internet.

When I heard the news that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman, sorry, Selina Kyle, I thought “oh dear, Nolan, you’ve clearly lost your mind.”  Maybe the pressure had caused him to crack – I pictured a crazed Howard Hughes figure clinging to an Imax camera while dementedly wrecking his own production with stunt casting, silly flying vehicles and improbable gadgets before demanding more Ewoks.

Because teddy bears with sticks would definitely bring down an evil galactic empire.  Obviously.

Anne Hathaway, star of the Princess Diaries and lazy fluff such as One Day, or that one where Steve Carrell’s a spy and Dwayne Johnson…also happens.  Anne Hathaway, probably a decent actor, typically appears in mediocre films, like a Sandra Bullock mk II.

That being said, my first reaction to Nolan’s Batmobile was one of utter bemusement, my reaction to the news that the ‘star’ of the appalling A Knight’s Tale was playing the Joker one of whole-hearted contempt.  Hindsight is a lovely thing, and Miss Hathaway’s Selina hits all the femme fatale notes, because that’s essentially what Catwoman is, with aplomb.  Several ‘plombs’ even.

The Dark Knight Rises is too long, there is no Heath Ledger performance, there is a race against time cliché, there is a silly flying vehicle; it is a typical sequel – the villainy more villainous, the danger more dangerous.  A flawed masterpiece, then, but a masterpiece nonetheless.  The Dark Knight was a tough act to follow, its own significant flaws notwithstanding, but Rises finishes what Nolan started with self-assurance, style and even a little gravitas.  No mean feat for a series of films based on an irredeemably silly premise.  I liked it anyway.

Which brings us neatly to Karl Marx.  The rumbling post-Avengers and pre-Rises was that Nolan’s darker take on Batman was, whisper it, a touch out of date, old hat (and therefore financially risky).  Why so serious, Nolan? Avengers represents the future-elect of comic books on film – lighter and less alienating, funny if you like corny one liners and featuring a pouting woman in a sexy outfit.  Hell, you can even take your kids to see it without feeling on some level like maybe you’re a bad parent.  And Scarlett Johansson’s bum is in it.  In 3D.

Now it all rests on The Man Of Steel.  If that does well, which it almost inevitably will, we’ll probably get the day-glo Justice League inflicted on us, Green Lantern’s shonky catchphrase and all.  With Wonder Woman’s bum in it.  And boobs.  In 3D.

What if Man Of Steel isn’t so good, and with Zack Snyder at the helm I’m not exactly holding my breath, what if people don’t like sombre Superman, what if it underperforms – what then for the Bat?  There are rumours, of course, but nothing concrete.  And there’s no reason pessimistically to assume that we’ll get Clooney camp rather than Keaton crazy, except for the weight of comic book celluloid history, but my money’s on ‘The Kitsch Knight Re-rises’: history repeated as farce.

With Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler.