What’s In A Name?

A boring title can sink a film – a dull albatross round the neck that reeks of self-consciousness and lack of faith.  A boring title says nothing so much as ‘we have no ideas, but we don’t much care.’

Who is Aaron Cross?  An angry bystander name of Aaron?  A vengeful priest?   What if nominative determinism doesn’t apply?  Did you care to find out?  Universal didn’t risk an estimated $125m on that question and instead called their film The Bourne Legacy.

Who is Alex Cross?  Do you know?  Do you care to find out?  The tagline for the film says “Don’t Ever Cross Alex Cross”.   Do you still care to find out?

Well roughly $35m has been bet on you wanting to find out.  Did you know that the character has appeared in two previous films?  Morgan Freeman played him in 1997’s Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider (2001).  This time round it’s Tyler Perry in the now eponymous role.

What about Jack Reacher?  Or Jack Ryan?

Or John Carter (although he deserves a post all of his own).

The Bourne Legacy had a vested interest in maintaining links with the previous trilogy, a byword for quality actioner.  The film poster utilised an eye-catching, if mildly disingenuous, shuttering technique that slightly obscured star Jeremy Renner’s face.  At a casual glance you’d be forgiven for assuming it was Matt Damon again.

Alex Cross and Jack Ryan, however, represent reboots of pre-existing characters, clean slates.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan first appeared onscreen in The Hunt For Red October (1990), in which he was played by Alec Baldwin as a slightly gawky CIA analyst.  Ryan has since been portrayed by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear And Present Danger (1994) as a more straightforward action-oriented character.  Then there was The Sum Of All Fears (2002), in which Ben Affleck did for Jack Ryan what George Clooney did for Batman.

Certainly in Ryan’s case there seems to be some desire on the part of the film-makers to delineate between Chris Pine’s portrayal and previous ones.  The question is whether the name Jack Ryan means enough to people to convince them to hand over their hard-earneds at the mulitplex.  And given the wildly different portrayals of the character, I’m yet to be convinced that the requisite brand recognition exists.

Jack Reacher, on the other hand, is making his debut, based on the book One Shot.  The suspicion here is that the film-makers are making pointed overtures to the existing fanbase – Lee Childs’ creation has starred in 17 books to date.  In theory this should satisfy early box-office requirements, with the crucial word of mouth effect picking up the slack and carrying the film triumphantly into the black.

It’s a fairly high-risk strategy given that the rough and ready, 6”5’ Reacher – a male fantasy figure par excellence – is being played by Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise is a fantastic talent, but Reacher fans have been notable by their dismay at the casting.  Qualms about the relative ages and heights of character and actor have been particularly prevalent.  This seems unfair, given that Reacher’s age is broadly immaterial – it’s enough that he’s experienced, even a little grizzled.  Likewise, his physical size is a device designed to imply his formidable nature – ‘an unstoppable force’ as Childs describes him, which wouldn’t be a bad description of Cruise himself.

The books themselves are reasonably high quality pulpy thrillers, Childs using punchy sentences and dropping otherwise necessary words like ‘the’ to up the pace and instil a sense of immediacy on proceedings.

Height aside, Tom Cruise would seem a good fit for the role – high octane, apparently indestructible with near boundless energy.  Nevertheless, his appears to have been a controversial choice.

The other criticism, however, is possibly insurmountable.  Jack Reacher is hardly Cruise’s first franchise, and from the trailer his Reacher seems indistinguishable from that Mission: Impossible fella, if a little more low-tech.

The risk then is that Tom Cruise may alienate the existing fanbase, while the name Jack Reacher will mean nothing to most people, who’ll assume it’s just another Cruise thriller – he runs around doing his own stunts, things explode, at one point he cracks out his blinding grin, the audience try to stifle their yawns.

Action-thrillers battle it out in a highly competitive market; the one link between all of these characters (John Carter included) is that they have deliberately bland names that give nothing away, especially not their careers or skill set.

And to be fair, when was the last time you met someone called Action McSoldiersson?

Trailers these days tend to give away too much plot and occasionally render actually watching the film in question a redundant exercise.  For these lads, however, an over-sharing cinematic come-on might be their only hope.  Otherwise these films might suffer at the box office, might well be ignored by virtue of ignorance.

James Bond was famously chosen because it was the most unobtrusive and unmemorable name Ian Fleming could dream up.  Today it’s one of the more recognisable monikers out there.  The suspicion lingers that someone somewhere has badly overestimated the affection and notoriety of Jacks Ryan and Reacher and Alex (not Aaron) Cross.

The Man Who Wrote A Book With A Ridiculously Long Title That You Absolutely Must Read, By Jonas Jonasson

By ‘absolutely must’ I mean ‘might like to’, of course.

The long winter draws in, brittle and dry as a glamour model’s hair extensions.  A chill wind fumbles with forlorn Christmas decorations that punctuate the street like misplaced apostrophe’s.  The book sits on my shelf staring at me, reproach in its spine, reminding me that I promised to lend it out and yet have consistently failed to do so.  The book is a Victorian orphan peering sadly through the toyshop window, abandoned and alone.

I’m sorry, book.  Would you forgive me, book?

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of His Window And Disappeared is the debut novel by Jonas Jonasson.

Allan Karlsson is 100 years old.  But rather than celebrate his centenary in the warm, fuzzy confines of his nursing home he clambers out the window and begins a journey across his native Sweden the book’s blurb describes as ‘picaresque’.  This maundering and murderous voyage is interspersed with an account of Allan’s life to date, in which it turns out that he was present at a number of the 20th century’s key moments.

Picaresque, in case you were as unaware of its meaning as I was until right this second, means: of or relating to rascals or rogues.

The professionals claim that the rules are simple: edit, edit some more.  Be prepared to kill your darlings; avoid clichéd turns of phrase like ‘kill your darlings’.  Adjectives are not your friends, nor are similes or puns.  Especially not puns – the only thing less acceptable than a pun is an exclamation mark!  Metaphors should be treated, at best, with suspicion and sentences should be succinct and to the point.  One subject to a sentence, please.  On the subject of succinctness, writing is not an excuse to show off the breadth of your vocabulary, and likewise you should resist the temptation to write in jargon, dialect or argot.  Your characters say things, sometimes they may shout if the circumstances are appropriate: they do not exclaim, intimate, demand or do anything else that suggests you’ve engaged in the act of writing, which is gauche.

‘The professionals’ may never have heard of Gustave Flaubert or James Joyce but they would approve of Jonas Jonasson if writers weren’t all consumed by paralysing envy.

Hundred Year Old Man’s prose style is straightforward and almost child-like in its simplicity, which neatly reflects the character of the protagonist.  This is not to say the book or its hero is/are simple-minded – there is a difference between simplicity and stupidity.  Rather, the book aims at, and achieves, the sort of utilitarian legibility that Ikea instruction manuals tend to lack.  I’m assuming that it was faithfully translated into English.

For those of you who are less pretentious than moi, Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing runs that the words on the page should be the tip of the iceberg; most of the meaning lies beneath the surface and should be inferred by the reader rather than explicitly stated by the writer.  Hundred Year Old Man is that sort of novel,  although it’s arguably a bit too irreverent for that sort of chin stroking analysis (give that  man a Booker prize).

The plot zips along as quickly as the body count mounts, its gentle (if a little black) humour obscuring the serious points – cotton candy with a hook in it.

It’s a holiday read you won’t need to hide on an ebook.  For best results, team it up with a tall glass of something alcoholic that isn’t some form of banana liquor and doesn’t come with an umbrella.  Preferably vodka based.

Scandinavian books, films and tv shows often tend towards dark and gloomy – bleak affairs that can weigh a little heavy.  Hundred Year Old Man is not that – in fact if there’s a criticism it’s that it risks coming off as rather lightweight; impressive flights of imagination that quickly become a little self-conscious, even repetitive at times.  In a word: superficial.

That’s not how I read it, though.

If you go to bed every night clutching an F Scott Fitzgerald collection to your bosom, the prose might not suit your taste.  If you like your fiction to come with lashings of overt literary pretension, likewise.  For everyone else it’s easy on the eye, it’s got a lot of charm and you might learn something without once feeling like you’re being lectured.

Take me for example: I learned the meaning of the word ‘picaresque’.

Diagnosis: Writer’s Block

I have some bad news, I’m afraid.  It’s writer’s block.  You’ve got it pretty bad, worst case I’ve seen since before Stephen King realised he could simply cut and paste a different haunted/evil object into his previous novels.   You’ve got nothing to say and no words with which to say it.  That last sentence is a case in point.  There’s a nasty strain of it going round, Dr-patient confidentiality prevents me from naming names, but you know who they are.

There’s no real cure – we can try to treat the symptoms, but that’s about it.  It might last for days or weeks, maybe years.  Maybe it’ll never go away.

Another thing. Um. This isn’t easy, I don’t want to be insensitive at this difficult time…but, your insurance doesn’t cover it.  I’d love to help, but my frustrated hands are tied.  See, you’re even lifting lines from The Faculty.

Don’t try and hide it; don’t try swiping bits and pieces from here and there hoping no one will notice.  People notice these things: people will notice.

Your condition has received a lot of media attention, it’s no longer seen as just a, a fiction writer’s disease anymore, y’know a lifestyle thing.  People might be uncomfortable at first, then rubberneck, ask to see the scars.  I served in ‘Nam, I know how it is.  But they won’t cross the street to avoid you.  They won’t commit hate crimes against you – won’t call you ‘blocky’ or worse.  Well, some might.  There’s always some asshole.  But that’s something, right?

Mostly they’ll try and be understanding, even though they can’t understand.

I won’t lie to you, it’s gonna’ be a difficult few months: recuperation, rehabilitation, that’s assuming the treatment even works.  That’s assuming you get your insurers to back you.

No, you can’t afford me.  Go on, say pro bono on more time.

You’ll get frustrated, but whatever you do, don’t rush it, don’t try and force it by writing crap like this:

Phone box, somewhere in the Midwest, some kind of suburban ‘city’ like Aurora, Illinois. Spring time, midnight, in the rain.

…Franklin it’s me.  I can’t talk long I think the feds is trailin’ me – maybe they got a wire I dunno’, I ain’t some poindexter just some schmo’ got in too deep.  I think I’m goin’ down this time, Franklin, all ‘cause some broad couldn’t keep her mouth shut round some bent cop who wanted out.  He wanted to go straight, sold me out to pay for it.

Listen Franklin, I gotta’ go; they’re closing in like that old show Dragnet.  Tell Babyface if I catch him messing with my hooch he’ll be sorry, tell Kazinsky to cool it for a while, and tell… tell my little cousin Sammy I’m gonna’ miss his big game.  Break it to ‘im gently.  And Franklin? Tell my old lady, tell her…Oh shucks they comin’ and I don’t think they’re playin’ this time.  Just tell her somethin’ sweet ‘n easy.

[off phone]

I ain’t goin back, ya hear?! I won’t go!  You’re gonna’ have to come get me!

[gun shots ring out]

Dial tone…

See how awful that was?  How hackneyed?  I mean you could throw in some expletives or something, some pop-culture references, do a Tarantino.  Or maybe some explosions.  Have it follow a car chase and you’ve got a Michael Bay film right there.  Or…you get the picture.

Just don’t give up the fight.

See, you’ve even given me writer’s block.  It shouldn’t even be infectious.

Like I said, you got it bad.

THAT Speech In Full: Dracula (1992)

She lives beyond the grace of God, a wanderer in the outer darkness of the Australian outback. She is “Nadine Dorris MP”, “Mad Nad”, a narcissistic, publicity-hungry politician.  These creatures do not die like the bee after the first sting, but instead grow strong and become immortal once infected by another narcissistic, publicity-hungry politician, such as George “The Cat From Celebrity Big Brother” Galloway MP.  

So, my friends we fight not one beast but legions that go on age after age after age, feeding expense accounts on the blood of the living.

ITV Football: The New Boy’s First Day

Roy Keane fixed the new boy with a laser glare, freezing the terrified lamb to the spot.  “I don’t like smartarses, you hear? You’re not a smartarse, are ye?”

“Nnn..nnno, no.    Sir”

The boy trembled, fear leaking from every pore and every orifice, filling the cramped pundits box with a sour, unpleasant odour.

“Yer not shitting yerself are ye?”

The boy jerked his head from side to side, pupils dilated and buttocks clenched.  A bead of sweat trickled languorously down the small of his back to tickle the valley between his cheeks like an office manager on an intern.


Seemingly satisfied, Keane turned to leave.  The boy failed to prevent himself from heaving a sigh of relief.  Keane spun violently on his heel, a thought announcing itself on his face like a storm front.

“What do you think of that Martin Keown?”

A test, clearly.  But the boy didn’t know the rules or even the price of failure.  He stammered lamely, forcing the words out.

“Uum, he was a great player? He’s quite insightful on” but Keane interrupted the boy with a ferocity that, perhaps, surprised even himself;

“I SHIT ‘IM!!!  He’s got a face like one of those Easter Island statues.  I hate Easter Island.  He’s a stinking, simian, Easter Island wetbag; even Vinnie Jones could take him.  Prawn sandwich-munching, gimpy twat; I’ve taken DUMPS with more personality.”

He spat on the floor, as if to expel an evil taste, “I despise that goggle-eyed, vein-necked mongrel.”

With that he stalked off to find the makeup artist assigned to soften his own granite-hewn features in a vain attempt to prevent small children from having nightmares. 

He was intercepted by a cloud of pinkish mediocrity. “Hello Roy!” bounced the jovial jowls of Adrian Chiles. Keane said nothing but glowered into Chiles’ eyes, inches from his face.  They held one another’s gaze with all the tenderness of the Marquis De Sade faced with an underage servant girl.  Chiles broke eye contact first, re-affirming Keane’s dominance. 

Sated, Keane nodded brusquely in the direction of the new boy and his swampy armpits.  “Southgate’s replacement.”  Keane raised his voice “IF THIS ONE AVOIDS TALKING ALTOGETHER MAYBE I WON’T BITE HIS FACE OFF.”

Chiles approached the new boy, who by now was weeping viscous tears from his genitals, a mix of excitement and despair. “He’s just joshing, don’t let him intimidate you.  A lovely guy, really.”

But Chiles’ eyes betrayed the numb terror of a hunted animal.  He weighed up the new boy in his mind. He has a certain forcefulness about his manner of dress and choice of barnet, or lack thereof, he thought, maybe he won’t end up like Lee. 

Chiles shuddered as his mind filled with too many unwanted memories, unspeakable horrors that woke him up in the early hours, night after night:  Keane standing over the broken, crying form of Lee Dixon hitting him again and again with a foam hand he’d taken from a lovestruck young couple in the stadium, the constant humiliations, spittle collecting in the corners of Keane’s mouth as he smashed a chair over Gareth Southgate’s head and used the pieces to threaten Jamie Carragher during the Euros, Keane laughing in the face of a toddler as he stole her tube of Smarties.

Keane shouting, Keane stamping, Keane’s demeaning little slaps to the face, the pointing, the crazed eyes of a zealot, burning through your skin…

Yes, Chiles thought, poor kid doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for.

Especially with that tie: Keane hates lime green.

James Bond In Skyfall: The Man With the Golden Anniversary

James Bond is 50 this year, because no one reads books any more so they don’t count.  In light of this, there’s been a primeval forest of material fetishising the fashions, guns, girls, cars and gadgets.

Sky has conjured up its own 007 movie channel for those people who don’t get ITV, which is free.

There is also a new 007 perfume for those of you who might be fans of old spice mixed with gasoline, with a top note hint of vodka and last night’s sexual acrobatics. You too can smell like the man himself absolutely wouldn’t. 

Legal Disclaimer: the 007 cologne doesn’t smell anything like the above; it’s not that appetising.

But all the merchandising and friendly puff-piecing is by the by.  The main question is: is Skyfall actually any good?  The consensus seems to be that it’s much better than Quantum of Solace even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Casino Royale.  It’s certainly overlong and rather silly, but this is Bond so that’s damn near as necessary as the Walther PPK and the bevy of nubile beauties.

It’s also beautifully shot, well-paced even if it tires a bit towards the end and generally exactly what you’d want from a Bond film.

The gist: someone has managed to get their antagonist’s hands on a list of secret operatives embedded in terrorist networks, Bond (Daniel Craig) is dead and the department is collapsing around itself.  Dame Judy Dench’s M is in an increasingly untenable position, apparently targeted by Ralph Fiennes’ government bureaucrat, Mallory.

The film opens with a sequence that sums up the strengths of Craig’s terrier-like Bond: he doggedly gives chase in a manner that is blunt and clumsy, if effective.  He bleeds freely, a visceral reminder of this Bond’s vulnerability.  There’s a neat gag involving cufflinks and an intrusive bit of product placement before the pre-credits vignette is capped off with a typically audacious stunt: a plunge from a bridge that is quite literally breath-taking.

Director Mendes resists the temptation to insult the audience’s collective intelligence by attempting to give a plausible explanation for Bond’s survival of this.

As befitting the man with the golden anniversary, Skyfall is broadly concerned with the question of Bond’s continuing relevance to the modern world.  Is the spy with a gun and an easy charm not a bit past it?  What value such a man in today’s world of highly mobile cyber-warfare in which the biggest threats are shadowy corporate entities and terrorist cells?  It’s a touch myopic but not unwarranted. 

This is reflected in Ben Whishaw’s Q, the dynamic shifted to leave Bond as the old dog with Q the young pup: the future of espionage (actually the present).

The point about Bond’s age and relevance is hit home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when Mallory pointedly tells him that he has an opportunity to ‘stay dead’ and disappear without scandal or ignominy – Bond is getting on a bit after all, and he’s taken some serious hits over the years (Thunderball).  The same character likewise offers M the chance to retire with some dignity. 

The cynic might suggest that slinking off to retire with dignity would be moot if Quantum of Solace were to be the final Bond outing.

Naturally, Bond and M refuse to leave quietly, like a pair of drunks at a restaurant.  In this sense, Skyfall suggests that Bond will carry on until there’s no other option but to put him out of his misery.

Later, when M defends British Intelligence in a monologue during a public inquiry chaired by a self-serving MP, she could almost be flying the flag for this most anachronistic of spy capers against the legion of critics clutching their Jason Bourne collections. 

Whatever the march of time, she says, we’re relevant; look we even opened the film with a sideways glance at Wikileaks. 

But in truth Skyfall is too self-absorbed to bother much about the rest of the world, reflected in the numerous references to past films and indeed to Bond’s own past.

And then there’s the biggest in-joke reference of them all.

Javier Bardem’s Silva combines Max Zorin’s hair (Christopher Walken in A View To A Kill) with Bloefeld’s (various) combination of uniformed henchmen, evil lair and dastardly scheme.  He dials up the campness of Bond bad ‘uns, albeit intentionally for once, and in doing so creates a masterclass in movie villainy.  Make no mistake; Bardem represents the movie’s greatest asset and probably the reason while you’ll return to it more than once a year at Christmas. 

If such nostalgia is to be expected, it comes with an edge: the last Bond outing to make such heavy weather of Bond references was Die Another Day, a film which came closer to derailing the franchise than any other and which prompted the sort of soul-searching that begat Craig’s new direction. 

Or to quote Q, “did you expect an exploding pen?  We don’t really go in for that any more” – ‘that’ being Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye.

No exploding pens then, but the danger implicit in reminders of past conquests is that they throw the new ones into sharp relief; they beg comparison. 

The question to be asked of Skyfall, then, seems to be “what do you have to say that isn’t steeped in nostalgia?”  

Skyfall represents an attempt to reconcile its predecessors (Casino and Quantum) with the wider canon as a whole – we’re left with the Bond we’ve come to love, in the sort of Bond film we used to expect.  It’s an assured take that neither churlishly ignores the pre-Craig years nor drowns under their weight. 

In this sense, Adele’s theme tune is representative – a modern take on the old school: a soaring ballad from one of today’s most lauded voices.  It’s effective enough, but ultimately you’ve forgotten how it goes almost as soon as it ends.

The same can’t be said of the film.

It’s pretty great as entertainment, even better as a birthday celebration, but I hope the next film spends less time making a self-conscious case for the defence and gets on with it.  That and a truly decent theme tune.

 Skyfall ends with the legend “Bond will return”, harking back to the good old days one last time.  But what was once promissory now feels defiant; less a statement of intent than a threat.  

Jack Reacher, Aaron Cross, you have been warned.

Star Wars Episode 4: A New Remake

By now, Disney has followed my advice and begun production of the Star Wars Ultimate Collectors Editions, rehabilitating Star Wars for the diehards and introducing it to a new generation to boot.  Nice work, Disney, you couldn’t have done it without me.

For its next enterprise, Disney will be releasing Episode 7.  That’s fine, as they say: carry on.  Me, I’ve found more enjoyment/less abject terror in imagining my own remake of Star Wars: A New Hope.

It’s the same film, just with a different cast and some added dialogue. But because of the casting, the characterisation is different which in turn shifts the meaning of the words, making a brand new movie without needing to spend the GDP of Belgium on CGI.  Clever, eh? 

Suit yourself.

And so it begins (natch) with the flying words and spaceships and the laser noises and some stormtroopers.  A man in black leather strides into shot.  A big, tall man (not Bono then).  His physical size is matched only by his gargantuan talent.  Brendan Gleeson’s face can’t be seen behind the mask, but you’ll recognise the voice, the gentle tone with the hard inflections.  He’s a badass mofo, sure, but he’s also a touch world weary.  After all he’s been crushing the galaxy beneath his platform boot for a long time and he’s not even been able to accessorise in decades, let alone freshen up with a whole new look. 

Vader’s been taking a lot of crap from the officer corp since that spaceship debacle.  Sure he captured it, he even got a hot slice of princess out of it, but one tiny oversight, a couple of droids escape and suddenly he’s on some frickin’ goose chase.  Plus he can’t help but feel that people laugh at him behind his back.  He’s tired, lonely and just wants a friend, but in his loneliness he overcompensates.  In feeling that he’s shared too much with the wrong people, he then has to crush peeps’ larynxes with his Jedi mind kung fu.

He also finds himself feeling strangely protective of the princess, almost…paternal.

R2-D2 is la poubelle we all know and adore.  He escaped with his bezzy mate, C-3PO (Morgan Freeman) and between them they comment on everything that goes on around them – an idea Lucas purloined from a movie the name of which escapes me, for those who like their movie trivia half-assed.  Freeman has a voice made of gravitas particles and as such 3PO is a highly authoritative voice of reason, albeit completely ignored by everyone else.  He points out that a parsec is a unit of distance, not time, but Han Solo tells him to do one. 

Anyway, they meet…

Luke Skywalker, who dreams of escaping Hicksville and relocating to the corner of the galaxy labelled hipster.  Michael Cera has a nice line in geeky-but-zeitgeisty characters who are ironic but sweet-natured.  Also, he messed around with a lightsaber on Arrested Development, which is the sort of pop culture reference only the people who like the same things as me will know, which means I’m basically exactly like Quentin Tarantino.

Plus, I picture him pink-faced, staring intently at his Converse mumbling “I’m here to rescue you…” to Scarlet Johansson’s Leia; a woman once described by Woody Allen as “sexually overwhelming”.  Bit nasty, given we know they’re blood relations, but that’s Lucas’ fault, not mine. 

Anyway, purring, pouting ScarJo has the kind of career that means she won’t settle for being mere eye candy and wants some half-decent dialogue and a gun.  She faces off against older chaps quite well, too, which brings us to love interest douchebag and all round cool dude, Han Solo.

If you look up the words ‘louche’, ‘dry’ and ‘quip’ in the latest iteration of the Oxford English Dictionary you’ll find that the words have been replaced by a picture of Robert Downey Jr’s face.  His Han Solo might be conflicted when it comes to doing the hero stuff, but at least he’s the kind of asshole who not only wears sunglasses while in deep space, but somehow manages to do so without being forced out of an airlock.  He’s seedy, he’s been around, seen a few things, cynical but charismatic. His faithful pet wookie likes him anyway.

It also adds a creepy vibe to his constant hitting on the much younger Ms Johansson, which is a send-up of Hollywood’s golden age and all those Cary Grant flicks. Which is, like, totally meta, yo.

He’s also completely comfortable shooting Greedo first, because that’s how Solo rolls, George Lucas.  Greedo, in a nod to celluloid tradition, has to be played by a Brit because he’s a bad guy.  Bill Nighy is that Brit – camp and slightly ineffectual, entirely boneless when lounging around Mos Eisley bars.  He snorts his lines, gets shot, our heroes wander off in the company of…

Obi Wan Kenobi.  Way I see it, Kenobi is responsible for Vader, and thus the death of all those younglings and most of his Jedi pals and the rise of the emperor (if only because Vader didn’t kill that cross-dressing megalomaniac).  This has to screw you up a bit.  And he’s been living alone in the desert for decades, so he’s gonna’ be a bit…unusual.  

He’s a tricky old dude with a glint in his eye – you know he mind tricks the shit out of people whenever he feels like it.  Jedi aren’t monks – they just like the outfits – and this one’s a little nuts.  When Luke gets into that scrape in the Mos Eisley cantina, Christopher Walken steps up.  Staring a little too hungrily at the other man’s jugular vein, he says “This little one’s…not worth the effort, me, I could burst your heart in your chest. With my mind.” Pause, open hands, all friendly smiles “ah?! AH!? Come on, let me get you something.” Whips out his lightsaber, off comes the man’s arm.  THAT’s how Obi Walken Kenobi throws down. He picks up the appendage by the fingers, offers it back and says “I gotta’ hand it to you” because who’s gonna’ tell him not to do puns?  Exactly.

It’s the past and they do things differently there.  Women aren’t concerned about the glass ceiling so much as they are about being tethered to the floor, which, in conjunction with her youth, makes Grand Moff Tarkin’s stewardship of the Death Star even more impressive.  It was difficult at first, with all the lame ‘what a grand muff’ remarks and general sexual harassment, but since she made a couple of subordinates go for an EVA walk in their underpants that’s all settled down.  Funny how the sight of a man’s eyeballs imploding in the cold depths of space quells the chauvinist impulse.

Tarkin’s not been laid in ages because she out-ranks and out-earns the men on board – they say they’re cool with it but she can tell they feel emasculated, which is pathetic.  It’s fine though, she’ll just have to wait for shore leave, get her fake tan on and go out golden of skin, slender of limb and with her tits hoiked up to her chin.  It stings her to have to placate the fragile male ego by talking in a giggly, girly voice and pretending to be slightly stupid, but mama’s got an itch to scratch.

She’s also suffering from low blood sugar because she’s been dieting since she was 14.  Some old law about movies aimed at children/infantilised males dictates that her uniform must be skin tight (Ordnance No. 871623/1967 Something For The Dads Act). 

The tightness of the uniform means she’s forever concerned about VPL undermining her authority or, worse, a spot of dromedary hoof which might result in her picture appearing on a tawdry website to be gawped at by sweaty men with hairy palms.  

Which is just disgusting.

Then, to compound matters, some princess pitches up whom all the officers have been trying to get amongst.  She’s wearing something white, floaty and 70s-inspired, which is so chic. She’s worn it for several days but it’s pristine.  Not even crumpled.  Best explode her home planet, that’ll show the snooty bitch what’s what.

Now that’s a lot of backstory and baggage for such a small (but crucial) role.  Luckily, Charlize Theron is an Oscar winning actress, so she can communicate all of it with just a single look.  You go, girl.

Anyway, Tarkin’s just calmed down some swinging-dick, bullshit posturing when all hell breaks loose.  One thing leads to another, Obi Walken Kenobi exits stage left, Princess Scarlett joins the crew. 

Cera makes an ironic, self-deprecating joke which is taken the wrong way and suddenly he finds himself in an X-Wing with a group of extras and Wedge Antilles (Nathan Fillion, in a nod to Joss Whedon fanboys who still aren’t over the cancellation of Firefly).  

Wedge pops up occasionally in the films, does sweet FA, but does have an intricately detailed back story because Lucas apparently loves licensing the Star Wars brand to any old content creator in exchange for money.

DS gets blown up, which means that Charlize Theron died hungry and with that itch resolutely unscratched, which just goes to show that crime doesn’t pay.  Except that it does because Charlize was paid an inordinate sum of money in exchange for her 3 minutes of screen time.


That’s My Star Wars remake, internet.  What do you think of it, internet?  Who would you cast, and why?

Disney Lucasfilms Presents: Star Wars: A Brand New Cash Cow

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, 1983 to be precise, a small band of teddy bears managed to bring an evil galactic empire to its knees with sticks and stones.  Well they do break bones after all.  And walking tanks.

Empires are rubbish, aren’t they?  In whatever context the word is used, examples of egregious imperial abuse are rife.

With hindsight, the signs of the Evil Lucas Empire’s desire to wring as much money as possible from its marquee brand were there in the eyes of the Ewoks – kiddy friendly and begging to be spun off into their own cutesy (and mercifully short-lived) cartoon.

More recently, in a galaxy considerably closer to home, even biggerer and more eviller empire, Disney, acquired George Lucas’ company and announced that they’d bring their substantially more efficient fan-milking machinery to the Star Wars universe.  

Lots has been written on this topic, and truth be told I don’t feel particularly exercised about this particular development.  Disney showed with Pixar and Marvel that it’s capable of taking a hands-off approach to output, and indeed has a vested interest in Episode 7 rehabilitating the series’ quality, by which I mean merchandising viability.  Besides which, the antagonism between Lucas and Star Wars fans is worse than (insert inappropriate socio-political example here). 

And it’s not like Star Wars can get any worse than Episode 1: Allusions To A Virgin Birth, right?

First things first, though, Disney really ought make reparations to erstwhile Jedi warriors.  Luckily for them I have an easy (and obvious) solution, and it’s got the potential to be a real moneyspinner.  But first, a question:

What’s the single most upsetting thing about Lucas’ handling of Star Wars?  Other than making Greedo shoot first.  Not Jar Jar Binks, either.

The constant tweaking and re-releasing. 

There we go.  Lucas isn’t the only one to do this of course – Sir Ridley Scott started tampering with Bladerunner almost from the moment it was released.  But at least he never point-blank refused ever again to sell you unmolested versions of his vision.  It’s the difference between being offered a cappuccino and being told you’re not allowed to have a plain old cup of joe.  And finding out that your cappuccino comes with Hayden Christensen’s face digitally superimposed on it.  

In my not so humble opinion, Disney’s solution/opportunity to rifle through your pockets is to re-release each film of the original trilogy as single “definitive” boxsets. Each would include the original theatrical release (both domestic and international if they differed), the digital remastering in widescreen I used to have on VHS, the Special Editions and, I dunno, a working print plus a sprawling 189 hour documentary about each film.  Essentially, steal the Bladerunner approach and charge people loadsa’ money for it.

Don’t pretend that at least a small part of you wouldn’t want to buy it.  It doesn’t even matter that you no longer believe in physical formats like Blu-Ray or DVD.  They got you a long, long time ago when you were young, in that galaxy far, far away when midichlorians, Hayden Christensen, younglings and pod-racing didn’t exist and you had no idea that a parsec is a unit of distance, not time.

Next time on Frood: Star Wars Episode 4: A New Remake.

What Doesn’t Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom Have To Say About The 2012 Election?

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom features Jeff Daniels as somnambulant newscaster and Republican with a conscience, Will McAvoy, in what some critics have suggested is a transparent attempt by Sorkin to deflect criticisms of liberal bias.  Daniels’ ex-girlfriend with the ridiculous name MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is hired as the new executive producer of his nightly news programme and she accordingly inspires Daniels and the team to produce the news as it should be.  This is to say that the news ought to be decent and honourable, neither a partisan polemic nor an affected neutrality in which all opinions are deemed equally valid, regardless of their credibility, sense or basic internal consistency. 

Despite a suspiciously high rating on IMDB, The Newsroom didn’t receive much love from critics or the public, most of whom appeared to have tired of Sorkin’s trademark mix of overt sentimentality and naked emotional manipulation.  Not to mention the bespoke stylised dialogue – zippy one liners punctuated by longer monologues – which fail to disguise the sense that the characters represent little more than straw men to be torn apart or mouthpieces for Sorkin’s political views.

The Newsroom is typically Sorkin, perhaps more so, as though he’s been left on a medium heat like a red wine reduction – stickier and more concentrated.

Sorkin professes that the show is a drama about people and relationships as much as it is an idealised account of the media – a class of people more usually caricatured as morally bankrupt muckrakers and sleaze merchants.  And he’s not lying insofar as there’s a fractious will-they-won’t-they relationship between Ross ‘n Rachel stand-ins, Daniels and Mortimer, and the love triangle of Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr and Thomas Sadoski, playing Maggie, Jim and Don respectively.  Dev Patel and Olivia Munn round out the cast as a hapless geek prone to ‘outrageous’ theories concerning the existence of Bigfoot and a smokin’ hot, socially awkward economist named Sloan Sabbith.  

The focus on character is one reason why The Newsroom utilises real-life news events, which means there is little need for exposition-heavy dialogue to recount the news and thus more room for characterisation.  It also enables Sorkin to use the benefit of hindsight to ensure he’s always right, which is nice.  But Sorkin is being disingenuous when he suggests that The Newsroom isn’t predominately a piece of soapbox television.

The West Wing gave audiences Martin Sheen as a POTUS the Americans didn’t have to feel ashamed of, initially because he could keep it in his pants and latterly because he didn’t use ‘now watch this drive’ or ‘let me put it in Texan for you’ as rhetorical flourishes.  Likewise, The Newsroom is an escapist fantasy of wish fulfilment in a country in which belligerent (tabloid) news programmes and the shadowy rightwing fringes dominate the political conversation more than is perhaps desirable. 

US politics, as we are told constantly, is more divided than ever.  The Tea Party has replaced the Neocons as the political bogeyman so far as the rest of the world is concerned.  It’s easy to sneer this far from the US, but in fairness the Tea Party’s extreme rhetoric is unsettling, not to mention their usurping of the language of patriotism and the questionable tactic of claiming divine inspiration, as Michelle Bachmann and Ricky Santorum both appear to have done.

There’s a theory runs that media outlets reinforce such division. This is especially so in a commercial environment in which the news is perceived as another form of lifestyle choice or entertainment.  Finally, news programmers are said to be loath to bite the hand that feeds, which is an issue when your company’s owners/shareholders are themselves potentially newsworthy and you have a number of journalists in your employ. 

But soapbox Sorkin has given himself a problem here.  In seeking to focus on his characters’ personal dramas, one note though they might be, there is limited time for such a complex issue.  In any event he’s idealised his team and there’s little interaction with other media rivals beyond cartoonish gutter-dwellers, about whom everybody can agree (hint: they be wrong ‘uns).

Luckily, the media isn’t Sorkin’s target at all, which brings us neatly to the question of the protagonist’s political affiliation.  He might be a liberal, but in the ‘anti-US’ speech in the pilot Sorkin makes it clear he sees himself as an American above all; he simply laments the direction the country has taken.

The story arc of series 1 may turn on a conspiracy theory concerning Daniels’ superiors and the pressure impliedly brought to bear on them by his targets, but that merely serves to highlight the real antagonists of the show.  Or, to borrow soaring Sorkian rhetoric for a minute, the real enemies of America: the Tea Party.

And make no mistake, shady billionaires the Koch brothers are repeatedly name-checked as originators and funders of the Tea Party – ie it’s not a real grassroots movement at all, but an exercise in manipulation.  The Tea Party generally is potrayed as a collection of extremist fundamentalists: anti-tax, anti-science, anti-women, isolationist, racist, simplistic and insidious.  The GOP nominees are likewise given special treatment – in a mock-up debate Alison Pill mockingly asks a Michelle Bachmann stand-in what God’s voice sounds like given He’s been talking to her.  

At others more moderate Republicans are harangued about why they continue to let their party be overtaken by the fringes, about why they’re seemingly content to be portrayed as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) by fruitcakes.

Sorkin’s point seems to be this: America has a two party system, with two (realistic) presidential candidates.  There might be the odd Ross Perot, but mostly you’d struggle to name a third-party candidate without accessing Google.  For such a system to work there has to be some compromise in Congress and there have to be viable presidential candidates on both sides.  Otherwise, democracy struggles and the nation accordingly suffers.  Daniels’ character isn’t a Republican beard for Sorkin so much as he’s a mouthpiece for this point – a Republican president isn’t the end of the world, especially given the relatively narrow range of political positions open to POTUS.  An extremist, however, is either unelectable or too dangerous to stomach – would anyone ever really have wanted Sarah Palin to have access to the nuclear codes?  Santorum infamously compared homosexual activity to necrophiliac bestiality and is aggressively pro-life. Whatever your stance on those issues, his isn’t the language of a head of state, especially one as diverse as the USA. 

As for Congress there have been many quotes from Republicans confirming their desire to see Obama as a one-term loser, regardless of the cost.  The Tea Party appears to view compromise at any level as anathema.  Whether you agree with their policies or not, this is clearly no way for a government to function.

That’s my theory anyway. 

It’s unlikely Sorkin has had an actual impact – people don’t tend to enjoy being lectured about why their views are misguided so he’s mostly been preaching to the choir.  Then again, there are increasing signs of Republican dismay and rebellion against the shrill dictats of the Tea Party.

Something to ponder on election night, anyhow.

The Newsroom, then: as entertainment it’s tonally patchy, veering from saccharine to sanctimonious almost in a heartbeat, but it’s been optioned for a second series.  Expect next series to focus on the Superpacs, mudslinging from both candidates and particularly Romney’s flexible approach to facts.  And drone strikes.  Oh, and Veep-wannabe Ryan’s appropriation of 20th Century economist Friedrich Hayek, despite Hayek having serious reservations about laissez-faire policies, not to mention his tacit espousal of universal healthcare and welfare.  

You read it here first.