What happened today

You wake up one day and the world has changed. It’s the premise of a million science fiction stories. And sometimes, in the real world, it actually happens. It happened to me today.

I don’t know what happens next. We can’t plan this out, like an author plotting a story. Real life can give you a totally unsatisfactory ending, a tragedy without meaning or unearned happiness that arises from luck rather than anything the protagonist did.

The smile scarring Boris Johnson’s face is as bright as the end of the world, and just as terrifying.

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Film review: Deadpool

So now (and by now I mean two months late), by special request, I bring you a review of a movie not guaranteed to be bad.

Marvel has created an entire industry based on making a film about a white guy being given special powers and defeating the bad guy. Occasionally they have backup by groupies, who demonstrate their difference by being non-white, female, or animals. It’s basically the Disney Princess series for guys.

As you may be able to tell, I’ve started to find the repetitiveness rather tiresome, and I suspect that others have too. Deadpool is the logical endgame of the trend: it says what everyone was thinking. Starring ‘God’s Perfect Idiot’, directed by ‘some overpaid tool’ and written by ‘the real heroes here’ – okay, so no-one was thinking that last one. But it’s a lovely sly intro to a piece which proceeds to mock every standard element from a superhero picture, from the training montage (except this time it’s sex) to the fact that they can’t afford any of the main players from a more successful franchise. I loved the gleefully crass and tasteless tone, and the film is filled with great visual gags and characters (such as the taxi driver and teenage X-person) who I would have been happy to spend more time with.

The only problem is that I think, for me, this will only work once. Where can you go from here?  As they try to get every more characters in each film, are we going to see Ian McKellan being subjected to poop jokes?  Actually, I would totally pay to see that.  Maybe it could work twice.

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Sometimes you get effervescence, sometimes you go splat

I recently challenged myself to start writing every day. Just 250 words, to try to make sure I don’t just completely stall out on things (which has a distressing tendency to happen). The idea is that by slowly crunching through things I will ensure I make some progress on something. Unfortunately, due to having come down with yet another cold (hello immune system where are you?), I do not necessarily have the brainpower for certain types of writing. And so we come to today, when all I have the energy to do it write a mediocre blog post. You’re welcome, world!

Interestingly, the more serious the piece, the less the state of my brain seems to matter. The ability to conjure up the feelings surrounding betrayal and despair are not really impeded by my brain currently being composed of 90% snot. But if I’m trying to write with charming frivolity, I feel like a 300 pound gorilla who has been dressed in a tutu and told to perform Swan Lake. It just isn’t going to happen, and if it did I would regret it (possibly there are a subset of gorilla-ballet enthusiasts who wouldn’t. Weirdos.). You will also note that my punctuation choices become what can only be termed esoteric.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I haven’t been very productive recently. I still have a few words to go, so I’ll just keep going until I hit the

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Star Wars

I was seventeen when I first saw Star Wars. The remastered version was being released in the cinema, and my friend persuaded me to go, despite the fact that I considered Star Wars to be for geeks. (This was deeply ironic since I watched Star Trek religiously. It’s amazing how much cognitive dissonance one head can hold.) I can remember the blue writing coming up, then the titles, and I thought that this was cheesy and seventies and how right I had been to resist coming. Then the camera rotated, and a space ship came into view from above, and I thought WHOA. The sense of scale and movement was amazing. Later it was the world, grubby and worn in and filled with aliens who truly looked alien, rather than like humans with plastic stuck on their foreheads. Alec Guinness, giving dignity and meaning to lines that would have left me rolling my eyes if I had read them. Harrison Ford, showing all the star power of a supernova despite the mangling of the scene with Greedo. And Williams’ score, sparkling and hopeful and All-American.

That night my friend and I watched the Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi on video, her dog licking our toes as we huddled under the duvet. By midnight she was falling asleep, but I felt wide awake, jacked up on adventure and amazement. When it finished, I wanted to start all over again. I was in love.

So when the prequels were released, I felt like the luckiest person alive. Not only had I been able to discover this wonderful series, but I was going to get more of it straight away instead of having to wait fifteen years like everyone else. I bought my tickets for the opening day. In the cinema I settled into my seat and waited to be delighted.

I’m sure it was the same for many of you. A gradual feeling dawned that something wasn’t right. There were lots of bits that had the right window dressing, but somehow it just wasn’t very exciting. For about half the film I kept telling myself that it was all right, they were setting things up, it would all turn out to be really good, but there came a point where I couldn’t kid myself any more. By the time I walked out of the cinema I felt completely betrayed. I can’t remember a film that disappointed me more.

Of course, I went to watch the next two anyway. The second I saw in Oxford, in a packed cinema which howled with laughter at the terrible attempts at romantic dialogue. The third I remember nothing about, except coming out and thinking that it wasn’t quite as awful as the last two, but that wasn’t saying much.

And now we have The Force Awakens. I wasn’t hopeful any more; I just wanted to see a movie that wasn’t rubbish. I could try and write a review, but I don’t think I’m going to. Many other people have devoted thousands of words to how similar the plot is to the original. (Another Death Star? Really? It did make me sigh a little.) I could discuss John Boyega’s comic timing, how much Harrison Ford brings to a few words, and whether it’s the script or Daisy Ridley’s acting that makes her introduction seem a little wooden to me.

But in the end, none of that matters, because the movie left me feeling like this:

cheeringelf

I don’t care if it’s derivative. I don’t care what it does wrong. What I care about is what it does right. The moment in the forest where Rey picks up the lightsaber and turns it on feels like something I’ve been waiting to see my whole life. Every single character, even the robot BB8, had more humanity than was in all the prequels put together.

So congratulations, JJ. You didn’t screw it up. As for the future, I’ve learned my lesson about getting overexcited, and I think that may be necessary. The next one is being made by the guy who did Looper, which I thought was an incoherent mess, and has already been delayed because of script issues. I’m satisfied with what I got: a great movie which went back to the basics and made me want to stand up and cheer. The Force will be with this one. Always.

Now, Disney, just get with the moneygrubbing and release a version of the originals where Han shoots first. There’s a lot of us out there just waiting to be exploited.

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The Merchant of Venice redux

Because sometimes, even Shakespeare disappoints you.

Antonio: I need some cash
Bassiano: You should totally ask Shylock. He’s rich.
Antonio: Why don’t you do it for me?
Bassiano: Uh, well, I guess I could.
Antonio: Awesome. I’ll go get drunk.

Shylock: So you want three thousand ducats for three months?
Bassiano: Yeah. That cool with you?
(Enter Antonio)
Antonio: How’s it hanging? Everything sorted?
Shylock: The money’s for him? He’s a total dick! He used to spit at me and call me names.
Antonio: Look dude, are you going to give me the money or not?
Shylock: I’ll give it to you. But if you don’t pay it back in time you have to eat a pound… of lokshen pudding.
Antonio: Whatever.

Three months pass. Antonio doesn’t pay the money back (is anyone surprised?). Shylock takes him to court, where the lovely Portia acts for his defence.

Shylock: He stiffed me and now he won’t even eat the pudding he promised to.
Portia: He’s totally guilty. But couldn’t you at least give him some blood thinners or something?
Shylock: My grandmother told me that desserts have no calories in. She wouldn’t tell a lie. So it can’t hurt him.
Portia: Well, I can’t accuse someone’s grandmother of lying. Antonio, you’ll have to eat it.

Antonio eats a pound of lokshen pudding and dies.

Shylock: Perhaps I used one egg too many.

Portia cries.

Shylock: Hey, you know what’s good for grief? Chicken soup.

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2015

With Christmas approaching, I decided to cast my mind back over the last twelve months, or however much of it I can be bothered to remember, and determine who has made their way to the top of my naughty and nice lists. Entries were ranked by how much they cheesed me off personally, and how much external damage I considered that they inflicted. So (drum roll please) the winners are:

Nice:

Seriously? Is anyone interested in this? Didn’t think so.

Naughty:

5) Oxford Street. For consistently breaking EU regulations on air quality, while containing so many shops you’ll eventually have to go there. Also because it used to contain the wonderful flagship HMV and Zavvi stores. Speak through me, oh muse, of films arrayed as far as the eye could see, the rosy-fingered checkout girl who bagged your boxsets and the strong-armed shelf stacker who knew where the obscure Japanese film you wanted was without having to look it up. We will not see their like again.

4) The so-called hoverboards, those little two wheeled monstrosities that are nothing but a Segway given a bit of a makeover. Beloved of hipsters, teenagers, and teenage hipsters, they have infected our pavements and parks despite the fact that their use is illegal (I assume on the grounds of tastelessness). Their pathetic ground-locked trundling dishonours the memory of Marty McFly.

3) Oxford Train Station. Minging 1970s architecture, stuffed with rude tourists who hog seats and won’t let you sit down despite the fact that they are surrounded by empty chairs. Apparently those are needed for their friends. Because this is Oxford, you have to wait in this soul-sucking hellhole for twenty minutes for the next train out of Dodge. The friends never appear. (Bitter? Me? I’m as sweet as quinine.)

Special mention to my lower back for an impressive level of pain, in the absence of which the lack of a seat wouldn’t have bothered me.

2) George Osbourne. Putting the same money as being spent on two different things doesn’t magically double the amount of money. I see what you did there.

1) The UK train system. Awarded jointly to Southern, for utilising the lottery method of determining when trains will run (it’s possible but the odds are never in your favour), GWR, for running three carriage services when six are clearly needed, Scotrail for making GWR look good, and Network Rail for always being there to overrrun the maintenance works when things could possibly run on time.

I would suggest putting coal in their stockings, but that would just make the air pollution worse. So here’s an alternative suggestion: capture all the hot air in the station announcements, and use it to power proper Back-To-The-Future style hoverboards. Now that would be a merry Christmas!

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You Can’t Read the Same Book Twice, With Apologies To Monty Python

The bell tinkles as the customer walks into the Shop for Nostalgic Fiction.

Shopkeeper: Good morning, sir. How can I help you?

Customer: I’m looking for a book with a sense of adventure and a dash of the speculative with, hmm, let’s see, make it a female protagonist.

S: I have just the thing for you. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

C: Oh, no. (Laughs awkwardly). I have four copies at home already.

S: We don’t really have anything else suitable.

C: What about that one? A Princess of Mars. That sounds like fun.

S: Terribly sorry, but despite the title the princess isn’t actually the main character.

C: Really? How strange. Never mind, why not give me a classic novel with a lost world, rip roaring Rider Haggard or Conan Doyle?

S: Excellent choice, sir.

C: Why thank you.

S: But I’m afraid none of them have female protagonists.

C: What about some Lovecraft? I always like horrific eldritch action.

S: I’m afraid he was rather racist.

C: It’s fine. Times were different.

S: He was really very racist, sir.

C: I don’t care if he was a toothbrush moustache away from being Hitler, just give me a damn story.

S: Ooooh dear. He doesn’t seem to have any female protagonists either.

C: What about just a main character?

S: No.

C: A speaking part?

S: No.

C: Any woman who does anything is fine.

S: Does dying count?

(They stand in silence.)

C: Fine. Just give me another copy of Cold Comfort Farm.

S: An admirable selection. Just five more and you get a free one!

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