Sunday, 21 July 2013

SOME PEOPLE SHOULD NOT HAVE PASSPORTS

If there's one thing I try and save for (and on the meagre wages of a freelance film journalist and occasional producer of Blu Ray supplements that means a lot of saving) it is travel. I remember John Waters - and it may have been in his book Shock Value, which I don't have handy at this very second - mentioning that it is impossible for him to be bored at an airport. To which I would suggest the poor bugger has never been stranded at LAX, but - regardless - it is a solid point: when you know you are going somewhere, how can you not be excited?

A passport is a thing to cherish and I am still baffled when I meet people who have the means to travel but choose not to. I'm sure I'll die penniless, I doubt I will ever be able to afford a car (I can't drive anyway) and goodness knows if I might ever be permitted a mortgage but if, on my deathbed, I've ticked off all of the places on my bucket list I will pass away happy. Travel opens your mind - to new languages, cultures, attitudes, religions... I would wager that the more you travel, the less patriotic you get - whilst still appreciating the best of your homeland. Or at least that is my experience.

However, just because you have the right to go somewhere does not mean you should act like a douchebag when you clear customs and set foot in your latest exotic destination. And this is the reason behind my new blog: asshats and passports. Take a look at the picture below:


This is a picture of The Bridge on the River Kwai, located in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The story behind the building of this bridge is harrowing - allied POWS, from numerous nations, forced - under slave labour conditions and stuck in disease-ridden camps in the South East Asian jungle - to build a connecting train line between "neutral" Thailand and Japanese-controlled Burma (then a British colony and now known as Myanmar). Over 100,000 people died constructing this hellish project.

And in the above image you can see that some tourists have arrived here and decided the only sensible thing to do is to scribble graffiti on it.

Now look at this image:


This is Angkor Wat. Yes, the Angkor Wat. You know, the Hindu Temple (eventually becoming a Buddhist place of worship) that has awed people for centuries and centuries? You know, the ancient civilisation that can be traced back to over 1000 years? Located within a short driving distance of Siem Reap in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is one of the wonders of the world. The many temples which are located there are a must-see destination for millions of people. They withstood even Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge (indeed, prior to the Vietnamese liberation of Cambodia, ol' Saloth Sar himself - the man who had closed his own country and executed nearly a third of his people - was giving tourists from Thailand the opportunity for day trips to this incredible site - such was the obvious interest that Angkor Wat still held. Not to mention the obvious monetary benefits that come with it). 

But none of this is good enough for the above tourist - "Vanna" - who decided that, despite standing for over ten centuries - what Angkor Wat really needed was her name chipped into one of the pillars.

Unfortunately, immortalising herself as an ignorant asshole is not just Vanna's goal in life. It is the goal of plenty of other people. In fact, there is graffiti all over Angkor Wat and its neighbouring temples:






Depressing isn't it?

And here's another thing: Angkor Wat is still considered a place of great religious respect by both Buddhist and Hindu people alike. No matter what time of day it is, you will see young Buddhist scholars walking around the various temples:



Guesthouses, hostels and hotels all across Siem Reap ask visitors to Angkor Wat to show respect and cover up. I am a firm believer that men should not wear shorts and sandals anyway so that is never a problem for me. I don't care how hot it is (and Siem Reap is hot) - I don't want to inflict my man-legs on anyone. 

I understand it is a little trickier for women who, on holiday in a roasting hot climate, will want to show a little skin. But rules are rules. You don't like them? Go to Ibiza. 

Naomi, my travelling companion, was quick to respect these rules. Did she sweat lots? Yes. Did she get respect from the local people? Yes. It makes all the difference:


But, mostly, this 'ask' seemed like too much for many white tourists. Take a look at this lot (and this is just three pictures that I took, knowing - at the time - I'd need some examples for the blog I was then writing in my head):



Well, at least they didn't dress like that when they were visiting a mosque. Oh hold on, that actually did happen. It was in Kuala Lumpur. And once again, some of the tourists seemed shocked they were expected to cover up.  

Sigh...

And here's the very clear entrance to the Royal Palace (and temple) in Pnomh Penh:




You see that? Is this clear enough? NO FREAKING SHORTS!!!!!



Here's the people in line in front us mulling over the likelihood of them being turned away:




Perhaps even worse was the graffiti I found on the walls of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - a place where the Khmer Rouge murdered and slowly tortured thousands of people (up to 20,000 seems to be the rough estimate). I didn't take any pictures here (I don't think there's a reason for a camera to be out in a place like this) but there were tourist scribblings on the walls of places where bloodstains remain - where people, in agony you and I can never, ever comprehend - were starved for months and tortured for extended periods of time. A place so horrific, Naomi would not even walk into one of the cells.

Suffice to say, my faith in humanity crumbled even further when I saw people's scribbles all over Tuol Sleng - a place which still personifies an almost unthinkable terror.


Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Thailand, are both countries where the locals will attempt to sell you anything. You might haggle for something only to find you've been ripped off when, a few stalls later, someone has the same thing for $1 instead of $10. It's not so much dishonesty as it is the result of having no welfare state and a huge gap between rich and poor. Cambodia, in particular, is what would happen if Ron Paul's Randian lolbertarian ideal ever took place - mothers and children sleeping homeless, kid beggars, a lack of police on the street, unsafe roads and pavements, litter everywhere and mansions next to makeshift cardboard homes. 

So, no, I don't blame anyone in these developing nations for trying to get money any way how. I do, however, find it depressing seeing white men with young prostitutes on their arm in Phnom Penh or in Bangkok. I think it is disgraceful that tourists in the Thai capital and Phuket think it is acceptable to pay to see a women from a developing nation pull razor blades or live animals out of her nether regions or blow a whistle or fire ping pong balls at your spoilt, arrogant little tourist mug from the same bodily area. I can't even begin to explain my hatred for third world sex tourists (or any kind of sex tourist) who has not the slightest concept of the politics involved in this hateful industry. Go ahead and defend your idiotic actions but your sexual curiosity, or gratitude, is what gives tourists to Thailand and other South East Asian nations such a bad name. It is also what makes some of the locals see us as nothing more than a walking dollar sign - to be shamelessly exploited. Given the circumstances I cannot say I blame them.



Another thing that bothers me is idiots and animals in these countries.

In Patong I spent an evening drinking some Tiger Beers (Tiger Crystal Lite is now my alcoholic beverage of choice) and watching tourists having their pictures taken with exotic animals. How about a pic with a baby leopard? Or an iguana? Or a lemur? That would be cute wouldn't it? Nothing dodgy going on there. I can only mention my utter horror as person after person lined up to be pictured with a baby leopard which, after they scattered, was roughly hit by its handlers. And why wouldn't they hit it? It's a fucking wild animal. It's not a play thing for pricks with passports.

The worst offender of this has to be the various tiger "temples" that are all over Thailand. 




Now I love tigers. I'm sure you do too. But something is a bit fishy about paying to sit on their backs, or at their sides, or snuggling up to them. I mean, imagine if Edinburgh or London Zoo offered that? They would make a fortune! So why don't they, right? Well, maybe it is because the tigers in these Thai establishments are badly treated and even drugged. There are reports all over the internet about the bad treatment given to tigers in these places and, rest assured, if my old, beloved, late, great tabby cat of 17 years was consistently petted for 10 hours a day by strangers, it would attack your hand and leave you with some nasty gnaw and scratch marks. And that is a tabby cat. So the excuse that these tiger temples give - that the animals are just "tired" and used to human contact - is really quite ridiculous but, hey, some tourists will believe anything. Unfortunately, we saw a lot of people lining up to plan trips to these centres of reported big cat brutality whilst we were in Thailand. Depressing.

I've not even started on the abuse of elephants - from idiotic circus shows, to street begging to riding on their backs - but there is one final positive. It is called the Elephant Nature Park and it is a rescue centre based in Chaing Mai:

Elephant Nature Park


The subject of documentaries on National Geographic and Animal Channel, the owner is a wonderful woman called Ek, and her husband, who also save stray dogs and cats. The elephants in this incredible retreat range from animals blinded by circus lights or cruel owners to battered and bruised creatures who have spent their lives on the streets of Bangkok to gain money from tourists wanting a photo opportunity. The animals in Lek's park are well treated and, as a tourist, your money goes towards her amazing conservation efforts.

You might not be riding on their backs, but you can pat these amazing mammals and even feed them.



Those who do engage in some sort of ethical travel would be well advised to spread the word to others about respecting the countries we choose to visit and even recommend, as I'm doing, places such as the Elephant Nature Park. And if you see someone scrawling graffiti on a famous landmark? Don't be afraid to tell the relevant authorities. Remember: wherever we go in this world, we are the guests. Let's try and act like respectable and responsible ones because, as I said at the start of this blog, a passport is something to cherish. But some people don't deserve one.



The tigers are badly maltreated to make them compliant and perform for visitors, for example, it was observed that Temple staff would drag tigers into appealing photographic positions by pulling their tails or punching and beating the animals. Staff also controlled the tigers by squiring tiger urine from a bottle into the animal’s face, an act of extreme aggression in tiger behaviour. - See more at: http://www.careforthewild.com/what-we-do/campaigns/previous-campaigns/tiger-temple-the-truth/#sthash.pxbzpEXJ.dpuf




The tigers are badly maltreated to make them compliant and perform for visitors, for example, it was observed that Temple staff would drag tigers into appealing photographic positions by pulling their tails or punching and beating the animals. Staff also controlled the tigers by squiring tiger urine from a bottle into the animal’s face, an act of extreme aggression in tiger behaviour. - See more at: http://www.careforthewild.com/what-we-do/campaigns/previous-campaigns/tiger-temple-the-truth/#sthash.pxbzpEXJ.dpuf
The tigers are badly maltreated to make them compliant and perform for visitors, for example, it was observed that Temple staff would drag tigers into appealing photographic positions by pulling their tails or punching and beating the animals. Staff also controlled the tigers by squiring tiger urine from a bottle into the animal’s face, an act of extreme aggression in tiger behaviour. - See more at: http://www.careforthewild.com/what-we-do/campaigns/previous-campaigns/tiger-temple-the-truth/#sthash.pxbzpEXJ.dpu

Saturday, 13 April 2013

THATCHERISM AND ME

It brought a smile to my face when, just last night, I received a text from a friend relating to an upcoming film release. My reply was to say, "In middle of Thatcher addiction - trying to cram in reading as many articles as possible before bed. Believe it or not I haven't been thinking about movies too much this week. Go figure!!" I soon got a text back with "Fuck off, Thatcher is all you have spoken about since Monday."

True enough, the death of The Iron Lady has resulted in me being unable to think about much else (well, okay, I had a 48 hour shoot to do in London this week for an upcoming Blu Ray release and a hellish 10 and a half hour journey back to Edinburgh with Megabus which I twittered about quite a lot). Yet, the coverage, both for and against her legacy, has been addictive - on the television and on the internet and printed page. I have commented quite a lot on Twitter with my initial post being one, not of celebration, but of a warning of things to come from the right wing media. The rewriting of history, to try and make this vile human being into a figure of worship, was inevitable - whilst contemporary creeps such as Guido Fawkes and Louise Mensch have done their best to get in on the act, promote themselves across social media and whatever mainstream outlets will ask for their detestable soundbites.


There have, obviously, been dissenting voices - with the popular press within Scotland being especially forthright - whilst those seeking a positive spin on her deeds do not have to look far. Within my own country there is always tory apologist David Torrance, author of the loathsome We in Scotland, to offer a neoconservative retcon of her destruction of entire communities across the nation. Torrance, without a hint of irony, wonders why the SNP has continued government policy of tax breaks for corporations - as if the true success of Thatcherism does not answer itself in that question. Our nation is now reduced to hopelessly competing for private sector employment and no one country can turn back time to change this.

I intend to write from a personal standpoint in this blog entry - in particular documenting what I remember about growing up in Scotland under her government and how my own gradual slide towards the left of the political spectrum took place. This, in turn, will hopefully allow me to get off my chest my own feelings about Maggie and the reasons I have to despair at what she, and her parliament, did to the country I live in.

First off, I should state that I do not remember the Winter of Discontent - I was in nappies. However, when strikes began to take place in the run-up to the 2010 election I did think "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And how right I was. The unions, in both the 1978 and 2010 example, discredited governments which were infinitely more sympathetic to their plight than those that they assisted into power. One can but weep.



I grew up as one of Thatcher's children. She was the only Prime Minister I knew - and it was not until I reached high school when John Major took office (and showed his Thatcherite stripes by privatising the railways). Landing into a middle class house, I was luckier than many who were born in Kirkcaldy - a town in Fife, Scotland which, in the early 1980s, had large areas of unattractive council tenements and growing destitution. Kirkcaldy was built on its linoleum and coal mining industries and you can probably already guess where this is going. In 1992 the production of linoleum ground to a close whilst the seafield colliery - a coal mine whose twin towers hovered over the Firth of Forth - was shut in 1988. Nearby Ravenscraig Steelworks lasted on a little longer: giving up the ghost in 1992.

When I was just three years old my father, a Chief Engineer with Shell Oil, passed away from cancer at the age of 57. He left my mother - then just 44 - with a spacious house in a safe and scenic suburb on the outskirts of the town. However, he also left her with four children to feed and my mum, who had not worked in almost two decades (when she became a full time housewife), was instantly sent into a spin. The house was sold and, with my brother opting to follow my father's trade at Shell and entering into marriage at age 17, we upped to a smaller residence with my sole parent covering food costs by working as a school dinner lady.


I remember my mum's struggles to move up the employment ladder well (she evolved from a school dinner lady into a meals on wheels person and, eventually, a carer for the mentally and physically handicapped, a job she retired from in her early 60s). Of course Thatcher was not an influence in that and, in the initial years of her run, my mum even admitted to me that, despite being a Labour voter, she actually felt inspired by a woman in 10 Dowing Street. This is understandable. What lady at the time did not? Was Thatcher's most admirable element not in being the Green Grocer's daughter who succeeded in a male dominated sector?

However, what I most recall from these early years of Thatcher's time in power is the growing demonisation of the poor. Link's Street and Templehall in Kirkcaldy became identified as the places where most of the poverty was and derogative names were given, among my classmates in primary school, to those who lived there. The term 'mink', to describe someone of a lower social class, is the one which stays with me. In high school the poorest students were given the charming honour of having 'minky' put before their names (one gentleman we all knew as 'Minky Burrell' for instance). Likewise, pakistanis who moved into the suburb I lived were chastised and abused - Thatcher's policies on immigration were to forbid genuine asylum seekers refuge in the country and her attitude towards migrants is well documented. Racism was heard on a daily basis - slang for the corner shop, the Chinese takeaway, non-white residents. As a child with dark skin and dark eyes even I faced ridicule and discrimination. I also recall the closing of seafield colliery  and the devastation it left in Kirkcaldy. Links Street, which was an area of council houses and high rises, lived-in by lower income people, became notorious for drugs, street gangs and alcohol abuse. And I remember my mum using slang such as "keeping up with the Jones's" and "thy mind thy bloody self" to describe this strange new phenomenon of homelessness, on the one hand, and house extensions and lavish foreign getaways and property on the other. Above all else, even the Kirkcaldy closures and the havoc it wrecked, I remember watching starving miners from the North of England on television being beaten to a pulp by well fed policemen, shipped up from London to decimate strikers. And somewhere there exists footage of me embracing my uncle on the ITV news, when he returned - safely - from the Falklands War, a conflict that no one around me was sure actually needed to exist. I also have memories of the 'Tell Sid' adverts on television, in which the British people were further sold back their own industries at a price. In retrospect Maggie was not even very good at privatisation - merely flogging off industries for huge lump sums and letting the buyers take off with the earnings. Reinvestment in British jobs and services, as with her decision to sell council houses to their tenants, would be minimal.

To keep the blossoming unemployment rate that was necessary to her utterly corrupt and despicable Milton Friedman school of economics - over 3.5 million - at a level she could just about face in the popular press, without acknowleding its necessity to her low inflation rates, Maggie also expanded universities. No more would you need particular qualifications at school to gain entrance to a degree which promised you work at the end of it. Instead, polytechnics, which taught trades, now also gave out degrees. And almost anyone could sign up. Not only did this cram the market with degree-holders but it eventually led to the introduction of tuition fees, abolishment of the student grant and made a university qualification so irrelevant that now 'top up charges' are the norm to distinguish the 'best' establishments from the rest of the mob.


By the time I got to high school, and Major was in power, I had more or less become shaped by Thatcherism without even knowing it. I wanted to be rich one day, I looked to Reagan's America and its glitzy glamorous movies as a source of dreamlike idealism and I knew that achievement was based on what you had in the bank. In other words: I was a cretin, raised by that hideous woman in government whose even more hideous values had sunk into all of us (everyone in my school reached to the same thing). It was not really until university that my own politics took shape and I began to understand how infinitely disgusting the notion of equating money with success was. I never voted for Blair in 1997, the first election I was old enough to cast a cross in (unlike so many others I read his manifesto, and his pledge to introduce university fees) and I despair that no true left wing alternative exists in mainstream politics.

Upon graduation I had little idea of what to do with my life or where immediate employment would come from. I wanted to write, ideally about cinema, but the elitist nature of the media was a tough nut to crack (it pains me to say this but I have still never had a solitary commission from an outlet based in Scotland - which are typically uppity). I returned to Kirkcaldy, still recovering from the purge of its industries back in the 1980s, to live with my mum and was employed in - of all things - my local branch of the Job Centre on a temp. contract worth £11,500 per year. Nine months later I was cut loose from the job I was now fully trained to do because the top brass could not afford to give me the benefits that a full time gig would entail. I immediately went back to university and enrolled in a Masters degree. Upon graduation my former employer rang me and asked me to come back for another nine months at the Job Centre. The irony is delicious. Yet again, nine months later, I was cut loose. For the same reasons.



What followed was another temping job (Glenrothes Opportunity Centre) and a lengthy spell of unemployment from which I still have the rejection letters and emails. Asked why I was not considered for the work at hand and the general consensus was that my Masters degree indicated "I was too ambitious" - then, as six months turned into a year, it was because I had been out of the job rush for too long. Were it not for having a parent who cared for me, and saw the depression I sunk into, I would have been in deep shit. In that time I began to write freelance in an attempt to make a living which, following a six month temporary contract with Standard Life in Edinburgh (during which I travelled an hour into the city and an hour back every day by train), allowed me to just about support myself. My relationship with my girlfriend at the time, also suffering employment difficulties as a graduate, was shattered and we were soon over. Not being able to see much of one another (she lived in Glasgow), or being permitted time alone in a flat of our own, or even a social life where we could go out once in a while, doubtlessly contributed to this.

My time at Standard Life was evident of how the sector industry, which Maggie saw as the ultimate replacement for those hard grafting jobs she despised so much, has resulted in the utter alienation of the modern worker. Every Friday at Standard Life we would receive a ridiculous message from its millionaire owner as he pretended to be part of the plebeian population: "I was watching the game last night" etc etc being the norm. Meanwhile my co-workers, with nothing to look forward to save for the weekend, would get hammered on Friday and Saturday nights. Whilst no one, I admit, was probably eager to grow up and work in a coal mine, the sense of national service in such a position is inarguably more lofty than mindlessly typing in numbers to a computer for eight hours a day to benefit obnoxiously wealthy bankers.

Obviously I love what I do as a freelance critic, and I adore cinema - as my Masters degree and current PhD in the form will indicate to anyone - but my freelance career happened out of more than just passion. It was also necessity. I am proud of what I have achieved with High Rising Productions - and I believe my own adoration for horror and other genre movies has changed the way these films are presented on UK DVD and Blu Ray (remember the days of bare bones or a solitary 10 minute talking head supplement?) - but I also work on a consistently temporary contract. I cannot tell you if I will have a job in six months time. And that is scary.

Looking back would I still like to be working in the civil service? The financial security certainly makes it tempting even if the creative catharsis, which is supplied by my current work, is not comparable.

The legacy left by Thatcher is that which I had at the Job Centre and later Standard Life: a legacy of temporary contracts which benefit the employers and not the employees. A legacy of renting overpriced apartments which benefits the letting agency and the landlord and not the resident. A legacy where we judge success by X-Factor fame and celebrity wealth rather than by the hard work of those who keep our society together. A legacy where youngsters aspire to be on television rather than to be a doctor or nurse or teacher or to have a trade. When someone says "You have to work really hard to be a pop star/ film director/ actor/ footballer" etc etc nobody seems to acknowledge that someone taking out your refuge in the morning or dealing with your mail or working in a sweatshop stitching together your garments also "works hard". When we walk past a homeless person are we not all now Thatcher's children? Do we even care anymore now that this attitude is so ingrained in all of us?



I need not bang on about Maggie's other poisonous elements from being opposed to gay rights to her support for capital punishment, the Khmer Rouge and Chilean torturer and murderer Pinochet - whose dictatorship overthrew the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende. I need not also stress her vile treatment of Nelson Mandela, her squandering of North Sea Oil to fuel her monetary platform whilst entire areas of Scotland starved and, oddly, her complete disregard for any school of feminism. I could go on... But the big problem we face today is that Maggie's spawn are in government - against the will of the people of my own country. Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne, David Cameron, Liam Fox and so forth are vile human beings. Their ideology involves cutting down our welfare state and public services under the guise of austerity - as if a country which has tax cuts for millionaires and £8 million to spend on a ceremonial funeral for the woman who got us all into this mess in the first place - needs to punish the most vulnerable in society.

As long as the conservative voter base fails to care about their fellow human beings, and fall for this nonsense of 'austerity', then Maggie truly has won and her revolution which began in 1979 allows each of us to be that little bit more selfish without questioning how we even 'achieved' this sort of personality crisis. Given that this is the sort of person now deemed worthy of an extravagent goodbye in 'Great' Britain, I think that each of us has reason to despair and to reflect.



Thursday, 21 March 2013

THE PREMIERE OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL


Life lessons from a critic-proof sequel... that really sucked



When Titan's Dreamwatch folded it became Total Sci-Fi, a web site presided over by my friend Matthew McAllister and a bloody good income source for yours truly as well (sadly Titan called it a day with their online presence in 2009). I was once asked by someone why I had only utilised a short number of words on a review of something (I forget what). The answer to that is simple: the difference between Total Sci-Fi, as an off-shoot from an actual newsstand publication, and many other genre-related web sites, is that Titan still paid by the word. This meant strict word counts on their reviews - usually between 200 and 300 words.

I miss Total Sci-Fi a great deal - as does my wallet!

My proudest moment on Total Sci-Fi was when I became one of the first people in the world to have their Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review online.



Here was my email to Matt, accompanied by my review [below], which I sent about an hour after getting out of the Cannes world premiere:

I waited 90 minutes in the baking sun to get into this
monster so you can get this sucker up right away!

Sadly, it's pants. I know I know - I wasn't the only
one though. Think this is going to get a rough time
from critics. It got boos at the end credits in
Cannes (along with some cheers to be fair) and some
REAL boos for LeBeouf's character. He's AWFUL in it.

Walk outs before the end credits too. A lot of
deflated journalists and filmmakers.

Speak soon!

C


And how right I was.



My Indiana Jones review got a record number of views on Total Sci-Fi. Interestingly, the other critics - for far loftier (and better paying!) outlets than Titan - swallowed their pride and, doubtlessly worried about risking being alone in their disdain, sucked-up to ol' Steven on this one. A bit like how I imagine some of these enthusiastic Skyfall reviews have come about. The initial reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere hailed The Crystal Skull as an outright masterpiece, with one of the trades (and I forget which one) even claiming the film met with an estactic ovation.

That's the way the trades try and re-write history for their Hollywood over-lords. In this case it didn't happen, wasn't happening and, five years later, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is rightly seen as a disaster. A byword for ill-advised sequels.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything but I was the first voice of criticism out there. My only regret is going with 5/10. I wobbled about this - going back and forth between 4/10 and 5/10. I really did want to think that, maybe, I might want to watch this again sometime but, alas, I've never had the urge to go back and re-evaluate Kingdom of the Crystal Skull . Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, my memories of it are of mind numbing boredom, disappointment and that really stupid bit where the main cast keeps falling down massive waterfalls in a small boat, just like a Looney Tunes cartoon, but remain unharmed each time.

Anyway, with 300 words to spare here is the review I typed up immediately after getting out the screening...



Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LeBeouf

Indiana Jones returns to action in 1957, where he becomes involved in a Soviet plot to locate the secrets behind the Akator – an ancient race of space aliens who hold the key to human mind control.

Oh dear, where to even start? If you hoped that the new Indiana Jones movie would feature extraterrestrial beings, comic relief meerkats and an obnoxious leather jacket wearing, rock ‘n’ roll lovin’ teenaged son for our title hero then this is the summer picture for you. However, if that brief description fills you with dread then prepare to be broken hearted.

Sure, Indy 4 comes up trumps with a small handful of set pieces but the plot is so daft, and the supporting characters so forgettable, that this long-awaited sequel soon becomes a drag to endure. Worst of all is Spielberg’s decision to bring back Allen as a love interest. Although the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark has aged well her performance in this boils down to nothing more than smiling like an 18 year old in love and mugging knowingly at the camera.

Likewise, LeBeouf as Indy Jnr. is too cocky and smug to be endearing and the sequence where he swings through vines in the Amazon wilderness (complete with “hilarious” CGI monkeys) is so cartoon-like that its very inclusion serves only to drag the viewer out of the plot at hand. Lead villainess Blanchett should be comedy gold as the flick’s sultry Soviet megalomaniac but, onscreen, she radiates a likeability and sexiness that makes her no threat at all to our hat-clad hero.

The end result is to the original Indiana Jones trilogy what Alien Resurrection was to its franchise – a tired, preposterous and, ultimately, pointless attempt at cash-fleecing from a group of Hollywood royalty that really should know better.

Verdict: 5/10

Back to blockbuster 101 class for you Mr. Spielberg!

Calum Waddell


Another one from the Dreamwatch archives: My interview with author Iain Banks, one of Scotland's most significant and sensational sci-fi minds. My own discovery of The Wasp Factory, during my first year at university, was game-changing: an indication that locally created horror fiction could be addictive, intelligent and terrifying. If you have to read this, it is highly recommended: a true contemporary classic!



Banking some Culture
 
Iain M Banks Interviewed
 
Famous for his creation of the Culture (a facet of many of his sci-fi novels, beginning with 1987’s  Consider Phlebas) 
and for shocking even the most jaded of horror readers with 1984’s The Wasp Factory, Iain M. Banks remains one of the 
genre’s most cherished authors. Calum Waddell caught up with him at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the 
following exclusive interview. 
 
First off, care to give us a definitive answer on what is happening with the much rumoured film version of The Wasp 
Factory? 
                                                   
Well, it is still rumoured! As they say in Hollywood, “don’t hold your breath.” The whole long, ghastly and - as it turned 
out – very expensive saga of The Wasp Factory not getting made into a film is one I long since stopped caring about, 
largely through despair. Litigation can do that.
 
 
 
All the same, if it theoretically did take place, who would be your ideal person to star as youthful killer Frank Cauldhame 
and who would be your choice of director?
 
I have no idea who would make the best Frank. As for a director... well, I have always said I would love the Coen brothers 
to make a book of mine into a film so I think I will stick with that. But the likelihood of any of this happening is, well, did I 
mention that thing about not holding one’s breath?
 
 
 
Of course some of the initial reviews of The Wasp Factory were quite scathing – with some critics being somewhat 
offended by the book. How do did you react to this?
 
Oh I thought it was a hoot (laughs). I was a complete unknown and had hoped to get maybe a handful of short, careless 
reviews, perhaps just enough to make sure I’d get a second book published. It was entirely a case of “any publicity is good 
publicity” with The Wasp Factory. So being reviewed everywhere by everybody and finding them all disagreeing about it, 
and the controversy itself leaking out from the book reviews into the news sections of papers and magazines, was 
something I hadn’t even dreamed of.  And, frankly, I thought the more knickers-in-a-twist notices were just hilarious. I still 
take a slightly guilty delight in upsetting precisely the sort of people who started frothing at the mouth because The Wasp 
Factory featured cruelty to animals or a young protagonist who went about cheerfully murdering other children!
 
Does the Culture represent your own notion of an ideal utopia - i.e. a future where government is almost irrelevant?
 
Yup; it is my own secular heaven. It is where I want to go when I am still alive.  Never going to happen, of course, but a 
chap can dream...
 
And do you believe science fiction is a good place to explore personal politics?
 
Potentially it is the ideal genre, because you can control every variable in the story, including the history that leads to the 
set-up at the start, whereas, in reality, we are kind of stuck with the history we have; irregardless of the efforts of revisionists. 
 
 
 
As someone whose work commonly explores the great unknown, do you believe in life on other planets?
 
I think it would be a quite bizarre standpoint not to be open to the possibility of life on other planets. We live on one small 
planet in an unremarkable solar system within a galaxy filled with between two and four hundred billion other stars. 
Moreover - as our telescopes and techniques improve – we have just started to spot solar systems almost everywhere we 
look. Plus there are as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in our galaxy. So, for a person, now, in our current 
state of ignorance, just to decide that there isn’t life anywhere else, in amongst all of that, would appear perverse to say the 
least.
 
Both The Wasp Factory and Complicity are set in unassuming areas of Scotland, perhaps indicating that the most 
shocking terror does not have to emerge from the most obvious of locations and scenarios. Can you comment on this?
 
Well, I guess terror can come from almost anywhere. You know - people have died tripping on the kitchen floor and falling 
onto a knife sticking up in the dishwasher! In fact, I heard - just the other day - of a guy who died after a camel sat on him! 
Believe it or not, he wasn’t discovered for six hours and they reckon he took four and a half of those to die. Can you 
imagine?  So a bit of imagination and you can conjure almost any emotion out of almost any setting – be it horror, humour or 
anything else… But, to be honest, I can’t take supernatural horror seriously at all and the rest I just don't get. I seem not to 
possess the circuitry that processes disgust or fear into a pleasurable experience (laughs).  
 
 
 
Do view your novel Complicity as a work of horror?
 
No, it is meant to be a thriller. I mean, there is some pretty horrific stuff in there, certainly, but the intention wasn’t to write a 
horror novel. But, in the end I don't really mind what terms get attached to the books. If people want to think of Complicity 
as a horror novel, that is fine by me.
 
Your 1994 book Feersum Endjinn indicates a suspicion, maybe even dislike, of technological advance. Is this a fair 
reading?
 
Nope, I didn’t mean that at all. In fact, I love technological advance; as a species, in a sense, we now are our technology. I 
would say it is what we do with it that is the problem.  I think it tells you a lot about us that the first question asked of any 
advance is “What are the military applications?”
 
Finally, an inevitable question: Can you name some of your favourite authors and books? 
 
In the last few years I have been very impressed with Alan Warner and David Mitchell. I also think that Alan Moore's Voice 
of the Fire is one of the great underrated novels of our time.