Throwback Thirty – Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Throwback Thirty – Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

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5_star_rating_system_4_and_a_half_stars When I first came up with my Throwback Thirty idea there were a handful of movies that I was super excited about. This week’s film is one of the most exciting. I have always loved a good B movie and, despite my avoidance of traditional horror stuff, will always have time for a worthy comedy horror film… especially one starring aliens that look like clowns. I know a lot of people who are freaked out by clowns but I’ve never seen it. Maybe it helped that I never accidentally watched IT when I was a kid but I’ve never really been fussed either way about clowns. I did work with a guy who was absolutely terrified by them. I admit, we all kind of abused the situation and I was, at times, guilty of humming circus music whenever he was around. It genuinely used to freak him out because he was that scared. Yes, it was a dick move but, in my defence, it was really funny too. So I’d imagine that he’d never seen the 1988 classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space because that would be mental. Like the girl who was in the year below me at uni who was afraid of balloons and, during out college’s end of year party, freaked out during the balloon drop. I’d grabbed a balloon and she forced me to pop it. I was fucking livid! Mate, if you get so freaked out by balloons then why turn up to a place where you know there’ll be shit loads of them???? Not that I’m still bitter 10 years on or anything… Read more

Tuesday’s Reviews – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

 It’s been 22 years since Jumanji, the film directed by Joe Johnston and based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, was released. That film was groundbreaking in the 90s for its use of CGI and has become a much loved classic thanks to Robin Williams’ lead role. The original book isn’t exactly crammed with material to adapt but there was so much potential with the concept of a board game that came to life. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched the original film at this point but it always makes me feel like a kid again. I know it’s meant to be a kind of scary situation but I’ve always wanted to play this fucking game. I don’t care how many monkey’s destroy my kitchen or monsoons fill up my entire house with water. It looks really fun… and incredibly dangerous obviously. For a movie that has it’s fair share of flaws, it’s pretty damn perfect and has remained a classic even though it hasn’t really aged well. So the news that we were getting a new film was worrying. I know Hollywood likes to remake and reboot franchises these days but, surely, nobody would be stupid enough to try and remake the original? I mean Robin Williams made that film what it was so trying to make it without him would be suicide. However, the news that this would be more of a sequel than a remake was enough to get me a bit excited. Dropping the Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan into the jungle? Who wouldn’t want to see that even a little bit? Was I still annoyed that they were squeezing as much cash out of the original film as possible? Was I still worried that it was going to be a terrible mess? Was I concerned to see Karen Gillan dressed like Lara Croft despite it being 2017? Yes, yes, and hells yes! Did I care enough to not see it? Nah.

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My Least Favourite Books of 2017

My Least Favourite Books of 2017

Yesterday I uploaded a top 10 list containing my favourite books out of the ones I’ve read this year. There were plenty of super obvious and unoriginal choices on the list but it’s hard to deny how great they are. Whilst I was writing it I couldn’t help but feel that my book choices have improved somewhat this year. I may not have made great strides in terms of the number of books I’ve read this year because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t feel that reading should be a competition. However, I haven’t read as many books that I’ve disliked this year. Normally I would have fallen into the trap of buying super cheap thrillers that are always half price following their super hyped release. I’m talking books like Girl on the Train and similar psychological crime thrillers. The kind of novel that always follows the same path as the previous psychological crime thriller but with a heroine with a slightly different emotional crutch. This year I made the bold move to stop myself being taken in by the hype marketing that surrounds certain books. I just can’t do it to myself any more. I’ve done quite well on the whole so, when I was reviewing the books I’ve read in the last 12 months, I was shocked to find so many books that I’d enjoyed reading. There were a few glaring errors though and I thought it only right to highlight these to prevent anyone else making the mistakes I did.

  1. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus : This is the book that I’m most annoyed at myself about this year. I have a long and complicated history with YA fiction anyway but this has the added dread of being a crime thriller. On paper it sounded perfect. It was being billed as something of a mix between The Breakfast Club and Murder on the Orient Express and I bloody love both of those things. However, this book is everything that I’ve come to hate about bad YA fiction. I’m sure there is some Young Adult literature out there that isn’t determined to dumb itself down for its audience but this book was so simplistic. It was painfully obvious from the first page who was responsible for the murder that the rest of the novel was just dragging out the inevitable. Then you have all the staple YA cliches and stereotypical characters. There was nothing original, exciting or worthwhile about this book. The writing was uninspiring and fairly insipid. The characters lacked development and the dialogue was so bad. This, more than any other YA fiction I’ve read, felt like a grown adult trying to remember what being a teenager was like but failing miserably. I, honestly, don’t think I could find one positive to say about this novel. I really don’t think I’ve ever hated a book as passionately as I hate this one. It wasn’t worth my previous time.
  2. Losing It by Emma Rathbone : This was the first book I finished this year and was one that had been part of my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. I had super high hopes for it being a triumphant work of feminist insight. Instead, it made me all ranty and horrible. The novel was supposed to open up a dialogue about our society’s obsession with sex but, instead, it just made virginity seem even more depressing and humiliating. This is a book intended to be read by young people. YOUNG PEOPLE. You know, those hormonal and already confused and anxious bunch who have enough trouble working out their attitude towards the opposite sex. They don’t need Emma fucking Rathbone coming along and writing a book telling them to have sex asap. I didn’t just hate Losing It because of it’s content, of course. Emma Rathbone is, without a doubt, one of the worst writers I’ve ever read. She has no idea how to utlitise the English language in an appealing and entertaining way. There were moments in this novel that were just awful. I highlight a few in my review which were super bad. This was so close to being my most hated read this year. Luckily for Rathbone, One of us is lying came in to steal the crown from under her nose.
  3. The Plague by Albert Camus : Now, strictly speaking I didn’t hate this book but, as this list so far consists of two YA novels, I felt the need to bulk out this post. The Plague was one of two books this year that I started but didn’t finish. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get into this story. I’m going to blame the translation that I used for it being inaccessible but I just found this book to be very stiff. It’s a fantastic story and Camus is, obviously, a great writer. I just couldn’t get through it. Maybe it was bad timing? I don’t know. It’s not necessarily fair to include it considering how much I hated the previous two books but, again, I needed the numbers. 
  4. Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling : The other book that I failed to read this year? Yep, it was the second in the Harry Potter series. When it comes to this series I’ve always said that Prisoner of Azkaban is my number one book and film. I love it so much and think the series really took off from the third instalment. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to really struggle with the first 2 books. They are both so childish and badly written that I have never been able to fully reread them. I managed to push on through with The Philosopher’s Stone this year but genuinely couldn’t get through its successor. Chamber of Secrets is, by far, my least favourite book in the whole series. So little happens in it and there is so much preamble before we get back to Hogwarts. It is so slow and, again, it was during JK’s first experiences of writing. It’s so immature and simplistic. There was nothing pushing me on to finish because I kept remembering what I had to get through before anything interesting happens. I think, if I ever try to reread the entire series, I could happily skip past this one completely and not feel I was missing out.
Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Let’s be honest, even leaving the possible domestic abuse to one side, Johnny Depp has well and truly gone rogue in recent years. No offence to the man but he’s kind of a walking parody of himself these days. I mean I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the actor genuinely believes he is Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s the only thing that explains the fact that he won’t stop making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Watching the 4th film was painful enough; those fucking mermaids man. Then we have to suffer the indignity of a 5th. It just stinks of desperation. This has been a dying franchise since the 2nd film because, let’s face it, there was only so far you could go making films based on a fucking theme park ride. Yet, Disney keep flogging that dead horse and are back with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A film that, for some unknown reason, was renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK. Now, it was bad enough that I actually watched this film but to have to watch it with this god awful title? That’s too much. So I’m defying my geography and referring only to the superior title. Salazar’s Revenge? For fuck’s sake, that sounds like a really terrible soap opera or something. This is the POTC movie that, basically, nobody asked for so to give it such an underwhelming name for its European distribution just seems like a super bad idea. Although, with the news that a 6th film is dependent on DVD sales it may actually pay off for us in the long term.

It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. There are those who have slowly but surely grown sick of the same Captain Jack Sparrow shtick that has become so tired and predictable over the last 4 POTC movies. Then there are those with brains so tiny that they’d be endlessly amused just from looking at their own hands. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film wowed audiences in 2003 very little has changed about the character. There has been little, if any, development over the span of 4 films and he feels less like a character than a series of mannerisms at this point. We saw, from the disappointing On Stranger Tides, that Jack cannot hold a movie on his own so, to try and reinvent the wheel, the franchises 5th outing is going back to its roots. We see the return of original stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as well a carbon copy of the plot. All wrapped up in a package that is nowhere near as polished as any of the Gore Verbinski’s three films. So, it was never going to go well.

The powers that be have clearly decided that too much of Captain Sparrow can be bad thing and have, once again, placed him as second fiddle to a couple of bright young things. In this case it is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), offspring of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist on a quest to complete her father’s work. Just like the first film, Will and Elizabeth 2.0 are both searching for some sort of mystical McGuffin (in this case it’s Poseidon’s trident) that will, supposedly, solve everyone’s problems. To do this they must ask for the help of everyone’s favourite rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). At the same time, Jack is trying to outrun an old enemy (Javier Bardem) who is seeking both bloody vengeance and an end to his death curse. There’s also the inevitable appearance of the British navy who decide to get mixed up in everything. Dead Men Tell No Tales is clearly trying to recapture the excitement of the first but the ride isn’t as much fun this time round.

The main problem lies in the fact that, the more you examine the plot the less it makes sense. I mean how does Salazar know that Jack’s compass holds the key to his escape? Why, when they do escape, are they unable to step on land? What exactly is Barbossa’s motivation for anything? Why the fuck do British sailors go after the trident? There is so much included in the plot that, when you think about it, doesn’t add anything to the narrative. David Wenham turns up as the face of the British Empire but he has absolutely no impact on anything that happens. This film isn’t a well-crafted masterpiece but is just a series of events that come together to make the ending possible in the most dramatic way. Things need to happen so we can have the cycle of double-crossing that has become a requirement in this franchise. It’s just the most convenient and laziest way of making the story work.

Which, I guess, really isn’t a problem in itself. It’s just that there isn’t enough to distract us. Johnny Depps’ Captain Jack has become super irritating in the past few years so no amount of his weirdness is enough to keep you on board. Even Javier Bardem, who is the greatest Bond villain of recent years, doesn’t feel as invested in the character of Salazar as he should be. The character may be a triumph of CGI but he never feels like the most terrifying of foes. Of course, there are some fine action sequences at the start of the film but as time moves on these become more absurd and confusing. An early sequence that sees Henry save Jack and Carina from being executed is a fabulous sequence in the same vain as the Gore Verbinski era but it quickly just descends into madness. The final showdown is just a mess of CGI with no elegance or coherence.

I was genuinely shocked to discover that this film is actually the shortest in the franchise. It definitely felt longer than any of the previous films. Watching it from start to finish seemed like a fucking marathon. There simply isn’t any life in this franchise anymore. Or at least in the franchise as it once was. I think the days of Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impression are well and truly over. If this is going to continue, and really I don’t think it should, there should be a change of direction. People will try to defend Dead Men Tell No Tales as being mindless entertainment. I defy that statement. This film isn’t mindless entertainment: it’s just mindless.

TBT – The Parole Officer (2001)

TBT – The Parole Officer (2001)


When you’re the creator of an iconic character it can be super difficult to get yourself out from under its shadow. Steve Coogan has tried to move away from just being the guy who plays Alan Partridge but nothing else has ever really stuck. Let’s be honest, he’s appeared in some utter shite over the years and it’s not been pretty. In more recent years he has made the move that most comedy performers over a certain age try and picked more serious roles. Gone straight if you will. It was a different story back in 2001 when he co-wrote and starred in his own British comedy crime caper. For some reason, when The Parole Officer came out it was constantly being compared to the Ealing crime comedies from the 1950s and 1960s. I guess there were just no real expectations for British comedies in the early 2000s so anything that got made was deemed kind of successful. It was the same year that the Vinnie Jones comedy vehicle Mean Machine and a film about a hairdresser from Keighley starring Alan Rickman were released, after all. When the greatest British comedy to be released that year was Bridget Jones’ Diary then maybe I can see why people got so excited. Nowadays, Coogan seems pretty embarrassed to have ever made the film and, in 2015, stated that he doesn’t understand why anyone likes it. I’ve known a load of people who loved this film but, really, they aren’t the kind of people who I would ever seek advice from. On any subject matter. However, it’s been a really long time since I saw this film so, after I so harshly critiqued it during my Tuesday review this week, I decided it was time to see if it really was as bad as I remembered.

Alan Partridge claimed The Parole Officer was “unarguably the greatest film ever made”. We have to assume that he’s at least a little biased, of course, on account of it being his creator, Steve Coogan’s film, and, you know, cause he’s a fucking fictional character. Rewatching the film in 2017 I was struck by 2 things: number 1, Stannis Baratheon and Cersei Lannister are both pretending to be British police officers and, number 2, this is a fucking awful film. It’s weird to think of a time when Steve Coogan was having to try so fucking hard to make it in Hollywood but this film is proof of the murky depths he was once willing to sink to. It’s sad and more cringe inducing than anything Alan Partridge has done in his illustrious career. The major positive I have for it is, because it was made during a time when British comedies tended not to wander too far beyond the 90 minute mark, it’s short. I mean it still felt like I was watching it for a good few days but, in reality, I didn’t actually have to waste too much time on it.

The Parole Officer is not a fresh British comedy and, instead, uses a really tired situation but with additionally gross-out gags. It’s trying to do the same thing that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg did so successfully just 3 years later with Shaun of the Dead but failing. With their Cornetto Trilogy, Wright and Pegg managed to repurpose the narratives of classic Hollywood genres for use in a UK landscape without it seeming too gimmicky. Here, Coogan and co-writer, Henry Normal, just lazily implant the premise of films like The Italian Job in the North of England. It just ends up being overly twee and nonsensical. It needed a more careful hand instead of just putting Coogan on a rollercoaster in Blackpool and calling it a day. It’s just infuriating to watch this film and know how much better it could have been. Instead, the narrative is just a mess that is full of holes, dropped storylines and so many awful attempts to push comedy where there shouldn’t be any.

Coogan, obviously, has the starring role as the titular Parole Officer, Simon Garden, who accidentally witnesses a murder carried out by a corrupt cop (Stephen Dillane). He is threatened with going to prison for the crime unless he shuts his mouth and leaves Manchester forever. In order to clear his name, Simon puts together a plan to rob a banks and retrieve a VHS tape showing the truth. He creates a crew using the only 3 criminals that he has successfully convinced to go straight and a teenage joy rider he was trying to help. At the same time, Simon is attempting to romance the way out of his league WPC Emmap (Lena Headey) who, for reasons not shown during the film, has fallen for the charms that nobody else seems to realise Simon has.

Despite boasting a great cast, everything about The Parole Officer feels kind of flat. The actors all do as great a job as they can but it never comes together. It always feels like we’re watching a terrible film instead of being engrossed in a fantastically woven tale. Although, Dillane is memorable as the bent copper who threatens Simon and the trio of ex-criminals fair much better than Coogan himself. It helps that they are played by the likes of Om Puri and Ben Miller, of course, but they all get some fairly decent moments. What is majorly disappointing is that none of the characters have any real depth. Coogan clearly has a talent for creating well-rounded characters but nobody, not even Simon, feels fleshed out. You don’t really know anything about anybody or why we should give a shit about them. This film is so desperate to get to the action and the gags that it skips the important stuff.

There is certainly an issue with pacing and editing in this film. The first 30 minutes are a confusing mess which feels as though major parts of the story have been cut. People suddenly talk to each other like old friends and seem to know things they really shouldn’t. And that’s exactly the point where you realise that you still have an hour of this shit to sit through. The script has a decent stab at creating some comedy to move things along but most of it falls flat in the end. There are a couple of really funny moments but, for the most part, it relies too heavily on physical comedy or gross-out gags. I can see why Steve Coogan regrets making this film. I regretted watching it again before I was even half-way through. There is very little to really celebrate here. It deserves props for getting such an amazing cast together but it ruins it by not giving them anything to do. Considering how great we know Coogan can be, The Parole Officer it’s even more insane that this film is as bad as it is.

TBT – The Da Vinci Code (2006)

TBT – The Da Vinci Code (2006)


Two of my favourite quotations from the film critic Roger Ebert concern The Da Vinci Code. The first is from his review of the film National Treasure:

I should read a potboiler like The Da Vinci Code every once in a while, just to remind myself that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code.

The second from his review of Ron Howard’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code:

They say The Da Vinci Code has sold more copies than any book since the Bible. Good thing it has a different ending.

Along with a love of cinema and a need to criticise it, Roger Ebert and I have something in common. We have both read and hated Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. In all honesty, I read the book after I had watched the film. I knew about Brown’s book, of course, but I had no interest in reading it. I watched the end of the film one evening and was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Brown’s writing is horrible and his over-reliance on cliffhangers and their ridiculous solutions is just awful. I can see why people love it; it’s a mystery that is easy to read and, subsequently, makes people feel clever when they keep up with/solve it. It’s all just trite though. Brown made a name for himself thanks to a controversial and preposterous subject. He gained readers because of his short chapters that always end on a cliffhanger. It makes my blood boil. I swear, one Dan Brown chapter ends with the cliffhanger of what Robert Langdon will decide to have for breakfast. Over the years, I’ve had so many arguments with people about this book but I often find myself being slightly less harsh on the film. I’ve never thought it made much sense. Maybe Tom Hanks really is such a charming man that he can improve anything?

I mean, I’m under no real illusion that The Da Vinci Code is a good film. It has an utterly ridiculous narrative and doesn’t provide any depth. It’s basically a film of exposition where you sit and watch people solve riddles that nobody else has a chance of solving. Decent mysteries are supposed to allow you to keep up with, if not get ahead of, the characters on screen. With The Da Vinci Code you’re always, at least, one step behind. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t matter. Whilst Tom Hanks’s first outing as Robert Langdon sees him break almost illogical riddles at breakneck speed, The Da Vinci Code also gives us Audrey Tatou’s Sophie who constantly asks everyone on screen to explain it. Sophie, in this case, is the audience… except she also happens to be shit hot at solving these seemingly unsolvable mysteries when she needs to. What The Da Vinci Code boils down to, is a couple of hours watching Tom Hanks and co run through various European countries and spend hours sat around giving lectures on history and religious legends.

Yet, there is something about being adapted into a film that makes the narrative work better than in the book. On screen, the pace set by Dan Brown’s endless chain of cliffhangers and impossible escapes means that plot is always moving forward. Or at least always moving forward after we’ve spent the requisite amount of time watching a PowerPoint presentation or something first. Unlike reading the book, the film doesn’t really allow you to think too much. There is always something happening so you can’t really start asking yourself pesky questions like “why did that character not just make things simpler?” or “what are his motivations for doing this?” or “why does the ending essentially just make the entire film unnecessary?” Ron Howard has, quite cleverly, made a film that never allows you time to pick apart the glaringly obvious plot holes until after the credits, by which time you’ve already let yourself get carried off in the insanity on screen.

Which is, if I’m honest, what always happens. I can hardly say that I find The Da Vinci Code exciting. I’ve hardly ever been riveted by it. However, I can’t deny that, if it’s on, I find myself unable to look away. It’s the mentality that makes you look at a car crash as you drive past. The same one that means, despite my huge, burning hatred for it, makes me occasionally want to sit down to watch Mama Mia. Although, I suspect that’s more of a weird S&M fetish thing than this. Whilst the narrative doesn’t really interest me in anyway, I am always glued to the screen. It could very well just be Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, and his magnetic personality. Or it could just be that this film is so bad that it’s clawing its way back to good again. I don’t know.

I’ve never thought much of Dan Brown as a writer of novels but he is a writer who can construct an intriguing plot. Yes, it’s exactly the kind of stuff you’d find weird people in tin foil hats writing on a message board at 1 am but that doesn’t mean it’s not watchable. Dan Brown shouldn’t be a writer of books but he can make a fairly decent shit film. You won’t come out of this film having a changed view on religion or having a completely different opinion about society because that’s not the point. No matter how seriously this film takes itself. This film with drag you, kicking and screaming, into its nonsense world and, without letting you stop for breath, whisk you along with it before you realise what you’ve got yourself involved in. Maybe, once the credits roll, you’ll feel ashamed with yourself. That’s natural. What you can’t deny, no matter how much you might want to, is that, at the time, you were kind of happy to be on that ride.

Harry Potter Week: Hog-Warts the deal with this school, though?

Harry Potter Week: Hog-Warts the deal with this school, though?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan then I’m sure you, like me, grew up dreaming of going to Hogwarts. As a kid there was nothing that seemed as exciting as being packed off to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to perform magic. Being stuck in school being taught how to do maths or learning about geography was nothing compared to being in a transfiguration or potions lesson. The teachers all seemed so much more interesting than my own and the headteacher was a sparkly blue-eyed old man with a love of traditional sweets. It sounded perfect for a child of 10. I’m kind of a grown adult now and can see that the whole school is just a joke. Every single year the headteacher cancels final exams. How the hell do the students get their qualifications? What kind of school system just gives students a free pass every year? In my first year of uni, my friend collapsed and had a fit on the way to our English Literature exam. I had to stop her from hurting herself while my other friends ran around campus to find a porter to ring an ambulance (because, stupidly, that’s how you had to do it). Did we get let off the exam and given a passing grade? Did we fuck? We sat that exam despite having no idea how our friend was. Because that’s life. If you go to Hogwarts and break a nail before an exam Albus would probably have let you skip it on emotional grounds.

I know it’s a children’s book but the education system of the wizarding world is a bit of shoddy. At the age of 11, all magical children in the UK are packed off, on a steam train, to the Highlands of Scotland to live in an old castle potentially full of terrible things. Then they are expected to follow a curriculum of solely magical learning, which, considering it’s a school of magic, is fine but surely it misses out some essential points. I mean, muggle children will no doubt have a background in the basics of Maths, Science and English but what of the wizarding kids? And do we really think that, at 11, they have got a good enough grasp of these subjects to survive? It means your only education is learning spells or potions and nothing else unless Muggle Studies covers literally everything outside of the wizarding world. Of course, that seems both unlikely and really stupid considering you can’t take it until your third year. Where are the basics of every person’s education? History of magic is fine but surely it’s still useful to know about the history of the muggle world. Wouldn’t they both be linked? Or are we expected to believe that those pesky World Wars just didn’t affect any magical person?

So, take a moment and imagine you’re a muggle who finds out their son/daughter is being accepted into Hogwarts. Currently, they’re in a primary school that you’ve handpicked to offer them the best start in life. You’ve gone over Ofsted reports and considered exam results. Then you find out they’re going to a school where they ignore that side of their education to focus on something extremely specific that holds no place in your world. Wouldn’t you be a bit worried? I mean you wouldn’t know anything of the wizarding world or the potential career path your child could follow. All you would know is that they wouldn’t be prepared for any kind of job you’d secretly been hoping they’d enter. It just seems like education at Hogwarts isn’t really taking the practicalities into account. Even specialist schools in the real world offer a subsequent education in the key subject matter alongside. It’s super important to give a well-rounded education; shame Hogwarts doesn’t support this.

What it does support though? Taking new kids and dividing them into houses based on certain personality traits and then promoting competition between the students. For a while now I’ve had a massive problem with the way JK Rowling uses the house system in Hogwarts. Throughout my education, we were split into groups to streamline the whole system but it was random chance or based on skill level. It certainly wasn’t based on who was the bravest, the kindest or the most suspicious. The books are terrible when it comes to describing the different houses and, thanks to the perspective of the narrative, completely biased towards Gryffindor. It’s no wonder that, as a kid, I would have been desperate to be in Gryffindor. As I grew up I saw that, really, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Gryffindors may be brave but they have no respect for rules or putting people in harms way. They’re basically the jocks in every teen movie. You know the ones that get by on their popularity but are eventually overthrown by the geeks.

Also, what is this opposition to Slytherin? There’s a girl I work with who always throws around the “Slytherin’ remark as an insult and it’s just stupid. Slytherins, as we are told, are loyal, ambitious, cunning and adventurous. If I wasn’t a Ravenclaw I’d rather be a Slytherin that a fucking Gryffindor. The books tell us that “there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” but what kind of message is this? Not only is it not true (Peter Pettigrew) but what about the members of Slytherin that didn’t go bad? Unless, they actually all do but that prompts further questions. If you have a house that you know is full of future evil doers then either don’t allow them in the school or educate them into being good instead. This is a flawed system that should have been removed from the school once the founders had snuffed it. It’s a crazy system.

Still, it might just seem that way because the books don’t go too deep into it. I guess they are for kids. Although, even then the school doesn’t seem like the best place to live. For one thing, you have to get to grips with the fucking moving staircases so you’ll never be able to find your way around. How many first-year students get lost in that place every year? And, I can’t remember if this is just a movie thing or a book thing but teachers see to be getting pissed off when they’re late. How the hell is it their fault when the stairs have a mind of their own? Then there are the ghosts just hanging around and flying through kids. The talking portraits who just shout shit at the children walking past just seem like a weird addition to the mix. And Peeves? Heck, I love the guy but you’d have got rid of him centuries ago. He’s a menace to the teaching process.

Then you have the fact that there are plenty of ways for the students to get killed. For one thing, your school bullies have access to magic that can maim or, potentially, kill you. Then there’s the fact that Dumbledore hides philosopher’s stone in the castle by employing the services of a vicious three-headed dog and his only warning is exactly the kind of thing that would make children want to explore the third-floor corridor. Tell someone not to do something and that’s exactly what they’re going to want to do. Finally, there’s the Forbidden Forest, which is full of crazy killer spiders and god knows what else. Of course, this also doubles up as a potential place for detention. What kind of headteacher forces students to keep out of the forest only to allow Filch to send people in there as a cruel and unnecessary punishment?

Actually, why does Hogwarts even employ Filch anyway? The guy is clearly just an embittered and angry Squibb who hates the magical kids whose vomit he has to mop up. Filch is always on the verge of a mental breakdown that would very clearly include the death of most of the student body and probably some of the staff too. And it’s not the first weird hiring mistake that Dumbledore has made. He hired Quirrell as DADA teacher despite the fact that Voldemort was living in his fucking head. The following year he went and hired the most incompetent man in the world. Plus, let’s not forget that he was completely fooled by, or at least didn’t seem to care that Mad-Eye was actually Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise. How did he not realise that? The man’s supposed to be super intelligent and, it’s always suggested, that he can read people’s thoughts. I highly doubt that the insane Crouch was good enough at occlumency to stop the most powerful wizard of all time from hearing his desire to kill Harry Potter. Then you have the fact that Snape straight-up bullies like 3/4 of the school without repercussion.

And let’s talk about teachers for a moment; JK Rowling has said there are about 1000 students in the school and, from what we are told, there is one teacher for each subject. One teacher? 1000 students. How the hell do they get their marking done? How the hell do they work out the fucking schedule? My family contains a lot of teachers so I know how hard they have to work but this is a ridiculous situation. Even if they all had a time turner they’d be working nearly ever hour of the day. And yes, they probably have an enchanted quill to mark things and take notes and shit. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t loads to do still. When they aren’t teaching they’d be setting lesson plans, organising homework tasks and holding office hours in case 1 of their 1000 students needed help. It’s crazy. Hogwarts teachers need a fucking union. Also, before I forget, 1000 students and 1 medical professional? What the fuck?!?!

Now, it’s got to the point where I’ve ranted for far too long but you get the idea. Hogwarts is a fucked up school that expects parents to be happy sending their kids there. I wouldn’t be happy. Want your kid to get into Quidditch? Good luck. They only hold trials when one of the existing team leaves so, even if your kid if the best player around, they might never get a chance to play. Seems fair. And, on a final note, imagine being in the same year as Harry but not being one his friends. Wouldn’t you get tired of being overlooked because of the boy wizard? Wouldn’t it piss you off that you were slaving away in the library whilst he was copying off Hermione and getting away with it? Harry ignores the rules regularly and is rarely punished because he’s Dumbledore’s favourite. He’s not that great a wizard and actually learns very little but he’s always winning house points. There’s so much bias in that school that it’s ridiculous. Hogwarts always seemed like the most respected wizarding school but, now I’m older, I’m assuming that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s one of the few that exist in Europe.

TBT – Batman and Robin (1997)

TBT – Batman and Robin (1997)

I’m so tired right now. I’ve had a string of early shifts this week and it’s killing me. Tomorrow is my last day before I have a week off and I can’t wait. I just need to sleep for a week. I have no plans and, quite frankly, it’s a delightful thought. Still, before I can start to relax too much I have to get tomorrow over and done with. And before I can get work finished I have to go to bed. And before I do that I have to finish this review. God, why did I leave this to the last minute again? I was getting so much better with my schedule. So, this is no doubt going to be terrible and rushed but it’s an idea I’ve been thinking about all week. So let’s just get on with it.

Apparently, back in 2010 Batman and Robin was officially named the worst film ever by readers of Empire magazine. I mean, I know it’s a terrible film, that’s not something I’m going to argue with, but “the worst” film ever made? That seems a bit melodramatic. I’ve since loads of films I’d rather watch less than I’d watch Batman and Robin. Plus, a lot of the arguments against Joel Schumacher’s second time adapting the adventures of the Caped Crusader onto the screen revolve around it being a killer of a successful franchise. When it was released this would have been true but you can hardly say that now. Without Joel Schumacher there would, realistically, have been no Christopher Nolan. It took a film so desperately bad and stupid for people to say “we need a new, darker Dark Knight”. Batman and Robin is the Joker to The Dark Knight‘s Batman. And don’t people really love the Joker?

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this film is full of redeeming features. This isn’t like the time I tried to defend the prequels to you all. I’m not stupid. I know this film is bad. However, I’m here to argue that is falls into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’. Everything about this film is trying to get me to hate it but I just can’t. It makes me cringe but in the same way that people really seem to like about The Inbetweeners. You know that everything happening before your eyes is bad and should be stopped. Can you stop watching it though? I can’t.

Of course, I’m not a fucking moron. This film is downright bad. It was a misguided attempt to turn the character of Batman into a cartoon character that would appeal to children and create loads of money through merchandising. It was film-making for all the wrong reasons and Joel Schumacher was too arrogant to see that he couldn’t pull it off. Batman, as fans of the comic books are always ready to remind us, is serious business. This film is like a fucking toy advert that makes Adam West’s television series look like a bloody Shakespeare play. It’s bad. The batsuit nipples, the bat credit card, Alicia Silverstone, Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman, Chris O’Donnell, Bane. I could sit here just typing out everything single person or inanimate object that appears in this movie because it’s all just awful.

However, I can’t help but like this film just a little bit. I mean doesn’t it kind of fill you with joy that a film could be made that’s quite this bad? There are barely any (and that’s being too nice) redeeming features of this film which, in itself, is a bit of a redeeming feature. It’s the same mentality I have about Mama Mia. I hate that film with every fibre of me being but I sometimes have a huge desire to sit there and watch it. Why? Because it’s so fucking bad and that’s kind of comforting. I think we live in what could be described as a Golden Age of Hollywood where actors are getting better, scripts are getting more intelligent and well-written, and directors are finding new ways to knock our socks off. So, when one major fuck up slips through the cracks you have to kind of love it. It’s like those contestants that somehow get through to the live rounds on X Factor despite having no real talent. The audience loves them because they are so bad.

But that’s not the only reason to love it. Batman and Robin is camp and shitty, undoubtedly. But it’s meant to be camp and shitty. It plays off against the super dark Tim Burton offerings to get back to the unintentionally camp and shitty 60s show… on purpose. If nothing else, you have to admire the fact that Joel Schumacher sees Batman for what he kind of is. Yes, the comic book character is dark and gritty and everything. But there has always been an inherent silliness to the character. He’s a billionaire who dresses like a fucking bat. He has loads of bat related toys, gadgets and vehicles. That’s always been silly. This just puts that at the forefront instead of pretending this is all just very cool and realistic. The reason this film is so reviled is not because it is truly “the worst film ever” but because it’s the worst Batman film ever. For awful comic book fans that’s the worst thing in the world.

They need to chill the fuck out. Now, I love Tim Burton’s Batman films more than any other films that have been made about Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. But I have to admit that there are some improvements here. These feel more self-aware and less bogged down with u necessary tension. George Clooney makes a pretty decent and not-someone-you-instantly-want-to-punch-in-the-face kind of Bruce Wayne. Yes, he’s not great but he brings a softer and more human side to the character. It’s nice. This is the one of the few versions of Bruce Wayne that you might actually want to have a beer with. These positives aren’t anything to write home about but they’re something.

I’m not going to pretend this film is good: it’s not. It fails at being a comedy, it fails at being dramatic, it fails at telling a decent story, and it fails at creating interesting characters with interesting arcs. It is the results of three or four small plots being sewn together by someone who has never seen a needle and thread before. However, it does succeed in being terrible. Which, quite frankly, is not nothing. It’s something. And it’s something that demands to be remembered every now and then. Because, how else will we all remember Arnie telling us it’s “ice to see you”?

TBT – Chasing Amy (1997)

TBT – Chasing Amy (1997)

I’ve never really been a massive fan of Kevin Smith films. When I was at university I lived with a guy who loved him and wouldn’t hear a bad word said about the director. I mean Clerks is a silly but enjoyable enough watch and I did enjoy Dogma. However, I think Smith was severely overrated. Thankfully Smith-mania really peaked in the 90s and early 2000s but it still bugs me that Clerks is so often brought into discussions about “best films ever made”.  I mean I get that guy can make films out of small budgets but that’s no reason to give him so much credit. He got lucky with one suprise hit film and has been essentially riding it’s coattails ever since. I mean all his films are on pretty much the same level. Plus, he’s very hit and miss. Now, I realise that Ben Affleck has, for most of his career, made some questionable film choices but it always makes me a bit sad that Kevin Smith features so often in talks about Afflecks greatest film roles. I think Chasing Amy is almost always listed and Dogma makes the occasional appearance. Am I just missing something? Or were people just a lot easier to please in the 90s?

Chasing Amy is considered to be Kevin Smith’s greatest films after his debut film, Clerks. It was Ben Affleck’s second time in the director’s cast after the disappointing Mallrats. Affleck plays Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who works with his friend and roommate, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). The two co-create the popular series Bluntman and Chronic based on their associates Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). At a comic book convention the pair are introduced to Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and, after spending the evening at a bar together, Holden decides he and Alyssa have a deep connection. The only trouble is, Alyssa is a lesbian. Obviously, as this is Hollywood, that doesn’t matter for long and Alyssa enters into a romantic relationship with Holden. Until Banky uncovers some secrets from her past that she lied to Holden about. When faced with the truth about his girlfriend’s sexual history, the artist lashes out and risks losing the woman he loves.

The worst thing about Chasing Amy is that I can see what Kevin Smith was going for here. He was trying to make a film about sexual identity and how other people view it. I think he was genuinely trying to convey a meanginful and important message about a person’s past can lead them to be who they are now. Alyssa has a reputation for being a promiscuous teenager and, whilst her boyfriend cannot handle it, she is unashamed of it. She understands that it is not who she is now but realises that it was something she needed to do to get to where she is now. It should be empowering but it just kind of feels a bit off. As an audience we aren’t supposed to agree with Holden’s attitude but the positive message is so wrapped up in awful stereotypes and homophobic jokes that you can’t take it seriously.

The relationship between Holden and Alyssa comes out of the fact that he has very little idea or respect for the concept of lesbian sex. He doesn’t think that anything other than heterosexual sex really counts so, in this respect, he see her as a pure, untouched being. Until he finds out that she has been touched by more than her fair share of dudes. It is then that he starts to see her for as flawed and worries about her increased experience. Which is fine if you have a meaningful resolution where Holden realises he’s an ass, apologies to Alyssa and they move beyond it. That doesn’t happen. Holden realises he’s an ass and then becomes an even bigger ass to compensate. There is never a point where he accept responsibility and accepts that Alyssa’s past is her business. Aside from her one speech towards the end of the film, this is more about Holden’s reaction to events. It’s about how sad the end of the relationship makes him. He broods on his own whilst Alyssa goes off with the first chick she can find. The ending doesn’t empower her; it just confirms everything that Holden was saying about her.

I’ve not seen Chasing Amy for a really long time so it was weird going back to it now that it’s 20 years old. I’m one of those people that still feel like the 90s was only 10 years ago so this revelation alone was enough to give me the willies. Then you have the representation of sexuality and opinions on display, which just make me feel uneasy now. The 90s was a long time ago and gender politics and sexual identity have come a long way since then. Watching this in 2017 is how I imagine it was in for people in the 90s to rewatch all those racist and sexist sitcoms from the 70s. It’s funny, sure, but the general message is a little bit worrying. It feels like the most sensitive and kind-hearted film that Kevin Smith is ever likely to make but there is still so much about this film that just doesn’t carry over to 2017. This bro-humour is at odds with the messages he is trying to convey and the half-hearted attempt to turn Banky and Holden’s homosocial relationship into an awkward homosexual one. It just doesn’t work and Lee and Affleck are both clearly uncomfortable with the idea. Ultimately, there was a time and a place for Kevin Smith’s film and that time just isn’t now. I’m glad he’s not really a thing anymore.

TBT – Home Alone (1990)

TBT – Home Alone (1990)

I slept terribly last night. I was at work for 7 this morning so was awake before half 5. However, no matter how hard I tried, I found myself still wide awake at 1 am. So today I’ve been like a fucking zombie trying not to let exhaustion get to me. It also meant that, despite my plan to come home and write this post as soon as possible, I spent my time napping. So, in a moment of complete honesty, I’m not going to put my normal review hat on for this post. Of course, it doesn’t really matter I suppose. Any Christmas film that I could discuss for TBT are ones that everyone knows. So, instead, I want to discuss several points that have been bugging me about Home Alone over the years. I, like everyone else around my age, loved this film growing up and I’ll still watch it every year. I mean it is a remarkably funny festive film that, despite the absurdity of the premise, a terrible script and more than a few cringey stops in schmaltz town, is an essential Christmas watch. Let’s be hoenst, we love this film because of nostalgia. It reminds us of being children who all wanted to be the situation that Kevin found himself. But, we’re not kids anymore. With every year that passes, I find myself worrying more and more about what I’m watching. So I want to address some points.

  • Why are Kevin’s family such massive dicks?

Even before you consider the fact that they left their child at home whilst they flew to Paris, the McCallister’s are an awful family. I mean, sure, Kevin is a whiney brat but they all verbally abuse him and leave him in the attic. Why? Because someone else ate all his cheese pizza. Buzz was being a huge knob and nobody even challenges him. No, it’s all the 8 year old’s fault. I mean his awful uncle straight up calls him a “jerk” because he accidentally got covered in Pepsi that Kevin’s dad dropped. What we see of the McCallister’s in the beginning of the film isn’t usual family banter. The kind of gentle ribbing that you can get away with when you really love someone. It’s straight up bullying. I’m not surprised Kevin wanted his family to disappear. 

  • How the hell does nobody notice he’s missing?
Yes, we see the scene where Kevin’s dad accidentally throws away his boarding pass (still not entirely sure how he couldn’t tell what he was picking up) but that still doesn’t explain how, in the time between them leaving the house to them getting on the plane, nobody in the whole massive group managed to see that Kevin was missing. I mean it’s fucking obvious no matter how late you are. These parents are incompetent. 
  • Why, after a frantic mother informed them a child was home alone, do the police just accept that everything’s okay?
This is the biggest dick move in the entire movie. A mother has called the police from France to explain that her son is alone in the house and the police officer who attends the scene leaves after two minutes. He barely even checks the house. He knows the kid is 8 but still believes he’d answer the door to him. It’s insane. How does someone so fucking stupid become a police officer? Why isn’t he a little more worried about a child being alone in a house? 
  • Why are the Wet Bandits so interested in the McCallister’s house?
Okay, so the house is big but it’s not as if it’s full of priceless antiques and shit. The McCallisters clearly have a shitload of money if they’re able to afford the house and fly that many people to Paris at Christmas. But, it’s also not as if the house is made up to look that great. Nobody is showcasing any fancy jewels or whatever. It’s just a big house. That is weirdly full of mannequins and potted plants. I’d hardly call it a thief’s dream score. 
  • Why does Kevin’s neighbour willingly act so fucking shifty?
I get that the guy is probably sick of his neighbours spreading awful rumours about him killing his family but that doesn’t mean he needs to act like a he did it. It’s as if he purposefully goes out of his way to freak Kevin out. Everything he does is super weird and exactly the kind of thing that a killer would do.
  • Do we not need to worry that Kevin is actually mentally unhinged?
Kevin is a worrying child and it probably has something to do with his years of neglect and familial abuse. He shows signs of being a sociopath in the wake of the spilt milk incident and, as he spends more time on his own, shows signs of a dwindling mental state. He talks to himself all the fucking time without any concern. He quickly turns to a life of crime. He takes pleasure in terrorising people. He scares the poor pizza delivery boy to death for not reason but amusement. Then, he takes everyday household items and turns them into super effective weapons. I mean, outside of the non-violent film world, Kevin could have killed the burglars. Yes, they’re bad guys but they hadn’t done anything to warrant that kind of physical and emotional scarring. He’s clearly had violent tendencies for a while now. Someone needs to send Kevin to see a doctor before he murders his family in their beds.
  • Seriously, was Harry going to eat his fucking fingers?
Still, it’s not as if the thieves don’t also have a nasty side. When Harry and Marv finally catch Kevin, Harry threatens to eat Kevin’s fingers. That’s fucked up. They went from being petty criminals to being fucking cannibals in the space of a few minutes. Not cool.