Sidebar: Looking Back as I Hit 30.

As some of my readers may know, just a couple of days ago I hit a somewhat frightening milestone: I turned 30 years old. The ever-increasing speed at which the calendar pages seem to be turning left me in the last couple of weeks, perhaps not fretting about my mortality or analysing the various things I’ve accomplished thus far, but rather, as expected knowing my particular interests, reflecting on the various cultural touchstones that have led me to where I’m at. 30 years of watching films and television, reading books, and listening to music has had more of an effect on me and my personality than anything else, and as such I got all nostalgic and wanted to write about four things in particular that stick out as being of undeniable importance to me at 30. The following post is a departure from my usual practice of simple film reviews, and whether or not anyone reads it isn’t really important. Thanks to all the people who read what I write, and to the people who exist in my tiny corner of the world, but this one’s for me.


The Film: STAR WARS

OK, so it’s not really an unconventional choice. And I’m probably referring to the whole original trilogy rather than A NEW HOPE specifically (in fact, it’s probably RETURN OF THE JEDI that sticks out most in my memories of childhood), but there’s no doubt in my mind that without STAR WARS I would be in a very different place. Like so many others who grew up in the 80s, it’s difficult for me to imagine a world without these films being so deeply ingrained in our culture and society. For me, they represent the earliest memories of film that I have, and remain to this day the films I’ve rewatched more than any others by a massive margin. I could probably run through all three karaoke style, parroting the lines with minimal errors, and know every camera move, sound effect, and musical note intimately. STAR WARS began my fascination with the cinema, and opened up the world of not only science fiction, but the epics of Kurosawa, the westerns of Ford, and many others. Even after 35 years of troublesome tinkering by Lucas, with the damaging prequel trilogy on top, STAR WARS remains impossible to shake for me, and while it might not be my favourite film anymore, it’s without question what I would consider the most important.


The TV Series: THE SIMPSONS

Again, I know I’m not alone in this one, but few things have managed to generate the level of obsession in me that THE SIMPSONS did in the 90s. I had it all: stacks of VHS tapes with episodes recorded off TV, comic books, trading cards, a Homer Simpson watch, anything I could get my hands on. It’s been a number of years since I watched any new episodes, but for eight or nine years, from around season 4 to season 12 or so, the show was untouchable. A shining beacon of postmodern western society, THE SIMPSONS at its best held a mirror up to us all, confronting us with real issues in a cel-shaded world of absurdity that was only one or two steps removed from our own. There’s never going to be another show like it and nor should there be, for when you look past the show’s weirder aspects, THE SIMPSONS captures the world in which it was created so astutely that, while the genius of some episodes is a little intimidating in its accuracy, it was never mean-spirited or cynical, and delivered laughs on a weekly basis better than anything else.


The Book: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

This is a more difficult one to write about as it has been a while since I read the whole thing. I came to THE CATCHER IN THE RYE fairly late, I guess when I was around 18 or so, but it made such an impact that I know nothing is ever going to replace it as my favourite book. At its most basic level, the novel benefits from having what I am convinced is nothing less than the greatest central character in literature, Holden Caulfield. His strange journey from the privileged world of private school through the seedy streets and night clubs of New York is narrated with his occasionally vicious but always genuine observations as he struggles to make sense of the world and his place in it. Author JD Salinger slips effortlessly between hilarious anecdotes and poignant pondering, and you’re never sure whether your heart will be bursting with joy or aching with despair. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is a manifesto for the misfits, and Holden gives a voice to so much of the frustration one can feel as a fringe-dweller. And if you’re a fan of punk rock and you haven’t read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, then you’re missing a key piece of the puzzle.


The Record: SMASH by The Offspring

The previous entry in this list ties up pretty well with this final one, as it served as the gateway to my appreciation for music and how profoundly it can affect one’s life. I was 12 years old when SMASH was released, and while I had developed a love for some music around that time, nothing really grabbed me and shook me like punk. The record was a massive hit, unprecedented for the style, and its wide penetration of the market, while considered unfortunate by punk rock purists obsessed with keeping the scene underground and free from corporate intervention, allowed me and many others to discover a new and exciting world. I have a very early memory of seeing a couple of leather-clad people with neon mohawks walking down the street in my home town, and being informed by one of my parents that they were punk rockers, but beyond the striking image I had no understanding of exactly what that meant until after SMASH arrived. It saddens me that a lot of people still think of little more than that image when confronted with punk rock, as it really is a misunderstood style of music. Sure, there is aggression and anger, but there is so much more, and so many of my favourite songs are just as simple and romantic and bubbly as the most mainstream pop music, just infused with a characteristically raw edge and often breakneck pace. The Offspring aren’t a band that I have much time for anymore as my taste has developed over the last 15 years or so (and some of their more recent work is more or less unlistenable), but I’ll still give SMASH a spin from time to time and remember that initial feeling of excitement and discovery, and I never forget that for me, it all started with SMASH.

 So that’s that. I enjoyed writing this, although it’s far from the most insightful thing I’ve done. But hey, you only turn 30 once, so I’m allowing myself a little self-indulgence.

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PROMETHEUS

After months of anticipation, PROMETHEUS, Sir Ridley Scott’s quasi-prequel to his classic ALIEN has been unleashed. While perhaps not quite as high profile as a couple of other heavy-hitters this year, PROMETHEUS is for many the most anticipated film of the year, with Scott returning to a genre (if not specifically a story) he helped redefine in 1979, and again in 1982 with BLADE RUNNER, so can the film possibly live up to the mammoth level of hype?

Sadly, no, it can not.

PROMETHEUS is certainly not a bad film, far from it, but the faster people can get ALIEN out of their mind while watching, the better the experience is going to be. The core cast, despite some woefully forced dialogue and shoddy character development, deliver solid work, with Michael Fassbender in particular a stand-out as the android David. There are moments of the visual beauty that is Scott’s bread and butter, and his beautiful eye for framing and composition adapts well to 3D for the most part. The difficulties with the film really boil down to poor writing, and one would assume that co-writer Damon Lindelof is likely the one to blame. It’s impossible, knowing that Lindelof is involved, not to think of LOST while considering the problems with PROMETHEUS, as both suffer from overly ambitious ideas, none of which which are effectively explored or resolved, getting in the way of the central story. It’s perfectly acceptable to reach for deeper meaning in science fiction, yet asking the kind of questions that this film does still needs a solid narrative framework on which to hang its broader thematic scope. The story in PROMETHEUS just isn’t cohesive, with questionable plot-holes, unnecessary characters, and distracting fan-service all cluttering up the film.

Surprisingly, perhaps the most damaging element to the film is the bait which 20th Century Fox are clearly dangling to draw the crowds: the link to ALIEN. Some of the bigger connections work, the ‘space jockeys’ are handled reasonably well up to a point, and some sequences mirror the original film nicely, but the film would have been better served if the ALIEN connection had been downplayed. What separates the two films is 30 years of blockbuster filmmaking watering down personal vision, and where ALIEN is striking even today for it’s distinct and unique style, there’s little to distinguish PROMETHEUS from any number of other sci-fi films from the past few years. Perhaps the scale is too big, and the elements of the original that make the jump to 2012 just don’t click. The half-baked attempt to return to the ‘truckers in space’ dynamic seems like obvious, gimmicky fan fiction, and the ridiculous final scene is symptomatic of greedy Hollywood sequel-itis. It has been a while since we’ve seen Scott at his best, but the lack of authorship on display in PROMETHEUS is truly concerning, leaving one to question whether the legendary filmmaker has lost his touch. Some of the visual beauty of the film suggests he still has things to offer, so hopefully the potential future BLADE RUNNER sequel delivers, should it ever happen.