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starwarstvtimesIt’s been a long time since I was a Star Wars fanboi, counting down the years (as it was when I were a lad) from when it appeared in the theatres to when it appeared on TV.

I remember my  Dad taking my cousin and me to see Jungle Book and me looking longingly at the queues to see Star Wars as we went inside. That would have been somewhere around 1978, the film having hit UK cinemas on December 27th 1977. I remember being mesmerised by the trailer – and having to wait until I was ten, on Sunday 24th October 1982, to see it on TV for the first time (it aired on ITV from 7.15pm to 9.30pm). That was back before the existence of Channel 4 and you needed two magazines to see what was on three channels!

I was never an aficionado of Star Wars LEGO® or played any of the Star Wars computer games and my Star Wars mania waned as I became hooked on Star Trek and its successors. Still, Star Wars held a quiet affection for me as the original and best space epic, even if my geek tendencies took me away from film and into home computers and gaming.

When the three Star Wars prequels appeared, I saw Phantom Menace, but it didn’t capture me in the way that the original had so many years before.

And then this.

Step forward a global army of Star Wars geeks to take on a challenge that is only really possible in the Internet age and which has reminded me why I loved the original three films so much.

Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut has been around for years and I have no idea how I missed it. If you did, too, then take a look. Fans from all over the world have lovingly recreated the original in 15 second segments. Just about every form of amateur film-making can be found in its two hours. I’ve not watched it all yet, but the bits I have seen reveal that Star Wars retains its appeal to people of all ages.

A long time ago…

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What is it about cinema? I’ve always loved it and we are spoiled today with an array of multiplexes. With their smaller studio screens they have even recognised that there is a market for art house and foreign cinema, as well as the latest blockbuster, so even those of a more discerning taste can find something to watch.

However, today’s excursion to Skyfall, a second viewing, mid-week and starting at just about tea time, was an eye-opener as far as the behaviour of other cinemas-goers  went. Perhaps at 40 I am becoming a curmudgeonly old git. On the other hand, perhaps my twat toleration levels are severely depleted. Anyway, herewith some handy thoughts to make communal viewing a more pleasurable experience, inspired by unprecedented levels of cretinous behaviour at today’s screening.

Start time

It used to be that you had to buy a local newspaper to find out what was on at the local cinema. Now, though, with a little initiative, you can find the start time listed online. Ain’t technology great? Knowing when the film begins is Very Handy. It means you don’t have to walk in after the adverts, after the trailers and after the opening sequences. Yes, that goes for all TWELVE of you that did that today. You can actually enjoy the whole film (!) if you turn up on time.

Seats

Cinemas generally allocate seats. You can find your seat reference handily printed on your ticket. Don’t be a twat and pretend that you didn’t know you were sitting in the premium seats when you only paid for standard. It’s only embarrassing for you when you are asked to move.

Fidgeting

Sit still. I realise this is a challenge in our ADHD-addled 21st Century world, but honestly. The length of the film can be found online. If you can’t sit still, don’t bloody ruin it for the rest of us by fidgeting like an arse and making your chair squeak.

Food and drink

It’s a cinema. Not a restaurant. Of course have a snack or sweets. But EAT QUIETLY. And certainly with your mouth shut, unlike the munching fules that insisted on rustling their popcorn today before chomping away with their mouths open, so we could all share in the sonorous delights of their mastication.

The loo

Go before the film. Trust me. It’s the best plan. As above, you can tell how long the film lasts. You know how long you can usually go without going. So go before. And don’t order that bucket-sized Pepsi which is a diabetes bomb waiting to explode. You never know when you are going to rub up against the person who won’t move or stand up to let you out. Plan ahead.

Phones

Does this really need saying? Turn them off! You are not James Bond, even if you think you are. You are not going to be called into action. If you are awaiting an important call, or are concerned about the welfare of someone else, get your priorities right and get out of the cinema. It’s not like you have to wait years for it to come out on DVD. You are NOT more special than the rest of us and you really can survive without a text message for two hours. There was a time when people went their entire lives without sending or receiving texts. No, honestly. It is true.

Talking

Don’t! Again, does this really need saying? The odd whisper? Of course. A gasp of surprise? Definitely. Laughter? If appropriate. Talking? NEVER!

And finally?

Follow these simple rules and enjoy the film. Or else…

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In sixteen novels I have come to regard Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher as my heroic alter ego.

Reacher is described as 6′ 5″ tall with a 50″ chest, weighing in at 220-250lbs and with dirty blonde hair. His size is a significant part of his character and affects how he feels about himself and how he is seen by others. I’ve often thought a movie would be great and always wondered who the heck they’d get to play him. I was a bit miffed when they announced that the first film would be One Shot, which is actually the ninth book and by no means the best. Still, I reasoned, they had to start somewhere and there’s enough of a debate as to whether or not you should read the books in order that it didn’t really matter.

So the question was who would play Reacher? I realise 6′ 5″ is a big ask, but you could at least go tall.

I always thought Christopher Meloni, Elliot Stabler in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, would be quite good. He’s got height, at 6′ 0″ and a good jaw for it.  Similarly, Canadian Ryan Reynolds, at 6′ 2″, would make a passable Reacher.

So who did they choose?

Tom Cruise. All 5’ 7″ of him.

One Shot is out on 26th December in the UK. I will never think of Jack Reacher the same way.

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It is sometimes shocking to sit and think how quickly technology has come on in just a few short years. Photography is something I have always enjoyed, being brought up on Dad’s slides and even his own attempts to create a dark room in the attic.

I remember my first Kodak camera with its stacked, one-use-per-bulb flash, and how proud I was to finally be able to take my own pictures. It had no zoom, no focus and used what I regarded as proper film. (Funny how whatever it is you start with you regard as proper film, at least until you grow up and start using standard 35mm.) I remember, too, getting my first Olympus, sadly rarely used, and the pictures I took with it on my honeymoon less than ten years ago, when there was no imminent prospect of digital superseding plastics and silver salts.

Now, most of us have phones that can take better pictures than even the most expensive digital cameras of ten years ago, with top-end digital cameras such as the Canon EOS 7D or EOS 5D Mk II being so sophisticated that they can replace movie cameras, opening up the world of movie-making to amateurs the world over.

The Light Farm are an enthusiast co-operative “dedicated to the renaissance of handcrafted silver gelatin emulsions”.  They have got their hands on a historic film by Kodak, which details the process of making film.

Enjoy.

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Lego lunacy

A friend’s Facebook update reminded me how much I used to love Lego® as a kid.

Lego was kept in a special box (and, latterly, when I needed additional storage, an old Quality Street tin). It was a green-coloured wooden box that Granddad had made specially, with brass hinges and brass hooks, and numerous internal compartments. From time to time I would sort the various bricks and planks into types, putting them in different sections. It’s what probably led me to insist on alphabetising my CD and DVD collections…

The living room now looking like an explosion in a Lego factory, I would build space stations in the vicinity of the neighbourhood Lego garage, with spaceships to explore the strange new world of the Christmas tree, its lights twinkling away like stars and its glass baubles dangling like asteroids. Back then, most of the pieces weren’t pre-moulded and so you had to be inventive with the bits you did have to create wings, cockpits, laser cannons etc. Lighting bricks, with a cleverly concealed battery pack, lent these Lego landscapes an eerie quality, especially in the dark, with Lego figurines casting four-inch shadows on the plastic tarmac.

Skip forward twenty years and stop-motion animators have had a world of fun with Lego.

Here are four of my favourites: The Battle For Helm’s Deep (by TXsamwise), Star Wars – The Elevator (by obibrickkenobi), The Letter (by JamesFM) and The Ninja Fight (byLegoDude8000).

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We had a delivery of logs this morning and, singledom introducing a whole new desire to shape up and get fit, I stuck my headphones on – Whitesnake, Alice Cooper and Biffy Clyro  – and threw myself into the log heap.

As I worked up a sweat, stacking them against the side of the house, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a cold January Saturday in 1986, when several friends and I caught the bus to Romford to watch a film that epitomises the Hollywood of 80s America: Rocky IV. I’d been seduced by the idea of America years before, Star Wars, Raiders, the A-Team, the Dukes of Hazzard, T J Hooker, Star Trek etc all doing exactly what they were supposed to do and brain-washing me into believing that only American things were real and “proper”. As ever, as an overly impressionable 14 year-old, I was blown away and Rock IV was my new best movie of all time.

Of course, having seen it several times since,  through the boring filter of being “all growed up”, it is a crap film with some cheesily memorable moments that capture something that appeals to single blokes with an ab obsession – and those with a fascination for Hollywood grotesque. It also captures – as it was designed to do – the geo-politics of the day, with a ruthless, towering Russian pitted against the smaller American hero. Along the way, Ivan Drago (could you make up a more evil-sounding Russian name?!) kills Rocky’s friend, the famous Apollo Creed (introduced by a Spandex-suited James Brown in one of the most over-the-top character entrances ever), and so loyalty, honour and revenge are all qualities tested to Hollywood destruction.

So far, so cheesy, but the film does contain some clever cultural inversions, not least of all in the training montage, where the Russians are portrayed as being in possession of sports technology years ahead of its time (some twenty years, apparently, according to  a paper entitled Rocky IV – Fight Medicine presented to the University of Texas Health Science Centre), whilst Rocky has to rely on a simple wood cabin in the wilds of Russia, felling trees, sawing timber, humping logs and running through the snow. And whilst the claims of some on the Interwebz that Rocky IV ended the Cold War are probably exaggerated, there is a certain amount of fun to be had in seeing the Politburo rise to cheer Rocky’s final speech:

[Addressing the Soviet crowd, translated into Russian line by line by announcer]
Rocky: During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
[loud applause, even by the Politburo]

Go, Rocky!

There’s lots that could be said about Rocky IV as a propaganda film or even just as a reflection of the geo-political uncertainty of the time. Observations could be made about American insecurity, perceptions of Russia and that general staple of American culture (film in particular) of the individual pitted against the world – and winning.

In the end, though, I was  thinking substitute Russian landscape-double Wyoming for Langdon Hills and a Hillcroft log-stack and hell, yeah, I could be Rocky, too!

Here are the two most iconic moments of that film as far as I am concerned: the entrance of Apollo Creed and Rocky’s training montage. Enjoy the 80s’ cheese.

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One of my favourite films, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is one of those timeless Westerns I can watch again and again. The third in the Dollar Trilogy, it’s currently rated fourth on the Internet Movie Database in its poll of users’ top 250 films. I can’t believe that doesn’t have at least something to do with the stunning music of Ennio Morricone, as well as Clint’s bad-ass avenger The Man With No Name.

One group which has taken his music to heart is The Spaghetti Western Orchestra who have become renowned for their re-interpretation of his classic Western themes. If you missed them at the Proms this year, take a look at the clip below.

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