Nerds never say die

I recently read a book called Ready Player One that’ll soon be a movie.
Which got me thinking how growing up nerd was absurd.
So yeah, go ahead, shoot me.
Cos I get it.
Everyone’s obsessed with the 80s.
Which I confess, is so crazy.
As when we look back, we just remember the gravy.
Nostalgia goggles set to rose-tinted and hazy.
But it is what it is.
So let’s begin.
Now I could lie and say this begins in a violent and bloody way with our hero of the silver screen, Lucky Day.
Stealing scenes in Little Neddy Goes to War.
As telling you this, My Little Buttercup, would help settle a score.
But it’s not really true.
So I should start with when you and I got robbed.
By that bastard El Guapo.
Cos he wanted us to die like dogs.
But I confused him with moves more sly like fox.
And could define the word plethora.
(But I’ll keep that under my fedora.)
Next thing, I’d been smacked on my Dusty Bottoms.
And sent Back to the Future for being a loser.
Left in a flux, with no capacitor to be a true challenger to the powers that be.
Seduced by Delirium.
Fearing the Sandman had devoured my dreams.
Leaving behind his punk rock sister.
Till it was all I could do not to cower and scream.
But, somehow, she took pity.
And I found a reprieve.
So yeah, my life, until recently, has not been much fun.
I mean, everyone’s so serious.
Forever telling me that there can be only one.
But am I really deserving?
Lately, I’ve been fearing the Kurgen and when he’s returning.
As he’s the most devious type of vicious baddie.
Incidentally, shout out the mighty Mr Miyagi.
The way he taught me to treat my enemies was a gift and so savvy and kind of uncanny.
I remember how he and I would have a laugh in that amusement park.
Scaring the crap out of Scooby and Shaggy.
But to step back for a sec.
For most of my youth, I’d keep my mask in place.
Praying for an intervention at detention.
Because, in principle, I was a basket case.
But also a brain, an athlete, and a criminal.
So my teens were pivotal and perhaps my pinnacle.
Cos it meant so much to be part of that club.
A group where I could express and be free.
Which leads me to say, please… Don’t You (forget about me).
But remember when Jake and I ate cake when I was sweet sixteen.
Or when science helped me create a woman from my wildest dreams.
Or that time I gave jewellery to Hoggle cos he liked its gleam.
Forgotten that?
You know… it’s when we hung with Ludo and got our rocks off.
Before playing ‘let the wookie win’ got me stranded on that Starship Destroyer.
Oddly, dressed as Inigo Montoya.
Which resulted in a fight with the man in black.
Telling him, with conviction, that I’ll be back.
Cos his boss, the Emporer, had killed my father and should prepare to die.
Which didn’t have the effect I had come to expect.
Cos I’m a T-800.
I don’t have the flair to lie.
Even though I’m the scary type.
But bad things do happen when I embrace my machismo.
Think food after midnight, a glass of water, and a face-off with Gizmo.
But as you’d expect.
The point came when I started getting too old for this shit.
I’m a family man.
Fair cop, I’m good at my job.
But I can’t be bolder than Riggs.
He’s a mad man, with dark undertones.
I should have known something was up when he invited me to his vast thunderdome.
But anyway.
Maybe I’m better off freezing enemies in carbonite.
But if their force is strong.
There’s only really a half chance they’ll die.
Simpler to knock ’em out and toss ’em to the sarlacc.
See how far they fly.
Yet the obvious solution for a nerf herder like me, always seems to be the last to try.
So I tend to end up surrounded by bad guys.
Which gets me all pent up.
Makes me want to rip off my shirt.
Phone box style, like Clarke Kent does.
But yeah, there’s bad guys.
And then there’s me, a joker with my rifle and my gun.
Ready for fighting and ready for fun.
Cos I’m a ticking time bomb type of package.
Shouting Good Morning Vietnam to motivate the troops.
Trying to minimise their damage.
Cos I can’t help it.
I’m a funny guy, and a devil of habit.
Ready to travel to battle, all g’eed up in my Full Metal Jacket.
Hoping I can save Toon Town from these clowns and clear the name of Roger Rabbit.
But missions go wrong.
So I often spend time lying low.
Playing cards with my buddy Lion-O.
But he’s too good.
So I cheat harder.
Which doesn’t cut it with Cheetara.
Cos she’s smarter.
So I tell her it’s cool.
That we’re having a laugh.
And this behaviour is in no way damaging Snarf.
But any good will she has, at this point, vanishes fast.
Cos he’s so impressionable.
And we do lead him astray in a silly way.
Which makes me want to trade places.
Like Winthorpe and Billy Ray.
Then take a flight back in time as the navigator.
Till I end up clashing Nazis in a fight cos I’m the raider.
But as I was named after the dog, I won’t excuse my behaviour.
Even though, in archaeological circles, my methods have kinda fallen out of favour.
So I’ll just say this.
Remember that, there, up there, it’s their time.
Down here, it’s our time.
It’s our time, down here.
So with life it’s best just to plunge in, have adventures and say fuck it.
Cos it’ll all be over the second we choose to ride up Troy’s bucket.

30 best films from the ’80s

I heard somewhere once that our obsession with the 1980s has gone on longer than the decade itself. And with Back to the Future being in the news for reaching the ‘future’ date not too long ago (and, alarmingly, accurately predicting loads of inventions and tech we now take for granted), I thought it a good time to revisit 30 (don’t ask why I picked this number) of my favourite films from that decade.

Aliens (1986)
Written and directed by James Cameron (and building on the foundations laid by Ridley Scott in the first film) he took the franchise to chilling and thrilling new places.
Batman (1989)
Michael Keaton as Batman, Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Tim Burton directing. At the time, a bit of a risk. But one that paid off handsomely, critically and commercially.
Back to the Future (1985)
Famously, Robert Zemeckis, shot a lot of this film with Eric Stoltz as the lead. Only to feel he wasn’t right. So he recast Michael J. Fox and the rest is history. Or future.
Beetlejuice (1988)
Michael Keaton again. Wild, unhinged and brilliant, chasing Geena Davis and Alec Balwin around the place. Held together by the magic of Tim Burton.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Whilst Eddie Murphy made his screen debut a couple of years earlier, this is the film that made him and introduced his character of Axel Foley to the world.
Big (1988)
The whimsical nature and freedom of youth. In case you ever forget, Tom Hanks helps you to remember, dancing on a giant piano in this sweet-natured movie.
Die Hard (1988)
The great thing about the first film in this franchise is that John McClane, as a cop, was an average guy in the wrong place, not an action hero. That, and Alan Rickman.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The original American PieFast Times introduced us to Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and also Phoebe Cates catching Judge Reinhold masturbating.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick set a benchmark when it came to Vietnam war movies with this entry, the story following Private ‘Joker’ as he witnesses a fellow recruit lose his mind.
Good morning, Vietnam (1987)
Blending comedy and poignant drama, Robin Williams made this film what it was, and rightly received critically acclaim for his affecting and committed performance.
Goonies (1985)
Sean Astin as Mikey (same as my name, a connection!), a story by Spielberg and a race to find treasure, this was the ultimate adventure film for kids. Endlessly watchable.
Gremlins (1984)
With a screenplay by Chris Columbus (now a talented director), an executive producer in Spielberg and Joe Dante at the helm, this was a monstrously delightful treat.
Ghostbusters (1984)
This film went on to be, commercially, the most successful comedy of the ’80s. And rightly so, it’s a classic. It also has Bill Murray at his odd and quirky best.
Highlander (1986)
With a Scot playing an Egyptian, a French actor playing a Scot and a soundtrack by Queen, there’s no way this should have worked. But it did. Instant cult classic.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Widely seen as the most violent Indy film in the trilogy and received mixed reviews on release; it’s since been seen in more positive light over the years. Good thing, too.
Labyrinth (1986)
You remind me of the babe.’ David Bowie in leather trousers singing his heart out. Honestly, do you need to know more? Odd, disturbing, yet kind of perfect.
Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone at the top of his game directed this Vietnam film, winning an Academy Award for Best Picture in the process. A must-see for your Vietnam catalogue.
Raging Bull (1980)
Paul Schrader scripted this Martin Scorsese film with De Niro ‘going method‘ as boxer Jake LaMotta. De Niro won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Nominated for nine Academy Awards at the time (it won five), Raiders is one of the highest grossing films of all time and just a thrilling adventure from start to finish.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Undisputed heavyweight champ of the coming-of-age teen movie in the ’80s, without a doubt, was director John Hughes. This remains one of his sweetest stories.
Scarface (1983)
Written by Oliver Stone with Brian de Palma at the helm, this film divided people at the time for its violent excesses, but has since been come to be regarded as a classic.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Surprising to some perhaps, but this second instalment in the Star Wars saga wasn’t well received initially and has built over time. Now one of the best films of all time.
The Three Amigos (1986)
Loosely based, amazingly, on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, Seven Samurai, this film didn’t make much commercially, or get great reviews. But I don’t care, it’s still great.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Following in the footsteps of Rocky, this film probably seemed light on the surface, but go watch it back again and again to see new things. It’s deeper than you think.
The Money Pit (1986)
In a remake of a 1948 Cary Grant film, Tom Hanks here proved his comedy chops in this silly, yet sweet flick which sees him crack up as his house slowly falls apart.
The Untouchables (1987)
Written by David Mamet with Brian de Palma directing and Ennio Morricone scoring, this film saw Sean Connery bag an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The Princess Bride (1987)
‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.’ Shun this film at your peril, it’s so sweet, ridiculously silly and wonderful. With one of the best sword fights you’ll see in cinema.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Quite simply, John Hughes’ best film. The most well-observed coming-of-age teen movie you’ll ever see, and one of the best of the decade. Don’t you forget about it.
The Terminator (1984)
The film that launched director James Cameron’s career and cemented Schwarzenegger’s as an acting force to be reckoned with. It hasn’t aged either.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Directed by ’80s legend John Landis, this unholy mess of a movie is kind of part of its charm. I mean, imagine a John Belushi under control, why would you want that?

Whatever happened to ladies of the ’80s?

Hey Hollywood, what gives? I suppose young regularly replaces old, but some of the women from movies I loved growing up during this decade must still be acting. They can’t have all retired, right? Ladies like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Kelly Lebrock (Weird Science), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid) and Geena Davis (Beetlejuice).

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Phoebe Cates
She made her film debut in 1981 and a year later landed a role in a Cameron Crowe movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High – probably the high point of her career. She also had a modest part in both Gremlins movies. After that, very little, and she retired in 1994 to raise a family. Such a shame, from an acting point of view of course.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh
Another Fast Times alumni whose career was more substantial than her colleague. Following a strong performance in Fast Times in 1990 she received high praise for two films; Last Exit to Brooklyn and Miami Blues, although she got a slightly backhanded compliment at the time being called ‘the Meryl Streep of bimbos’. Five years later she put in another great performance in Georgia. Since then she’s worked steadily but in recent years focused more on the theatre.

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Kelly Lebrock
Born in New York but raised in England, Lebrock was always more of a model than an actress. Beyond Weird Science in 1985 she never really added much else to her filmography. And no, starring opposite your then-husband Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill in 1990 does not count. In recent years she’s moved away from acting to devote her time to the terminally ill.

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Molly Ringwald
Kicking her career off in expert fashion Ringwald appeared in no less than three John Hughes films in three consecutive years (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles), making her the go-to chick for teen angst in the ’80s. Allegedly she turned down the lead roles for both Pretty Woman and Ghost, after that her career never really reached the same heights.

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Elisabeth Shue
Shue made her debut with The Karate Kid in 1984 and has enjoyed a fairly robust and consistent career since then. She has starred in films like Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with Nic Cage – for which she received an Oscar nomination – and she’s worked with a host of credible actors throughout her career… but, sadly, she never really reclaimed the position she held in the mid ’90s following her Oscar nod.

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Geena Davis
Employing an ‘it’s better to fade away than burn out’ approach, Davis has had some meaty roles in her career which have garnered strong praise. In particular Beetlejuice in 1988, The Accidental Tourist in 1989 (a performance which won her a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) and Thelma & Louise in 1991 (for which she received an Academy Best Actress nomination). She also gained critical acclaim for A League of Their Own (1992) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Since then she’s moved more into TV work.

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Pride: a heart-warming tale of pits and perverts

There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise’s Jerry accuses Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell of having no heart. He responds angrily with, ‘No heart? I’m all heart motherfucker!’ That’s what you get with Pride. It’s all heart. And it very much wears it on its big gay sleeve.

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Although saying that, it’s not as flamboyant as you might think. In fact, given the ’80s working class setting and the fact that it’s split between London and a quiet mining town in Wales, there’s a very down-to-earth, British style humour on display and inevitable comparisons will be drawn with films like The Full Monty and Brassed Off. Also perhaps with films such as Cemetery Junction, as it’s half told as a coming-of-age tale from one of the younger character’s point of view.

The film starts with the group’s leader, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) watching police clash with miners in Wales on TV. Behind him what looks to be a one-night stand says he’ll leave his number and he’d like to see him again. Mark ignores him, completely focused on the TV as an idea forms. From the off, this tells us a lot about him as a leader, he’s thoroughly committed to the cause.

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His idea: his gay friends (and one lesbian, at least initially) should support the miners. In them he sees a group of kindred spirits. They’re being bullied and harassed in the same way the gay community has for years. And so he gets buy-in from his gang, L.G.S.M. (Lesbians and Gays Support Miners) is born and they head to Wales to support their new comrades.

Throwing together an exuberant bunch of gays and a rough and ready group of Welsh miners, you could go either way. Happily director Matthew Warchus (who’s recently succeeded Kevin Spacey as creative director at the Old Vic) opts for comedy over drama for the most part, but finds time for dramatic moments throughout. As a result these scenes stand out and give the film real depth and humanity.

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When was the last time you heard the audience applaud at the end of a film?

It happened at the screening I attended. Ok, it was the Hackney Picturehouse, so you’re already playing to a fairly diverse bunch, but the point stands – this film makes you feel good. A lot is down to the characters. They’re interesting. You care about their plight and want to spend time in their presence.

Whether that’s quiet old-timer Cliff, fighting police on the picket lines (a dialled down Bill Nighy and all the more brilliant for it), flamboyant actor Jonathan (Dominic West on excellent form) disco dancing with the town’s ladies, or his quieter, more reflective partner Gethin (Andrew Scott), a local lad returning to Wales for the first time in years after being persecuted growing up – they’ve all got a fascinating story to tell and – thanks to Warchus’ direction – each make great use of the scenes they have.

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There’s a few scenes here and there which you feel Warchus cut short for the sake of keeping the story tight and focused. Probably more backstory and great character moments, but perhaps not needed if you’re being strict.

Overall the film’s message is clear and consistent throughout. It’s about sticking together, solidarity and friendship, particularly from places that you least expect when you need support the most. Oh, and (slight spoiler) you get to hear a little Welsh lady say ‘Where are my lesbians?’, which has to be worth your ticket price alone surely?

Best use of 80s electro songs in film

renton and diane

Ok, here are the rules. The songs had to have been released in the ’80s, but could have been used in any films during this time. Whether they introduce or accentuate a scene, or were the film’s theme song, each track is special to me in some way. Here’s my list:

‘Atomic’ by Blondie (1980)Trainspotting
This takes place in the Volcano club where Renton sees Diane and falls in love. Cue spaghetti western style guitar hook with sharp and punchy disco beats and Blondie’s warbling vocals.

‘What A Feeling’ by Irene Cara (1983)Flashdance
Damn Robert Webb’s sexy moves. If you can get past his version this was a great theme song, equally good as a stand-alone track without the dancing. It’s uplifting and empowering and arguably the female ‘Eye of the Tiger’ power song.

‘It’s A Sin’ by the Pet Shop Boys (1987)Bronson
If you’re a fan of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive you have to ensure you see his earlier film, Bronson, with Tom Hardy. Watch the psychiatric hospital scene. A scene that was expertly lifted by canny use of a killer track.

‘Don’t Go’ by Yazoo (1982)Tango & Cash
In this film we have both Kurt Russell and Teri Hatcher sporting some truly fantastic hair – all framed perfectly by Yazoo’s urgent, punchy track.

‘Together In Electric Dreams’ by Philip Oakey (1984)Electric Dreams
Trying to emulate the success of Flashdance, Oakey of The Human League recorded this in ten minutes. It worked too, becoming a bigger hit than the film it was promoting.

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division (1980)Donnie Darko
This track gets used in a pivotal scene where Donnie has to abandon his girlfriend in order to save her. One of Gyllenhaal’s best and most intelligent films to date.

‘Push It To The Limit’ by Paul Engemann (1983) – Scarface
Everyone loves an ’80s montage scene right? This one expertly frames Tony Montana’s rise to the top of the drugs world, as he consolidates his wealth and power.

‘Axel F’ by Harold Faltermeyer (1985)Beverly Hills Cop
I almost forgot this film and theme song, for shame! The ‘Crazy Frog’ version nearly ruined my affection for this track, but thankfully it was rekindled by the Peter Griffin rendition.

‘A View To A Kill’ by Duran Duran (1985)A View to a Kill
Peppered with sharp, urgent notes, this epic track perfectly captured the spirit of Bond during his ’80s pomp. For your listening pleasure, here’s the video.

‘Magic Dance’ by David Bowie (1986)Labyrinth
Despite the backing track sounding like it was lifted straight from a Cyndi Lauper record, it’s still a complete classic from a defining coming-of-age film for 80s kids like myself.

I’d loved to have included ‘Nightcall’ by Kavinsky, the theme to Drive, but it was released in 2010. It’s hypnotic, ethereal and very 80s.

So there’s my list. Any I missed you’d have liked to have seen?

Damn, parkour is a tough sport!

parkour injuryWill I ever be any good at parkour/freerunning? I found myself asking this question last night as I sat in a London hospital with – yet another – injury. This time quite a bad one, a deep gash in my shin that needed two stitches.

Let’s rewind for a second. For those not familiar, parkour is essentially a type of movement used to overcome obstacles by way of vaulting, leaping, climbing, rolling etc. It’s done outdoors and – in London – often around housing estates, where there are lots of walls, rails, playgrounds. Ideal places to practice.

Still reading? Well, there’s an organisation called Parkour Generations that do lessons all around London. Well worth a go if you’re looking for a new sport. I realise, from my opening paragraph, I’ve probably completely put off you if you were considering it, apologies! To be honest, you can get injured in so many ways on a day-to-day basis. Crossing the road, preparing dinner etc.

The way I see it, I have no time for the gym, it’s such a static, sterile environment. It’s nice to train your overall body outside, doing something different, challenging, exciting. Injuries are bound to happen in any sport if you’re pushing yourself. You just need to know where your limits are. I was fully aware of mine but ignored the signs, hence the injury.

The video below was taken in the area I was training. None of the guys in the video are me by the way, I am nowhere near their level of skill, but it’s what I aim for. Well, except the flips, I’ll give those a miss!

Plus, these days, parkour has moved much more into the mainstream. No longer a niche, extreme sport, its influence can be seen all over the place, particularly in film over the last few years.

There’s a French film called District 13 which features one of the founders of the sport, David Belle. Well worth a watch if you’ve got the time. Good as a film as well as a showcase for the sport. Also, in Casino Royale there’s a scene featuring Sebastien Foucan, another parkour founding father. Watch the building site chase here, very cool.

So, back to my latest predicament. As I sat there cursing my stupidity at failing to admit my body’s limitations, it occurred to me that – in order to improve – that’s sort of the point. You have to push yourself. Dig deep, double your efforts, whatever it takes really. Cue 80s montage…