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Worker bee

Poetry

You’re a worker bee, when it comes to hard graft you’re far better than me.
Pushing to achieve you leave yourself with barely a second to breathe, you tend to get in too deep, so fast you can’t leave.
Pur-lease you tell others you’re just getting started, while others are smarting you’re sticking your arm out, chancing, taking risks, getting licked and making moves.
Yet whatever you do you tend to stay true… to yourself in your journey to ultimate wealth and riches.
Moving up with your fellows bees you learn to get along, you’re not bitches you’re strong, you learn to please and grease the wheels lest they look at you with unease.
And as you appease and squeeze them for all they are worth you get ahead of the pack and establish your turf.
Yet it hurts, this work, you’re relentless and ruthless, you were always taught it pays not be toothless.
Maybe it’s time you chilled out and listened to some smooth hits? Mellow you out, yeah that’ll work.
But before long you start to go beserk, goddammit you hate to shirk work. Let’s face it though you’re no Captain Kirk, you ain’t no hero.
For the most part you’re nothing but a zero, a flunkey, a worker bee, if someone has to suffer you’re the one that bleeds, you’re the one that takes a hit for the team.
Yet push on you must, it’s a disease that breeds in you like a virus. Maybe it’s something that we all have inside of us?
Most kick up a fuss when asked to go the extra mile but you dial it up, there’s something about work that gets you in the gut.
It’s tough but you’re a worker bee and the thought of that pollen is just too sweet.
To your fellow bees you probably look mean but at the end of the day who doesn’t want to be the one to protect the queen?

Paul

The cinephile

Poetry

Stepping into the foyer yours is a world of forlorn popcorn, fizzy drinks and ice cream swirls.
Sticky carpet underfoot with staff straight out of Shaun of the Dead you’re probably asking yourself, ‘Should I examine my head, where’s the magic?’ As far as movie experiences go this one is tragic.
Ticket stub in hand you advance, agitated and nervous, and when the lights go down you’re in a trance, but what do you get served first?
Nothing but a steady stream of adverts and insipid trailers, ‘Jesus, I came for this?’, you think. ‘Will it get better? Am I on the brink of something special?’
Time will tell. You have to stick it out.
For what starts hellish soon becomes bright and clean as you submit to the lure of silver screen. Less Charlie and more Martin Sheen in Apocalyse Now, your heroes come to life when the chips are down. They’ll face impossible odds but overcome them somehow. In short, they’ll do you proud.
Even in a drama where our protagonist is filled with inner torment you gradually relent and give your consent, as far as time in a dark room goes this is money well spent.
Yet here’s the rub, it’s like a snub, you resent the fact that you’re made to suffer first, cinemas are making it harder on you they should be cursed.
And as others leave the screen and disperse you’re left conflicted. If only you could put time in reverse and immerse yourself in the magic again, that would be a sick trick.
But before your thoughts go all cinematic and ecstatic know this, they’re just stories to help us make sense of the world. Armed with that knowledge your happiness will unfurl.
If all else fails there are always rom-coms. Before you know it you’re lost in the magic once again weeping into a tissue, you’re long gone.

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Spring chicken

Poetry

Reach down, tie that trainer, no time to sleep now this exercise lark is a no-brainer.
Ear buds in, one, two, when it’s workout time there’s no room for curfew.
Feeling the burn like Schwarzenegger, but with no one egging me on it’s just me and my thoughts. Like an unstoppable object against an immovable force, one foot follows the other in a vendetta against sports.
Starting slow, step by step, blow by blow, I pick up the pace. But this ain’t no race against anyone except myself. And my health faces a neverending battle against office work and fatty foods. But I’m on a quest, and so I must choose. If this is a rat race am I destined to lose?
Thinking about it, sugar and bread are the blight of our lives, lurking on the shelves they fill me with dread, to fight back I must smite them or die. On my quest I’m constantly asking myself why, do I go healthy or do I fold and choose pie?
But I digress.
Why should I be forced to eat less and less?
And it’s not just me, we’re an obese nation according to the media. Have you ever asked yourself, what lies are they feeding ya?
Eight glasses of water a day, till we’re so full of liquid that we sway and sway from side to side, like the Titanic with an iceberg in her sights. Or maybe we’re an apex predator, keeping a flex on as we get cleverer and cleverer.
Destroying, consuming and hoovering up resources, we’re on a calorific mission to reach critical mass, destined to become a bloated fortress.
Yet there’s hope, there always is. In our quest to become lean and lithe and reach fitness bliss we must get a regular sweat on and bear witness to this.
Spinning, boot camp, lifting weights, on this fit-fat loop are we doomed to make the same mistakes? God I hope not or this is all for nothing.
As those gym bunnies say, no pain no gain.
Time to put the pen down. Time to train.

dating

The dating game

Poetry

Swipe left, swipe right with no end in sight.
A meeting, a chance encounter, we flounder and fight, adrift in a sea of brief connections, ‘yeah, but what do you expect son?’ your mates cry. Looking slick, smug and sly, safe and content in their marriages, while we erect barrages.
For in this game you gotta protect yourself and look after your health, to be fighting fit, physically ripped and mentally nimble, prepared for a hottie to gatecrash your world.
The kind of person that makes your toes curl and mind swirl.
That girl.
But maybe that’s a pipe dream?
For in the sea of single faces out there we remain unseen, like a leper girls look at us unclean, the lines we feed them they see as obscene.
There’s always that divide. They shout we scream, or maybe it’s the other way round?
Whatever, I’m twisted now.
I want to be realistic and authentic, but how?
Like Batman I want to be fending off honeys with a stick, KAPOW!
But with a furrowed brow I sit back and take stock. My time is now. Or has it come and gone? Do I need to stop the rot?
Killing time it won’t be long until I write my own song, one where I’m the hero that does no wrong.
But who wants to hear a story where the conclusion is foregone?
The dating game is a game because we don’t know the outcome. But back to what my mates say again, ‘what do you expect son?’

death

Death

Poetry

Death. What is death anyway?
If life is a journey from the cradle to the grave, where does it all end? How are we supposed to behave?
Religion has us all believing that we’re part of the plan, that if we stand up and help our fellow man we’ll be welcomed in, absolved of sin and born again.
There’s comfort in that I suppose. And for those of us that chose a different path, what then? Are we out on our arse? Straight to hell in a handcart?
Death frightens me I’ll admit it.
Whether heaven or hell await me I can’t say. For all I know my path is pre-ordained, like a stain on the carpet of life no matter the strife I endure I am constant until the end.
Do I have an arc? Am I supposed to learn something along the way?
Am I supposed to love, hate, work and pray?
Let’s say religion is for suckers but praying has a place, like meditation it takes us to a space where our minds can be free. Free to sing and dance and soar beyond ourselves, to transcend.
But this is only momentary, fleeting, short-lived. Like a damp squib our lives can be extinguished in the blink of an eye.
There’s nothing sadder than the moment after a party popper is released.
The climax has come and gone, all too sudden.
We cease.

Ps. Some of you may notice the feature image for this piece is Death, one of the endless, taken from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Neil worked with Terry Pratchett from time to time and they were friends. Terry died last month and this is my tribute to him. ‘Why not use Death from the Discworld series then?’, some of you may ask. Whilst he’s a great character he felt too masculine. I felt this piece needed a female Death, hence one of the endless.

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Whatever happened to ladies of the ’80s?

My musings

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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Trailer park: Spectre, Southpaw, Spooks

Trailer park

First things first, let’s get the big guns out of the way. As far as new trailers go, the latest Bond film gets top billing. There’s also one from Jake Gyllenhaal – who’s in a bit of a purple patch – and some spy thingy set in London and starring ‘fit Kit’ Harington (him off Game of Thrones).

Spectre
Bond is back baby, oh yes. Tying up the Skyfall and Quantum of Solace storylines nicely, this sees the return of his biggest foe, evil network SPECTRE. Mr White is back looking harrowed, Bond calm and collected, and, the thing that’s going to get most fanboys excited, Christoph Waltz as the big baddie. With Sam Mendes again directing and new additions Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux joining the cast expect another triumph.

Southpaw
My top film of last year was Nightcrawler, with Gyllenhaal putting in a phenomenally chameleonic performance. Physically he changes tack here to beef up for this tale of a boxer out to do right by his little girl and return to the ring. Interestingly, the UK’s very own Rita Ora plays a drug addict in it too.

Spooks: The Greater Good
It’s impossible to mention this film’s title without bringing to mind a certain scene in Hot Fuzz. That aside, it’s nice to see the Game of Thrones lot branch out. We’ve recently had Richard Madden (Rob Stark) in Cinderella, and now here’s Kit Harington (Jon Snow) tearing around London as an MI5 agent trying to uncover a conspiracy, doing what we can hope is a darn better job than Jack Bauer did in the last season of 24.

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Focus: Smith and Robbie zing but the plot falls flat

Film

Will Smith is a movie star. An A-lister. Granted he’s been off his game lately, but he’s not done with the box office yet. And Margot Robbie is a rising talent and undeniably one of the most beautiful actresses working today. Sticking the two of them together in a caper about con artists seems like a good idea on paper. They can both hold the screen and chances are they’ll have good chemistry. If you can sense a but coming that’s because there is – and more than one in fact.

Films about conning are notoriously tricky these days, probably because as an audience we’ve seen it all before and this one goes to great lengths to spell out every con just in case you miss anything. ‘Remember, it’s all about focus’, Smith’s legendary con artist Nicky explains, showing raw talent Jess (Robbie) how it’s done in an early scene. ‘You focus here whilst I steal from here’, he teaches her as they dance round each other. She’s hooked. Talk about smooth criminal.

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With this sophisticated, knowledgeable guy and the raw, sassy girl you’ve got a tale that’s been told plenty of times before – often in a better way too. The Oceans films spring to mind, as does Confidence, a lesser known one with Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman. Maybe the film is called Focus because our focus is drawn towards thinking this is about conning when actually that’s a backdrop and the filmmakers are more interested in the romance to drive the whole thing along. In that sense also reminds me of Mr & Mrs Smith and Out of Sight.

Plot wise it’s fairly light. Maybe light is the wrong word, predictable or pedestrian is more on the money. What we have is guy meets girl, guy teaches girl a few things and cuts her loose (not before falling for her). Guy meets girl again on a job, she causes him to lose ‘focus’ and things don’t go to plan.

Sound familiar?

There’s nothing wrong with telling the same story again, but you’ve got to put a new spin on it. Here, writer-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (who last gave us Crazy Stupid Love in 2011) don’t really push the envelope at all. You’ve got Will Smith as your lead, test his mettle. His character, Nicky, is supposed to be a legendary con artist yet the situations he finds himself in never feel that dangerous or mentally challenging. What he needed was a proper adversary, perhaps some other criminal who he’s wronged in the past or stolen his girl… or something.

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What he’s given comes in the film’s final third in the shape of the owner of a racing car team played by Rodrigo Santoro. He’s far too vanilla for a bad guy, he turns up too late in the movie, and consequently feels incidental to the whole thing. Maybe it should have just turned into a game of one-upmanship, with Nicky and Jess conning and out conning each other in a sort of twisty, seductive criminal dance.

That would have been a good movie to see. But we didn’t get that. What we got was a fairly satisfactory – but not groundbreaking – tale with some nice performances from the two leads, but in a film you’ll have all but forgotten five minutes out of the cinema.

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Chappie: Short Circuit gets a reboot?

Film

Johnny Five is very much alive. Apologies to kids of the ’90s, this reference to the 1986 film Short Circuit will be lost on you.

What I’m trying to say is that Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie doesn’t feel like it’s hugely treading new ground when it comes to exploring artificial intelligence, but it’s quite a fun experience nonetheless.

We start with genius programmer Dion (Dev Patel) working for a South African company called Tetravaal who produce robotic police officers known as scouts. They’ve been instrumental in helping keep the crime rate down in Johannesburg, a city on the edge of slipping into chaos.

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Through a series of events Dion acquires a robot due for scrap and manages to install his newly developed artificial intelligence system into him. Around the same time he’s thrown together with some local gangsters who want to use the robot for their own ends.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.

Put forward by Descartes in the Principles of Philosophy in 1644 and, in recent years, has been tackled and toyed with by filmmakers, particularly in terms of humanity’s uneasy relationship with artificial intelligence. As we develop things designed to make our lives easier we’re becoming increasingly attached to the very things that are meant to help set us free. Who’s to say we won’t become even more dependent on technology like advanced AI, when it develops?

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And specifically with the case of Chappie, learn to love robots like they’re children and part of our family. A large part of the film’s first half deals with this notion and it’s probably where it comes across strongest, as there’s a lot of warmth and humour there.

Chappie (Sharlto Copley) as a character seems somewhere between a pet and a child, constantly learning and enthusiastic. His performance (and dialogue) largely set to ‘dog mode’. Chappie do this, Chappie go there, Chappie has been a good boy, yes! It’s fairly charming and endearing, but we’re still firmly in Johnny Five territory.

Sticking the moral (but childlike) Chappie in with a bunch of gangsters is a nice idea, and the comedic situations work well. The problems occur when the film moves into more traditional action territory. And this is where you feel that so much time has been spent on Chappie and the characters immediately around him, that supporting characters get rather short shrift.

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Particularly Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman’s characters. They do their best but they’re lumbered with thinly drawn parts, clunky dialogue and – at times – rather ludicrous scenarios where their decisions are as baffling as the situation (particularly Jackman, who seems to be kitted out to look like Aussie crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, complete with bush outfit and a fearsome mullet).

As films go Neil Blomkamp set his own bar almost unsettlingly high with his debut District 9. Each of his films that followed this primarily explored similar themes, but with diminishing returns.

However, that said, there’s really nothing wrong with Chappie. It’s fun and entertaining, but given the subject matter it could have been so much more. You get the sense Blomkamp was more interested in exploring a situation where a childlike robot with a moral compass gets raised by gangsters (like some sort of ghetto Mowgli), than really mining the depths of consciousness, artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.

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This is evident in the film’s final third, which rushes through key sections almost like an afterthought. The same sort of thing happened in Luc Besson’s Lucy with Scarlet Johansson. Although, if we’re talking a more sophisticated handling of AI, you’re probably better off watching the film she did with Joaquin Phoenix, Her. Or more recently Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Hell, even I, Robot.

But before this descends into a Chappie bashing (which he gets enough of in the film), this movie is warm, its heart is in the right place and it’s engaging for the most part. And despite other characters not getting the love they deserve in the script, Copley keeps us hooked in, making us care about Chappie’s fate.

All in all, though, this isn’t a classic take on the genre, or even classic Blomkamp, but it’s entertaining enough and worth your time… for Copley’s plucky performance if nothing else.

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Trailer park: Ultron, Tomorrowland, Crimson Peak and Aloha

Trailer park

To butcher Led Zeppelin lyrics a little, there’s a whole lotta love out there for a whole lotta films coming out in the next few months. Too many to go through in much depth, but here’s a few I’d like to briefly pick out for your consideration.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ok, not everyone is a fan of this current glut of superhero films, yet this one really does look impressive. And so it should, given the budget, cast and studio muscle. At one point or another it’s all going to implode, it has to. But for now, I’m on board.

Tomorrowland
This film started life as a theme park ride and whether it turns out to be a franchise behemoth a la Pirates of the Caribbean remains to be seen. What we do know is that Clooney is attached, and he rarely joins doomed projects, so it could be a blast.

Crimson Peak
It’s high time Guillermo del Toro got back to what he does best… inhibiting a niche genre perhaps only rivalled by Tim Burton. But where Burton comes at his stories from more of an oddball outsider perspective, del Toro opts for horror and macabre fantasy.

Aloha
Ah, the sweet and observant writer-director Cameron Crowe, who doesn’t love his films? His last beautiful little story was We Bought a Zoo in 2011, so he’s been out the game a while. This looks like a good return to form with a cracking cast to boot.