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Aliens, Al-Qaida and Hollywood

What you may ask, has a notorious Islamic fundamentalist group have in common with little green men from outer space and the US filmmaking industry?  And why has there been a huge surge in the number of alien invasion movies over the past decade, the likes of which we have not seen for over 50 years? Well, to find the answer, we have to go back to the Cold War period of the 1950’s and 60’s.

This was an era when Soviet Communism threatened to destabilise and destroy the governments of the west. Short and long range Intercontinental Ballistic missiles with Nuclear tipped warheads were aimed at the large cities of the opposing enemies and the imminent threat of nuclear obliteration was indeed very real.

It was within this back drop of mutual self destruction that the type of films coming out of Hollywood changed. Films such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Singing in the Rain’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’, gave way to ‘Earth verses the flying Saucers’, ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘It came from Outer Space’. These however represented only the tip of the iceberg.

The fear of a Russian invasion was very real and it was these fears that were translated on to the big screen, thus invading Aliens had became a potent metaphor for the Marxist/Communist threat, seen as  undermining the American way of life.

This then brings us to the post 911 era and the constant threat from international terrorism. The indelible images of the destruction of the Twin Towers will remain scorched in the American psyche for a very long time to come. And along with the rigid dogma of fundamentalist Islam, came a new plethora of Alien invasion movies, that tapped in to the fears of the American public, Indeed, in Spielbergs War of the Worlds (2008) there was a sequence involving the first attack by the martians. The survivors, including the main protagonist played by Tom Cruise, are left covered in grey soot. Spielberg  admitted that this was a conscious decision to draw parallels with the fateful events of September 11th 2001 where survivors were seen covered in grey soot caused by the collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings.

Cloverfield (2008) was another film influenced heavily by the news footage of the 2001 attacks. An unknown creature  attacks New York city and again the resultant carnage depicts buildings collapsing, and people wandering around aimlessly, covered in grey soot.

Films such as Signs(2002), Dreamcatcher(2003), Transformers(2007), Monsters(2010), Skyline(2010) and Battle LA(2011), are all symptomanious of how the political and psychological climate of the times has influenced the output of Holllywood and as someone who is partial to a good alien invasion movie, one can argue that this is at least one positive  that has come out of these unfortunate set of political circumstances.

 

2d or not 2d, that is the question.

Is the 3d film craze finally coming to an end?

With films like Avatar smashing all box office records, and a massive influx of mega budget 3d films hitting the multiplexes up and down the country, one would be forgiven for thinking that the dawn of 3D as an established film medium has well and truly arrived. Indeed, Jeffrey Katazenburg, one of the co founders of the giant film studio Dreamworks, went even further, publically stating that “2D films are going to be a thing of the past”.

Katzenburg’s predictions seemed to be coming true as the first wave of Post Avatar 3D films such as Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and Toy Story 3 earned enormous box office revenues. The ‘kerching’ of cash registers and the obvious sounds of hands being rubbed with glee, could be heard emanating from the boardrooms of the various Film Studios. However, by the end of August 2010, the sounds of joy was soon replaced by an air of uncertainty.

Things were not looking too rosy as the next wave of 3D films produced disappointing box office results with films barely breaking even on their 3d screenings. And, to add further salt to the proverbial wound, the latest figures released by the New York Times, has only served to reiterate the belief that the 3d medium is in desperate peril. At its height, an average 3d film was earning 70-100 percent more in cinemas than the equivalent 2d film.

However, the first clear sign of danger came the weekend of June 18, 2010. Toy Story 3 opened with $110.3 million in ticket sales, making it one of the most successful films in history. Yet the Pixar movie’s 3-D screenings contributed relatively little to its dazzling profits. Their per-cinema revenue was at minus 5 percent compared to 2-D showings, the first time in recent history that 3-D had sunk below the break-even point on a film’s first weekend. Six weeks later, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore opened with $12.3 million in total sales, and a 3-D “bonus” of minus 10 percent. The monster profits from 2009 had all but disappeared by the end of the summer.

Shares in DreamWorks Animation, the studio managed by Jeffrey “2-D films are going to be a thing of the past” Katzenberg,were in free-fall and Shares of RealD, one of the big players in stereo projection technology, have also been in a tailspin, losing 70 percent of their value since May.

It is interesting to note that Coroline, Resident Evil and Tron were all filmed using 3d Cameras and were not cheap 3d Conversions

But the 64 million dollar question is, who is responsible for the alarming slide in the popularity of 3d films.? I believe there are 3 main culprits…

1. Greedy Cinema chains : In the spring of 2010 , Regal, AMC and other large Cinema chains increased the price of 3d films by 20 % in the hope of cashing in on the 3d craze. Accountants Price Waterhouse carried out their own investigation and concluded that the 3d ticket prices were indeed overpriced. They commented that  “Industry players risk killing a golden goose by overselling and, in some cases, overpricing the 3-D experience” and in a recent study, over 75% of people interviewed felt that the 3d is not worth the extra £4 per ticket.

2. Greedy Film Studios : The production costs of a 3d film far outweigh those of a conventional 2d film. As a result, the studios are shooting a lot of their films in conventional 2d and then during the post production stage they are converted to 3d. This is a cheap, shoddy method which no doubt creates a sub standard 3d experience for the punter who has forked out top dollar expecting a full 3d experience. James Cameron, the director of Avatar moaned “you got people who are quickly converting films from 2d to 3d, which is not what we did. They’re expecting the same result, when in fact it they will work against the adoption of 3D because they will be putting out an inferior product”

3. Shrewd consumers : A lot of people simply have no interest in watching 3D films, Others have suffered nausea inducing headaches and indeed a recent study suggested that 10 % of the population are actually anatomically incapable of seeing 3D effects.

To suggest that the 3d patient is dead, is a bit premature, but certainly, the post Avatar love affair with 3d has definitely soured. With Spielberg’s TinTin, already released and Scorcese and Peter Jackson, also releasing films in 3d, it will be interesting to see if the patient will make a full recovery.

 

 

A Brief bout of Insanity! The Construction of my Home Cinema

It was November last year when I was suddenly overcome by a great surge of insanity. The result of this temporary turn of events was that I decided to convert my Garage in to a Home Cinema. But in my mind this was not going to be a standard home cinema. The plan was to mimick the look and feel of an actual cinema, but on a much smaller scale of course.

 I had decided on a seven foot screen, a full 1080P high definition cinema projector and a 5.1 suround sound experience, all running through a Denon AV receiver. The seating would be 2 tier so that the rear seats would be higher than the front seats and all the various Audio Visual devices would be controlled by a Harmony 1000 remote control, including the lighting. So, once programmed, with the press of a single button, the AV equipment will switch on and just as the film is about to start, the light will automatically dim and switch off.

The Cinema will need to be thermally and acoustically insulated. A damp proof membrane had to be applied, Floor joists and panels needs to be laid above the concrete floor. A wooden batton structure has to be constructed and screwed on the walls, New wiring has to be introduced, a new wall had to be built … Etc, etc, etc. The list was endless.

 When one looks at the state of my Garage, this was indeed going to be a monumental challenge. Even more so considering I have had no building experience whatsoever. ( Excluding my construction of the Empire state building out of Lego when I was 10).

We all have these grand schemes now and again but invariably, sanity takes over and you soon realise that perhaps they were not meant to be.

Well, seven months and a few cut and bruised fingers later and a much lighter bank balance, my insanity had remained intact throughout, and my Cinema was finally completed.

The following pictures represent a very brief pictorial history of the construction process…

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The before shot, showing concrete floor and brick walls.

 

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Two tier seating, note the raised floor for the rear seating.

 

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After much sweat and tears the plasterbords are up.

 

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The Finished article with a seven foot screen and mood lighting.

 

 

 

 


 

Paranormal activity

Every now and again a horror film comes along with the dubious claim of being the most scariest film ever made. However, most of them turn out to be as frightening as an episode of Scooby Doo.

This then brings me to ‘Paranormal activity’. A new film by first time director Oli Perri, which is leaving horror fans moist with anticipation. At a cost of £9000, the films budget wouldn’t even cover Johnny Depps breakfast bill, yet in the states alone it has grossed in excess of $120 million making it ( from a cost to revenue ratio) the most successful film ever made. The entire film was shot in the directors own house and only has two main actors throughout. Fortunately I happen to catch a sneak preview a couple of weeks before its official UK release date.

The film centres around a young couple Katie and Micha, who experience strange goings on in their home. Micha is less inclined to believe in a paranormal explanation but is still intrigued enough purchase a video camera in order to capture whatever it is on screen.

The entire film plays through the camera lens a la Blair witch project, but fortunately for us the camera shake is kept to a minimum. The audience heart beat rate per minute certainly increases alarmingly when the camera is perched on a tripod in the couples bedroom, filming as they sleep. The resulting filmed activity is pretty creepy to say the least.

But the real question is whether the film is as scary as the word of mouth from the states would have us believe. Judging by the amount of screams and sharp intakes of breath heard from the members of the audience during the course of the film I would say that it certainly lives up to its reputation. Is it the most scariest film ever made? To be honest, I can’t really say yes or no, but it certainly is up there as one of the scariest films ever made.

PostScript

It is now a week since our return. Whereas India was Exciting, Colourful and extremely hot, here in the UK it is cold, wet and very very grey. Wish i was back over there.

I hate English winters!!

An Englishman in a Familiar land.

Over looking my fathers land.

Overlooking my fathers land.

This is my last full day in the Punjab. We travel back to Delhi in the morning and fly out out the following day. As I write I am sitting on the balcony of my fathers house overlooking acres and acres of land. The sun is beaming down and again, and as per every day we have been here there is not a cloud in the sky. The only sounds I can hear are that of a harvester harvesting a field to the right of me and the incessant chatter of the birds.

Below me a heard of cows have just gone past. In the opposite direction and elderly woman walks past, carrying a basket full of cow pats on her head. The methane gas makes them perfect for fuel.

 I have been here for most of the day and despite the absence of the internet and English language television channels I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The pace of life in the west is becoming more and more hectic as we work longer hours for less and less reward. Sometimes all one wants to do is stop the word and get off. That is exactly what I have done here. And it’s great.  

I have always wondered what made my parents leave this idyllic land and start a new life half way around the world, to endure rain, cold and of course prejudice. The answer is simple, Poverty.

B both my parents’ family were poor, although my mother’s side was a lot poorer than my father’s side. Moving to England was their way to escape the poverty and in turn send money over to alleviate the poverty for family members in India.

In my father’s case, England really was the land of opportunity as his hard work and dedication paid off.  His fortune grew and throughout the years he sent literally Hundreds of thousands of pounds to India. He built a new house. Bought land and was the cash cow of the community.

Unfortunately. my Mother’s side of the family didn’t see much of the money, hence the reasons why they are still very poor. All over the Punjab you see enormous homes, paid for by money from NRI’s (Non Resident Indians).  The money pumped in from England has certainly helped boost the economic prosperity of the region. But as in most states the level of poverty is still alarmingly high.

Has my opinion of India changed during the two weeks of my travels? The simple answer is yes.  I was immensely proud when it launched the first space rocket a few weeks ago. The first stage of a programme that will ultimately take India to the moon. It is costing Billions of Rupees.

Having seen the poverty first hand, India’s space ambitions should certainly be given a lower priority. It’s pointless sending a rocket to the moon when 500 million people are starving at home. The same applies to the 2012 commonwealth games to be held in Delhi. The Billions of Rupees spent should also be diverted in helping alleviate he slums and provide better housing. Instead a fortune will be spent on Bamboo walls to hide the Slums from view. 

India are clearly in Denial with regards to its poverty problem. They have an image which they want to portray to the rest of the world. The image of an Economic super power in waiting. The slums do not fit in to that view. Indeed from what I saw, I cannot see India as a super power. In the last hundred years all super powers have built their might upon a strong industrial base. At its heart, India is still very agricultural.

It is a country of extremes. The haves and the have nots. If you have money then India is a great place to live. If you don’t, then survival is the order of the day. And yet, it is they who smile the most. Would I go back to India? I certainly would. Would I like to live there? Maybe. Despite the differences compared to England, I found the Villages surprisingly familiar and felt at home straight away. Something I thought I would never do.

I came as an Englishman in a strange land. I leave it saying goodbye to a familiar place.

An Englishman in a strange land (11)

I had a relaxing day in the Hotel today. The women were busy shopping and so I decided to venture out of the hotel compound and go for a little stroll.

I made sure I had the taken all the precautions, shades on, baseball cap on, Mosquito spray on. I walked past the multitudes of people, some loitering, some shopping some just taking a rest while they pick their noses. Etc etc etc…

Street life in India is a totally Alien experience

Street life in India is a totally Alien experience

In the UK we expect our pavements to be safe and fit for purpose. Here, there were pot holes the size of the Grand Canyon.  Even worse, there was no safety guards covering the holes. Word of advice, never jay walk in India!!

Crossing the road was also a risk. You need to look both ways and if you avoid being hit by a car, motorcycle or rickshaw, then a passing killer cow may finish you off. In fairness though, the cows just graze quietly without a care in the world. They are given free rein in the towns and cities because the Hindus regard cows as sacred animals. With the absence of grass they merely munch on the plentiful supplies of litter.

I was filming at a crossroads when I noticed two young girls begging money from cars which were stopped at red lights. They were barely seven years old. Once they laid their eyes on my  I was  a lamb to the slaughter. Travelling at warp factor 10 they were suddenly six feet away. Their  outstretched hands  in full begging mode.  I pulled out my Wallet and gave each one a 100 rupee note. Big mistake. They danced and waved at me in appreciation and then the older of the two began gesturing towards her feet.  A 100 rupee note was now not good enough for her and she now wanted me to buy her a pair of shoes.

The children of the corn!!

The children of the corn!!

I gestured to her that she can afford 10 shoes with the money I gave her. Both children then vanished. I began to walk back to the hotel when the two girls reappeared, this time with an older boy of about 12. He was just as dirty and unkempt as the girls and his begging  also paid off as I put a 100 rupee note in his hand. By now both the  girls were asking me to buy them shoes, the boy was still begging despite my gift to him and all of a sudden, warping in from the Gamma  Quadrant  a second boy appeared. Same appearance as the other three. This time I didn’t oblige.

They were walking about 6 feet behind me, each begging in their own inimitable way. I would stop, they would stop. I would speed up, they would speed up. They were always six feet away nect to each  as if they were posing for a photograph.

At this point in time I was getting rather irritated. What is this I thought? The Village of the Damned?

Eventually I reached the hotel compound. The children clearly knew the limits of their begging and as quickly as they appeared they vanished.

I have mentioned the poverty a lot in my blogs but to be honest you cannot escape it. Everywhere I went, I saw poverty at a scale that will haunt me for a long time to come.

The next blog will be my last India update. See you then.

Untill the next time, over and out.

An Englishman in a strange land (10)

Days 6 and 7 were very busy indeed. As a result I have not had very much time to spend on my blog.

Day 6 and was spent visiting my wife’s family. One particular aunty remained in my thoughts. She was as elderly lady whose husband and only son had died in quick succession leaving only her daughter left. Her husband and son were the main bread winners and in their absence the only means of support is to sell the milk that is produced by two cows that they keep in the back garden.

Despite the hardship they were in remarkably good spirits, and surprisingly they gave us a gift which must have cost them several weeks’ wages. They knew we were coming and had been saving for weeks. They had clearly sacrificed a lot, which only made us feel guiltier when we accepted the gift. Refusal to accept is a sign of disrespect.

I gave her a gift of several thousand rupees before we left. At that stage I could have happily given her all the money that i had in my wallet.

Day 7 was the day of the big Party at my father’s house. Family and friends arrived from the surrounding areas and copious amounts of drinks were drunk and food was consumed.

As I write, I am still suffering from the ‘night before’.

Untill the next time, over and out.

An Englishman in a strange land (9)

Day 5 was a busy and thought provoking day.

Whereas my father’s family are landowners and clearly not short of a bob or two, my Mother’s family are very poor. She has three sisters and one surviving brother, each living in poverty. The itinerary for today was to visit each one and pay our respects. I, my brothers and sister agreed to give a monetary donation to each of my mother’s sisters of 2000 rupees each which equates to several months wages for them, yet to us it really wasn’t that much! Their daily income is about £1.20

 Each of the houses was small and sparsely populated. The walls were bare apart from a number of photographs. To my astonishment my photograph was up there being displayed, along with my family and brothers’ and sisters’ families too. They were clearly proud that their sisters children were educated and doing well.

They served us refreshments they could barely afford, but what surprised me was that despite their poverty, they were constantly laughing and joking. They may have been poor in monetary terms but in spirit they were as wealthy as Bill Gates.

Again this was a very humbling experience. In England you would consider yourself poor if you can’t afford the latest mod cons. Here it is when you do not know where your next meal is coming from.

Travelling from house to house has certainly opened my eyes to the real India. This is well away from the tourist areas and the hustle and bustle of street life is something that needs to be experienced firsthand. Again, as in Delhi the mass of people is just unbelievable. India is the second most populous country in the world and judging by the number of people walking the streets here in the Punjab I can well believe that!!

My father had booked us a car and driver to use all day, and we spent a lot of time travelling from one place to another. But it was absolutely impossible not to get bored. Looking out of the car window and seeing the sights and sounds of the various places we pass through is in itself a highly interesting and eye opening experience. There was just too many things happening. And most of them are sights you will never see anywhere else but India.

The following photographs and stills from my camcorder footage perfectly illustrates my point.

When the lights turn red prepare for mayhem.

When the lights turn red prepare for mayhem.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
When husbands are sick of their wifes, they are sent to the market to be sold.

When husbands are sick of their wifes, they are sent to the market to be sold.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The following stills from my camcorder were taken during a 15 minute period.
 
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