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Sunday, 28 August 2011


I'm so glad my prejudice against Guy Ritchie gets to stay intact, because this is surely one of the worst films I've ever seen. At first I really did want to give this film the time of day, but after 10 minutes I quickly realised this was his usual fare, only amplified and worse, itself carrying some ugly prejudice of its own. It manages to bounce racism and homophobia for (non-existent) laughs through Tom Hardy's coming-out-scene and a copious and nonchalant use of the word 'immigrant' in pretty much every scene with Tom Wilkinson, who pantomimes his way through every scene as a hammy sub Bob Hoskins cockney gangster, and subsequently becomes an unintentional parody of a character type we've seen many tedious times before. I like Tom Wilkinson, but I must admit he gives way at times to chewing scenery - just see his performance in the risible television series 'The Kennedys' for recent reference. But with RocknRolla the dialogue is so excruciatingly contrived there's not much more to work with than self-parody. Ritchie's insistence on dividing the English language into Cockney and not is the funny thing about the film, along with his supposedly original idea of having a painfully unsubtle Roman Abramovich clone move in on his territory as a play on the possibility of Russian gangsters moving in on London gangster territory. And the final seal that we're watching a dreadful comedy is the idea that the Abramovich clone gets into a mob war with Wilkinson's goons over a missing painting, commandeered by Toby Kebbel's titular RocknRolla, Johnny Quid. Frankly, it doesn't get sillier than that. Performances hit the usual one note Ritchie demands, i.e., wisecracking Cockney hostility, although Tom Hardy, Toby Kebbel and Mark Strong do the best they can.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Man in the Bottle

To open up my Twilight Zone marathon, a familiar parable about a genie in a lamp. Arthur Castle is a pawnbroker struggling to pay the bills and unable to abandon his charity for a poor elderly lady, who one day brings him a seemingly worthless bottle to pawn. A genie inhabits this bottle, which appears to Arthur to grant him 4 wishes - but warns him of the consequences.

Although this episode is a fairly predictable narrative and the moral message takes the oft heard form, 'be careful what you wish for', it nonetheless has one very memorable moment when Luther Adler's Arthur wishes to become the leader of a modern country 'who cannot be voted out of office' - only to become Adolf Hitler at the end of the Second World War. It becomes unintentionally funny when Adler, adorned with the fuhrer's moustache, turns round and realises his mistake - 'I'm Hitler, I'm in a bunker !" - but it remains a great illustration of what man might do were he given four wishes by a genie. John Ruskin also gives a good performance as the foreboding genie, quietly awaiting Arthur's catastrophic wishes but granting them all the same. The admonition 'be careful what you wish for' seems to occur frequently in The Twilight Zone, and to invoke psychoanalytic theory, Serling engages with the notion that humans can never achieve or realise their desires without provoking consequences or debts (To be consumed or ridiculed accordingly).

Next: A classic of the Twilight Zone pantheon involving a lot of bandages. A lot.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Twilight Zone Revisited

Over the next few weeks and months I'll be (re)visiting Rod Serling's classic series to coincide with the remastered release of all 5 seasons of The Twilight Zone on DVD half a century since the seminal show first aired. Its legacy is unmistakeable. A theme tune younger generations recognise decades after the programme ended and associate with horror, science fiction, the mysterious and unexplained. The trademark clipped delivery of Rod Serling's opening caveat at the start of every episode. And some of the most memorable moments, and (oft imitated) twists in television history.

For its time, The Twilight Zone was a groundbreaking series, critically acclaimed, and earned Serling multiple Emmys for his consistently superb writing. But it was much more than a science fiction television programme, weaving contemporary political and social issues, morality and philosophy into the fabric of many of its episodes. As a genre, science fiction is extremely fertile as a vehicle for allegory, and The Twilight Zone exploited the possiblities of the supernatural, super-scientific and hypothetical to invert the way we look at the world. After some episodes we are left even wondering whether the real world is, actually, the Twilight Zone.

The famous opening describes the Twilight Zone as 'the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge'. It is a ground of moral grey areas, double edged situations and paradoxes which forces us to examine whether people are as moral as they believe they are. In the postwar, ideologically conformist America of the 1950s and 60s, the Twilight Zone was a bold programme which used its science fiction form to subtly challenge contemporary politics and social prejudices. It interrogated the human condition and examined its hypocrisies, ironies and superficialities, and didn't shy away from politics in its critique of the state as a vehicle for totalitarianism.

I'll be reviewing my favourite episodes as well as those held in high esteem by fans and critics, so stay tuned while I navigate you all on a trip, through the Twilight Zone ...