January 2010

It’s been a few days since I last posted about workplace signage.

For those wondering why there seem to be so many security related signs at my work, let me explain.

The big building I work in used to belong to one company. Recently (actually, almost two years ago) approximately half was sold off and now certain areas are restricted and passage through departments requires appropriate security clearance. It’s all a bit like 24.

This new security sign is perhaps my favourite of the recent batch, not just for the badly worded instructions, but for the fact that it’s fixed to the door by two of the measliest pieces of brown packaging tape ever featured on these pages.

Now ideally, in a fancy FTSE company, you’d think the installation of a security pass swipe machine at a door would be sufficient tip-off to the need for accompanying, corporately approved signage. But no, we seem content to let members of staff dream up their own wordy solutions and I suspect as long as we keep brown packaging tape in the supplies cupboard, elaborate efforts like this will always be possible while clear, simple notices like SECURED ENTRANCE will be avoided.

There are two key words here: YOUR and NEEDED. Seemingly, this door will point blank refuse to open unless I give it my security pass; like my pass is the one missing for it to quench its thirst for appropriate security clearance. Charity, it seems, begins at this door.

Ok. Do NOT watch this video if you are sheepish about cartoon violence or eleven-year-old girls swearing. And this is big boy’s swearing. She says the eff word. And she intimates that she will see you next Tuesday.

Seriously. If swearing offends you, don’t click play.

First up, Kick-Ass looks like it might be the most aptly-named film ever made, but it raises an interesting question: kids and swearing … is it okay?

I remember watching The Last Boy Scout and being a bit disturbed by the little girl (Danielle Harris) who essentially told her dad to go fuck himself. Several times. I also remember Barry Norman being similarly disturbed. Danielle Harris, incidentally, went on to star in the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes, so … greater evil questions are already abound.

Despite the upping of profanity-stakes here, I’m less disturbed.

Maybe because almost twenty years have passed since I first saw that young Sweary Mary on screen. But maybe it’s because swearing isn’t the most shocking thing in the clip. I mean, she kills a dozen people here … quite explicitly, quite deliberately, quite gleefully. And then she says cunt.

Which is the worst? Well, I guess she didn’t really kill a dozen people and she really did say the words that tripped over her lips.

If nothing else, this trailer sets out in explicit clarity that it’s still possible to be shocked and that simple truth, in days when the internet serves up so many truly grotesque and frightening images, is a good thing.

Plus, I’m totally looking forward to the movie!

And the Academy Award for Best Picture goes to … Ninja Assassin!

I’m teasing.

It’s not so much that it’s bad, it’s more that it’s so astonishingly bad that it almost double backs on itself and becomes good. Almost.

Within the first three minutes, an incidental character reveals that they only survived a previous ninja attack because, by some fluke, their heart is on the right-hand side of their body. A minute later and someone standing next to him gets the top half of his head sliced off.

This, perhaps unsurprisingly, sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Plot, common sense, empathy and a respect for storytelling all manage to squeeze themselves into the back seat while one set-piece of elaborate, blood-plumed, choreographed slice and dice after another drives proceedings.

I could have forgiven it its shortcomings had it had a sense of self-awareness. I could have forgiven the continuity problems. Sadly, though, it all takes itself far too seriously because while swords and stars are slicing through human bodies as though they’re warm knives through ripened butter, there’s no (intentional) humour from the characters about any of the mindblowingly stupid events that are unravelling, the fight sequences are so quickly edited it’s impossible to follow who’s chopping up whom and by midway through the second sequence, we no longer care and instead of managing to generate some good old fashioned shock, the CGI blood washed over me like cranberry.

After an hour, I realised my face hadn’t moved. My eyebrows hadn’t been coaxed by surprise or shock and the corners of my mouth hadn’t been tickled into a grin. And because my entire body had been numbed by the experience, I hadn’t even been shifting about in my seat. It all just happened. And it was just my luck that it continued happening for another thirty minutes.

And I know, I know. It’s called Ninja Assassin and on its opening weekend, it’s showing in the smallest screen available. Did I expect Apocalypse Now with throwing stars?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect a whole lot, but words like hockum were invented to describe what this movie could have been. Bruce Lee films weren’t exactly masterclasses in acting. Kill Bill Vol 1 was just as elaborate in terms of choreography. But these had a respect for the genre and I think that’s what was really missing here.

The real problem was that director James McTeigue thought all he needed to do was throw a tonne of computer generated slaughter, some quasi-mystical dialogue and “ninja” noises at the screen and the result would kick as much ass as Messrs Lee and Thurman testing out their new ass-kicking boots. But it didn’t. It just made a mess.

After a wait of around a week, the first copy of my short story and poetry anthology — A Documentary About Sharks — was force fed through my letterbox by a postie who must’ve thought my doorbell was going to give him an electric shock.

I’m pleased to report that it survived in tact and, even if I say so myself, looks pretty damned scrummy.

Within its 94 pages are all twenty of the short stories and poems I had published during 2009. These include the eponymous Documentary, The Spirit of Shackleton, The Last Red Light in the Valley and few that I wrote so long ago it was like reading something for the first time.

At the moment, the book is available from lulu.com, where the physical, smashing, hard copy paperback can be purchased for £6.95 (excluding P&P) here. As a new-age, 21st Century alternative, a digital version can be delivered instantaneously over the ether for a mere £3.00 here. The benefits of this latter method being a) it’s cheaper and b) the nervous postie doesn’t need to get involved. Amazon.com and other online outlines will get in on the act in due course.

I’m not used to such shameless acts of self-promotion so I’ll keep this brief. Buy my book.


Another cracking piece of signage from the workplace and this time coupled with stupid fixtures and fittings.

At first glance, it looks the perfect, environmentally and legally aware washroom. The flow is controlled by motion sensors so water is saved and a flooded bathroom avoided. The SCALD RISK warning couldn’t be clearer and is so bright, you see a negative of it when you close your eyes.

Now, if only there was a tap …

It’s like it’s saying, “This is going to hurt, pissyhands.”

Some movies are events. Avatar, for example — that was an event. The new Tarantino, whatever that turns out to be, will be an event. George Clooney’s new movie, in my house anyway, tends not to be much of an event.

In fact, Clooney’s latest movie was such a non-event that I honestly forgot its name while I was on my way to the cinema to see it and only just managed to remember before the automated ticket machine spat out the answer anyway. It’s called Up in the Air. I’ve written that down now. It’s committed to memory.

Expectations were even less of an issue as my viewing was as a result of just wanting to go see a movie tonight and not being too fussed about what that so happened to be. There was a possibility, no matter how small, that I could’ve been reviewing Alvin and the Chipmunks right now. But I’m not. I’ve reviewing … em … scroll up … ah! Up in the Air instead.

I’m pretty sure half of the cinema hated it. Or rather, they hated the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Essentially, the movie is about disconnections and distance. Well, that ticks a box for me as anyone who’s read one of my short stories will know. It’s also about airports. Check for me again. I like airports. I like the romance of an airport; of meetings and separations and, whoops-a-daisy, without really trying we’re back to disconnections and distance again. To complete the set, it’s about a guy whose work requries him to do a bit of travelling. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

I’m massaging the last connection there. On one exceptional week, I travelled between home, Reading, Paddington, home, Belfast, Reading and back home again, but that wasn’t exactly a usual Monday to Friday. Generally, my attitude to business travel is that the first time you do it, it’s exciting and glamourous but later on — in my case, later on that same day — it becomes boring.

George Clooney’s character — Ryan Bingham — is pretty much the opposite of that. A committed bachelor, he works for a company who fire people on behalf of companies who don’t have the balls to do it themselves. It’s the recession. Business is good. So good, in fact, that Bingham spends upwards of 200 days of the year away from home, pulling his little suitcase behind him, collecting loyalty cards, sleeping in hotels and spending most of his life in the air between destinations. He loves it. Can’t get enough of it. A check-in clerk who greets him by name is his heroin.

Proceedings are dished a rather obvious side-order of irony when Natalie Kreener — a young go-getter played by Anna Kendrick — has the bright idea of doing the nasty on people via an IP connection and all the Road Warriors get called back to base to get the brief on this Brave New World. Long story short, Bingham and Kreener end up as an Odd Couple on the road while the wise-owl tries to show that face-to-face is the best way to keep this debasing process as human as possible.

By this point, I’m pretty much loving it. Jason Reitman — director of Juno — is at the helm and while the script always seems to be allowed its indulgances, it’s frequently amusing and always entertaining to listen to and he seems to get gut-bursting performances out of his cast when called upon to do so. Case in point: there are maybe twenty small cameos in the movie of people who are being made redundant and every single one of them is warm and human and sympathetic and utterly believable, providing something of a backbone through the movie to remind us of the sort of people we’re dealing with and who we would ordinarily be expected to be cheering on.

Clooney is charming as ever and maybe more flawed than we’re used to seeing. Anna Kendrick, who was utterly forgettable in Twilight, seemed more assured in a bigger supporting role. Clooney’s main love interest, though, comes from Vera Farmiga who looks really familiar but turns out to be new to me. The film stays true to its ideals here as her character is essentially a female version of Clooney. She too spends her life on the road and the two of them only meet up when their schedules put them in the same towns on the same day.

So while this is all really good and entertaining, there’s a niggle from early on that never really goes away because anyone who’s seen half-a-dozen movies in their life has a pretty good idea how this is going to pan out. Main character is on a journey; literal and figurative. A woman will make him see the error of his ways. Connection replaces disconnection. The two live happily ever after. The voice-over in the trailer would probably say something along the lines of “he had to go home … to find himself.” Oh, and his sister’s getting married. Obviously. The script keeps it fresh, but underneath the sheen, there’s a suspicion of stock.

There’s a point in the movie, where Clooney says something like, “I had to empty my backpack before I could see what I wanted to put in it.”

I almost — ALMOST — stood up and screamed at the screen. You don’t have to do it this way, George!

It’s a credit, though, to Reitman and his co-writer that despite this wobble, they didn’t lose their bottle and go down a shmaltzy, predictable route towards the end credits. It still might have a slight predictability about it, but it’s not shmaltzy. It’s not Planes, Trains and Automobiles and for a horrible few moments, as I was preparing to push my buttocks up out of my chair and drawing breath to curse the projectionist to a diabolical inferno, it looked like that was what it was aspiring to be.

So, the end it delivers probably still managed to disappoint half of the audience who were keeping their fingers crossed for happily ever after. For me, though, it provided enough redemption to complete the story arc while still remaining true to itself.

Not at all bad. Maybe I should forget movie’s names on the way to the cinema more often.

I’ve posted before about some of the makeshift signage that features in my workplace. Last time, it was cryptic instructions on how to find a meeting room that legend insisted didn’t exist.

Today, I noticed this one at a secure entrance to a department. Seems that the card sensor gadget (direction indicated) hasn’t been enough of a clue and the people on the other side of the door, sick with passing chimpanzees trying to pull the door from its hinges, have resorted to this crude alert, pinned on with Blu Tac.

Except for some reason, the designer has become nervous about being understood and, to spell out the ideal order of events, has pinned the word “FIRST” on the end of the request.

Cue aforementioned chimps swiping their cards and then rattling the bloody door anyway.