Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Paris Hilton vs Badger

Speaking of strange videos (Gee Note: Hi. After my last post was criticised for being too long I've decided to remove the usual introduction and instead jump straight to the "meat". If you're feeling let down by this turn of the events, then allow me to fill you in. In the introduction we talked about "celebrity" sex tapes and how best to avoid Paris Hilton if she came knocking at your door. It was funny stuff. I actually feel sorry for you guys. You'd have really enjoyed it) the excellent Naveed's Realm posted a video of a reported extra terrestrial wandering out of some bushes recently. Now it must be said that I've yet to watch the video, but allow me to take a wild guess at what happens.

Some mundane event, probably involving teenagers, is being filmed when the camera operator notices something moving off in the distance. They zoom in but due to the objects rapid movement the camera can't quite get a decent picture of whatever it is. The figure moves in a straight line, either up and down or left to right, before the video abruptly ends with people screaming.

Well now, let's see how we did shall we?

Hmmm, not far off. I must be a psychic or something. Maybe I should go on stage. You know, tour around the country. "Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the amazing Bizzarro and his fabulously exciting mind powers!" they'll say. Then there will be applause and flowers thrown on stage, and I'll be all like "Thank you, thank you". Then after the show I'll head off in my limousine while the paparazzi bang their fists against the window trying to get a good snap. No pictures please, I'll say. I'm a very private person.

Thing is, as Naveed expertly points out, videos like this are ten a penny. And they all follow the same basic formula. Boy meets Girl. Boys likes Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy's videotaping himself eating a burger in a fast food outlet or something when Bigfoot walks past. Boy shows this to Girl to impress her. Girl says "Oh I'm sorry. I've started dating Brad. You know, the starting quarterback for the football team? He's really nice". Boy goes "what, you thought I was showing you this to try and get you to go out with me? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. You're funny. Say is that the time? I gotta go". Boy then locks himself in his bedroom and cries. (Gee Note: Not that anything like that has ever happened to me you understand. Oh good heavens no. To be honest I never got anywhere near the fourth stage. My story was more along the lines of Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Girl tells Boy in no uncertain terms to stop following her everywhere. Boy thinks she might be joking until a restraining order is issued. Sigh).

So is this a hoax or not? Well I'm going to go out on a limb here and say yes. Yes it is. In fact you'd have to be insane to think otherwise. Notice the way the "alien" doesn't deviate from it's path despite the fact that there's a chap wearing a radiation suit standing right in front of him. Now if I was an alien and I was going about my merry way only to find some folks filming themselves standing next to some shrubs for no apparent reason, then one of two things would happen. I'd either lose my little green mind and freak out, running around in circles and knocking anything over that wasn't nailed down in the process. Or I'd politely excuse myself for ruining the camera shot by walking past in the background and offer my profuse apologies, before explaining that I was Flang from the planet Dukos III and that I had been sent to Earth to learn more about the strange and wonderful "sandwiches" which have caused quite the debate at the Dukonian High Council.

See that's the thing about close encounters of the third kind. A real one is always going to be intense, whether it be an alien bringing a message of peace, or more likely an alien acting like a scared and confused wild animal. What it's not going to do is walk on by in the background with the placidity of an extra in a Wycleff Jean music video (Gee Note: Seriously I tried to think of somebody more "current" than Wycleff Jean while writing that. Turns out I couldn't think of anyone. But hey Wycleff's still cool right? Right?). If nothing else that alone shows this video to be a big pile of fake. Fakey fakey fake fake.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to find a homeless badger and brainwash it using pictures cut out of The National Enquirer.

Man, you really would have loved that intro.

Monday, 23 February 2009

When I'm running for my life I generally don't look back at the plumbing.

This afternoon I got an email asking me to list ten romantic comedies outside of the subliminal “Groundhog Day” that, to quote the email, “don't suck”. You know it's not very often I get to show off my extensively useless movie knowledge in such a way and so of course I jumped at the opportunity.

In the, oooh, six whole seconds I had spare to compose a list here's what I came up with.

African Queen

While You Were Sleeping

Some Like It Hot

Breakfast At Tiffanys

High Fidelity

When Harry Met Sally

Tin Cup

As Good As It Gets

The American President

Bull Durham

There's several amazing things about that list. One is that had you asked me my opinions on romantic comedies I'd have told you they're pretty much the movie version of soap operas. In other words, practically worthless. And yet I honestly love every movie on that list, and could quite happily load up the DVD player and watch any of them right now (Gee Note: If I could actually get the tray to open on the DVD player that is. Alas after an “incident” involving a guinea pig, a stray wire, and a slice of toast with some jam on it, the damn thing won't budge). Another amazing thing is that none of these movies have been remade in modern times. Admittedly only a couple are old enough for that to be likely but even so, it's incredible that no one in Hollywood has watched “Some Like It Hot” recently and thought “You know those Curtis and Lemmon guys are OK I guess. But this film would be so much better with Ryan Reynolds and that guy from Heroes. You know the one who's dating that blonde chick. Milo Whatshisface. Him anyway. He'd be great”.

See Hollywood has a tendency to do silly things like that, most recently with horror movies. It's something I've never really understood. I mean good films are good films. If you remake a successful and popular movie you leave yourself open to all sorts of things, most notably the comparison between your flick and the original. And almost always the original wins that particular battle. In fact of the countless number of remakes we've seen over the years, from Sabrina (Gee Note: The Harrison Ford remake of the Humphrey Bogart/Audrey Hepburn classic, not the television show about a teenage witch. Speaking of which, what the hell happened to Melissa Joan Hart? No really, where did she go? Mandrake the Magician couldn't disappear as effectively as she has) to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only one could really be called successful. That one? Why it's Ocean's Eleven of course.

The reason why Ocean's Eleven works is that it took a not so good original movie that none the less had a great concept, and used it as a guide to create a really decent film that made a ton of money. And considering the number of films that get released every year that fall in to the category of “great idea – badly done” one would have thought studio execs would be all over this template to success. Remake bad movies that had brilliant premises.

And if you ask me (Gee Note: Which nobody has by the way, hence the reason I'm forced to write it here on this blog) the first title on the “Films that really should have been a lot better than they were, but seeing as they weren't they should be remade” list should definitely be Reign of Fire.

There are generally speaking two ways in which Hollywood movies get made. Either a producer or a studio boss comes up with an idea for a picture he thinks will make a bucket load of cash, and then puts together a "package" consisting of a screenwriter, star, and director. Or a pre existing script gets pitched to a studio boss, and the package is built from there.

Here's how I imagine Reign of Fire got made. A young nervous screenwriter stumbles in to a Hollywood party only to find none other than major power player Sam Moneybags sitting at poolside, flanked by a gaggle of pretty young wannabes. After a couple of gulps of Dutch courage Nervous Guy slithers up to Moneybags and clears his throat.

Moneybags: Can I help you son?

Nervous Guy: Mr Moneybags, it's an honour to meet you. I love your films. I thought "Death Fight 7" was a work of unparalleled brilliance…

Moneybags: Cut the crap son, I'm a busy man.

Nervous Guy: Right. Yes. Of course. Ummm. Look I know this might be slightly forward but I'm a screenwriter and I have this project I'm working on. I was wondering if you could find time in your busy schedule to maybe set up a meeting or something?

Moneybags: Listen kid. Scorsese can’t get a meeting with me. You really think I'm going to clear my diary for someone who thinks "Death Fight 7" is a good flick?

Nervous Guy: No I guess not.

Moneybags: Tell you what, I'm feeling generous, so I'm gonna give you three seconds to pitch your movie to me. GO!

Nervous Guy: Uhhhhh… OK. How does "Mad Max fights Dragons" grab you?

Moneybags: (After a long pause) Hmmm… son sit yourself down here. You just got yourself a green light.

Because let's face it who wouldn't want to watch that movie? I mean really the damn thing sells itself. Bleak apocalypse, great big fire breathing flying lizards, revealing costumes, what's not to like? Add a cast consisting of everyone's favourite shirtless wonder Matthew McConaughey, Gerard Butler of "This is SPARTA!!!" fame, and the current star of the Batman franchise Christian Bale and this flick has "Damn Good" written all over it.

So it's astonishing that the movie is, well, rubbish. Not in the "So bad it's an embarrassment to everyone involved" kind of way. It's just completely underwhelming. Put it this way, at one point there's a face off between a handful of sky divers and a dragon. And it's boring. Now go back and read that again. Sky divers kicking off against a dragon = boring. I know, it sounds impossible, but some how Reign of Fire managed it. And not only do the action sequences largely fail, but the characters are also pretty lifeless. In fact outside of McConaughey's fabulously weird performance (Gee Note: Honestly it's like he got so stoned during filming he convinced himself he was in a different movie to everyone else) not one turn is memorable. Which considering the calibre of the actors on show is pretty remarkable. I don't know, maybe Christian Bale got distracted by something.

(Gee Note: By the way, that infamous recording of Christian Bale going off on one on the set of Terminator: Salvation has been remixed in to a dance record by the producer of Ru Paul's new album. I don't have an opinion on it. I just wanted to type out that sentence to see what it would look like.)

Bizarrely though Reign of Fire isn't alone in being a poor movie about a dragon. Indeed it appears that despite the fact that fantasy novels are routinely churned out of publishing houses like a cow churning out milk, rarely does a Hollywood screenwriter make a decent fist of a good old dragon bashing yarn. In the past couple of years alone we've seen Beowulf, Eragon, and even the third instalment of the Mummy franchise take on these winged behemoths. And while their not awful films per say, you'd have to go far and wide to find anyone who would put them in their top ten list.

And the thing is a tale about an old school dragon beating should be a piece of cake. Dragon turns up causing all kinds of destruction, knocking down houses, setting fire to big piles of hay, spooking the cattle, and generally being a nuisance. Despite initial personality clashes a group of hardy misfits band together to protect the village, there's a big fight, and having finally learned to work together the misfits defeat the dragon. Cue rejoicing of peasants and a hearty “bravo” to the surviving members of the group before fading out on a thumping tune performed by Bryan Adams or Nickelback or some other middle of the road, soft rock ensemble. See? Easy.

But amazingly this would appear to be the most difficult thing to do as far as Tinsel Town is concerned. So average citizens may be forgiven for making up their own stories about huge flying lizards, filling the gap that the entertainment industry has left open. Stories like that of the Ropen for example.

You know tales of giant winged beasts are not just confined to the medieval ages. From Thunderbirds to Mothmen, even in these enlightened times reports of unknown creatures tearing a path through our skies are aplenty. And the Ropen is no different, reportedly larking about in the air above Papua New Guinea. Except Ropen isn't a giant moth or bird. Instead it's the cryptozoology/ creation science/ small child's dream monster. Because our flying menace of Papua New Guinea is practically a living dinosaur.

Well that's if Duane Hodgkinson is to be believed. Stationed in New Guinea during the second world war, Hodgkinson was going about his daily business one day in 1944 when he and another soldier walked in to a clearing. While there a wild pig ran past, probably desperate to get back home in time to catch Lost. The pig's swift movement seem to startle something above them and as they looked up the two soldiers were amazed to see a “Pterodactyl” take off from the trees ahead. For those who are reading this and have no idea what a Pterodactyl is, you know that bit out of Jurassic Park III where they're on that wooden bridge and Billy or whatever the hell his name is gets carted off by one of those flappy dino-bird things and you're all like, awww man that dude's dead for sure, but then he turns up like ten minutes later without a scratch and you're like no way man, that's rubbish, the fall would've killed him if nothing else? Well anyway, it's one of those dino-bird things. You know thinking about it I could have just put up a picture or something. In fact I think I will.

(Gee Note: And before we go any further, unless I mention the following I'm sure to get an email from some pedant, possibly Rob, telling me that Pterodactyls are neither dinosaurs nor actually called Pterodactyls. Dinosaurs are exclusively terrestrial based lizards that stand upright. Therefore any lizard that is water or air based doesn't count. And the correct term for a “Pterodactyl” is actually Pterosaur. There. I said it. I am of course still going to call it both a dinosaur and a Pterodactyl. Why? Because I don't really care all that much. That's why.)

Anyway according to an interview Hodgkinson gave to Jonathan Whitcomb he saw “a pterodactyl take off from the ground and circle back overhead and to the side giving us a perfect side view which clearly showed the long beak and appendage protruding from the back of it's head (just like the ones that Fuzzy used to ride in the comic strip Ally Oop). It was a big one!” (Gee Note: OK I've been staring at Google for the past ten minutes and you know I have no idea what the hell “Fuzzy” or “Ally Oop” are. Sigh. Why couldn't Hodgkinson be a Flintstones fan? Then he could have said “You know, like those ones that Fred and Barney used instead of an aeroplane.” And we could all go “Ohhh yeah. I know EXACTLY what you mean!”. In fact in retrospect it's lucky I posted that picture).

Hodgkinson isn't the only one to have seen a pterodactyl however. While on Bougainville Island, Papa New Guinea, in 1971 Dr. Brian Hennessey claims to have spotted the creature. According to Hennessey “I actually heard it before I saw it. A slow flap... flap... flapping sound. It was very big (wingspan at least two meters, probably more... possibly much, much more). It was black or dark brown. I had never seen anything like it before”.

According to locals on Papa New Guinea's Umboi Island the Ropen is a nocturnal animal that and has a bioluminescent tail. You know like a firefly (Gee Note: Except one that's obviously taking the same “supplements” as 90% of Major League Baseball players). According to legend it feeds on fish, although on occasion it has been known to feast on human flesh, mostly by digging up the graves of the recently deceased.

Gross huh?

So is it really likely that a Pterodactyl is kicking it in the skies of Papa New Guinea? Well probably not. I mean considering that Papa New Guinea is hardly an undiscovered country, and that a Pterodactyl is hardly a wee little thing, the chances of one not being comprehensively documented by now is slim at best. I mean if we know the entire life cycle of the rarely spotted 8 inch long Pennant Fish, which is found in the much less hospitable Red Sea, then not to have discovered a huge flying glow in the dark lizard in an easily accessible part of the world is kind of unbelievable. And when I say “kind of” I of course mean “completely”.

But of course I could be wrong. And if I am then who knows? Maybe the remake of “Reign of Fire” will be a documentary.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Life Begins At 50

If you're reading this you may be unwittingly taking part in a little bit of history. Because dear reader (Gee Note: Yeah I'm all kinds of Charlotte Bronte today. I'm about to go and lock my wife in the attic and start a flirtatious affair with the nanny) you are currently viewing the 50th post on "I Saw Elvis In The Woods". I know, I'm amazed we've got this far as well. Feel free to send me presents as a way of expressing your congratulations.

Knowing that this historic milestone was coming up, one would have thought I'd have put some time in to turning this post in to a special event. You know, bells, whistles, fireworks, trained elephants doing the rumba, a ticker-tape parade, that kind of thing. Sadly my technical knowledge comes a close second to my inability to record the correct programme on my DVR on the list of "Things I don't do all that well" (Gee Note: This morning's highlight - a Jim Belushi movie where he's a cop blackmailed in to committing the perfect murder instead of a documentary on The Jersey Devil that I had planned to tape. Mind I guess it's not all bad, as it did answer the burning question of what "Teen Wolf Too" star Jason Bateman is up to these days. The answer of course being "appearing in bad Jim Belushi films"), so unless someone wants to email me in simple, idiot proof language on how to make this blog all shiny shiny, I guess the regular format will have to do.

So I suppose on the spectacular level we're left with the actual content of the post itself. Which means that we've lost before we've even begun. Because unless I can somehow channel the spirit of both Ivan T. Sanderson and Hunter. S. Thompson (Gee Note: And possibly James T. Kirk, just in case I need to fill out some space. "My… God… Spock! What… have… you done?". By the way, William Shatner has blatantly ignored my friendship request on Facebook for the past two weeks now. I admit that I've never actually met the man, but this obvious lack of respect for the time and effort it took to type "William Shatner" in to a search engine is seriously testing our relationship) then the writing quality will be as poor as always. In other words, we're boned.

And so to combat the lack of fanfare and razzmatazz deserving of a 50th post, I've decided to tackle the mother of all subjects. So lock up your pets and put the kids to bed folks, I Saw Elvis is gonna talk about the End of the World.

If you read the same stuff on-line as I do then there's a certain number of things that you'll see continuously popping up time and time again. Some of these are pretty obvious, such as Roswell, Area 51, and dinosaurs in the Congo (Gee Note: Possibly drinking Um Bongo. Man I miss those adverts. Anyone here remember the ones for Kia-Ora? "I'll be your dog! Woof woof!". See that was when television ads at least attempted to make sense. I've been watching that Gorilla playing the drums for six months now wondering how the hell it's supposed to inspire me to buy a bar of chocolate). Occasionally however a topic does the rounds that stays under the radar for a bit, confined to shady websites like this one and "alternative" discussion forums. Topics like 2012 for example.

Ten years ago the world's media went a bit silly for a couple of months talking about Nostradamus. It turns out the universe's least successful fortune teller had been at it again, this time with a little ditty that goes something like this:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror.
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

Ah good ol' Nosty, as detailed as ever. Seriously reading through his predictions is like playing "Pin the tail on the donkey". I mean that honestly could mean anything. "King of Terror" could be a meteorite, a nuclear warhead or a pterodactyl for all we know. And unless Genghis Kahn decided to drag his zombie bones out of the dust and make the greatest comeback since Britney Spears then the last two lines make no sense what so ever.

However people who really should know better started doing the rounds on talk shows and the like telling us how this is obviously a prediction about "Doomsday" and that Armageddon would indeed be upon us (Gee Note: Despite the fact that even Nostradamus's own predictions go as far in to the future as, er, 3037). Everyday leading up to the month of July, tabloid newspapers would publish "news" stories about "Nostradamus' deadly prediction" talking about how we should "be prepared" for life as we know it coming to an end.

Now I've spent the last ten minutes racking my brains trying to work out what I was up to in July 1999. As far as I can remember I was working in a video rental store (Gee Note: Which really was like a dream come true. Seriously for two glorious years I was a living breathing Randal Graves) and miserable because I was stuck in a doomed relationship.

What I wasn't doing was running terrified out of my mind away from a bunch of re-animated, blood thirsty Mongolians. In fact considering the amount of hours I spent sitting on my well rounded derrière eating bags of skittles and watching the latest Bruce Willis flick in that little video store, an invasion of slavering undead barbarians would probably have kept me in better shape.

Unsurprisingly, and despite the bleatings of a few misguided souls, the world didn't end in 1999. Nor did it end in 2008, much to the chagrin of the Lord's Witnesses. The Lord's Witnesses are a Christian Church Based right here in the UK. Unlike regular churches the LW's believe that the bible is written in a code that has to be unravelled (Gee Note: Kind of like the way international rap superstar Snoop Doggy Dogg speaks. You know "Fo' shizzle" and all that. Hey maybe that makes Snoopy the second coming of Jesus Christ? He's certainly had his fair share of dealings with "hos" if the lyrics to his chart topping records are to be believed. On second thoughts, perhaps not).

Anyway somehow the LW's applied what I'm sure was a complex method of decoding the bible and came up with the idea that the world was going to end on March 21st 2008. When that didn't happen the church's governing body, led by one Gordon Ritchie, hastily came up with another interpretation. March 21st they said was when Satan's rule over Earth ended, and now it's in a transitional period until Jesus steps up to the plate. I just hope they haven't left the college kids in charge in the meantime. Remember that one guy who did that sportscast for Bell State University? No? Really? You don't remember that? Well I guess it's lucky I'm here then.

(Gee Note: OK I realise that has absolutely nothing to do anything but it makes me laugh none the less. It really is the start of a heart warming story as the poor guy featured here is called Brian Collins. Amazingly, despite the very worst of bad starts, he did make it as a news reporter and is now gainfully employed by KXXV television in Waco, Texas. See? Dreams can come true). So with neither Nostradamus nor the bible's hidden code being particularly useful as far as predicting the future is concerned, folks have started looking to other sources. Specifically the ancient race of the Maya.

Pre-dating both the Inca and the Aztec, Mayan civilization came to prominence approximately between 250 AD and 900 AD. Amazingly advanced for the time they were the only society that developed a written language in the pre-Columbian Americas, and even developed their own numeracy system. I mean these cats were clever. Not clever enough to invent a steam powered espresso maker I grant you, but considering their contemporaries were communicating by pointing at fruit and saying the word “Ooog!” then, you know, these folks really should be given a lot of credit. So when it was discovered that the Maya predicted the world's end on December 21 2012 a lot of people took notice.

Except, and this is the thing, the Maya didn't actually say the world was going to end on that date.

Bare with me on this because it might take a little bit of explaining (Gee Note: And considering I'm still recovering from spending the afternoon yesterday sinking a beer every ten minutes while watching my national rugby team defeat their English counterparts then you may want to look it up for yourself). Mayan religion and their concept of time are pretty much one and the same thing. Using the position of the sun and the stars at night, the Maya came up with a system where the cyclical nature of celestial bodies would not only represent the date, but also the work of the Gods. A Mayan priest's job was to interpret these cycles. Kinda like a modern day astrologer. Except without the awful dress sense.

Anyway, according to the Mayan calender a really big cycle comes to an end on December 21 2012. Somehow this has been forecast as being of great significance by new agers and paranoid dillussionists a like. For some 2012 is seen as a time where human beings will attain a higher level of conciousness and transcend whatever it is modern day hippies think we need to transcend. People like this guy for example:

Is it just me or is he totally channelling the spirit of Ultimate Thor? Also for an advanced alien, you would think he'd want to show off a bit. I mean just standing in a field talking is boring dude. You want people to listen, bring some flashy lights or something. Fireworks man, fireworks.

The flip side of this coin is that some folks think the end of the cycle represents Doomsday. For, as far as I can see, no real reason either. I mean it's not as if the Maya put an asterisk on the end of the calender with a footnote at the bottom saying “RUNNNN!!!”. However enlightened chaps like Michael Drosnin, author of the “The Bible Code”, believe that very thing.

(Gee Note: Oh good, more bible decoding. You know Dan Brown has a lot to answer for. Before the "Da Vinci Code" nobody would give this kind of stuff the time of day. Since then however crackpot books about hidden messages in texts ranging from the Qur'an to the works of Dr. Seuss are ten a penny. I came up with an idea for a story once where someone discovers a hidden message in the novel Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens which would tell them how to perfect the ancient and mystical art of flower pressing. I even came up with a brilliant title for it, "The Daisy Chain". For some reason though no publisher would touch it, and yet they constantly churn out things like "The Bible Code" every day. That Michael Drosnin thinks he's so smart. We'll see who has the last laugh Drosnin. We'll see.)

In the book Drosnin claims to found a hidden message in the first five books of the bible. The message predicts that a comet will crash in to the Earth in 2012, annihilating all life in the process. Obviously, like myself until my last post, Drosnin has never heard of Tardigrades. Tardigrades, also rather sweetly known as Water Bears, grow to about 1mm in length. Despite their small stature these hardy wee beasts are unbelievably adept at surviving. They can withstand temperatures of above 150 degrees centigrade, temperatures close to absolute zero, 2000 times more radiation that any other animal, and can even survive in space, yes space, for at least ten minutes. Also they kind of look like a bean bag modelled on the late great Ray Charles.

Seriously if I was a betting man I'd put my money those guys over something as trifling as a comet.

Another example is Dutch author Patrik Geryl. Geryl predicts that in 2012 the North and South pole's will reverse causing the Earth to rotate in the opposite direction. Although how this would cause anything other than warm winters and cold summers is anyone's guess, as Geryl doesn't let unnecessary details like that bog him down. Instead, Geryl is convinced that this will bring about the end of the world and has set up a "survival group" as a result. Which I guess is one way to pick up women. "Hey baby, you know the world's about to end right? Well, it is anyway. You wouldn't want to be caught in the apocalypse unprepared now would you? Of course you wouldn't. So why don't you join my group and we'll take care of you? You will? Seriously? That's great! OK well I guess we better get you a uniform. Now after a ton of research we've discovered that the best way to avert doomsday is by wearing this bikini… Hey baby, where you going?"

(Gee Note: By the way one of the countless number of issues with this theory is if the Earth's rotation were to change then presumably it would have to slow down or stop at some point. Thing is, if this were to happen then anything on the surface of the Earth would be flung in to space at approximately 500'000 miles per hour. Now you can wear all the bikinis you want to but unless you happen to have been born on the planet Krypton you're going to struggle to survive that.)

There's a couple more wild predictions doing the rounds. Kev Peacock, an Australian ham radio enthusiast, claims that the Sun's magnetic field will reverse, causing all sorts of environmental disasters. Peacock's rationalisation for this is that he's picked up some weird radio signals coming from the Sun (Gee Note: Although why you would want to pick up a signal from the Sun in the first place is anyone's guess. It's not as if anything is broadcast from there. Although, maybe there's a hole in the market for something like that. "You're listening to Sun radio. It's a chilly 6 billion degrees outside, with a slight solar wind chill…"). Peacock has gone the whole hog with this theory, producing graphs of radio frequencies and diagrams all of which are fabulously complicated. So far no bona fide scientist has expressed an interest in anything Peacock has had to say.

Yet another bonkers idea comes from Vijay Kumar, or "The man who realised God in 1993" according to the blurb on his website (Gee Note: No, I have no idea what that means either). Kumar believes that rather than heading towards the end of the world however mankind is on it's way to a "golden age". Alas this golden age starts off rather nastily, as Kumar is predicting a nuclear war between "Christians" and the "Islamic" that is going to wipe out 1/5 of the world's population. After this all of mankind will realise just how silly we've been in trying to nuke each other off the planet and all join hands and sing songs together. Probably. The interesting thing about this theory is that it's based on, er, nothing. While folks like Peacock, Geryl and Drosnin have actually applied a method to their forecasts, Kumar has simply made it up. Well OK, not quite. Kumar has somehow come up with his theory by using the law of Karma, which is ridiculously open to interpretation. Seriously it makes Nostradamus quatrains look like an instruction manual for putting together a Swedish coffee table.

But then I guess that's kind of the point of 2012 predictions. Because when all is said and done, there's no basis to suspect that anything out of the ordinary will happen. The Maya simply wrote a calender that ended on a specific date, probably thinking that by the time the 21st December 2012 rolled around they'd have had plenty of opportunity to, you know, write a new one. So on the surface it's pretty unbelievable that a lot of people are talking about a potential "Doomsday", some of them quite seriously.

Except, and here's the thing, it's not really that unbelievable. Us humans are fascinated by the end of the world, you only need to look at the fuss that media caused in 1999 or the recent talk of the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole that would tear the Earth apart to view evidence of this (Gee Note: To the point where the project leader for the LHC Dr. Lyn Evans, who gets mad props for attending my local university, was woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call from someone in hysterics asking him not to turn the machine on). Why this would be I have no idea. It would take a smarter person than myself, probably one with about six or seven University degrees, to come up with a theory that due to our basic instinct to fight for survival our lack of natural predators have been replaced in our collective unconscious minds with a big unseen evil.

We also have a tendency to romanticise previous cultures, with statements such as "Oh those Egyptians. Weren't they wise?". Well, yeah I guess they were, but like any other ancient civilization they were never as scientifically or socially advanced as we are. And in 3000 years time people will be inevitably looking back at us and saying “Gosh they came up with the microwave oven all by themselves. Weren't they clever?”. To which my response is come back when we've cured cancer and then tell us how clever we are. Until that point we don't know jack. By that same reckoning neither did the Egyptians, the Maya, the Greeks, or anyone else.

So should we take anything about the 2012 armageddon seriously? Well no, not really. Because the truth is humanity is neither going to rise to a higher state of understanding about the universe around us, nor will we be wiped out by some kind of disaster. Instead we'll carry on just as we are. Vicious, selfish, mean, brilliant, wonderful, generous, infuriating, complex, simple people just going about their daily business.

Unless of course we do cure cancer. In which case I'll be the first one celebrating the dawn of a new age.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming.

According to my good friend Rob Haines, one of my most often repeated phrases in conversation is "nobody gets that reference". It's all down to the fact that in every day discussions I'll punctuate my speech with random movie or TV show quotes in an effort to look clever and entertain those around me. Problem is, more often than not the quotes are generally so obscure that people will look at me quizzically instead of celebrating my brilliance as a raconteur. This is then followed by a long sigh and a resigned complaint that I'm on my own in realising how amusing I've just been.

Mind it's one of the reasons I love writing this blog. As some of you may have noticed more often that not the title of a post on here has absolutely nothing to do with the content. Instead it's generally a quote from a movie or a television show that I've briefly mentioned in passing while talking about a snowboarding vampire or something. Which I kind of take great pride in. In fact eveytime I'm linked to by The Debris Field or Alt News it raises a smile that someone is going to click on that link with absolutely no idea what they're about to read. Ah low level anarchy, thy name is Gareth.

Problem is today I find myself in a difficult position. Usually I'll write the post and come up with a title later, partly because I can only concentrate on one thing at a time (Gee Note: No really, this morning I was on a phone call while attempting to make myself breakfast at the same time. The person on the other end of the line said something important which I promptly made a note of only to realise halfway through I'd been writing with a butter knife) and partly because I have actually no idea what I'm going to write about exactly until I've, er, written it. I mean I have a general idea, and usually know the main topics I want to touch on. But apart from that I come up with most of it on the fly. You know, like Eddie Izzard doing stand up, or more accurately Spinal Tap performing a jazz odyssey. I believe this is called blogging without a net. If it isn't then it should be, if only because it sounds kinda sexy.

But, and here's the thing, I actually know what I want to write about today. As amazing as it sounds it all came to me in a flash of brilliance about two hours ago, including the title. And so I started to happily hammer away at my keyboard, humming a jaunty little tune as I did so, confident in the notion that I would be able to knock out a reasonable post in record time.

This carried on for about ten minutes or so until a thought came crashing in to my brain like an articulated truck in a Michael Bay movie (Gee Note: Damn you Michael Bay!!). I've used the title I planned to use for this post before.

See there's this wonderful scene in Jurassic Park where right after everyone's gone doo lally about the dinosaurs Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neil, Richard Attenborough and a couple of others are in the lab where said extinct reptiles were created. Jeff Goldblum's character is criticising Richard Attenborough for playing God, questioning how with no natural predators they plan to keep the dinosaur population from growing beyond the park's capabilities. Attenborough explains that the dinosaurs have been genetically engineered so that all of them are female to which Goldblum has this to say:

"You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will... breed?"

"No, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."

That's the title I was planning to use. Life finds a way. Because never have truer words been said. For example, recently it was discovered that tiny little photosynthetic bacteria have managed to survive and thrive by using dim radiation from deep sea hydrothermal vents instead of light from the sun, the first life forms known to do so. Which is incredible really, as until that point the idea of life without sunlight was deemed impossible.

Even in harsh conditions such as the Arctic, creatures such as lemmings manage to live quite happy lives. You know, building bridges, using umbrellas to float down from high places, blowing themselves up when they get it wrong, that kind of thing. Life does just find a way to survive. Even if a nuclear holocaust ripped through the world, wiping out every man made structure, poisoning the seas and turning the sky black, what's the bet that, oh I don't know, squirrels somehow manage to live on and claim the Earth as their own? (Gee Note: If you ask me they're already plotting something. You should never trust a squirrel, what with their beady eyes and twitchy noses. Sign of a Machiavellian intent if ever there was one).

Another example of life finding a way are carnivorous plants. (Gee Note: Or more accurately Mother Nature's way of entertaining herself by messing with our heads. Plants that eat animals? What the hell? I've only just got my mind around a duck-billed platypus for God's sake. I mean a furry, venomous bird with legs instead of wings that lays eggs and sweats milk is pretty tough to take, but flowers that eat mice? I mean c'mon now. Give us a break once in a while). Carnivorous plants came to be simply because they somehow ended up evolving in soil that was poor in nutrients. Which, you know, I think we can all empathise with to a degree. After all most of us have probably lived in places that were less than ideal at one time or another. I myself lived in Neath for a bit. It's OK. I've recovered now.

Then somehow the plants worked out that they could gain nutrients from other living creatures, namely by eating them. Rather than target other plants however (Gee Note: Because brother against brother violence is just wrong man) these cunning wee shrubs decided that flies, spiders, and even in some cases small mammals were the best choice when it comes to a mid morning snack.

Now this is the kind of thing that makes me question the theory of evolution over some kind of divine intervention. I mean I know plants react to the environment around them, but at what point does one work out that the best way to survive is to become carnivorous? Surely if the ground doesn't have enough nutrients then said plant would just whither and die? For example if you plant a rose in some wood chippings, chances are the damn thing is going to be looking a little droopy after a couple of days, not sitting there sharpening up a meat cleaver. In a way it defies belief that these life forms actually exist.

But exist they do, the most famous of which is the Venus Flytrap (Gee Note: I once knew a woman who had the nickname “Pen...”. On second thoughts nevermind. Telling that story would send this blog in to rated “R” territory). Combining all the ingredients of a really good B-Movie monster, a Flytrap just looks like a killing machine. Big teeth, blood red gaping mouths, both of which can be snap shut in 0.4 of a second. Seriously if it wasn't for the fact that the trap is only a couple of inches big these things would scare the hell out of me.

Thankfully though flytraps are just that, traps big enough for flies and other similarly sized insects. Even the largest carnivorous plants like Nepenthes can't realistically catch anything larger than a mouse. But, (Gee Note: Why must there always be a “but”? Can't for once we just finish one of these things with “Look there's no such thing as man eating plants. Nobody has ever suggested otherwise. OK? Relax. There's nothing to be worried about.”?) over the years tales of even larger carnivorous plants have been reported, with varying degrees of criticism.

Take for example the Ya-te-veo. First reported in J.W. Buel's book Land and Sea, published in 1887, this monstrous tree is said to have a short thick trunk with long reaching tendrils with which to catch prey. It is claimed to exists in areas such as Central and South America, as well as Africa and on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It's main diet allegedly consists of large insects but it has been reported that attempts have been made by the tree to consume humans as well. (Gee Note: By the way "ya te veo" can be loosely translated from Spanish as "I can see you". Which is an awfully cute name for a potentially dangerous organism. It would be like calling polar bears "big cuddly snuggle bundles" or something). Also making the rounds as far as stories of human flesh loving trees is the Duñak. A folklore tale from the tribes of the Philippines the Duñak is described as having thick foliage and a dark bark. When a large animal walks underneath it's branches a set of vines extend down and grab the animal, lifting it up in to the branches where upon it is crushed to death and consumed. According to legend it normally preys on deer and the like, but will occasionally feed on human as well. In both cases, neither the Ya-te-veo nor the Duñak have been proved to exist by serious scientific study.

So evidence for man-eating trees is pretty thin on the ground. Well unless you count the events of October 2007 in the small village of Padrame, India. The world (Gee Note: And by "world" I mean geeks like me) had it's collective interest piqued by this news article in India's Express Newspaper.

Mangalore: Carnivorous trees grabbing humans and cattle and gobbling them up is not just village folklore.

Residents of Padrame near Kokkoda in Uppinangady forest range sighted one such carnivorous tree trying to dine on a cow last Thursday [October 18, 2007]. According to reports, the cow owned by Anand Gowda had been left to graze in the forests.

The cow was suddenly grabbed by the branches and pulled from the ground. The terrified cowherd ran to the village, and got Gowda and a band of villagers to the carnivorous tree.

Before the tree could have its meal, Anand Gowda and the villagers struck mortal blows to the branches that turned limp and the cow was rescued. Uppinangady range forest officer (RFO) Subramanya Rao said the tree was described as ‘pili mara’ (tiger tree) in native lingo.

He had received many complaints about cattle returning home in the evenings without tails. On Friday, the field staff confirmed coming across a similar tree in Padrane, partially felled down.

However no detailed inquiry was made as the authorities were not asked for any report, Rao said

This was soon followed by this television news report.

How great is that? My favourite bit is the music. I love the way it starts off as a 1950's gameshow, segues in to a blaxploitation movie about a private eye who works outside the law for the greater good, before finally ending up blatantly stealing the theme from the X-Files. Ah if only someone could come up with a television show to combine all those elements. Seriously that would have money written all over it. (Gee Note: By the way I'd like to point out that a man biting a dog isn't really news either. My late grandfather got bitten by the family dog once when it was a puppy and retaliated by biting it back. You know you haven't lived until you've seen a dog with a "What the hell?" look on it's face. The dog never bit anyone again. Actually, come to think of it neither did my grandfather).

Two things are obviously apparent after reading both the article and watching the video (Gee Note: Firstly that anchor woman is a babe. What? I'm just saying she is, that's all. Secondly a tree that's powerful enough to grab a cow was beaten back by an old woman. Which, you know, is all kinds of brilliant. I bet she's like the Indian version of Supergran or something. Speaking of which how the hell did I manage to write three, yes count 'em, three separate posts on Werewolves and not put in one mention of "Woof!"? I swear I should start planning these things out).

Firstly what happened to the rest of the tree after they cut it down? I mean if the damn thing's been eating cows then it must be worth looking at no? Secondly how did the cowherd manage to alert the villagers to the tree's carnivorous ways? Unless they had skippy like telepathic communication skills then I'm honestly struggling to work out how you connect "spooked cows" and "it must be caused by a meat eating tree" together.

Thing is I don't really buy it. Any of it if I'm honest. As previously discussed plants that have become carnivorous have done so because of the lack of nutrients in the soil around them. Hence the reason why Venus Flytraps are naturally found in North Carolina's Green Swamp alone. Man eating trees on the other hand are reported from all over the place, nutritious soil or not, which destroys the logic of how these things would have evolved in the first place (Gee Note: Unless, like in Little Shop of Horrors, they're aliens. But I doubt that tremendously. After all plants don't make the best spaceship pilots. By the way in answering a question I've posed on this blog before, it turns out having retired from making films Rick Moranis isn't up to all that much these days, outside of making the occasional comedy album and doing the odd spot of voice-over work. Which is a shame really, especially with all the rumours of Ghostbusters III flying about. Moranis was one of the best things in that movie. That bit where he's possessed and copying everything Harold Ramis does inside the fire station dissolves me in to giggles every time).

So what could cause folks to believe that a tree could be a potential heath risk? Well one theory put forward by many for historical reports of large carnivorous plants is misidentification of already known plants such as the meat loving Sundews.

But what of the Indian Cow Eating tree? Well the most logical explanation is that the grabbing branches were noting more than a common snake. India is home to some deadly blighters in that regards such as the Indian Cobra and Russell's Viper and to a peckish, presumably starved snake, a cows tails might look like a tasty snack.

Admittedly it doesn't explain everything about the case of the Cow Eating Tree. But with so little evidence either way other than a few eye witness reports and a tree stump I guess it's the best hypothesis available. However, nature is constantly throwing curveballs at us, new species that are discovered on a daily basis are constantly re-writing what we know to be true of her wonderful work. A man who knew this all too well was Charles Darwin, who celebrates the 200th Anniversary of his birth on February 12th (Gee Note: Well OK maybe he won't celebrate it as he's all kinds of dead, but I'm sure some dude's wearing with long hair and black rimmed glasses working out of a lab in California are going to pop a cork in his honour). And to quote the man himself:

"I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects."

And maybe in the case of a meat eating tree, life has found a way.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

As we say on Earth, c'est la vie.

Well it's snowing here in Britain. And as such the entire country has gone mad. Like crazy mad. Like the news bulletin lasting a third of the entire programme (Gee Note: “There's been up to SIX INCHES of snow in some places!” screeches the anchor. To which my response was “Dude. That's, like, only half a foot”), cars crawling along the roads at 3 miles per hour, and everyone updating their Facebook status to include the word “snow” type of mad.

And it's really not that special an event. I mean every other year or so the exact same thing happens. February turns up, bringing with it a bag load of the white stuff (Gee Note: By that I mean snow and not cocaine. February doesn't touch hard drugs any more, and if you say any different he'll cut you), and every time it does elderly women stand on their doorsteps gossiping about how they 'aint never seen it so bad, while barely prepubescent children go nuts all around them. Then around midday the sun will come out from behind the clouds, start to melt the snow, and by four in the afternoon it's all over.

Problem is by that point Britain has firmly established itself in snow day mode, and everything just grinds to a halt. Public transport stops running, and businesses close early. So as everything is shut and everyone is holed up in doors, I have nothing to do and as such I am sitting here bored out of my mind, watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Gee Note: By the way what the hell is Christopher Lloyd doing in this movie? I mean who in their right mind thinks “Hmmm we need a bad guy. The character's a Klingon so they'll need to be vicious, powerful,and ruthless. But who would fit that bill? Great Scott! How about that guy who played Emmett Brown in Back to the Future? He'd be perfect!”? Seriously, if I ever make it to Hollywood the first thing I'm going to do is hook up with whoever cast this film. I mean you just know they're going to wanna party). I've honestly hit the point of tedium where I'm even tempted to put on my novelty bigfoot slippers and stamp about in the snow, then pretend that I'm Josh Gates looking for proof of the Yeti. “My gosh”, I'll say, “Could these be actual Yeti footprints? By the time I made it back to the city of something-or-other word had already got out about the prints and I was an unwitting superstar”. Then I'll hire a bunch of midgets to take photos of me as I point at the foot prints with my chin held high. Wooo look at me. I'm Josh Gates.

You know, the problem I have with the footprints of as yet undiscovered animals is that they're pretty easy to fake. That and most of them don't really look like footprints, more oblong shapes that have something vaguely resembling toes on the end of them. For example.

Now for those of you wondering why I've posted a picture of a pair of fossilized pears with some scribblings on them, this is supposedly the casting of some footprints made by everyone's favourite curious creature Bigfoot. Yeah, I don't see it either.

Footprint castings are extremely popular amongst cryptozoologists however, and have been employed liberally since serious study of cryptids began. There are occasions however when castings are next to useless.

Like if, for example, the critter in question has no feet. Or if it never touches the ground.

Allow me to explain. On September 12 1952 Edward May, Fred May, and Tommy Hyer, aged 13, 11 and 10, where larking about in Flatwoods, West Virginia when they saw a bright object in the sky at approximately 7.15 pm (Gee Note: Some folks call that thing “The Moon”. Nah I'm just messing with ya, I'm sure it was a spaceship or something). The object flew overhead and then appeared to come down in a local farmers field.

The boys ran home and somehow rounded up a regular ol' Scooby gang with the May's mother Kathleen and Eugene Lemon, a 17 year old National Guardsman, leading the pack. They all went to G. Bailey Fisher's farm where the boys had reported the light had landed earlier that evening. Lemon brought his dog with him, who ran ahead barking loudly. 10 minutes later to the dog shuffled back, it's tail between it's legs (Gee Note: Probably after he had revealed that the ghost was actually the old caretaker Mr. Johnson. Rooby Rooby Roo!!!). And then about a quarter of a mile further the group hit the top of a hill. They were all aware of a repugnant smell when one of the group spotted it. About 50 ft away from them was what they would all later describe as a large, pulsating, ball of fire (Gee Note: Some folks call that thing “The Sun”. Nah I'm just messing with ya, I'm sure it was a... actually I haven't a clue what the hell that could be. Big ball of fire you say? Yeah, good luck with that one).

Lemon, being a National Guardsman and all, noticed two lights next to said great ball of fire (Gee Note: Goodness gracious! Yes! A Jerry Lee Lewis reference. I'm throwing rocks tonight. By the way, Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin. R Kelly, ahem, allegedly married Aaliyah when she was 15. Both are still active in the music business. Remember that next time you have a chance to illegally download their records). He shone his torch light on it to reveal this:

How freaky is that?

See even for a cryptid, the category that gave us the biologically impossible Trunko and the blatantly insane Goat Man of Lake Worth, the Flatwoods Monster is special. It was 10 ft tall, had a red face that glowed from within a green body, short stubby arms, no feet, was wearing a long dark plaid skirt, and appeared to be floating above ground. (Gee Note: My initial theory. A Scottish diamagnetic levitation expert. Think about it). Upon being discovered the, er, thing let out a shrill hissing sound and started gliding towards the group before moving away. The Scooby gang calmly and collectively ran for their lives, all the way back to the May's residence.

Kathleen May called Sheriff Robert Carr to advise him of what they had just experienced. Carr rushed to the scene, and although he found the terrible odour still remained he found no other evidence of an encounter. After that no more official reports were filed with the police in regards to the monster. Other reports trickled in from ufologists interviewing locals, potentially with leading questions such as “Hey, you believe in aliens right?” or “So what crazy stuff have you seen in your life?”. Very few ufologists have professional training in questioning techniques it turns out.

So with only one bona fide occurrence to go off can we say for sure that this scenario was anything other than a regular animal, misidentified by a bunch of people wigging out expecting to see an alien? It's a theory put forward by many sceptics. The light in the sky was nothing more than a meteor they say. And the floaty, short armed, witchy thing? According to the naysayers it was one of these:

Yep. A Barn owl. Hanging on to a branch, creating the visual of short stumpy arms, with foliage underneath making the optical illusion of a skirt. And the ball of fire? A hazard beacon.

Yeah that's where it all falls down for me as well. Because a light in the sky is just that, a light in the sky. And as such could conceivably be anything. Heck even on the excellent Naveed's Realm, Naveed recently debunked his own claim of a UFO sighting based on that very same thing. And even though a barn owl looks nothing like the reports of the Flatwood monster I'm willing to except that under heightened situations human senses may fail occasionally. But a hazard beacon being mistaken for a large flaming ball? Nah that's just a supposition too far from me.

So what was the Flatwoods Monster if not an owl? Well who the hell knows. It's so blindingly bizarre that even if we rule out the conventional explanation, the unconventional one doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.

But then I guess that's the whole point about the Flatwoods Monster. You'll never get footprints from it. You'll never be able to tie up all the loose ends properly. And it will probably never be seen again. Once again we have a brilliant little mystery. And the thing about mysteries is that they're far less interesting once they are solved. So I hope this one continues to be baffling for a long time.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put on my novelty bigfoot slippers.

Monday, 2 February 2009

I 'aint got time to bleed.

It turns out that I'm useless with keeping up with current affairs. For example, if it wasn't for the fact that somebody woke me up this morning with a phone call to ask me my thoughts on the Superbowl then I wouldn't have even known it had taken place this weekend. Which would have been a shame really, because then I would have missed the news story that some folks in Arizona had their coverage of American Football's annual show-piece interrupted by good old fashioned pornography.

According to the news reports, during the final stages of the broadcast on KVOA-TV a short clip aired of a woman unzipping a man's trousers before engaging in a "graphic" act, interrupting the game in doing so. To quote local resident Cora King "I just figured it was another commercial until I looked up. Then he did his little dance with everything hanging out". (Gee Note: Huh? He did a "little dance"? Is that a euphemism for something, or I have I been watching the wrong type of porn movie? You know, the one's where people engage in promiscuous sex and don’t tango up a storm. Seriously, have I been doing this wrong up until now? Should I in fact trade in my copy of Ordinary Peep-holes for Dirty Dancing? Honestly, this has freaked me out a bit. Also have advertising standards in America dropped so low to the point where a third rate skin flick could, for a time at least, conceivably be mistaken for an advert? Go Daddy has a lot to answer for).

It's a relief if I'm honest to have caught this glorious snippet of a story in relatively quick fashion, as all too often recently I've been learning about things about three of four months after the fact. Take the story of Torvaid Alexander, a 6ft tall builder from Edinburgh who arrived home after attending a fancy dress party on New Years Eve to find his house being burgled. Alexander instinctively ran at the thief, scaring the bejesus out of the burglar who promptly jumped out of the window. The reason for the burglar's panic? Well Torvaid had decided that for the fancy dress party he should stay true to his Norse ancestry and go as Thor, red cape and tin foil breast plate to boot. And to be honest if I was a burglar plying my trade and the God of Thunder came charging out of the shadows at me, I'd jump through the window as well. If there was one there of course. Otherwise there'd be a giant Gareth shaped hole in the wall.

Problem is I only heard about this the other week, despite it being reported in newspapers nationwide at the beginning of the year. Which is frustrating as it's the kind of story I could have used on this blog ad nauseum. "Speaking about the lizardman, some guy scared of an intruder while dressed as Thor. How cool is that?" That kind of thing. However, when it comes to news items I should've picked up on at the time but didn't, the Scottish Thunder God claims a distant second.

When I started this blog I used an old saying that “For those who get it, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation will do”. It was a way of saying you'll either enjoy this blog, or you won't, there won't be an in-between. It's actually something I read once about professional wrestling. You'll either love it, or you'll loathe it. And those who do love it will never be able to convince those who don't otherwise and vice versa.

Which is why I don't tell an awful lot of people that I'm a fan of professional wrestling (Gee Note: So posting it on an online blog makes perfect sense I guess. Jeez I really should start thinking these through). It tends to bring all kinds of baggage with it. And in all honesty you can't blame people for looking down on wrestling. I mean for every five star Curt Henning – Bret Hart match there's a promoters son in law simulating intercourse with a mannequin on national television.

But I grew up with wrestling. Some of my most cherished memories as a child involve watching videos of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant (Gee Note: By the way I was all kinds of Mr. Smartypants in the pub the other night when I knew who used to drive Andre the Giant to school in the morning. It was Irish playwright and poet Samuel Beckett. Yep, the writer of Waiting for Godot drove the man who would be Fezzick around as a kid. See? Who needs Stephen Fry when you have me? No one, that's who). I loved the theatrics, the fun of knowing that in the end the good guy will win. And I loved Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

Ventura was an ex-navy seal, who broke in to wrestling in the mid 70's playing a beach dwelling, body building bully (Gee Note: The kind of guy who would kick sand in the face of someone like, er, me). Unfortunately blood clots in his lungs cut his wrestling career short, and by 1984 he was looking for a new vocation. So he decided to step out of the ring and instead take a seat behind the mic as a colour commentator.

Ventura was a revelation behind the stick. Playing up to his bad guy persona, Jesse would cheer on the bad guys, make fun of the good guys, and had a fantastic chemistry with Gino “Gorilla Monsoon” Marella. He was quick witted, knew when to play it straight and when to ham it up, and would ask the questions that fans at home were asking themselves. And for a small Welsh boy, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was the voice of wrestling.

What makes it all the more remarkable is that Ventura is really a man one can respect. He tried organising a labour union for wrestlers in the mid 1980's, something that the industry desperately needs even now. He sued Vince McMahon and the WWF after he had discovered that he had been swindled out of royalties for VHS/DVD rights and won. He ran for Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and won. He ran for Governor of Minnesota and won that too, where he was a passionate advocate of gay rights. He appeared in a number of blockbusting films such as Predator, The Running Man, and Demolition Man and has written a best-selling autobiography. The guys a walking success story.

And then last September this video started doing the rounds.

Awww Jesse. What the hell man?

For a start nothing says crackpot like the bald head plus mullet look. I mean if you want people to take you seriously, turning up in front of the media looking like a hobo who enjoys wearing golfing slacks probably isn't a great idea.

Look I agree with a lot of it. I agree the war in Iraq had absolutely no basis what so ever. I joined protests opposing it. Seriously my anti Iraq stance has never been in question. And I agree that the investigation in to the aftermath of 9/11 has at best been badly mishandled. And yes the Patriotism Act is the worst law to be passed in America since the end of the civil rights movement.

But Jesse you ask a lot of redundant questions here. Like why did the third building fall down for example. It's a goddam sky scraper in the middle of New York. Do you honestly think that the architect who designed the building for one second thought “Hmm, it's big and it'll stand up on it's own, but what if Godzilla comes to town?”. Of course not. It fell down because a plane was never supposed to fly in to a building next to it. And the argument of “Why haven't they banned hot plates/ smoking from these buildings if fire caused it?” is also insanely daft. A lit cigarette will never cause the same type of devastation as a passenger plane flying in to a building. It's like getting attacked by a Triffid and then banning roses because they have thorns.

(A Triffid)

(A Rose)

But here's the big one. Why weren't the jets scrambled? And why did it take two years for the government to order an investigation? And really the answer is a lot simpler than men in dark suits manipulating society so that they can go and fight some folks with a different coloured skin.

You want to know what the answer is?

OK you ready?

The American Government screwed it up.

Simple as that. They didn't scramble any jets because for a brief period the people who run America turned in to the Keystone Cops. And when the planes hit and all hell broke loose they were looking for something to deflect the attention away from themselves. That's why there wasn't an investigation until two years down the line. That's probably the reason Iraq was invaded. I mean Iraq resonates a hell of a lot more with the American public than Afghanistan does. That's also why things like the terror level alert going up on the day of the Democratic convention happened. It's to keep people thinking “How can we stop this?” instead of “Why didn't we stop this?”.

The truth is the people who flew two aeroplanes in to the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001 are the ones responsible for the loss of over 3000 lives. The American Government simply failed to stop them when they had the chance. So ask yourself some questions Governor. Can you blame them for being slightly evasive? How could anybody honestly be expected to stand in front of one person, just one person, and say “I made a mistake. If I hadn't made that mistake, 3000 people may be alive today.”? How about saying that same thing to the entire World?

But you know what Jesse, I give you credit for not asking if it could happen again. Because of course it will. Whether it be tomorrow or in a million years time, at some point the person with the power to stop it will screw up again. And whether it be America, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, wherever, whichever nation it is will have a terrible tragedy on it's hands.

9/11 was a horrible atrocity where the bad guys committed mass murder in cold blood. The good guys, yes good guys, messed up and then didn't come clean about it. And I can't help but feel “What good would it have done if they did?”. Would it have brought any of those people back? Would it have somehow helped heal a broken country to find out it's elected leaders aren't infallible?

Many people died on that horrible day. And constantly pointing the finger with one accusation after another doesn't honour their memory in anyway. So please Jesse, do them and yourself a favour. Start asking the right questions. Like what we can do to help those effected by this tragedy for example. That way you can really use your influence and fame to make a difference. Maybe even finally get the chance to play the good guy.

You know, it's tough when a childhood hero does something you don't agree with. Maybe, as in this case, some stories should just stay missed.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

I like to think I'm teaching a certain number of people to read.

I was sharing a cocktail with Generation Minus One supremo Rob Haines earlier on this week discussing life, love, art and why David Eddings is a bad writer (Gee Note: I mean how many times can one man use "bat-like wings" to describe a dragon in the space of three paragraphs? It's a dragon dude. We get it. Nobody expects it to have wings like a budgie. By the way, it should be noted that Rob doesn't share my hatred of Eddings. But then Rob also doesn't share my hatred of many things, including Madonna, microwaves, soap operas, and perfume counters in department stores. I don't know, I'm just a big ball of untapped rage. Kinda like Bruce Banner, but without the need to buy a new pair of jeans on a daily basis) when an idea struck me.

We got on to the topic of Rob's recent reviews of old video games on his website and how much I'd been enjoying this new addition, when I came up with the idea that maybe I should do something similar here. Sci-Fi television is going through a bit of a boom period at the moment, with Lost going from strength to strength and with Dollhouse about to grace screens all across America, television for nerds has never been in a stronger shape. So in a small break from our normal posts about monsters, aliens, ghosts, and all that jazz, we here at I Saw Elvis decided to do a wee bit of a television review.

J. J. Abrams is on a roll at the moment. Coming off the back of a phenomenally successful run as producer and occasional writer of Lost, he has become something of a player in the movie world, writing and directing the moderate triumph that was Mission Impossible III (Gee Note: Which really deserved to make a hell of a lot more money than it did), producing the blockbusting Cloverfield, and writing and directing the new “re-imagining” of Star Trek. Which isn't bad for a guy who once wrote works of unparalleled crapness such as Gone Fishin' (Gee Note: The movie's tag line is “Even the fish are laughing!”. Because, you know, fish have a great sense of humour. Think of all the great stand up comedians that have been fish. Billy CODolly for example. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ah ha ha ha ha. That's really funny right? Well if you like that you'll love Gone Fishin'. If on the other hand you actually have a brain, stay well clear). Since abandoning such “commercial” projects and unleashing his geek from within however Abrams has gone from strength to strength.

So when I heard that Abrams would be creating a new show for FOX, you would think I'd be all kinds of excited about it. Except, for reasons I can't quite place, I wasn't. Maybe it was the idea that it would be broadcast on FOX, a channel that has cancelled more good shows in the past five years than Mickey Rourke has had comebacks, yet still manages to put rubbish on the air like Hole In The Wall. Or maybe it was the lack of hype surrounding the series over here, compared to other such recent American imports such as Lost, House, The Shield, and others. Fringe simply hasn't made a splash this side of the pond, despite it being broadcast on Britain's most prominent cable channel. Whatever the reason, I set my DVR to record the series and then, er, didn't watch any of them.

That was until the beginning of this week, when I had literally nothing else to do (Gee Note: Well nothing else to do that would have involved sitting down). And so I picked up my remote and proceeded to watch several episodes of Fringe back to back.

Problem is there's a lot of stuff in there to hate. For a start it draws inevitable comparisons with both Lost because of the association with Abrams, and with The X-Files due to it's content. Now while Lost does have occasional problems (Gee Note: Like the fact that not one character has a conversation that goes “Dude, did you see that? It's a bloody great big smoke monster!! What the hell was that?!? No really, we should try and find out all about that thing. Because, you know, it might be important don't ya think?”) it remains one of the finest written pieces of television currently on the air. The X-Files was a cultural phenomenon, tapping in to a section of society never really catered to by mainstream American television before. It also helped that it's two lead characters, the laconic and slightly goofy Agent Mulder, and the uptight yet feisty Agent Scully were perfectly played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson respectively.

And sadly Fringe doesn't stand up against those two behemoths of entertainment. Realistically of course it was never going to. But in a way it doesn't give itself a fighting chance. For a start Fringe is like a drunken Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah - i.e. about as subtle as a brick. For example, in the pilot episode to put over the idea that one of the characters is an asshole he refers to the female lead contemptuously as “sweetheart” . Which is fine. Except he does it at the end of every sentence, to the point where it just sounds forced (Gee Note: Either that or he's a fan of David Eddings. Zing!). The way the show is structured also creates problems, in that the makers of Fringe are trying to tell an overall story, but also delivering an X-Files like “Monster of the week”. As such with all this exposition going on, character development tends to get left by the wayside. For example allow me to list the number of things I know about the shows lead character Olivia Dunham.

1.She's an FBI agent.
2.She was romantically involved with a colleague for a bit.
3.She's blonde.
5.That's it.

Ah yes Olivia Dunham, played by Australian actress Anna Torv. Maybe it's due to her characters lack of motivation, but Torv just doesn't fit the role as an FBI agent. You know how in Silence of The Lambs, Jodie Foster plays a trainee FBI agent perfectly, being both authoritative and vulnerable at the same time? Well Torv comes across a bit like that. Except, and here's the problem, Torv doesn't carry that authority with her. Instead she smiles too much, pouts when she should be looking stern, and runs excitedly to her superiors whenever she works something out. It's hard to shake the idea that she isn't just there for work experience, as opposed to being a fully fledged employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At one point beaming with pride she announces “There are too many things I'm not good at. One thing I can do is... memory. Connecting things. Putting them together.” which at first made me go “Well yeah, it's kind of what they pay you for as an FBI agent” and then secondly made me wonder what the hell those things were that she wasn't good at. Because so far in this show Dunham comes across as some kind of smiley Superwoman, which is terribly boring. I mean at this point I'd settle for her getting stuck in traffic or breaking a nail. Something, anything, that would make her less of a cardboard cut-out and more human.

The show also has a tendency to shoe horn parts of the plot in from nowhere, like an aeroplane parachuting relief aid to a war torn country. “The Pattern”, a series of interconnected acts of science fiction terrorism and the programmes big, evil, unseen threat, is first brought up in conversation by Dunham's superior for, er, no reason at all. No really, it just kind of came out of nowhere. “Say John how's the wife?”, “Good thanks. By the way there's been a series of attacks that have led to deaths of many civilians, all of which have employed equipment and techniques deemed to be physically impossible.”, “Uh... OK. Say is that the time? I'd love to catch up but I've got to be... somewhere.”. At one point Dunham was offered a job by a mysterious corporation after having chatted with a representative for the firm for about 30 seconds. The idea being that the firm were evil by offering the lead officer a job so that the investigation will then be dropped. It think. I don't know.It all happened a bit quick. It does totally make one yearn to live in America if it's that easy to gain employment however. Turn up somewhere in a suit. Hold down a conversation for half a minute without swearing, and you're in. Piece of cake.

However, despite all of the above irritations Fringe is actually quite enjoyable. The rest of the regular cast are excellent, from Lance Reddick (Gee Note: Who seems to make it a personal mission to turn up in all my favourite programmes. It's very much appreciated Lance. Very much appreciated) to Joshua Jackson. Now my only prior knowledge of Mr. Jackson was that he was once in a show called Dawson's Creek that I never watched but assumed was some kind of teenage girl thing. So my hopes for him before watching Fringe weren't high. However, approximately three minutes in to my first Fringe episode and the guy had completely won me over. He's charming, likeable, and does a nice line in sardonic bewilderment.

Also putting in a stellar turn is John Noble as a crazed scientist working in conjunction with the FBI. His most famous role previous to this is as Denethor in The Lord of The Rings franchise (Gee Note: Or as I called him the other night in the pub “That weird king who got really pissed off when Sean Bean died”. Apparently three Long Island Iced Teas are enough to cause my memory to get a tad fuzzy. They should come with health warnings. Like cigarettes. Instead of pictures of diseased lungs however they could have a photo of me scratching my head and looking confused with the caption “BEWARE: Long Island Iced Teas can cause you to make a prat out of yourself. I mean just take a LOOK at this guy. Do you want this to be you? No? Well then pour this down the sink and go get yourself something else to drink.”).

And the plot, despite it's crazy nonsensical pacing, is fascinating. The concept that the world is on the verge of a scientific revolution and that we, ordinary members of the public, are all unwilling test subjects is the type of thing that you can really sink your teeth in to, bringing up all kinds of opportunities to go completely woovy berserk if you wanted. With theoretical science as your playground, anything's possible. And so this programme feels like it could veer off in a random direction at any given moment, which is a wonderful sensation to have when watching television.

So there we have it. A solid if unspectacular start to Fringe. Which is fine. Some series grow and get better as time goes on, Buffy the Vampire Slayer being a perfect example of this. Some on the other hand open with a bang and then fail miserably to keep it going (Gee Note: Heroes I'm looking at you. God that show is beyond awful currently. I'm tempted to conduct a poll along the lines of “at what point did YOU stop watching Heroes?” Me, it was the big reveal about Sylar's family at the beginning of season three. I mean I dragged myself through season two in the vain hope that it would get better and it didn't, so when season three started in a similar fashion my patience finally ran out.)

Hopefully Fringe will grow and prosper. There are already enough elements to make it a success, and so given time it should become a truly great show in two or three seasons. At which point FOX will promptly cancel it.

Because no matter how good Fringe gets, it'll never be a Hole In The Wall.