Archive | December, 2015

Star Wars: should the critics put the boot into the reboot?

29 Dec

Incoming! Daisy Ridley and John Boyega dodge the critical flak in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After the success, the backlash. The new Star Wars film seems to be getting a lot of negative press in the US to go with its billion-dollar (so far!) box-office haul, of which the best written and best argued is probably by my old Times mucker Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. Funnily enough, the criticisms are mostly on the mark: yes, the plot is pretty much a mish-mash of the old films; yes, the new characters are much like the old characters, with the odd gender and race swap thrown in to keep things fresh; yes, you can see the big reveals coming a parsec off.

But these things are deliberate. With all due respect, JJ Abrams didn’t make it for the critics. Nor, I believe, despite some critics’ suggestions to the contrary, did he make it cynically to swell Disney’s coffers. He made it for the fans.

Fans like himself. Fans like me.

I first saw Star Wars as a sci-fi-obsessed teenager, and it blew my mind. As the credits rolled, I vowed to make the cinema my life: I wouldn’t have gone into journalism, wanting to be a film critic, or started writing screenplays of my own, were it not for Star Wars. Later, when I discovered that Star Wars was just one part of a trilogy that itself was part of a projected trilogy of trilogies, I literally prayed to God to spare my life until I had seen them all. [So if I drop dead round about Christmas 2019, don’t be surprised – He will have kept His side of the bargain.]

Imagine my excitement when, two long decades later, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released. I was still alive! I could watch the saga continue! I packed into the Odeon Leicester Square at 11pm on opening night… and fell asleep. No kidding. I was so bored that halfway through my mind shut down.

The second was marginally more fun, mostly because I got to interview George Lucas and take my equally Star Wars-mad son to the after-party. But on the whole, had I been run over by a bus on the way home, the last thought to pass through my mind would not have been fury at God for denying me the trilogy’s climax.

And so it must be with many die-hard fans. Abrams knew what we wanted – something with the same adventure, spectacle and occasional wit as the first films. And that’s what he delivered. The two young lead Londoners are both great, and Harrison Ford gets a lot more screen time than the simple cameo I had expected. And if few of the lines really zing, none of them clunk, either. Most of the joy, and the biggest cheers in the cinema (how many movies do you see which attract spontaneous cheers?), come from nostalgia. It’s half-reboot, and half-sequel. On purpose.

So no, Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t have the freshness, daring and envelope-pushing of the original. How could it? Then it wouldn’t be recognisably Star Wars, it would be something sui generis. But I saw it as soon as it came out in the Odeon Leicester Square, on my own (my cinephile son turned his nose up at the idea), and had a great goofy grin plastered over my face throughout.

JJ Abrams has made exactly the film he wanted to make. And I, for one, am grateful.



Time Out axes Comedy section: are you ‘avin’ a laugh?

19 Dec
Eddie Izzard Time Out cover

Eddie Izzard, in one of my favourite Time Out comedy covers

Two accountants walk into a bar. “Why the long face?” they ask. A  Continue reading

The Future Shock doc, and how I lived for 2000AD

4 Dec


When I started reading the “galaxy’s greatest comic” back in 1977, its title – 2000AD – seemed wildly exotic. At a time when the Sex Pistols were shouting “No Future”, this promised to take us to the 21st century, and beyond.

Obviously its founders never expected the comic to last this long, or they would have chosen a different title. Yet here we are, well into the 21st century, and the comic is not only still being published, but is the subject of a celebratory documentary. Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD screens tomorrow at the Genesis Cinema Whitechapel and is out on DVD on Monday.

2000AD was, in those days, funny, violent, and violently funny, written and drawn by fearless and ridiculously talented Brits who would go on to revolutionise the US comics industry and, indirectly, Hollywood –and my  passion for it passed all reasonable understanding. I looked forward to each new issue as teens today might anticipate the next season of Game of Thrones, or the new Grand Theft Auto.

The first thing I did on graduating from Oxford was to hole up in my bedroom for six months writing a (bloody good) role-playing multiple-choice gamebook based on Judge Dredd. I had an agent (AM Heath); a publisher (Penguin); and an agreement from the then editor of 2000AD to license the character with a royalty split. Sadly a new MD swept in, summarily cancelled that permission on the grounds that they were not interested in pursuing anything like a gamebook – and then less than a year later published their own gamebook series called Dice Man, using several ideas that bore a startling similarity (no doubt entirely coincidental) to my own.

Welcome to the real world, fan boy.

So instead of becoming an author, I went into journalism. Comics became my “in”: I acquired a regular review slot in London’s Alternative Magazine, and when I joined Time Out as a sub-editor, I successfully pitched a number of comics-related features – mostly with 2000AD alumni such as Alan Moore – as well as putting the Judge Dredd movie on the cover and using Jamie Hewlett and Brian Bolland as illustrators. At one stage I was sounded out about perhaps becoming the next Mighty Tharg, 2000AD’s editor, which nearly made my head explode – but I was committed to Time Out, and became its editor soon after.

All of which is by way of saying that I might not be the most impartial judge of the Future Shock doc. All the same, to read my review from when it was first screened at the BFI London Film Festival, click here.

And if there are any other fans out there, I still have boxes and boxes of 2000AD, almost the full set from two decades starting in about 1978. If anyone’s interested in buying, get in touch.

One final aside – if you see someone playing poker online under the handle Aaron A Aardvark, that’s me. It you can identify the reference, show the world you’re a clever dick and leave a Comment.