Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Overthinking Ghostbusters

The 1984 movie Ghostbusters has special significance for me. It's part of my childhood and has been a hugely influential pop culture reference for me. It's up there with a handful of classic movies from the 80s which I have a great fondness for: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Back to the Future (1985) and The Goonies (1986).

I went to the cinema twice to watch it. The first was for my 10th birthday when it came out over here in the UK in 1985. Despite my mum insisting that she took me and my mates to go and see David Lynch's 'Dune', we convinced her to let us see Ghostbusters instead. I'm glad we didn't go for mum's choice as Dune was a three-hour unfathomable sci-fi fantasy based on an even more unfathomable (at least to a 10 year old) book about spices, worms and intergalactic politics. No, nerds fighting ghosts with lasers was much more down our street.

As soon as it came out on VHS to rent I got it out and watched it over and over. The same again when it was shown on TV. It was recorded onto tape with the mandatory GHOSBUSTERS: DO NOT RECORD OVER warning scrawled on it. I remember they showed it to us at school in a big hall during some teacher strike or something and it was obvious none of the staff had actually vetted it for bad language. There's quite a lot of sexual innuendo in it too, which I only noticed later on in life, but that must've gone over our heads. The swearing, however, didn't - much to the embarrassment of our teachers.

Me and a friend even made our own comic-book version, 'Bogbusters'. It retold the Ghostbusters story, but the heroes were fighting spectral toilets that had a tendency to attack people with, er sewage. It was purile childish nonsense - but fun. We even sent it to the BBC in the hope that they would make it into a TV programme, but sadly we were turned down. A hard lesson in the life of young artists unappreciated for their art.
Such was my admiration for the movie, when I discovered a sequel was coming out five years later I leapt out of my cinema seat and cheered when I saw the trailer (much to the embarrassment of my friend who was sitting next to me). It was never going to be as good as the original, and it pretty much retells the plot of the first movie, but Ghostbusters II is still worth watching.

I had always regarded Ghostbusters as something of a guilty pleasure. A large slice of mainstream silliness with timeless jokes but not a great deal of substance. That was until I came across 'Overthinking Ghostbusters', a website devoted to critiquing the movie in minute detail. The author's position is that Ghostbusters is possibly one of the greatest movies of the twentieth century. Certainly, one of the greatest comedies of all time. Quite a claim.

You have to humour this guy to start with, but when he starts unpacking the various elements of the film it's hard to disagree with him. Admittedly, I am biased, but it's clear this guy has done his homework and isn't making things up.

Here are a just a few of the many gems that I hadn't realised or noticed before (some which are, admittedly, pretty obvious):
- The name of Dana, the female lead character, is a merged version of one of the writers' names: Dan Ackroyd.
- When Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has an idea about how to defeat Gozer, the enemy, there is a lit lightbulb on the left of the frame.
- The film has subtle feminist undertones and most of the male characters (apart from the GBs themselves) are jerks.
- Statues are a recurring image in the film and are symbolic of an evil presence watching the protagonists.
- Saint Jerome is mentioned at the beginning of the film by the librarian attacked by a ghost. St Jerome is the patron saint of ... librarians.

There is an argument that you can overthink any movie e.g. finding details that relate to the situation or characters on screen all over the place, so you could easily put horrendous films like 'Batman and Robin' or 'Gigli' on a par with Citizen Kane if you really tried. It's a fair point, but I think most people, even those that don't like Ghostbusters, if comparing some of today's CGI-laden half-baked movies to the 1984 comedy, will agree that they don't make 'em like they used to. And you can't deny the fact that Ghostbusters is one of the most successful comedies of all time and has become permanently lodged into the Western cultural consciousness.

So if like me you have fond memories of this film, I encourage you to have a read of 'Overthinking Ghostbusters' and enjoy the fact that one of your favourite 80s flicks is far deeper than most people realise.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Scientist on why aliens probably exists

In this video, the guys at New Scientist argue the case for aliens 'probably' existing. Starting off by explaining 'Fermi's Paradox' (without actually acknowledging Enrico Fermi), the narrator goes on to suggest that if there is alien life out there the reason we haven't made contact or seen evidence is that maybe aliens exist in a form that is totally unlike us (e.g. not carbon based) so we wouldn't recognise them in the first place.

It's an interesting notion, but I think one that kind of misses the point. If aliens do exist but we are incapable of identifying or interacting with them then all of our efforts with SETI and so on are a complete waste of time. While the definition of 'Alien' is otherwordly, unlike ourselves etc. let's be honest, what we're really looking for is little green men, and the chances that will happen is, frankly, pretty much nil. The video manages to gloss over the fact that the chances of conditions to be right for sophisticated life forms like ourselves to evolve are ridiculously, ludicrously small. Even Professor Brian Cox thinks it likely that we're the only civilisation in our entire galaxy.

So, if the only other forms of life out there are so different to us we have no hope of establishing any kind of meaningful interaction with them, then I suggest we call off the search!

Monday, January 5, 2015

This is how much my son likes school...

This note was left on our bed last night - the day before our son was to go back to school after the Christmas holidays.


UPDATE: When I took JKY to school, he was in an absolute state and really didn't want to go. However, when I came to pick him up in the afternoon he was totally fine and seemed to have enjoyed the day. Amazing what a difference a few hours can make, eh?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014: A review of my year

Happy New Year one and all! 2015 is finally upon us – a significant year for me for a couple of reasons: I am going to reach the grand old age of forty in 2015 and it is the year in which Marty McFly travels to in Back To The Future Part 2 (yes, I know everyone is going on and on about it).

Here are my highlights of 2014:

I did a fair amount of travelling over the summer, mostly for pleasure but also for some serious stuff. In the summer I went with the family to France for a spot of Eurocamping. It was great fun and very relaxing, although slightly overshadowed by my looming trip to Uganda. A brief stay in Yorkshire for my dad's 70th birthday came afterwards and then I was off to Africa to work for Edith's Home. I won't go on about that (you can read / watch stuff here, here and here), but needless to say, I was pretty travelled-out by the time September came around.

Seeing as I've only read three books this year (yeah, I'm not a great person for reading books but I do try) there isn't much choice: a bit of culture with Moby Dick by Herman Melville, chick-lit from Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding and decent contemporary fiction in Perfect by Rachel Joyce. In terms of the best of the three, I would have to go with Moby Dick, I think. Yes, it's a literary classic (which makes me sound clever and cultured), but it is quite an extraordinary piece of writing - mainly because it's several hundred pages of writing about Whales and not much else. I must say though, it's also got the most anti-climatic ending I think I've ever read. Having ploughed through several hundred pages I was most disappointed when I got to the end. Not fair, Melville!

I've seen a fair amount of films this year, although I can't remember all of them to write down (so I'm only mentioning some of them). Many of them I saw weren't actually released in 2014 because ... parenting, so I'm including ones we rented as well as those I saw in the cinema.

Thumbs Up
- The Lego Movie (hilarious and brilliantly executed)
- The Drop (a decent character-driven story with good actors and no flashy CGI nonsense)
- Edge of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise in standard saving-the-world routine, but still a good yarn)
- American Hustle (clever, funny, not quite was I was expecting)
- Safety Not Guaranteed (an amazing gem of a time-travel movie)
- Captain Philips (Tom Hanks on top form in a terrifying tale of modern-day piracy)

Thumbs Down
- Godzilla (a bit boring and disappointing really)
- Robocop (the original film did not need a reboot)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (comic book movies ... meh)
- The Anomaly (Noel Clarke tries doing some kind of Matrix movie - and fails)

2014 saw a big change in my work situation after I returned to freelancing in September. I'd already been doing it part time since the previous autumn but this was full-time-out-on-my-own kinda stuff. Things were pretty quiet for the first couple of months but it has picked up a bit now and I'm hoping it will continue in the New Year. I recently did a '16 personalities' test and it says that people with my personality type 'are more likely to, despite their aversion to controlling others, establish their independence by either finding a leadership position, or simply starting their own practice'. So, basically, I can prove I'm not really cut out to work for someone else – I'm much better suited to going it alone, which is nice to know.

The kids are growing up fast, and I'm conscious of this fact every day. Thankfully the sleep deprivation has diminished (although there aren't many nights when I actually sleep all the way through), but I am still constantly tired and often feel overwhelmed by this parenting thing. How would I have coped if we had more than two kids? Beats me. I guess you just get used to what life throws at you (well, most of the time).

Church, faith and stuff
In September, we welcomed our new pastor to our church and it has been exciting hearing about his vision for the future. His passion is to see us connect with the local community on a deeper level and a lot has happened already in realising this goal. There is much to do, however, and I think it will require a lot of hard work to transform the church further. Still, I'm optimistic about what's to come and looking forward to playing my part (whatever that may be).

On a personal note, I have struggled with a number of issues around faith including evolution, gay marriage and the accuracy of scripture. I am not a creationist and I am not a right-wing fundamentalist, but neither am I a loose-living' liberal (at least I don't think I am, anyway) and I'm trying to find a sensible way through such thorny subjects. Unfortunately I'm one of those people who desires a straight answer that is final and complete with no fuzzy edges or ambiguity. Thanks to the internet, however, there's always a comeback, retort or counter-argument lurking somewhere to throw doubt on any point of view – so it's not easy.

If my faith was as simple as proving 1+1=2 there wouldn't be a problem. The good thing is that the Christian faith isn't as dogmatic or rigid as some might think, and there is plenty of room for doubt and questions. I think I just need to keep that in mind when wrestling with the tricky issues ... and accept that I'll never know the answer to everything.

2015 and all that
The next twelve months are pretty much a blank sheet at the moment, which is unusual for me. There are a couple of things to look forward to, but I don't anticipate any life-changing events. Wifey and I are off to New York for a few days to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, which is exciting, plus I've got my fortieth birthday to celebrate. I don't want a big party or anything – I'm done with all that stuff. I'd rather just mark it with lots of little nice things over a few days.

Other than that, well, I shall just have to wait and see.

So that's my first post of the year. Hopefully I shall be writing a bit more frequently than I have been of late, but then I always say that!

Happy New Year to you and may 2015 treat you well.