Monthly Archives: June 2010

Move to America, never watch a movie again

When The Special One first started waxing lyrical about “a British ending”, I have to confess that I started locking up the knives at night, and surreptitiously switched drinks with her whenever she kindly poured me a glass of wine. After all, you can’t be too careful when you’re married to a woman who can paralyse innocent passing squirrels with just one withering look.

As it turned out, she was simply talking about the narrative style of British film producers and directors. Now, clearly the British movie industry is a body that these days has as much influence as the French World Cup 2010 Victory Parade committee. But once upon a time, the British made movies that captivated the world, from Brief Encounter to Trainspotting. It’s almost enough to make people forgive us for inadvertently foisting Jason Statham on the world.

While The Special One loves a British actor as much as the next man (and in this case, the man next to her just so happens to be Rupert Everett), it’s actually the endings of British movies that completely enraptures her. Not the rolling of the credits, or the ‘hilarious’ bloopers of Hugh Grant forgetting the same line 27 times, I hasten to add. Instead, it’s the willingness of the British to finish a movie or even a TV show with an ambiguous close.

Put simply, when it comes to cinematic works, it seems as if Americans want to have all their t’s crossed and their i’s dotted. So when, for instance, you force one of them to sit down and watch the tour de force that is The Italian Job (the original, that is, not that pathetic Mark Wahlberg vehicle), you can expect a certain amount of dismay and a volley of questions when Michael Caine announces that he’s got an idea for preventing the gold from toppling down the mountain face from the precariously positioned bus.

Similarly, the Life On Mars TV show (the British version, not the godawful American retread) ended with you not exactly knowing what had happened to Sam Tyler, driving its loyal viewers into apoplexy (until they watched the follow up Ashes To Ashes, at least).

That’s not to say that American movies don’t occasionally employ the same technique. Anyone who has watched Lost In Translation – or even Lost – will testify to that. But The Special One insists that they’re just being influenced by the British, and if filmmakers were to do it on a regular basis, there would be an uprising on the streets.

Maybe Americans have been born with 17% less imagination than the people of other nations, and that they have to lend less thought to certain things – like movie endings and toiletrestroom design – in order to ensure that they can still invent things that change the world. You know, like the gun and the nuclear bomb.

Or maybe it’s just that Americans have grown used to watching movie trailers that cover every storyline, plot development and epochal moment within a 60 second burst?

I swear that my film watching has reduced by around 90% since I moved to the States. A chunk of that is understandable – I’ve become a husband and father, and so I’ve got less freetime to go to the cinematheater to see Iron Man 2 simply for the purpose of perving over Scarlett Johanssen.

But with movies on demand on cable, you’re never that far from watching a classic Fellini, Cassavetes or Kurosawa. Or more likely, the intellectual powerhouse flicks like Hot Tub Time Machine, Couples Retreat or Tropic Thunder. The shame is that after watching the trailer in order to help resolve the dispute about whether to view the new Jackie Chan or the latest Amy Adams schlockfest (The Special One wanted Jackie, just for the avoidance of doubt), you suddenly realise that you’ve essentially already seen the whole of both movies. Before you know it, you’re being forced into the loving arms of Two & A Half Men re-runs.

It’s my guess that no plot twist is too sacred to be withheld from an American movie trailer. Half way through the preview for The Sixth Sense, the narrator coughs surreptitiously and mutters under his breath “Bruce Willis is dead.” Nicole Kidman and her kids wear sheets over their heads and rush around shouting “We’re ghosts, you know!” in the trailer for The Others. And the shots of Norman Bates being made up to look like a woman in the trailer for Psycho were just unnecessary if you ask me.

Oh, and by the way, every purchase of Seven comes with a tiny box featuring a perfect scale reproduction of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. We use ours as a toy for the cat.

A love of second place

Proudly tell an American that you once came second in a three-legged race, and he will tell you that he once won an egg-and-spoon competition. Show off your collection of New Order rarities, and she’ll open a cupboard and reveal recordings that even Peter Hook didn’t know existed. And woe betide he who claims to be able to drink a pint of water in 3.1 seconds, as he’ll suddenly find himself battling off against an American who claims he can do it in half the time. Through a straw.

Yes, Americans are competitive – something I have learned extensively through my marriage to The Special One. To be fair, she would never claim that she is competitive – just that she’s better than me at everything. Given that any reductive argument between two parents (and whether it’s about world poverty, or who peels the carrots) always boils down eventually to the comment “When you’ve gone through childbirth, then you can talk to me about that”, I’ve learned to treasure the runners up spot and make it my own.

The fact is that America and Americans always do seem to take things one step further than the Brits. We grow nice looking aubergines that can do a perfectly serviceable job in moussaka or ratatouille; Americans grow eggplants that can feed a family of four for a month. Britain’s summer lasts between the third Tuesday in July until the following Monday; American winters and summers run so long that they’d be more accurately known as dynasties rather than seasons. And so on.

All that is fine, and I’m very proud of my adopted country for its consistent pattern of oneupmanship.

That said, all bets are off when it comes to the World Cup.

A little back story first. As long time readers will know, I was born in England but feel a greater affinity with the Welsh, having been brought up in North Wales. Maybe it was a reaction against the arcane rule that still allows an Englishman to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow in my hometown Chester (as long as it’s after midnight, obviously)? But whatever the case, whenever Wales are in the same competition as England, I’m firmly in the Anyone But England camp.

With the World Cup, there’s frankly more chance of me taking a starring role in Zoolander 2 than Wales qualifying. Given that I have as much need to waste six weeks of my life as the next man, the lack of a Welsh presence means that my allegiance then has to switch to Wayne Rooney and his dubious crew of adulterous inbreds.

Which brings me to Saturday, and the International Kickball Chanmpionships game between the country that I rarely admit to being born in, and the country that I still have trouble believing that I live in. So my allegiances are torn, right?

Wrong. The last three days have witnessed me daydreaming at length about dipping Rooney volleys from 25 yards, elaborate back heels into the net through the legs of 10 US outfielders, and a sudden discovery of Cruyff’s Total Football ethic by Emile Heskey. To be frank, I may be in the lion’s den, but nothing would make me happier than a crushing Three Lions victory, and a demonstration that second place isn’t that bad after all.

Saturday’s game aside, it’s nice to have a second team to support in the World Cup. Given that a UN mandate requires the elimination of the England team at the quarter finals stage on penalties, it’s always good to have a reason to follow a team that can occasionally spring a surprise.

Let’s just hope it’s not on Saturday, eh?