First of all let me start off by saying that despite the significant shortcomings I will highlight here, there was much to enjoy during this summer school ‘experience’. This was mainly due to the infectious enthusiasm of the young post-graduates who were responsible for activities, but also largely due to the fact that, at between £600 and £800 per-week per-head, we were dealing with predominantly sweet, civilised, respectful and polite adolescents and teenagers from wealthy European, South America and Saudi Arabian families, rather than the borderline, psychopathic, lunatics that inhabit a lot of British secondary schools. If you want to reclaim the self-esteem and respect that all teachers deserve from students, spend a summer working at a language school – just don’t expect much from the employers, you are business collateral – and it’s a lucrative business!
I already had an EFL qualification that I’d gained years before taking my Teaching Diploma, so having just graduated and with no plans for the summer, I decided to do a stint at a summer language school for six weeks.
When I arrived at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham, I was suitably pleased by the grounds and the standard of food in the refectory. Mo Farah was having a little bit of a run on the grass alongside the running track (I understand that, being a record breaking Olympian, he resented having to pay the £4 to use the running track) and news was that it was going to be a glorious July, which made staying in the affluent Borough of Richmond all the more appealing, with its numerous al fresco bars and restaurants and riverside drinking culture. However, a week in and I started to wonder – WTF!
The summer didn’t disappoint, but the living quarters at the summer school certainly did. At first I had no qualms about my summer school residence. I knew from the offset that as a live-in teacher that summer I would be staying in what would have otherwise been the students’ accommodation – essentially a studio (minus kitchen area) with basic furniture and a wifi connection. I could easily live with that for a couple of weeks. But after almost five hours of driving from Northern England to Twickenham before humping my baggage into my dorm in the sweltering heat, I was told after the initial group induction lecture with the rest of the summer school team, that I would have to move to different accommodation to make room for the first cohort of students that were moving in.
I really didn’t fancy repacking all of my luggage, humping it across the campus and unloading it into another room – I mean it was really hot and I really just wanted to settle down and maybe have a beer or two on the grounds with the rest of the team and get to know who I would be working with. But when I finally did move into my new quarters, I wasn’t happy. I mean, I really, really wasn’t happy!
The original set up for the sleeping arrangements involved the students and House Parents’ (these were the younger members of the team who were responsible for ensuring the students got to bed early and didn’t wreak havoc during the night) living in one section of dorms, whilst the teachers were all housed in another section of dorms away from all the adolescents and teenagers who they would be teaching during the day. And this of course made perfect sense. As a teacher of any sort working with 11 to 17 year olds, you would expect to command some degree of respect from your learners and be in a position of authority. Having studied to a degree level and [in my case at least] established your academic credentials in post-graduate education to a level where you are professionally on a par (although not in your wages) with a solicitor or a doctor and have enough professional kudos to be trusted enough to sign the back of someone’s passport photo in order to satisfactorily establish their identity for the state, you would expect at least some kind of respect from your employers. Furthermore, being the wrong side of 40 (and I wasn’t the oldest by a long shot) you would naturally expect to be afforded the dignity of being able to leave your room in the middle of the night to go and take a piss without passing the kids you are teaching on the corridor. Because let’s face it, that boundary of respect is somehow diluted if those kids get to see you in your underwear when you’re coming out of the shower or on your way to the toilet in the middle of the night. Well the summer school senior manager (she was new to the job apparently) – who was a damn sight younger than me and the other teacher who was on my corridor who was easily in his 50’s – obviously didn’t see it this way. So we had the indignity of continually passing groups of South American and Spanish kids – many of whom we were teaching – every time we needed to have a wash or purge our bodies of digestive waste. Furthermore, the rooms were as old as the original foundations of the college, and swelteringly hot. I wasn’t best pleased. Even less so when I found out that the 19 and 20-year-old graduates who were employed as Activity Leaders were living in the private en-suite dorms that I’d been moved from.
I spoke to the operations manager of the school about this (who was also in a private en-suite dorm) and was simply told that I “should” be able to move in a week or possibly two. I’m a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face kind of guy when it comes to matters of personal respect, and I’d decided that if it did extend to two weeks that I’d be laying down an ultimatum of dignity and fucking off home. Particularly as the reason for us getting this shit accommodation was down to the fact that the company were making room for a massive influx of students in that first week – basically, they weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to make more money just to keep the teachers happy. I wasn’t getting paid enough to share my English knowledge with a bunch of kids from wealthy families, as well as my underwear collection and the swell of my man bulge too, fuck that. But sense prevailed within the management team of LAL and me and the other teachers were moved to more appropriate accommodation within a week.
The first thing that all the summer school staff did when first arriving at St. Mary’s that year was sign our contracts and receive our I.D. cards and company clothing – polo shirts, sweatshirt, raincoats and shorts for some. We had all agreed to the cursory terms and conditions of employment as explained upon accepting employment for the summer, and naturally those of us who were living-in (some who had come from overseas) had all made provision for our two to eight week stint working at the summer school. So after packing my stuff in the boot of my car and driving the 200 plus miles to the most southern part of London – at some considerable fuel cost I should add (British petrol prices are pretty damn high) – when I arrived and saw a section of the contract that waivered my right to the working time directive which limits your working hours to 48 a week, I wasn’t too pleased. I mean, what was I going to do? Turn around and say “Nah, I’m not going to agree to working an indefinite amount of hours for a measly £395 per week” and drive back home? I’d be down about £150 in fuel costs and searching for another job when I got back. So I signed in the hope that the company was only ever going to invoke this clause in the contract on the odd occasion when time and staff were stretched. This was not the case, and I don’t think that omitting to mention this section of the contract during the Skype interview process was an accident.
It turned out that, with classes starting at 9.15am and all teachers expected to report to the ‘teachers room’ at 8.45am, an hour’s lunch break at around 12.30pm (unless you had canteen queue-monitoring duty, which cut your lunch time in half) followed by a rota of excursion duties or supporting activities that went on until 9pm with a dinner slot in between (unless you were out on an excursion, in which case you had to make do with the sparsest of sparse packed lunches and the lamest of lame BBQ buffets upon return), we ended up doing somewhere in the region of 50 – 55 hours of what was supposed to be a 40 hr week! When I and another teacher did the maths, after tax, we were working for something close to minimum wage! This stuck in my craw. It really did. But I was there, and being there, there was much to enjoy.
Creating a good dynamic between a group of strangers who are all working together and come from different backgrounds, different cities and even different countries – and whose ages ranged between 19 and around 50 – is not easy. I don’t think that the LAL recruitment staff achieved this, we did. The operations manager said that the year before was very different and there were a lot of tensions between staff. Our eclectic group had just by chance made a great team and I’m glad we did. I honestly can’t say that their was a man, woman or teenager amongst the group that I didn’t warm to in some way. We all just somehow gelled.
Between the young guys and girls who were Activity Managers, House Parents and Transport Coordinators, to the wildly diverse range of EFL teachers with their variety of different teaching experiences, the summer school team that year had a really good rapport. We got together pretty much every night at ‘the benches’, drank, snacked, laughed and shared various tales of the day’s activities and fuck ups, past experiences, future plans and aspirations, and it was great fun. Despite the long hours, the shit resources and the shit canteen food – which had gone from being half decent to barely edible – there was a real camaraderie between the group that carried us through. The combination of youthful enthusiasm and professional naivety of the younger post-graduate workers (they never really complained because they didn’t really know any better) and the life experience and wit of the teachers – young and old – really made a great dynamic. When you add to that the fact that the students – Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Argentine, Chilean, German, Turkish, Saudi – were all so sweet and delightfully full of character and charm, we were all more or less happy to be exploited whilst ‘the company’ turned over £1 to £2 million over the course of the summer (there was an average of around 200 students every week, for 8 weeks paying between £600 and £800 per head). I was probably the most cynical of the lot of us and even I didn’t bitch too much. Well maybe a little, but not too much.
By week 4 most people were moving on to the next adventure in their professional lives. Those who came to fill the gaps in the second half of the summer were mostly good people too (apart from one guy – Paul – who was universally considered to be an absolute cock). But after six weeks I was glad to get back to my comfortable home and my comfortable bed. But I was going to miss the effusive energy of what I left behind. Not enough to accept an offer of another two weeks work mind you! I’d had enough. I was exhausted – and I couldn’t shake the idea that, in real terms, I was only getting paid around £6 per hour – but mainly I just missed the settled comforts and stability of ‘home’. Something you hanker for as you get older.
For any parents reading this and considering sending their young ones to a language summer school, don’t take the educational side of it too seriously. Quite frankly – from my experience at least – that part is bollocks. Irrespective of whether that school is accredited by the British Council or any other respected authority, if my summer school experience is anything to go by, it is fun first whilst the ‘academic’ side is really just an add-on. Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend it as an experience for any young person – I was envious of those young boys and girls who got the opportunity to forge friendships and lifelong memories with other young people from other parts of the world whilst seeing the sights of a city in another country. And speaking professionally, the immersive experience of being in an English or any other language environment is invaluable for learning that language. But don’t praise the company too much. The success of those schools is all down to the underpaid staff and their youthful enthusiasm (irrespective of their actual age) for teaching and their commitment to ensuring the young people enjoy themselves. Whilst the executives, directors and CEO’s of the large, lucrative, language schools will take the corporate accolades and the bulk of the financial profits for what is achieved, it is the workers on the ground that really make it happen for your children. Don’t ever forget that. And if you do decide to take time out to express your appreciation and thanks for the wonderful experience had by little Selina, Oleg, Nacho, Cristina, Michele, Ivan, Ilia, Anna, Bruno, Laura, Luca, Stefano, Khrystyna, Julia, Betel, Abdul etc – then ask your child first who helped make that experience so enjoyable and ensure that you direct your thanks to those individuals by name. The best people in this world are those who serve for the love of what they do, not for the money.
So, it’s been a while since I put fingertips to keypad and aired my thoughts into the ‘blogosphere’. As the time between my last and my next posting lengthened, finding the inspiration to write something worthy of a ten minute read that didn’t require an effort of concentration on my part has been difficult. But here I am, sat on a Ryanair flight to Budapest and the most unlikely of things have spurred me into action. The menu card. Well not the menu card itself, but the copy accompanying the advertised ‘gourmet’ hot coffee they have for sale at €3.00 a pop.
I could probably go into an intellectual examination of the exaggerated claims (lies) that advertisers and traders get away with to peddle their products, but if you can read then I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to be aware of that obvious fact. But every now and then you see something that makes you think ‘Aw cmon, please!’ My ‘cmon, please’ moment was the copy describing the Lavazza coffee. The ‘gourmet’ Lavazza coffee. A budget airline coffee that comes with a ‘unique’ lid that means that your coffee comes ‘freshly brewed just for you’. Wow! I have to have one of those.
Well check that out people – the SUPRLID. Aren’t you blown away? I want to ask the air stewardess if this amazing and unique piece of technical engineering – a lid with a piece of gauze and a raised edge – was developed by NASA. I was so excited by the idea that I was using the same space age hardware used by astronauts. I was even more excited by the idea that Ryanair had created my personal profile based on the information given when buying my flight ticket and brewed a fresh coffee just for me. Not for anyone, no, just for me. Awesome. Totally awesome. I mean, how do they manage to brew a coffee specifically for me? These guys at Ryanair must be like, wizards or something.
I didn’t get to ask the air stewardess if the SUPRLID was developed by NASA or if it was used by astronauts. I didn’t find out how Ryanair collated information to make personal profiles of its passengers in order to provide us with bespoke hot beverages either. My daughter wouldn’t let me ask – she pleaded with me not to ask actually. However, I must admit that the coffee was quite tasty. It was by no means a great coffee, but it wasn’t the usual warm brown dishwater that’s usually served up on a plane either. I’m not sure that the ‘brewed just for you’ crew at Ryanair got it quite right with my personal profiling as it would have tasted more like a milky frothed up Douwe Egberts with demerara sugar, but if I was on a space mission for six months, living on food from a tube, then it would have tasted pretty damn good.
NO CHILDREN OR AIR STEWARDS WERE HARMED DURING THE WRITING OF THIS POSTING. ALL THE SARCASM CONTAINED HEREIN WAS WRITTEN BY A PROFESSIONAL AND SHOULD NOT BE COPIED AT HOME.
Earlier this month a judge awarded damages to the Parr family in Texas amounting to almost $3million for losses on property value, physical pain, mental anguish and suffering due to the effects of pollution caused by fracking near their home. The jury returned a verdict saying Aruba Petroleum Inc. “intentionally created a private nuisance” resulting in the Parr family suffering from symptoms including chronic nose bleeding, irregular heartbeats, muscle spasms and open sores due to the environmental effects of this controversial gas mining process. Aruba are the first company in the US to be found guilty of charges due to pollution caused of fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involves drilling horizontally deep under the earth and injecting fluid at high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gases. This gas is then used as fuel for energy. It is considered by many to be extremely harmful to the surrounding environment and has divided opinion across the world as to its viability as a safe method of mining for fuel. Ten countries including Spain, France, Germany and South Africa have already banned this controversial mining process over concerns about pollution and the environmental risks. It’s believed by many that fracking can pollute water, release dangerous methane gases that damage the ozone layer and even cause earthquakes. The landmark verdict in Texas indicates that many of these claims are actually true, but what are the fracking facts?
- Around 600 toxic chemicals are used in the fluid used for fracking, including uranium, radium, hydrochloric acid, mercury, lead, formaldehyde and even bizarre substances like instant coffee and walnut shells.
- It takes around 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracking job and each gas well needs an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry all the water and supplies to and from the site. This produces about300,000 barrels of natural gas a day.
- There are around 500,000 active gas wells in the US that use in total around 72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals in the fracking process and only 30-50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered. The rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and is not biodegradable.
- Canadian mining companies do not disclose all of the chemicals used for fracking or their quantities. Most oil and gas wells in Canada don’t have to go through an individual environmental assessment process or disclose any information about the chemicals they use on the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). This means that the companies themselves decide what information they want to release about what’s in their fracking fluid, despite the fact that tests have shown that many of the chemicals they use are known to cause serious health problems such as cancer or organ damage.
- In British Columbia, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, who are the organisation responsible for promoting oil and gas development, are also the organisation that regulate fracking. Contamination of fracking fluids from one well to another have been reported in British Columbia and there are well-documented cases of water contamination caused by fracking in several countries around the world.
- A 2011 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed a clear link between fracking and water contamination and there have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas where companies have used the fracking process to drill for gas. This contaminated water is usually used for drinking water in nearby cities and towns.
- In Pennsylvania, USA, there has been a rapid development of the Marcellus shale site, which it’s estimated could produce 500 trillion cubic feet of gas. It’s believed that’s enough to power all American homes for another 50 years.
- In 2010 Pennsylvania officials fined Chesapeake Energy $1 million for contaminating water supplies in Bradford County. Because the company had not properly cemented its drilling boreholes, methane gas escaped from the well and contaminated the water of 16 families.
- Between 2009 and 2011 there have been a series of surface spills of toxic fracking fluids and two blowouts at wells operated by Chesapeake Energy and EOG Resources. There was also a spill of 8000 gallons of fracking fluid at a site in Dimock, Pa., which contaminated groundwater in the Marcellus Shale region.
- Supporters of fracking claim that it is a proven gas extraction method that has been used for decades. However, according to Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a hydraulic fracturing expert from Cornell University, mining companies have had less than 10 years experience of using the fracking method on a large scale.
- Robert Mair, a Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Cambridge chaired a committee to analyse the environmental, health and safety risks of fracking in Britain. He concluded that it should only take place at depths of several kilometres. At present the fracking in Britain has been at depths of 1.06 miles (1.7km) and 1.93 miles (3.1km), which would make water contamination “unlikely”. This risk could be increased by poorly constructed and badly regulated wells, an area in which Britain has an excellent record. However, Professor Mair recommends that methane emissions and groundwater composition should be monitored at potential sites before any fracking takes place.
- Rex Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil who are the biggest natural gas producer in the US and heavily rely on fracking to extract it. It’s his job to promote fracking and fight regulations preventing mining. However, when a fracking project was proposed near Tillerson’s $5 million Texas home, he joined a lawsuit to block its construction with the damaging consequences of fracking cited as one of the main concerns.
- The coalition government in the UK have offered tax breaks to councils who allow fracking projects to go ahead. However, Michael Jones, the leader of Cheshire East council, which is the same constituency of coalition chancellor George Osborne, opposes the use of fracking, stating: “Fracking may well be a useful technology for other areas and good luck to them if it is, however the people of Cheshire East have our assurance that there won’t be any in our borough.” Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to push through legislation to change anti trespass laws so that fracking firms can drill underneath private land without the owners’ permission.
- Peaceful protests against fracking at the Barton Moss site in Salford, England have resulted in violent assaults against the protestors by the police. One police officer at the site was caught on camera lying to fabricate the false arrest of a man who was documenting the events taking place. The violence used by the police prompted Bez, the maraca shaking dancer of The Happy Mondays to run for mayor of Salford; stating “I got sent to prison for being accused of doing that sh*t. Three grown men battering a woman on the floor…I’m in shock.”
- The Daily Mail reported details of the arrests of 82 protestors at the Barton Moss site in Salford, in England earlier this year, with police accusing protestors of offences ranging from ‘assault, damage, harassment of residents and workers, a flare fired at the police helicopter and threats to kill’. However, what the popular press have not reported on is the fact that no successful convictions have resulted from these arrests, despite policing and court costs costing the UK taxpayer almost £1,000,000 so far. However, the independent newspaper The Salford Star has documented the events surrounding the Barton Moss fracking protests and reported that five of those cases have already been dismissed by judges in courts in Manchester. In summing up one case the judge said that he found the absence in court of key officers involved “astonishing”.
As the fracking debate continues one fact remains certain, our society needs energy and there are alternatives that are scientifically viable. There are a number of renewable energy sources that are in use today. The most familiar ones are solar power, which generates energy from the sun, wind turbines that harvest power from the wind, wave and tidal power that generate energy from the sea, and hydroelectricity that draws energy from the gravitational force of flowing water. Other lesser known alternatives include geothermal energy which is generated from natural heat within the earth itself and cold fusion which generates energy from non-toxic and radiation-free nuclear reactions. Biomass energy uses biodegradable rubbish and burns it as fuel and also uses plant matter to generate electricity. The sunlight captured by plants is transformed into chemical energy and then converted into electricity, heat, or liquid fuels.
Aside from all these alternative energies we also have the technology to build energy efficient homes and buildings. Buildings that not only save energy, but also produce energy. So with all these alternatives to pursuing environmentally damaging mining processes and burning toxic fossil fuels, any sane man would wonder why more isn’t done to develop these alternative methods of energy production. Well the answer is simple – money. The motivation for investing in the pursuit of these alternatives is anchored to the noose of capitalism.
Whilst the capitalist imperative continues to be the voracious pursuit of wealth for individual, selfish gain, energy will always be coveted as an economic advantage and a source of control for the nation or corporation that has it. Yes it would make much more sense if governments and corporations and all of those greedy corporate psychopaths, oligarchs and megalomaniacs dipped into their Swiss bank accounts and threw all their financial resources at environmentally viable energy solutions with the same enthusiasm shown for funding commercially viable projects like an Olympics or World Cup. It would make more sense than spending billions on military equipment to go and murder hundreds of thousands of people in wars for the control of oil and gas in countries in the Middle East. It would make more sense than exploiting the natural resources and environmental beauty of South East Asia, Africa and South America and brokering deals that circumnavigate all the wealth from those countries into the pockets of a small, undeserving minority, whilst subjecting the poor of those countries to lives of impoverished degradation. It would make more sense, it just wouldn’t be financially viable for that small percentage of people in the world that have all the wealth but none of the ethics. Meanwhile, whilst those people pursue the best way to become even more wealthy from sucking OUR planet dry, we continue to fret about how we are going to pay them for it. If this doesn’t make us mad then we’re already crazy, so could the last person to leave the asylum please turn the lights out.
I’ve been on somewhat of a sabbatical from the daily grind of work over recent weeks and have been spending a lot of my time reading and researching some serious material for a serious piece of work I seriously hope that I actually have the commitment to finish. But seriously, I am by no means shallow, but there comes a time when you need to step away from the ills and injustices of the world and enjoy some of the things you enjoy. I enjoy a good movie and have been fused to my comfortable sofa most evenings indulging in my extensive collection presented through the immaculate reception of big screen Panasonic NeoPro Plasma. So I’ve decided to do one of those ’10 of the Best’ list things… only I couldn’t decide on just ten so I went for a dozen. It must be a pretty universal choice as when I was looking for the YouTube links to include it seems that most of the scenes on my list are on other peoples’ lists too. Worryingly, I also appear to share the same taste as Guns And Ammo!
Any director making an action thriller knows that a good shootout at some point in the film is an absolute must. However, just like car chases, there are hundreds of shootouts in hundreds of movies, but not many remain in the memory for a long time. All too often they are too predictable or too improbable. They can be too long or just so chaotic that your retina-to-brain function no longer retains any of the explosive, wood splintering, glass shattering, blood splattering mayhem that is taking place on screen. It isn’t necessarily all about the action and the stunts. Acting, camera angles and movement, the point in the movie when the shootout happens, what leads up to that point, who is involved, who dies, who doesn’t, the dialogue – or lack of – and how the whole thing rests within the narrative context of the drama all contribute to making a truly memorable shootout. So here is my list of some of the most memorable shootouts in movie history.
Heat – Brian De Palma (1995)
Why save the best until last when this scene is so badass; Brian De Palma is a veritable master at scene composition, but he really excelled with the heist scene in Heat. Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Ving Rhames, Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore as the family man (really!) are enough of a screen presence to get you thrilled, but it’s the sheer adrenaline rush of the scene that makes it so damn good. The authentic sound of gunfire as it ricochet’s off concrete and tarmac in the middle of the city gives the scene a sense of realism – like watching a siege unfolding on the news. There’s no superfluous dialogue, no masculine roars, no macro pre-emptive build up to the moment of impact, just a rollercoaster drop into violent chaos. Fast paced, tense, realistic – badass.
The Matrix – The Wachowski Brothers (1999)
You know the one, the lobby shootout. If you’ve seen it then descriptions are redundant. The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of shootouts – visually stunning, logically ludicrous, Neo and Trinity in long black macs kicking digital ass – pure genius.
The Wild Bunch – Sam Peckinpah (1969)
Back in the 60’s before the likes of John Woo and Quentin Tarantino were doing hard-boiled, ultra-violence in slow-mo with every bullet wound exploding in a shower of bloody claret, gunplay was a little more dramatic and a lot less graphic. When people got shot there was usually a loud crack, somebody would grab their chest and you would perhaps see a patch of blood to indicate they had been hit as they slumped to the floor. Then along came The Wild Bunch and everything changed. Sam Peckinpah’s film changed the western in the same way that twerking changed Hannah Montana. Even 40 years on, the final shootout at the end of The Wild Bunch holds it’s own amongst some of the clinically choreographed, digitally mastered contemporary shootouts of today. Sam Peckinpah, we salute you – a 21 gun salute.
Scarface – Brian DePalma (1983)
“Say hello to my little friend” is the iconic phrase that everyone remembers from Scarface, Brian DePalma’s violent, cocaine-fuelled, gangster epic. Loosely based on the story of Al Capone, Scarface chronicles Tony Montana’s rapid rise from Cuban ‘refugee’ to cocaine kingpin of Miami. Al Pacino puts in an epic performance as the psychotic drug lord who scales the heights of the cocaine business before going out in a memorable blaze of glory after upsetting a Columbian cartel. One huge pile of cocaine, a sweeping white staircase, garish red décor, an angry little man with a very big gun and enough gangster dialogue for a decade of hip hop samples – now that’s a shootout.
The Way Of The Gun – Christopher McQuarrie (2000)
“There’s always free cheese in a mousetrap” – what a line, what a film. Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his script for The Usual Suspects, so it’s no surprise that his writer/director debut is full of great dialogue. Whilst The Usual Suspects is a great movie, it’s very much a Hollywood movie. From the opening scene to the final shootout, everything about Way Of The Gun oozes originality. It feels like an American movie made by a Korean director. It’s as if McQuarrie wrote the script, then went back and changed all the clichés into something… something completely different. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you stall on this part of the list and go find a copy to watch.
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino (2013)
Tarantino is often criticised for stealing his ‘original’ ideas from other movies. Who cares? Tarantino is to movies what Xibit is to cars – he takes what is predominantly crap and makes it outrageously better. Django is a case in point. However rose-tinted your movie-watching spectacles are, the original Django was no classic. However, once Tarantino pimped that cinematic ride it looked a whole lot better. The penultimate shootout in Django Unchained undeniably gives a big nod to Sam Peckinpah. The slow-mo blood-splattered gunfight between Jamie Foxx’s Django and the henchmen of Leonardo DiCaprio’s sadistic plantation owner Mr. Candy makes the list, not only because it’s one of the goriest shootouts of all time, but because it’s just so satisfying.
The Long Riders – Walter Hill (1980)
Walter Hill is an unashamed Peckinpah contemporary who is best known for films like 48hrs and late 70’s classics The Warriors and The Driver. His trademark style is the violent, hard-boiled, action thriller, often with comedy, always with tough male characters and sharp dialogue (he’s also a prolific screen writer). The Long Riders is one of several contemporary westerns made by Hill, although the western theme runs through all his films. The Long Riders features James and Stacey Keach as the James’, the Carradine brothers as the Youngers and Dennis and Randy Quaid as the Millers in a biopic that tells the story of the rise and fall of the notorious James Gang. The standout scene is when the gang are ambushed in Northfield, Minnesota in 1886 after robbing the local bank. Outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded, the gang are forced to literally shoot their way out on horseback. The carnage is graphically highlighted with a mix of slow-mo shots and pitch-distortion on the sound of each bullet that hits one of the robbers. This is raw, bone-crunching, macho-grimacing, pain-defying, mayhem. The battering the horses take is enough to whiten the knuckles on this ride. Great stuff.
Taxi Driver – Martin Scorcese (1976)
Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, the taxi driver of the title who becomes disturbed by what he sees around him in New York City. Many of us have become familiar with the amazing film work of Martin Scorcese and his visceral depictions of violence, however Taxi Driver remains one his most memorable films. Particularly the scene at the end when Travis Bickle shaves his hair into a Mohawk, arms himself with a revolver and concealed sleeve gun and embarks on the suicidal rescue of Jodie Fosters’ teenage hooker, Iris. More of a massacre than a shootout perhaps, but Scorcese’s attention to detail is in every sound and second of the scene as he graphically pores over every violent action and detail. He even manages to add a vein of black comedy into gore and profanity – and that doesn’t include Harvey Keitel’s red flares.
True Romance – Tony Scott (1993)
How do you take a Tarantino script, change it, make it your own, and still create a classic? Get a slick, shit hot director like Tony Scott to make it. Tony Scott made his name with films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Enemy Of The State, but True Romance (and perhaps for some, Man On Fire) really is his finest work. They say you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can never make a good film out of a bad script. In Tony Scott’s hands he made a badass film out of a badass script and amongst the many memorable scenes from True Romance, the OTT shootout at the end of the movie between the mafia, the feds and every motherfucker in the room really deserves a place on this list. Energy, energy, energy, slow-mo, pillow exploding madness and just pure energy. A great shootout, a great movie, and a great loss to the filmaking world. RIP Tony Scott.
Reservoir Dogs – Quentin Tarantino (1992)
Tarantino started as he meant to go on with this daringly original [in style] and violent character piece. It’s a simple story about a bank robbery that goes pear-shaped and turns into a blood bath because an undercover cop infiltrates the gang. The final scene is a tense and ultimately bloody standoff between the gang members as Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White tries to defend Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, who is lay bleeding to death on the floor of their warehouse hideaway. Peppered with the kind of razor sharp, macho dialogue we have come to expect from Tarantino, it’s the brutal yet touching paternal angst of Keitel when he finds out the truth that makes the scene all the more special. It’s not easy watching a hard man cry.
Once Upon A Time in The West – Sergio Leone (1968)
It’s a little strange that of all the shoot out scenes from the Leone westerns to make the list, this one doesn’t feature Clint Eastwood. Three gnarled men wait at a dusty train station and it’s Charles Bronson who takes the lead as the monosyllabic, enigmatic, gun-slinging stranger. As the train pulls away, so begins one of the most unforgettable introductions in the history of cinematic introductions as Bronson appears on the other side of the tracks blowing the haunting strings of Ennio Morricone’s score through his harmonica – boom! Like many of the great shoot outs in Leone’s westerns, it’s all about setting the scene, building the tension for the moment of the draw and nowhere does he do it better than in the opening of this classic western. If less is more then less is best as even within the spartan dialogue of the scene there’s still room for the killer line; as Bronson’s character notices that his would be killers have only brought three horses, one of them laughs and apologises for forgetting the fourth. Bronson’s reply is pure James Bond – “You brought two too many.”
Léon – Luc Besson (1994)
Luc Besson has been prolific throughout his career and made some right stinkers along the way. But Léon has to be one of his all time greats. The touching [dare I say] romance between Jean Reno’s middle-aged, child-like hit man (albeit a lethal child) and Natalie Portman’s precocious little orphan girl was controversial and played down in the American release. However, there’s no love like the paternal love of a your own personal hit man as Leon proceeds to kill an entire SWAT team to protect his little Mathilda – and his potted plant. The score, the action, the subtext, the escape (almost) – sheer awesomeness.
Dear BT Sport;
I know that you’re new to this whole sport broadcasting thing, but if you continue to be a provider of Premier League football coverage there is one thing that you absolutely must do. You have to banish Michael Owen from your team. Do not let him represent you by speaking in any way manner or form in a public broadcast again. He is terrible.
They say some people have a face for radio, well Michael Owen has a voice for mime. Aside from his barely veiled bias toward Liverpool and his hard on for Man United, he sounds like what cardboard would sound like if it could speak. He has a voice like the Richard Harrow character off Boardwalk Empire, except that character has a voice like that because half his face has been blown off, which is naturally going to effect the way he sounds. That and the fact that he murders people for a living are inclined to make him also sound a bit dull and depressive. Michael Owen does not have this excuse.
Listening to Michael Owen, it… it… it actually hurts. Not in a the way a sharp object hurts when you are stabbed with it, Michael Owen is way to dull for that effect. It’s more like chronic discomfort. It gives you a feeling of anxiety, nausea and mild depression all at once – like the side effects of bad sleeping pills.
Please get rid of him. Please. He was a decent footballer (if not a chronic ‘sick note’), I hear he’s good at golf and a really good horse breeder, but you can’t be good at everything and he truly, truly, sucks at sports punditry. Even when he’s on screen he looks like he’s a prototype of an android, he’s unbelievable awkward looking and dull.
Some things work well together, like strawberry’s and cream, Morecambe and Wise, Lionel Messi and a football. Michael Owen and broadcasting are like Chris Quentin and the American film industry – it’s never going to happen. That is all.
PS: I am not alone: