Nightman’s Random Five Favourite Things About USA (or how I forgot to say Happy 4th of July)

Yes, we’ve finally done it. We’ve reached that point in writing subjective lists that we’ve jumped the shark completely and are now creating lists of the most pointless ‘things’ fathomable. We’re just one step away from ‘Nightman’s Top Ten List Of Best Lists’ and when that happens, there’ll be nothing else for it but to tuck your unmentionables inside your sweaty flaps and flail wildly until matron comes to tuck you in.

The United States of America, eh? Not so UNITED now, are ya? LULZ! Here you are, on the cusp of one of your most important Holidays (and another which is completely worthless to the rest of the world), a day in which you celebrate independence, freedom, and um… guns? I don’t know. I’m not American and I don’t really care. Nevertheless, your country is a wonderful place filled with wonderful people, wonderful places, and wonderful things to do.

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So here it is, a list of things that I love about your home – a view from an outsider who has only been over to say ‘howdy’ a few times. Enjoy your day, but seriously, stop fucking up so much – you’re making the rest of us look bad.

Theme Parks

The child in me never grew up – he’s merely cowering behind my copious body hair and gargantuan testicles. One thing I loved when I was young was theme parks, water parks, fairgrounds. The sounds, the smells, the rides, the unreality, not-being-in-school of it all. Where I live, meaning my country as a whole, we don’t have our own theme park. Seriously. I mean, there are places we can go to try mini-rides and every summer temporary ones are set up but they are terrible. We have to fly to England to get anything anyway decent, but even Her Majesty’s finest are a pale imitation of the almighty Disneys, Universals, and Six Flags of your fair land. If I was rich and free I would take a year and just go to every single park in the US, trying every ride, and loving every second of it. Those Youtube guys who travel around the world or around the US making vids of coasters and slides – that’s my ideal job. It makes me cry that I can’t just get a ticket and walk into one of these places whenever I want. So many tears.

Food

There’s an obesity problem in the USA, everyone knows that, and yet there are numerous reports of hundreds of thousands of people starving or requiring food stamps. It’s another example of the weird dichotomies which exist there. Here’s the thing, whenever I’ve been to the States I’ve always been amazed at how cheap the food is – you can buy mountains of the stuff for hardly anything. Where I live portions are much smaller and costs are much higher. Another thing you guys pioneered is the ‘all you can eat’ mantra – meal deals, restaurants etc all featuring these offers. It’s only in recent years that I’ve seen a few select places offering similar deals where I’m from, and generally only in the major cities and towns (ie – Belfast). The same goes for drinks – free refills on whatever you want, cheap booze, and never scrimping on shot sizes. Here you can get plenty of booze cheap, but in supermarkets or Off-Licences – pubs and bars are generally quite steep, and if you ask for a shot they’ll measure out the exact measure of drops without ever given a sniff more. I’ve always been pretty thin – good genes and an obsessive fitness regime when I was younger, but I’ve no doubt that if I lived in the US I’d be double or triple my current size.

Holidays

This has always been one of my major jealousies of  the yanks. While part of the pomp and pageantry is sickening, and the patriotism which sometimes comes along with it is completely bewildering to me, you guys really know how to celebrate. All the big ones – Christmas, Halloween, New Years, get such reverential treatment that it makes how we celebrate look like that one guy who turns up at a gig and looks like he wants to be anywhere else. Christmas and Halloween are two of my favourite times of the years – Easter and New Years I couldn’t care less about. Thanks to our weather, Christmas is rarely a snowy affair but it’s more about the way we celebrate. It starts too early, usually Christmas stuff is selling in the shops before Halloween – I’d rather it only began on 1st December and that we gradually increased the festivities as the month progressed. Again it’s only recently that we’ve started to adopt Christmas parades and Christmas pop-up shops. Christmas does have enough magic of its own though that it’s still good – just, watching all those 80s and 90s Hollywood movies set around Christmas – it seems so much bigger and more fun than here.

Halloween is where I get most jealous. Halloween used to be a bigger deal when I was younger – anyone could get their hands on fireworks and everyone had parties. Now you need a license to get fireworks, with enough hoops to go through you’d think we were trying to buy an army. I can still make my own of course – years of having my own Devil’s Night debauchery taught me many a technique – but your access to mini nukes is amazing. I always here about the movie and TV horror marathons you guys get, but here the coverage of the event on TV is simply non-existent. Maybe once every two or three years you’ll get a new documentary – a film maker recounting his love of all things Halloween or horror, or maybe an updated list of TV’s scariest moments or some such balls, but where’s my Elvira? Where’s my list of nightly horror movies to sit up and watch similar what we have for Christmas? This isn’t simply a matter of regular TV not feeling the need to show horror movies anymore because of Netflix etc – every year at Christmas we have literally hundreds of Christmas movies and traditional movies being shown, yet at Halloween they don’t even put on Halloween. You guys go all out with the Halloween decorations too, and I get the impression that everyone gets into the spirit – over here it’s usually one or two houses and before long you have the idiots labeling you as a devil worshiper, because clearly it’s still the 1600s. Tying in with Theme Parks, you also have those Haunted House experiences and walkthroughs – I’d love to do something like that and again if I was rich and free I’d make one myself. Then again, do we really need that when walking through Belfast on a Friday night you’ll meet any number of murderers, lunatics, and ghouls?

Oh, and while I’m at it – you guys celebrate St Patrick’s Day more than we do – for us it’s just an excuse to get drunk earlier in the day than usual and… that’s about it really. I have plenty of stories I could share about the antics I’ve got up to on the day, but I’ll save those for another time. You guys do it bigger and better. The only thing I will say is – IT’S PADDY’S – NEVER PATTY’S!

Nerd Expos

I’m an old school nerd – you know, before it was sexy and all that. I was the one trying to find friends who liked Hero Quest (our version of D&D) to set up a game (I never did find any). I was the one who would collect and paint the miniatures. I was never a big comic guy, more to do with the fact that growing up in a small town in a small country we had no such things as comic book shops to allow me to actually get into them. That’s one of many reasons why today’s Marvel and other assorted Comic movies leave me cold – the main reason being that they’re simply not very good. I was always more of a regular book, TV, and movie nerd – collecting toys and accessories, rhyming off dialogue, and knowing the names of every episode, guest character, etc etc etc, all before the days of IMDB, Google etc – back when you had to set up the VHS to record something, and then pause the credits to get more info. It seems like everyday you guys have a new comic or movie conference – where all the biggest stars show up and you can meet them for several (hundred) bucks. The closest I got to this was Bond fan or Corgi car fans shows when I was young – and even then that was just a bunch of other fans and collectors hiring a church hall or function room for half a day.

Again, recent years have seen us catching up and having our own expos – games, movies, TV etc. Usually it seems to be an excuse for socially awkward people (or at least more than I am) or sexual deviants to cosplay or perv on the cosplayers. To be honest, I haven’t been arsed going – there’s too much focus on fandoms I simply don’t care about – Marvel, DC, Star Trek, Dr.Who. I am a moaning bastard though – I complain that we don’t have them, then yap when we do. Ah well, if I was supposed to be happy I’d, you know, be happy.

One Land

Have you ever been to Wisconsin? No, neither have I. How about Arkansas (which should be pronounced Ar-Kansas not Arkinsaw, or else Kansas should be pronounced Kansaw)? No? Well, the point is that you can get there, very easily, right now if you wanted to. You just need to hop into your car, and away you go. You have virtually an entire world on your doorstep and every conceivable way to get there. There are a lot of terrifying studies out there showing how your average American doesn’t own a passport, can’t find England or Australia or Russia or wherever on a map, but is it the same for within your land? Can you pinpoint the majority of States? How often do you travel out of State, and to how many States have you been? Man, if I was rich and free I would be on the road visiting every State and exploring as many cities and towns as I could, meeting all the weird and wonderful people, hearing their stories, learning the history, eating the food, and checking out the local sights. That’s maybe the point – because you have so much, on your doorstep why would you bother going anywhere? Just keep becoming insular to the point that it’s USA and her allies, then USA against the world, then my State against the others, then my city or zipcode against the rest, my street, my house, MY ME.

EV-REE-THING!

You see, I don’t know much about America but I know a little something about insular and about hatred. I grew up on and still live on a small island. You know it as Ireland, you know – that place your grandparents didn’t come from. You’d only be half right, because I’m actually from Northern Ireland, you know – that place where everyone shoots and bombs each other. For generations, for centuries, we have been a divided land – divided for reasons I don’t give one moldy shit about and kept that way by people who don’t deserve to be in the same presence as my moldy shit. We are a backwards land, ruled by archaic religious and political minority laws which…. wait a second, does this sound familiar? It should, America – it really should. You don’t want to end up like us – we’re only just clawing our way out of the depths of the void we once found ourselves in and there are those among us who would love nothing more than to drag us back in.

You have so much to offer the world, and each other. You have so much to see. I… I didn’t intend this to go all woolly. What I really wanted to praise was the fact that you live on this massive expanse of land with some of the greatest cities and sights in the known Universe – man-made or otherwise. Don’t let them go to waste. What I really wanted to express was that, while the scalp of this little island I call home as its fair share of sights – it’s nothing compared to what you have. We have all those green fields you see on TV when you’re thinking of visiting us, but they’re only green for 3 months out of the year – the rest they’re either brown, in the process of becoming brown, or so shrouded by rain or cloud that you can’t see how brown they’ve become. I can’t just hop in a car and see New York. I can’t just take a train and be in DC. I yearn for the time when some intrepid billionaire finally builds a bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland, connecting us with the rest of the world – I could drive to Scotland, down through England, into the Channel Tunnel and suddenly have France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Scandinavia, Russia, China on my (very long and wide) doorstep. You guys don’t have to do dream, because you have it all already.

Let us know what you love about the USA, about your own Country, and what (if anything) you’ll be doing to celebrate on the 4th of July.

Universal Soldier – Day Of Reckoning

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Universal Solider is arguably one of the last great films of the action hero era and surely one of Van Damme’s finest. The film was so successful that it spawned a number of confusing sequels, some which seemed to have little to do with prior entries, some which retconed other events, and which were all without exception drastically inferior to the original. You can imagine that when I took a gamble on this, I was hoping for (at best) some Van Damme on Lundgren action, with a few funny one-liners and nice kills. What I got was something I didn’t expect at all, and something much better than I could have ever hoped for.

Day Of Reckoning is a nightmare. I mean that positively. It is a horror movie with some genuinely shocking violence and powerful martial arts based action. The film veers into some surreal, dream spaces where the viewer isn’t sure what is real and what isn’t. Van Damme and Lundgren do appear, but are not the focus. Instead, star Scott Adkins and director John Hyams conspire to take the story in a completely different and new direction – removing much of the charm of the original, and instead crafting a snaking revenge movie where the seemingly tenuous links to the series mythology only become more clear and insidious towards the end.

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Scott Adkins wakes from a coma to discover his family has been massacred. He has lost his memory, but with help from the FBI identifies the killer as none other than Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). So far so normal, aside from the twist of JCVD being a killer. It should be noted that the flashback scene of the family being killed is brutal and unforgiving. While Adkins searches for Van Damme, we see another series favourite Andrei Arlovski living a normal life but being suddenly ‘activated’ and going on a murderous rampage. It turns out that (most of) the people he kills are Universal Soldiers, and that Lundgren and Van Damme have been trying to free agents from the control chip or something by which the government has been controlling them with. They are recruiting and forming a separatist army to destroy the program once and for all. Then things get complicated with clones…..

There’s a hell of a lot going on here and it is never easily explained. Rather than finding all this confusing, I think the often dream-like or nightmarish nature of the movie (deliberately or otherwise) covers the flaws in this type of storytelling. We know it is still convoluted, but we are placed essentially in the character of Adkins – he doesn’t know what has happened, and only has the memory of his family being murdered to spur him on. As viewers it is that image which also keeps us watching – to get to the bottom of the mystery. Adkins does well in the role and while he isn’t the most expressive actor, he lets the more physical side speak for itself. And so we get some outstanding and vicious fight scenes – imagine a martial arts version of Saw and you’ll get the idea. The blood and guts flow freely, but it isn’t in a cartoon Kill Bill style or slowed down and stylized like 300. It feels real, even though the combatants are super strong and super fast, the punches, kicks, and everything else connect with a raw force – I was left gaping after a couple of these and wondering why other movies don’t follow suit.

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It isn’t only the fights which are horrific. This is at it’s heart trying to be a horror movie, with Hyams at the very least emulating a Lynchian atmosphere. If you are aware of the series, then you will be aware of the loose political roots – dead soldiers are resurrected, have their memories removed, and are forced to do the Government’s bidding like robots. While the questions about patriotism and control over individualism have been clear throughout, there is a much more personal and angry vein of accusation here. We learn that the older model of soldier performed better when they believed they were fighting for their country, but that the newer models truly exceed when they think it is their family who is in danger. Warriors simply don’t respond to patriotism anymore, and the only way for a government to teach it’s soldiers to kill is to give them a more personal, devastating fear – it’s basically boiled down to kill the enemy or you family will die or even one step further – the enemy has already killed your family, so go do what needs to be done. Echos in current world politics are all too clear.

Day Of Reckoning is not for the faint-hearted. The violence is extreme, and I’m saying that as a seasoned gore hound. I loved it, but I’m aware that others with a low tolerance will be put off quickly. Gone are the japes of the original, and the half-assed crap of the sequels. This is a horrific movie which just happens to exist in the Universal Soldier universe, and it’s one of the most impressive action movies I’ve seen in recent years. Hell, it’s one of the most impressive horror movies I’ve seen in recent years. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie and how you rate it alongside others in the series!