Friday, 31 December 2010

Wake up! It was all a dream...

Are you sure you're awake? I mean, a dream feels real when you're in it, does it not? Perhaps all of 2010 was a dream. Maybe it's New Years Eve 2009 and none of it happened. That would explain some of the more mental stuff like that whole ConDem coalition thing, and that Rainbow Lizard that stalked through Manchester firing lasers from its eyes shouting "Get me Morrisey or you will all perish!"

Just kidding. Of course you're awake. And a good thing too, for we have finally reached the end of my seemingly interminable review of 2010. I know, I know, I said it was going to be four parts long, and it's been more like a dozen, but I got carried away. Anyway, I promise we're at the end now. Here's my favourite cultural artefact of the year. It's a film.


Inception is the best film of the year. Proveable, mathematical fact. Unassailable truth, carved into the stone of reality like an eleventh commandment. It is brilliant, and if you don't think so, your brain is wrong and so is your face.

Here's some great things about the film. If you haven't seen it, don't read them. Go wand watch it, now, and then come back.

1. Dream Team

What a great cast. I never used to be much of a fan of Leo DiCaprio, thinking he punched above his weight when confronted with anything beyond cheeky-pretty-boy-face kind of roles. The Departed made me think again, and Inception made me realise that, yes, now he is capable of greatness. A restrained, unshowy performace that lets the torment at Cobb's heart ebb through gently and, on second viewing, reveals the constant struggle he has to control the chaos inside.

The rest of the team are loads of fun, especially Tom Hardy's Eames. They balance and complement one another perfectly, each getting their moment in the sun. If it weren't for the fact that the film absolutely must not have a sequel, I'd love to see them working together again. Maybe in a TV spin off where they infiltrate different people's dreams each week and mess with their minds. Sadly, such a spin off would, by necessity, have to scale down the action, so they'd probably end up with an episode where they manipulate a shopkeeper's dreams so he gives them free cheesy snacks.

2. Dream Theme

I've gone on about HansZimmer's amazing score already, here, so I won't trouble you any further. Suffice to say, the music is tremendous. Although if you live with me, you might be getting just a little sick of hearing it every single day.

3. Dream Scenes

Here's the main reason I think the film is great. It deals with some big ideas and themes, but never forgets that cinema should be... well... cinematic. Huge, brilliant visual ideas power the film's narrative: Escher-like impossible landsapes, trains smashing through rainy city streets, tumbling zero-gravity corridors and ice citadels straight out of the video game of Goldeneye.

Despite this torrent of stunning cinematography, none of the spectacle is superfluous. Like the Matrix before it, Inception's ideas are hardwired into its mise en scene. The logic of dreams is created in a way which eschews the kind of cod-fantasy that derailed Alice in Wonderland earlier this year and remembers that the truly surreal is very, very close to our usual experience of life.

Lovely moments of juxtaposition pepper the film, reminding us that the borders between the film's various realities are slippery and strange. Ones that leap instantly to mind:

Cobb falls backwards into a full bath; in his dream, tides of water smash through the windows.

Cobb's children slip into the mise en scene in the most incongruous of places, scampering away in the same manner each time.

The increasingly jarring crosscuts between the drab washed out monotone of the rainy city, the warm tones and angular lines of the hotel and the harsh bright snowscape of the ice fortress.

The final, beautiful moments before the darkness.

4. Dream Themes

So, Mr Freud, what is it about? Is he still dreaming or what?

Well, I don't think so.  I know, there are lots of clues that suggest he might be - not least the moment when he tries to spin the top about half way through the film but never gets to see if it falls. Also, Moll hints heavily that his life resembles a dream narrative, chased by the faceless agents of unknowable corporations. And there's that last, teasing shot of course. Is it going to fall? Why are his children still so young?

I think it will fall, I think he's awake. I don't really think it adds anything to the film if Cobb is still in a dream. The ambiguity is there not to suggest a twist in the narrative, but to reinforce what I consider to be the main theme of the film: the difficulty of closure.

Inception revisits two of Christopher Nolan's recurring themes: how do we heal, and how do we understand our own motivations? Oh, and also "Oh no, my wife/girlfriend is dead!', but that's kind of involved in the other two. Cobb is a typical Nolan character in that he is seeking healing from a past trauma and also living in a world where motivations are open to question. Most films are about the hero trying to reach some kind of closure, of course, but in Nolan's films that closure is often challenged, as are the motivations behind the hero's actions in the first place.

Cobb's healing is not going to be achieved by killing the bad guy, or learning to say sorry, or facing his darkest fear. This is how a lesser film would close his arc, and I think it is why some people leave Inception feeling a little short changed: this is not your typical narrative. Cobb's salvation is to realise the truth at the very heart of the film: we cannot trust our hearts. Ideas can sneak in and manipulate us, lead us to believe we are following some kind of emotional truth, when all we are doing is fooling ourselves. For Cobb, salvation comes when he realises that the Moll is gone, and that he has constructed a lie in her place. He pursues her, seeks forgiveness from her, wants her - but it isn't her. It is a simulacrum of the truth and he has fooled himself into thinking it matters.

This resonates with me because I think this is how we tend to live our lives. We create stories around the events of our days and try to shape them into some kind of story, with heroes and villains and the possibility of catharsis. Old relationships, in particular, continue to hurt us as the ghosts of our ex partners or friends live in dream space, raking up old arguments and reinflicting wounds. Inception is a seed planted in the mind, making us believe that we want something we never really had.

And so off we go, out of 2010. And the year, sealed into the past, will become its own story. Certain events will gain significance and take their place in an artificial web of causality. We will start to believe that certain events made us happier, or more sad, and oh if we could have done things differently... But what we have is now, and the choices in front of us.

I hope they are good ones. See you there.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Review of the year: Excellent (Part Two)

One of the most moving things I ever saw was a child falling off a bike and really hurting himself. Not because it was hilarious to watch... I'm not saying that. I hardly laughed at all. But because of what his friend did. These were two boys, probably about ten years old or therabouts... maybe older. I can't really work out the ages of children between birth and the point where they start paying income tax. But lets say ten. Anyway, the other boy, seeing that his friend had fallen and was in pain, dropped his bike straight away and left it where it fell, running towards his friend to make sure he was alright. No macho posing, no laughter, just concern. I thought it was really nice, and it's stayed with me as an example of something lovely in a world that generally looks like it was designed by evil vampire wasps.

All of which is my way of saying... here are some nice things, to end the year on. Things that pleased me and made me glad to be alive in 2010. Absorb them, seek them out for yourselves, buy them for me as presents.

The Walking Dead

At last somebody has realised that the best way to faithfully adapt a novel - especially a graphic novel like The Walking Dead - is not to attempt to cram it all into 2 hours of blockbuster cinema. Yes, films are big and shiny and have lots of money to spend, but if you're looking at doing justice to the slow burn narratives and complex characterisation of a novel, you need to make a television series.

TV is brilliant these days, and the last ten years or so have seen the art form raise in quality to such an extent that it is no longer the unloved little brother of cinema, good only for hitting and stealing sweets off. Now TV has grown surprisingly tall and strong, and cinema is really wishing it had been nicer to it when it was younger, and is desperately hoping TV doesn't remember the day cinema pulled the head off his Boba Fett and laughed when he cried.

Sorry. Flashback. Anyway, it was with great joy that I welcomed the news that Robert Kirkman's ongoing tale of the zombie apocalypse was to be allowed full reign on television.

It's a slow burn, and the six episodes that have aired so far have not got us very far plotwise. But the point of the show - and indeed all zombie narratives - is to show us how the living respond to the situation they are in, and reveal their true selves once the bonds of civilisation have dissolved. The title explicitly refers not just to the zombies themselves, but also to we the living, for what are we but the dead waiting to happen?

The zombie moments themselves are also terrific: well realised Romero-style shufflers rather than the sprinting ghouls of other films, and blessed with really gross faces. The violence is explicit and necessarily horrifying and the situations really have you going 'Arrg! Aarg! Nooo!' and spilling your wine. Against all the odds, it has done well and been given a second series. I dance a joyful zombie dance.


Aha's farewell tour

Upon being told that I went to see Scandanavian pop band Aha in concert this year, most people's responses fell into one of the following categories:

a) Aha? Didn't they split up in 1987? No? Really? I'm sure you're wrong. You're probably thinking of Keane. I like Keane.

b) Aha? Who are they? Being under 20 I have no idea what you are talking about. Now get out of my bedroom or I'll call my dad.

c) I know you went. I went to see them with you. I bought the tickets.

d) I know you went. I'm Morten Harket, lead singer of Aha, and I saw you in the crowd weeping like a child. Now get out of my bedroom or I'll call my dad.

Well, they are still together, except they're not because this was their farewell tour. Aha are absolutely fantastic and have probably done their best work in the last dozen years or so. Here's an example.

The farewell concert was gorgeous, full of amazing songs that were frankly impossible to sing along to due to Harket's still impressive vocal range.They are an incredible pop band with some top melodies, and in a fair world (i.e. one not dominated by radio stations terrified of anything older than last week) they would have continued to be huge.

The really odd emotional highlight was an audience singalong of the chorus to 80s Bond Theme The Living Daylights. In case you can't remember how these incredibly profound lyrics went, it was something like this: 'Whoah, oh oh oh, The Living Daylights.' It was great, and weirdly bonding.

Amusingly, near the end, a middle aged man behind us inadvertently revealed that he'd never ever been to a gig before. The band had said goodnight and left the stage, but hadn't yet played Take On Me - probably their most famous song. Would they come back, do you think, to round off the evening with their most triumphant creation? Probably not, according to this bloke, who got up, put his coat on and complained loudly 'I would have thought they'd play Take on Me!'.

I loved this gig. It awakened in me a renewed love of the band, and of the possibilities of intelligent pop in general. One of the highlights of my year.

Matt Smith as Doctor Who

I remember quite well the day the fourth Doctor Who, played for seven years by Tom 'mad as toast' Baker, fell off a big tower and thunked into the ground, hurting his back and triggering the swirly BBC effects of  regeneration. It was inconceiveable to my ten year old self that anyone could take his place. When Peter Davison's first story rolled around a few months later I was sure of only one thing: I hated this new guy, and it would be really nice if he could fall off something too, preferably onto a spike, and turn back into my curly haired hero.

I imagine Matt Smith set off similar thoughts in a lot of children this year, as he took over the best role in the world from uber-popular David Tennant, who had spent four glorious years being quite, quite brilliant as Doctor Who and winning over the hearts of an entire generation. Heck, forget children - most adults I know went into terminal denial at the idea of anyone else stepping into those battered Converse trainers.

Well, take a bow Matt Smith. You started brilliantly and just got better, becoming a totally new and yet instantly recognisable Doctor. Funny, weird, clever and heroic, you made the Doctor all the things he needs to be - a role model to anyone who watches, who loves all the strangeness of the world and hates injustice with a passion. Great stuff. Please keep doing it.

Toy Story 3

I really, really liked Toy Story 3. If you don't like it, it is because you haven't seen it. Or because you are evil. A glorious, life affirming, brilliantly constructed story that says gorgeous things about life, friendship and change. That is all I have to say.

And finally... 

I do have one more thing to stick on my list, but I've decided to give it its own entry, on the grounds that it's probably my favourite thing of all my favourites. So I'll see you next time for that. In the meantime, enjoy those around you (unless they are Nazis), have a cup of tea and avoid spoilers.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Birthday Mr Jesus

A special Christmas Day message, for those of you who aren't drunk yet, possibly because you've been forced to attend some kind of alcohol-free church event. Suckers.

Christmas day is lovely. A warm, fuzzy, festival of stuffing things in my face, playing with toys and not giving a toss about anything vaguely unpleasant. It's like Sundays would be if we'd thought them through properly and organised an extra day of the week after them to recover. The normal rules of time don't apply and we drift through the day on warm currents of satisfaction and consequence free bliss.
I mean, yes, there are a lot of people for whom it is a miserable reminder of their poverty and of the harsh realities of their horrible lives. And there's a lot of depression, and suicide and stuff. But for me, in this lovely warm house with a load of alcohol and nothing to worry about beyond how long it is until Doctor Who starts... it's great. Let's just forget about those other guys. They were probably evil in a past life or something. That's how it works, isn't it? Yeah. Pretty sure.

Anyway, I think Christmas Day is a genius idea. I mean, quite apart from the fact that I got a cool zombie T-shirt and some Lego. And the way everyone drinks so much it makes me look normal for a bit. I think Christmas is really, properly lovely and good.

Naysayers like to protest that the festival isn't very Christian any more, and that it's a shame, and that we've lost the true meaning etc. Well, to some extent, I suppose, but also... no. There's no point saying Christmas isn't very Christian any more. Why? Glad you asked:

Firstly, Christmas was never particularly Christian in the first place.We nicked most of the trappings from the pagans when we nicked everything else off them, including their sweets. Saying it's not very Christian is like going into a building that was originally an Odeon cinema, and was then turned into a Gala Bingo hall, and then converted into a Cineworld cinema, and complaining that you can't play bingo there. It is. It's exactly like that.

Secondly,  it's quite easy for your Christmas to be Christian without someone else telling you how. And by 'Christian' here I mean an all embracing, behavioural concept which is as much about being nice to people as it is about formulating a doctrine of belief. Avoiding basic human decency because it hasn't been state sanctioned is a pretty poor response to a season that is meant to be about indiscriminate goodwill.

Here's a good thing we can do at Christmas, and it's not necessarily to do with belief, or even social justice (although both those things are dead good). We can take the space given to us on Christmas Day and use it to be really lovely to those around us. We can relax and enjoy each other, and really see what we're all like once the shackles are off. Look - I'm not at work! I don't have to bore you about the day to day nonsense that constructs my self image! I can be a simpler, easier me for a bit.

The homeless and the lonely need support and love, and hats off to those who devote their time to that. But perhaps for some of us charity really does begin at home. Maybe the people around us look comfortably off, and have money and warmth and a house and oh so many DVDs, but rarely have a moment to be free of all that and just... exist. Souls need healing too. The Bible calls it sabbath. Time out from the nonsense. Time to be in the present moment, and remember you have a soul.

Merry Christmas, you lovely people. Now get me some Bailey's.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Political correctness gone for lunch, stupidity sits in.

Hello there, snow bound denizens of Earth. Today's news is brought to you by the phrases 'Knee-jerk' and 'hypocrisy.'

You know Frankie Boyle, I assume. He's the often bearded Scottish comedian who delights in breaking taboos and crossing social boundaries. You may have seen him on television's Mock the Week, or - more recently - at the top of furious tabloid headlines demanding his sacking.

What's he done now? Well, he's only gone and used some racist swear words, that's what. And on telly too. That's why we've had all the snow, and why everyone is poor, and why you have that occasional ache in your knee. I know - he's a bastard, and he needs to be stopped.

Keen readers may detect a point of sarcasm here, and well done to them - have some more Bailey's. This story should, indeed, make us angry at the stupidity of the things people say. But it sure as hell isn't Boyle we need to point the finger at. 

Here's how the Daily Mail describes the story. The article, which you can find here, is by the well known journalist 'Daily Mail Reporter':

The words 'n****r' and 'p**i' both featured during the programme, in which he has already provoked outrage by insulting cancer victims, Aids sufferers and obese people. Critics said the incident was worse than the Celebrity Big Brother outrage over the 'racist' bullying of Shilpa Shetty and called for media regulator Ofcom to investigate.

Minus points straight away for using the word 'outrage' twice in as many sentences. Seriously, get a Thesaurus. And then minus another million points for not giving us any context whatsoever. The article rants on about racism, and unacceptability, and gives just one sentence, at the end, for a possible explanation:

A spokesman said the intention was to ‘satirise’, not endorse, the words. 
What? The intention? Having read the article I had assumed Boyle's intention was to be racist and offensive for the pure, evil joy of it. Are you saying, Daily Mail Reporter, that there was some other reason for the utterance of these words? Sorry? That's the end of the article? Oh. I'd better just carry on in my ill informed and idiotic beliefs.

If only, I thought, there was a way I could find out what Boyle's intention was. Maybe by looking at the actual words he said, in the context he said them. But I suppose if it was possible to do that then the paid journalist writing the article would have already done so, as part of the research for this damning report. I mean, you don't get to influence the opinions under the banner of a NUJ sanctioned newspaper without at least looking into the issues you are presenting as fact. What? You do? No way!

Imagine my surprise when I found that it was really, really easy to find out exactly what Boyle had said, and in what context. To be honest, I don't know how Daily Mail Reporter could possibly have missed them. Perhaps he was too outraged to look. I found them on comedy website Chortle, but they are easily available in a number of other places.
Anyway, here are the jokes. Look away now if you are easily offended or an idiot.

In his stand-up routine, Boyle discussed how news reports always considered British lives more valued than foreign ones.

He said: ‘What gets me is our callousness as a society when we read out our dead on the news first, because our lives are more important. Other people’s aren’t worth as much.’

He then mimicked a newsreader to add: ‘A bomb went off in Kandahar today, killing two British servicemen, three UN relief workers and a whole bunch of Pakis.’

Later he said: ‘The Ministry of Defence? At least in the old days we were honest, it was The Ministry of War.’ He then adopted the tone of a receptionist to say: ‘Hello Ministry of War, department of nigger-bombing, how can I help?’

Now, to me that changes things quite a bit. Firstly, it is quite obvious that Boyle is not using the words to be racist. Racism is not the simple utterance of words. It is the use of them in a way which either a) deliberately  denigrates a particular race or b) ignores the social power they have and their potential to offend. I don't Boyle is doing either of these. The targets of his attack are clearly the mainstream media and the Ministry of Defence, not the 'pakis' and 'niggers' of the story. 


And Boyle is clearly not ignorant of the power of the words either. Here are two criticisms levelled at him, also quoted from Chortle:

A spokesman for campaign group Show Racism The Red Card said: ‘Regardless of context and intention, the use of words such as these has the effect of normalising racist language.’

And Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation called it ‘abhorrent,’ adding: ‘ People at home watching that will think that this sort of language terminology is acceptable in the 21st Century.’

 I have to wonder, reading these comments, if these guys have any idea of the context either. Or have they just been fed a line by a newpaper? If they have actually seen the show or read the full quotes, I think they are really missing the point. This isn't about normalising racist words, it's about exposing already-normalised racist behaviour.
I think Boyle's words were very carefully chosen to strengthen the point he was making. Which is, let us remind ourselves, that the priorities of the British media are utterly absurd. The broadcasters and papers are quite happy to imbed racism in their news values by sidelining the significance of non-white deaths around the world. But they would never use the word Paki! Well hurrah for them. And our goverment has been involved in the sustained murder of tens of thousands of innocents who had the misfortune to look like they might be terrorists or live in a country with a funny sounding name, but they can claim the moral high ground because they make sure not to swear.

The use of 'nigger' and 'paki' in this routine is vital. It takes attitudes and behaviours we have come to accept as normal and marries them to language that shocks and horrifies us. It challenges us: if we are going to get offended by the word paki, why the hell aren't we offended by the more subtle racism that informs the very ideology of our cultural lives?

No wonder the Daily Mail hates Boyle's words. This is a newpaper which survives entirely by pandering to the kind of insidious racism that the British really love. Asylum seekers, Muslim extremists and terror suspects merge into one terrifying entity as this paper fosters hate and fear against them. And then they point at scream at the things others do to challenge them like hysterical idiot children.

Of course you don't like Boyle, Mr Daily Mail Reporter - he's not attacking the niggers and pakis, he's attacking you.You racist, ignorant, malicious pricks.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Review of the Year: Amazing, part one.

It is easy to despair of the human race. We value surface over content, take the paths of least resistance and venerate the lowest common denominator at the expense of the unique and beautiful. Mediocrity flourishes and creativity withers in a world where people would rather stare at a wall listening to Coldplay than do literally anything else.

But maybe it is not all rubbish. In fact, it is possible that the cultural world we live in is more vibrant and more beautiful than it has ever been. I mean, yes, there's a lot of crap, but that's because there are more channels for it to come through. Perhaps if we are prepared to look, we might find that the 21st century so far is, in fact, offering up some of the best film, television and music ever seen.

Here we are, then, with the absolute bestest things that have happened this year in the cultural and media world. I'm not pretending to have seen everything there is to see, nor am I suggesting that I am in any way objective. These are just things that made me go 'wow'. A lot.

Hans Zimmer's score for Inception

Before we get onto talking about films, stick this on.

The score, played live at the premiere.

Some film scores are so powerful and gorgeous that you leave the cinema with but one thought - how soon can I buy the soundtrack and play it incessantly whilst leaping about the house pretending to be in the film? This score - by ubiquitous film tunesmith Hans Zimmer and ex-Smith's guitarist Johnny Marr - is such a beast. Unsettled and unsettling, these tracks underscore the themes and emotions of the film, communicating a palpable sense of urgency and immense depth of feeling. If this doesn't get the Oscar, I will be a) surprised and b) consumed by furious rage.

Four Lions

One of my three top films of 2010. I saw this at the UK premiere, as if I was the Queen or something, and instantly - and prematurely - declared it the film of the year. Other contenders arose, but this is certainly up there at the very top.

There are various ways to describe Chris Morris's first film. "Dad's Army with suicide bombers instead of soldiers". "Carry on Jihad". "Furtive political correctness and transparently terrible taste". (Can you spot which of those was from the Daily Mail?)

Basically it is the story of four young Yorkshire Muslims who decide to commit terrorist acts in London. Except it's a comedy. Except... it sort of is, and it's sort of way more than that. Morris has explored the experience of the UK Muslim population and created a film which is human and tender and absurd in exactly the same way that most communities are. It is a brave, intelligent, funny and thought provoking film, and a perfect rebuttal to the more paranoid knee jerk reactions that have characterised our cultural response to Islam over the last ten years.


A late entry here, and so possibly placed a little highly given my tendency to think things are brilliant simply because they only just happened. A bit like everyone voting 'Champagne Supernova' as best song ever in 1996, simply because it was the last thing they had heard and they hadn't yet realised it was ponderous, boring bollocks.

Anyway, there's no chance of that with Misfits. It's genius. Absolute, first class genius. Basically it's like the American show 'Heroes' - a bunch of ordinary people discover they have super-powers - only a million times funnier and with more believable characters.

The show is full of beautiful ideas: a psychopath who literally sees the world as a computer game, tattoos that control your emotions, a man who can manipulate cheese to deadly effect and - in the Christmas special - an evil Jesus. In among this madness the five leads - all great - deal with their powers in the way real people actually might. Greed, cowardice, insecurity and pride motivate their actions as surely as the (more occasional) bouts of heroism and altruistic self-sacrifice.

A truly brilliant show, and one which makes me realise there is a lot of good writing going on, and broadcasters willing to take risks.


The struggle for best book of the year has been a difficult one for me. I'm not that great a reader, so it's unlikely any real, grown up 'books-of-the-year' have scuttled under my nose at bed-time. However, I have read some great stuff. 'Yippee Ki-Yay Movie Goer' by internet movie reviewer Vern is one of those books that I never wanted to end. A witty, insightful charge through the action movie genre, this is a collection of very personal film reviews that spiral off in all manner of pleasing directions.

Also brilliant was Russell T Davies's expanded version of 'The Writer's Tale.' This utterly fascinating book is a two-year long series of emails between Davies and Doctor Who Magazine writer Ben Cook, chronicling the gestation and writing of two years of the best show in the world. It is, of course, great for a Who fan like me to find out what went into the stories at the writing stage. But this is also a compelling insight into the creative process. It gave me great comfort to hear how even the biggest, most trusted writer on British TV can sit around all day prevaricating, then stay up until 6am typing away in a fit of self loathing. Candid and funny, this is the best book on script writing I have ever read.

There have been other pleasures - notably Stephen Fry's latest autobiography, which had me speaking like him all week, and David Nicholls's One Day, which made me cry. But without a doubt the best book of the year, for me, was Stewart Lee's account of the life of a stand up comic: How I Escaped my Certain Fate.

The book is a transcript of three of Lee's stand-up shows, bracketed by some background history that verges on autobiography but is more social commentary. Lee has not really gone with the comedic flow of 21st Century popular culture, and his account of how this has worked out for him makes fascinating reading. His writing is both informed and opinionated, dissecting the hypocrisies of our culture while remaining honest and self-critical. Best of all are the footnotes, which take up about half of the pages devoted to the transcripts of his routines, as they provide a running commentary on the thought processes behind his incredibe and unique live shows.

That'll do for now, I think. I have a few more 'best things ever', but I dont want to go on and on, like a mad drunk uncle at a forced family event. I'll be back soon with part 2, as if I was Harry Potter. Maybe I am Harry Potter. Only more drunk.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Lies, damned lies and Obi Wan Kenobi

It is pleasant, is it not, to live in a world where no-one is to blame for anything? No? You don't think so? Liar. It's brilliant. Literally nothing is anyone's fault. I can go outside, now, waving knives in the faces of children and spaniels while shouting 'Die, children and spaniels, die!' and be confident in the total lack of consequences.

I can see you have that suspicious look that you sometimes get when I say very wise things. Well, I'm definitely right, and if you want proof, look at the years gone by and see the constantly shifting fog of evasions and half-truths that have taken the place of accountability in the 21st Century.

It seems that now it's quite possible for a man to get shot several times in the head, by the police, for no reason - and for nobody to be really responsible. Or for the police - different police I assume, unless there's something seriously weird going on - to cause the death of a man innocently passing a protest march, and for the general consensus to be that it was just, you know, unfortunate.

Higher up the ladder (or lower, depending on your point of view), we have a government who seem to have learned all their debating tactics from Jamie Smith, my friend from school when we were eleven. When blamed of anything, Jamie would instinctively point at someone else and say "Look what he's doing!", as if my scratching a picture of a penis into the desk excused his experiments with fire and exercise books. Whenever our glorious leaders are taken to task on any of the myriad horrors they are inflicting upon society, they seem overcome by a kind of blame-shifting tourettes. "Look what Labour did! They spent all our money! They stole it! And when we're cutting council's budgets, it's not us - it's voodoo witch doctors in Brussells, making us do it with magic dolls!"

It's a rather pathetic line of defence, but the good news is, I've worked out what is responsible. The leaders of our society all came of age in the 1970s, and I think their minds have surely been corrupted by the most influential film of the time. It all started a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That's right - I'm blaming bearded Star Wars Jedi, Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi.

Watching through the Star Wars films in story order - that is, starting with The Phantom Bloody Menace and going through to Return of the Jedi - a very strong sense of doubt settles in over the reliability of Luke's wise and revered mentor. This guy -  who is supposed to stand for good, morality, truth and righteousness  - is not, in fact, a very good role model. Why, for example, when Luke asks about the death of his father, does Obi Wan say "A young Jedi by the name of Darth Vader murdered him"? And not "Anakin? Oh yes, I knew him. Whiny little tosser. I had to chop his legs off and throw him in a lake of fire. Couldn't stop laughing for weeks!"

Such is Ben's level of denial that later, when Luke quite rightly takes him up on this barefaced lie, Ben gets all "Er..." about it. Apparently what he said was true 'from a certain point of view.' Well, that's great. And so a generation learns to avoid the blame for anything they ever do, ever. "Hey guys, whatever crimes we commit, I suggest we blame them on Darth Vader and, if pressed, say we were just being metaphorical!"

Q:   "Who drank all my beer?"

A:  "A young Jedi called Darth Vader did."

Q:  "Whose pornography is this?"

A:  "I think you'll find that belongs to a young Jedi called Darth Vader."

Q:  "Who pulled this disabled protester out of his wheelchair and dragged him across the street?"

A:  "Ah, that would have been a young Jedi called Darth Vader. I saw him do it."

And so on. We're screwed. At least until a generation come along who were raised on films where the heroes take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Such as...   hmm. Can't think of any. But there must be some. We must find them, and show them to Cameron's kids. Not only will this definitely heal society, but it will also prove that media theory is a valid and world changing subject, and all teachers of it should be venerated and given a special hat.

Did I mention that I started drinking the Bailey's?

Sunday, 12 December 2010

You rebel scum!

It's been quite a week for rebellion, and I hope you don't mind me taking a moment to share some thoughts. Actually, I hope you do mind. Because then I can do it anyway, and watch your mind explode due to my disobedience. Because I'm being rebellious, I may even swear. Take that, The Man.

Last Thursday was the day MPs voted on whether to raise tuition fees to astronomical levels and, of course, the day loads of people told the MPs to go fuck themselves with a huge angry carrot with spikes coming out of it. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands - basically lots - of people turned London into a pulsating mass of anger, noise and dissent, filling camera lenses with the sight of fire and dancing and shouting and the breaking of stuff. Many, many commentators have written about the consequences of Thursday's vote more eloquently that I can, and with greater understanding. Nevertheless, it is worth repeating, often and loudly, that in this vote we are witness to an act of destruction that is at best short sighted, and at worst downright villainous.

This decision, and many related ones that are less documented but equally pernicious, is what happens when you let millionaires dictate what is normal and what is good. You will, perhaps, have noticed a lot of the rhetoric coming from ConDem HQ, bleating about what might be considered reasonable and affordable and fair. Words which all come with a built in assumption of a middle ground, as if we all share the same experience of 21st century capitalism. £30 a week might not be a big difference to you, George Osborne, with your estimated personal wealth of £4,000,000, but to some of my students it is the difference between being able to study and having to work for minimum wage. Similarly, £27,000 of debt might well be something you can pay off in no time if you are David Cameron, who recently knocked his mortgage down by £75,000 , but it is a daunting prospect to those potential students without your family background, contacts and - hey- university education.

The proposals being smashed through by this unelected government are amongst the most destructive things a government has done since Blair and co thought the best way to stop people blowing up innocent civilians was to blow up some of their own, only in Iraq. The very fact that there has been such a popular uprising against the education cuts would suggest that a lot of people in this democracy consider them harmful, narrow minded and arrogant. In other words, an attack on the people of this country by those who are meant to listen to what we want.

So, naturally, the newspapers the next day were full of this tale of a violent attack by one class on another; this shameful expression of power by a horde of bullies who would rather shout than listen. Except, of course, they had two to choose from. On one hand an entire generation of people had the chance to better themselves snatched away in favour of a self satisfied elite who do what they like with no sign of accountability. On the other, a couple who have never really paid for anything in their lives get some paint on them for a bit. Tough call. Tel you what, let's go for the one with the most exciting picture.

If I was not observing all this on the news and was instead watching it as part of an episode of '24' it would all be devastatingly clear what was going on. An illiberal government and the corporations to which it is inextricably linked seek to trivialise the battle between undemocratic repression and spontaneous civil rebellion by shouting 'Oh no, Prince Charles is sad!' Forget the revolution - some people dared to shout at royalty.

Don't get me wrong. I quite like Charles, and would not rejoice in his public beheading anywhere near as much as I'd laugh at Nick Clegg getting an olive stone jammed in his windpipe while trying to defend his latest betrayal. But the fact that our media pounce on something so moderate (and, conspiracy freaks, so suspiciously avoidable) at the expense of dealing with more pertinent issues is really sad, and says a lot about what really matters once money comes into play.

It is interesting, to me, that the courses most likely to suffer from these cuts are those involved in the arts, the media and various forms of expressive thinking. Worthless to industry, as we are told? Hardly. More likely it is deemed dangerous to arm a generation with the intellectual and aesthetic tools to take apart these lies and construct a counter attack.

Let's not be fooled by emotive langauge and evocative imagery. The actions of this government are where the real violence lies. Do. Not. Stand. For. It.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Review of the year: Very Good

It is officially Christmas. Once the 1st of December arrives it is, as far as I'm concerned, time to fill the house with sparkly lights, pour a huge glass of Baileys and break out the Billy Idol Christmas album ("Hilarious": This year it even snowed like a mental thing, so I am feeling well and truly festive.

And so we trudge through the snow towards the shining glory that is Rob's list-of-things 2010. We are nearly at the top, where the most wonderful experiences drift about in ethereal snowstorms of brilliance. But before that, let's look at some of the things that happened this year that were very, very good.

Things that were very, very good.

Kick Ass

Now then, Iron Man, take a look at this. A fun, fresh take on the superhero genre, juggling conventions as if they were bewildered kittens. If you missed the film, or know little about it except that a little girl says a bad word, here's what happens: A young geeky boy dons a costume and fights evil-doers in contemporary America. He learns many lessons about responsibility. And a young girl says a bad word.

"Hang on!" you cry, spitting toast everywhere (you were eating toast), "That sounds quite a lot like Spiderman.  How is that new? Apart from the bit about the girl?" Well, toast-face, this guy doesn't have any special powers bestowed upon him from radioactive spiders or anything; he's just a normal guy trying to make a difference, and getting beat up a lot. He soon becomes entwined in a maelstrom of freakish events and characters, all massively enjoyable.

I liked this film a lot. Here are some reasons:

1. Although based on a comic strip, it is not a slave to it. Instead it takes the basic premise and bangs it into a shape more suitable for two hours at the cinema. Unlike some films, Red, for example, it definitely does not do this to secure a lower rating and thus more money. It does it because it knows that comic books and films are very different. Other adaptations take note.

2. None of the major studios wanted to finance it, so Matthew Vaughn got it privately finaced at a dinner party, and made it anyway. Then, of course, all the studios came scampering back, going 'Ooh - sorry, we've just realised it looks rather good...' I love it when this happens. I like to fantasise that all these corporate pillocks, whenever they get things like this wrong, sit down afterwards and say 'Boy, are we bad at spotting which ideas are good and worthy of our support! Let's stop basing our decisions on our own stupid, blinkered idea of what consitutes interesting, innovative art and listen instead to creative people with a track record of bringing fascinating ideas to the screen. And let's bring Caprica and Firefly back while we're at it.'

But they never do.

3. A young girl swears a lot and slices people to pieces. Guess which one of these antagonised the moral guardians of our society most? That's right - if Hit Girl had had the good manners to eviscerate her opponents while calling them 'melon-farmers' or 'nasty bad men', all would have been just fine. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Tookey's piece in the Mail, where his condemnation of Hit Girl as 'obviously meant to be sexy' led a lot of people to look at him and go "Errr... that  might just be you mate..."

Cemetery Junction

Ricky Gervais in subtle, restrained movie shocker. This film touches on a lot of the Brit-film narrative beats that we've all been familiar with since Robert Carlisle danced to Hot Stuff at Jobseekers, but does so delicately, and with its emphasis on the characters. Time and place are evoked with the right mixture of nostalgia and real understanding, while the plights of the main characters really feel like they matter. This is a story of growing up in a small town, trapped by expectation, tradition and you own lack of self belief. And, somehow, it's also really funny.

Top marks go to Emily Watson, who plays her character's heartbreak beautifully, and to Gervais, who stays out of the way for the most part, allowing his brilliant script to speak for him and letting the excellent ensemble cast do their thing.

The Social Network

I liked this a lot. A lot a lot. It's masterfully written, by  Aaron 'I wrote the bloody West Wing' Sorkin, features some great performances from the leads (especially Andrew Garfield) and has an interestingly weird soundtrack. It also marks the return to form of director David Fincher, after the extended CGI masturbation party that was Benjamin Arsing Button. If The Social Network and Benjamin Button had a fight, this film wouldn't even throw a punch. It would just look into the mid distance, a half-smile/half frown on its face, say something enigmatic and clever, and then walk away, leaving Button jumping up and down shouting 'Who da man?' to an empty room.

This is England

I've written about this series and its brilliance here, so I won't go on about it again. Suffice to say, it was brilliant television, and it firmly deserves its place in the 'very, very good' part of my mind.

The Trip

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon wander around the North of England eating lovely meals and doing impressions to each other. Doesn't necessarily sound like ground breaking television, but this six part TV series, directed by prolific film maker Michael Winterbottom, has totally won my heart.

I have spent much of this year slowly falling in love with Rob Brydon. I've always liked him, but his turn as Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey made me laugh until I hurt my leg, and I've been addicted to his Welsh ways ever since. I've enjoyed Steve Coogan in a variety of things, from Alan Partridge (nach) to his peculiar self deprecating turns in films like Coffee and Cigarettes, 24 Hours Party People and A Cock and Bull Story. This last film, also directed by Winterbottom, is closest in spirit to The Trip, as both Coogan and Brydon adopt variations of their own characters and have fun with the idea of fame and perceptions of the self.

The series is really funny, but also, in places, very sad. Coogan is eaten up by his own dissatisfaction with the ageing process, and the weight around his neck that is the early - and never equalled - success of Alan Partridge. The six episodes chart a comic path, but also provide a meditation on getting older, and trying to understand what it means to be happy. I loved it.

That's it for very, very good things. See you soon for things that were, without doubt, absolutely amazing and great and fab. Don't slip on the ice. x

Monday, 6 December 2010

Behold the face of doom

Remember I was doing a beardy grow thing, and I was all "I'm so ace" about it? Well, I've put the video I made on Youtube. This represents my first successful attempt at putting a video on Youtube - something most biscuits are able to do - so I'm very proud of myself.
In an ideal world, I will also have embedded the video below. Enjoy.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Intermission: Sometimes all you want is a hug

Half way through my four-part dissection of the year's highlights and lowlights, and I've realised I need a fifth category. Sorry for those of you who have already devised a complicated wall chart based on my last couple of posts. I am hereby inserting a new category between my last post, 'meh', and my next one, 'quite good' and I have decided to call it 'reasonably entertaining'.

Things that are reasonably entertaining include films which just sort of passed the time and were fun to watch, but which didn't really inspire me with any lasting joy. They are the digestives of film: perfectly acceptable, and once in a while they might be exactly what you're in the mood for, but not what you'd give to Derren Brown if he came round to your house to help you hypnotise some troublesome ants into not stealing your bloody toast.

Films that were Reasonably Entertaining in 2010


Angelina Jolie is an agent! But then someone says she's a double agent! And then! Whoah! Maybe she is and maybe she isn't! There is lots of running, many things explode and a lot of people get shot and fall over looking sad. It's an effective post-Bourne thriller with a strangely retro Cold War feel and Jolie makes a good action hero - but we knew that. Once all the twisty turniness is done it's like having watched a series of 24 at several times normal speed and you are left feeling quite happy, until you notice something shiny and forget all about it.

The Town

Ben Affleck's directorial follow up to the brilliant Gone Baby Gone is nearly in the 'very good' category. It is an engaging tale, well told and with some properly thrilling set pieces. The central conceit - bank robber falls in love with hostage who could identify him and his gang - is simple and effective, and played well by the leads. I do like Ben Affleck, and I'm glad he's turning into such an interesting director.

The only real issue is that it feels a lot like Michael Mann's Heat. The basic plot, following the ethical and procedural similarities of opposing groups of cops and robbers, is very similar and there are a number of repeated dramatic beats. Which made me keep coming back to Jeremy's thoughts in Peep Show, when watching a play: 'This is as long as Heat. I could be watching Heat. I'm going to pretend I'm watching Heat!'

The A-Team

Now, I know that by doing this I am risking incurring the wrath of The Expendables, which may well come charging in from the last blog-post, shrieking in rage. "Why do you love her but not me?" it will scream, firing machine guns indiscriminately into the air. "She's an equally stupid throwback to the eighties with no real sense of characterisation or plot!" (Throws hand grenade through a window). "You're a hypocrite and she's a slag and why does no-one ever love the real me?" (Collapses in tears on stairs, eye make-up everywhere).

Well, quite. The A-Team isn't really much smarter than The Expendables, and doesn't have a particularly strong sense of what it is, beyond a nostalgic attempt at launching a franchise. But it's a funnier script, has better actors and, yes, draws heavily from the well of love that lies deep in the hearts of an entire generation. I'd like to see a sequel, please.

The Karate Kid

Another film which almost nudges its way into the higher categories. A surprisingly fresh and fun remake which does enough new things to make it a worthwhile exercise while more or less keeping the ethos of the original. Jaden Smith is a good actor already, and very likeable, and will probably be as big a star as his dad at some point. Jackie Chan is ace.


What's this? A film about an older generation of movie stars geting back into their action groove? Surely not! Like the A-Team, this is a lot of fun and just spending time with the characters is reward enough. The plot is a little more coherent, though only just, and there are some fantastic images - not least being a suited John Malkovich handling the ammunition butler-style, while Helen Mirren operates the biggest machine gun you've ever seen. In a big dress.


Clever, funny comedy in which John C Reilly fancies Marissa Tomei, and tangles with her son Cyrus -  Jonah Hill - over the latter's oedipal tendencies. Small scale, well played and very funny.

Get Him to the Greek

Jonah Hill again, this time trying to stop rock god Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, channeling himself) from smoking/having sex with  everything he meets. Sporadically funny, though uneven, and entirely reliant upon Brand's personality for its effect.

I think that's everything. There's quite possibly other films I've forgotten, but on the whole these are films that, should you come across them on the TV, you should consider showing a bit of love.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rob's Review of the Year Part 2. "Meh"

Last week I pontificated on the year gone by and shared with you, beloved, gorgeous, sexy reader, some of the things that, in 2010, had failed to please my all consuming, ever demanding self.

We move on, tonight, to the second of my four 'reviews of the year' - a consideration of  those things which, though not utterly rubbish, were a bit of a let down and left me feeling vaguely flat. I do not condemn them to a fiery pit of eternal doom, but nor do I embrace them lovingly to my tender breast, kissing them on the head and telling them that I truly, honestly love them. I suppose I just kind of turn away from them, pretending I have to answer an important text and that I'll be 'back in a minute'.

Anyway. Here are my votes for 'meh' things of 2010. If you see them coming, pretend to be out.

Things that made me go "Meh."

1. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World

Ask me what I think of Shaun of the Dead. Go on. Ask. I LOVE IT YOU FOOL. Can't believe you needed to ask. Now ask me how excited I was about the prospect of Edgar Wright directing Scott Pilgrim. Go on. No, really, I promise not to shout this time. I WAS VERY EXCITED.  It was Edgar Wright for goodness sake! And the trailer was really funny and the visual style was all 'Whoo!'

And then the film came out, and we all scampered to see it, like tiny children running towards a toyshop or away from a pervert. And then I sat there in the cinema for two hours, going... "Huh." Waves of explosive sound and kinetic vision washed over me, bathing me in all the colours the universe has to offer, and I simply sat, utterly unmoved.

It's possible that I'm too old or something. The people I was with, good friends whose judgement I trust and whose tastes I generally share, bounced around giggling the entire time like weebles on heroin.* Afterwards many of them declared it ten kinds of brilliant. And I was sad, because I just didn't plug into it in the same way.

If I had to say why I didn't get it, I'd say the whole film felt like it was trying too hard, and it didn't seem to establish a level of 'reality' that made me care about the characters. There were plenty of funny bits and the editing was super clever, but it was, as Shakespeare would have said, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and not as good as Spaced.

*I know, I know. Heroin probably doesn't make you giggle and I probably should have said poppers or something. But I conducted a wide range of rigorous scientific tests and came to the conclusion that 'weebles on heroin' was by far the most amusing of all the phrases on offer.

2. Crowded House's album Intriguer

Like most bands, Crowded House split up the moment I started to like them. I'm not sure why I have this effect on bands, but it does seem to happen too often for it to be a mere co-incidence, so I will have to assume I am some kind of universal nexus of incedible significance, whose life is more important than everyone else's. I should probably have some kind of special crown made so everyone knows to worship me.

Anyway, having split up for a bit, Crowded House decided to do what lots of bands do next, which was to get back together again. Normally this is a terrible idea, and results in albums that sound exhausted and lost, cheapening the legacy that made the band beloved in the first place. Not so for Time on Earth, CH's brilliant 2007 comeback, which was better than it had any right to be and is one of my favourite albums ever.

2010's Intriguer sounds more like the album I expected back in 07. It's not awful. It isn't anything much - it just drifts along for a bit and then stops. There are some nice melodies, clearly - I'm not sure Neil Finn can help writing lovely tunes - but despite playing it many, many times, it failed to get its hooks in. A shame.

3.  The Expendables

I'll be honest and say I did quite enjoy this when I watched it, but I have no real desire to ever see it again. It was like a drunken old man singing in a bar at Christmas - quite amusing for a while, but before too long it becomes tedious and you get worried he might start hurling glasses at your head. The plot was pointless and often contradictory: the whole situation the Expendables are sent to defuse would have sorted itself out much better if they'd just not gone in the first place. As I recall, they deal with corrupt CIA intervention in a Central American state by shooting everyone they meet until there's no-one left to be unhappy.

4. The revamped Castle Pub.

I like pubs. I like open fires, the smell of beer and the sight of dozens of bottles of wine waiting to be plucked down and guggled into a glass. I like comfy seats and people bringing me things to eat, and conversation with friends and the sense that time has drifted off to play with a kitten and won't be back for ages.

I liked the Castle, on Barnsley Road, a lot. It was quietish, sold a reasonable selection of wines and had food that I praised with such enthusiasm that I suspect the waitresses thought I was being sarcastic. It didn't have the hallmark of the truly great pub - a big sleepy dog lying in front of an open fire - but it was a home from home for a while; a big living room where I could happily spend my days, and often did.

This Summer, someone looked at my lovely Castle and decided it wasn't posh enough. They closed it for a month (a bloody month) and refurbished it so it now resembles a sort of stone temple. Don't get me wrong - it's very pretty, and there's all sorts of nice design features and the staff are still lovely. But I don't quite feel like I fit there any more. It's gone a bit dining-out-y. The prices have straightened themselves out and stretched a little higher, so now you can't really just pop in for tea, you have to consult Microsoft Excel first to check it won't compromise your credit rating.

Like I say, it's very nice there. It's just not... quite... me.


So there we go. Things that are 'meh' are a bit harder to think of. By definition, they drift out of the mind. My greatest fear is that I'll stop noticing that things are mediocre and accept them as good enough. Like that time I listened to 'No Line on the Horizon' and decided that some of the songs were OK after a few listens. No! They weren't! It was just that I'd got used to the banality of the whole album, and my standards had slipped. A few seconds of Nick Cave's 'Dig Lazarus! Dig!' put paid to that.

See you soon. for better and more enjoyable things.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Rob's Review of the Year - Part One

The futuristic wonders of 2010 are fast approaching their end, and soon we will be plunged into the frankly unbelievable post-apocalypse of 2011. To mark the end of this, the most peculiar of years, I shall be doing a series of little reviews.

Many of us, trapped in conversation with someone - perhaps whilst being held hostage in a skyscraper or such - will find ourselves at a loss as to how to describe the highs and lows of our cultural lives. Well, worry no more. Over the next few weeks you will know exactly what to think about everything that matters. Opinion be damned, these are facts, and people who disagree and simply wrong. And sexually deviant.

I have devised a simple rating system for All Things. Everything we come across fits into one of four categories: 'rubbish', 'meh', 'quite good' or 'awesome'. Today we will deal with the first, and worst, of these.

Things that were Rubbish in 2010.

Overall, 2010 has been a pretty positive experience for me. I have had significant joy a number of occasions, and on the whole had a pretty good time, apart from that black cloud of all consuming angst in early Spring. There were some things, however, that got on my nerves.

1. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Yes, you are pretty and colourful and ever so whimsical. But are you any good? No. You are not. You are a smug, self satisfied film that relies entirely upon overt quirkiness at the expense of plot, character development and tension.

I like Tim Burton a lot, and count many of his films among my favourites ever. Edward Scissorhands is a masterpiece, Ed Wood is insightful and clever, Mars Attacks is enjoyably bonkers. Burton has the ability to suffuse whole films with his idiosynchratic sensibilites, wrestling the unwieldy apparatus of movie-making into submission and making it obey his peculiar whims. He stands with Terry Gilliam and David Lynch as a director who is somehow able to express his dreams and nightmares through sound and pictures.

Here, though, he has produced something unforgiveably dull. There is no engagement with the story - no sense of what is at stake, or why anything matters. When people are captured, or threatened, there is no sense of real peril or consequence.

There are a number of reasons why the film fails. I think the biggest one is technology. CGI and 3D are fine tools as far as they go, but here they seem to have dominated the storytelling process to its detriment, everything acting in service of the next set piece or special effect. Another problem, for me, is Johhny Depp, who seems to have slipped into an incredibly lazy groove of 'Tim-Burton-film-crazy-schtick'. Compare his idiot WillyWonka/Mad Hatter pratting about with his wonderfully subtle performances as  Edwards Wood and Scissorhands. Bleh.

The film also suffers from post Lord of the Rings syndrome. Someone somewhere looked at those films and went "Ah! Success at the box office = big battle scenes. I am a genius and will be made King of Hollywood". And so now every film with the vague whiff of fantasy has to end with a huge battle between opposing armies, no matter how irrelevant.

Boo to you Tim Burton. Stop remaking things and get back to your own vision. I, Rob Reed, command it.

2. Iron Man 2

Iron Man was fun, and mostly because of the inspired casting of Robert Downey Junior. It felt fresh and different, and I liked it. The sequel is fat, lazy and not-very-good. It has a couple of good set pieces, and some decent performaces, but it takes audiences love for granted and doesn't bother to make its story engaging. Shame.

3. The Prisoner remake

To be fair, this was never really going to work. And to be even fairer, I didn't get through the whole series, so maybe it turned out wonderful at the end. But I think a show needs to hook its viewers farily quickly, and this didn't.

I'm not sure how it could have worked. The original 60s series is unique, and very much of its time. A straight remake would have been pointless, and irrelevant. A recontextualisation of the ideas, which is what this remake seems to be trying to do, risks not really being the Prisoner at all. Calling it a different name might have helped. Casting someone interesting in the lead role certainly would have. Cavaziel may give a good Jesus, but he's no McGoohan.

Either way, this left me cold. And I hate being cold.

4. Caprica being cancelled.

Oy! I was watching that!

Few things make me as cross as the timid, limited souls of American TV executives. It's as if the industry is run by idiot children. "Oh no - this series, which has been on for about a week, is not instantly, massively successful! Quick - cancel it and replace it with another show about murders and the police."

Things need time to bed in, you dicks. Many really successful and enduring shows have performed relatively poorly at first. Don't you study the business you are involved in? Don't you realise that DVD sales and timeshifting  have fundamentally changed the way TV audiences operate? Did you get your job in a bloody raffle? If you want to sell beans, go do that, and let someone who cares do the job.


5. Politics in general

Has there ever been a year it which the democratic process in the UK felt less relevant? No-one voted for the government we got, yet they're acting like we all said 'I'd really like a bunch of bastards to come and piss in my face'. We didn't. Did we? Maybe we did and we forgot.

6. Solicitors in particular

I always knew solicitors were expensive. What I didn't expect was that they would also be absolutely bloody useless. I'm sure their legal knowledge is good and fine and that they passed all their solicitor exams, but my experiences of one Wakefield solicitor this year have show me that they:

* can't do sums
* can't spell (including, wonderfully, the word 'solicitor' on their own header)
* don't read your instructions, preferring to make up their own
* forget to pass stuff on, sometimes for six weeks
* sulk profusely when the above are pointed out to them

I have since changed solicitors, to one that does not so closely resemble my own name.

I think that's enough bile for now. These are my biggest losers of the year. No doubt I will think of others later but, like I said, it's been a pretty good year overall. Coming soon: things that made me go 'Meh.'

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

...which was awesome

A busy couple of weeks for your humble narrator, and so sparse pickings for those of you anxious to follow my magnificent and complex thought processes. For this, I am truly sorry, and hope that you found other ways to pleasure yourself in this time of neglect. Some of you, I imagine, will have wandered away in search of alternative 'weblogs', hoping to sustain yourself on the witterings of lesser minds. Others of you, I know, formed a small theatre company and toured Eastern Europe with a production of Twelve Angry Men. John, from Suffolk, made a perfectly splendid hat.

But cease, now, with these frivolous activities, for I return, like Jesus, Gandalf and Noel Edmunds before me. And, like them, I bring life changing ideas and thoughts, and a game about boxes.


Anyway, I know what you're saying. You're saying 'Rob, this is a brilliant blog, and one that will probably be compiled into some kind of religious text to lead humanity to enlightment, but sometimes, Rob, you say stuff and then just wander off onto the next topic, never to return. If we didn't know better, we'd say you got distracted very easily and bored even more quickly than that.'

Well, you couldn't be more wrong, you hypothetical abstraction, you. I hereby declare this post to be a comprehensive update on the exciting events that have made this month such a life changing experience. Then we'll see who's "a waste of my bloody time you stupid child".*

*Mr Wright, PE Teacher, 1981

Update 1 - the (Not so) naked face.

At the beginning of the month I joined many others in the heroic act of not-shaving-for-a-bit, to support the fight against testicular cancer (or 'Scrotum Wars' as it should be called but isn't). Three weeks later I have a rambling mass of spiky hair on my face, and five men have been cured as a direct result.* Here is what my face looks like now. Please forgive the furious expression. Operating even the simplest of devices causes me to lose all composure and sense of perspective.

If you have not yet done so, please put a bit of your overflowing bank balance into fighting cancer. Even if it's not this kind of cancer. Spend it on breast cancer if you want. My theory is, if we can cure one type of cancer, it will send a message to the rest of the cancers to piss off and leave us alone.#

* May not be true.
# May not work.

Update 2 - That whole Aids/Jesus thing

Actually, I've not heard anything else about this. Everyone to whom I mentioned the story seemed to have a sane and rational response, rather disappointingly. If you can't get into an argument by saying how Jesus had HIV, what can you do? Back to baiting that guy at CAPALERT.

Update 3 - Steve Wright in your face

A couple of weeks back I had a go at Steve Wright, the festering rodent at the helm of Radio 2's afternoon 'Big Show'. This was a lot of fun, and I have a little bit of a follow up on this story.

To my astonishment, Steve actually mentioned my blog on his show. He didn't use my name, sadly, instead choosing to refer to me as 'This Davros guy'. Idiot. What if the real Davros was listening? That's slander, that is. Anyway, Steve read out some bits of my blog, in that jovial burble of a voice he's cursed with. At first he seemed to find the whole thing amusing, but as he went on his tone lost some of its levity and a real sadness crept into his voice. Finally, at the point where I called him the 'King of Nob', his voice cracked and for a couple of seconds, there was silence.

"Are you alright?" asked his producer. There was a long pause. Even the 'bed'  - the triumphant orchestral music that constantly underscores the whole show - faded away into nothing.

"Am I... a nob?" asked Steve, plaintively. He suddenly sounded so human; vulnerable and small. You could almost hear the tears springing up in his goblin eyes. There was a pause, as I imagine his producer considered how to deal with the situation.

"Yes Steve," said his producer, "I'm afraid you are."

"I thought people liked me?" pleaded Wright's voice.

"No, Steve. I'm afraid they all really, really hate you. This blogger - this Davros - has summed up the feelings of the nation more eloquently than anyone has ever managed before."

"Really?" choked Wright. "Even more than Elton John did when he sang 'Candle in the Wind' at Diana's funeral in 1997, changing some of the words so it was more about Diana and less about Marilyn Monroe?"

"I'm afraid so, Steve. Even more than that. And now it's been said, I have no option but to kill you, live -on air."

"But who will do the show? Who will do The Big Show?"

"We already have someone in mind" said the producer over the sound of a sword being unsheathed. "His name is Rob Reed, the writer of this very blog - the one which has ended your reign of terror. His words are truthful, and good, and one day will be complied into a religious text which will used to guide humanity to enlightenment."

There was a moment of silence, then the slick swish of a blade, followed by the unmistakable sound of an overweight head bouncing off a mixing desk.

A heavy pause followed. Then they played the new Manic Street Preachers song, which I don't really like. *

*May have been a dream.

Update 4 - Death to Robin Hood

The twitter joke trial continues, and the gloves are off. Brilliantly, Paul Chambers is fighting the (idiotic) decision to criminalise his desire to use ironic humour. An online campaign has already pledged £8,000 towards his £10,000 legal costs. And the Spartacus movement has forced the police to admit that they will not be attempting to arrest everyone who retweeted Chambers's initial post, begging the question, why not? Is it possibly because the mere utterance of a phrase is not in itself problematic? Hmm...

On a day where students across the country are marching against the education cuts, it gladdens my soul to see action in support of what is fundementally right. How good would it be to see stupid decisions overturned by the power of collective, non-violent action? To take those who act as if they alone understand the law and to force them to realise they can't just do what they want? To take people like Nick Clegg and Judge Jacqueline Davies and make them wear stupid hats on which are printed the phrase "I have let everyone down with my frankly idiotic choices"? And put them in front of the X-Factor audience and force them to apologise, constantly, to a baying crowd of idiots. Idiots with spears. And then, as Clegg and Davies frantically attempt to dodge the never-ending, deadly volley of missiles,  we would cover them in poo from above, shouting "This is what it is like not to be listened to by those who have power over you". And they have to eat the poo. And apologise for not eating it faster. And we will laugh, and have some more biscuits, and congratulate ourselves on the very fair way we are running things.*

*May be satire.