Friday, August 29, 2008

The Voice Of Angels

I haven’t really got anything to say at the moment. Obviously there’s always some television to bitch about but the worst has been so utterly awful of late that taking a pop at it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, with a Howitzer. Just attempting to watch something like Mutual Friends has left me feeling so lacklustre, it’s no wonder I’m back on the fags again.

With the new autumn season almost upon us, I’m not sure whether the BBC pushed the drama out to get ahead or the competition or a scheduler with a brain cell figured out how fucking appalling it was and tried to ditch it in the dying gasp of the summer schedule. If you want a make a drama that echoes thirtysomething or Cold Feet but can’t make it any better than thirtysomething or Cold Feet, you have to ask what the point is.

At least one good thing that came out of this week was I remembered to pick up Harps and Angels, Randy Newman’s first proper studio album since 1999. Whereas the great political satire on Bad Love was The Great Nations of Europe, Harps and Angels features the marvellously sly A Few Words in Defense of Our Country. The abridged lyrics ran as an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, published the day after Dubya delivered his 2007 State of the Union Address.

Of course we could spend time debating whether the final line, “Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye,” which is Newman’s farewell to the end of an empire, should be seen in relation to “Shantih shantih shantih”, the words used as a formal ending to the series of sacred Hindu treatises written in Sanskrit that bring to a close T.S. Eliot”s The Waste Land. Or we could simply sit back and listen to the song.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To Hell And Back

After finding The Dark Knight far less enjoyable than expected, I had higher hopes for Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Because seeing Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel in the West End had played a factor it making it a thoroughly draining experience, I opted for a cinema much closer to home, hoping that the locale would be an improvement.

Back in 2004 I was invited to a screening of Hellboy at the Moving Picture Company in Wardour Street. It was one of the hottest days of the summer and typically nobody had turned the air conditioning on so that the simple act of holding a chilled beer from the bar immediately warmed the drink to room temperature.

Maybe one of the distributor’s drones had thought it was an appropriate wheeze to make the environment as hot as hell, but even in the uncomfortable surroundings it didn’t manage to distract from what was a remarkably faithful, and certainly enjoyable, film.

The first movie might have been a little rough around the edges but that was part of its charm, staying true to Mike Mignola’s wonderful comic book series with its red and black colour palette. While the film versions of Spiderman and X-Men didn’t really find their feet until the sequel, director Guillermo del Toro pretty much nailed it from the get-go.

Now, four year on, comes the sequel based on the tales of myth and folklore Mignola started to explore rather than simply stick with battles against Nazis and the occult. While the first movie dealt with Hellboy discovering what it takes to become a man, the sequel sees him finding his way in the world that doesn’t accept him in the way he expected.

Made by Universal, rather than Sony, with a larger budget because in the meantime del Toro has obviously become the “visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth”, Hellboy II is lighter in both look and tone. At one point the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence takes on a more comedic Men in Black vibe when a trio of wigged-out creatures need restraining, the last of which appears to be a small, green Jedi Knight hurriedly carried away.

Though there was nothing bad about it film, it got me wondering at what point does spectacle slip uncomfortably into indulgence. Of course more money always means bigger and better, whether it’s required or not. At times Hellboy II seemed to be only about his love of monsters at the expense of the narrative drive.

With the Nazi Kroenen and the resurrected Sammael in the service of Grigori Rasputin, along with occasional glimpses of the Ogdru Jahad in their crystal prisons and the pissed-off corpse dug up to help the BPRD find Rasputin’s mausoleum, Hellboy had all the creatures the story required. For long stretches The Golden Army seemed to exist simply to sate del Toro’s love of monsters.

Having Agent Myers in exile allows for the introduction of the gaseous Johann Krauss, played sometimes for laughs, which foolishly relegates Jeffrey Tambor’s head of the BPRD. Still, who needs his welcome belligerence to Hellboy’s childish antics when there is the faceless Angel of Death to linger over.

While not exactly enamoured by The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s regurgitation of the worst of Metal Hurlant, I managed to stick with it until Chris Tucker turned up to do his turn and the story stopped in its tracks and pretty much died on its arse. Hellboy II came so close to reaching that point once it arrived at The Troll Market.

Certain creatures like the last Elemental and the Golden Army of the title really were spectacular and necessary ingredients, having more weight to them that the fey Prince Nuada who never quite appeared to be the formidable villain the story required. At del Toro’s version of Diagon Alley, the narrative slowed to a crawl as the camera positively drooled over an abundance of creatures that didn’t actually need to be there.

Seven weeks after its US release, Hellboy II has only managed to pull in $75 million on an estimated $85 million budget. While it’s not a stinking dud like Meet Dave or The Love Guru, it’s obviously not one of this summer’s outright hits either. After an opening weekend of just over $35.5 million, takings plummeted by almost 71% by its second weekend. Obviously the arrival of The Dark Knight has to factor into the equation, but it also gives the impression that fans flocked to see Hellboy II when it opened and didn’t bother to go back for repeat viewings.

There’s still the money to come in from other territories and further monies from DVD sales, but I’m not sure I’m that desperate to see it again. The thing is, if there had been a light on in the auditorium I would have been quite happy to take out The Times and complete the daily Su Duko. Instead I had to finish them off on the train home and, quite honestly, enjoyed that more.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Painting A Picture Of London

Oh, good grief. After the whole eight minutes of big red London bus you’d think it couldn’t get any worse, at least not for a while. But then comes the news that a promotional video being screened in Beijing included brief footage of the infamous Marcus Harvey painting of Myra Hindley that was made using children’s handprints.

Okay, the video was put together by some ass-clowns at Visit London rather than the 2012 bozos, but you’d think that anything promoting London’s potential bankruptcy in four years time would need to be vetted before being given a seal of approval. I may be wrong, but I’d have thought that using images of loathsome child murderers isn’t the best way to attract people to these shores.

Perhaps it would have been better to pick a Turner instead, like The Fighting Temeraire, but then there are far better songs that are representative of Britain than Whole Lotta Love. But maybe that’s the genius of the promotional video. Maybe the plan is to keep people away. After all, the damned capital is pretty much choked solid on a normal day. What the heck is it going to be like with all the world’s athletes and sports fans clogging the place up even more?

So maybe this ploy is to offend so many countries and creeds that they simply stay away. That way the Olympic site in East London can still look like Time Team has gone mental and everyone can go about their business. The next video can remind people of our complicity in the slave trade, remind everyone that we invented concentration camps and sent all our undesirables to Australia, and at some point pissed everyone else off, whether it was by whupping the Spanish Armada or giving Napoleon an absolute caning.

In fact I’ve even got the next slogan to show everyone where we’re at: LONDON 2012. JUST FUCK OFF!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Show's Over

On Friday I started watching the late-night repeat of the Opening Ceremony for the 29th Olympiad, turning it off once the inane and snarky commentary just got too much. This afternoon, once the Closing Ceremony spectacular began, the same three commentators of Huw Edwards and the two inconsequential blondes were huddled around their microphones but this time they were obviously passed a note that read: SHUT THE FUCK UP UNTIL AN APPROPRIATE LULL IN THE PROCEEDINGS.

Unfortunately they didn’t get it until toward the end of the opening routing performed by the multitude of drummers, that included two giant drums like rounds of Edam cheese floating about the floor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, and the marvellous choreographed routine featuring the dancers clothed in bells. But at least they dialled it down for the first explosion of fireworks.

After that, it all seemed to go very well, with them pretty much keeping out of it until there was something useful to add. Yes, it was a feast of colour and a feast of sound, but I could work that out myself without having the Fat Welshman telling me. The hand over took place between the Mayor Beijing and the Mayor of London. Good old Boris enthusiastically waved the Olympic flag to order without bumbling or tumbling. But after that...

I’ve never paid enough attention to previous Closing Ceremonies to know the drill; that the next host had an eight-minute slot to advertise their four-years-away wares. Now, obviously a different culture is going to provide something different but what in all that’s holy was that mish-mashed clusterfuck on offer all about?

The horrible cheap-looking computer graphic sequence, apparently put together by some Soho keyboard drones, looked like it was some piss-poor, misguided attempt to resurrect all that Cool Britannia bullshit. Punks and bloody Abbey Road? Oh, cock off! And then we get a ‘real’ red London bus that pulls up to a zebra crossing and a Lollipop Lady. What fucking madness was this? Is that all that’s truly representative of this country now?

I guess the alternative would have been some Morris Dancers and a bunch of those people who re-enact Civil War battles on their weekend. And if Pearly Kings and Queens turned up, marksmen would have quite probably been instructed to shoot on site, but at least they could have happily danced around Chas ‘n’ Dave belting out a tune on the old Joanna before heading into the Anderson shelter.

At least it wasn’t a bloody bendy-bus, or the fucking TARDIS. But then to add insult to injury the top deck collapsed like a village fete float that was meant to be a Transformer and up pops a winner off The X-Factor and dinosaur rocker Jimmy Page who then proceed to belt out a barely audible version of Whole Lotta Love. To add to the abomination a bunch of dancers with umbrellas cocked about like drunken ramblers trying to shelter from a storm in a telephone box.

We’d been told that the Chinese performers had been rehearsing their performances for both ceremonies for years and it showed. This load of old nonsense looked like it had been cobbled together by people still suffering the effects of a violent hangover.

So is this a taste of things to come? Just as news arrives that four of the top Olympic sponsors have decided to withdraw their financial support is the best we have to offer a kiddie picked by Blue Peter voters to hand Beckham a football? I bet the nincompoops behind the Millennium Eve fiasco in the Dome breathed a sigh of relief after they witness those eight minutes, as long as they weren’t involved again. No wonder Boris made a speedy getaway.

Once the ceremony was over and it cut from Beijing to Claudia Winkleman grinning like an idiot as she presented the party on The Mall I switched off, simply because I was too exhausted to claw my eyes out. Apparently it was just as fucking awful, which isn’t a surprise. Now, I know we should all be very patriotic and back 2012 all the way, but on the evidence presented today the wise thing to do would be to pack up and get the fuck out while we still can.

Mock The Weak

Whether you love it or hate it, The Office has to be respected for managing to get the mockumentary style pitch perfect. One thing BBC2’s new comedy The Cup ably proved, long before the first episode was over, was that if you don’t get it right the whole enterprise can fall spectacularly flat on its arse.

If it wasn’t for Mock the Week and the repeats of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the BBC’s ascertain that Thursday night was comedy night, or however it is they try and big this scheduled block up is, could be given a slapping by the Trades Description Act. Because the panel shows tend to be consistently funny, it puts the onus on whatever new sitcom is lumped in between, and few seem to rise to the challenge.

So to be fair, I gave The Cup a second chance on iPlayer, which meant that I allowed another half hour of my life to get pissed down the drain. There were, I suppose, one or two brief chuckles, although the Wipers gag seemed especially forced. But after all was said and done, the one nagging question that remained was, what was the point of putting it in a mockumentary format?

The Office gave its audience a familiar sitcom setting then used the format to make perfectly nuanced observations of the petty bickering and management idiocy that infuses every workplace. It also allowed the characters to show a complete lack of self-awareness during the moments they attempted to analyse their character traits.

Because its safe to assume that The Cup is aiming to be a broader comedy, where the adults act like children and the kids are wise beyond their years, the sitcom comes closer in format to Operation Good Guys, a comedy from the late 1990s in which cameras followed a bumbling police unit that cranked up the laughs but was just as hit or miss because, if memory serves, all three series were improvised.

But if it is aiming for broader strokes, especially with scenes like the football dad haranguing the team coach so much that the old guy keels over on the touchline with a stroke, why be a mockumentary? By the end of the first episode of The Cup the format seemed to be thoroughly ill-advised because it constrained the possibilities for comedy rather than giving it free range.

Without it much could have been made of the tensions between characters to whom the under-11s football team was obviously nothing but an intrusion into their happy existence. Instead they seemed to accept their lot in life, whether it was the hen-pecked undertaker underwriting the team, football dad’s wife lumped with all the laundry and adverse to the early Saturday morning starts, or the son who preferred cooking to kicking the ball about.

It makes you wonder whether it might not have been better filming it documentary style with all the vim and vigour of Armando Iannucci’s mercilessly barbed The Thick Of It, in which the characters paid the crew no heed. But then I suppose it all became clear when the end credits rolled. After the writing credit for Absolutely’s Moray Hunter and Jack Docherty came the announcement: Based on an original series by Marty Putz, Wendy Hopkins and Howard Busgang.

That series was The Tournament, a Canadian sitcom that centred around the Farqueson's Funeral Home Warriors hockey team in the small town of Briarside, which ran for a couple of seasons. Whether it was a success or why it deserves a UK makeover remains unclear. At a time when British drama isn’t that sparky I would have thought buying up the rights to Intelligence might have been a better bet.

Friday, August 22, 2008

On Your Todd

Was there ever any point in making another film version of The Sweeney? I only ask because, perusing the Variety website to see if there were any chuckles to be had from their review of Death Race, I stumbled across the news that Fox Searchlight has withdrawn its funding of DNA Films’ planned feature.

Certainly it would have some appeal on its home ground, where it still gives some people such a boner that they frantically rejig the formula into Life on Mars. But you can understand how Fox Searchlight could get cold feet, albeit last minute, doubting whether the feature would find an international audience without a major star to give it that extra push.

Obviously Ray Winstone cast as Jack Regan doesn’t do it for them, even after a meaty role in Scorsese’s The Departed and being wasted in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Nonsense. Who does that leave to take his place? Obviously a wan streak of piss like Jude Law would be as much use as a exotic species of shitfish, and an American in the role would simply lead to gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

So that leaves the question, what is the point of a film of The Sweeney? Certainly, as Variety’s Ali Jaafar mentions, Ian Kennedy Martin’s drama was a seminal show in British television, virtually creating a new blueprint for the gritty cop dramas that would follow, although I’m exactly sold on it’s correlation to Miami Vice in the US. But since the 1970s, when there were two Sweeney movies released as the television show was winding down, there have been a good many cop shows that have successfully built on the template without feeling the need to wave their hands about, begging to be turned into a film.

Of course, in hindsight, perhaps it’s a shame that didn’t happen. Instead of decent crime thrillers, the past decade has simply seen the British Film industry squeeze out a succession of embarrassingly bad gangster movies on the back of guy Ritchie’s ADD-infused Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Nick Love, who was going to direct The Sweeney, seems to have made a career out of jumping on the bandwagon and turning out a succession of artistically-bereft, pointless and ultimately tiresome “fackin’ geezer” movies. Like Paul W.S. Anderson, he seems to be part of this new breed of British filmmaker whose turns behind the camera show no discernable talent.

The only good gangster film in recent years was Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake. Maybe, before DNA attempt to get the project back on its feet next year they could slide the script under his door. Then we could have Michael Gambon as Regan and, in the role they so far hadn’t manage to cast, Daniel Craig as George Carter, and that would be sorted.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fear Of The Talking Head

Purely in the interests of science, I wondered what it would be like to be seriously treated like I was a complete and utter fucking imbecile. Obviously there are many ways to test this in this day and age. But for the purposes of this experiment I watched last week’s episode of Dr Alice Roberts: Don’t Die Young, which has been loitering around on iPlayer like so many of the turds floating in the BBC punchbowl.

I had missed being spattered by this racid stream of effluvium until friend of the blog, Jaded and Cynical, brought it up in the last post’s comments. At lot of the time we complain that indigenous television drama certainly isn’t what it used to be, but perhaps the worst offender in recent years is how utterly dumb factual programming has become.

J&C mentioned the episode about the digestive system that “opened with a fire engine being driven into a town centre. Members of the public were asked the question: If your intestines were a hosepipe on this engine, how long would they be?“ I had the unbridled joy of catching the episode regarding the ears, nose and throat.

This particular gem began at the circus, for no apparent reason, then went on to introduce some slaphead club DJ who, spending his days and nights in the midst of very LOUD music, wondered if it might be affecting his hearing. Really? Well, who would have thunk it? After a resounding YES! Dr Alice then showed how difficult it was to go clothes shopping with bad hearing. By the time she stated that the mouth was used for eating I figured I had had more than enough.

Sticking it out for just over half the running time left me utterly bewildered. I wondered if the programme title was meant to be sarcastic, as in “Don’t accidentally slide under a bus anytime, you patronising cunt!” If the second half of the show was anything like the first half, in total there was a threadbare two minutes worth of fact in the episode was the rest of the time filled out with twatting around.

Almost thirty years ago the BBC broadcast Dr Jonathan Miller’s remarkable 13-part documentary series The Body in Question, which pretty much told us everything we needed to know. So why is time and money being spent on this new tripe with the ginger bint? J&C mentions Jacob Bronowski’s spellbinding series The Ascent of Man, first shown in 1973. A personal view of history, Bronowski’s account of humankind’s development was simply presented in respect that it was incredibly informative without being staged and also deeply moving without being at all cloying.

Looking back at these shows, perhaps the most interesting discovery is that, like Jeremy Isaacs’ The World at War, which was shown the year later, neither The Body in Question nor The Ascent of Man won BAFTA awards. Yes, they were all brilliant documentaries series, but at the same time there were factual programmes that were considered to be even better. Imagine that!?

Apart from what are now considered landmark series there were the respected documentaries like Man Alive and Horizon, which had a regular home in the schedules. Whichever series it was, I remember a programme on the British motorcycle industry, shown on a Monday evening. Tuesday morning, my first class at the Grammar School was Engineering Drawing, and our master, who had been a Lancaster pilot during the Second World War and went on to annually race in the Isle of Man TT, spent the whole lesson discussing the documentary.

Any kind of onscreen graphics, I suppose, were incredibly basic so the programmes all relied on filmed sequences and talking heads. And yet they were still entertaining as well as being informative because the subject matters were so enthralling. Obviously this is a horrible thing to admit, but it felt good to actually learn something.

Since then there was always series like Timewatch and Bookmark, Omnibus and Arena, Fine Cut, along with the phenomenal material that regular came from the BBC’s Natural History Unit. And at no point watching them did I feel like the material was being infantilised by the material. With enthusiastic presenters like Miller or Bronowski or Michael Wood or James Burke or Sir David Attenborough, we had people who would make ideal dinner party guests rather than the idiots today who you imagine would just want to rifle through your record collection while they talked crap.

And gradually, over the years, most of those programmes disappeared into the ether. The last series of Horizon I watched was virtually unrecognisable, relying heavily on fannying around with CGI in a vain attempt to chase ratings. Channel 4 used to have Equinox before they decided to hang their schedules of Big Brother and repeats of Friends and anything involving that ass-clown Justin Lee Collins. ITV may still have The South Bank Show, but long ago it turned horribly populist and now just seems to be an extended promotion for the artist involved.

What the fuck happened to the population that makes the majority not want to learn? Don’t people want to know more than what to wear or what plants to put in the garden? Why do we yearn to be treated like we’re lying in a crap-filled nappy wanting a brightly coloured mobile filling our field of vision?

There are still good documentaries around but they are few and far between, losing ground to lifestyle garbage and orchestrated phone-in con jobs. Back at the turn of this century the BBC gave us A History of Britain by Simon Schama. Currently we have the utter facile Britain from Above. Luckily there is still the odd informative programme around, like Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press - The Machine That Made Us.

In these personality-driven documentaries, which have become the new bait to attract an audience, Fry is a perfect presenter because he doesn’t have an overbearing personality that squeezes everything else out of the frame and is quite happy to hear other people talk, making it all eminently watchable. On the other hand, Richard Dawkins has started to appear so bullying and aggressive with his “I’m utterly right and you’re utterly wrong!” stance that I find him unwatchable.

Still, there is still the dependable Laurence Rees. One of the finest documentary makers in recent times, responsible for The Nazis: A Warning from History, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great and Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’, this autumn he’s back with WWII - Behind Closed Doors, which concentrates on Stalin's relationships, with not just Churchill and Roosevelt but also Hitler.

As well as carefully sourced archive material the series includes eyewitness accounts from Uncle Joe’s secret police, speaking on camera for the first time. How about that? Of course it will probably be scheduled opposite The X-Factor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When Less Was More

Vague plans for the weekend went to the wall once I started watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I had promised myself that I could spread the episodes out over the evenings, into the week, but the draw to see the story through became too much. The profile on David Cornwell, included on the discs as an extra, finished on Sunday evening in time for Top Gear.

The weekend before had proved to be the right time to rewatch Edge of Darkness, while the evenings in between were filled with the first Messiah, Stephen Poliakoff's Perfect Strangers and Capturing Mary, and the opening episodes of the first series of Secret Army. The only time when I had watched a drama from the actual schedules it was the final episode of Bonekickers on Tuesday night, which was enough to turn anyone off television for good.

The obvious answer to relying on the DVDs might have been to simply avoid the Beijing games stripped across the schedules with its wanky BBC presenters and their snarky comments about China. Obviously they’re going to lay on the cloying jingoism rather thickly, but when they gave airtime to inarticulate track-and-fielders explaining that Michael Phelps shouldn’t be crowned as the greatest Olympian because all he did was swim, I really wanted the fuckers to be dragged out and thrown under a tank.

The thing is, even during the weeks leading up to the games I’d been turning more and more to the older dramas on DVD that actually have some substance to them, and turning away the majority of what is being lumped into the current television schedules. It’s easy to turn into a miserable old bastard, muttering under your breath that, “things were so much better back in the old days,” but stopping to think about what television was like when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, I have a nagging suspicion that it was true.

There may have been far fewer channels – only three up until the arrival of Channel 4 in late 1982 – but there were far more, well-made programmes that you wanted to watch. Production values obviously weren’t as high as they are nowadays but the stories were far more intelligent, documentaries were far better, not treating the audience as hapless idiots who needed to be spoonfed reconstructions instead of talking heads and facts. The light entertainment was far funnier.

A lot of this came home while reading the broadsheet obituaries of Sir Bill Cotton who joined the BBC as a trainee producer in 1956, eventually becoming Head of Light Entertainment from 1970 to 1977, and then Controller of BBC1 from 1977 to 1981. During his tenures, Bill Cotton commissioned Dad’s Army and Not Only... But Also..., starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. He brought Morecambe and Wise to the BBC, paired Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in The Two Ronnies, launched Michael Parkinson as a Saturday-night talk show host, and talked an initially reluctant Bruce Forsyth into hosting The Generation Game.

Obviously watching those DVDs I tended to miss the scheduled news programmes, but still managed to snatch a few minutes here and there. Of course there were gold medals to be reported on, along with everything going to fiery hell in the Caucuses, but Bill Cotton’s passing seemed to go virtually without notice. At the beginning of last week, Newsnight gave time to look back on the life and career of Isaac Hayes who had died suddenly on the weekend, but there was nothing for the man whose philosophy was to provide his audience with entertainment of the highest quality.

Maybe everyone was caught on the hop. Obviously a tribute has to be planned. Amongst the many comedies that Sir Bill Cotton presided over, included with Dad’s Army and Porridge, which even repeated today still draw large audiences, was The Good Life, John Esmonde and Bob Larbey’s comedy about seeking self-sufficiency in middle-class suburbia. Strangely, Sir Bill Cotton passed away the day after John Esmonde, another death that went unreported until obituaries started to appear in the papers come mid-week.

It’s a shame we can’t just defoliate all these fucking channels filled with cheap, bullshit programmes and go back to something more manageable. But, hey, that’s progress for you. In the meantime the numbers are in for Spooks - Code 9. Three episodes in and it has already lost almost half of the original audience.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ride For Ruin!

You know how the events in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil are sent spiralling out of control when one of the Information Retrieval, Subjects For Detention & Interview forms prints Buttle on a form instead of Tuttle? I sometimes worry that when the time comes for the appointed lynch mob to drag twat filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson into the street for a brutal day-long beating, broadcast live to cheering cinephiles around the globe, the yarps will accidentally grab Paul Thomas Anderson by mistake.

There seems to be a raft of youngish directors nowadays that are gleefully making films that have no artistic merit, are quite frankly thoroughly repellent, and cater only to the baser human instincts. Their audience are the sort of vermin who are probably unhappy that they missed seeing Kitty Genovese get what they obviously think she deserved; the nasty pieces of work bubbling under the surface of society who need a fast introduction to either chemical castration or a bolt gun.

Anderson’s films primarily suffer from braindead idiocy, something that strangely never seems to be a problem for him. Coming up is Death Race. I’m sure the crowds will go absolutely wild with glee. I never bothered to catch Death Race 2000 because I’m not a great fan of Roger Corman’s oeuvre. I suppose it had satire going for it with the whole extreme sports parody that put it in the same category as Norman Jewison’s Rollerball.

While the original followed a morally bankrupt race across the United States, with the drivers garnering points by mowing down civilians, the remake confines the race to within the walls of a “notorious” prison, with the warden forcing inmates to drive against each other. I suppose that’s an idea that we could probably live with. Except in this prison the cars are decked out with an array of weapons and the drivers have a navigator that has been bussed in from the nearby women’s prison.

Let’s just run by that again. The prisoners drive cars loaded down with weaponry, with some hot chick in the seat beside them. There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s taking disbelief and booting it so hard in the nuts that it ends up in orbit. Judging from the trailer, which is primarily a hodgepodge of scrappy race shots and Ian McShane hopefully being paid a princely sum to recite the most clichéd dialogue imaginable, you get the impression that this is going to be a bad idea for the characters in the film and the audience who foolishly puts down good money to watch this twaddle.

Six years ago John McTiernan remade Rollerball, which pretty much put a stake through his career even before the whole business with Anthony Pellicano came to light. I suppose we can hope that Death Race finally helps puts paid to Anderson. Jesus, it looks shocking. Can you actually think of anything worse?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Maybe I’m going soft in the head in my old age, but I watched the final episode of Cock Knockers. Why? I’m not sure really. Maybe it was to see whether it had improved at all, bringing it up from batshit crazy to comfortably dumb. So, basically, I wasted another hour of my life.

My interest had been piqued by the fact that they were after Excalibur this time, although judging from the story, had this been a running subplot throughout the series? You see, I love the Arthurian legends and all the various takes on them, whether it’s John Boorman’s Excalibur or Mike Barr and Brian Bolland’s Camelot 3000 or Gilliam’s The Fisher King.

Unfortunately, that love wasn’t carried over to this load of old pants which turned out to be the sort of thing that once upon a time would have made by the Children’s Film Foundation. These silly little stories, with their quests for the cross of Christ and the sword of Arthur, and whatever toss went on in between, seemed almost a throwback to the nutty ITC dramas greenlit by Lew Grade in the 1960s and early 70s.

ITV tried to resurrect this sort of entertainment, which is usually only now fully appreciated by people with severe frontal lobe damage, a couple of years back with The Outsiders. Aiming to be in the vein of Danger Man or The Persuaders!, it was frankly awful because it was written by some idiot who simply didn’t have a fucking clue.

Oddly enough, even the pilot of Fringe, the new science fiction drama from JJ Abrams harks back to the opening episode of ITC’s Department S in that the plot revolves around the landing of a passenger jet and the resulting danger to its passengers. Of course, in this day and age, Fringe gives it some juice with a biological hazard that turns people into puree, which makes it just slightly more frightening than Peter Wyngarde’s Jason King.

Anyway, after the twaddle of Crack Snackers was over, I mooched around its website for the first time, looking to see if there was anything that made sense. Hilariously, there was a number of history pages that tried their damnedest to connect all the tommyrot in the half-dozen episodes to some semblance of truth.

Amazingly, the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table page didn’t confirm that Excalibur came to Earth in 2222 BC, so I assume that opening for the episode was either artistic license or simply complete stinking bullshit. That aside, when it comes to Arthur, the historian writes:

His most famous victory was at Mons Badonicus, a place that can be translated as Badbury Hill - of which there are several in southern Britain. This battle is significant as it is also described by Gildas in De Excidio Britanniae, a sixth century source, but which notably fails to mention Arthur; Gildas’s victor is Ambrosius Aurelianus.

Okay. So what he’s saying is that in St. Gildas’ Concerning the Ruin of Britain, which is regarded as the sole writings of any substance that survive from the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, the events from the fifth century, out of which came the legend of King Arthur, completely fail to mention Arthur. I see. So, what he’s really saying is... King Arthur didn’t fucking exist! Really? Who would have thunk it?

We haven’t yet heard whether a second series has been commissioned. Really, the fate of the numpty archaeologists should be left in the hands of J.J. Hunsecker:

You're dead, son. Get yourself buried.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Code Blue

I noticed that on the BBC iPlayer the first episode of Spooks – Code 9 was given the guidance ‘Contains some strong language’. The odd muttered “fuck”, included in the episode to make it “edgy” for BBC Three, was nothing like the fucking language heard here as I watched this twatting great steaming pile of retarded horseshit.

I suspect I’m not the target audience because I don’t need L and R painted on my shoes and can tie my own laces. Also I’m not a knuckle-dragging fucktard. But this offshoot was simply more evidence that if the BBC wants to save both money and their reputation, Three needs to be scrapped.

The idea that a nuke goes off under the 2012 Olympic stadium and, with the capital now uninhabitable and presumably the main centres of government and the security services knackered, MI5 implements a system of recruiting new agents. Rather than sniff around the Oxbridge student population they get slack-faced fucknuts who are young and “street”.

What a great idea! The reasoning behind getting youths sign up for Queen and Country was that, just like policemen, the terrorists are getting younger as well. For fuck’s sake! The only thing missing from this idiot group of wazzocks was a big Great Dane that habitually scarfed snacks to help solve their mysteries.

Last week the BBC cancelled the lamentable Holby Blue because nobody wanted to watch it and Corporation suits, apparently, were concerned it’s abject failure as an interesting an appealing drama could “undermine the Holby brand”. After all, Casualty and Holby City are sparkling examples of... er, uninteresting and unappealing dramas.

A few more episodes of Spooks – Code 9 and the special Spooks brand is going to look like it excitably shit all over itself. That would be a shame because Spooks is perhaps the only British drama that actually embraces intelligent and fast paced storytelling. Given the rubbish Kudos have been spewing out of late, it’s probably the only decent programme the company is making.

Right when the episode had finished on iPlayer, once the end credits had rolled and identified Kudos as the culprits, it went to a grey screen across which was the statement:

This doesn’t seem to be working. Try again later.

I knew that, and no, I don’t think I’ll be back.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


I flicked on the television this morning and caught some earnest looking men swimming laps and really putting their backs into it. So, no Hairy Bikers on Saturday Kitchen then. Of course it was the Olympics. I should have realised because I’d been watching the stunning opening ceremony yesterday afternoon.

Now, I know China should be frowned upon for the human rights abuses and whatever – although I don’t think the American and the lapdog British governments should really do any finger pointing – but that was a fucking brilliant show they put on. I didn’t catch all of it (which meant I luckily missed Sarah Brightman caterwauling away) but from the Fou drumming that opened the ceremony and the 3,000 students of Confucius, through to the remarkable giant scroll that rolled across the stadium floor to illustrate the discovery of paper, later moveable type, and then Chinese trade through the Silk Road.

I thought Western leaders were supposed to be boycotting the ceremony because the Chinese have stepped on the odd Tibetan, but there was Dubya up in the stands. Where was Gordon Brown? If Blair was still PM obviously he’d be in line for the concession stands, getting hotdogs and soda for George and his pal Vladimir. Blair may be a grinning war criminal but at least he’s not a dour, doughy Scotsman who couldn’t run a fucking bath let alone a country, so he’s still got that going for him. Maybe the Beijing Olympic Committee was akin to the China White people, telling Brown that useless tits simply weren’t welcome.

Of course the problem with watching the fantastical opening ceremony make us think that in four years time it’s going to be happening in London. Oh, deary, deary me. Beijing had previously invited Steven Spielberg to be involved in the ceremony, but he bailed because China wasn’t doing enough to resolve the crisis in Darfur, or some other backtracking twaddle, and went on to shit a rubbish Indiana Jones film all over us. Instead it was left to Zhang Yimou, director of Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers to provide the spectacle. Does that mean we’ll get Guy Ritchie?

Yes, we can big up our history and traditions, bigging up all the things that have made this country great like Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Chaucer, caning the Spanish Armada, the Industrial Revolution, The Battle of Britain, tea drinking and The Beatles, Sherlock Holmes and Bulldog Drummond. Except in the last few decades all the industries have been sold off so we don’t really produce anything anymore leaving football hooligans, hoodies and skank celebrities and shit public transport. Is that what we’re going to promote?

Although, expecting to have a wow-wee opening ceremony in four years means expecting the Olympic Park to actually be finished in time. I don’t imagine anyone is seriously putting money on that. So we’ll probably end up with an artistic interpretation of hoodies stabbing each other’s heads off, in amongst a pile of graffiti-covered rubble. I think the best bet would be to have the allegedly corrupt and money-grabbing 2012 Olympic Committee and their associated flunkies strung up on the approaches where they could be freely beaten and blowtorched by the mob. Now, that would be great entertainment.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Long Dark Knight

After doing what I had to do in town earlier than expected, I thought it would be a wheeze to skive off and finally see The Dark Knight at the Odeon Leicester Square. Boy, was that a big fucking mistake! Where do I start, the film or the cinema?

I used to love the Leicester Square cinemas. It’s where I’d bunk off to when escaping the bullshit sluicing through The Esteemed School of Art. The screens were huge, the sound systems pin-sharp, and afternoon performances actually were half price rather than just the odd couple of quid knocked off. And the popcorn didn’t taste like someone had sicked up all over it.

While the screens at the Odeon Leicester Square and Empire are still big, the Odeon West End – where I once sat through the original Star Wars trilogy and only fell asleep three times – has been sliced in two. The transformation of what was the wonderful old Warner West End is the biggest travesty. It was the first cinema I ever went to in London. The evening before my interview for TESA I caught a 70mm print of The Right Stuff. Now it’s the loathsome plastic multiplex Vue with the shoe box-sized auditoriums.

In terms of sound quality, I was happy with the introduction of THX. That was always good enough, right? But since the early 1990s we’ve been treated to DTS (Digital Theater System) and SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound). These multi-channel formats seem to be absolutely peachy for dumb summer movies blasting out big, rumbling sound effects that leave our ears bleeding. The problem is when you want to hear what the fucking actors up on screen are saying.

For most of The Dark Knight I was straining to catch the dialogue and as for the big speech at the end, I just about heard the last two words. As long as they were “dark” and “knight”, that is. There were times when sequences were accompanied by long hissing noises, but that might have been part of the soundtrack. I’d seen Iron Man at the same cinema only a couple months back and heard every word. So the problem may have not been with the sound mix itself but the cocktard in the projection booth setting the levels incorrectly.

That actually wouldn’t surprise me, because one thing that’s seriously putting me off going to the cinema nowadays is the moronic staff. How did the management hire them? Did the small ad read: “Fuckwits with no people skills required”? The couple of muppets working the box office were so incompetent that some middle management stooge came out and told everyone in line that we could use the Odeon Mezzanine box office as well if we hoped to get indoors before the film started.

You know, you give them money, they give you a ticket in return. Is that difficult? Okay the customer has to decide where they want to sit, but this was the first screening of the day. Assigned seating is a great idea because it stops it turning into a bun fight, but this was early afternoon. There was no way the auditorium was going to fill up so in this instance why not simply take the money and let the audience sit wherever the cockety-fuck they like.

Which brings us to the ushers. Or rather the one particular usher who looked like he would have preferred have us building a stretch of the Burma railroad. He was a pernickety sonofabitch. It was only when the latecomers were arriving that he started hauling people out for being in the wrong seat. if it happened during the commercials, that would have been fine – I just sat there, marvelling at the screen, thinking to myself: when did cinema advertising become so fucking shit?

Instead, Mr Arse-wipe Odeon had to start acting like a stiff prick during the trailers; more specifically the trailer for Quantum of Solace. I didn’t take too kindly to having goofs standing in my way while that was playing, so I told them to fuck off and find somewhere else to sit. That was a pretty clear instruction, and one easy to follow, but the usher was waving his damn torch about and they stumbled in and out of the row of seats looking utterly bewildered.

The guys hauled out into the aisle for being in the wrong place went looking for somewhere else to sit. The usher trotted after them, yacking about some damn thing until one of the chaps stopped in his tracks, turned to the usher, and told him, in no uncertain terms, to simply keep away from him. The usher retreated while they found new seats. Then the usher came back with someone from management. When they eventually found the guys there was a brief exchange before the man from management apologised and escorted the usher from the auditorium.

By then it was finally time for the film to start. There were some really nice touches, like the camera swaying while The Joker escaped in the back of the police car as if everything had lost control. But... It went about three moral dilemmas too far. By the point it got to the boats I was whimpering at the screen: “for the love of God, please fucking finish!”

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Playing Silly Buggers

Why do we bother with August? What really is its point? Especially now that it’s recognised as the height of the silly season. The phrase is meant to refer solely to the time of year newspapers fill column inches with tales of complete numptidom because newsworthy events are in short supply. That’s because everyone of importance has fucked off on holiday leaving everyone else simply fucked off, but in recent years it seems to have seeped off the page and ingrained itself across the whole of the media.

Obviously the fourth estate is still keeping its side of the bargain, especially when broadsheets like The Times give space to Katie Price so she can gripe about having her plastic tits turned away from China White’s corporate entertainment tent at the Cartier Polo International event. The newspaper was also keen to report the LAPD Police Chief’s insightful response to whether the city needs anti-paparazzi laws: “If you notice, since Britney started wearing clothes and behaving; Paris is out of town not bothering anybody anymore, thank God, and evidently, Lindsay Lohan has gone gay, we don’t seem to have much of an issue.”

Meanwhile the telly gradually gets rubbish as the evenings grow lighter until, as any fool know, reaching the apogee this month because the broadcasters don’t expect anyone to be indoors anyway. Obviously there are the occasional gems, but for the most part it feels like we could just as well tape road-kill to the screen and then smear it in shit. The lacklustre schedules appear more and more as a ploy to make the junk that washes up in the new autumn schedule look nifty by comparison.

Of course this August we have the added bonus of the Summer Olympics spunked all over the schedules in the coming weeks. Yeah, that’ll really be something special, won’t it? Does anybody really cares about who gets the gongs? I’ve always thought it’s who’s going to get caught out jazzing themselves up with monkey glands, along with this year’s added bonus of who gets run over by the tanks.

Still, we can always pop along to the nearest cinema. Except, with the British Board of Film Classification inexplicably redefining lenience, they’re now full of little mouthy fuckers who are spending their holidays being plain annoying rather than knifing each other’s heads off. As for the films, do we need another sequel to The Mummy? The first film was great, the second a piece of shit, and now comes a third outing written by the clowns behind Smallville that features an ancient Chinese emperor who hasn’t even been mummified.

Before that, what’s with The X-Files coming back? Does anyone really give a damn about it anymore? Judging from the box-office, obviously not. It has been odd checking out what audiences in America were interested in and what they abandoned. Executives for 20th Century Fox are probably preparing to take a last look around their offices. The studio’s last three movies – The X-Files: I Want To Believe, Space Chimps and Dave – all arrived at the box office stillborn. Apparently the utter failure of the latter officially makes Eddie Murphy box-office poison.

So, there we go. I suppose the thing to do is look for the good things. In the past weeks Giles Coren was outed as a self-aggrandizing, foul-mouthed fuckstain, thereby proving that talent does indeed skip a generation. Meanwhile Steven Moffat deserved to be lauded when, at the San Diego Comic Con, he admitted his admiration for The Doctor finally ditching Rose in the season finale of Doctor Who, observing, “You have to hand it to the Doctor for dumping a slightly needy girlfriend by palming her off on a copy of himself.”

There’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army on the way, which should be a good laugh, even if the box-office suggests it’s the end of the road for the onscreen adventures of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence. This week coming sees the arrival of Harps and Angels, the first new Randy Newman album since 1999’s marvellous Bad Love. Yesterday the BBC Proms celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Halle Orchestra by broadcasting a programme that included an inspired rendition of George Butterworth’s rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, bookended by the A.E. Houseman poetry that inspired it.

I suppose it really does come down to finding the magical moments in life and enjoying them for what they are. While in the meantime taking the piss of everything else.