Saturday, 7 November 2009

That's funny...

In light of the attack on Jimmy Carr for his apparently thoughtless joke regarding war veteran amputees, I wanted to say something about his (mis)treatment. I adore the media, whether it is the broadsheets or the red tops, Newsnight or Heat magazine. In fact, I think that in order to offer an opinion on the news today, it is very important to ascertain the widely different way that the same events can be reported. But what I detest is the hounding of individuals by a newspaper columnist or two under a misrepresentative umbrella of expousing the opinions of the moral majority. I have watched Jimmy Carr many a time. His brand of humour isn't particularly irreverent, its punchy and brutal, but his jokes are over in a flash. It is deliberately designed to give you an initital verbal winding but ending with guffaws of laughter at his witty cheek. But more importantly, Jimmy can approach serious issues in today's society and give his opinion to the masses in a palatable medium. His joke was not designed to offend the amputees but to topically commiserate with them through humour. If these kinds of quick-fire jokes were the stuff that would have broken his career, we would never have heard of him. I wholeheartedly support his approach.

That brings me to Frankie Boyle, a comedian of similar ilk who spends his entire time on stage or television thinking of how offensive he can be. I'm sure Boyle acknowledges an audience gasp as being on equal par with roaring laughter and applause. His comments regarding UK swimmer Rebecca Adlington were not very nice, but were they truly cruel? Probably not, its his shtick, but it was the media that drew unnecessary attention to the quote, not Frankie. Don't get me wrong, if I was Adlington I would have been mortified and good on her agent for making a point, but the real issue here is why do the media focus on the humour which is so inflammatory? Because we like it! Because it makes a good story! But don't think its because they care about reproaching Boyle. The running of stories regarding poor-taste jokes merely serves to further endorse the joke. I do not endorse Frankie's joke but I would rather have his humour than the condescending dissection of it offered up by others.

Some sections of society will be offended by risque jokes and other sections will misuse the humour for cruel and stupid reasons.  But the right or wrongness of freedom of speech should be determined by society as a whole, society made up of millions of people with differing opinions of what they find funny. Not just a few of us. You decide....

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Sunday, 6 September 2009


Just a quickie. I really want to share my fascination with a certain word gaming website. I absolutely love, but then I'm a little bit obsessed with quizzes; and you might be too, given the world's current obsession with list making.

If you want to know the name of every inaugurated American President, guess each studio album put out by Bob Dylan or you just really have to name all the world's capital cities in under fifteen minutes, then is the website for you.

The only problem is, with all this new found useless knowledge, is something else being displaced? I'll let you know if I ever remember what I may have forgotten, but in the meantime, it cheers me to know that I'm fully prepared to name every single novel written by George Orwell. You never know when such information might come in handy...!

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009


  Now finally I have a subject that I am really one of the top experts on! And that is.......(drum roll) student debt!

  I don't think that I am about to win Matsremind with my specialised subject but I am very interested in the current media speculation (especially in the UK) on the cost of university tuition. It has now been calculated that the average student will have created £23,500 worth of debt by the time they leave univesity. I am telling you now that my first response to this was "...and the rest".

  I went to uni in 1997 and students attending in that year were some of the last ones to benefit from a full student grant. I was given around £2000 a year which sounds like quite a lot of money. I went to a good university but not a top-notch one. Living was still expensive, socialising weas expensive and my uni was full of the type of students who had middle class well-off parents who paid for their education. I was from a single parent family, but I still had some family financial help. But I also had been sheltered from debt up until the age of 18. I had worked before uni, at a pitifully paid soul-destroying job but I still didn't really have much in the way of savings. I didn't have to pay fees, but I was absolutely flabberghasted at the amount of seemingly free money I could be given. A student account (with large overdraft) here, a credit card there and the debt piled up. I just was not physiclaly capable of managing it. I saw that everyone else was living a pretty good life and I wanted the same. I took the full student loan allowance and everything else that was thrown at me. I worked during the holidays but that basically paid for a few dresses and two weeks in Spain. I was continually informed that I didn't have to pay anything back whilst I was a student, and my metamorphisis into a student ostrich was complete.

  I was lucky, I came out with a very good degree. But then I decided I couldn't face work and took on two more years of study, as many friends were also doing that. And that was the worst thing I could ever have done for myself financially. I doubled my debt in an instant. I lived in more expensive digs in London. I couldn't work in the holidays or part time because postgraduate courses are generally much longer with longer hours than undergraduate degrees. I found a sponsor and was even granted a bursary, but I spent it on travel, coffee, dinner and books and generally trying to live a life I was not contributing to. Why did I deserve to not work for 5 years? Well my justification was simple. My work was my study and I worked hard. But study per se does not bring in the bacon.

  Its only when I actually started work in 2002 that I started earning a salary. And then I had to total up my debt. It was around £40,000. My first salary that year was significantly lower than that. And the debt kept coming. Credit card deals would run out, loans with longer terms were taken out and the debt spiralled. It was all encompassing, and sometimes I still wonder if I actually went into a high paying job because I wanted to do it, or because I needed to do it in order to repay the debt. My Herculean task is not over. I still have thouisands left to pay, and I have been diligently paying the debt now for seven years. But I am no longer in the grip of a money-related depression.

  So what is the moral of my story? Easy. It is as follows:

  1) Can you afford university? You dont have to go away from home or for a long time in order to educate yourself. The pressures are myriad and although I had a wonderful time, it wasn't the be all and end all of my life. It is better to be happy and fulfilled in a career. Vocational courses are not frowned upon like they used to be and neither is good honest work.
2) You must learn to budget and be patient. I had none of these skills. if you aren't well off, be prepared to be envious of others activities. You can't do everything if you aren't earning anything. A small amount of debt is fine (and now seemingly customary) but remember you may not secure the job you desire, or the salary you want immediately on receiving your degree.
3) be prepared to be in it for the long haul. It will colour your decisions when your uni days are only a glimmer in your memory.

  I'm not saying people shouldn't go to uni - it is an amazing for life and educational experience. But if you don't budget for it, you'll pay for your fun again and again and again.

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Friday, 10 July 2009

Blur - Out of Retirement and as if they never left....


With threatening skies overhead, I became increasingly worried about my first foray into Hyde Park gigging. I’ve loved the Essex foursome Blur since my teens and thought jumping around in the sun at their last reunion gig would be perfect, if the weather held! After seeing the coverage of this year’s Glastonbury, it was obvious that a break of four years had only done the band immense good.


I arrived at the park to see the magnificent Florence and the Machine strut their stuff. Florence’s ethereal, powerful voice carried over the already heaving crowd and during the beautiful ‘Dog Days are Over’ as the sun finally burned the clouds away. There was an ever-present festival feel, not bad for the centre of London. I knew nothing of the next support act Amadou&Mariam but their laid back Malian vibe, already a big hit with Mr Albarn, was a quirky change of direction. An hour later Vampire Weekend came on and definitely upped the ante, especially when they rocked their hit ‘A Punk’.


The event had been better organised than I had expected, with polite queuing for the drinks tents and less polite queuing for the not too shabby toilet facilities.


When Blur came on with She’s So High everyone went crazy. They blasted a nice mix of high profile tracks (Coffee & TV, Beetlebum, Girls and Boys) mingled with stuff for the fans (Trimm Trabb, Badhead, Oily Water) cleverly picking from their vast back catalogue, alternating between sunny pop melodies and surly ballads.

There wasn’t any mention of Alex James’ cheesemaking, but he was as cool as ever, and we even got Phil Daniels on a very fast-paced Parklife. The band seemed in sync, and they gave it their all on the blisteringly hot night. Stew Dean (no relation!) has some natty photos posted here .


Alas the performance wasn’t without incident. Although Blur behaved impeccably, I can’t say the same for the over-enthusiastic Friday night fans. More than once Damon, clad in his usual Fred Perry polo, had to use his megaphone to tell everyone to calm down. Myriad plastic bottles were chucked from the back and after making a dash for the front towards the end, I had to turn back when the aggressive throng became too much. It was as if Blur’s music was a siren’s call of regression back to stupid youthful behaviour. Well, we were all drinking cider in a park! 

The band gave not one but two encores. The first featuring Song 2 cleverly referencing Dave Rowntree’s burgeoning political career as the screens lit up ‘VOTE DAVE’. The second gave us For Tomorrow and finished on crowd-pleasing The Universal. With the pack gently swaying in unison we all sang “It really really could happen” and we all knew that it really really had. The essence of Blur in 25 stunning songs. Unforgettable.


You can buy a live album of the 3 July gig for £15 from: .

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Write Club: In support of air-brushing

It isn't very often that my opinion seems to buck the trend. Most of the time I agree with the common consensus. For example, 'yes, its sad that Michael Jackson had died', 'yes, the rioting in Western China sounds horrific', 'yes, the transport to and from Wembley Stadium is appalling' and so on.
But every now and then I try hard to phase out the voice of the so-called 'moral majority' and go out on a limb, listening to my own nagging inner voice. As you will be able to guess from the title of today's post, I am not about to go all controversial and exclaim that the American voting public made a terrible mistake in electing President Obama (although, I believe his polls are down, so maybe some do hold that opinion, I for one, don't). No, I want to talk about my support of the air-brushing of models, celebrities and the like for the purposes of advertising and selling newspapers and glossy magazines. Newsweek way back in 2008 did not agree with me.
Week on week a new record with a heavy advertising campaign is released by a Pop star, a new product is endorsed by a TV actor in gorgeous colour print, or pictures are plastered all over the internet and the tabloids of so-and-so frolicking on a beach in *insert sun-drenched white beach location of your choice*. I read the news (and when I say I read the news, in this instance I mean I look at the pictures of the aforesaid frolicking celebs) and I love looking at these photos. Sometimes though, I can feel a little inadequate. We all ask ourselves, where are the stretch marks, frown lines, cellulite, wobbly bits, muffin tops, protruding veins or fat rolls (unless of course you're looking at pictures of Beth Ditto who makes a living out of bucking the moral majority)? This can't be real....
Honestly, I do not want to see the 'stars' looking run down, wobbly or anything less than perfect. I like seeing them like that. It is part of what makes them seem special and heroic and beautiful. If I wanted to see what people look like in reality then I can step outside my front door. I know that the world is made up of those with varying states of beauty, and I am also fully aware that what I might find particularly attractive (male hairy chests, for example) may not be everyone's cup of tea. But I believe that there is a generic form of perfection and beauty that we all agree on, and I want those people on the stage and screen to remain ethereal, unattainable and unique.
I do agree that having 6 year olds wanting to retouch their photos is not a good thing at all, and the last thing I want to do is to write something which suggests that I am in support of body dysmorphic disorders or that I wish to prolong any genuine unhappiness felt by those looking at images of perfection and finding themselves physically wanting in comparison. 
But, my point of view comes from a secret, and that secret is knowledge. I know that imperfection is there, lurking in every photo. It's just that such imperfection has been eradicated by a clever person using a clever computer program. I am happy in the knowledge that the use of air-brushing means that even with personal trainers, horrific diets, plastic surgery and stylists at their disposal, the rich and famous still need a helping hand in creating a 'special' impression. These people are stuck in gilded cages of their own making for us to gawp at, for as long as fame and interest allows them. So instead of letting this depress me, I let this empower me. Long live air-brushing, let's all do it. Then eventually our children will realise that all these pictures must be faked and they can continue to goggle at the bewitching beauty, safe in the knowledge that underneath, we're all the same.
(picture courtesy of

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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Write Club: Running in heels...

Today I am wearing some lovely brown wedge heels, that I bought a year ago from French Connection. They are very summery but they aren't very comfortable, hence I now remember why I haven't worn them in about 6 months. However, as I am 5 feet 3 inches in stature, I feel like wearing high heeled shoes makes me feel taller, thus more empowered, thus better able to put my opinion across in deep, political, high-brow coversations (with er, giants).
Or, do I just wear them so that those over 5 foot 7 don't have to stoop to hear me?
Some female friends, all of whom sit comfortably in the 5ft7-5ft11 height group, a group that is almost as foreign to me as the 5ft7- 5ft11 male group, were very excited about the prospect of going out dancing together tomorrow night. The reason for their excitement? As they are all a similar height, they could all wear heels without the risk of alienating their other dwarf-like friends. Queue constenation from my quarters (oi, I'm down here). I couldn't understand why, at their respective heights, they would want to wear these shoes? They are uncomfortable after a couple of hours/minutes standing or even sitting, let alone dancing for hours, and you can't really make any kind of dash unless a) you don't mind the prospect of falling flat on your face, or b) you are Sarah Jessica Parker and you've been practising for 6 years. Heels put you at risk of health problems in later life, and worse, they put you at risk of meeting seemingly attractive members of the opposite sex who on standing, are found to be 4 inches shorter than you (Sophie Dahl is the exception, not the rule). Did I also mention that they are extremely uncomfortable?
The glamazons batted away my warnings and all agreed that wearing heels made them feel sexier, lengthened their (already pretty amazing) legs and made them feel more feminine. There I was thinking that those blessed with greater-than-average height revelled in their power and prestige on a daily basis, but what they really care about is that all this height apparently doesn't guarantee them sex-appeal.
My friends made valid points, but it wasn't enough to convince me. I can't compete with a 6ft lady with endless legs, in the office or at a club; but come tomorrow night, surely it will look sexier to be sashaying in flip-flops rather than grimacing at the edge of the dancefloor?

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Write Club: Time, Tennis and Tradition

With recently going on holiday to the amazing Indonesia (more on this in later Write Club updates) plus returning to over 200 work emails, Write Club has suffered significantly। It seems that both myself and the All England Club are suffering from poor time management. I can't achieve everything I would like to in the time period I've been given. Have I become sluggish in the sunshine, or am I a victim of an ever-speeding ever-demanding world? Wimbledon has been throughly entertaining so far, with the (current) great British hope Andy Murray still on course to win the competition. However, Murray wants to take his sweet time at Wimbeldon. The match against the Swiss Warwrinka last night was intense and fascinating, but the late finish (10.43pm GMT by my clock) together with the strange richocheting echo of the service balls (both a bi-product of the new Centre Court roof) just wasn't for me. The All England Club are attempting to control the time and the weather for audience enjoyment, but I am just not sure that this works. I love the traditional finish of epic evening matches at just before 9, giving the players time to rest and plan. Tennis, as a game of mental as well as physical strength, is what makes it so riveting. We aren't willing to give up 3 or more hours of our time for many other sports. Yes, it takes more time, but its just as riveting. So I'd like to have a little bit more time please, for my work, my tennis concentration, and for some sleep! And I reckon Andy Murray अग्रीस.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Write Club: Time, Tennis and Tradition

With recently going on holiday to the amazing Indonesia (more on this in later Write Club updates) plus returning to over 200 work emails, Write Club has suffered significantly.
It seems that both myself and the All England Club are suffering from poor time management. I can't achieve everything I would like to in the time period I've been given. Have I become sluggish in the sunshine, or am I a victim of an ever-speeding ever-demanding world?
Wimbledon has been throughly entertaining so far, with the (current) great British hope Andy Murray still on course to win the competition. However, Murray wants to take his sweet time at Wimbeldon. The match against the Swiss Warwrinka last night was intense and fascinating, but the late finish (10.43pm GMT by my clock) together with the strange richocheting echo of the service balls (both a bi-product of the new Centre Court roof) just wasn't for me.
The All England Club are attempting to control the time and the weather for audience enjoyment, but I am just not sure that this works. I love the traditional finish of epic evening matches at just before 9, giving the players time to rest and plan. Tennis, as a game of mental as well as physical strength, is what makes it so riveting. We aren't willing to give up 3 or more hours of our time for many other sports. Yes, it takes more time, but its just as riveting.
So I'd like to have a little bit more time please, for my work, my tennis concentration, and for some sleep! And I reckon Andy Murray agrees.

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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Write Club Day 15: Don't put your daughter on the (Circus) Stage

I have had a few days now to digest the spectacle that was the Britney Spears Circus Tour. I am glad that I went, I had a really enjoyable time and I was priviledged to have such good seats. You can sense the but though, can't you?
Let me talk you through the show. This part of my review contains spoilers. For those who haven't seen the show yet and don't want to know its contents -STOP READING NOW! Let's start with the venue. I have never been to the O2 before. I am impressed that the owners of the converted Greenwich dome have turned this massive hulk of a marquee into a venue that provides us punters with what we want, which is big name music gigs, and not another exhibition centre. As we walked up to the entrance, we saw the much-hailed 'Circus' in full flow. Clowns, gymnasts, a carousel, lots of people madly taking photos (why?!) and everyone seemingly enjoying the atmosphere (and it was a dreadful day weather-wise so I applaud the entertainers for doing their utmost to distract us from the darkening sky). So far, so Circus. Once inside however, the O2 becomes more about advertising and visual pickpocketing than it is about Britney. The O2 owners want their pay-off and aren't afraid to be extremely mercenary in taking the attendees for all they have. Huge escalators, all types of restaurant food, punters queueing in 100 person-long queues to access their cash, before the O2 staff can get their sticky hands on it. And the service did not come with a smile! It took us ten minutes alone to walk to our gate, and once we entered the stage arena, after the inital glee that anyone feels once they walk into a theatre full of babbling fans, we realised that actually its pretty small. But this wasn't about popcorn at hugely over-inflated prices and sticky floors, we were here to see the artistes perform! Bring on the show.

The stage consisted of a big purple circle with a smaller pink circle attached on either side, bathed in disco cotton-candy coloured light. I was 15 rows from the front, and from our spot you could see the whole arena, they were great seats. I could also see the infamous Love Booths, which literally are right by the stage. Guests can pay upwards of £1000 to snuggle with their nearest and dearest watching the beloved Ms Spears practically face-to-face. I silently shivered and took my seat. The venue seemed half full, when the lights went down, but the music was pumped up and a pink curtain gracefully fell from above. Then it was curtain up and Ciara, as opening act, strutted around the stage. She was stunning, Like a 6 foot lioness clad in the Noughties equivalent of Cher's If I could Turn Back Time costume (you know the one, an all-in-one black and silver sparkly body-stocking) with a silvery snake design slivering up her thigh and glinting in the stage lights. Ciara was on fire. Lets face it, she hasn't had that many hits, but she more than makes up for it by some limber moves that the circus gymnasts would be proud of. The theme was a little bit sado-masochist, but Ciara and her four female dancers (one of whom had the most amazingly big taut derriere that I spent half a song watching alone) did their very best. Their best was not good enough to fill the venue though. Ciara chatted with the audience a little, trying to raise the temperature, and she did seem to sing at least the first few lines of her songs, but miming was a feature of her set.
Once Ciara exited below stage, the lights came up again and we waited patiently for Britters to appear. The management may have cleverly staged the show so that Britney doesn't actually have to be on stage for very long at all. Meanwhile we were treated to some phenomenal circus acts, including a girl who could hula hoop like noone I've seen before together with some semi-naked male ripped gymnasts who jumped around on boxes, hoops and with swords, and a truly breathtaking gymnast who would flip herself up into the air and land perfectly on a foot-wide platform held aloft by her macho assistants. Plus some clowns and a dwarf, how very PC.... The lights went down again. People were still entering the arena, and at the cost of these tickets you would have thought they may not have left it quite so late to make their entrance. I was starting to think the same thing about Ms Spears' entrance when an enormous purple curtain was drawn around the stage. At last! The music started playing, and the curtain turned into a video screen where we saw the 'Queen' Perez Hilton's dramatic opening monologue, which was fun, and killed a few more minutes, but COME ON! Then curtain up and like a beautiful bleached blonde goddess Britney Jean Spears appeared sitting in a silver hoop dangling from above. Now for the crunch. Alas, it will not take me long to dissect the performance. Britney looked great, she danced like a pro, she seems to have a fixation with wearing a belt around her pretty flat stomach at all times (thanks to the British press for generating some unneeded paranoia there) but I was most definitely entertained. The set pieces were great and the message was pretty clear (you want a piece of me, this is a freak show, I hate the press, I'm not crazy etc etc). Now for the part I wish I could write. 'Britney was sparkling. She chatted with the audience between each song, she looked happy and down-to-earth, she was buoyant and put her heart and soul into doing what she was born to do, sing to her fans. I was visibly moved. Reports of her deterioration into a dead-behind-the-eyes robotic barbie were wildly misconceived. I had a wonderful time' But this JUST WASN'T TRUE. The bottom line is: She mimed in every song, she followed choreograhy to the letter but she never truly engaged. She was barely on the stage for more than 3 minutes at a time and then was under the stage for 10 minutes between tracks. She did a marvellous job when miming 'Circus', taking part in some magic tricks whilst 'singing'. She most certainly entertained. But all she said was 'Whassup London!' and then pretended to sing a ballard, when she was possibly miming some more. There was also a frigteningly adult S&M content mid-way through, which wasn't good for the younger fans and exploitative of Britney herself.
I have to admit that I didn't even stay for the Womanizer finale। Britney Spears does an awful lot of preaching yet minimal practising. The media, her fans, even those like me who just had an opportunity to see her live, really want her to be successful and happy. Not since Princess Diana have people engaged with someone in the public eye who seems so lost and fragile. But, if Britney wants us to believe that she isn't a Music industry robot making dollars for unknown bigwigs at the expense of her sanity, then she is failing. Give your fans what they want Britney, which is just you singing live, engaging with those who have paid hundreds of pounds to see you. No dancers, no fireworks, no distractions and I think even you, Britney, could do without the circus.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Write Club Day 14: Cake and Cacophany

I'm writing this on my iPhone as I'm on the way back from the O2, where I just saw Britney Spears' Circus tour. I'm going to write a full review tomorrow, but I will say that it was an absolute spectacle, I'm just not sure whether I actually enjoyed myself or not. Today I wanted to make sure I mentioned how much I love cupcakes. How is it that something so small and unhealthy can generate so much euphoria? It's a combination of the beautiful decoration and a sugar rush that makes cupcakes so intoxicating, but I really am hooked. My latest find is The Buttercup Cake house, and I've polished off 2 cakes in less than 24 hours. I think I'm going to buy another one tomorrow. But at £2.50 a pop, I could be developing a nasty addiction. A bit like Britney then, a pretty fantastic exterior with not enough going on inside, and what is inside is sickly.

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Write Club Day 13: Fashion

Today has been all about fashion. I'm off on holiday soon, and I am one of those people who has a case full of clothes which I will ONLY ever wear on holiday, when I have some semblance of a tan and my inhibitions have left me (must be my permanent holiday diet of liquid lunches, fresh food and rest). However, every year I find myself wanting to buy something new to keep up with fashion. But once I make my way to the massive shopping mall, I am overwhelmed with choice. Every colour and hue, short sleeved, long sleeved, v-neck. round neck, sleeveless. It was exhausting just trying to decide what I wanted, and that's before attempting to find my size, decide whether it suited me, what the price was and my dilemma on every shopping trip, can I really be bothered to try it on (answer = no).

But the real issue is that I have developed a kind of mental disorder which takes hold of me as I enter the mall. I shall name my pain 'Time Justification Expenditure Psychosis' (yeah, catchy I know). Thank goodness its only temporary.

My affliction is simple. In the first 2 hours I buy nothing, I then panic and decide I must buy something to justify trudging round the shopping mall for hours.  So on hitting the wall, I go crazy and buy ten things in the shop in which I am currently browsing. I then run for the hills (ok Starbucks).

So, yes I do a have few new items for my holiday, and should feel satisfied. But I can't help wondering, were they the best purchases or would any do? Somewhere a clothing brand could make a killing from people like me!

Also. I am a big fan of Jess Cartner-Morley who is the fashion editor for the Guardian newspaper. Coincidentally she can be found today discussing denim jackets at the link below.

Jess C-M understands fashion and makes it look simple and classic. I bet when she goes shopping, she is done in an hour.

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Write Club Day 12: Music - ad infinitum

It struck me today that current advertising has a really bad press, if you'll excuse the pun. In these times ads seem excessive, unrealistic and they interfere with our programming. But what about looking at it from a different perspective? What about ad agencies, rather than being the enemy, actually needing praise for embracing green issues, particularly recycling. I am specifically referring to the use of old tunes within new ads.  OK maybe its lazy and its cost cutting, but I think that its a great idea, because it has reminded me of some classic songs that I haven't heard in years.

Some cool reissued ad tunes are:

- Ring my bell by Anita Ward
- Achilles Heel by Toploader
- My Sharona by The Knack (all available on itunes)

But when I hear my current favourite ad tune, I feel happy and disgusted at the same time. I loved the Disney film Robin Hood when I was young, and it has a phenomenal soundtrack. So I was extremely happy when I heard this song the other day:

Unfortunately, it was being used in a McDonalds advert. What a shame! So then I wondered, can recycling of this nature go too far? I have noticed some full recycling of 10 years of adverts in the form of a hastily-edited montage. This from the providers of a famous washing powder and a very famous gravy! I think music is enduring, I hope washing powder isn't.

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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Write Club Day 11: Voting

As I prepare to vote in the EU elections this evening, I have been thinking about a little study I'd like to undertake। I wonder how many people will vote in the UK today for their European parliament member and how this will compare to those who vote for the next Big Brother eviction (the new UK Big Brother starts tomorrow night)? I expect that this comparison has been drawn before, so with feelings about the sanctity of government at an all time low (well, in my household anyway) I think we need to spend government money on a thinktank। How to merge 'TV' and 'MP' to equal something which is meaningful, entertaining and beneficial to running the country? I've had a couple of ideas: a) Press the red button. Instead of the usual 'boos', a mysterious pie thrower throws a cream pie at Gordon Brown at PM's Question Time, when we don't like what he's saying. Ok, we may not have a big enough supply of cream pies for that endeavour, but it would make you tune in, wouldn't it? Or b) How about an expenses raffle? If you pay 25p to text-vote at the next General Election, you are automatically entered into a draw to be awarded a random amount repaid by a beleagured MP incorrectly claimed on expenses for their swimming pool cleaning, dog walking, elephant taming etc. And all the Tv generation have to do is press the red, blue, yellow or green button on the remote. Would I have to involve the BNP? Fine, they can have the 'back up' button on the remote, given as they really get my back up. Hmmmm, there would be vote fixing though wouldn't there? And we'd end up pressing the wrong button and voting for Susan Boyle to be PM. But would that be such a bad thing?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Write Club Day 10: Sleep, Furiously

Last Friday I saw one of my favourite films of 2009. It's called 'Sleep Furiously' (a quote from Chomsky, where words are put in a sentence so that they are grammatically correct but make little semantic sense). The film is by Gerald Koppel and charts a year or so in the lives of a number of villagers in a rural area of Wales. The residents (including the director's mother Sian) are well served by an old gentleman and his little yellow library van. The community speak both Welsh and English and all the usual examples of glorified country life are present, country fairs, haybale making and the birth of new livestock. What makes the film unique is the lack of any narrative structure and the usage of music by Aphex Twin to add to the surreal visuals. My take on it is that the story itself, like in Chomsky's phrase, has all the elements of a normal rural existence, but it's stuck in a charming timeless timewarp, where the aging population carry on their lives in blissful ignorance of man's technological meglomania a few hundred miles away. I could go on forever about this non-documentary, telling you stories of flashing light panels, beautiful countryside, eerie machinery and a stuffed owl, but it wouldn't do justice to such a funny, moving and ethereal movie. Go and see it, it's miraculous. I want to see it again, and I very rarely say that.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Write Club Day 9 Tomb Raider

Its going to have to be a quick one today. But this is easy as it segues nicely from Write Club Day 8.
I have been reading Empire Magazine's Top 100 Computer Games and I've seen such a partisan shoot-em-up obsessed list (I believe it features all 4 Metal Gear Solid games). But the biggest travesty is that one of my favourite games Tomb Raider, is 39th out of 100. Early Zelda games should not feature above Lara Croft! Its renown the world over, it created a unique strong-willed, authoritative, independent female icon (albeit with an impossble figure I grant you) and it was so clever combining intricate puzzle solving with thrills and kills.
I think the readers/judges have got it completely wrong. I seem now to have morphed into some kind of gaming feminist, so future Write Club updates may move on to less niche matters. Rant over.

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Monday, 1 June 2009

Write Club day 8 - Why I think Computer Games Movies are Rubbish

I've just been tweeted a link for a really interesting article from which discusses why movies which are made based on computer games are never very well received.

I attach a link to the article here:

I think that it makes some great points, particularly the notion that those in Hollywood who 'greenlight' movies are not generally gamers (although I believe that this is set to change, given as almost everyone I know of age 18-60 has played a few games of the Wii, in the last couple of years), and that the plots to the films which have been made have been appalling. However I think that there are a couple of other poonts that the authors haven't covered. Here are a couple of my suggestions:

1. Act like a mainstream movie: Except for Tomb Raider1&2 (and to a lesser extent, the highly suspicious Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter movies), the majority of films of computer games have not featured any major stars. Now this could be because of the terrible plots, because of the bad reputation of computer game films or the pay (!) but it certainly isn't because there isn't an audience. Millions of people game, men and women, girls and boys alike, and all of these people like the cinema, but the game-film genre should be measured using the same rules at mainstream cinema. The films should feature at least 1 or 2 stars, a decent plot, maybe a big name director and a solid marketing plan. Imagine all the ways producers could market the product? Prominent viral marketing through the console itself (Xbox360 features are already big on this). Let's get a couple of sexy men in there too, people would flock to see a Brad Pitt GTA4 movie.

2. Heavy on plot, light on gore: All these typical gaming guys who are attending the cinema may like to bring their girlfriends with them. The girlfriends see the bloodlust that takes over their beloved the moment that the console light is switched on and are themselves immediately turned off. The fact is, even the most realistic computer game violence (i.e. Condemned, yuck) is not as vividly realistic as a film of someone carrying out the same shooting, stabbing, kicking, slashing behaviour. If the film can get a 15 rating rather than an 18, (and maybe a love interest, oh ok they can be of a Sin City origin if needs be) that will attract a much wider deomgraphic.

So in conclusion, ask Stephen King to write the script, David Fincher to direct, Robert Pattinson to star and Miramax to finance, and I am sure Fallout-Halo-Fable 5 will be a major success. Easy...

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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Write Club Day 7 - A Week of Writing

It has been 7 days since I started my own personal write club. Here is what I have found:

1. You only think that you're original. I thought of the phrase 'Write Club' all by myself, as reference to the film Fight Club etc. I really thought that I had thought of something witty and unique. A quick look at the Internet was very humbling! It showed me that not only has this idea been used countless times, but so have lots of other things I have written. I can't stand the thought of plagiarism, and would never do so, but it scares me much more to consider that I'm deluded enough to think that my ideas are all my own, or worse, that I don't have an original thought.

2. The urge to amuse is overwhelming. Whenever I write up an anecdote from real life or my opinion on something in the media I can't bear the thought of being offensive (or being guilty of that greater crime, being boring). However, sometimes to hold an opinion in itself is to offend someone, somewhere. So I try to soften my points of view with attempted humour, and I haven't quite mastered it yet!

3. Writing every day is hard and brave. I really enjoy speaking through the internet, but its hard to find something novel and appealing to say, and even harder to find something which I won't cringe at in the future. But pushing myself has been satisfying, and I can see that people are reading my thoughts and are not responding with abuse, which makes it worthwhile.

Coincientally, I've also learned this week that I have an irrational hatred of the film Moulin Rouge. The epithets came thick and fast when I discussed the film with friends this week. 'Rouge-mist' perhaps? (there goes point 2 again...)

Only another 27 weeks to go!

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Saturday, 30 May 2009

Write Club Day 6 - Eddie Izzard and Games for Girls

Today was a beautiful sunny day so I decided to catch some rays sunbathing in my local park. Except it was teeming with people who also had had the same brainwave I had, except they'd all gotten there two hours visit the funfair. A quiet, private sunbathe had cleverly eluded me. Luckily I had my iphone with me and was able to download a FREE podcast of an interview of Eddie Izzard specially recorded for itunes by comedian Simon Amstell. So at least I got to laugh privately, if nothing else.
I then decided to look around the shops for a new computer game to play on my Wii for when the sun finally disappeared. I found that Pikmin II, an old favourite of mine, had been released on Wii so I was very pleased and picked it up from Game for £29.99).
Read all about the game here
I saw that the top two selling Wii games in both Game and HMV were new fitness/personal training games aimed at females, and it made me wonder whether the percentage of women using games consoles is finally on the increase. I really do hope so, because then we might start seeing more varied games on sale. I don't mean My Little Pony for the Take That generation, I mean two player functionality (the couple that games together, stays together), puzzle solving, and more plot driven experiences, rather than the huge amount of weapons-heavy first person shooters that dominate the current market. Don't get me wrong, I love Resident Evil and Gears of War as much as the next person (although the next person is nearly always a man) but I also like using my thinking cap as well as my opposable thumbs.
However, before I become overexcited, the surge in 'fitness gaming' might simply be because that there will always be a market for innovative ways to try and get slim and fit and stay slim and fit. Time will tell.

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Write Club day 5 - SB SB (Spelling Bee and Susan Boyle)

I just read on the BBC website that an American 13 year old has just won the International Spelling Bee chmapionships. Firstly, good for her. However, is this a true measure of spelling ability? The ability to know how to spell 'acrocephaly', 'glossopharyngeal' and 'vestibulocochlear' is not a true test of spelling, it is a test of revising words learnt from a dictionary that have very little bearing on a 13 year old's life (I hope).
If only the winner brought attention to the correct usage of 'you're' and 'your' or 'its' and 'it's' (I still have trouble with that one) then this would help the average child to incerase their vocabulary, instead of polarising spelling ability into something that children either can do perfectly or not at all.
Poor Susan Boyle! All she wants to do is sing, not be hounded by the press. It is timely with the 10 year anniversary of Big Brother upon us that reality TV is still so prominent in our consciousness. Britain's Got Talent has held a mirror up to the British public and found us severely wanting. We're judgmental, biased and now ready to bring down those whose success has not even been cemented. 'SuBo' deserves to win the competition, if for nothing else, as a timely reminder to us all that we should think before we speak, and that fame is never what is is cracked up to be.

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Thursday, 28 May 2009

Write Club day 4 : Sexism/Law/Psychology

I find it funny how coincidences arise.

Last night my other half kindly informed me that he was surprised to see 4 females and only 1 male in The Apprentice TV show quarter finals. Would he have made the same exclamation had it been 4 guys and 1 girl? It is still so very hard for women in the workplace and sexism is prevalent in all walks of life. Even when he made this comment I readily nodded my head in agreement. Then I was sickened for betraying my gender with a quick nod of my noggin!

However, it doesn't help when sexism is perpetuated by us ladies ourselves. Cut to this morning, where I read an article in a legal magazine, which purported that most female lawyers in the UK would rather work for a male than a female boss. So far, I agree. Then, the article fell by the wayside as the female journalist believed that this was due to higher expectations for female bosses to be kinder to their same-gendered protogees. I completely disgaree. When I work for someone, I want them to be fair and courteous with a sense of fun. I don't want to be unduly praised or berated just because my boss and I happen to share an extra X chromosome. The article also stated that older female partners struggled so much getting to their lofty platform that they believe that their younger counterparts should also do the same, and make their lives a misery accordingly. I think some people are just mean spirited. In psychology Tajfel's Social Identity Theory states that all you need to do to create discrimination is to create two groups, one you're in and one you're not.

So ladies, let's remember we're all in the same group. The other group is full of discriminators, and we need all the help we can get.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Write Club day 3: Expenses and Festival Fatigue

A quick point on MP expenses first.
I am not sure about you, but I do not have £12,000 or £20,000 just hanging around in a bank account ready to pay back to the Government, in the unlikely event that I am accused of fiddling my parliamentary expenses. So how then do all of these MPs manage it? I presume some are over 50 and have been working for quite some time, but it seems to me that MPs get paid rather handsomely and seem to have buckets of money, just lying around. The Sarah Lou quick-fix solution is that every MP who has unjustly used their expenses allowances should pay back the disputed amount asap. Oh and MP house-shares in London, with the main residence being the house in the constituency. Its your consistuency, you live there. Problem solved.

Festivals. Is it me or are there even more music festivals taking place this year? I think going to watch your favourite band in the sunshine (or more likely, the pouring rain) is a treat and everyone should do it. But I am definitely contracting a severe case of festival fatigue, before the season has even begun. I subscribe to, a great website updating all would-be festival attendees on the acts, dates, cost and venues. The website lists 32 pages of festivals based both here and all over the world. I won't name names, but I can't imagine that all of these will run and I expect to see many of the smaller less-publicised ones cancelled. In these crunch times, maybe the better approach is to save your money, stay at home and come October watch Taking Woodstock, the new film by Ang Lee chronicling the legendary original hippie music event.

Much drier, more comfortable and considerably cheaper.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Write Club day 2: Springwatch and Poetry

I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Springwatch on BBC1 last night. Chris Packham is a fine addition to the team and himself and Kate seem to be in sync. I thought the badgers were amazing, I'm praying for the lapwing chicks and I can't wait to see the wild polecat.

The furore over the Oxford University Professor of Poetry job debacle is still raging. Ruth Padel has resigned after a few days in the job, because she has been revealed to be the source of allegations about fellow nominee Derek Walcott. DW pulled out because of allegations regarding his propositioning students many years ago. I suppose the first question is whether past unproven (I believe) indiscretions should affect your ability to apply for a prestigous position later on in life. I wholeheartedly believe that a) if the allegations are not true, why did he pull out? and b) yes they should affect your ability to secure a position of power and influence, and if they are true, he should not be offered the psotion until he has least served some penance for any crime.

The second question is whether Padel is using 'dirty tricks'? I'd answer no to that question, but she defintely acted unwisely. She certainly doesn't deserve public vilification.

Thirdly, and to me, most importantly, why haven't I heard of either of them before? I am not an expert on poetry but if they are both so amazing I would have expected to at least vaguely know their work (rather than merely their personal struggles).

The job sounds like a poisoned chalice, and I hope whoever takes it on has a completely unblemished record together with top class poetic (and mediation) skills.

Good luck finding them, Oxford.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Write Club

The first rule of Write Club is that there is no Write Club......if you don't write.

So, I am setting myself a challenge of writing something about what I want, how I feel or some other commentary on my view of the world, every single day until the end of the year.

Day 1: Completed (well I never agreed to write a lot...)

Mad Men (& Women)

Originally posted 11 February 2009

Today I'd like to discuss the TV show Mad Men. Everybody raves about it and it is an entertaining show, however I would like to critique it just a wee bit.

A) Don Draper series 2. Is it me of are the 60's not being so kind to Mr Draper? His suits aren't as well fitting, he looks a little ill (I suppose that is plot-related) and does he still have his way with the ladies? However I did enjoy the insinuation in Episode 1 Series 2 that he had visited Call Girls, as he could recognise one (whereas nowadays you don't need to sleep with the old guys, instead you marry and then quickly divorce them, much less mucky, I should say).

B) Are those authentic tumblers that they use in all the office meetings? I can't help thinking that they look like miniature vases crossed with glass boule. Very peculiar!

C) Betty Draper: any episode. That woman doesn't ever say 'thank you'. Is this deliberate? Seriously, watch Series 1 and she has an aversion to manners. She does have a fabulous wardrobe though.

D) Pete Campbell. What on earth do Peggy, his wife Trudy or anyone see in his slimy, oddball and impertinent exterior? I have heard that he is a very kind gentleman when not in character but I can't stand him.

E) I am waiting for Mr Cooper (or is it Sterling?) to become an MP so he can meet Carrie Bradshaw at a naked Fireman Calendar judging contest on Staten island....whoops wrong show.

F) and finally the really good news. The characters have their own 'authentic' twitter blogs. Some choice examples below:

and the piece de resistance.....the real star of Series 2....

I still don't know whether Nixon should have won?

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Tweeting!

Originally posted 14 February 2009.

I am not sure how I feel about the ever-expanding popularity of Twitter. Now that it has been publicised in the UK by celebrity fans such as Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, there is a lot of band-wagon jumping from people who have heard the name, want to seem well informed, but have no real desire to understand the myriad possibilities of such a simple system, originally designed for silicon valley dwellers.

Whilst Facebook allowed you to find out exceptionally private personal information about people you had no connection with other than going to the same school, and LinkedIn helps aspiring dragons of the world of commerce network with the supply chain (well I think its that dull), Twitter allows the individual to be who they want to be, or perhaps become the wittiest and most ascerbic version of themselves.

More voyeuristically, Twitter enables Joe Bloggs to see and vet the candid personal thoughts and view private photographs of those celebrities most people would not get the chance to relate to (well not without shortly receiving a restrainging order at least) on an everyday basis. It is hilarious to see Demi Moore's candid personal photos of her and Ashton Kutcher in Berlin (in fact, I even saw a paparazzi photo of Ashton taking a self portrait photo with his iphone - that is the kind of subversive post-modern behaviour I certainly wouldn't expect from the creator of Punk'd). Its almost heartwarming that those in the entertainment business are quite happy to be so very candid, although to what extent agents will get involved remins to be seen.

There are inevitably problems, faked profiles (there are a lot of 'real' twitter names now, as if that will solve the problem), those purporting to be life changing (e.g. @barackobama) when they are actually written by staff members, and celebs missing the concept entirely (one very lovely, but not in any way riveting TV presenter gives 2 hour updates of literally where they are rather than how they feel about, say Zimbabwean election results); but as a whole, the concept is one that should be embraced by entertainers. It gives them another forum for showing off their skills (comedians such as Rob Brydon showing that funny can be found in 140 characters) and for some blatant self promotion (I'm gigging here this evening and 10 miles away tomorrow, and 20 miles away next week...)

I also recommend people visit @philjupitus's profile. He is a bright man, taking the concept and running very quickly down a comedy corridor. Phil has invented a Twitter sign so those who only know each other through the semi-anonymity of the Net can recognise one another in....wait for it....real life. Its a little like a secret handshake, both parodying Twitter and using it for amusement. His efforts are currently on Twitter and Youtube.

The only problem with this, as well as with the 3rd Twestival which took place last week, is thus:

Ask yourself, do you really want to meet all your 'followers' and 'following' in real life? I am sure that if you do, at least one party will only end up disappointed......

Fighting Prejudice - one movie at a time

Originally posted 26 February 2009.

Many people were not looking forward to another ultra-extravagant Oscars ceremony, seemingly at odds with worldwide economic hardship. It seemed tasteless to bathe ourselves in the fantasy world of the movies, but as I watched the spectacle last night, I was humbled by the sensitive way the world’s most prestigious awards ceremony used star power to highlight modern struggles against oppression, and removed the soft focus lens at last.

I can’t recall a recent Oscar’s ceremony that has been so wholeheartedly fair in its choice of films and individuals to honour. To award Kate Winslet for her portrayal of a potential Nazi sympathiser took courage. Slumdog Millionaire may have won many awards, but Danny Boyle nobly used the podium to allow us all to consider the grim reality of Mumbai slumlife without judgement, and sensitively coupled the story with joyous music taking inspiration from Bollywood, an equally successful movie industry.

However, it was possibly most courageous of the Academy to recognise Sean Penn’s brilliant portrayal of political activist Harvey Milk, when within the same American state that the ceremony is held, it is currently illegal for gay couples to wed. Penn’s impassioned speech was heartfelt, yet stinging enough to raise a few embarrassed blushes from those who would seek to deny such happiness to all.

We shouldn’t forget the way the ceremony seamlessly honoured success from all over the world, praising Spanish, Australian, Japanese and French winners alike. Mainstream Hollywood has finally grasped that non-English language films can compete for all of the awards.

And to top it all, even Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie seemed to be getting along famously!

The Oscars may not bring about world peace, but by addressing prejudice through a medium that we can all appreciate, their influence abounds.

Who needs SATC2 when we have Mistresses?

Originally written March 2009
Rumours abound that a sequel to the Sex And The City Movie is to start filming at any moment. Although I’m not surprised that demand means the story will continue, I’m not exactly sure that it’s necessary.
Die-hard Sex And The City fans will probably curse at this article’s title; but don’t get me wrong, I own the complete six series boxset and loved the film. However, can you have too much of a good thing? SATC was renown for being over the top, but the vast majority of the audience watched the show for two reasons: 1) the outrageous amorous pickles of the four main characters and 2) the fabulous wardrobe. But recently I have found a show that might try to steal the 'Sex' crown, yet in an altogether classier and more understated way. And best of all? It’s on this side of the pond.
BBC1’s Mistresses has all of the SATC qualities in spades, yet it’s fresh. It’s about four successful Noughties females who are of a certain age, ok, so much so SATC, but they aren’t exorbitantly rich or living lives seemingly unattainable (how did Carrie afford all of those Manolos?). Even better, with this show we don’t know how things are going to pan out in the character’s tangled lives, but we are still mesmerised by their problems and the fashion. Is it wrong to find myself coveting Jessica's fluorescent swishy skirts as much as I want Trudy to find a good man? Let's not forget the myriad attractive men who appear in the series (hello Hari and Simon). The series deals with relevant and salacious storylines such as infidelity, bisexuality, and even economic hardship, and excitingly, unlike a lot of British shows, it isn't even set in London, but in Bristol. It shows us viewers that we don't have to reside in a New York penthouse to be entertained and to be made to care. There is truly something here for women (and men) of all ages, sizes and lifestyles.
Yes I know that times are hard, but that’s why we need to exploit every avenue that allows us to dream! That is what Mistresses is about; we can gawk at their fantastic lives, debate their dilemmas and covet their wardrobes without guilt or envy. Mistresses gives us exactly what we need, and that's home-grown escapism.

You know you're in trouble when Iceland the country is financially more worse off than Iceland the supermarket

Review of Mark Thomas

Hemel Hempstead - The Old Town Hall

I was lucky enough to see Mark Thomas in action last night. For those who haven't heard of him, he's what I would term a 'political comedian', though he's not as dry as Bill Hicks or as earnest as Rob Newman.

Mark's political bent is two-fold. He is currently touring to promote his book Belching out the Devil - which discusses the (negative) effect the Coca Cola conglomerate has on the world. I wouldn't read on if you love American soft-drink capitalism, Mark's show isn't for you!

Secondly Mark regales his audience with tales of political stupidity. He spends the time when not writing and touring campaigning for fairer laws for the common man. He likes to highlight ridiculous Government laws initiatives and do his best to be the scourge of Parliament and the Daily Mail readership. At the moment he is looking into the Police's right to stop and search members of the public and how far those powers can be stretched. Its funnier than it sounds...

Some people might think this is a little highbrow but there is no way that Mark is holier-than-thou. His schtick concentrates on making us laugh at the idiocy of modern political life. He likes a little audience participation too, and we were all required to write down our policy choices, should we ever be put in charge. Mark has pormised to fight for our rights and create a People's Manifesto. Some of the favourites were changing the National Anthem to the Star Wars Imperial War March and a 1 in 1 out immigration policy (come back right-wingers all is forgiven) with the British nation as a whole deciding who gets kicked out. What a reality show that would be!

Peppered with cusses that would make a sailor blush, this isn't for everyone and Mark does seem particulary angry these days. But if you want to see a comedy show that makes you laugh and makes you think, then Mark is for you.

Let The Right One In

This is a very brief review of a film which needs much greater analysis and praise.

The film is wonderful. As a girl who doesn't immediately warm to any film where the violent content is hyper-simulated and needlessly graphic, I was pleasantly surprised that a film billed as a 'Swedish Arthouse Horror' had a lot of Swedish content (yes its set in Sweden and filmed in Swedish but it can be dubbed if you really hate subtitles) was very artfully directed and only displayed the inevitable gore when necessary. If your favourite films are Saw i-v then you may find that this film's beautiful subtlety passes you by.

A quick introduction: Blond Swedish boy lives in flat. Boy is bullied. Boy meets swarthy-yet-pale girl who doesn't seem to go to school and only comes out at night. Story arc follows boy and girl story seamlessly unravelling who the girl really is and how this affects the development of a bond only capable by (seemingly) innocent pre-teen Swedes in 80's wintery Sweden.

I won't say anything more but the directing by Tomas Alfredson is so effortless, dialogue is unimportant as you watch the events in the small town unfold, as family and locals alike start to concern themselves with the relationship between the two leads.

The acting is flawless, particularly when the 'Making of' documentary shows that the young leads were handpicked from newcomers over a year's extensive search by Alfredson. The soundtrack (and often lack of it) is compelling and adds to a feeling of eerie unease, but you are never gripped with schlocky fear. To cap it all, the ending is brilliantly brutal.

The film continually asks 'what makes a person bad?' and plays with our conventional perceptions of good and evil. It all seems so quietly real.

Even if you don't like horror or foreign-language films, but you like a good story, you should see this movie (before the US remake comes out in 2010).

The love that dare not speak its name...

Recently I was chatting with friends over lunch. They were regaling me with how wonderful the new 'Caprica' pilot is. Caprica is a semi spin-off show from Battlestar Galactica, which all good geeks know is a Sci-Fi has just recently finished after four series.

However, we're in London. Caprica's 2 hour pilot was not shown on commercial TV in the US, as the rights owners recognised that the show should be primarily downloadable, and it was a successful viral launch campaign. At the moment Sky have purchased the rights and will broadcast this in the UK soon, but not yet. However, both my friends had seen it. Nobody asked how this was possible, nobody much cared.

Later on this week a friend mentioned to me thay they are making their way through various old TV shows that have many many episodes, half of which have been screened legitimately over here, and half of which have been screened, but only in America. My friend intimated that they had seen all of the episodes. "Oh have they released a box set?" I asked enquiringly. I was met with stony silence.

Like the Lily Allen song, everyone is doing it. We are all illegally file sharing. Or at least it seems that the vast majority of internet-savvy 20 to 40 year olds refuse to put up with the inconvenience of patiently waiting for a series or a film to be shown and, more importantly, the idea of paying for it.

Illegal file sharing has almost gone mainstream. I have been following Virallity on Twitter which is a site that posts videos of recently aired US TV shows on its site for viewers to watch. I always say that the normal legal test with these things is, if it feels suspect, it probably is. Virallity may well be perfectly legitimate, but this doesn't explain why many of the videos mysteriously disappear very soon after posting. If you take a look at how it works, this also is very peculiar. In fact it makes me think that the individual poster does all the dirty work and Virallity manages to obtain their personal details in the process.

It was interesting to see the great deal of media hoopla regarding the leaked unfinished 'Wolverine' film, but this just shows how widespread intrenet piracy has become. Once something becomes part of the social fabric, the lines between what's morally and legally sound increaingly blur. We'd probably all laugh now about when kids used to record radio programmes or films on televison back in the good old days of VHS and cassettes. That was always viewed as one of the great 'unenforceable laws'.

Yet the current general consensus seems to be 'I am a consumer, give me what I want and give it to me now'! I believe that modern law-makers, Networks and programme makers need to wisen up, otherwise greedy people power will swallow up any profits on finely crafted material.

Ultimately, I think increased piracy is a good thing. The internet is a whirlwind force and it has never been effectively policed. Once big Hollywood Studios see profits fall, and thus hard work and creativity diminish in value, then they may make greater efforts to crack down on piracy. We, the consumer, may not receive our media as immediately or as cheaply as we'd like, but just because we can, do we deserve to?

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones.
Running Time: 122 minutes
Score: 8 / 10

(Warning: Minor Spoiler Alert)

When reading the cast list for certain films, you might find you doing the same thing I do. I can’t help but make judgments regarding the film’s credibility and its plot, before even the first words have been uttered. Looking at the cast here, you already know it’s top-notch. You see that Ron Howard is the Director, so you know that noone is going to be allowed to drop the ball. You may also have some prior knowledge about the Frost/Nixon interviews which lend the film its central theme. You are aware that David Frost, the celebrated but seemingly lightweight comic/interviewer needs to score a high profile interview to facilitate his way back into the favour at the BBC and in the US. You know all about Watergate and you wonder why Richard Nixon would agree to such an interview. You may know that the film is based on a play, so you imagine it might have that same stilted feel – limited scenes in a few locations, and an emphasis on language over imagery. You might even feel a little disheartened, assuming that this might be a bit worthy and over-intellectualised with its focus on events that occurred when the majority of today’s filmgoers were very young. In fact maybe you’ve nearly talked yourself out of seeing the film, its not contemporary, its not what you’d normally see and it might be, heaven forbid, a bit…..dull.

I say STOP! Give yourself a shake and watch the film because it is an absolute delight. This is one of those films that is filled with the unexpected by opening up a ponderous stage play about a story we all think we know, and giving it the wings that only visual imagery on the big screen (and a bigger budget) can provide. I found Frost/Nixon mesmerising.

I will say this though, you must persevere. Ron Howard understands that we may not fully understand the characters intentions and therefore provides us with a lengthy first section. He wants the viewer to fall into the trap of categorising Nixon as a washed and derided figure and Frost as a frivolous underdog. But then you are introduced to James Reston Jr (played with flair by Sam Rockwell) a passionate anti-Nixon biographer who believes the American public deserve an admission of Nixon’s culpability, and Jack Brennan, (an assured turn by Kevin Bacon) an ex-military right-hand man with a voice of reason who fundamentally believes that certain practices are perfectly necessary for the good of people. Brennan is a deadly serious force in a world filled with unholy camaraderie. The period detail is fantastic, seen in the seventies hotel suite décor, the tailoring and riotously, the hairstyles (particularly Matthew Macfadyen very much enjoying John Birt’s shaggy hair) and highlighted by Nixon’s obsession with Frost’s Italian loafers. The action (no car chases and explosions of course) effortlessly flicks between Australia, London and LA, and the playing out of the four key interviews of foreign policy, domestic policy, personal life and Watergate is interspersed with behind-the-scenes style footage allowing each character to escape from their caricature. It’s a good move, giving this film to Ron Howard, placing delicate material in such a capable pair of American hands.

Of course, this film has flaws. It is neither controversial nor particularly hard-hitting, and female characters are given short shrift. Rebecca Hall is woefully underutilised even though she gets the best lines outside of Nixon. However the screenplay expertly expands on an important moment of history making it both entertaining and far more relevant, than you’d initially conceive. The film asks some important questions. Can the media provide us with something from our politicians that Government can’t provide? Can Trial by Media sometimes be the only option left and the best way forward? Peter Morgan, expanding on his celebrated play, allows Brennan and Reston Jr provide the storyline with its heart, as two characters on either side of the divide but both feeling with absolute certainty that they are in the right and the world should know so.

Plaudits for Frank Langella have naturally come flooding in. Yes he effortlessly deals with the sizeable task of taking someone morally corrupt and giving them some much needed three dimensionality, making him look savvy, unflinching and erudite. But he is ably counterbalanced by Michael Sheen’s brilliant performance. Frost almost makes the most interesting viewing. He is the ultimate playful playboy for the majority of the film but as he suffers Nixon’s punch after verbal punch, his discomfort is tangible. We may all know what was coming, but the film in its denouement, is masterful. You come to care for the playboy and you realise how he has stretched himself to pull off this coup, moments before the limelight passes. And Nixon's late night, inebriated phone call sets up the power struggle of the Watergate discussions with meticulous genius. You want to feel Frost's gratification at extracting a small apology, but more importantly, you see Nixon's own epiphany as to his responsibility for his own downfall, and his realisation as to what he has lost.

To feel sympathy for someone so ravaged by power is testament to the sheer brilliance of Howard's light touch. A wonderful film.

My reviews feature on

Synecdoche, New York

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, Tom Noonan.

Score: 7.5 / 10

This excellent review is by regular LFF reviewer, Sarah Louise Dean.

Its not often that once having seen a film, you need to consult a dictionary. Its even rarer to do so before the film. In fact, I needed to do both. Frankly, I was stuck at the title. For the uninitiated, Synecdoche (pronounced (si-nek-doc-kee) means, amongst other things, referring to one characteristic of something in order to refer to the whole. For example saying you have ‘coppers’ in your pocket when you mean you have pennies, which are made from copper.

Synecdoche -New York is both written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, he who wrote the beautiful yet absurd Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. Be warned, this film is not a linear fairytale, but if you like being challenged then you should give this a go. The name of the film might be a little pretentious, but it is a clever and telling insight into a moving and multilayered story. Kaufman is asking whether, by focussing on one small part of your life, you can establish the meaning of life itself, and he doesn’t care if he alienates half the audience by doing so. Synecdoche is one of those films that asks many more questions than it answers.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is outstanding as Caden Cotard, a theatre director in the New York suburb of Schenectady (get it?) who is married to Adele (played by the wonderful Catherine Keener) an artist specialising in miniature paintings. The marriage is not particularly happy and one day Adele announces that she is taking their 4 year old daughter Olive and her best friend Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Berlin for an exhibition of her work. Whilst away Caden begins a flirtation with Theatre box office clerk Heather (Samantha Morton with a decent American accent and an impressive cleavage) whilst suffering a number of mysterious ailments, any of which may be life threatening, or merely psychological. Caden’s revival of Death of a Salesman starring Michelle William’s Claire is a resounding success and off the back of it he receives a seemingly limitless grant from the Macarthur Foundation (a real life body which anonymously bestows vast sums of money on creative ‘geniuses’). Caden uses his new found wealth and purpose to create an ever evolving reality-based theatre project. He hires actors to effectively live their own lives in a huge warehouse under his direction. Along the way Caden develops personal relationships with Claire (played by Williams as just the right side of ingénue) and Heather, whilst trying to make contact with Olive in Berlin. Caden builds his set to resemble his own apartment, hires Sammy (played expertly by Tom Noonan as a kind of Larry David with added pathos) to play himself and later Emily Watson’s Tammy to play Heather, and the lines between art and reality become increasingly blurry. Caden’s relationships with his wife, his lovers and his daughter grow, develop and ultimately flounder, whilst at the same time, the theatre piece remains unfinished and my not be shown to an audience. Is Caden a miserable failure, or is this his grand plan? Later a celebrated theatre actress arrives (Dianne Wiest) saying she wants to assist and relieve Caden of some of his burden.

Although the film is hugely interesting, the plot is not easy to wade through, and Kaufman expects the audience to have an appreciation of the theatre industry which most won’t have. As shown when Caden says to Claire “Today, I want you to play yourself”, and she looks completely perplexed, Synecdoche is not without humour, its just the dry kind. Its certainly a work of genius to create something just straightforward enough to mean something different to every viewer, and it has a clever ending. I’m just not sure whether I could stomach a repeat viewing, just yet.

Synecdoche, like a great deal of Kaufman’s work, also has an inexplicable sadness about it. It wrings out the poignancy of life in a blackly comical manner. But, in parts the film is just plain weird. I found it easier to cope by thinking that time is irrelevant in the movie, and that its normal for Heather’s house to always be on fire. But the questions kept coming. Is there some message in Adele’s work being on such a small scale and Caden’s being huge? What is happening to the world outside whilst Caden magnifies his internal life? But it is this Kaufmanesque weirdness that makes Synecdoche so pleasurable. The movie should also be praised for featuring countless well drawn female characters.

Synecdoche does not shy away from the bigger issues. Are we in control of our own destiny? Can we be absolved from responsibility by allowing someone else to dictate our choices? Many will already know if they want to see this film. Some will dismiss Synecdoche as nonsense which fails to entertain. But I’d respond by asking, surely isn’t this what modern cinema is all about? Visual puns, hyper-reality played out by professionals at the top of their game, and a film that you won’t see anywhere else, which all justifies the cost of your expensive cinema ticket. Ultimately I don’t care that I couldn’t work out exactly what it all meant – I was entertained and it made me think, and for that I am very grateful.

If you tolerate this, then your children may be next...

Hopefully that managed to get your attention. I am alas not going to write about the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War (which the Manic Street Preachers ably did justice to), I want to discuss something a little closer to the Western World.

It absolutely disgusts me that it seems to be perfectly acceptable for women (and now men) of all ages to resort to disfiguring themselves by means of increasingly evasive plastic surgery. I think that this is a serious issue and goes towards our preoccupation with the perfect face and body. Cases of Anorexia, Bulimia and even Body Dysmorphic Disorder are rising all over the world. I believe that our current obsession with how we look is being assisted by plastic surgeons and elevated by the media to a disproportionately superior status.

However, the title of this article does not relate to the usage of plastic surgery itself, as I do believe that in a few medical cases - for example the amazing reconstructive surgery cases currently in world news, it can be an amazing tool. What really worries me is the apparent decreasing of the age of those undergoing these 'treatments'.

Three recent British examples come in the cases of Kerry Katona, Jodie Marsh and Jordan (aka Katie Price). The British media is obsessed with every detail of the lives of these 'celebrities' and their behaviour may be hugely influencing young girls, and at ages 28, 30 and 31 respectively, all three seem to all have recently had face lifts or similar facial cosmetic surgery. None of these young looking ladies needed their faces to be changed in any way (let alone the tummy tucks, breast reductions and breast increases which they have also undergone) and the Media is fully aware that all three have experienced a number of psychological issues and abuses which may have lead to a need for them to have surgery. They are real life examples of those who have found that perfecting the body is unlikely to perfect the soul.

Each to their own, you may say, but what is the media stance on this? Has anyone criticised these 'public figures' for this recent devotion to botox and cutting themselves? No it seems that this is not news-worthy enough and thus impliedly absolutely acceptable for other young girls to try. That's not to say that the media hasn't mentioned plastic surgery, but more in a manner that glamourises it, allows us all to gawp and compare, but ultimately plays down the drawbacks.

The irony of cosmetic surgery is that those succumbing to the knife do not look younger, they only look shiny and ageless. I'd say that it isn't attractive to see such people with stretched faces, looking alien and lifeless at any age, including when still enjoying the flushes of youth. Its called 'plastic' surgery for a reason....

Its not just young girls who may be affected, but also young boys. Channel 4 has recently reported that the number of plastic surgery cases for male patients are rapidly growing:

It seems that the 'posterchild' for plastic surgery is rapidly becoming the teenager asking mum and dad for a nosejob for their 16th birthday. Until celebrities stand up and refuse to be swept up by the tide of surgery, showing how unnecessary and painful it is, and the media stops glamourising and starts investigating our obsession, that same 16 year old may be asking for a quick nip and tuck before their 18th birthday.

Where will it end?

The True Apprentice: In praise of Adrian Chiles

I have been lucky enough recently to watch a number of the live recordings of the UK TV show The Apprentice: Your're Fired for the last 9 weeks. The format involves an interview of the latest contestant who has been fired by Sir Alan Sugar on the popular BBC1 show, The Apprentice.

Firstly, I would like to praise the creators of You're Fired', as they have constructed a programme which allows viewers to paint their own well-rounded picture of the Apprentice 'evictee' through a comical yet fair interview. The show is hosted by Adrian Chiles together with a rotating panel of three celebrity/business world guests. As a much needed antidote to the Big Brother style interviews, where the evictee is not prepared for a barrage of questions, and is there merely to help satisfy an audence who are baying for blood; this show minimises the animosity felt by the viewing public towards the evictee. They may have come across as rude, inept and even potentially prejudiced, on The Apprentice but each evictee do not deserve unmitigated wrath, and You're Fired redresses the balance between real-life and the one dimensional nature of reality TV.

Secondly, I would like to say how great it is that the audience always seem to keep the results of The Apprentice a secret, for the two days between recording and screening. It helps enliven the experience knowing that the audience genuinely do not wish to spoil the fun for the millions of viewers glued to their seats at home (unlike American idol bloggers from the US who bombarded the UK with the results of the Final a full three days before it was due to be shown here - but that is the power of the Internet for you).

However, the real star of the show is not the evictee, its not the audience, it should be Adrian Chiles himself. This is a man who is a consummate professional. He records another TV programme 'The One Show' at the BBC which finishes about half an hour before You're Fired begins filming. He then races over to the You're Fired studios, striding in confidently, without breaking a sweat. He welcomes the audience each week in a very friendly manner and he is polite to everyone on and around the show, as far as I can make out. He barely seems to rehearse, yet he never has any nerves or shows any frustration if any takes drag on. This is a man whose naturalistic style seems to appeal to viewers of all shapes and sizes, whether it be in his role on the BBC's Football Focus, to the general interest market of the One Show, or to both the gawpers and the suits peppering the You're Fired audience. We don't even seem to be sick of him, and British audiences are extremely quick to develop a distaste for over-exposed presenters. But ultimately, Adrian's greatest skills seems to be his ability to relate and to reserve judgement. At the You're Fired filming he always reminds the audience that the evictee will be nervous and should be allowed to state their case. He laughs with his guests and not at them, and he always seems to provide intelligent insight without coming across as condescending.

I don't know where he has found the time to write a book, cycle huge distances for charity, write articles for newspapers and sometimes still appear on the first show I saw him in 'Working Lunch'!

So I hope that Adrian Chiles reads this, as a devoted supporter of West Bromwich Albion football team, who seem to have forgotten what being a winner means for a season, he should know that he is the true winner of The Apprentice every least in my eyes.