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.