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. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/video/2009/jun/06/denim-jackets

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 techradar.com which discusses why movies which are made based on computer games are never very well received.

I attach a link to the article here: http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/why-are-movies-based-on-games-so-terrible--602924

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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