Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar: A review

It’s the end of 2009 and what a year it has been. On a personal level I finished university, put one foot into the real world and planned a trip round to the Far East and Australia, which is now scarcely 18 days away. Chances are this will be my last real post before I leave and dedicate this blog to documenting my travels, so I decided to do a review of Avatar, A) as it is very much hyped at this point in time, B) I watched it the other day so it felt like a relevant topic.

I felt some trepidation before watching this film, as I am always very wary of films with a lot of hype behind them and also that this was touted to be the film that would make 3D big. I have to admit I’m no real lover of 3D films. All the films I’ve seen in 3D have left me questioning its point, unless the director purposely exploited the medium by repeatedly sticking objects in the face of the viewer. This was the reason I didn’t see Up in 3D as I felt it was good enough in 2D, but anyway I’m getting away from the point.

So anyway making a start on the actual film itself, it revolves around the human race exploiting a lush moon called Pandora for a special expensive mineral called ‘Unobtainium’ (I wonder why it’s called that, hmm… scientific naming is getting a bit lazy these days). As the atmosphere of Pandora is poisonous for humans, special human alien hybrids are created - based on the genetic code of the native Na’vi (the logical result of merging a cat, a smurf, and a man together) and the person who ‘drives’ the avatar – to explore Pandora and interact with the natives. Here we meet Jake Sully a paraplegic marine who’s been called in to replace his avatar driver twin brother, who has been murdered. Jake is naturally enthusiastic about the job, as it gives him his legs back. However, on his first journey out into the jungle with his team, he manages to fall foul of the local wildlife but is saved by Na’vi woman Neytiri. On gaining their trust Sully is put to work to infiltrate the Na’vi by security boss Col Miles Quaritch (played by Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers) and the owner of the base Parker Selfridge (played by just about every money minded ignorant capitalist ever seen in any film) in return for getting his real legs back. Of course on entering the Na’vi society Jake becomes less interesting in helping his people out, and his allegiance is truly tested when the humans discover that a huge ‘Unobtainium’ (I can’t say it with a straight face) pocket lies beneath the Na’vi tribe’s hometree, surely dooming them to live out the rest of their lives on some kind of Na’vi gambling reserve.

As you can see the story is fairly easy to predict and contains the usual archetypes of many films you’ve seen before, borrowing heavily from films like Last of the Mohicans. However, I was surprised to find myself not caring about this as the world is so believable and the story so involving that I forgave it for this. The performances and the fact that many of the characters are computer generated allow you to leave your doubts at the door and just indulge in the fantasy of this film. I actually also liked the 3D as the medium really lent itself to this kind of film. This is the kind of film that was made for 3D, instead of having 3D bolted on for the sake of it as with many other films. Of course this doesn’t mean that 3D has made it as a medium, oh no. 3D can only make it if more films like this are made, and if the 3D pretenders are done away with completely. It’s fairly safe to say that Avatar is 3D finding its niche though.

Also it goes without saying that the visuals of this film are amazing and also that Pandora is a beautifully designed world. However, that didn’t stop me from being awed by it. Normally visual design in movies is taken for granted by the audience as we come to expect it, but the world design and the imaginative character design has really been a labour of love for James Cameron and his team. It also goes to show that a simple story and spectacular visuals can still make for a good movie without it seeming to dumb the audience down. For that I accept this as an apology for Titanic.

A few other points about the film are firstly, beware this film if you find movie military characters annoying. What do I mean by ‘movie military characters’ you ask? Well to sum it up, imagine a muscle bound meat head that has a permanently confrontational demeanour, and only communicates through tough talking colloquialisms. Think that’s bad? Imagine that multiplied several times, as many of Pandora’s human inhabitants are marines serving as mercenaries, so this becomes prevalent in the early part of the film, and is very frustrating.

Also to begin with Jake Sully has the restraint of a toddler, whilst in his Avatar body, playing with every strange piece of Pandoran flora and faena before him. Also another point about Sully is how he, without any practise or training, is basically able to outdo his massively experienced team at nearly everything in the Avatar. This must be so soul destroying for someone who spent years trying to be an Avatar driver only to see some excitable marine come in and outdo him at everything first try. In computer gaming terms its like being continuously pwned by a noob.

All in all, despite some minor nitpicks which every film has anyway, Avatar is a really great use of two and half hours. It has a monster running time with lots to fit in, but this doesn’t become a chore like some longer films. This film doesn’t really have any superfluous material and everything you see feels like it’s there for a reason. 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The White Terror!

Lock your doors! Get the Kids inside! Horde enough food to last for next two weeks! IT’S COMING! Or more to the point it’s here! I am of course talking about the sudden and ‘terrifying’ onset of snow that has hit our country.

Given the way that our country reacts to snow you’d think that something cataclysmic had happened, as much of our transport network shuts down, people in isolated communities become stranded and/or their power goes out. And if I look carefully out my window I think I see the four horsemen of the apocalypse, riding atop a particularly full looking snow cloud. Yes, we go absolutely bananas when it snows, as we seem to have forgotten that our country is in the northern hemisphere and is kind of prone to this kind of weather. Instead it seems, we cower at our windows, pointing and screaming: “WHAT IS IT!!” before passing out from the stress.

True, getting snow these days is rarer than it used to be and is nothing like the type seen by our parents, when it used to literally form 4 foot high drifts; sometimes stopping people from even opening their doors. But somehow they pushed on without the government preparing the emergency broadcasting system and urging us all to repent before it’s too late! It’s also true that snow can easily cause transport chaos, as I found out firsthand the other day as we drove home from my grandmothers 20 minutes away, only to run into another heavy flurry of snow. Next thing we knew, roads seemed to be closing left, right and centre and the traffic slowed to a halt that only seemed to budge once every half hour. What should have taken 20 minutes ended up taking the best part of 2 hours!

It seems insane that we get completely flummoxed by a bit of snow, especially when you consider that countries like Sweden and Finland cope with heaps of snow every year. Sure they have contingencies in place as it is pretty certain to snow each year in that part of Europe, and we seem to forget that you need more than one 20 year old grit lorry to keep everything running should it somehow snow. If we got snow on the scale that they do, given our current reaction to the weather, we’d end up regressing to a primal stage of humanity, caving each other’s heads in with sticks and preying to the snow god for forgiveness.

Merry Christmas. That is if we survive the white judgement!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

So sue me?

Lawyers. They’re a funny old group of people aren’t they. They are the people who spend years trying to understand the many confusing and befuddling laws of the land, and apply it on our behalf. It’s like hiring a translator really, if you consider law a language unto itself. I suppose in that way lawyers collectively are like a high school clique, with their own created slang to confuse and keep out the ‘un-cool kids’ outside their circle, and in that way it is hard to trust them. Especially as their only apparent criterion for defending a criminal, no matter how immoral they may be, is whether they can pay or not. All in all, what I’m saying is that I don’t trust lawyers.

The main reason I’ve decided to bring this up now is because of a number of libel cases that I’ve noticed recently, gagging people from making comment which is considered slanderous. Now don’t get me wrong I have no problem with protecting people from unnecessary slander, these laws do have their time and place. However, like many laws they are rigid and open to abuse; if context and common sense aren’t taking into account. The examples I’m talking about mainly occur as a result of corporations protecting their image for some reason or another, by threatening a writer or commentator with a valid criticism of something unfair on unjust about said company with legal action. In many cases these don’t even make it to court as the threat (mainly in the form of strongly worded legal letters) is enough to make the accused back down. Alexei Sayle also comments on these issues claiming: “People are either bullied into settling out of court, and admitting wrongdoing even when they're completely right, or they self-censor.”

An example of this can be found here, where stand-up comedian and blogger Richard Herring was forced to censor a blog post he wrote about why he was dissatisfied with his bank not passing on a cut in interest rates. He was sent an email by the bank in question ordering him to remove the post, although in the end he was able to get around this matter by removing the name of the bank from the article. My problem with this I guess is why should a bank be allowed to legally protect itself from consumer complaints when it is providing unsatisfactory service? Surely that alienates the customer further and implies that it isn’t responsible for it’s poor service, even when complaint is due. What right has any company to pretend that it’s above criticism because it can simply send in the lawyers to shut the complainer up?

Sometimes this can be taken even further, as was seen with the Trafigura scandal this year. In this case an entire national newspaper was legally gagged (through the use of an aptly named ‘Super Injunction’) from reporting on the murky story of a government question about an oil company poisoning an Ivory Coast community with their toxic waste output. What right had Trafigura to defend their tarnished image after poisoning several hundered people? None of course, and yet for a few hours they were allowed to silence a major newspaper in this country. In a so-called free society that is pretty scary.

The silliest thing about this all is that when you attempt to defend your image by trying to shut other people up using the courts, you only do yourself more damage. Most people had never even heard of Trafigura before the ‘super-injunction’ incident and after they were splashed all over the media and the web. If something is bad you should be able to say so otherwise we’re not much better than a police state. Corporate interests shouldn’t ever be so great that they become above the law. And then there’s scientology…

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A few observations on Christmas shopping

I made my first cautious outing to my local town centre during the run-up to Christmas today. Having increasingly relied on the internet for nearly all my shopping of late, Christmas or otherwise, it made the experience feel a little alien. I know I’ve faced it before in the past, but it’s like I’d forgotten about all the perils, and general bewilderment that comes with facing a local shopping centre on a Saturday in December.

Here are a few observations:
• Women, when Christmas shopping, have no space perception whatsoever.
• Young children can and will cry, and really test your patience as you wait in a queue of what seems like thousands. Whilst it is annoying, you can’t help but feel sorry for the parents accompanying them, as they are stuck in a bit of an impossible situation. Then again you have to draw the line at parents who seem to just leave the children to cry. I don’t know if they’re trying to wean a child off dependency, or if they’re just rubbish parents.
• Most teenagers seem to think doorways into shops are excellent social spots, despite the hundreds of haggard shoppers who are trying to bundle into said shop.
• Also, most teens seem to want to share their conversation with you whether you want to hear it or not, as they seem to scream their vacuous bilge at each other. Just when you thought today’s youth had cast off the need for face-to-face interaction and turned into a society of texters.
• December, despite the Christmas spirit and pretty lighting, is still shit when it comes to weather, which is doubly annoying when you are trying to wrestle through a crowd with bags.
• People with pushchairs (occupied or otherwise) can be bastards if they give no mind to the fact they’re blocking people with said pushchairs, whilst they idly leaf through everything on the shelf you’re trying to look at.
• You will get the urge to run for the nearest exit of the shop and annihilate anyone who gets in your path, before social etiquette gets the better of you, and you resign yourself to a slow trudge to freedom.
• Free samples of Christmas wares are always welcome.
• Self service tills seem to have a built-in ‘embarrass-the-customer’ protocol.
• Christmas annuals are getting sillier. There is actually a Marmite annual this year! Seriously Marmite!? I expect the pattern to continue until we have a Christmas annual for everything from fuseboxes to Gordon Brown’s favourite breed of Sheep.
• It is always strange to see someone you have known for some years playing the shopping centre’s Father Christmas.
• There seems to be a movie-and-TV-douche-vampire section to the seasonal calendar shop. I guess the rise of Twilight and True Blood, amongst other things, are to blame.
• Companies make an inexplicable amount of novelty crap for Christmas shoppers.
• The incessant Christmas music played could be used as a means of torture (hope you’re listening British and US military. Waterboarding is so yesterday). It’s questionable as to why the shop workers haven’t had severe nervous breakdowns.

Then again I guess I am going to put a negative spin on shopping, as I don’t really care much for it unless it’s essential. Besides, there are more positive sides to Christmas when you get away from the shopping aspect.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An open letter to the makers of the Windows 7 adverts

They say that evil can only succeed when good people do nothing. Well I have been motivated to act against an evil in our world. The evil in question is Windows 7, or more to the point the people used in commercials for Windows 7 (in the British ones at least). I want to say I am a PC and I am outraged - outraged at the pretension and the idiocy of these ads; not to mention the smug self-congratulatorary wind that these adverts launch into your face. I’m sure that this is justified by the fact that the makers, and stars, of these ads enjoy the smell of their own twattish flatulence so much they want to fill the room with it, so everyone can ‘enjoy it’. Well bad call Microsoft, it’s about as welcome as someone really coming into your house and conspicuously breaking wind in front of you, and then leaving. Only you and the smug cretins you have employed for these ads get a kick out of this idiocy, as – fart metaphors aside – not everyone does like your sense of self-satisfaction being stamped, with a smile, into their subconscious.

Also I’d like to say what self satisfaction? All the people in these ads talk about how they came up with a concept that would make using a PC easier to use; and have now found it in Windows 7. The very worst one, involves a father claiming at the end of the advert that we should “cower in his brilliance” - or something to that extent. Now what does that say? The problems with previous Windows platforms (ME and Vista especially) are so easy to spot even a moron with a god complex could improve it? They’ve found a plentiful supply of attention-seeking problem solvers to prove it? Either way it seems Microsoft is now congratulating itself for making a system that makes sense, and isn’t riddled with bugs and security flaws. Well done for making something that works! It’s only taken you a good 20, or so, years and all you had to do was open your ears for 5 minutes.

Whether Microsoft is a good software developer or not is up for debate, but we still have the problem of these smug bastards, bragging about how they invented Windows 7, invading our screens. I personally want them gone. Preferably to a deserted island in the south pacific, where they can see out the rest of their lives sharing their stupid boastful stories with other idiots like themselves. They’re the only people who could be possibly interested in their guff, or in congratulating their pointing out the obvious. Either that or they can brutally fight each other to the death to decide who really invented Windows 7, both outcomes suit me.

However, in the meantime I demand an apology Microsoft! You have subjected us to a collection of annoying bastards that cannot be unwatched now – much like the Go Compare adverts. You have also taken several minutes of my life away from me, and are slowing the process of me of getting back to the programme I’ve been trying to watch before the adverts came on. Sure I’m petty, but these bastards really rub me up the wrong way.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holidays are here!

Christmas time is coming. In fact it’s actually here now, on our doorstep; cap in hand; demanding good cheer, presents, and over indulgence, whilst conjuring the persistent image of Father Christmas holding a gun against our heads. That’s it cheer up! There may be a recession on, society might be in freefall, but we’ll be damned if there are any scrooges about to spoil the exuberance! Now say Ho ho ho merry Christmas, or kiss goodbye to your brains!

I’m joking of course. Christmas doesn’t have to be chore. As a matter of fact it is a right old laugh really. It’s the time of year where you can get together with family (and then realise precisely why we spend most of the year avoiding them), over-eat to our hearts content (something close to my heart anyway), and generally just make light of the dreary, cold weather that comes with this time of year by putting up tinselly and festive decorations.

Still it comes quicker every year, to overuse the old cliché. But cliché or not, it really does come about sooner each year. I don’t know if it’s my perception of time speeding up with age, or if the shops are just trying to try and get people in the mood sooner (I saw the first Christmas items in supermarkets in September this year!) but there is no shaking the fact it is now Christmas time. Why? Because the Coke advert (featuring the lit up lorries, backed up by carol singers chanting “Holidays are coming”. Delivering their capitalist wet dream of Christmas to your doorstep since 1989 - approx) came on TV yesterday and as many of you in my generation know, that means it is now officially Christmas.

It’s just one of those markers of nature, like the first lambs of spring, or the first orange leaves of autumn. Although whilst the advert is whimsical and magical, it’s also a little unsettling. I could see the rhythmic chanting of “holidays are coming” haunting people’s nightmares, as the voices hypnotically remind you that presents are a measure of love, and that you really do fancy a coke right now. With the poor economic climate it becomes more sinister than ever. Still as I said before, I can forgive it as it’s so engrained into my childhood memories of Christmas the blatent coercion is redeemable. And you know what I really am thirsty. You know what I need, that’s right, a coke! Merry Cokemas to all and to all a good night.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Formulaic Word

So last week The F Word returned to our screens again, once again fronted by Gordon Ramsey and his gargoylesque face and personality. Ramsey of late seems to be everywhere from the Gordon’s Gin commercials and billboards to the pages of Heat magazine - where for reasons beyond my comprehension he is considered a hottie by the ladies? Honestly his face looks like a piece of old cheese that’s been ravaged by a force nine hurricane, complete with hail. Surely if that’s a look to aspire to I should just go and stick my head in a blender. Everywhere we go we see the scowling Glaswegian’s mug, and I have to say it gets tiresome. Either way we have another helping of his foodie delight; that in previous years has made for good viewing – being a food lover myself I enjoy seeing new ways to cook – but this year it feels like the show has run out steam.

New On the Menu

To be quite honest the format remains mostly unchanged this year, except that instead of pitting amateur chefs against each other in the F Word kitchen, Ramsey is on the hunt for Britain’s favourite local restaurant. Now that ruins the fun of the show to me, as instead of him launching blistering four-letter tirades on the poor chefs for being useless, as they invariably will be for being: you know, amateurs. But no, instead he’s dealing with competent chefs; who he actually seems to have respect for from the off. Instead of watching people buggering up the presentation of a hideously complex – when made under pressure – scallop and crayfish bellini, we see people who have actually impressed Gordon in the kitchen without suffering his trademark abuse first. It’s a sad fallacy about human nature that we enjoy people being rubbish, and then being picked on for being rubbish by a loudmouthed, obnoxious Scotsman with a face that could cut diamonds, but still it made for good entertainment. And if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Sure watching the ‘real’ chefs compete against each other, is quite interesting as there is still an element of competition between the two battling restaurants, but it’s not quite as fun without Ramsey speaking in pure cooking hyperbole, mixed with effing and blinding.


What hasn’t changed is Gordon poncing off round the world finding new and inventive ways to capture abnormal edible animals; normally killing them in cruel and unusual ways. This week for instance: he ended up biting the head of an Octopus, like a macabre, foodie, Ozzy Osbourne. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next week. Perhaps he’s going to go after owls with a flamethrower (for that fresh flambé effect), or punch a panda to death, to turn it into a very nice stew.

Also reappearing is the cook-off feature, where Gordon pits his culinary skills against a celebrity guest. Last week was everyone’s favourite walking tits, Jordan (or is it Katie Price I forget), who managed the unenviable feat of losing to Gordon 5 to 0 at the cook-off. Meanwhile whilst making Jordan’s chosen dish, (home-made chicken kievs and mash. To be honest I was expecting her to cook turkey dinosaurs, potato smiles and alphabetti spaghetti. You think you know a person eh?) the two kept up the usual PR friendly small-talk, about how Jordan spends £60,000 on hair extensions (!!!?), has a new book out, is going to dye her horse pink, and how Gordon expects he’s going to win etc etc.

Unfortunately, also reappearing is the devil’s possessed denture set, Janet Street-Porter. This time she’s rearing animals for slaughter, again. Except this time she’s preparing a mixed grill of a calf, a sheep, and chicken. Yes it’s a veritable barnyard at her house this year. Although nothing prepared me for the moment, where she said to one of the cows: “now I’m your mum” - which conjured up sinister, comparative images, between her and Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen - and sent terrified shivers down my spine.

Chewing the Fat

On overall reflection I feel this show has been overcooked for too long. The format is repetitive, the new ideas aren’t that effective and Gordon Ramsey seems to become less endearing each year. His weird turns-of-phrase also get right on my tits: like referring to the kitchen team as a ‘brigade’, as if he’s a Sergeant-Major in the Queen’s Royal Spatula regiment, or wine being called ‘plonk’ (I can imagine it doesn’t take long before ‘plonk’ makes someone look like a plonker). This man actually makes Channel Four’s other premier chef, Jamie Oliver, seem a less annoying person, and anyone who can do that has to ask some questions about themselves. DONE!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Formula One goes to hell in a handbasket made of solid gold

F1 this week has found itself falling in to crisis yet again this year as the Toyota Motor Corporation finally pulled the plug on its money sapping F1 programme. This is the third major car manufacturer in 11 months to do so along with Honda and BMW, and Renault too is considering leaving. Now I could write reams about my thoughts on the Toyota, and how I couldn’t care less that a dull team with no charisma or even a decent success record – especially considering that hundreds of millions a year were spent on the cars – has left, but that’s best saved for another day. Either way Toyota pulling out is a significant development for the sport.

Manufacturer boom

During the mid to late 90s F1 bosses lured major manufacturers into the F1, attempting to bring their wealth and influence to the sport. Needless to say these attempts were successful as Honda, Toyota, BMW, Renault and Ford (in the guise of Jaguar) all funded F1 programmes in the early years of the new century. These often started as engine supply deals, leading to management buyouts by the manufacturers. However success for these new teams was hard to come by. These were the days of Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominance, which meant there were few results for these teams to hoover up. Only Renault achieved a decent level of success managing two world driver’s and constructers championships in 2005 and 2006. The other manufacturers, by comparison, achieved little in the way of race wins and even struggled to score points some years. This of course was not good PR for the parent companies and this led to the inevitable decline of manufacturer in involvement between 2005 and the present day, leading to the situation the sport is in today. It’s also noteworthy that whilst all this was going on privateer involvement was greatly undermined as manufacturers raised participation costs to astronomical levels.

Controversy and the recession take their toll

The global recession of the past two years contributed greatly to the end of manufacturer dominance in F1. Car sales were plummeting, and this coupled with the relative lack of success of many manufacturer teams – considering great investment – lead many to speculate that company board rooms would start pulling the plug on F1. It didn’t take long for it to happen, as Honda announced they were dropping out at the end of last year. It was at this point the FIA realised the mistake of letting in too many carmakers in who didn’t really care for the sport, only about PR and success, so tried to implement a strategy to drastically lower costs. This came in the form of a €40 million budget cap for teams. This sadly backfired as the manufactures rejected the idea and even threatened to leave the sport if it was implemented. In the end a vague agreement was reached to “lower costs to the levels of the early 1990s,” but not before a major argument between the FIA and FOTA the teams association, which did untold damage to the image of the sport.

FOTA vs the FIA

The battle this year was a depressing episode for most fans, who just wanted to see the teams go racing, as many of the major manufacturers officially set up a rival championship to oppose a budget capped F1. The key players in FOTA’s camp were Ferrari and Toyota. Ferrari leaving the sport was obviously the biggest feather in the cap for FOTA’s plan. In the end of course the FIA really had no choice but to back down, but not before some serious posturing which dragged the whole sorry affair on for longer. Interestingly Toyota played a large part in the threatened exodus. This in light of the current problem seems odd, as the team fought tooth and nail to keep the huge budgets which inevitably sank the team. Ferrari’s position on the other hand seems more Machiavellian, as the team has always had a special arrangement – given its historical position in the sport – with the governing body, and in reality is FOTA anything more than Ferrari trying to seize more influence over the sport.

Old Boys Club

Ferrari has been very critical of the new four teams entering the sport next year – new teams marks entering marks quite a miraculous turn of events given the financial climate – which makes you question whether Ferrari really cares if everyone pulls out but them? Historically Ferrari has held this surly view to new blood, even referring to (at the time new) Team Lotus as ‘Garagists’ (a loose term for ‘grease monkeys’), but look how they flourished and became an integral part of the sport. Why can’t the new teams earn their place as part of formula one tradition? Ferrari in the meantime seems more focused on running 3 cars per team. Sure there is the risk the new teams might not turn up next year (because there’s no damn budget cap thanks to Ferrari!) but it’s better to try and get the privateers back into the sport rather than run with only a few teams making loads of cars. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to change the name of the sport to Formula Ferrari, as I feel that’s where the situation is leading.

Cap in hand

The manufacturer’s handling of the financial implications of the recession has been confusing and almost belies a lack of touch with reality. How can the sport now survive without the ever-lambasted budget cap? The FIA warned that the high costs of competing in the sport would lead us to a mass exodus of competitors, and lo and behold it’s now coming true. The sport has been dominated for too long with soulless manufacturer teams who add nothing to the personality to the sport; throw money at their problems; and then pull out when they end up embarrassing themselves having wasted a fortune for little success on the track. The most frustrating thing about this whole situation as a fan is that the problems are easily noticeable, and yet the people involved in the decision making don’t see what’s right in front of them. These companies have no passion for F1 yet they’ve managed to redesign it on their terms. Well that is until they don’t want to play anymore, and by then they’ve left everyone else in the lurch. This has/is happening in other forms of motor racing such as DTM, WRC and the British Touring Car championship, so why don’t people learn that this model of motor racing is unsustainable in the long term? Of course it’s probably due to the almighty dollar.

The Future of F1?

To be honest I’d expect to see the sport change in a dramatic way over the next year or so. What you see now quite frankly won’t be there in the long run, as F1 is in serious need of big change, and quick. I can only hope the new teams are credible and that more are interesting in making the jump up to the pinnacle of motorsport over the next few years. Otherwise we could be in for a very small field in 2010. I also would prefer it if engine makers were banned from running teams too, (an exception should be made for Ferrari though) as they often end up filling teams with unhelpful internal politics and bad boardroom decision making, before pulling out all their finance and leaving teams in an unfit position to survive. Formula One should look forward, not back. Many famous teams have already dropped out, and the manufacturers won’t look twice at coming back at the moment, so we should think about creating a new tradition in the sport. One where hopefully there’ll be more focus on the racing and the passion rather than the spending.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

BNP Time

It was probably the most controversial event of the week – postal strikes and Afghanistan aside– and caused mass outrage, but in the end the appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on question time went ahead as planned.

Having Griffin on the show was always going to be contentious, as many see the BNP as a fascist and racist organisation. Unfortunately (and no matter how well meaning the protest may appear to people who want an end to racial intolerance) whether you like it or not, the BNP have been democratically elected to the European Parliament by the North West and York and Humberside electorate, so it was right that the BBC invited Griffin on the show, as to not would have contravened the idea of democratic free speech. After all if we marginalise undesirable politicians who were voted in legitimately, we therefore deny a voice to the people who decided to vote for them. Sure some people may argue (as the protesters outside the BBC effectively did) that that’s allowable given the unsavoury views of the party, but then that’s not free speech. You can’t just silence people you don’t like. Where would it end? It would be a slippery slope towards denying more and more people a voice, and who’s to decide what constitutes denying several thousand voters a voice, thankfully not the government. It’s ironic as doing just that would bring us a step closer to fascism and a dictatorial style government, than just letting Griffin come on the show.

Personally I don’t see the BNP as much of a threat. Most people can tell they’re bigoted. Sure they’ve been given a bit of a makeover since the days when they boasted skinheads and outspoken anti-Semites but the blind xenophobia bubbling under the surface is still more than apparent. Also the level of protest that was seen outside the BBC yesterday was unnecessary, as I don’t think people need to take to the streets to stop the BNP from rising to power. They do a perfectly good job on their own of showing themselves up for the narrow minded oafs that they are.

Watching him on Question Time was a pretty painful experience, as the likes of David Dimbleby, Jack Straw and Chris Huhne, had come prepared with embarrassing on-the-record comments that Griffin had made, and they took delight in subjecting him to a sound whipping. Griffin really had little he could say to any of this, and when he tried to deny them he just looked silly (a bit like his holocaust denial which also took up a chunk of the show). What was just as bad was when he launched into an angry tirade about the ‘evils’ of Islam. About how Muslims mistreat women (in some cases a valid criticism, but I would hold that down more to local cultural customs rather than Qur’an doctrine), and that Muslims are instructed to murder, and look down upon people of other religions. If only someone had pointed out to him that the Qur’an states that murder is the ultimate evil, and that Christianity (which he talked up so much) is just as guilty of religious intolerance to the same degree, if not worse, (considering the crusades, and the treatment of colonial Africa) as Islam.

I could write for pages about why Nick Griffin’s arguments are wrong, and that I don’t like the boss eyed bigot, especially for trying to concoct an image of Britain being destroyed, which never properly existed - it’s just a doe-eyed flight of fancy with the Union Flag plastered everywhere - but to be honest it’s not worth it. Everyone seems to see him for what he is and quite honestly he got the distain he deserved yesterday from the public and the panel.

Moving on to the programme itself, I thought it was, all in all, a bit predictable. I don’t think anyone didn’t expect Griffin to show himself up, and of course we had numerous outraged members of the public asking him how he could hold such hateful views. You could see it coming a mile off. What was also expected, and eventually came to fruition, is that the other members of the panel, especially in the case of Straw and Huhne were determined to give the new guy a damn good kicking. It diverted attention away from any controversial issues they were going to get pressed on. Dimbleby too took a good chance to get the boot in, and it was plainfully obvious that he did not like Griffin one bit. Unfortunately I think the show suffered for all this distain. There wasn’t much real debate about any recent issues. The BNP aspect of the show took up all the time, so you have to feel sorry for the people who turned up with questions about actual government policy. In fact I wouldn’t even call the BNP discussion a debate. It was more a competition of who can vent the most moral outrage. He might as well of been in the stocks having burning crosses and swastikas thrown at him, as only that would have made him look more uncomfortable. All in all, it was just a chance for Griffin to get publically held to account for his racist views, which is not a bad thing - he had it coming really – but maybe they should have had a debate instead of pillorying the ‘only’ racist village as they did yesterday. Talk about Little Britain.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moir Stupidity

Today I think I’m going to add my voice to the growing number of critics of a column article written by Jan Moir for the Daily Mail.

In the article Moir alleges that there was, “Nothing natural” about the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, who died last week aged 33. And goes on to make several quite backward comments about the singer’s lifestyle – Gately came out as gay in 1999 - referring to it as “Sleazy,” and that his sudden death is “a blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”. To turn an unfortunate public figure’s death into a case against gay marriage is a strange one. It only seems to undermine a petty and homophobic mindset. It’s almost like she’s seen Gately’s death as a way to put the boot in to the gay community, although without saying it overtly. Still most people can read between the lines of that, and have.

It would appear that in Moir’s eyes, there is no smoke without fire, in the case of a gay man dying; even going against the conventional logic that the coroner’s judgement is generally a good indication of the cause of death (something Charlie Brooker pokes fun at in his reaction piece). Gately died of pulmonary oedema, which caused his lungs to fill up with fluid, and killed him in his sleep. Dr Moir, however, claims that this is doubtful however; whilst I’m sure by her logic watching enough episodes of Quincy makes her qualified enough to suggest whatever she wants about a post mortem result. She is convinced that, “Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.” And how I wish that was true, but of course it isn’t! I had a lecturer who keeled over and died, of a cerebral haemorrhage at about the same age as Gately, and I have heard several stories of people, who on the surface seemed healthy and suddenly died of an undetected health problem, so there’s no doubt it happens. But still, ‘Agatha’ Moir is on the case, and if the person who died is one of those, you know, gays, there must be foul play afoot by her twisted logic.

Moir has basically been naïve, idiotic, and has chosen to relate to this story in manner that only belies her prejudices. Sure we come to expect these things from The Daily Mail, but not with the same stupidity, or even the sheer ignorance that what she’s saying is homophobic. Not to mention publishing this the day before his funeral, at what must be an awful time for his family and fans, is just insensitive.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Would I lie to you?

I went to see the Invention of Lying, the most recent vehicle for Ricky Gervais’s movie career playing fictitious versions of himself. Having seen his last offering, Ghost Town, I was a little worried that this film would be similarly promising, but ultimately lacking in consistency when it came to laughs.

So like Ghost Town, The Invention of Lying is a high concept film which features an alternate universe where people are unable to say anything that isn’t 100 per cent true. So naturally there are numerous scenes, where we are led to titter at someone unflinchingly telling a waiter that the restaurant's food was terrible, or in other scenes where people bluntly and unflinchingly say that they hate their co-workers. It's a bit like a reality TV talent show really. That’s where Mark Bellingham (Gervais) comes in, as the tubby loser (I’m not being harsh, this fact is repeatedly shoved down the audiences throat by many of the characters), who after being fired from his job, and failing dismally to attract women comes across the ability to tell lies. Cue hilarity; an attempt to win the girl of his dream, and the accidental invention of religion as he comforts his dying mother.

Of course most of the laughs are going to be due to the high concept theme, such as when Bellingham proves the ability to lie to his friends by announcing he is black, to which one of his friends replies “I knew it;” unable to distinguish untruths from truths. However, the best laughs come when he accidentally invents religion – as mentioned above. The scene where he sets the rules for his new religion; reading off pizza boxes instead of stone slabs - an obvious nod to Moses laying down the ten commandments - is hilarious.

The high concept world without lies is also deserving of praise as it is well thought-out; taking note of small details such as the lack of fiction, and adverts which can’t bend the facts. Most notably in the case of an ad for Pepsi declaring their drink is: “For when they haven’t got Coke.” You can tell that a fictional world has succeeded in capturing your imagination, when you desire to find out more about its intricacies which haven’t been explained. Like in my case what happened during the Watergate scandal, without the ability to lie.

Now whilst I enjoyed this film, and definitely prefer it to Ghost Town – I feel that the whole performance from Gervais was far too self conscious. Fine, we understand you are able to poke fun at your podgy figure and the fact you feel inferior to women, but it doesn’t need to be shouted repeatedly at us in this way, it just becomes tiresome.

However, whilst I got sick of Gervais overemphasising how much of loser Bellingham is meant to be, the biggest problem is with the love interest Anna (Jennifer Garner). There is one word to sum her up and that is boring. Anna is also a vacuous; uninteresting; eugenics obsessive, with very few redeeming features. The fact that she is totally driven by looks and lacks any personality makes the film frustrating to watch after a time. It’s made worse by the fact Bellingham is so smitten by her. Whilst being physically repugnant to her, he is ultimately a kind and thoughtful man, so it becomes painful to see him pouring praise on her as human being – of course she fails to return the favour – whilst she sits there thinking she just deserves it for being pretty. Also she keeps moaning about her need to spawn perfect physically little narcissists, even if it means being married and fucked by a complete cunt (played wonderfully by Rob Lowe) for the trouble. Seriously why didn’t someone introduce her to Saddam Hussein? She would probably really hit it off on a personal level. Also the laughs rather tail off towards the end, as the love story takes hold of the plot, which I felt ruined the enjoyment a little, and made the film seem a bit schizophrenic.

So there you have it, The Invention of Lying, is a far better than its predecessor, and the laughs are definitely there. Whilst it’s a film of two halves, and the fact it’s no film of the year in my mind, it is certainly a worthwhile cinema experience. Also look out for a brilliant cameo from Stephen Merchant and Shaun ‘Barry-off-Eastenders’ Williamson.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Geldofs Be Gone!

Really, who actually cares about what the Geldof children are up to? Anybody? No one’s had a long, roving, and highly stimulating discussion about the latest antics of the brood with pretentious names? I don’t see any hands? Come on, does no one give a toss that one of them was seen freshening up with a wet wipe, or another was seen enjoying a coffee and a slice of carrot cake? Well if this is the case, then the press have wasted a massive amount of time, space, and resources on Bobby, ‘Saviour of Africa and that guy who sung I don’t like Mondays’s,’ princesses. I suppose what I’m saying isn’t new, mainly: “who are these people and why should I care about them”.

It’s an issue endemic to the cult of celebrity that the media has become besotted with. Still, I can understand why people might prick up their ears if some, famous for the sake of it, pratt – like the hordes of interchangeable FHM and Sun glamour models, or Jordan - gain some attention, as their train-wreck lives are so compelling sometimes you can’t help but stare, whilst every urge in your body wills you to just ignore them so they’ll go away.

The Geldofs on the other-hand are something of an anomaly, and are a bit more stubborn, as despite the fact I don’t think I’ve heard any man or woman on the street give a monkeys about them. Despite this they still keep appearing in my face (and sometimes in my nightmares where the world is run by celebrity children, who because of their parents influence, and a deluded belief that they are in their position because of their talent rather than said influence, are able to rise to the levels of governance) which is a bit surprising I can’t see (or maybe don’t want to see) how they contribute to papers being sold. Incidentally I think the only people who I think believe their hype are the Geldof sisters themselves and the gossip press. Either that or the press are just looking for something easy to fill the gap on the gossip pages of the Daily Bilge.

I hope I am actually right in my assumptions and evidence that I’ve experienced thus far, in thinking they aren’t as important as the press and the Geldof’s think they are. This is mainly as I detest their types: little immature girls who because of their parent’s contacts, and the opportunities that creates, are able to blunder into the media without breaking a sweat.

Peaches for instance from the age of 16 has been allowed actual airtime as an television presenter/ journalist; it pains me to think of the poor men and women with actual talent and ambition that have been ushered aside for this socialite attention seeker, who wouldn’t have even been considered for a press pack report on Newsround. So there you have it I guess. They are going to keep sporadically appearing in papers which heavily coerce me to believe they deserve to be in the papers, I guess I’ll just have to take to cutting their pictures out of it and creating a bonfire of mediocrity from the stupid images of their smug faces.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's Looks and Personality Wot Wins Elections. Not The Sun.

Is it me or are we resigned to the fact that this time next year the man running our country will be a toff in Blair’s clothing. I am of course talking of the fact that The Sun has changed its allegiance to The Conservative party, ending it’s 12 year association with the incumbent Labour party. Now it is no surprise that the Sun has lot of clout in this country, as it is the paper with the biggest readership, and is a strong arm of Murdoch’s News Corp Empire. The paper even announced, after John Major surprisingly won the 1992 general election, that: “It was the Sun Wot Won it,” in its usual blunt instrumental way, so even it is in some way self aware of its influence. Sure, it’s true that people decide the outcome of an election and not the media, as Labour are spluttering frantically, but having the media on your side certainly helps. Then again is what we are seeing a case of The Sun backing on the horse with better odds, or an attempting to influence the voters?

Now to be fair, it is not always the Sun ‘wot wins’ it. In fact the Sun got it spectacularly wrong when it comes to betting on the right winner, as shown in the 70s when they gambled on Labour winning and lost and then remained neutral for the rest of the decade. So it looks like it’s all about choosing the person with the best chances of winning, and that normally means the person who looks best.

If proof was ever there, that politics is all about window dressing, and that personality supersedes policy, it is that the public turns to the charismatic and physically more appealing candidates rather than listen to anything that a less smooth talking, and repugnant, politicians (or bastards, the same principals apply to both really). The fact that Tony Blair was able to schmooze his way into the PM position, turn everything upside down – blaming it on God and virtue of course – and then bugger off to profit off the middle east he helped mess up in the first place, and people still say that he’s a lovely chap goes to show. That is, to me, a major reason as to why David (don’t mention the fact I went to Eton) Cameron is faring a great deal better than old wonky eyes Gordon. True, Brown has been faced, in his controversial tenure, with scandal and upheaval that would have even the most confident Prime Minister glumly admitting his chances of staying in power are less likely than, say, Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill going out on a hot date, but he has stuck it out with gusto. What bothers me more is that it seems less mud seems to stick to Cameron because of this halo effect, despite the fact Brown has battled hard against the odds, and really his only crime is having a negative image.

Either way, whether the Sun influences people to vote a certain way, or appears to do it to keep up with the public mood, we’re probably going to see the Tories running our recession torn country next year. Tories in a recession ha! that’s going to end well! Then again, I suppose that’s just the human way, go for the winner, and that is certainly what the Sun seems to have decided to do, god help us all.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Expend This!

Now I am quite a fan of action films. Sure they are purile and mindless things to watch, but god they are entertaining. Maybe it’s being a man or something, but a movie with lots of explosions; stupid puns and men who can’t act for shit, but can still forge an acting career thanks to the former two things, despite being as wooden as a petrified pine tree, but then who cares as that kind of adds to the entertainment. Anyway, I digress. The reason I’m suddenly gushing about my love of action theatre, is because the culmination of every action movie generic convention seems to be amalgamating into a massive, perpetually exploding, testosterone filled lump of pure muscle, which will be called The Expendables, and is out next year.

This film has the action casts of action casts, including: Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke… oh and ARNOLD SCHWARZNEGGAR. Seriously, this film will be Actiongeddon, and may raise the bar of the ludicrous action flick to new heights, or at least heights not seen since Snakes on a Plane. This is surely one of the most anticipated cast line-ups since; Robert De Niro and Al Pacino got together for coffee in Heat. Although imagine that, but then them being joined by Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Marlon Brando, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

This movie is going to be a real treat for everyone who likes a good bit of testosterone on their cornflakes, and I can’t wait to see the first trailer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Whoever thought a doctors surgery was like this needs a doctor themselves.

Another short thought on daytime TV today from me. I have been watching the BBC’s daytime soap Doctors for a while now. Now, it’s tough making a daytime soap, as its restricted on content and racy material even more-so than it’s evening soap counterparts, and the writing and acting talent isn’t really in the market for daytime output. But that notwithstanding, Doctors is pretty poor by anyone’s standards.

To sum up the premise, it is based on the day-to-day trials and tribulations of a group of GP’s running a health centre in the West Midlands, ranging from normal surgery where pensioners basically come in so that they have someone to talk at for five minutes about their cough, to hostage situations (I kid you not on the latter). As you can already tell the format flip-flops between two extremes of mundane and quirky, to all out drama, which is a bit off putting. After all one day the doctors might be dealing with a mother who is panicking, in an unnecessarily excessive way, about her child’s cough; whilst on another a group of Chechnyan rebels might break in and threaten the O.A.P’s - waiting for morning surgery - with a dirty bomb. This I suppose is necessary considering that a GPs surgery is never going to deal with all the sorts of exotic and eye-watering illnesses that we see on House or Casualty, so drama needs to be installed somewhere, but maybe they do go a bit too far sometimes.

Another problem with this programme is that it doesn’t really have a strong footing in reality. On a more satirical point you have to point out that the doctors on screen in Doctors, actually go beyond the call of duty and go to their patients homes without being told to. Now I rarely have seen GPs making housecall’s in my time, even when asked to, but to think that a doctor would try searching the whole town for someone who they believe to be at risk (also happens a few times on screen) is ludicrous and probably just wouldn’t happen. Maybe these fictional doctors are what the real versions should be like i.e. caring, attentive willing to go to great lengths for their patients health, but to be honest I haven’t seen it happen. On the other hand there are other times when the fictional docs are seen prattling round the surgery seemingly doing nothing, which makes me wonder shouldn’t these people be seeing patients, or are the sick folk happy to wait whilst the gang get up to all sort of camaraderie and high jinks in the staff room? I suspect not, I guess life isn’t perfect in cloud cuckoo land after all.

Another thing which is particularly annoying is the one-sided portrayal of teens. Now I for one – as a good few of you who read this stuff regularly might have guessed – I hate teens. In a lot of cases they’re arrogant, attention seeking, whiney selfish bastards (I should know as I was one not so long ago), but even I accept they aren’t all bad. Doctors on the other hand only seems to deal with the former stereotype. I don’t think I’ve seen one spotty adolescent on this farce, who wasn’t some kind of know-it-all screechy emo, or at least a sanctimonious angst filled prick, who seems more worried about the state of their hair then the fact they, or one of their relatives, has the ebola virus or something. Most of them also complain that no-one listens to them, which in some cases is true, but in most cases I can understand why; as they are painted as unsympathetic; hormone addled; dim-wits.

I guess the diagnosis (ha! See what I did there. I used a medical term… You see because it’s about Doctors… Oh forget it!) for doctors isn’t good. It’s disconnected from reality, slightly schizophrenic, and is kept on a bad diet of poorly written bilge. Still I am willing to watch it, perhaps as a guilty pleasure (well that and Hollyoaks), as it is quite amusing to watch, and for that it deserves some credit.