Sunday, September 29, 2013

Experiencing "The Citizen Kane of bad films" first hand

You are tearing me apart conventional movie expectations!
The Room, written, directed and starring Tommy Wiseau is a bit of an enigma. Is it an earnest attempt to make a decent movie ruined by serendipitously hilarious incompetence? Is it a winking self-conscious parody of the film making art? For that matter who or what is Tommy Wiseau and what planet is he from (a question asked in the film itself)? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on.

Despite the contrived and repetitive plot, terrible acting and poorly realized characters; The Room has become a cult hit with bad-good movie fans spawning lively midnight screenings and even a fairly faithful flash tribute game. Screenings of the film have been compared to those of the Rocky Horror Picture Show - albeit with less tongue-in-cheek humour and dressing up – given the energy and anarchic experience that you get when you see The Room on the big screen. I was lucky enough to visit one such screening in London's Leicester Square and it was a cinema experience I won’t soon forget.

Literally everything that’s considered part of cinema etiquette is out the window. People throw plastic spoons (throwing metal ones will actually get you thrown out), people get up and wonder about, and shouting at the screen is encouraged as bad quote after bad quote plays out. It’s actually surprisingly liberating to just abandon all the rules we assume as law in the cinema but in a way that doesn’t involve acting like a thoughtless dick head. You really feel encouraged to join in with the fun and shout out of turn.

There are lots of favourite moments that get highlighted by the audience, in this the Citizen Kane of bad movies. There are screams of “who are you” every time a poorly established character is introduced; every time the door of the protagonist’s apartment is left inexplicably open there are shouts of “close the door”. There’s also a running count of how many times a football (American version not European) is thrown around by the characters, which is quite a lot and for no clear reason other than a vague male bonding metaphor. Spoons go flying every time a bizarre framed picture of a spoon appears in the background of some scenes (why this photo is part of the mise-en-scene has never been explained), accompanied by everyone screaming “SPOON!” for the duration of the shots.

Overall it’s a pretty unique experience and a damn funny one at that. There’s no doubt that the Room is either by intent or accident one of the most ham fisted attempts to make a movie of all time, but somehow a group of fans have managed to make something of the resulting mess.

Friday, September 06, 2013

4 unbelievably conservative books for America's youth

To me - a British person - the USA is a funny place, on one side very proud of its freedom and liberty and on the other frighteningly conservative whilst still aping the former. However in a society full of terrorists, pro-choice views and Barack Obama how does the concerned conservative of today make sure his/her future Ronald or Nancy Reagan is being fed the right messages?

Luckily the ever enterprising publishing sector in the Land of the Free has answered these prayers with children’s books that put the fun back into fundamental conservatism.

Each of these books are 100 per cent real, have been created without any hint of irony, and can be bought with your good ol’ freedom dollars (freedom isn’t free after all) today. Enjoy:

1. The Tea Party Colouring book

America’s favourite band of wacky, politically motivated historical enactors, are back with a book full of laughs, giggles and Tea Party doctrine.

In this children’s garden of colouring (notice it’s ‘colouring’ and not ‘coloring’) you can colour the American flag, the liberty bell, a bizarre scene where the founding fathers seem to be shouting buzzwords like “freedom of speech” and “liberty” whilst demanding quite forcefully that the scribe sign the document, and much more!

Hours of fun await as you and your whole family as you colour and learn the tea party way. Who knows? Sooner or later your little Paul Revere may soon be chucking all your tea into the river. Although woe betide the child that inevitably decides to apply creative licence and traitorously colours the American flag in with green and purple instead of blue and red.

Also look out for book two where you can colour in Glenn Beck!

2. We Shall Never Forget 9/11 - Vol. II The True Faces of Evil Global Terrorism

Unfortunately volume I was so jam-packed with terrorist colouring fun that there was not enough room to fit it all in one book. However never fear, the publishers knew that kids would be clamouring for more war on terror larks and made a second book. God bless America!

All your favourites are here for you to colour and denounce in the 2 minutes hate. There’s Muammar Gaddafi, Bashir Al Assad and the outgoing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (his exit is certainly a relief considering how much of ball-ache it is to spell his name). There are also trading cards you can cut-out and collect, featuring a who’s who of world terror including Osama Bin Laden, the Oklahoma City bomber and Julian Assange (Edward Snowden’s card is most likely coming soon).

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a copy of a letter sent by Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks and friends that addresses concerns about the influence of the Muslim brotherhood’s planned “civilization jihad”. You know because kids like to colour petition letters from delusional xenophobes.

3. Everything Energy

One day your future freedom lover is going to need to know where all our gasoline, electricity and pollution come from. Well now he/she can learn from the Energy Corporations of the U.S. and the Everything Energy Dino gang. That’s right; big business and delightful anthropomorphic dinosaurs wearing no trousers are going to teach you why sludge and funny fire rocks made from their prehistoric corpses make everything go.

In addition to the colouring fun, you can also learn fantastic facts such as “American energy companies pay $100 million per day of tax revenue to the US Government” or “If hydraulic fracking causes earthquakes they are too small to be felt or be a safety concern”.

But what about all the reported fracking disasters, questions about oil spills and the amount of carbon in the air today? Best not talk about that or Tank Triceratops may have to fuck you up Late Cretaceous Period style.

4. One Nation Under God: A book for little patriots

You love America right? Well what if Junior doesn’t; or at least is only freedom-curious (due to the fact he/she is four and has no concept of nationality). Well never fear, he/she won’t be going to Guantanamo once you’ve read him One Nation Under God: A book for little patriots.

This delightful read - heavily recommended by Patriot Depot, the one stop shop for the upcoming conservative revolution - will teach you how to count using beloved symbols of freedom in a wonderful poetic verse. This is all done using examples such as how many amendments to the US constitution there have been, how many branches of the military there are or how many presidents have been assassinated etc.

The great thing about this book is it’s written by freedom loving American parents, who found that the other books on sale just weren’t patriotic enough for their little patriot and his friends. Being America where freedom of expression is encouraged, they showed some good ol’ can do spirit and published their book so that America’s youth would have something more wholesome and stars and stripesy to read.

After all, if want to learn to count by other means you can always learn to count in Russia you Commie!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Browsing the free dating apps for Android

Dating sites are no longer the preserve for the weird and dateless. Now everyone is giving them a try and getting their hands dirty in the world of online dating. There’s a lot of choice too now and of course dating sites and app producers have decided to get involved with the mobile market.

Unsurprisingly there’s a huge range of free to download apps you can find on the Google Play Store where you can find Mr or Miss right. Remember however in some cases a lot of the functionality can only be accessed with a premium subscription or a micro purchase, so it’s questionable just how “free” they actually are but here goes nothing!

Here is one man’s view of the Android dating app landscape and some of the choicest apps on offer.

Tinder is one of the hottest apps on the market right now allowing you to simply choose a partner based on a profile image. If you both like each other’s photo then you can chat. However, it doesn’t work for my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini despite several app updates and tinkering so…
0/10 (until they fix it and I can actually test it)

Almost a complete clone of Tinder, but with the features of Snapchat added into the mix. It is however buggy as sin with a fiddly interface with Facebook, which is the sole means for logging in and changing your photo. The preference filters are a bit limited however. You can only search by age and gender and they should perhaps filter things down so that you can choose whether or not you want to date someone with kids, as the amount of babies you come across when searching for a lady can be a bit off-putting if you want your relationships to remain childless for the time being. That being said it was one of the best dating apps I tried (not bad considering many of them didn’t work to begin with).

One of the biggest dating sites on the market and for good reason. There are a huge amount of people using it and it has some really targeted matching algorithms. The app isn’t without its bugs but is pretty solid overall. However, the downside is that there are many prompts to upgrade to the paid service, but this is common on the main website as well. It is however a good way to keep up with your dating profile on the go and its Locals feature is a nice touch, incorporating the features of Tinder or Swipe.

I have to admit I probably dedicated less time to Blendr than the others I tried as it is more of a friend making app than a dating app. That being said it was the one that didn’t leave me alone as I kept getting visitors, likes etc. Unfortunately they were all from other men, which was somewhat disheartening as a single straight male looking for straight single ladies or even just new female friends. I guess it’s a little frustrating when you’re on there to make lady friends exclusively but if they can fix the filtering then they have a pretty good app on their hands. For now it’s a somewhat laborious task to use Blendr as you have to trawl through the mess of both male and female profiles to find people you may be interested in dating. Then again as Eric Carman once quoted: “this is the way the world works! If you wanna find some quality friends, you've gotta wade through all the dicks first”.

This is what Blendr could be given the right tweaks. The app actually lets you customize who you want to meet rather than give you a ridiculous blend of all and sundry in the area. Skout is fun to use, makes great use of GPS functions to and seems to have a pretty sizable database to boot. It does however lose a few points for its point based user interface, which steers you quite forcibly towards its premium content.

Hot or Not
Pretty basic with a Tinder-style “I like or don’t like the look of this user” like or reject function. Like many on this list it has a real problem when it comes to filtering so don’t be surprised if you find yourself rating people of the same sex frequently, whether you’re interested in them or not. This is a bit strange as it almost comes across as more vapid then the other free apps of this nature (which are by no means ) as you are literally voting on “beautiful people” throughout. What’s more, it only goes to highlight the oversaturation of men on this service as I think a girl came up less than one in six times and also lacks the cool swipe function of Swipe or Tinder, which can make it seem a bit more cumbersome.

PlentyOfFish (POF)
Another of the big hitters of the dating market with many anecdotal success stories and a very large database of users. The app as you might expect is one of the better ones out there. Unlike the others that rely on your Facebook details for access it is very customisable and has lots of great ways to advertise yourself. That being said it does feel a bit over detailed for an app. This is also just an old fashioned straightforward dating website port and doesn’t seem to have many special features for the mobile app. Then again it is good for keeping your profile up to date on the go and it makes good use of the phone’s location functionality to browse profiles in the vicinity.

I would love to tell you that Swoon is great but the App seemed to be under the impression that I had no Facebook profile picture (I do) and wouldn’t let me log in. So I have no choice but to give it no points.

Do you have any interesting dating app stories or recommendations? If so post them below. No Spambots please.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Insurance or not?

A post by Robert Peston got me thinking yesterday. The subject was on the costs of private healthcare and how many Britons may be charged too much for their treatment. Now, the gradual privatisation of the NHS (don’t pretend it isn’t happening) is a matter that’s close to my heart, although Peston’s points have got me thinking about the wider insurance industry – which is to be fair something I don’t often dedicate much thought to - and the effect that it has on our lives.

Peston claims firstly that many of the privately run hospitals face little to no competition, granting them an automatic monopoly in certain areas. As a result patients are being charged top dollar just for being ill in an area which only has a private health centre immediately available.

The wider implication of this is that this system of overcharging is endemic in any private healthcare system, especially if it’s run like the American system. I’ve been lucky enough to speak with doctors both here and abroad who have confirmed the fact that going directly to a hospital and paying without the insurer results in a cheaper price. Because the insurers are large companies and insist on using specific facilities – which aren’t necessarily the cheapest – they usually pay out more than they should.

This seems to be a pretty standard insurance industry tactic as I’ve heard of it being used in the likes of car insurance, home insurance etc. Now if that strikes you as horribly inefficient then you’d be right and of course you know that if insurers pay out higher costs that those costs will inevitably be passed on to you. It’s the line we’re always given if premiums do rise.

Consider that influence on the cost of living in all situations where you have to rely on insurers. After all car insurance is a legal necessity if you drive and health insurance I would imagine will become obligatory as well. The cost of living due to these inefficient middle men is bound to be higher for this.

Of course let’s not even get started on the fact that many insurers can be tricky paying out to begin with or charge an impractical excess. These are just further insults to injury – literally in the case of health insurance.
Overall you do have to wonder whether life would be more secure with or without insurance. Would the extra money in our pocket allow us to better financially protect ourselves or are we better off sticking with the current system and throwing away money? Obviously a system where we aren’t being ripped off due to inefficiency and monopoly has to be a better way.

And this is why we can’t have nice things!