Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Twin Studies

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is the ITV show Long Lost Family.

During the advert break of The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, as I wondered whether Paddy Considine was actually a real policeman, (seriously, what he's picked up from playing an officer of the law in Hot Fuzz, Red Riding and now Mr Whicher must leave him qualified to tackle some minor crimes at least) I saw a trail for a show called Long Lost Family, in which people are reunited with lost family members by the two obvious choices: Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall.

I tweeted: 'The 2 people I'd least want breaking the news of the discovery of my lost relatives: Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall http://t.co/wOdzf7k.' I thought Davina would leave ridiculous pauses at inappropriately sensitive moments. 'We have found your long lost brother..............................James!' By the end of the pause you'd have forgotten the context in which Davina was shouting at you and just assumed that James had been evicted. And Nicky Campbell would insist on spinning a giant wheel, I guess. I shouldn't have been watching ITV in the first place, but Peter Capaldi was in this Mr Whicher adaptation and he's always brilliant, plus I enjoy waiting to see if he forgets he's not playing Malcolm Tucker and starts shouting elaborate expletives. I went to bed and thought no more of it, but the next day I checked Twitter to find that Nicky Campbell had replied to my tweet: 'did you see it?'

I was surprised, mainly because I hadn't tweeted @ him. So how had he seen it? Had he searched his own name? I was worried I'd offended Nicky Campbell, and felt guilty because I have nothing but respect for the man. Literally, nothing but respect. Respect is all I have for Nicky Campbell. That's it. I replied: 'Nope, I'll catch up online' which I immediately regretted, because it meant I'd then have to, because as we know from his time on Watchdog, you do not lie to Nicky Campbell.

The show was actually sensitively done, if in a hyper-emotive, schmaltzy kind of ITV way. But it all felt horribly uncomfortable. I'm not sure if the public should actually be watching the intimate, life-changing moments of these people. As Lucy Mangan asks in The Guardian, 'Does the bringing together of two families justify the potential intrusion, exploitation, raising and dashing of hopes seen and unseen involved in making a programme that primarily serves a voyeuristic, self-indulgent desire to witness other people's misery and joy?'

At times it's painful watching people who've just had news of a long lost twin being found being poked and prodded to provide a sentimental soundbite. The presence of the cameras forces them to say the kind of things people never ever say in real life. Things like: 'I feel like I could tackle the world today.'

They've been told something incredibly emotional, and their immediate response is, understandably, to cry and not say anything. Through tears, one of them said something like, 'I don't know what to say,' but the camera stayed on them, as if saying 'well fucking think of what to say. Oh boo hoo, look how emotional I am! Say something stupid! Go on!' So they just say, 'wow...gosh...' Let them fucking come to terms with it!

People are also made to read letters from long lost relatives aloud. It's the first time they've read it, so obviously they're crying, but they have to read aloud for the cameras, which just seems cruel. The letter is written to the individual, not to ITV.

As I predicted, Davina does leave stupid Big Brother style pauses. To build up tension, she says, 'there are obviously different ways that it can go...' well that's ominous, '...but I have come here today with some news...' yeah clearly, '...and it's good news...' you could have said it was good news when you said you had news '...your sister has been found,' what was that sorry? I fell asleep. I mean for fuck's sake, she's waiting to hear the most important news of her life, she's not on The Million Pound Drop Live.

And actually, Nicky (I call him Nicky, we're practically pen pals now) was almost as guilty when it came to inappropriate pauses. 'Would you like to see a photograph?' he asked, without moving, even when she said she did, he just sat there, smiling. In fact, his presence was particularly awkward. He's definitely not the warmest man on TV. Whenever he put his hand on the shoulder of an elderly person, I was worried they'd think it was the chilly grip of the Grim Reaper, come to take them. I don't know which is better, his 'almost pathological lack of charisma' (as Lucy Mangan excellently puts it) or Davina's patronising gurning, which, as Michael Deacon says in the Telegraph, is reminiscent of a 'proud mother, waving them off at the school gate.'

Overall, the intrusive nature of the show, combined with the mawkish soundtrack and awkwardly lingering shots of people crying, as well as bizarre bits where Davina and Nicky would walk towards a fixed camera until their faces were creepily close, made it utterly uncomfortable.

But if you're reading this because you've googled yourself and trawled to page 57 Nicky, we'll meet up for a pint soon.

Thanks for reading, I'll leave you with the song that this blog is named after, which is by the rapping evolutionist Baba Brinkman, enjoy!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Idiot Box

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is TV.

Obviously that's not strictly true, as you'll know if you've ever read this blog before; I love TV. Except I don't - what I love is TV shows. Lots of them. So when I'm at uni, where I don't have a TV, I always think I miss having a TV. That's until I turn one on. That's when I realise, straight away, that I really, really don't. And here's why. Here are 3 things I've seen on TV since I've been home that have made me realise just how lucky those poor Africans who have no TVs really are.

3. There's a show called Great British Hairdresser which seems to be a reality competition for hairdressers. I don't want to know why it exists, I just want to forget that it does.

2. I saw a TK Maxx advert. I know it's my own fault for watching commercial television but M*A*S*H was on Film4. In this advert, a woman says: 'The only thing better than a new pair of shoes...' at which point I was thinking, surely there's more than one thing better than a new pair of shoes? Then I realised that this was a woman, and women love shoes more than anything, except one other thing. How silly of me to forget such a well known fact about all women. So then I thought, what could this one thing that's better than a new pair of shoes be? World peace, presumably. Perhaps it's friendship. Maybe it's M*A*S*H. But no, 'the only thing better than a new pair of shoes is a new bag to match.' Of course it is. Again, I forgot this was a woman. To all women the two best things are shoes and bags. Why is it okay for adverts to be sexist? Look how Mad Men's Don Draper responded to news of this advert:

1. On the BBC news there was a whole report about Kate Middleton's dress. No, not the ITV news, the fucking BBC. And no, not in the daytime, the fucking 10 o'clock news. I know David Cameron wants to privatise public services but I didn't think he'd sell the BBC to Heat magazine.

So I'm happy to watch TV shows online or on DVD, thus avoiding things like TV news, adverts, and... TV. This blog is named after the Incubus song that I'll leave you with. Enjoy!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Deep Inside

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is this article from the New Statesman.

I've written about my love/hate relationship with the New Statesman before. When I open my copy, there are a few things I hope not to see. An article by A A Gill, for instance. Zac Goldsmith's face. Russell Brand talking about Transcendental Meditation. Last week's issue included all three of those things. What are the chances?

Having said that, Zac Goldsmith's piece on democracy was actually very good (if slightly undermined by the fact that he was a non-dom until about a year ago.) and A A Gill's piece didn't infuriate me. Probably because I didn't read it, I'm not an idiot. But while these two failed to make me annoyed enough to write a blog, Russell Brand succeeded.

I've read some of his articles in the New Statesman before, and I've been pleasantly surprised. Generally when I read stuff he's written, my opinion of him improves infinitely, as I'm not confronted by his voice and hair, so I can disassociate the text from the writer, and pretend it's written by someone else. But not this time; this time I could hear the words on the page being shouted in his voice, and there was no escape.

Russell Brand denounces Richard Dawkins' targeting of 'mental' creationists (which is actually not Dawkins' fault, and probably more to do with the platforms on to which he's invited by TV companies for the sake of entertainment) and explains that it's not just mental people who are religious; look at Gandhi, St Francis of Assisi, the Dalai Lama, Andrew Sachs. (I may have added one he didn't say.) They're all religious too, and it is them 'to which we should turn when questioning the existence of a power beyond man.' But why? Because they did good things? I never understand that argument, that religious do-gooders are somehow proof of the existence of God. A lot of atheists have done 'good' things too, Thomas Paine, Bob Geldof, Dexter. And a lot of religious people have done 'bad' things (over 99% of US prisoners are religious). But that's all utterly irrelevant. Everyone in the world could be religious and it wouldn't make them right.

He also tackles the argument that religion causes war, claiming that we would still fight without religion. Obviously that's true, but we would fight less. And fighting less seems appealing. 'My last serious argument was about a croissant,' writes Brand, which is amusing enough. But his argument here is that even if there was no religion, we'd fight over things like croissants. The problem with that argument is that fights over religion are a lot more bloody and devastating than fights over croissants. Unless you really like croissants. Maybe if you're... French, I guess? So if I had a choice between horrendous wars over religion and trivial arguments over croissants, I'd obviously go for the latter. Russell Brand's shot himself in the foot a bit there. Sort of like here. He's just so scandalous.

Then he says, 'through Transcendental Meditation,' and that's when I start to hear his voice. Vividly. That's when I should have stopped reading. That's when I should have skipped to the great article by Alain de Botton, or just closed the magazine, or thrown myself out of the window. But like a cunt, I carried on reading. 'Through Transcendental Meditation, twice daily I feel the bliss of the divine.' Katy Perry, presumably.

He continues, 'through the mental repetition of a mantra, eventually my chattering monkey mind recedes.' Now he seems to be confusing spiritualism with mental illness. He goes on, 'gently banishing concerns of the past and drawing the inner eye away from speculation and want.' And lets face it, it must be hard to cast aside your 'want' when you're worth three million pounds and living here:

What a spiritual, immaterial man he is.

Brand doesn't need me to tell him that his enlightenment is not proof of God. Because he then points towards some kind of design argument; there was nothing, now there's something, it looks designed. This is a line of argument that I cannot stand. It starts by following a logical enough style of reasoning (things can't just randomly appear, that makes no sense!) and then leaps to the conclusion that God done it. I thought we were following some basic standard of logic? Apparently I was wrong. It seems that while it's just silly to think that a universe can emerge from nothing, it's perfectly justifiable to then point to a magic being. Either follow some sort of scientific reasoning or don't. If God's just going to be used to plug gaps in science, then, to quote the genius biologist-comedian-rapper Baba Brinkman, 'I say banish God into the gaps.' (And I implore you to listen to that Baba Brinkman song. It's 'the best of the best of the best of the best...')

Finally, Russell Brand asks: 'Could a witless miasma of molecules and dust ever have created anything as ingenious and incredible as Richard Dawkins?' Yes! It fucking did! Well, it wasn't 'a witless miasma', it was natural selection. Earlier Brand claimed: 'I have Dawkins to thank for my own understanding of the fantastic discovery that is evolution.' I hate to break it to you Russell Brand, but that thing you have of evolution is not an understanding. People who dismiss evolution tend to say things like 'look how complex we are as a species, how can that be chance?' It isn't chance, it's a rigorous process of selection! To put it into terms you'll understand, it's more Project Runway than Britain's Got Talent.

But still, that Gene Simmons joke was good.

I'll leave you with the Incubus song that this blog is named after, enjoy!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Main Offender

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is this article from The Independent.

Let me first make it absolutely clear that I agree with Matthew Norman's point; Frankie Boyle is an exhibitionist bully. But while I'm with Norman on what he's trying to say, I object to the way he's saying it. There are basically 3 things that made me question this article:

1. The phrase 'horrendously disabled' to describe Katie Price's son Harvey. 'Horrendously'? Really? Surely that should be 'severely disabled.' The sub-editor should probably have asked Norman if he was sure he was happy with that phrase. 'Horrendously' implies fear and terror and horror. What a lovely way to describe disability. It implies that there's something bad about disability. And when you're trying to take a moral standpoint against offending the disabled, 'horrendously disabled' is the kind of phrase I'd avoid.

2. Remember in a recent blog I was talking about the hyperbole and ridiculous generalisations used by journalists? Well obviously Matthew Norman doesn't read my blog, the idiot. Because he writes: 'The inability to see distinctions that are obvious to others seems a classic trait of the dry drunk.' Yeah, if you asked me to name one thing that all ex-alcoholics have in common, without even having to think about it I'd respond, 'well, obviously it's their inability to see distinctions that are obvious to others.' What? That's not a 'classic trait' of sober alcoholics. Why does Matthew Norman have to try to ascribe a derogatory trait to an entire group of people? Because he's a journalist, and that's the classic trait of all journalists.

3. Finally, Norman describes Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham as 'an arrogant eighth wit with the sensibilities of the proprietor of an 18th-century Bavarian travelling freak show, and the judgement of a retarded water melon with disturbing Oedipal issues.' I know that what he's trying to do here is give Abraham a taste of his own medicine, seeing if he sees it as 'absurdist satire', the phrase he used to justify Boyle's joke. But in doing so, Norman falls from the moral highground upon which he was teetering. If I were to consider words to avoid in an article defending the disabled, 'retarded' would be pretty high on the list.

I will leave you with the song by The Hives which this blog is named after, enjoy!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Filmmakers Bleed

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is the Oscars.

After seeing The Fighter last night, I've now seen all the films nominated for last year's Best Picture Oscar. This must be the first time I've done this. And all 9 films nominated were fantastic. The sharper amongst you will have noticed that I said 9 films, and there were in fact 10 films nominated for Best Picture. This is because I refuse to recognise Inception as a legitimate nomination. I am Obama and Inception is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Inception is responsible for a number of human rights abuses.

So lets look at the 9 Oscar nominations for the Best Picture of 2010.

Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky doesn't know the meaning of the word 'subtle' and Natalie Portman does more and louder sharp-intakes-of-breath than Matt Bellamy, but none of this matters. The film works because of Aronofsky's hugely broad strokes making it so big and loud and in-your-face, that you can't turn around and say 'can she stop breathing so fucking loudly' because your jaw is on the floor of the cinema, and stuck to it if its an Odeon. Natalie Portman shouldn't have won the Best Actress Oscar (I'll come to that) and hers wasn't even the best performance in the film; Mila Kunis proved herself to be a credible actress (which I already knew because I love That '70s Show) and Vincent Cassel did what he does best; playing a very nasty foreign man. If there's one Oscar that Black Swan should have won, it's Visual Effects; that skin-rippling thing was stunning. But Black Swan wasn't even nominated, while Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was. I saw that film, and it should have been nominated for fuck nothing, except maybe an Unwieldy Title award. I can only assume Natalie Portman's skin just does that naturally.

The Fighter: The best thing about this great film was the dialogue, and it should have won the Writing (Original Screenplay) Oscar, which was instead won by The King's Speech. (I'll come to that, too.) At least The Fighter was nominated for that one. And justice was served when Christian Bale won the Supporting Actor Oscar, because as a skinny, wasted, crack-addict, he showed that he's completely wasted as Batman. Haha. It's true though, make him act and he will; make him dress as a bat and do a stupid voice and... he also will. I think what we've shown there is that he's versatile. But it's his relationship with Mark Wahlberg's character that makes it, and the juxtaposition of the frenetic Bale and the cool Wahlberg. The latter masterfully keeps everything bubbling just beneath the surface for most of the film. I've read reviews that claim that Wahlberg 'doesn't act'. Well he does, and brilliantly. Just because he's understated doesn't mean he doesn't act. Acting doesn't need to be over-the-top. And it's films like Inception which are to blame for that misconception. (I'm a poet and I'm not even doing it intentionally.)

The Kids Are All Right: Annette Bening is great, Mark Ruffalo is great, Julianne Moore is great. (Though the best thing she's ever done is definitely 30 Rock.) There's not much else to say. I'm not bothered that it didn't win any Oscars. But still, it was great.

127 Hours: Or as comedian Greg Proops calls it, 'I Cut My Arm Off.' Oh, that's a spoiler alert, but, not. James Franco was impressive, armed (haha) with a handful (haha) of items including a blunt knife because he's an idiot, making us like his character simply by talking to his video camera, and Danny Boyle built up the tension wonderfully, before the scene everyone had been waiting for, which was perfectly executed. Or indeed, amputated. As Mark Kermode explains, we felt the character's pain because we liked the character. That's why this was more horrific than a Saw film, in which we don't care about the characters. Also, knowing that this actually happened made it all the more painful. And brilliant. Nerve-severingly brilliant.

The Social Network: Everyone knows how fantastic this was. Well done David Fincher (though his best work is still Fight Club) and Andrew Garfield (though his best work is still Red Riding) and Justin Timberlake (though his best work is still... music) and Jesse Eisenberg (though his best work is...this. Zombieland was good though.) Oh and justice was served once again when Aaron Sorkin won the Writing (Adapted Screenplay) Oscar. (Though his best work is still... Sports Night. Hah, you thought I was going to say The West Wing didn't you? Well, it's not, it's Sports Night, one of the most underrated sitcoms ever. It's got Peter Krause (though his best work is still Six Feet Under) and Joshua Malina and loads of great people. Go watch it, it's all on YouTube, go, now. Stop reading this and go watch it.)

Toy Story 3: I saw this ages ago and don't remember the details, but I remember it being good so I'm glad it won the Animated Feature Film Oscar. Nice to see the third film of a trilogy being so successful too. And I remember comedian Michael Legge accurately describing it as something like 'a cross between Saw and The Shawshank Redemption.' I also remember a bizarre item on the New Statesman website about Nick Clegg being 'our Buzz Lightyear.' I think it said something about them both thinking they're Spanish?

True Grit: This wasn't as good as the Coen brothers at their best, like No Country For Old Men or A Serious Man, but it was still very good indeed. Hailee Steinfeld should have won the Supporting Actress Oscar, and Matt Damon should have been nominated for Supporting Actor. As Mark Kermode says (again), Matt Damon has gone from being a replaceable action-hero to a very good, serious actor without anyone really noticing.

Winter's Bone: This should have won the Oscar for Directing (Debra Granik) and/or Cinematography. But it wasn't even nominated for either. And Jennifer Lawrence should have won Best Actress. I didn't hear her breathe once. As Mark Kermode says, (sorry but he is right about everything. Everything apart from Inception.) it's wonderfully atmospheric, mystical, immersive and poetically authentic. There are lots of nice animals in the film too. Kermode doesn't mention that, that's my own critical analysis. Also it's the only one of these films to include a squirrel-skinning scene. Since they had to cut out that bit from Toy Story 3.

The King's Speech: It's good.

I'd have been happy if any one of these 9 superb films had won the Oscar for Best Picture. Apart from The King's Speech. And which film won? You guessed it, Piranha 3D. No, it was obviously The King's Speech. And as I said, it's a good film, and Colin Firth deserved the Oscar for Best Actor. Though he should have won it for A Single Man, a film which managed to be great despite the presence of Nicholas Hoult. (I originally mistyped Colin Firth as Colon Firth, which might have to stick.)

But is The King's Speech really the best of these 9 amazing films? A film about a king with a stutter? Is that really better than a ballerina turning into a swan or a 14 year old girl seeking retribution for her father's murder or a man cutting off his own arm? Is it better than the invention of Facebook? Well obviously it's better than the invention of Facebook but is it better than The Social Network? Does it blow you away like Black Swan? Does it pull you in like Winter's Bone? Do you care about the characters like in The Fighter? Does it move you like Toy Story 3? Does it have anything to say about social values like The Kids Are All Right? The answer to all those questions are, in that order: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no.

I think in order to win the Best Picture Oscar a film should be doing something different, making the audience think, saying something. And The King's Speech doesn't do these things. Or if it does, it doesn't as much as the rest of the nominations. If it is saying something then it's been said in every other film about the monarchy. As, guess who, Mark Kermode says, we have enough films about the royal family and we know why we make them; to appeal to 'the transatlantic tunnel vision' of the Academy, who lap up films about the British monarchy like they're not made every single fucking year. And I know The King's Speech isn't just about the monarchy, and I know it's better than every other monarchy film made before, but it still pisses me off that of all those brilliant films, that list of 9 of the best films I've ever seen, the fairly dull one about a king with a stutter was deemed the best. And as Mark... Watson (Hah, curveball!) says, 'I don't think Firth was particularly good, he seemed to stumble over a lot of his lines.'

But at least it wasn't Inception.

Thanks for reading, I'll leave you with the song that this blog is named after, which is by the amazing Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Enjoy!