Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Burger King's NEW Winter Whopper!


NEILL says:

There has been much furore in the press recently over the issue of junk food and its negative effects on the health of the nation's youth. Concerned cultural commentators have suggested that the television advertising of fatty snacks, drinks and fast food should be restricted or banned altogether during childrens programming. This seems to me an example of the worst sort of insidious pseudo-liberal fascism and as such I am, predictably, entirely for it. The one caveat I would offer is that the proposals do not go far enough; okay, fine, protect the children, but what about that other group in society who are far more vulnerable and susceptible to these evils? I speak of course of the hungover. Over the duration of the Sunday morning 'Hollyoaks' omnibus, I estimate that one would see the Burger King 'Winter Whopper' advert at least 170,000 times. (This figure presupposes the viewer having the mental fortitude and lack of discrimination to watch said omnibus in its entirety, which is of course absurd, but the point remains.) Who among us has the strength to resist target marketing of such persistence and cynical ninja precision? Well, obviously not me. Anyway, the Winter Whopper: quite nice really, in an artery-clogging self-loathing creeping-sense-of-dread-for-western-civilisation kind of way. Possibly a bit too much mustard.



(Music newspaper)

JAMES says:

The problem with being a zeitgeist surfing publication is that most of the time you just end up looking smug or past it. Such is the case with the NME. While periodically it is ‘where it’s at’, such as during the mid-1990’s and I’m sure other times that I’m too young to know, most of the time it isn’t. It’s at its most sad immediately after such a lime-light hogging experience, desperately trying to predict the next big thing. Especially when the next big thing does come along and it’s something the powers that be at the NME actively despise eg. no guitars involved. At the moment there’s a bit of a mini-revival going on, as a couple of bands that the NME ‘championed’ are actually played on Radio 1 (and in one very disturbing incident on Radio 4. John Humphreys having to talk about the new rock revival, very odd), but the way they go on you’d think the Strokes/White Stripes/Darkness etc. had been made kings of the world and all that is in it. They haven’t even got a #1 single between them furchrissakes.

There are 2 main problems with the NME. Firstly it’s written by music journalists. People with names like Johnny Cigarettes. People who can neither play music nor even write very well, yet still feel they can appoint themselves judge and arbiters of all culture. Unlike this website obviously. Ahem. But, anyway, these people are invariably assholes. Their need to feel special makes them believe that only they and a select few can see what music is good and everyone else is just plain wrong. Actually, I think I would’ve made a great music journalist.

Anyway, point 2 is that there just isn’t enough stuff to fill a weekly newspaper. Hence any minor news featuring certain bands gets splashed on the front page, eg. ‘Radiohead new haircut’ or ‘Coldplay slaughter Travis in bizarre ritual murder, full pictures inside.’ The rest of the rag is stuffed full of repetitive drivel about bands you’ve never heard of and will never hear of again. Plus you have the intrinsic difficulty of describing music by bands people haven’t heard, leading to a thousand variations of ‘Nick Drake meets the Monkees’ style cliché. And can it really be any other way? When it’s at its best music journalism can impart some of the feeling of excitement that listening to music can, but otherwise writing about music is like designing buildings about dance. Or something.

Only worth buying if it has a free CD.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The First Pint after Work on a Friday


JAMES says:

Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this for some time, so cold, so chilled. It slips down nicely. I tell you, it’s almost worth going to work for this. Mmmm… Oh, it’s gone. Better get another.


The Eighth Pint after Work on a Friday



What? Hmm… No, she shouldn’t have said that. Are they talking about me? Hang on, my phones going… No, no love, no I’m still in the pub, no you’d better just eat alone, no I know what I said but I’ve just got a round in so I can’t leave now. Aw, Guns’n’Roses, I love this song. Ohhhh, Sweet Child of Myyyynnnee.. Who’s for shooters next?


Xander off Buffy

(Fictional Character)

NEILL says:

"The aim of art", said Camus, "the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily. No great work has ever been based on hatred and contempt. On the contrary, there is not a single true work of art that has not in the end added to the inner freedom of each person who has known and loved it." Albert Camus died in 1960, so it seems contingently unlikely that he was familiar with popular US TV import 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', which any way you look at it is a tremendous shame. Buffy, taken as a work, espouses an ethic of personal responsibility, moral freedom and fraternal loyalty that is thoroughly commendable and not a million miles away from the ideas which drive Camus' own The Plague. What's more, there are kung-fu vampires. At the heart of Buffy (the show) is the character of Xander Harris. In a chaotic sea of supernatural evil, demonic warfare and lesbian empowerment, he is a point of viewer identification par excellence; the everyman's everyman. We laugh as he makes obscure Jimmy Olsen jokes. We sympathise as he gets beaten up by every monster-of-the-week for seven straight years. And, most importantly, we cheer as he notches up intimate relations with (to name but a few, to date) Alyson Hannigan, Emma Caulfield and Eliza Dukshu; this is a show that understands audience wish-fulfilment alarmingly well.

Surrounded by his more colourful and dramatically interesting castmates, the hapless, geeky Xander rarely gets a chance to truly shine. He hangs out with witches, warriors and werewolves, yet his own powers stretch only so far as the well-timed sarcastic quip (to wit: "mix in a little rectal surgery and its my best day ever", "just because you're better than us doesn`t mean you can be all superior", and the classic "I laugh in the face of danger, then I hide till it goes away"). However, when get he does get a show to himself, it's a goody and then some. The one time Buffy has run with a wholly and unreservedly Xander-centric episode, Season 3's formally experimental zombiefest 'The Zeppo', is renowned amongst true connoisseurs of the arts the world over as, well, pretty much the Best Thing Ever. Seriously - it's a total cultural barometer. Try applying this simple rule yourself, on meeting a new person: do they dig 'The Zeppo'? If yes: this is a person it is worth getting to know better. If not... well, I leave it to your own judgement, but I'd imagine a lot would depend on breasts.

The downside to viewer identification this strong is that it cuts both ways, and later seasons of Buffy became increasingly uncomfortable to watch due to Nicholas Brendon's ever-puffier jowels and intangible but accumulating air of 'angry bitter failure'. One has to feel some slight concern for the actor's future, as well - once upon a time he was a fresh-faced young man with a nice line in teen-Chandler-Bing schtick, and was even hotly tipped for the role of Peter Parker in the then-proposed cinematic version of Spider-Man. That was a long time ago. But, hey, screw it. I wish him nothing but the best. Xander, we salute you. Through you we have had seven years of absorbing good-hearted escapist entertainment, which I dare say has probably added something to the inner freedom of at least some of those who have known and loved it.



I dig 'the Zeppo'! Although I always identified more strongly with Buffy.


Finance Leases

(Fiscal arrangement)

JAMES says:

A finance lease is a form of raising capital for an expensive asset. Rather than paying rent to simply use the asset (an operating lease), the company takes on the risks, such as maintenance, and rewards of the item, and the payments made are treated as the servicing of finance. This can often be cheaper than using a bank loan or other type of finance to buy the equipment, though the company cannot then raise further finance using the asset as collateral. Finance leases obviously aren’t appropriate in all circumstances, but if the asset is needed in the long-term they are certainly worth keeping in mind.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003


(Heroic Autobot)

JAMES says:

If the Fonz was a transformer he’s be Sideswipe. He was a bit of a rebel (his motto is ‘I don’t break rules but I bend them a lot), though his rash actions sometimes led to injuries to himself, his headstrong recklessness acted as a useful balance to Optimus Prime’s overly-thought out tactics. Though his firepower rating was only 3, he still had a courage level of 10. He was so much less annoying than his brother Sunstreaker and best of all he turned into a red sports car. Though it was never shown in the cartoon, Sideswipe undoubtedly scored with all the transformer babes (e.g. Arcee). Either that or he was just a bit sad and going through a mid-life crisis. Like all the cool transformers Sidesipe got killed/injured fairly early on in the game to make way for stories about pretendercons and headmasters, but if there was any justice he would’ve got his own spin off series. Where he moves to San Francisco and has comedy adventures with his gay neighbour (played by Kevin ‘Hercules’ Sorbo).


Humble Boy

By Charlotte Jones, Dir: John Caird
Royal National Theatre production – Oxford Playhouse, 29 October

Guest Reviewer of the Week SHEILA CAMERON says:

An ‘award winning play’, - the Daily Telegraph ’cannot recommend this lovely play too highly’. Reviews in the Guardian, Times and Sunday Times produced similarly fulsome word-bites. Even the Financial Times said you should ‘not miss this’.

If ever there was proof that you should not believe the press, this week in Oxford was it. Everyone I spoke to considered leaving at the interval and felt at the end that they took the wrong decision. (I didn’t get to talk to those who actually left.) OK, there were highlights. The set was ‘sumptuously designed’ (Guardian) – a riot of waist high grass dotted with roses. And the ‘Boy’s’ trousers were a joy to behold. Tight on waist and thigh, crotch almost to the knees, and over-long in leg. Overall effect of elephant in cricket whites was classic. But you can only appreciate fat boy in the long grass for so long, and appreciation is shortened if the cast are haranguing each other in voices painfully loud for the size of theatre in pursuit of a plot that totally escaped me. Yes there were jokes, but they were tied on as loosely as the gratuitous soliloquies on superstring theory. Example: Mrs Humble (Hayley Mills, looking younger than her supposed son) is engaged to Mr Pie. (Gerrit? In case not, it was firmly pointed out that they would become the Humble Pies….) And more of this ilk. Not, in my view ‘funny, very, very, funny’ (Sunday Times). Guess their critic likes banana skins too. Overall a night in with a good book would have been preferable. And even in hardback, probably cheaper.


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Matrix Revolutions

Dir: Andy & Larry Wachowski

NEILL says:

Because I'm having something of a zen day, and so as not to reveal any explicit plot spoilers for my hapless co-reviewer, who has failed to see it yet, I'd like to review this film in the form of a haiku:

Superman Kung Fu,
Think that's air you're not breathing?
Our Lord, Thou Art Ted.


Kid Koala

Live in Borders, Magdalen St, Nov 11th
(Like, happening, cat)

NEILL says:

Kid Koala is a phenomenally talented Canadian scratch DJ who, amongst many other notable achievements, has supplied a couple of the finest moments on one of the finest albums ever recorded (Nathaniel Merriweather Presents... Lovage: Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By, in case you're interested), and has also written and illustrated a highly successful graphic novel (Nufonia Must Fall, in case you're interested). Clearly, this guy is just taking the piss. I am starting to suspect his very existence a complicated scheme to piss me off and make me jealous, engineered by my nefarious all-powerful nemesis (Dermot Hill, in case you're interested).

Anyway, the boy Koala done well at his very entertaining if regrettably brief in-store personal appearance come DJ set come slideshow come bingo game, in the coffee shop in Borders this Tuesday. He made us laugh, he dazzled us with a virtuoso scratch-heavy reworking of a Louis Armstrong instrumental, he made 'Moon River' sound like it's never sounded before, and he confused all hell out of the old ladies who were trying to have a quiet chat over a latte. Over far too soon, but still worth skiving night-school for.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003


by Various, ed: Jason Cobley
(UK indy comcs anthology)

Celebrity Guest Reviewer JOSHUA JACKSON Says:

I haven’t really been into comics since when I used to read the comic book adaptation of The Mighty Ducks, so it was a pleasant surprise when my good friend James gave me a copy of the latest issue of BAM. This comic features something that is missing from most comics not about young ice hockey teams, a sense of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and being a small press comic you can see the love that goes into its production. While not as polished and glossy as some main-stream comics, it’s a bumper pack of stories with great variety, and at only £2 it represents value for money that even a millionaire superstar like me can appreciate. It’s also perfect for busy guys who spend too much time grooming their facial hair to read proper books. And when they make the movie version, if there’s a part going for a wise-cracking, slightly smug best friend, give me a call. Work’s kind of dried up since the Creek finished.


Jamie's Other Kitchen


Review Requested by Laura the Dance School Sandwich Girl

JAMES says:

There’s recently been a second series of Jamie’s Kitchen following wideboy mockney naked chef Jamie Oliver as he sets up a restaurant and fills it with people hired to make himself look intelligent. Well, Jamie had another kitchen. This one doesn’t get its own TV series, isn’t staffed by YTS gimps, and isn’t in London’s fashionable West End. Though Jamie has long since deserted it, I’m still proud to call this my kitchen. James’s Kitchen, if you will.

Yes, it’s true, I live in Jamie Oliver’s old flat. From when he was on a pittance for chopping onions and this was all he could afford. Though he has long since gone, his presence still lingers; Here, in the shelves he put up, there in the prank phone calls asking for pizza. And in the kitchen that he left when he got a whiff of the big time. It’s not the biggest kitchen in the world, being about as wide as a roast chicken, but it makes up for it in length. This can be quite irritating as the microwave is at one end and the oven at the other. If using both this can involve several mad dashes from one end to the other before something explodes, narrowly avoiding the wok that sticks out very inconveniently. If there are two people using the kitchen at the same time then they had best be very intimate, but seeing as it could only possibly be me and my girlfriend this isn’t really a problem.

I think the kitchen has shaped Naked’s distinctive cooking style. Forced to work in such enclosed spaces resulted in his maverick quick-fire method. And you might notice that his recipes never call for the use of both a grill and an oven at the same time, being used to having a combined oven/grill which made such notions impossible.

Even though Jamie dumped the kitchen as he thought it might embarrass him in front of his new media friends, I still respect it. It has seen some fine culinary efforts by both me and Deborah, and apart from the pre-mentioned oven/grill restriction, and a slightly leaky pipe under the sink, it meets all other requirements you could possibly want from a kitchen. Alternatively the people who had the flat before us might’ve been bullshitting and Jamie Oliver might never have lived there. That would make me sleep a lot safer at night.


Rules of Attraction

Dir: Roger Avary

JAMES says:

If you haven’t already seen this film, you’ve probably seen reviews for it. In the Guide, in Empire, even from dear old Steve Preistly. You’ve probably already decided if it’s a film you quite want to see or don’t, so what’s the point of this review? I’ll tell you; Dawson’s big sweaty forehead. No other review I saw warned you that this film contains gratuitous Dawson sweaty forehead shots. Thus I came to this film completely oblivious to its horrific contents. I even, in my naivety, decided to eat my dinner while I watched it. Even the shot of someone throwing up on someone else’s back during sex within the first few minutes couldn’t prepare me for what was to come. And, sure enough, there it was. A POV shot from the perspective of some unfortunate wench being done by James Van Der ‘Dawson’ Beek. It fair near put me off my curry, I can tell you. And it doesn’t only happen once, but a number of times.

So, thanks to this superb review you know not to watch this film. Unless you’re curious to know what it must feel like to have Dawson make sweet love to you. Without these offending scenes, it’s a fair old nothing movie. Sometimes trying to be a bit visually innovative, with a bit of nudity, and a big ol’ scoop of youthful nihilism. Basically this film will take a couple of hours of your life without giving anything in return, other than showing you what various teen movie bit-parters are up to these days


Thursday, October 30, 2003

Observational 'Comedy'

(Form of humour)

JAMES says:

Have you ever noticed how most observational comedy is rubbish? Really, it’s just a case of having eyes and ears. People often answer their mobile phones by telling people where they are? Really? Aeroplane food isn’t very tasty? How fascinating. Truth may be Beauty, but it isn’t necessarily funny. Early episodes of Seinfeld were often blighted by his humourous observations about modern life, by far the weakest part of the show. It’s just lazy. No need to think of a punch-line, or a comedic anecdote, just think about what you did at breakfast. Even worse than observational comedians are those who laugh at them. What is wrong with you people? Would you laugh if I told you how stupid you are? That’s an observation. In any sane and just society, anyone found guilty of observational comedy would have their eyes gouged out. Have you ever noticed how painful it is to have red hot pokers rammed into your sockets and twisted around? Eh?


Harry Potter

(Global multimedia phemomenom)

NEILL says:

Yeah, so I finally read a Harry Potter book. I'm not proud of it, but I did. that's it for me, then. It's all over. I might as well buy a mobile phone, start wearing tucked-in shirts and listening to fucking Coldplay or something.

For fucks sake.


Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Comparitive Review: The Flintstones VS The Jetsons

(Hanna-Barbara Cartoon Families)


The Flintstones

Apparently, the stone age was just like a 1950s American Sitcom. Who would’ve thought it? The Flintstones contains so many factual inaccuracies it would take a whole review to list them. So I will. For a start, no matter what Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell might tell you, at no point in history did man and dinosaur coexist. In the era of the dinosaurs the only mammals were little furry mice. Even considering some kind of Lost World style enclave which survived extinction, the dinosaurs portrayed in The Flintstones (those that had any basis in reality) would not coexist. They’d eat each other, then Fred Flintstone. Plus, all the inhabitants of Bedrock are Caucasian, but it is implicit that the series is set in America, judging by the climate and fauna. Yet there were no Caucasians in America, save a few Vikings, until 1496. Even the indigenous population were fairly late arrivals archeologically speaking. And to hypothesise that, not only was there a society of white people and dinosaurs living together in harmony, but that this society had progressed to the stage of developing currency, buildings, even rudimentary transport, for goodness sake, it just stretches the imagination a little too much. The Flintstones makes Braveheart seem historically accurate.


The Jetsons

Now this is more like it. A worthy extrapolation of what the future will be like, and in the 21st century it’s uncanny just how much they’ve got right. Sure we don’t have robot maids or flying cars yet, but video phones, computers and short bad tempered bosses are all common place. But, the genius of the show is how it used the future as a mirror to satirise the society of the time. Kids unintelligible dances and fashions become even more unintelligible and alien. The increasing mechanisation of the workplace is represented by George’s job consisting of pressing one single button. By looking at the future the show forced Americans to look at themselves. But it was satire with a heart, and that heart was George and his family. They all loved each other, even the hired robot help, and it was reassuring that love and family would still be around, even though they looked in danger of collapsing at the time. The future’s bright, the future’s The Jetsons.


Monday, October 20, 2003

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

Dir: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh, 1974

NEILL says:

'Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires' (AKA '7 Brothers Versus Dracula', AKA '7 Brothers and a Sister Meet Dracula') is a 1974 Hammer/ Shaw Bros. co-production in which Peter Cushing as Profesor Van Helsing teams up with a plucky band of martial artists and a busty blonde scandinavian woman to fight evil vampires and kung-fu zombies in rural China.

Now, anyone in possession of all their faculties would read the above description and think 'By Christ, that sounds like the single greatest film ever made!' And yes, by Christ, it does. The fight scenes are energetically choregraphed, the special effects are an endearing blend of laughable cheap fakery and genuine gruesomeness, and there are not one but several scenes featuring a bevy of naked screaming chinese virgins. A BEVY, I tell you.

It is with a heavy heart then that I must inform you that it is not, in fact, the single greatest film ever made, by Christ. In fact, it's all a bit dull. There are several problems with the script, foremost amongst which is that no-one involved seems to have actually bothered to write one. It takes a rare blend of perseverance and determination to make a movie about kung-fu vampires and naked screaming chinese virgins and actually make it dull, and the writer here has pulled off the trick with applomb. The screenplay is credited to 'Don Houghton', but in fact this is merely a clever anagram for 'Don't Thug No Ho', a fact which I think speaks for itself.

To see the true entertainment possibilities inherent in kung-fu vampires, I would refer you to the 1985 Ching-Ying Lam / Ricky Lau classic, 'Mr Vampire', which may not boast Peter Cushing, but in its defence actually IS the single greatest film ever made. By Christ.


Buy on Amazon:
The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires [1974]

Friday, October 17, 2003



NEILL says:

There has always been a heated debate on the vexed question of what is, in fact, the best year. "When I was seventeen", sang Frank Sinatra, "it was a very good year". By my calculations, Frank Sinatra would have been seventeen roughly circa 1843, so we shall have to take his word that it was some pretty hot shit. The Wu-Tang Clan spoke out boldly against such reactionary attitudes on 'Can It Be All So Simple', where they invite us to:

"Remember back in the days when, shit, everything was all smooth and calm and shit was like, yo like back in seventy, fucking '79...?"
"Nah nah, '87, that was my favourite shit, everything was like, fuck, everything was lovely, man"

Clearly, if the usually united Wu cannot even agree amongst themselves, we are dealing with a question of the utmost seriousness. I have done some fairly extensive research into the subject myself, and am pleased to announce my findings here on URT. There were several strong contenders for the title of Best Year Ever, including old stand-bys such as 1945 (Hitler dies, Europe liberated) and mainstream classics like 1977 ('Star Wars' released, Neill Cameron born).

However, after much deliberation I've had to settle on 1996. It is of course unutterably pitiful to be the sort of wanker who spends the rest of their life looking back on their student days with smug nostalgia, and it is terrifying to consider the prospect of having 'peaked' at age 19, but it has to be said that all in all it was a pretty god damn good fucking year. There was laughter, there were tears, we all learned a lot about life... and each other.

1996: a rollercoaster ride of sex, drugs and Mario Kart addiction. Any way you look at it, that's got to beat working for a living.


JAMES says:

The darker side of 1996; TFI Friday, Oasis, The Lightning Seeds featuring Baddiel and Skinner with Three Lions, War in the Balkans, the Girlie Show, Northern Uproar, Neil Morrisey a sex symbol, A levels, Peter Andre, the internet nothing but a group of sad cases discussing Science Fiction, Tory Government, three day weeks, rubbish piling up in the streets.

In the words of the great ones, the best place to be is right here, the best time to be is right now.

And besides, 1995 was much better.


Little Nemo

By Windsor McKay
(Comic Strip)

NEILL says:

No-good Damn Punk Kid! For the love of god, would you just not eat before you go to bed!?!


JAMES says:

It’s all so beautiful! Little Nemo by Windsor McKay ran in the Sunday newspaper comic section from about 1905 to 1914, and tells the tale of a little kid who has some pretty freaky dreams. Obviously I wasn’t a fan at the time (being more of a Katzenjammer Kids man), but I’ve since got into in through a big shiny book reprinting a whole bunch of them. And how lovely they are. I was pretty much speechless when I first started turning the pages, they were that good. McKay can draw really outlandish things, like a camel-drawn carriage slipping on some fudge, and really make you think, yes, that is exactly how it would look. And that guy had some imagination, jeez, you have to wonder what he was eating before bed!

Seeing as it dates to the very birth of comics, unsurpiringly the narrative lets it down a bit. McKay was still finding his feet, as everyone was, when it came to narrative story-telling. To begin with he had sentences under his panels a la Rupert, but couldn’t quiet match them up so you were never sure which sentence matches which panel. Then he just put all the story at the start, so you knew what was going to happen through the pictures. He did finally get the hang of just letting the pictures and word bubbles tell the story. Also, the story itself isn’t terribly varied, consisting of Nemo trying to get to Slumberland to play with the princess (the title being a bit misleading as he doesn’t even get to Slumberland for the first year or so) before being woken up by something or other. But, like a PG Wodehouse story, it is the repetition that allows the master to ply his craft.

The only cartoonist I can think of that even comes close to McKay is Bill Waterson. Calvin and Hobbes is certainly funnier than Little Nemo (though the bit where little George Washington got Little Nemo in trouble for chopping down a cherry tree made me chuckle). But, for my money, there isn’t anyone who could draw as just plain good as McKay (apart from Neill, obviously).


Buy on Amazon: Little Nemo in Slumberland: v. 1

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The Pound

(Unit of Currency)

JAMES says:

Ah, the Great British Pound! An integral part of our culture, obviously, as it’s what we buy things with. If we were to lose the pound, it would be another part of our national identity chipped away. But would it? Would it really? Let’s think about what the pound really is. It’s a scale on which we can measure and compare the values of goods and services. It’s a unit, basically. It’s about as integral to our culture as inches or, dare I say it, pints. We survived the loss of the shilling with only minor national moral degradation, so I daresay we could survive the loss of the pound. Not that I’m saying we should run headlong into the euro. There are many economic reasons for not joining a single currency, not least of which is the fact that it would give some of the power over our country’s financial future to the French. But, to make a judgement on it for nationalistic or sentimental reasons makes as much sense as saying that Jesus wants us to keep the pound. Really, does it make that much difference having an E with some lines on in than an L with some lines on it? Unless you’re Bez (boom boom).


NEILL says:

“There are many economic reasons for not joining a single currency, not least of which is the fact that it would give some of the power over our country's financial future to the French. But, to make a judgement on it for nationalistic or sentimental reasons....”

…is the glaring paradox created by the juxtaposition of these 2 sentences comedy-intentional?

JAMES says:

That's not nationalistic, that's just good common sense.

Alfred Hitchcock


JAMES says:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The man Hitch. What a guy. No other fat guy in history commands as much respect as old Alfie, and he deserves it. A sort of Anti-Father Christmas, a kindly old man who instead of toys distributes incredibly disturbing films. Hitchcock treads the line between artistic vision and commercial success in a way not often seen. He was a master of imagery, of the mis-en-scene, and a major inspiration to the French New-wavers of the sixties. He was also one of the most visually innovative directors of his time. Witness the dream sequences in Vertigo and Spellbound (directed by Salvador Dali).

When you sit down to a Hitchcock film, you pretty much know it’s going to be a good’un. While he has admittedly done a couple of duff ones (Topaz and Jamaica Inn don’t really bear repeated viewing) considering the number of films he churned out the quality levels are usually set surprisingly high. And that’s not including the classics, such as Psycho or Rear Window. And in Vertigo, which I consider the pinnacle of his career, we have one of the all time greatest films of all time ever. There are better directed films than Vertigo, and other directors with good track records, but I honestly cannot think of a director as consistently good as Hitchcock.

You might claim a limited range, but he could do it all, from psychological thrillers to psychologically thrilling black comedies. But his strength was in his ability to unsettle. He could do it with something as simple as a striped cushion in Spellbound, or as explicit as the rape scene in Frenzy, filmed in unflinching long shots and as a result a lot more uncomfortable than the jump cuts of the infamous shower scene. Apparently all Hitchcock’s fears derived from a time when he was locked in a prison as a child, to teach him ‘what happens to naughty boys.’ His greatest gift is the ability to recreate this childhood sense of fear and helplessness.

He is helped in this by usually having a fantastic cast. There could not be a more icily beautiful leading lady than Grace Kelly, nor a more effortlessly likable and charming leading man than Gregory Peck or Jimmy Stewart (though slightly miscast as a Nietzschean in Rope). He even got Richard from Keeping Up Appearances for Frenzy. But the biggest star was always Hitch himself. He created a cult of personality around himself, unusual for a director. He made sure he made an appearance in each of his films, though usually near the start so people didn’t spend the whole film looking for him. He even managed to make a cameo in a film set entirely in a life boat with two men in it. And he had a very distinctive silhouette. Imagine how good 24 could have been if Hitchcock had been around to direct it.


NEILL says:

My brother mentions the fact, familiar to all self-respecting cinephiles, that Hitchcock made a point of appearing in cameo roles in all his own films. What is equally fascinating but less well-known is that he also appears in each of the movies of Molly Ringwald. Adopting a series of ingenious disguises, the corpulent presumed-dead auteur can be seen in such fleeting but memorable roles as 'Geeks father' in The Breakfast Club, and 'Prom Bitch no. 2' in Pretty in Pink. Hitch would keep his identity secret from everyone else on the set, only revealing himself when principal photography was completed by posting to Ms. Ringwald a set of photographs of herself he would take over the course of the shoot using his trusty telefocus night-vision camera. It is widely rumoured that the strain precipitated by this behaviour caused Ringwald to suffer a massive nervous breakdown, resulting in her otherwise thoroughly inexplicable expulsion from the upper echelons of cinematic stardom.

Of course, these days it is generally accepted that Hitchcock is indeed dead, but still across the land there are those who keep the faith; whispered rumours wherever brave men dare to gather that he did not die, but went into hiding; standing vigilant against the dark day that Molly Ringwald's career should rise again. Waiting, forever waiting...


Monday, October 06, 2003

My Visit to the Doctor

(Encounter with the health-care sector)

Guest-reviewer-of-the-week DEBBIE says:

I was hoping when James and I moved to a slightly nicer area of West London that a new doctor's surgery would provide better service - pretty, cheerful receptionists, free tea and coffee, their own blood testing facilities (because we all know how depressing it is to be sent to Wembley Community Hospital waiting in a long smelly queue of people) and dare I say it doctors. Curses! I have been cheated. There is but one doctor at our new surgery and despite his appointment schedule starting at 9.30 this morning and the waiting room filling with curiously decaying people that I have never seen in our local area (strangely considering the size of some of them), the doctor didn't arrive until after 10 o clock. During this time, we were subjected to listening to the receptionists curse every time the phone rings (always nice to know that your calls are met with a smile) and complain with glottal stops about how they aren't married yet. I felt like telling them that this fact, albeit unsurprising was not one that should be boasted about in the presence of the ugly, mentally unbalanced men in the waiting room. What is more, they could promote themselves more effectively by speaking prettily.

Anyway, Doc arrived, half an hour late and sped through the waiting room dodging rotten tomatoes from the patients and evil eyes from the unmarried receptionists, oh sorry "Practice Managers". I was lucky enough to be the first one in. I say lucky but judging from the reaction of the other in-mates, I wouldn't want to meet any of them again. It seemed that it was unfair for a young, beautiful and healthy specimen of the human race such as I to be seen before them. But of course, I am not entirely healthy, I have been suffering from heartburn for 2 years and I wanted 1 - to know why 2 - to find out what I can do to stop it 3 - if necessary get some damned drugs. In addition to this, and apologies to male readers but I needed to change the brand of secret woman's pill that I am on.

Doc, obviously not immune to the glances of his patients on the way in, was eager to get me out of the room as soon as possible. Therefore he conducted the entire appointment standing up. I found this unnerving and worried for the mental people in the waiting room. I explained why I wanted to change the secret woman's pill, he asked me why, I explained for a second time why and this time he seemed to understand why. He asked if I smoke, I replied (truthfully) "no". Without looking at my previous notes (always comforting) he randomly chose an alternative brand. I told him I had been on that before and had to come off it but my opinion, blood pressure, weight or indeed my medical history were unimportant and we progressed swiftly to the heartburn.

"Do you smoke" - he must be trying to catch me out, emphatically "No". You are too young to have heartburn. "Well I have got it". "I don't think so" he said and began to prod my stomach. "It seems that you have heartburn" he said. "Why?" said I "You are producing too much acid" - did he think I was completely stupid "No, I mean why am I producing too much acid". He shrugged. "I've had it before" I began "if you look in my notes you-" Once again the notes were cast aside as he randomly picked another drug from the BMF handbook in his brain. After battling with his computerised prescription system for longer than my actual consultation, he sent me packing with this one, small oval tablets saying that if it didn't work, I should come back. I left, making small noises about how it might be a good idea to keep a food diary and thinking that if I did ever come back, he would be lucky as he has probably prescribed me something I am allergic to and I will die before the end of the day. I have taken one small oval tablet and still appear to be at work.

I am afraid that there is no amusing conclusion to this story. We all know that doctors hate patients like me who try to understand their medical problems rather than take the pills and get the hell out of the room. They want to continue being the only people that know the secrets of the human body - it gives them delusions of grandeur. All I can say is that I may only be able to hold up a quivering MA to his Docotrate but at least I can work a computer and manage to get to work at 8 o clock in the morning!


Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Athenian Murders

by José Carlos Somoza

NEILL says:

The Athenian Murders appears at first sight to be nothing more than a crappily predictable historical whodunnit; the sort of thing that might be adapted for ITV and shown on ITV on Sundays at 9pm, sponsored by 'Past Times' or Old Speckled Hen or somesuch. It concerns a series of mysterious deaths in Athens during the time of Plato's Academy, which are investigated by the ingenious Decipherer of Enigmas, Heracles Pontor, and his pompous bumbling sidekick the philosopher Diagoras (they're basically Poirot and Hastings in togas; I can see them being played by David Jason and Clement Freud in our envisioned adaptation-from-hell). However, fairly quickly the book begins to intrigue; firstly through a noticeable bizarreness of style, secondly through a series of weirdly obtrusive footnotes commenting on precisely this bizarreness, and thirdly through a second story that starts to develop in these footnotes, regarding the book's translator and some quite substantially strange things that start to happen to him.

Before I plough in with my own two cents, I'd like to bring in my learned brother for his initial thoughts...

JAMES says:

Well, yes, it doesn't have the most auspicious of starts. I think my main problem from the outset was the style of the book. Having been forced to read many translations of Greek works at University this failed to convince for a second that it was one. It was just a modern novel with a few footnotes added as a pretence at pastiche. This would not be a problem if it was going for straight forward John Nettlesness, but as my brother indicated, style is an important element of the plot. And the style struck me as so clumsy that I was put off from the very start. Plus, Heracles Pontor, really.

NEILL says:

Fair enough, but I actually found myself being transfixed by it; the combination of cheesy formulaic thriller with bizarre and arbitrary prose stylings, and some really quite commendably far-reaching philosophical ambitions. There are several layers to ‘The Athenian Murders’, as it is always the first to point out, and I found myself engaged in a really quite compelling and eventful game of 'who's smarter - me or this book?'. I think in the end it worked out at about a draw, but was certainly fun to play. There are several games being played in the novel, one of the biggest of which concerns its own status as fiction. Without a giving too much away by way of spoilers, there is a massive structural confidence trick at the heart of it all, which is only revealed at the very end. It is a very risky trick for the author to play, given that it could be taken (equally validly, I think) either as perfectly executed and dazzlingly audacious or utterly stupid, unbelievable and insulting to the reader. I was having a ball, so I'm going with the former. James?

JAMES says:

No, you're wrong. This book annoyed me, especially when it tried to be clever. I think maybe I should give the plot away to spare anyone else having to read it. Anyway, it is basically running the whole idea of literature becoming self aware, like John Byrne's She-Hulk only less subtle. It never really rises above the '’Hmmm... I think I'm in a book' said John' level of sophistication. It certainly had a point to make, but it would've taken a better writer than Jose Carlos to do it. I'm surprised my brother likes it so much, I usually respect his opinion. But if he felt anything other than disappointment and annoyance at the ending, which just plain doesn't work, then either I just missed something, or Neill was drunk at the time. I suppose if the story had been better written then I might've agreed with some of the positive points made, but it wasn't. It might be that the translation was just really bad, ironic considering the role of the translator in the story, but if it hadn't have been for the fact that I must finish any whodunit, no matter what the level of quality, then I would've dropped this book quite quickly. And, having read it, I wish I had. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it, you.

NEILL says:

You'll have to forgive my brother, he's clearly stoned. And at work, too. The characters-in-a-book-realising-they're-in-a-book thing is only one aspect of it, and one that is raised quite early on; far more interesting is the way the author uses that slightly hackneyed trick to examine Plato's theory of Ideal Forms in a genuinely novel way. Admittedly, taking pot-shots at Platonic metaphysics is not perhaps the most daring or cutting-edge stance to take in this day and age, but it is done with admirably black-hearted savagery and moments of what seemed to me genuine insight. The book closes with a massive, joyous paradox; it argues that there are no eternal Truths independent of ourselves and that all human reasoning is subjective, flawed, and a matter of imperfect projection. And it argues this exceptionally well, using a sleight-of-hand device that will make you go back through the entire book realising how you have been duped into filling in an entire aspect to the story that does not actually exist. And yet this hilariously inventive argument against values, God, truth and meaning is knowingly presented from within the context of a novel; where in a very real sense there ARE external values, there IS a God, and there IS truth and meaning. The one thing that does strike me as a genuine shame about the whole thing is the terrible, cheesy title. In the original Spanish, apparently the book was named La caverna de las ideas, which would seem much more appropriate.

I think it's a real shame James didn't enjoy this much as I did or, apparently, at all. But then he is a mook. Make no mistake about it, it is a strange, uneven, pretentious and frequently irritating book. But it is also about as much fun as I've had with a novel in I don't know how long. And the David Jason-starring adaptation promises to be a stunna.


JAMES says:

No, you're still wrong. I don't know much about Platonic Metaphysics, but I know what I don't like. So many bits of this book for me just didn't work. The arguments seemed to be built up to be knocked down, the characters were wafer thin, and the murder story was dull. And there was too much man love and not enough woman love, but then it is Greek I suppose. And it's quite obviously a Tom Bosley vehicle.



As the person responsible on many levels for the great Athenian Argument, -responsible for buying the book in the first place (it has a very
attractive cover, was only 50p in the charity shop, and contrary to some, I do not find the title offensive), for leaving it on James's sofa by
mistake, and then for suggesting Neill read it, because I thought it was intriguing, and then of course at least partly responsible for the authors of the argument - I feel beholden to cast the final vote. And you'll have guessed which way, by the above. This is a book which messes with your mind on at least three levels, and in the process makes you aware of things books still might do but as yet don't. It may be a crap translation, or the style may well be part of the creation of this weird space into which you are taken - who knows. But all I can say is that James is missing - out/something/the point/whatever.... Or I think so. If I'm allowed to disagree with those far more culturally aware than myself.


NEILL says:
There's nothing like your Mum agreeing with you to make you question your own judgement, is there?

Buy on Amazon: The Athenian Murders

Monday, September 22, 2003

Jack Klugman


NEILL says:

Jack Klugman, a.k.a. Quincey, M.E. is something of a hero of mine, I must confess. I admire him of course for his forensic skills, solving outlandish murders each and every week with nothing more to go on than the evidence provided by the victim’s dead body. Which would be tricky enough without the added challenge provided by the fact that, due to the archaic and repressive regulations governing family TV in the 1970s, the cadaver in question never actually appeared on screen. Now that’s quite a trick. There’s also his admirable sense of personal style and his impressive ability to SHOUT! Mostly, though, I just admire him for his sheer goddamned manliness. Whenever he shares a scene with Garry Wahlberg’s Lt. Monaghan the screen lights up with an easy masculine banter reminiscent of an older, fatter and awesomely uglier Robert Redford and Paul Newman. He was a man’s man, so confident in his manly manliness that he wasn’t afraid to show that, god damn it, he cared. A kindly old uncle for the troubled modern world, Quincey’s passionate sense of moral outrage exercised itself on issues-of-the–week from Killer Pot to Killer Punk Rock to Killer Premarital Sex.

Sinster social agenda? What sinister social agenda?




JAMES says:

Pain is really bad. I don’t like it at all. In fact, a lot of my life has been spent avoiding situations which might be likely to cause pain to me, hence my decision to give up a potentially lucrative career in boxing. However, some types of pain bug me more than others. Pain from external sources I can just about accept. If you’ve been hit in the most sensitive area by a football, for instance, or if it’s the morning after a spree, then you can pretty much expect pain. What really gets me is the pain that just appears from nowhere, for no reason. Like when you wake in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain in the leg. All you’ve been doing is just lying there, almost perfectly still. What could you have possibly done to your leg? Or when you get a steadily growing pain in your mouth, that won’t go away, but just sits there at the back of your brain.

It’s like your body is mocking you. Saying ‘no matter what you do, how careful you are, you can’t escape the pain. It also makes you aware of how many things can just go wrong in your body, your only link to the world. Like sailing a deep ocean in a rickety old boat, you see how easy it is for the whole thing to start taking in water, or just to tip over. And, we’ve really evolved to a level where pain is almost obsolete. Sure, we need to know when something is bust in our body, but does it really need to be so insistent. Couldn’t we just have a little message appear on our hands saying ‘you’ve just trodden on a nail.’ When you think about it, when you’re experiencing pain, it’s likely to be a situation where you need your utmost concentration. It’s no good when you’re running away from a tiger to be continually reminded that, yes, he has just bitten your hand off. And there are even people who seek out pain to aid their sexual practises. Don’t they realise that getting hurt hurts? Weirdos.

So, pain, unpleasant, existentially unsettling and redundant. I suppose I could just take a pain killer, but that seems so girly.


NEILL says:

My brother raises an interesting question about whether feelings such as pain, and by extension other mental states such as emotions, desires and beliefs, are best understood in terms of their functional roles or their subjective phenomenological tonality.

No, hang on, what am I talking about, that’s not fucking interesting at all.


Psyence Fiction


NEILL says:

'Psyence Fiction' by UNKLE recently claimed the singular honour of being the only record (to date) that I have bought on four - count 'em, four - separate occasions. The first time it needed replacing was entirely not my fault; I was the victim of a burglar of rare taste and distinction, with a particular fondness for hip-hop and its downbeat instrumental musical cousins, if the damage to my CD collection was anything to go by. Bastard. The insurance paid for a replacement UNKLE CD which, if memory serves, was itself in due course lost to girlfriend-break-up-related-issues. The third instance of the CD, fair enough, I just lost it. I'm like that. Fingers crossed the new version lasts the course a little better.

So is this the greatest album ever recorded, you may well ask, given that it has prompted a notorious cheapskate such as myself to part with hard-earned cash not once but a bordering-on-the-absurd four times? Not even! But it is pretty good. DJ Shadow's production ranges from haunting melancholy to ass-kicking exuberance, and the results of collaborations with artists ranging from Thom Yorke to Kool G Rap are never less than 'interesting'. At the time, it suffered from the massive overkill of hype and anticipation that preceded it, but taken in and of itself with the benefit of hindsight, it's just a pretty nifty album. It's not a masterpiece on a par with either of Shadow's solo albums, 'Endrotucing' or 'The Private Press', but, well, what is?

Worth buying, just maybe not four times.


Buy on Amazon: Psyence Fiction

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Sunshine Hit Me

by The Bees

JAMES says:

This CD has a great cover, a badly drawn Mexican wrestler. But you can’t judge a CD by the image printed on the front, you simpleton. In this case, however, if you had, you would have done quite a good job. It’s a touchingly simple reinterpretation of Latino music, filtered through a few Isle of Wight layabouts, and it makes an endearing mix. Like Gomez, when confronted with the sheer weight of a type of ‘ethnic’ music, it’s a lot easier to just buy a CD by a bunch of studenty indie guitar boys. Maybe I won’t get as many brownie points from a bunch of politically correct bleeding heart liberals, but I guess I’m just a rebel at heart. I won’t conform. The Bees were up for the Mercury Music prize last year, and I got their album in a shop for £4 a couple of weeks ago. Such is the fickle nature of fame.


Buy on Amazon: Sunshine Hit Me

Just Between Us

by Cathy Kelly

JAMES says:

Inspired by the last review, I’m going to review this book by its cover. I know nothing about the plot, the author, or even the publishing house. All I know is that according to Amazon, it is a best-seller. For a start, the colour scheme. Pastels and Purples, what we call the Ikea look. These are colours beloved of old ladies, so either this is a purposefully subversive, or a gentle book. My gut says to go with gentle. This is backed up by the slightly off kilter l’s in the authors name, and the handwritten title. The title is ‘Just Between Us’, and the cover depicts a group of women talking over tea. I’m sensing now I’m not the target audience. And the tagline, ‘friends this good are hard to find,’ suggests it is female, rather than male, desires that are to be catered to.

So, taking this all at face value, which is kind of the point of judging a book by it’s cover, I’m going to assume that this is a soap opera-esque story about 3 separate woman, each with vaguely different but essentially bourgeois lives. These women meet up regularly to discuss their lives over tea, and tragedy probably strikes at least one of them. There will probably be some vaguely racy element in there to disguise the essential blandness of the book and assuage the readers guilt at going for a comforting, rather than a worthwhile, work.

This is a novel that plays to the strengths of the genre rather than attempting to subvert it’s limits. Like an average Agatha Christie, it passes the time but leaves you completely unchanged. People will know exactly what to expect from this book and they’ll get it. Now, either publishing companies graphic departments are reassuringly unimaginative, or I’m a big prejudiced arrogant fool. Someone who has read this book, please write in and settle the whole Book/Cover debate once and for all.


NEILL says:

Inspired by the last review, I'm going to go one step further and attempt to judge this book by its cover without even having seen its cover.

'Just Between Us' by Cathy Kelly is an incendiary work of hallucinogenic brilliance that not only takes the novel to new places formally but succeeds in communicating a vision of human existence quite unlike anything else in fiction, or indeed art in general. Structurally, it is based around three distinct but interwoven stories. The first concerns the adventures of a narcoleptic private detective in turn-of the century Egypt as he attempts to track down a gang of subversive theologians who are terrorising the city by offering radical insights into the nature of God and Existence whilst stealing people's crumpets. The second thread is a feverishly hyper-detailed nanosecond-by-nanosecond account of the final moments of the star Sirius B as it goes supernova, some three-hundred million years in the future, written from the subjective perspective of a bluebottle in Leeds that thinks it's Kierkegaard. The third strand is in the form of a draft teleplay for the pilot episode of a proposed sitcom about domestic abuse, entitled 'That's My Wife, I Beat Her'. This is apparently written by the grandaughter of the Egyptian detective's wife's chiropractor, and it ties together themes and seemingly disparate events from the other two plots, whilst also containing several surprisingly funny wife-beating jokes.

All this formal inventiveness and intellectual trickery might come off as a little shallow and mannered, were the book not rooted in such devastatingly insightful and heartfelt characterisations. Bertie the Bluebottle in particular is one of the most well-drawn and authentic characters in the entire history of literature. Cathy Kelly will almost certainly win the Booker prize for 'Just Between Us', possibly for several years running. It is, quite simply, the most important book you will ever read.


... it could be...

Buy on Amazon: Just Between Us

Catch Me If You Can

Dir: Steven Spielberg, 2002

NEILL says:

Worth watching if you are starved for entertainment on a 10+ hour flight, otherwise inadvisable.


JAMES says:

Worth watching if your girlfriend forces you to watch it with her and then falls asleep. Just. Although Leonardo DiCaprio's continuing ugliness is a distraction.


Buy on Amazon: Catch Me If You Can [2003]

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


(Yes, you)

NEILL says:

You disappoint on so many levels it's honestly hard to know where to begin. A crappy novelty-shop replica of a functional human being, your intellectual banality is outstripped only by your appalling moral turgidity. You have never achieved anything really worthwhile, and due to your absence of any genuine talent or passion, it is almost entirely certain that you never will. The one thing that is in any way impressive about you is that you manage to carry on at all in the face of your own overwhelming inferiority. Others would have given up and packed it all in long ago, but not you; you lack even the moral courage to take that step. What have you ever contributed to the world? Really? The question would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Perhaps the most galling thing about you is your sheer insincerity. You are a liar, a hypocrite, a coward and a cheat. You make me sick. You really fucking make me sick.


JAMES says:

Don't listen to him, you're a winner! When I first saw you, I had to check to see you weren't a Roman god come down to earth. Seriously! You just, you're so magnetic! I don't know whether it's your intelligent yet passionate wit, or your plain amicability. I think it's just that you make me feel so good about myself, knowing that someone like you would talk to me!


You must be a move star, or a celebrity, aren't you? Because, you just ooze this aura of creativity and class. I've meet a lot of losers, but you, my friend, you're going all the way! Listen, I don't normally do this, but do you fancy doing something tonight? Grabbing dinner or something?


Monday, September 08, 2003

A Matter of Life and Death

Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1946

JAMES says:

Certainly one of the greatest films of all time, this is one of those films that, no matter how many times I watch it, I still feel all warm and emotional at the end. In fact, I’m crying now just thinking about it. Not really. The plot, without giving too much away, involves a British airman (David Niven) being shot down over the channel during the war. He is due to have died, but the agent sent to collect him, being French, messed the whole thing up. By the time he’s caught up with, he has fallen in love with a comely American nurse, and doesn’t really want to go to heaven yet. So it all goes to trial. Then it turns out that machines rule the earth, and that the airman himself is the murderer. It’s a fantasy, but it’s the details that impress.

Sure, it’s settled, and a little sentimental, but it’s an honest sentiment not seen in big budget films that much these days. Back in those days, in the immediate post war years, there was an optimism and a feeling that anything was possible, hence this love conquers all storyline. It’s a film where you have to leave your cynicism at home, and just enjoy. I’ve just realised how girly this is all making me sound. Well, heck, I just don’t care. You want post-modern cynicism, go and see ‘Peeping Tom’, also directed by Enoch Powell. This is one to touch the heart.

It has a few duff moments. The heavenly trial for some reason descends into which is better, Britain or America, and it is all a bit unfair to one of the characters. But, the sets and the set-pieces more than make up for this. The view of Heaven, to which Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey is clearly indebted to, the celestial staircase, the colonel from M*A*S*H, it’s got it all. And it proves once and for all that God is English.

This is less a film, more a work of art, of the type seen in the National Gallery. Superbly rendered by masters of their class, and not as shocking as anything in the Tate Modern, but more satisfying on a basic level.


Buy on Amazon: A Matter Of Life And Death [1946]

Science Fiction


NEILL says:

It is widely believed that fans of science fiction tend to be of above average intelligence. They may not be renowned for their personal hygiene, honed physiques or sexual prowess, but there is at least a common consensus that they're a fairly bright bunch. There is a problem with this argument, though, and its a problem that is thrown into sharp relief by, to take an example at random for the sake of argument, any given episode of 'Babylon 5'. The following are a few random observations from a recent viewing of said program:

  • The acting is of a general standard that would embarrass a cast member of 'Hollyoaks', although only slightly.

  • All the human characters have really bad hair.

  • All the 'alien' characters have surreally bad hair

  • None of the characters has a sense of humour. Even the ones who're supposed to have a sense of humour really do not have a sense of humour.

  • Issues of human sexuality and psychological complexity are dealt with in a manner that veers daringly between Bad Soap Opera and Pathetic Adolescent Crap.

  • Characters call each other 'Old Friend', for god's sake.

The point I'm trying to make here is that this is a show that, if judged by any sane standards of artistic achievement, is quite phenomenally bad. I take Babylon 5 as an example, although feel free to take your pick from the genre's combined output from Isaac Asimov to Dragonball Z and apply the same criticisms: emotional illiteracy, shallow / juvenile characterisation, shit dialogue. Even relative critical darlings like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ are still, in terms of literary merit and psychological insight, basically just Soap. Good Soap maybe, but Soap nonetheless.

Given all this, then, why on Earth are supposedly intelligent people prepared not only to accept such nonsense, but to become genuinely excited, even obsessive over it? Why is it so damn cool? (I may as well hold my hands up here; despite being all too aware of its manifold flaws, I watched Babylon 5 religiously. By which I mean every other Sunday, out of a vague sense of duty.) It seems the answer lies in the propensity of a certain personality type to be engaged by abstract ideas and concepts more than by emotion and the finer points of human interaction, and in the related fact that this personality type (analytic, meticulous, mildly autistic) is obviously well-disposed to success in certain areas of academic endeavour.

Or, on the other hand, it might just be bullshit. It must be said that the only genuine Trekkie I've ever known was one of the flat-out stupidest people on God's green Earth. Seriously, we're talking dribbling retard here. Also the biggest ho-bag, but I'm not sure that's relevant.


Time Out


JAMES says:

Useful London listing magazine, but has the unfortunate effect of making you want to do lots of things you don’t have the time and money for, and giving you the impression that everyone else is having a better time than you.


Tuesday, September 02, 2003

28 Days Later


NEILL says:

This film asks a very important question, one that has surely troubled us all at one time or another: what would YOU do if you woke up from a coma following a bicycle accident to find that while you were asleep the whole of Britain had been infected with a terrifyingly contagious genetically engineered virus and that everything and everyone you knew and loved was gone; eaten by insanely violent blood-spewing zombies?

Speaking only for myself:

09.07:Wake up.
17:46: Get up.
18:32: Find no one around, go back to bed.
21:16: Realise that the whole of Britain has been infected with a terrifyingly contagious genetically engineered virus and that everything and everyone I knew and loved is gone; eaten by insanely violent blood-spewing zombies.
21:17: Commence soiling self.
22:06: Fag break.
22:08: Recommence soiling self.
23:14: Conclude soiling self, sleep in own filth.
09:34: Wander round eerily deserted streets of London poignantly.
10:14: Loot off-license.
10:23: Loot soho sex shop.
10:36: Loot Forbidden Planet.
11:05: Embark upon massive booze, fags, pornography and comics binge, pausing occasionally to sob a bit.
13:06: Get eaten by insanely violent blood-spewing zombie.

Fortunately, screenwriter Alex Garland (author of appallingly bad backpacker nonsense-fest novel 'The Beach') and director Danny Boyle (director of Virginie LeDoyen-starring film 'The Beach') have a bit more verve and gusto than this sorry bastard, and have turned out a corker of a film. A corker, I tell you!




JAMES says:

Never eaten it.

How do you start a pudding race? Say go! (Sago)



(Publicly accessible book repositories)

JAMES says:

Have you ever wanted to be an astronaut? How about a cowboy? Or a lonely disaffected youth unable to operate in the grown-up world of ‘phonies’? Well, you could be all of these things by visiting one special place. No, it’s not Mr. Ben’s magic costume shop! It’s your local library. Your library ticket is a ticket to a hundred lands of wonder, where the only limits are those of your own imagination! So, if you’ve got no imagination, you’re probably best off watching TV or playing computer games. But, they do videos as well as books. And best of all, it’s all completely free! Apart from the videos. And it’s 15p a day if you don’t bring the books back in time. And, don’t use the computers for more than 20 minutes. And could you be a bit quieter please.


NEILL says:

Ah, libraries... the fun of libraries derives from their being an amplified microcosm of society, in that everyone really wants to fuck and shout and break stuff, but there are rules, so they can't. The atmosphere enforced quietness and restraint simply magnifies these repressed animalistic urges to the point where they threaten to spill out into an explosive orgy of violent sexual depravity. Which is what library toilets are for. The graffiti in the gents at Glasgow University library was always a favourite for sheer psychotic fervour - a rich blend of sectarian and racial hatred, sexual desperation and psudo-intellectual posturing; appallingly smug Wittgenstein 'jokes' sharing cubicle space with endless catholic-protestant / white-asian feuding and passionate pleas for COCK.

Those wacky students.




JAMES says:

How to love a city with such stupid traffic rules? If you have to wait for a pedestrian crossing to turn green, it is only common sense that when you then cross, there should be no chance of cars venturing across your path. Not be worried by left turning motorists attempting to nudge themselves across your path. This is not a difficult concept to comprehend, or indeed to implement. We manage it here, apart from some jokers. It’s right, and it’s the sane way of doing things, so how can the Brusselian powers that be not realise this? I accept that other places, such as Sydney, indulge in similar madness, but they’re miles away. Belgium is so close to England, it takes about half an hour to fly between them, so why can’t they make the minimal investment into making crossing the road at the designated areas less of a struggle with death? It boggles the mind. And don’t get me started on the bikes.


Tuesday, August 26, 2003



JAMES says:

The heart and soul of the Simpsons. Lenny may not be as brash and showy of some of the other cast members, such as the Sea Captain or Krusty the Klown, but to my mind, he’s the best. He makes every scene he’s in with his understated wit. No real catchphrase (‘Awww… Nuts’ is about as close as he gets), Lenny goes beyond such simple notions to a deeper world of humour. While he is often used as the fall guy in gags, you can’t help but love him for the dignity he carries it off with. In many ways I think he is dragged down by being too closely identified with his Heterosexual Life Partner, Karl. In my years of Simpsons I’ve never come across a Lenny centred episode which, in the words of Barry White, is a Damn Shame. Still, that’s Lenny’s charm. He’s happy to stay in the sidelines, letting others take the lime light. He’s a real class act.



Series II
(TV Show)

JAMES says:

The equally longest day of Jack Bauer’s life. Although, at 24 hours, it’s about as long as most people who aren’t crossing international date lines days. Jack’s back, and this time he’s grittier. He even has a beard to start with. The ante’s been upped as well, with the looming threat this time a NUCLEAR BOMB IN LOS ANGELES!!!! It actually was very disturbing watching the scenes of the cabinet discussing just how everyone would die and how if this happened, especially when you grew up with a mother who would tell you about how many nuclear bombs have gone missing in the break-up of the Soviet Union and how powerful all those terrorist organisations are. However, the start wasn’t too promising. Some blonde chick is getting married, and her blonde sister didn’t like it, and blonde Kim is looking after a small blonde girl for her blonde mother. It was all getting a bit Hollyoaks. Thankfully, Jack came in to start sawing peoples heads off, and everything was OK. Well, not really, the magic had gone a bit. What was new and innovative last time round was starting to get a bit dull by the end of the first series, and I was nowhere near as gripped this time. Sure, I watched most episodes, but it didn’t really matter if I missed one. My interest waned further after the killed off Darleen from Roseanne, unforgivably, then built up a bit towards the explosion of the bomb, surprisingly timed to go off exactly on the hour.

But, then what? You’ve exploded a nuclear bomb, what do you do next? You get a bit boring, that’s what. After finding evidence that ‘Three Middle Eastern Countries’ were behind the bomb (no need to name them, you know the ones) it settled into Jack trying to disprove the evidence while Senator Palmer sat around looking thoughtful. And it was all a conspiracy, obviously. What was good, though, was that Jim Robinson got to be President, which I think is a vindication of his tough but fair parental style. Meanwhile, Jack descended into action star self parody. One memorable line ‘It’s nothing, I was just clinically dead for a bit a few hours ago.’ Which wasn’t helped by him starting to look a bit pudgy and red in the face.

It all followed the similar line, or leitmotif, of someone trying to do their job, while their superiors, and indeed inferiors, didn’t trust them. And lots of people getting shot. It got a bit absurd, though, when they wouldn’t give any slack to the man who actually saved LA from a nuke. What’s a guy have to do to get some support? And don’t get me started on the Perils of Kim. Not content with getting chased by a Lion, she met, by my count, at least 5 different psychopaths in one day. You have to wonder if maybe she has some kind of effect on people. And, all the time, whinging a lot and having nothing to do with the main plot. If she wasn’t so goshdarn cute, I’d say get rid of her entirely.

So, an absurd but mildly entertaining show that I’ve wasted about 18 hours of my life on.


Buy on Amazon: 24: Complete Season 2


by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
(Book of the Samurai)

NEILL says:

Hagakure is a strange book; a patchwork of recollection and philosophy, anecdotes and prescriptive morality. It was put together over a seven-year period at the turn of the eighteenth century by ex-Samurai turned Buddhist monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and is essentially an examination of and a guide to the Way of the Samurai. This is a system of thought that is similar in some respects to Zen Buddhism, although there is considerably less emphasis on the contemplation of abstruse metaphysical puzzles, and considerably more emphasis on the finer points of cutting peoples heads off. It can be boiled down to a set of principles that stress immediacy, resolve, fealty and compassion. And cutting peoples heads off. It is a very difficult philosophy to try and think oneself inside of, given that in at least two important respects it is diametrically set against fundamental principles of modern western thought. Firstly there is the Samurai's absolute subjugation of self before master, a kind of all- encompassing fanatical servitude that can seem more than a little strange from our latter-day perspective of humanistic individualism. Secondly there is the unnervingly frank attitude towards death. Samurai are encouraged to confront the fact of their own mortality to quite a pathological degree, to act in all things 'as one already dead'. Our own culture expends an equally frenzied energy on avoiding precisely such issues, meaning that the Samurai mindset is a little hard to approach; many of the tales in Hagakure evidence attitudes and behaviours that could easily be misconstrued as either inspirational heroism or sickening callousness. It is a belief system in which life is less important than principle, and this is always going to cause a certain amount of uneasiness in the modern reader.

It’s not all morals, death and honour, though. The book is also packed full of all kinds of handy hints and practical tips, a sort of 'Good Samurai Housekeeping'. These range from the usefulness of powdered rouge in covering up a hangover, to the ability of badger-skin underpants to deter lice, to a step-by-step discussion of the best way to remove the skin from the face of a decapitated enemy. (In case you're interested, and how could you not be: cut it lengthways, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandals. That sucker'll come clean off. And I quote: "This is information to be treasured.")

Hagakure is utterly fascinating, packed full of incident and detail and genuine wisdom, and it is perhaps a shame that its insights are nowadays disseminated through our culture in the bastardised form of countless bushido-inspired self-improvement tomes on management and finance: 'The Way of the Samurai in the Boardroom', that sort of thing. I am reliably informed that such tomes are something of a mini-industry these days, something I find a little incongruous given that the book’s fundamental message is so explicitly anti-materialistic. Then again, we live in a world where 'Jesus, CEO' is a global bestseller, so I don't suppose I should be surprised by this sort of thing any more.


Buy on Amazon: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai