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.