Wednesday, December 31, 2008


(TV Series)

JAMES says:

It was so close. I almost didn’t start watching Lost at all. How nearly identical things might have been. The thought of a glossy drama about a bunch of whiny Americans trapped on an island didn’t strike me as my thing. However, having recently finished Robinson Crusoe, and also just returned from being stranded in the Pacific for a number of months following an ill-thought out mutiny attempt, I was in a desert island kind of place mentally, so thought I’d give it a try. However, as a backup plan I also played Scrabble with the wife, so if it was crap I hadn’t wasted the evening.

Jack, heroic
Jack, heroic

Luckily it takes very little of my mental power to beat Debbie, so I was able to follow the initially formulaic and lacklustre plot. That was until the polar bear appeared. A momentous polar bear, it marked the moment when American TV decided to embrace its slightly insane side. Or at least, when one show did, and then was quite successful and slavishly copied by everyone else.

As well as the increasingly intricate and ludicrous mysteries the show also had an innovative structure whereby interspersed with all the running around the jungle you get a little flashback story about one of the characters and the crazy things they got up to back when they had different hairstyles. This meant that you got a good mix of ongoing developing stories, and self contained little vignettes, something you don’t see so much these days.

And all was well and good and Boon died and that was even better. However, when it came to the second series the makers took the controversial decision to make it just really dull. The running around the jungle that was innovative and ground breaking in the first series now looked tired. Every other episode seemed to focus on Dr Jack, an actor with a face so dull it couldn’t really be said to have even one expression. When the momentum seemed to dip either they’d find another hatch or Sawyer would take his top off again and look angry.

Jack, scared

Jack, scared

When this dampish Smallville of a season reached its end the shock news came through that free telly people would no longer be showing it, and it seemed like a natural time to give up on the whole thing. I believe a number of people went through a similar testing of the faith, but most of them failed like the disappointing idiots that they are. However, I was able to start viewing the third series in the format that fits it best, badly recorded video tapes. The first three episodes probably contained more excitement than a whole season of Britain from the Air.

The third series on DVD, along with the American Office series 3, got us through the hard first few months of parenthood, whilst the fourth series got us through the slightly less hard but no less lethargic recent couple of weeks. And whilst one of the most fun parts of it, discussing it with co-workers the next morning, has been Lost, at least I have the comfort of knowing I have seen series 4 whilst Neill hasn’t.

Jack, perplexed by the baffling metaphysical inconsistencies of his universe
Jack, perplexed by the baffling metaphysical inconsistencies of his universe

Admittedly the whole thing is little more than ‘what’s in the box?’, ‘oh, it was a monkey in a hat, that’s slightly disappointing. But look, here’s another box. What could be in this?’ etc. Etc. But as Scooby Doo knows, mysteries are cool and distracting and help you fill up the wasted hours being working and sleeping. And that’s what Lost does. And if strange magical islands don’t rock your world there is an incredible assortment of humorously bad accents to laugh at, many of them inexplicably done by people who hail from the very area that the accent belongs to.


Buy Lost - The Complete Fourth Season [2008] on DVD from Amazon now! Then you too can lord it over Neill in an irritating fashion!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

808s and Heartbreak

by Kanye West

NEILL says:

One of the greatest strengths of Kanye Wests' three previous studio albums as rapper and producer was their diversity. On 2004's debut The College Dropout in particular, he covered an enormous amount of stylistic distance, jumping from driving gospel-tinged military march (Jesus Walks) to demented string-heavy instructional tape parody (The New Workout Plan) in the space of a couple of songs, and taking in such far-ranging topics as race, education, politics, and of course the vital importance of Hitting That. He extended this pick-n'-mix approach to collaborators, gleefully bringing in a wide range of guest vocalists and casting them against type, getting well-respected if slightly obscure 'conscious' rappers like Talib Kweli and Common to loosen up and rap about about pulling chicks (Get Em High) while bringing out a slightly deeper side of mainstream artists like Jay-Z (Never Let Me Down).

Given that this energetic eclecticism was such a strength of his previous work, it is something of a surprise that his latest album, 808s and Heartbreak, is almost wholly composed of Kanye himself abandoning rap to sing whiny vocoder-heavy ditties about being dumped by his girlfriend, with beyond-parody titles like 'Heartless', Paranoid' and 'Welcome To Heartbreak'. Over and over again. For an entire album. What is even more of a surprise is that the end results are surprisingly bearable, and indeed in places are actually pretty fucking awesome.

Far better than it had any right to be on paper.


808's and Heartbreak on Amazon now!

Let's take it back to '04! OLD SCHOOL.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Secret Santa

(Annual Office Travesty of the Festive Experience)

JAMES says:

I am a man, and therefore I have trouble thinking of gift ideas. For my wife, my family, even for my brother who has pretty much exactly the same tastes as me (excluding The Athenian Murders) I can traipse around HMV for hours with a confused look on my face and still emerge unpresented. Who, then, thought it was a good idea to have to buy another present, this time for someone with whom my interaction has yet to progress beyond ‘Morning’ (not even at ‘Good Morning’ level yet) and discussions about the milk supplies.

Me, I thought it was a good idea. I am a chump.

The office environment has a way of dragging in that which is good and wholesome and pure in the world, and cheapening it. Look at parties, look at romances. Here it is taking something which is already quite fraught with awkwardness and possible missteps. Once you remove any present that could be considered offensive or even potentially offensive, anything that would involve some effort to purchase, anything they might already possess and anything over £10, you are left with the lowest common denominator of presents. This is why, without exception, men get booze and women get toiletries. Because women smell and men are all drunkards. What a sad indictment of our race.

This shouldn’t be a problem because of the secrecy clause (tee hee) in proceedings, but if anything dies quicker than genuine emotion in the poisoned environment of the office it is a secret. Before the wrapping paper even hits the bin you have a whole series of conspiracies along the lines of ‘I’ll tell you who I bought for if you tell me who you did’, and before you know it the guy you thought would really dig a ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul for Golf interactive DVD game’ is blanking you at the photocopier.

And people will also spend £4 less on you than you spent on them. I mean, I know I said £10 was only an upper limit, but come on.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007


It’s the Coen brothers, so it’s beautifully shot, and full of quirky but interesting characters; this time round they’re proper cowboys and Indians (well, Mexicans but close enough). Fairly early on in proceedings (about the time the guy starts shooting dogs) we agreed that it wasn’t a Debbie film. What surprised me, by the end I had decided that it wasn’t a James film. I will explain my reasons, but I warn you they might be misinterpreted to create the impression that I’m low brow, stupid even. Far from that being the case, I am as highbrow as Stephen Fry without an anus.

With that mental image always close at hand, let us continue. When we watch a film it is often a give and take process, we suspend our disbelief and they give us a satisfying but generally absurd experience. Now, this is of course not always the case, and there is a valid and growing subset of movies concerned with a couple of hours where nothing much really happens, y’know, just like life. Mutual Appreciation is a very good example of this. But No Country for Old Men isn’t. Rather a lot happens, mainly involving men ending the lives of other men using firearms or vacuum cleaners.

And that of course is fine. Movies where lots of people kill other people, movies where one guy takes on rooms full of slightly sweatier men with semi automatics and comes out unscathed, I love movies like that. Every bullet that whizzes past as our protagonist does a forward roly poly to the scant cover of a hotel bed makes you feel a little bit invulnerable. So it hummed along perfectly nicely until it suddenly decided to be inconsequential, unresolved and unsatisfying, y’know, just like life.

But it hadn’t been like life up until then, and the sudden change of tone was jarring, annoying even. After all that crossfire foreplay we want the money shot, the hero and the villain, the showdown, the kiss and the sunset. What we get is an old guy having some dinner with his wife. It’s like at the climactic point of a porn film the couple (or group, or menagerie) just stop doing it and start playing Mario Kart. Which is probably artistically valid and clever but leaves you frustrated and tugging desperately at your drooping member (I hope you’re still remembering Fry and his lack of anus).

Maybe I’m being shallow in desiring traditional resolution, or maybe I’m just annoyed because I got confused and had meant to order There Will Be Blood from Lovefilm (though to be fair there was quite a bit of blood). What I definitely am is disappointed by this whorish tease of a movie.


Buy No Country For Old Men [2007] on DVD from Amazon now!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The First Year of my Son’s Existence

(You'll miss it when he's all grown up)

JAMES says:

As pretty much all I do or think about or am forced to wipe these days revolves around my son, I thought I would do ten Freakonomics style unexpected (though eminently foreseeable) consequences/discoveries of having a child:

  1. You actually save money in the short term, as you can never ever go out anywhere, and any free time you have will involve people visiting you to see the baby (you gotta see the baby). This has the additional benefit of them bringing presents so you don’t have to buy anything yourself. Nice stuff too, not like the crap you end up getting for them. And, to be honest, it is great having an unarguable excuse to get you out of any and all social engagements.
  2. You, or your wife at least, will make lots of new breeding friends.
  3. You quickly give up on keeping your books in alphabetical order on the shelf after the 10th time he has happily pulled them all out. This is I think the worst consequence.
  4. He will train you up as efficiently as John Noakes would train a puppy. If anything makes him smile or laugh you will find yourself doing it again and again and again. I recently spent a whole day saluting my young nephew as he seemed to enjoy it. You give up on dignity pretty quickly as well.
  5. There is no more terrible sound in creation than the squawk of a baby at 2am when you thought he had finally gone to sleep.
  6. Conversely there is no more satisfying feeling that inserting a block into its right hole in a shape sorter.
  7. You spend all your time worrying why they’re not talking/crawling/walking yet, then you spend all your time reminiscing wistfully about the times when they’d stay still and shut up.
  8. On the rare and precious occasions when you are allowed out of the house to meet with normal people, you’ll find the only topic of conversation you have available to you is children’s television, about which the majority of people are indifferent to or HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN. This also applies to reviewing things (see last week).
  9. In addition, the theme tunes to said children’s television penetrates your subconscious to a pernicious degree. The ultimate deterrent in any disagreement between you and our co-parent is to hum the first few bars of ‘Charlie and Lola’, which will then be stuck in their head for the rest of the day. Of course, you will also be left humming away to yourself, but this is a small price to pay for the smiting of your enemy. They shouldn’t worry about using Eminem to torture people at Guantanamo Bay, the theme tune to ‘Higgledy House’ would be enough. In fact, force them to actually watch ‘Higgledy House’ and they’d crack in hours.
  10. No matter how much of a nuisance your offspring has been, no matter how much pickling they have got up to in the day, you only have to see them asleep and all is forgiven. Which I guess is how our species has managed to survive.
  11. Oh yeah, you lose a lot of your cynicism obviously.


That Time Me and Di Went To Japan


NEILL says:


Sunday, November 16, 2008


(Bodily Fluid)

JAMES says:

After last week’s looking at the stars, it’s time for a bit of quality gutter time. Now, in its right place phlegm is harmless, even beneficial. It lubricates your throat to allow things to pass down more easily, a sort of KY Jelly for the mouth (or if you’re on Brokeback Mountain a KY Jelly for the bottom). I have no issue with this type of phlegm. What I do object to is what happens after the two deadbeats from ‘Once Upon a Time... Life’ take over production and it become ‘Sick Phlegm’.

Sick Phlegm is far scarier than any serial killer or shark in Venice. It is the colour and consistency of pus and flows in a constant stream from your nose and mouth. It is unrelenting and yucky and lives in your head. If you’re lucky it restricts itself to the nose and you can manage the whole affair with a good stock of tissues. At present I am not lucky. At present I am coughing up great big globs of glistening jelly, and I’m unsure of the best way to deal with them.

Now, the most obvious way is to spit it into a tissue, assuming you have one to hand. This is generally successful but due to the higher moisture content of throat snot against its nasal brother you have no hope of reusing the now soggy tissue, whereas it could have probably withstood 3 or 4 blows of the nose. Thus you contribute directly to the destruction of the planet. Also, whilst you are fairly sure a sneeze is going to lead to product, the majority of coughing is harmless. This lulls you into a false sense of security until you end up with a dripping sticky hand. Any future action to locate a tissue in pockets/drawers leaves the place looking like the hotel in ‘Ghostbusters’.

Another option is to simply bite the bullet and swallow the phlegm. After all, that’s where it came from, right? No mess, no fuss. Unfortunately it doesn’t taste very nice, a kind of sweet yet salty mixture that would only appeal to connoisseurs of oysters. Also, seeing as how your body is going to all this trouble to get rid of the stuff, it doesn’t really feel like playing the game to just send it right back down there again.

Finally there is the classic if antisocial solution of spitting it out. This is ideal if you’re on your own, or in an open space, but people begin to look at you funnily in the office if you cover their monitors with germ ridden mouth juice. And it doesn’t merely disappear like a murdered video game character or semen. It stays there, silently accusing you until it retracts into a persistent stain.

Worst of all are the times, such as driving along the motorway or making love, when you feel a wet cough coming on but there is nothing to do about it. You are left with the Hobnob’s choice of letting it fly every which way, which at least spreads the problem around a bit, or coughing on your hands and then wiping it in the least noticeable place.

Now I realise I am arguing from a point of prejudice, and if anyone wishes to take up the case for phlegm feel free, but I hate the stuff. It reduces us to filthy diseased beasts. It is the X-Factor of the bodily fluids world.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Andromeda s1, ep 7: "The Ties That Blind"

(TV show)

NEILL says:

As part of our current week of space-themed reviews, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to watch and review a random episode of the science fiction TV series Andromeda. I have never seen Andromeda nor indeed do I have any idea what it is about. All I know is that it is a science fiction TV series starring Kevin "that guy who was in that thing that was like Xena but with a dude" Sorbo.1 I thought it would be fun to review something with absolutely no background or familiarity, to judge it solely on its effectiveness as a dramatic presentation, free of any pre-existing bias or preconception.

Here is the episode summary, which I read before proceeding:

Andromeda s1, ep7
"The Ties That Blind"

Beka is unexpectedly reunited with her con-artist brother when a Wayist courier ship asks Andromeda for help after being attacked. Rafe Valentine claims to be a devout Wayist, making the Andromeda a prime target for Restorian attack, but does the conman have a hidden agenda?
Here were my observations upon reading the above.
  • Oh God.
  • "The Ties That Blind"? Really?
  • One of the characters is called "Rafe Valentine".
  • Seriously, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
  • "Wayist"? "Restorian"? Suggests some kind of appallingly cackhanded religious allegory.
  • There's going to be lots and lots of talking, isn't there?
I even went so far as to jot down my predictions for what exactly would happen in the story, based on this description. These read:

Act 1) Brother introduced, seems charming. Kevin Sorbo is suspicious of him.
Act 2) Kevin Sorbo learns that Brother is a wrong 'un. Tries to tell 'Beka' (love interest?) - but she gets angry with him and tells him to GO TO HELL
Act 3) Faced with some incontrovertible proof of Brother's wrong-'un-ness, 'Beka' is given opportunity to turn him in / blow him up / similar (DRAMATIC CLIMAX), but lets him go. Promise of redemption for Brother? Ends on bittersweet rapprochement between 'Beka' and Kevin Sorbo.

Now, I'd like to be all smug and sit here and tell you that this cynical and sneering caricature of a plot was, in fact, exactly what did happen in the episode, but I can't honestly say that it did. What I can honestly say is that it would have been much better if it had.

As it turned out, events went like this:

Act 1) Brother introduced, seems charming. 'Beka' is suspicious of him. Kevin Sorbo smiles faintly smugly at everyone. Several of the worst actors ever to be paid money to act talk about religion extensively and excruciatingly.
Act 2) Neill turns off television, literally unable to bear it any longer.

That's right. Reader, I gave up. I made it through approximately 22 minutes before I abandoned my sacred reviewer's duties, thought to myself "seriously, I'm not getting paid for this" and threw in the towel. I think that we've established on this blog that I have a pretty high tolerance for crap, so believe me when I say that this was something special. Suffice to say it displayed every cliche of bad science fiction, which would have been forgivable were it not for the fact that those cliches were literally all it was. I'm not even going to talk about it any more, as it would only depress me and annoy you. Let's all go and have a nice cup of tea and try and forget it ever happened. Does that sound nice? A nice cup of tea?


1 I'm just kidding. I know exactly who he is, he's Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo.

Buy Andromeda - Season 1 on Amazon now!, hang on, DON'T.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Space Pirates

(Children’s TV Show)

JAMES says:

Space, a hackneyed setting for children’s television. These are the voyages of the starship Gusto, it’s 22 episode mission to present a selection of music interspersed with general comedy “business” as a means of distracting children and possibly, hopefully, providing parents with a few precious fleeting moments of peace. In what must be the least prolific pirate radio station in space, three songs are played each week, a video, a live performance and an interpretation by the puppet-rat Jingles. Proceedings are managed by the fortuitously christened Captain DJ (played by Marcus Brigstoke, despite what Debbie and the end credits say), assisted by a crew including a robot parrot microphone and a sentient fungi living on the hull of the ship who provides travel and weather.

Despite the stratospherically high concept of a pirate radio station run by actual pirates in space, it maintains interest through that rarity in children’s TV, actually quite funny comedy. This is provided by the captain, a slightly pathetic specimen beaten down by his overbearing mother and his failed dreams of becoming a Blues musician. He’s a bit like Harold Steptoe. In space. With an oversized comedy moustache. Also the music is incredibly catchy, and I often find myself humming the theme to the Zorst Report to myself in my idle moments.

It’s not all good news. For pirates there’s little in the way of drunken debauchery (I think there was a bottle of cough syrup in one episode), and it’s always slightly embarrassing when an actual live human who made the effort to come into the studio is beaten in the best song contest by a bunch of muppets singing ‘Sexual Healing’ or an old Spice Girls video. Worst by far, however, is the usual Achilles Heel of children’s TV, children. In this case it is a couple of urchins called Honk and Tonk who mooch around the place overacting and generally irritating me.

And yet, for all this, Space Pirates has become something of a beacon of hope to me. As someone who is not afraid to use CBeebies as a momentary distraction on the unstoppable parasitic momentum of a one-year-old it stands as a shining example of quality amidst the black ocean of poorly animated blobs with cynically youthful trappings and jovially grating Scotsmen that threaten to corrode my very soul.


The Silver Surfer

(Former Herald of Galactus)

JAMES says:

The Silver Surfer is basically a silver guy who files around in space on a surfboard, essentially in the nude, looking for planets for his boss to eat. Now you’d think this would be the coolest job in the universe, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to the guy. Since he was made redundant he spends his time sitting around on mountains moping about something or other in a tediously overwrought fashion. You really just want to slap the guy. Unfortunately this would do you no good because, as he is constantly reminding everyone, his skin can withstand comets/suns/the endless black cold lonely depths of space that stretch in front of you to eternity like the darkness in the heart of mankind. Actually, if Stan Lee wrote all my dialogue I’d probably be a bit bummed out.

The Silver Surfer was merely the most successful of a number of “sports in space” characters, including the skiing Black Racer (like death, but with fondue afterwards), Gaard (an alternate version of the Human Torch who protected a portal in space by playing hockey) and Kur-Lin (a symbiotic binary being, compose of a giant rock creature who spits asteroids at his foes and a feathered alien that flies in front of the asteroid whilst cleaning space with his tail so that it travels more smoothly, and who surprisingly is the only one of these I made up). So it could have been worse I suppose.

Also, Silver Surfer: Parable (by Moebius) rocks.


Buy Silver Surfer: Parable on Amazon now! Although apparently it's out-of-print and is just ludicrously expensive, so y'know. You'd have to really want it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

That's Not My Dinosaur

by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

NEILL says:

That's Not My Dinosaur is an early result of the creative partnership between Watt and Wells that would produce such seminal collaborations as That's Not My Digger and That's Not My Bear, and which many critics feel reached its zenith with 2007's Richard & Judy Galaxy British Book Award-winning masterpiece, That's Not My Penguin.

From the very first page, the reader's expectations are wrong-footed as an unnamed first-person narrator guides us through a delirious, kaleidoscopic rollercoaster ride of Dinosaurs That Are Not My Dinosaur. We are kept guessing right up to the very last page, where events reach a satisfying if slightly predictable conclusion as we meet (SPOILER warning) a Dinosaur That IS my Dinosaur. (It's Spines are So Soft.)

That's Not My Dinosaur is the work of two authors still finding their voices, testing the limits of the form of which they would in time become the undisputed masters. The storyline and cast of characters feel slightly bland when compared to some of their later works; who could forget the ambiguous sexuality and roguish charisma of That's Not My Pirate's Pirate who is Not My Pirate, His Cutlass Is Too Glittery? Or the sheer emotional sucker-punch of the ending of That's Not My Robot? ("It's Antennae Are So Sparkly" will surely be remembered as one of the most haunting closing lines in modern British literature.)

Furthermore, That's Not My Dinosaur flirts with some radical and highly unconventional scientific theories of which some may question the appropriateness in a book intended for children. Admittedly the fossil record from the Cretaceous is highly incomplete and scattered, and due to the processes of taphonomy and fossilization questions such as dinosaur skin colouration and texture will always involve a high degree of speculation. However, to postulate the existence of what is apparently an ankylosaurid whose "Tail is Too Fuzzy" strays so far from palaeontological orthodoxy as to undermine the credibility of the work as a whole.


Buy That's Not My Dinosaur on Amazon!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shark in Venice

Dir. Danny Lerner, 2008

NEILL says:

There are doubtless people in this world who, upon stumbling across the existence of a film titled Shark in Venice could simply smile wryly, shrug their shoulders and walk away. I am, regrettably, not one of those people. Before we go any further, I am aware that coming so soon after some of my recent posts, what follows may seem like I am recounting some strange fever dream experienced after eating too many anchovies late at night. I wish to assure you, this film is entirely real. Look, here's the poster and everything.

Admittedly, that looks like I could have knocked together in Photoshop in about twelve bored seconds, so does not really help my case. Let me just repeat: this is a real film. Real people spent substantial amounts of real time and real money making this film. Just hold on to that thought.

Shark in Venice opens with a team of divers in Venice's canals being attacked by a shark. Or rather, a team of divers in a swimming pool somewhere in Bulgaria going "Aargh", intercut choppily with stock footage of a shark swimming around the ocean somewhere. This horror is witnessed by a team of observers on a nearby boat, who helpfully remind us that we are supposed to be in Italy by uttering lines of dialogue like "Dio Mio! Grazie! Marco Polo!". (That is, almost unbelieveably, a direct quote. I spent the rest of the film waiting for someone to start shouting "Carbonara! Bambino! Gino Ginelli!!!").

We cut to San Francisco, where we meet nature's least-loved Baldwin, Steven Baldwin, cast in the not-entirely-suitable role of a university lecturer. A kindly dean informs Baldwin that his father has disappeared mysteriously while searching for a treasure hidden beneath Venice during the crusades by three knightly brothers. Hang on, what? No, he really did just say that. If the scenario sounds oddly familiar, that's because it is at this point that Shark In Venice boldly throws off expectations and turns out not, in fact, to be an incredibly low-rent rip-off of Jaws. No, it is actually an incredibly low-rent and frankly quite demented rip-off of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. But with sharks.

Baldwin shuffles through the film doughy-faced and glassy-eyed, delivering his lines in a disconnected mumble that was possibly intended as a shot at 'brooding' but mostly just gives the almost-certainly-correct impression that he is on some really quite substantial medication. At one point about halfway through the film he actually comes close to emoting for a few seconds (well, he shouts a bit, anyway) and then - and I remind you yet again that I am not making this up - has to sit down, apparently exhausted. Despite his figure-hugging 'sexy' t-shirt, Baldwin largely fails to convince as an action hero. This is not least because of his peculiarly uncomfortable-looking walk, the unmistakeable sign of a man whose girdle is done up slightly too tight. Baldwin's character is accompanied to Venice by his fiancee, who is described as "an expert." (Long pause.) "In medieval literature." She fulfils the odd role of having heated conversations with all the other characters on Baldwin's behalf while he sits there staring into the middle distance. The curious result is that she seems less like a girlfriend and more like some kind of psychiatric care assistant.

The plot proceeds to go off the rails in the most fantastically bizarre and spectacular ways. The villain of the piece is a mafia boss who, it turns out (SPOILERS) unleashed a swarm of man-eating great white sharks into Venice's canals to prevent anyone finding the treasure, and then becomes increasingly frustrated as everyone he sends to retrieve the treasure is killed by man-eating great white sharks. He tries to strongarm Baldwin, kidnapping his girlfriend to force him into finding the treasure again. About halfway through the film he apparently decides this plan is not exciting enough, and sends a squad of uzi-wielding motorcycle ninjas to assassinate Baldwin for no clearly definable reason. I tried to put down in an ordered, logical way the villain's stated motivations, but only managed to give myself a tremendous tension headache. Often in recent years I have had the impression when watching a film that the screenplay has been generated by some kind of computer program, the producers having merely selected character names, setting and genre from a series of drop-down menus. This is the first time it has felt like that program has thrown some kind of fatal Logical Exception Error and crashed.

It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to make a film about killer sharks using only stock footage and occasional bursts of CGI so spectacularly bad that they are actually preceded by the screen becoming all grainy and pixelated like a YouTube clip watched over an old person's dodgy dial-up internet connection. But that kind of chutzpah is evidently to be found in abundance in Bulgaria, where the end credits reveal this film to have been produced, funded and directed. Somehow that seemed to explain a lot.


Buy Shark In Venice [2008] on Amazon! If for some reason you think that is a good idea.

Still don't believe me? Look!


Saturday, November 01, 2008

La Ronde

by Arthur Schnitzler

JAMES says:

This fin de siecle comedy of sexual manners follows a very strict formula. X meets Y, they chat, Y says it’s too bright/dark to have sex, and besides they need to get home. Then X has sex with Y anyway, they chat a bit and the scene ends. In the next scene Y goes through the motions with Z, and so on, and on the whole the characters are about as well rounded as the letters of the alphabet here representing them. In the production by Love and Madness that was my exposure to this play the sex was replaced by a highly charged Tango which was quite impressive to begin with but when I tell you there were 10 of these encounters you may understand that the novelty soon wore off. In fact, like sex itself, the whole thing quickly became tedious and repetitive.

Part of the problem is the play itself, which gives you little reason to maintain an interest. There was no sense of ‘Will they/won’t they?’ as you knew that they definitely would, within a matter of minutes. But the production didn’t help matters, changing the gender of some the characters to create an edginess but instead leading to absurdity. Would a 19 year old bloke really be worried that his mother didn’t know where he was? Also the neat circular nature of the play was ruined by the fact that a character who was male in the first scene had become female by the last. The acting was generally of a high standard, though the old bloke with the beard was a bit rubbish (and the section where he was sucking someone’s toes was just yuck). Most unforgivably the advertised ‘moments of nudity’ never appeared. There were bras and pants, which were alright I suppose, but don’t put it on the posters if you’re not going to go through with it.

As it is, this is a play that would only appeal to erotic group theorists, if such a thing exists.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Neill Fights The Zombies


NEILL says:

This 2008 production follows the action-horror template familiar from films such as 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead and recent Will Smith turdfest I Am Legend, in that it follows the story of a world ravaged by a virus-based zombie apocalypse, and the efforts of one survivor (in this case 31-year old comics illustrator Neill Cameron) to survive. The story opens with our hero finding himself as the last man in a zombie-overrun New York, and having to fight his way home to his wife and child in East Oxford through endless hordes of the shambling undead.

Utterly derivative in conception, this dream relies upon and indulges in every zombie-movie cliche there is. The plot is largely abandoned for long stretches where Neill simply shoots at zombies and makes their heads explode, a spectacle that offers certain visceral thrills at first but begins to pall after the 1,000th repetition or so. Worse than this, however, are the frequent bizarre lapses in narrative logic. The protagonists tense struggle to survive is suddenly forgotten for an extended sequence where he boards a Concorde flight from New York to London and spends an interminable amount of time deciding what to have from an absurdly opulent onboard buffet. Later in the story events take on an even stranger turn when our hero apparently forgets the zombie threat altogether and spends an inexplicable amount of time running around a London Underground station searching for a place to urinate. And just when this quest is building to a climax, the story ends abruptly, with no sense of closure or completion to events whatsoever.

Sloppy, uninspired and shambolically executed. Still about 70 times better than I Am Legend, though.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The Avenger-Archers

(Soap opera storyline)


I woke up this morning thinking about the recent 'superheroes' storyline on popular Radio 4 agrarian-based soap opera The Archers, and thinking 'ooh, I must write a review about that'. I thought it might be of interest to some of our readership to hear about this unusual ongoing plotline, in which several popular Ambridge residents gained superpowers loosely analogous to those of Marvel Comics' premiere superteam The Avengers (David Archer was the thinly-veiled Captain America analogue, Emma Grundy Spider-Woman, and so on). In this everyday tale of superpowered village folk, they banded together to fight crime and global terrorism, with a particular focus on corrupt agribusiness and evil genetically modified crops. And of course, lots and lots of parish council meetings about it all.

And then I woke up a bit more, and thought "the Archers' recent 'superheroes' storyline? Have I gone fucking insane?"

Still, it really was a cracking dream.

(Points deducted for not actually existing.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008


(Social Networking Site)

JAMES says:

Facebook is very similar to Reality, the original social networking site. You end up friends with lots of people you don’t actually like, and seem to spend all your time dealing with them as opposed to those people you genuinely have affection for. Also, you only get out what you put in, yet if you’re anything like me you put in the absolutely bare minimum and then spend your time annoyed that everyone has more friends than you. Finally, like life it is fun to begin with but soon becomes a bit of a chore. And it’s ultimately pointless and a waste of time. Have I run this metaphor into the ground enough yet? It’s also full of trivia and boasting but empty of anything approaching significance. That ought to do it.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Slight Return

Many years ago two naive and insightful young men started a website, with nothing more than a domain name, a pirated copy of Photoshop and a burning desire to categorise the relative merits of every single one of God's creations. Thus was born Unified Review Theory, and it succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Assuming their wildest dreams were that not even their wives would read it.

Which they weren't.

Eventually, however, these brave young arbiters of taste reached a stage in their career where they no longer had enough spare time at work to trawl the internet for pictures of Luke Cage, Power Man. Loathe to waste their own free time on the site, it eventually petered out in a whimper of mediocre guest reviewers and lazy one liners. And, for a while, silence.

Seasons past, mortgages were arranged and babies were born. But the reviewing urge, once awakened, is not so easy to put back in the box. With no legitimate outlet for these tendencies they found themselves furtively giving their co-workers marks out of 10, debating the finer points of each new wave of McDonalds limited edition burgers into the small hours and being overly critical of their own children's achievements. Eventually they could fight it no longer, they must resurrect URT.

So, prepare yourself to have your opinions belittled as Neill and James return in...

Unified Review Theory II: The Harrowing

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Thirteen Problems

by Agatha Christie
(Collection of Miss Marple Short Stories)

JAMES says:

“I have a problem for you to mull over” Colonel Twodimensional leant back in his armchair as the rest of the group of unlikely friends held their breath in anticipation. “Some guy disappeared and everyone thought it was some other guy that had killed him and stuff”

“Well, “ said the token female smugly, “I think it was actually that other guy’s friend”

“What about you Miss Marple?”

“Don’t ask her, she’s just a silly old woman”

Miss Marple’s cheeks turned pink. “I may be just be a silly woman but this very much reminds me of the time a very implausible thing happened to Mrs Green the Grocer’s Wife, that didn’t really make any sense when you think about it, and it was actually that midget that you mentioned briefly at the start who killed him and stuff”

“Well, actually I improbably ran into the midget a bit later and he told me that was exactly what happened. And then he died”
Repeat x13

I think you take my point.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 2005 - October 2008 (inclusive)

(Period of time)


Bit of a mixed bag, really.