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!