Film Reviews: Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

October 25, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

It so often feels like a miracle that Terry Gilliam gets a movie made at all.  Gilliam could barely make a sandwich without a studio cutting the crusts off and replacing the ham with cheese.  After the documentary Lost in La Mancha it solidified his image as the cursed film director, the director who has to fight against the odds to get his vision to the screen.  I feel an enormous amount of good will to Gilliam, I really want him to succeed.  His movies are never bad even when they’re not especially good largely because being boring just isn’t in his DNA.

Of course the big obstacle this time around was the untimely death of Heath Ledger. With any other director this would’ve been a major problem but a Gilliam film needn’t have a conventional narrative and so filming was resumed with the help of an A-list B-team.  So does it work?  It works so well that if you didn’t know at the start of the film that Ledger was dead you’d only become aware when it’s mentioned in the end credits.  OK, it’s perhaps a little bit odd that the star of the film doesn’t do his character’s closing scenes but that is entirely consistent with the story.

The film is about a small group of people who have a travelling show where people can travel into the mind of Dr Parnassus.  The show is unpopular and is mocked by everyone that sees it.  Meanwhile the devil appears threatening to take Dr Parnassus’ daughter from him.   At this point the troupe find a young man dangling under a bridge.  Has he been sent by the devil?  Will he save them or doom them?

The film itself is like a marriage between the dirty, grimy fantasy of Fisher King married to the bright, brash, unreality of his Python animation.  Both worlds are scary and dangerous in their own ways.

As is often the case with Gilliam, the film hops from one visual idea to the next with the story feeling a bit secondary.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I must confess I’m already struggling to work out what it was all about.

If you’ve not seen a Terry Gilliam film you might not want to start here.  If you don’t like Gilliam’s films this won’t change your mind.  If you like Gilliam’s movies then these two hours will fly by enjoyably enough with lots of the usual visual verve you’ve come to expect.  Just don’t mention Time Bandits.  Or Munchausen.  Or Brazil.

Up

Gilliam recently said he’d love to work with Pixar.  I think he’s going to have to join the end of a very long queue.

It’s rather boring to say the same thing as everyone else: Pixar make another superb movie.

Really, that’s all I have to say about it.

Well OK, other than being really surprised that Ed Asner is still alive and doing voiceovers, I was rather impressed with the 3D.  My first experience of the new RealD 3D system was Coraline and I was not keen.  The effect only seemed to work when things were flying out of the screen, and when that happened it was rather distracting.  I don’t know if it’s because Up is a brightly coloured affair compared to the darker shades of Coraline, but it worked much better here.  Additionally the 3D was not in-yer-face but was simply used to give the image depth and to add vividness.

Having said that, I don’t see any reason to favour the 3D version over the 2D.  If Pixar have proven anything it’s that the technology is not the star, the story is.

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Three Hours in a Boat – Part 2

September 27, 2009

Before you start reading, you should be aware that this is part two of a two part story.  You could read this part first but that’d be a bit weird.  I’d recommend you start reading part one first: Three Hours in a Boat – Part 1


I Can’t Take Any Moorings

Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer and decided we had to moor up before I went mad.

I found a mooring spot, and after ten minutes of driving the boat forwards and backwards managed to get close enough to the bank.

Now I should explain that my missus is not exactly the outdoors type.  The only way you’d see her shopping in Millets is if they had a make-up range.  And let’s be honest, if they had a range of make-up it’d only be face paint for the Andy McNabb fantasists (it comes in three exciting shades: Forest Green, Desert Storm and Iranian Embassy).  Anyway, not for her leaping onto muddy banks.  I was going to have to tie this baby up on my own (the boat that is, not the missus)

I leapt off the bank with a rope.  I pulled the back of the boat as close to the bank as I could and tied it up when suddenly I heard a scream.  My missus was on the front of the boat and it was drifting away from the bank.  She was yelping and waving her arms up and down as if she was trying to fly away from the boat.

I asked her to throw me the rope.  With an almighty girly throw she tossed it about four feet: two inches away from herself and 3ft and 10 inches downwards into the canal.  She pulled the rope in and tried again.  Plop.  She tried again.  Plop.  She tried again.  Plop.  “That’s close enough” I said and rolled up my sleeve, dangled myself over the water and reached into the canal to fish it out.  I pulled the boat towards the bank and tried to tie up at a mooring post.

At this point another canal boat appeared.  The bloke steering this boat seemed amused at our difficulties.  He was doing something that no one has done to me since I was at school.  He was literally pointing at me and laughing.  He shouted across in a powerful Welsh accent “Where are you from?”
“We’re from London mate.”
“Well you should be used to this – you’ve got a river!”
“Yes mate but we don’t fucking live on it.”
He thought about this for a bit, looked back down the canal and then said “Your boat is drifting away.  Hahahahaha!”

Uh, what?  I looked at the back of the boat.  My crap knot had come undone and now the back of the boat was drifting out.  The Welsh guy chugged down the canal, laughing his arse off.

The Sheepshank Redemption

Other than the standard knot everyone does when asked to tie a knot in something, and how to tie a tie I only actually know one proper knot: I can tie a noose.

That might sound a little weird but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation: I dated a girl who was in the scouts and she taught me how to tie a noose.

I should explain she was sixteen, in the venture scouts and I was sixteen too.  And she wasn’t tying me to tent pegs in the middle of a field to play with my gingganggoolies.  No, she taught me to tie a noose, which she loved teaching people because apparently it’s illegal.

This taught me one important lesson: any girl who takes joy in teaching you how to tie supposedly illicit knots isn’t worth going out with.  Seriously.  If you’re on a date and she brings out a length of rope in the middle of the restaurant then do a runner.  You can thank me later.

So yeah, I can’t do knots either and now this looked like it was going to be yet another enormous problem.

Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Then two hoodies appeared.

Hoodies

For those who don’t know what a hoodie is, they’re basically surly teenagers who prowl in groups and are prone to petty theft, vandalism and random physical violence.  They get their name from the hoods they always have over their heads obscuring their face from the attentions of CCTV cameras.  The standard procedure in London when you see hoodies coming towards you is to hide your valuables, grip your iPod tightly and avert your eyes so as not to attract their attention.

Their sudden appearance at this moment was like being swallowed by a whale, landing in it’s stomach, only to be confronted by a couple of hungry looking hyenas.

One of them stood next to me, silently, as I struggled to tie a rope.  Thankfully my iPod was on the boat.

“Do you want a hand with that?” said the jolly wee chap in a Welsh accent.

“Uh, yeah.  Could you tie up this end and then I can tie up the other end.”   I’ve never been so happy to see hoodies in my life.  Him and his friend did a terrific job of pulling in the boat and tying up.  They helped me out in exchange for nothing more than a brief chat and the grateful thanks of a couple of townies.

Their work done they set off on their bikes, undoubtedly to aid some other clueless idiots.

Giving Up

So thanks to some help I’d got the boat tied up but realised I wouldn’t be able to do it again on my own.

I couldn’t bear to set off again because I was so bad at steering the damn boat that it was stressing me out.

In short: I was crap when the boat was moving and I was crap when the boat wasn’t moving.  The boat doesn’t have another state of being so, short of it suddenly deciding to adhere to the laws of quantum mechanics, the future of our holiday looked really bleak.

I decided to call Mackenzie and, as manfully as I could, beg him to take us back to the boat yard.

One way or another the boating aspect of this holiday was over.

Epilogue

We spent the next four days moored up.  We sat in the boat drinking wine, admiring the beautiful view and feeding the ducks that swam past.

We didn’t go anywhere.

That suited us just fine.


Short Film Reviews

September 12, 2009

Last weekend I rented a few DVDs and caught up on a few films I’d missed at the cinema.

In Bruges

In short, this is about two hitmen who’ve been sent to Brussels to hide out until the heat from their last job dies down.  I can’t really say much more without spoiling it – and I don’t want to spoil it for you because you should definetly see this.

Basically it’s a black farce and anyone who loves black humour will be well catered for here.  It’s fantastically written, directed and acted.  I cannot recommend this enough.

Superbad

So this is what the new hotness of Hollywood is making is it?  This has been praised to the roof by many critics and, uh, good for them.  It’s in no way a bad film and it is pretty funny in places.  I can’t help but feel that Superbad has been given an easy ride by critics – it isn’t that funny and reports of this movie having “heart” are greatly exaggerated.  The most surprising thing to me was that the pacing is weirdly sluggish and they could have easily shaved twenty minutes off the running time without losing anything valuable.  People will look back on this film in five years and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Bronson

This is a biopic about Charles Bronson – not the one who dug tunnels in The Great Escape, the one who did thirty years of solitary in Britain’s prison system.  In Britain Bronson is a legendary prisoner, but one who is more famous for being a prisoner than a criminal.

I didn’t have many expectations of this movie but was very pleasantly surprised.  It has minor problems that seem to largely stem from having a tiny budget but it’d be churlish to dwell on these.  What we get here is a surprisingly funny film about a man’s life that has turned into black comedy through his own madness and stubbornness.  The director gives the film a strong and distinctive look and Tom Hardy does the rest.

Look out for Tom Hardy.  This guy could easily be a very big star.  He’s already making a reputation for himself, playing damaged but charismatic men and he’s absolutely terrific here.

Oh and the movie contains this immortal line: “You pissed on a gipsy in the middle of fucking nowhere!”

Brick

Brick is a fairly simple idea: it’s a detective drama moved into the environment of a high school.  The detective, the femme fatale, all the other classic elements are high school kids.  If Bugsy Malone was little kids playing gangsters, this is teenage kids playing Chinatown.  And weirdly it’s played straight – although humour does arise where the two worlds clash.

The film is so committed to it’s premise that the end result is totally cold and artificial.  It’s as if the film maker believes the central idea is so powerful it’s enough to make the movie compelling.  It really isn’t.

If all the main characters had been fed into a wood chipper half way through the film, no one would miss them, least of all the audience.  When that’s the case your film has a major problem.

Other that it looks lovely, it’s very nicely put together and I’m sure many of the cast will go on to be big stars.  If only it was more engaging….


Three Hours in a Boat – Part 1

September 5, 2009

This year I went on a canal boat holiday.  It didn’t go very well.

Me and the missus like having holidays in Britain.  Often all we require is a decent quality hotel with and, this is the most important bit, a full English breakfast.  Once I have a plate of sausages and bacon inside me I can deal with pretty much anything Britain wants to throw at me.

This year I’d suggested we might want a change of pace. Something different.  How about a canal boat holiday?  I mean it looks pretty simple.  Look at all those senile old gits who go on canal boat holidays – if they can do it then it’ll be a breeze for us!

I booked with a likely looking company on a nice stretch of canal.

Within a few weeks we were sent a DVD to watch to show us what we should and shouldn’t do with our boat.  It largely featured the exploits of a cockney idiot and his long suffering family.  Cockney idiot goes the wrong way up the canal.  Cockney idiot fails to turn his boat around jamming it across the width of the canal.  Cockney idiot ties up his boat across a footpath garrotting a passing cyclist.  You get the idea.

Oh how we laughed that anyone could be so stupid!

Suffer Holiday

At long last it was holiday time.

We arrived at the boat yard and was met by a chap called Mackenzie who ran the place.  He wore a khaki rugby top, khaki shorts and a general air of senior ex-military.  The type of person who only owns a dog because he misses having people to shout at.

Mackenzie offered to help us with our bags.  I took the bags out of the back of our taxi cab and he looked at them with a raised eyebrow.
“You haven’t brought much” he said.
“Really?” I said, surprised.  I’d thought this was a barge – not exactly known for their capacious storage
“Haven’t you brought any food?”
“Umm, no – we thought we’d get some along the way.”
“Okaaaay…. well that shouldn’t be a problem” he said offering a weak smile that indicated that this might be a problem.

He then explained to me how we could procure some food.  We’d need to steer our boat two miles to bridge 68.  This doesn’t sound like a long way but the top speed of our boat is 2mph (I’ll type that again: top speed) and so it’d probably take us about three hours to get there at which point it would be quite dark.  From the bridge we would then need to walk a mile down a road without lighting or a path for pedestrians to arrive at – wait for it – an all night garage.

I suppose we could get a loaf of bread, some scotch eggs and a few tubes of Pringles.

It’s either that or we’d have to eat whatever we could find in the bathroom on our boat.

Lightly toasted sanitary bags liberally topped with Aquafresh.  Yummy.

Maybe we could enliven the meal by wearing the complimentary shower caps as party hats.  Yeah, that’d cheer us up.

A Lesson in Futility

With little time to waste my lesson in how to steer a canal boat began.

Immediately I noticed that my instructor was not particularly engaged in the task at hand.  Here’s how I can best sum up his teaching technique: Have you ever had a friend show you how to play a fighting game on a games console in the most cursory fashion so he can immediately get on with relentlessly kicking your arse for the rest of the afternoon?  If you have then you’ll know what I was going through.

He told me how to check the rotors and how to start the engine.  So far so good.  He then explained to me about steering using the tiller.

The tiller is a three foot long pole at the rear of the boat.  When you want to steer the boat left you push the tiller right.  To go right, the tiller goes left.  In fact it’s a wee bit more complicated than that because the 12 foot long boat pivots from the centre so in fact what happens is when the tiller goes left the front of the boat goes right and the back of the boat goes left.

It dawned on me pretty quickly that this was going to be a big problem for me.

Let me explain: I’m a thirty-five year old man who struggles to tell left from right, under even minor pressure.

An Illustrative Example of My Ineptitude

Just to illustrate how I struggle with left and right here’s a true story.

I was, for reasons I won’t go into, in the London Dungeon: an attraction that has more in common with a ghost train than actual London history.  As you go through it you’re dragged from one place to the next by down-on-thier-luck actors or shoved onto rides.

Anyway, I got off a ride and found myself at a place where I could go left or right but there was no sign to indicate which was the right way.  After two seconds of trying to work this out a voice from behind the wall, deep and grave, said “Go to the left to continue the nightmare! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAaaaaa!”

I continued to look around with a vacant expression on my face unable to work out which way was left.

The disembodied voice tried again: “Go to THE LEFT to continue!”

I was still confused so I decided to just pick any direction as it was a 50/50 chance.  The disembodied voice was pissed off: “NOOOOoooooOOOOooo!” it howled, “You’re going the wrong way!”

I backtracked and went the other way.

I was confused.  But not as confused as the four German tourists who’d decided to follow me.

Anyway, back to the boat.

So we started the boat and I got a fairly hopeless lesson in steering the damn thing. Mackenzie stood next to me with his arms crossed staring at the bank while droning his instructions.  Occasionally he’d push me aside to adjust the tiller or the gears without explaining why.

It went something like this: “Now go up a gear. No, that’s too far. The boat’s veering left so you need to correct it.  No, the left.  Now let’s imagine we’re passing a boat on the right.  Let’s slow down.  Slow down.  More than that.  Now steer to the right.  Steer right.  The tiller goes left.  No, further to the left.  Now correct the boat.  Straighten up.  More than that.  You’re going to hit the bank.  Further to the left.  No, the left.  Turn the tiller right.”  And it continued like that for about ten minutes.

Clearly the lesson wasn’t going well.  I had moments where it would all start to make sense and then it’d go horribly wrong again.  But eventually Mackenzie decided to get off the boat.

Within ten seconds of Mackenzie leaving I had managed to turn the boat so it was drifting sideways.  Mackenzie had not walked far and clearly he saw this.  He shouted back: “LEFT! LEFT!”  I turned the tiller right.  “NO! TURN THE TILLER LEFT!”  It was too late.  I had now jammed the boat into the concrete banks across the width of the canal.  “FOR GOD’S SAKE PUT IT INTO NEUTRAL!!!”  Naturally I hit reverse.  Scrape scrape scrape went the boat.  Ooops.

The instructor jumped aboard, corrected the boat and said I might need some extra tuition.

Actually what he said was that I was almost certainly the worst student that he’d ever had as everyone else had mastered it about one mile ago and he couldn’t understand what the hell my problem was.

Another five minutes of tuition later and unsurprisingly I wasn’t any better.  He asked me “Are you feeling more confident now?”
“Not really, no”
“I think you’re doing fine!” he said in a surprisingly jolly tone.
“Ummm…”
“You’re doing really well!”  His jolity was not infectious.
“Urrrm…”
“I have got other boats to get out this evening you know” he snapped.
“Oh”
And taking that as confirmation that I was a happy little sailor he left the boat

I then steered the boat for another hour and a half.

I’m not sure how to explain what it’s like.  When I was doing well it was just like an unimaginably boring computer game where you balance a grape in the middle of a plate.  When it didn’t go well it was stressful as I bashed into stationary boats, held up other oncoming boats or scraped the side of my boat along the inside of an old stone bridge.  I felt something I’d never felt before in my life: I was simultaneously stressed and bored.

I was hating every minute of it.

[More to follow in the next exciting instalment!]


More Shoddy Film Reviews

August 19, 2009

I was at Blockbusters again this weekend and I saw four more films.  Here are my half-arsed reviews!

The Good The Bad The Weird

As the name suggests this is a homage to spaghetti westerns, although surprisingly this is a Korean movie set in Manchuria in the 1930s.  Like any spaghetti western there is plenty of back stabbing, gun-fighting and intrigue.  It’s also weirdly like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  The action is frenetic, it’s very silly and really good fun.

Watchmen

I must confess I haven’t read the comic book.  Sorry… graphic novel.

This film is a whopping two and a half hours and it densely packs most of it with ideas and story.  It’s kind of like one year of soap opera episodes compressed into less than three hours.  This doesn’t leave much space for emotional involvement with the characters (of which there are many) or to astound us with jaw-dropping action.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie so entirely given over to just story telling.

Thankfully the story is compelling enough to just about pull this off.

The story has some stiff competition for our attention though.  The music choices in this movie are absolutely horrible and add nothing.  Slow-mo peppers the film and I have personal bugbear about slow-mo.  The tone of the movie wobbles all over the place – which probably works beautifully in a comic book but seems a little jarring in this context.

There are a lot of problems is what I’m trying to tell you.  I’d say Watchmen is a curio: it mostly works despite itself but it is not really a good film in the classic sense.

Still, I’ve just ordered the Watchmen book so clearly the film has made an impression.  Your milage may vary.

Valkyrie

A story of the German Resistance during WWII.  Starring Tom Cruise.  Hmmmm…

Tom Cruise spends the whole movie being incongruous.  He’s a big Hollywood movie star playing a German with an American accent.  Wearing an eye patch.  And a Nazi uniform.  And has two fingers missing.  And a hand missing.  He could give the greatest performance of his career and no one would notice because FUCK ME IT’S TOM CRUISE PLAYING A GREAT BIG NAZI WHO CAN’T DO A NAZI SALUTE.  BECAUSE HIS HAND IS MISSING!  He’s just too big a star for this role, which isn’t really his fault.  In fact I think it’s admirable that Cruise has the balls to try out such a risky role.  But the film makers should have realised that expecting the audience to swallow Cruise as a two-fingered, Nazi cyclops is just too big an ask.

Other than that the script is pure Hollywood chewing gum and I can’t help but feel that the mostly British cast is there to make it seem more substantial than it is.

I think it’s a worthwhile story and a brave effort but it’s let down by some bum notes in the script and poor choice of star.  Overall an average film.

Waltz with Bashir

More War!  This time it’s about Israelis fighting in the Lebanon in 1982.  The director of this animated film goes on a journey to try to work out what memories he has suppressed from the war.  The animation is computer generated in what I would describe as 2.5D and is a great match for the unrushed, reflective tone of the film.

This film takes us through the stories of several men and their experiences of war.  The differences in their accounts and their attitudes about what happened are fascinating and should interest anyone who’s interested in psychology and memory.

I’ll warn you now that this is ultimately a depressing film.  These men find themselves caught up in atrocities that draw parallels with Nazi Germany.  Not one of the men is so crass as to say that they were only following orders but it often seems those words are on the tip of their tongue.

I was quite affected by it and if you think you can stomach such depressing discussions of the human condition then I’d highly recommend you watch it.


More Short Film Reviews

August 9, 2009

So this weekend I had another journey to Blockbuster and saw another four films.  Since I haven’t got anything else to post this week here’s a couple of super-short and scrappy film reviews.

Step Brothers

Will Ferrell and John C Reilly reprise their Talledega Nights double act as two middle-aged men that haven’t grown up suddenly forced to live together.  There’s some great jokes in here but for me the movie is stolen by Richard Jenkins playing their increasingly weary dad and Adam Scott playing their Tom Cruise-alike over-achieving brother.  It’s pretty funny but the lack of any real story makes it entirely unmemorable – you’ll laugh, you just won’t remember why.

Franklyn

If ever there was a movie headed for cult-dom, this is it.  Essentially it’s about four different people and their separate stories (one of them in a separate dimension!) and how they inter-link.  It looks fantastic being beautifully shot and designed.  The problem is that the dialogue is bland with every character talking in clichés.  It’s as if the characters only act and speak as a means of reaching the denouement making the majority of the film a rather dry, emotionless experience.  Having said that I can definetly see this film having a long shelf life if it finds it’s audience.  Two of the main characters are artists (who just happen to be played by the two most attractive actors in the cast), the mildly pretentious storyline and appearance of this film will have endless appeal for the arty crowd.  OK, I sound a bit snide but ultimately I enjoyed it despite it’s flaws and I reckon the director, Gerald McMorrow, is worth keeping an eye on.

The Mummy: The Tomb of the Chinese Mummies who aren’t mummies

Yeah, I know: the third Mummy film, what was a I thinking?  I thought the last two were dumb fun, but fun nonetheless so this third installment might pass a couple of hours enjoyably enough.  My expectations weren’t high.  It slavishly imitates Indiana Jones and falls short.  It slavishly imitates the previous Mummy films which imitate Indiana Jones and falls short.

Ultimately it’s an entirely predictable romp with the only highlights being a couple of quirky little moments.  The live cast were largely upstaged by an animatronic yak and some CGI yetis.  Yes, yetis.

I imagine you had no plans to watch this film – I won’t try to change your mind.

Burn After Reading

Every Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen seems to be about a plan going wrong (maybe with the exception of Barton Fink – and even that’s debatable).  This is basically about a whole chain of events that gets ridiculously out of hand.  I’d explain where it all starts but to be honest that’d make it seem rather dull.  The joy of this film is watching these loathsome characters get deeper into the shit in a bizarre karmic loop.  What can I say, it’s the Coen Brothers – if you’ve liked their previous films then you should see this.


In Which I Review Four Films and an Exhibition

August 3, 2009

That sounds rather grand doesn’t it, but this weekend I went to a museum where I found a pleasant surprise and then watched four DVDs over the weekend.

So first here’s four very quick and sloppy film reviews

Bolt: The script is very derivative: a little bit from Toy Story, a little bit from the Aristocats, a little bit of the Truman Show.  Having said all of that it’s rather sweet with a few excellent jokes and makes for a solid 80 mins of entertainment.  As a side note I’ve noticed how even the most blandly designed cartoon seems to have gorgeous end credits – how does that happen?

The Young Victoria: Beautifully filmed and well acted, this film does have one major problem.  The story is pretty much about those great British (and dare I say German) attributes of stoicism, patience and “biding-your-time”.  All very admirable but these attributes are dull to watch because it takes an age for anything to actually happen.  For example, near the start of the film Victoria’s father threatens to thump her and she doesn’t get her revenge until about an hour later.  A quiet, dignified, understated revenge.  Admirable but hardly dramatic.  She should’ve got a shootah and blown ‘is fuckin’ ‘ead off.  Anyway if you like costume dramas and want a change from Jane bloody Austen then you could do much worse than watch this.

Anvil: Meet heavy metal’s least successful marriage!  These guys are lovable.  They look like Statler and Waldorf with long black hair and they know they won’t have that hair for very much longer and then the game will be up.  And see how many Spinal Tap references you can spot.

Quantum of Solace:
I don’t think Daniel Craig’s Bond can be left for five minutes in a room with another man without repeatedly thumping his face into a wall until unconcious and then stealing his wallet.  Beneath all the kung-fu and parkhour trimmings, the structure here is classic Bond: A slimy, wealthy bad guy with seemingly unlimited resources has a crazy, nefarious plan.  Bond and baddie have stand off resulting in baddie’s various attempts on Bond’s life killing almost everyone except Bond.  In the end the matter is resolved in some enormous structure (a warehouse, a warship, a space station, a volcano or in this case, weirdly enough, a hotel) where the baddie is finally dispatched in the most horrible way possible (with bonus points for irony).  So far, so predictable, except QoS has some nice little twists on the formula made possible by Bond’s new found volatility.  The time whizzes by and it’s pretty good fun.  It’s not as good as Casino Royale but that’s hardly a crime.

An Exhibition

If you’ve ever lived in a block of flats then you’ll know how fascinating it is to pop into a neighbouring flat and see what they’ve done with the same space.  The photographer Mark Cowper knows this feeling better than most as he’s photgraphed all 42 flats in his block; all from the same angle.  It’s fascinating to see the pictures and the descriptions of who lives there.

See a preview here.

The exhibition is at the Geffrye Museum which is a fantastic space, and free entry to boot.  Don’t miss it.


In Memorium

July 26, 2009

Dead Red

If you’ve been to Highgate Cemetery you’ll doubtless have seen Karl Marx’s headstone.  Well in fact you can’t miss it; It’s the biggest stone in the entire cemetery.  Ironic for the grandfather of communism.

To be fair to Marx himself the headstone was bought with the money of the British communist party to replace the modest stone bought by Marx’s own family.

This must mean that the British communist party was able to hold these three ideas in their noggins simultaneously:

  • “Marx taught us that all men should be treated equally.”
  • “What Marx taught us was of so much value that he deserves a much bigger headstone than everyone else.”
  • “We clearly have no idea what Marx taught us.  Have you tried reading his books?  Jeesh, what a fucking snoozefest.  Wake me up when the revolution comes.”

Tom Brown’s Ghoul Days

And here we see what goes wrong with memorials.  It’s unlikely anyone will be remembered the way they want to be.

I remember when I first walked through a local cemetery as a child.  I was horrified to find gravestones with photographs on them.  For one thing being able to see the faces of the dead is pretty haunting.  Even creepier though was the fact that the photos used for the children were their official school photographs.  No child wants to be remembered in their school uniform with a nice neat parting in their hair.  On the plus side this was the only thing that stopped me committing suicide.

War!  What is it good for?

I don’t think we really need war memorials.  Wars are pretty memorable.

“Do you remember that war where there were loads of explosions, and planes and ships blown up and loads of people got killed in lots of horrific and horrible ways and loads of soldiers came home with missing limbs and parts of their faces missing?  Do you remember that?”
“Uh, Yeah”

What I can never remember is the reason we went to war.  What we really need are War Reason Memorials.

I think it would lead to healthier attitude to war.

Compare the following:
“What’s that over there?”
“That’s a memorial that reminds us of all the soldiers who died in the Iraq war”
“Oh.  Tragic”

With this:
“What’s that over there?”
“That’s a memorial that reminds us of all the soldiers that died because Tony Blair is a coward who would say yes to anything as long it was politically expedient”
“Blair sucked!”
“Yeah!  Let’s go and buy and buy some hammers and pay him a visit”
“Sing it brother!”

I would say the latter version is preferable.


MPs Expenses: I apologise for the late arrival of this article

July 6, 2009

The controversy about MPs expenses has taught me something: the difference between ethics and morals

An ethical man knows he shouldn’t sleep with the aupair
A moral man wouldn’t sleep with the aupair
An MP doesn’t care who fucks the aupair as long as someone else pays her wages

Recently the House of Commons has published MPs expenses in the most half-arsed way imaginable.  They’d been almost entirely obscured by black squares.  In fact they had more black squares than the Nigerian Linux Users Group.

The expenses scandal, and the denials that followed, showed us just how out of touch MPs are.  Most people experience of expenses is probably more like mine.  I remember I once got into an argument with an accountant about my expenses because he said it was against company policy to reimburse me for alcohol.  I suggested that a beef and ale pie wasn’t really alcohol.  Further, I said, if I tried to get drunk on pies I’d probably die of clogged arteries before I got tipsy.  He got annoyed and swore at me with an upside down calculator.  Bloody accountants – poor social skills.

A lot of attention was given in the expenses scandal to moats and duck houses however I was most stunned by how Gerald Kaufman managed to spend £8000 on a television.  That is totally mind boggling to me.  I didn’t even know you could spend that much on a telly.  I imagine it must be a special telly that gives the user an experience similar to Alice Through the Looking Glass: the viewer can step through the screen and join in the action on screen.  I bet Kaufman would watch the news channels waiting for himself to appear so he could step through the screen and snog himself.  If he had a long boring speech on BBC Parliament he could step through the screen, stand next to himself and toss himself off.

If you toss off a clone of yourself is that still onanism?  If you have a wank and get it wrong is that eronanism?

Anyway, I digress.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you heard the story about the genie in the lamp?  You’d all ask each other what you’d do with your three wishes and eventually some smart arse would say they would wish for more wishes.  I’m surprised the MPs didn’t do this.  An MP could employ themselves as their own assistant.  Brilliant!  An extra salary!  But it gets better: they could now claim expenses!  They could claim expenses as an employee of themselves on their expenses!  Come on – that’s evil fucking genius!  And if an idiot like me with meagre intelligence can come up with that plan what the hell have our MPs been doing?

I think they’ve displayed a total lack of ambition.


Tip Toe Flu the Work Sick

July 3, 2009

There is a bizarre male fantasy.  It’s bizarre because it doesn’t involve sex.  I’m as inclined to relive this  fantasy as any other man.

It goes something like this:  I feel very ill indeed.  It could be flu but somehow this just feels worse and so I decide to get medical assistance.  I struggle manfully to get to the doctor’s surgery through cold sweats and blurred vision.  As soon as I arrive the receptionist looks at me in complete horror.  “Oh my god!” she says “you look terrible.  We must get a doctor to see you straight away.”  “But” I say while I survey a waiting room full of equally concerned looking patients “all of these people have been waiting and I’m sure they’re in just as much need of attention as me.”  The receptionist is convinced my need is much greater than everyone elses, even the other people in the waiting room agree.  For a while I resist her offer to jump the queue – I am British after all – but eventually I feel too weak to deflect her pleading and so I agree to see the doctor immediately.

I walk into the doctor’s office and he is immediately shocked by my deathly appearance.  He rushes to help me into a chair and then he runs some tests.  “You shouldn’t even be able to stand, never mind walk into a doctor’s surgery!” he exclaims.  He continues to check me out all the while shaking his head in disbelief at my incredible stoicism.

It turns out I have a rare and ultimately fatal disease.  A lesser man than me would be dead by now.  No one else has survived this illness for more than a few hours.  But the medical experts agree that with my incredible strength and will power I could live for a few weeks.  I am a medical enigma.

I am also a fucking idiot.

I’m only too aware of what the reality would be if I ever went to the doctor’s.  A two-hour wait in a waiting room full of pregnant women, sad-eyed elderly people and angry toddlers who do nothing but run about and scream at the top of their lungs (the toddlers that is – the pregnant and elderly, not so much).  A surly receptionist who can’t say anyones name properly which just makes me paranoid and anxious because I suspect that my name has been called and I just didn’t hear it because she’d translated it into a series of sighs and low mumbles.  Surely my name must have been called by now.  Finally when I do see a doctor they spend most of their time looking at their desk only occasionally shaking their head in disbelief that I’m wasting their time with this shit.  They then sarcastically offer to prescribe paracetamol.  Yeah, thanks.

In my mind I’m Captain Oates (“I’m going to the doctor’s.  I might be some time.”) but it seems in reality I’m a sweating, feeble-voiced hypochondriac.

Now this sounds like I’m complaining about doctor’s but I’m really not.  I’m pretty healthy for a slob.  I don’t really need to go to the doctors and so I don’t.  This is a good thing.  And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has learnt not to bother doctors with untreatable viruses.

So how in the hell do people work out they’ve got swine flu?

This has recently appeared on my radar because this week two of my colleagues were quarantined with swine flu.

In fact it’s a bit weirder than that: one of them came down ill last Thursday in the office with a fever, I came down with a nasty cold over the weekend, and now this week I find out that person has swine flu.

Did that son of a bitch give me swine flu?  Have I now got swine flu?

The rational part of my brain is convinced I don’t while the paranoid part of my brain, the bit that delights in making my life a bit spicier, says au contraire.

Rational me knows I haven’t been sufficently ill to have flu, while stupid me reckons I’m such a fucking hard arse I can have flu and barely even notice.  “Yeah I once had a day off with testicular cancer but I cured myself by punching myself repeatedly in the balls.  I BEAT CANCER! – LITERALLY! – WITH! MY! FISTS!!!”

But I still find myself on the NHS Direct website using what Microsoft would describe as a “troubleshooting wizard” to try and diagnose myself with swine flu.

That brings me to another thing: NHS Direct is a wonderful piece of doublespeak isn’t it?  The whole raison d’etre for NHS “Direct” is to keep you as far away as possible from over-worked doctors and hospital staff while simultaneously appearing to bring you closer.  If there was a Fire Engine Direct website it’d probably show you a picture of some fire and ask you if what you have in your house looks like fire.  If it looks like fire you should call for a fire engine.  If it doesn’t look like fire then there might still be fire so you should speak to a fire specialist.

Anyway, the wizard seems to say that I don’t have swine flu.  Probably.

Fuck it – I’ll keep going to work and make my colleagues ill anyway.  I never did like those bastards.