Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

no pants subway ride 2012

we’ve long

been supporters of the creative and good folks over at Improv Everywhere, and we especially enjoy their annual ‘No Pants Subway Ride’. here is a taste of what went down at this year’s:

 

happy birthday dr king

today is

drkingDr King’s birthday and here at RQT we are more than happy to try to continue Stevie Wonder’s vision of a world party to celebrate peace and remember the legacy of a truly great man.

Happy Birthday by
Stevie Wonder

christmas news letter

Dear Friends,

Well, what can I say. It’s been another year hasn’t it, undeniably, and as such Christmas has nearly arrived towards the end. 2012 has been an averagely poor year for us, bringing only a few highlights.

Of course the big story of our ‘year’ came in July courtesy of Grenada’s second year at University results, for which he achieved a grade of 56.8% – which actually represents a much better achievement than it sounds like it does, given the squalid living conditions for which his landlord refuses to take responsibility. Also, of course, we were also delighted by Amy-Brenda’s end of Year9 contemporary/Latin dance interpretation of Dickens’ Edwin Drood, which she and three-friends not only single-handedly wrote, choreographed and starred in, but also got rave reviews for in the parish magazine.

'Jack' as Rev. Mr Crisparkle

‘Jack’ as Rev. Mr Crisparkle

As for us olds, our year has been somewhat dogged by health. For me, the light-relief of February’s ‘passed with flying colours’ general check-up having been tempered by March’s childhood-Polio diagnosis. Still, the maddeningly small, orange tablettas non-regulariados I’ve been taking from Brazil seem to have made a real difference and I’m now able to be back fully in the shed at weekends. For Angela, 2012 is probably best forgotten what with turning 44 and her tetraphobia (fear of the number four) being as you know worse than ever.

Signalling, as it did, the passing of Angela’s mum Kathy May, May was hard. We all miss her, and prefer to think less of how she was toward the end and more about the good times.

Birthday 1997

Birthday 1997

Moreover, we were as a family of course particularly saddened by this year’s deaths of astronaut Neil Armstrong, film director Tony Scott, the several recent children in Newtown, Connecticut and former Liverpool defender Gary Ablett. As I’m sure were you all. RIP.

Nevertheless, those of you who’ve been asking will be pleased to hear that the saga of the internet has finally rectified itself in more or less our favour. Virgin Media remain insistent that the service was ‘perfectly within acceptable realms of the service offered’ and that routers do not and never have burned cats, and are also still refusing to withdraw the public decency claim against my brother-in-law and lawyer-at-law David, but a man did recently come out to refit a new box and the speed now seems to have settled down at only slightly less than Steven at number 11 usually gets, for a much more palatable £19.40/month.

I am personally disappointed not to be able to announce an end to my on-going and sour feud with our local Liberal Democrat member of parliament Adrian Dobless over the frequency and quality of waste removal, nor my spat with our neighbour to the east, Neville, over his unsightly fencing and dog. Perhaps 2013 will prove itself more diplomatic.

Likewise we are all sad not to be able to welcome our Georgian friend Brijan (pronounced like the English) for Christmas again this year as a result of him not having been able to get a visa.

Brijan on Christmas Day 2010

Brijan on Christmas Day 2010

Sarah’s late-October ‘announcement’ about a Spring wedding with her current Hindu boyfriend is still very much in discussion, but needless to say we are proud of everything she has achieved in her job at Littlewoods (department store, NOT bookmaker).

Well, given that I can hear that a courier has apparently come to the door with a parcel for a Michael Limble, sorry Lambert (I misheard Angela), who obviously does not live here, I should go and sort that out. As such, little now remains other than to wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS from all of us and send our very best for 2013 (how odd it feels writing that?!).

 

merrychristmas

#wildstyle: saint harridan

not much to say here other than, if the suit fits … wear it.

good luck to Saint Harridan from everyone here at RQT

 

 

#telosvision: autumn tellybox

so, here, as promised

is the second part of my Autumn TV (p)review. this time round we’re dealing with UK product.

returning programmes

The Thick of It: i’m sure don’t really need to sell anyone on Armando Iannucci’s superb Westminster sendup, which, now that we’ve reached phase ‘coalition’, seems to be the exact inverse of This Week with Andrew Neil, in that the political news stories from the week ahead are insightfully and entertainingly predicted. as it got going early (at the start of last month) only two episodes of the seven in the series now remain, but one of those (tonight’s) is an hour-long special. [BBC Two, Saturdays, 9:45PM – or here (catch up here)]

Friday Night Dinner: one of last year’s big surprises was that i watched, enjoyed and recommended a programme that featured not one (see below), but two of the Inbetweeners, including one of the two most annoying ones (Simon Bird). still, i guess if ever there were company in which they could bring a smile to my mostly saggy, sullen face it would consist of Mark Heap, Tamsin Greig and (the surprise star of series 1) Paul Ritter, all being written by Robert Popper. it’s not quite an all-time classic (at least not yet), but i have to say that i smiled fairly widely when i heard it was returning. [Channel 4, Oct TBA – catch up here]

Peep Show: yes, series 8 of the smash comedy about two guys who live in a flat and talk to themselves out loud except not exactly out loud cos only we can hear them, draws nigh. series 7 left us with Mark set to shack up with Dobby and Jez at a loose end after fucking off Super Hans by being with Zahra, then fucking off Zahra by being himself. who knows what wild japes the El Dude Brothers (*does the truck honk action and sound*) will get into this time round, but even with the format/schtick getting slightly tired, i’d say it has a decent chance of being amusing. [Channel 4, Fridays from 9th Nov, 10PM – catch up here]

Fresh Meat: obviously i’m not part of the target audience, but hey, it’s well written, only stars one of The Inbetweeners and the first scene of the new series featured a discussion about the poshness of students at my what-Americans-call Alma Mater filmed in and behind our local supermarket. there’s also the small matter of Kimberley Nixon, who is not only very lovely, and thoroughly (if briefly) topless in Cherrybomb, but also, i’d like to remind you all, 27 years of old. [Channel 4, Oct – catch up here]thehour

The Hour: last year’s first series crept up on me like some sort of ninja, Britified Good Night and Good Luck with pre-Q Ben Whishaw, post-Wire Jimmy McNulty and the very lovely Romola Garai. yes! more of you. [BBC Two, Nov – catch up here]

new programmes

Hunted: after several series of having new characters with new names and faces play the same 6 roles in slightly different scenarios, the writers of Spooks have branched considerably out and made a who new series in which the same things happen again. although i’ve long thought it ridiculous, i have to say i did actually watch every series of Spooks, so there’s a fair chance the same thing will happen again. having said that, the thing that drew me in at the start of Spooks was the characters (which got considerably worse as time went on) and the characters in Hunted have not grabbed me so far. still, it’s worth a peek if you’ve got a whole in your schedule. [BBC One, Thursdays, 9:00PM]

hebburnHebburn: a debut sitcom from stand-up Simon Cook, Hebburn is about a working-class family from the eponymous North East town meeting and coming to terms with their new (middle-class and Jewish) daughter-in-law, who their son, Jack, met in Manchester and (inebriatedly) married in Vegas. it boasts the impressive talents of Vic Reeves (as Jim Moir), Gina McKee, Chris Ramsey and Kimberley Nixon (who i would happily watch read the phonebook), but seems set to inhabit in a pleasantly low-key manner. in several ways it has a similar (if inverted) dynamic to BBC Three’s Cuckoo (see below), but, so far, its quality and tone is more reminiscent of Gavin and Stacey or The Royal Family. it remains to be seen if it can step into the big shoes laid out by those latter comparisons, but the first two episodes represent a strong start. [BBC Two, Thursdays, 10PM]

Cuckoo: Andy Samberg (the one who always gets to go in the middle in The Lonely Island’s popular YouTube videos and also had a small role in the best Hollywood rom-com in 15 years, Friends With Benefits) is now stretching the budget of this otherwise diminutive BBC Three offering. having said that, he’s saved them a bit on costumes by having his clichéd, Orientalist, clueless eastern-spirituality-guru-wannabe, stoner twat character wear the same costume that he used in the Ras Trent video. the premise is that Rachel, a bright, lower middle-class student arrives back from a pre-University summer trip to Thailand married to Cuckoo, Samberg’s aforementioned twat, which is a surprise to her parents. i like Greg Davies (who plays the dad), and Helen Baxendale (who’s being the mum) has clearly still got it all going on, but i hate that tiger-boy from 2.3 Children (who plays the younger brother). basically, it could turn out to be good, but having seen the first two episodes, i’d be surprised if it did. [BBC Three, Tuesdays, 10PM]

thegirl• The Girl: gazing ahead a few months, there is a persistent buzz surrounding HBO’s latest TV film (which is apparently slated to form part of the BBC’s Christmas schedule). Toby ‘Droopy’ Jones and Sienna Miller head up a loose adaptation of Donald Spoto’s 2009 book Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, or at least the parts of it that concern Tippi Hedren – whose daunting shoes Miller will be fending off birds with. i’m sure that this, combined with Sacha Gervasi’s forthcoming Hitchcock biopic, Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, is filling every Hitch fan with as much nervous energy as it is me. [HBO/BBC Two, TBC]

Into 2013 (aka ‘hurrah for BBC Two’)

• Dancing On The Edge: there are not a lot of details about this yet, but a new Stephen Poliakoff drama about a black jazz band performing in 1930s London which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor is more than enough information for my interest to have piqued. [BBC Two, TBC]

thefall• The Fall: again, a significant hum surrounds this British/Irish series which is set to star Scully out of Mulder and Scully out of the X-Files as a murder police. i’m thinking that it’s bidding to be the new The Killing but that, visually/tonally, it will possibly be somewhat along the lines of Hit & Miss, although hopefully it will turn out to be more from column A and less from column B than Sky Atlantic’s disappointment. despite the title, it is now scheduled to air in the Spring. [BBC Two, TBC]

• Top of the Lake: although the competition from those above is strong, the title of most anticipated piece of Spring drama would have to go to this Anglo-US-Australian (BBC/Sundance Channel/ABC) New Zealand-set mini-series about the hunt for a missing and pregnant 12-year-old. Jane Campion is involved behind the camera, and Elizabeth Moss, Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan and David Wenham are said to be among those working in front. Rumours are rife that before appearing on the small screen it might be doing the festival circuit (starting, i’d guess, with Sundance). Tantalising. [BBC Two, TBC]

#recordbox: ‘reagan’ by killer mike

#telosvision: fall shows up

greetings tellybox fans

summer has gone, and it’s that time of year when i share my thoughts and opinions about the treats that are being offered up by bosses in TVville for our Autumn/Fall delectation. please accept my apologies that this year’s offerings have arrived so late, but for some reason i’ve just not been able to sit down and get this post written before now. in my defence, there is a lot to consider this year, in fact, that in order not to overface you i’ve divided things up into two posts, this first one will handle shows from the States and a subsequent one will examine British programmes.

as far as i’m concerned it’s something of a vintage in terms of returning series in the US, with quality reigning over quantity – however, i have to say that i’m less enthused by the new offerings than i would like and suspect the opposite is true where they are concerned.

however, let’s just pause a moment to honour some shows to which we are wishing farewell as they prepare to wrap up for a long Winter sleep. last night, for example, saw the finale of another great season of Louie. i laughed (a lot) i cried (a bit) and the cameos by David Lynch are perhaps my favourite of all in the three seasons so far. while the final episode of this season was in the tradition of the more muted, reflective ones, the scene where Louie attempts to reattach the doll’s eyes, and in particular his use of the phrase “shit on my father’s balls” was up there with my favourites.

the other big loss to me was The Newsroom, which wrapped at the end of August and was definitely my favourite new show of 2012 so far. despite having possibly the sappiest credit sequence in television history and being sort of a remake of his comic-drama from 2006/7 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – which i liked but was, despite being not really very similar, deemed too similar to 30 Rock to be renewed – Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV offering really grabbed me.

the performances were pretty much all-round excellent, with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn (xxxx) and Sam Waterston deserving of special praise. possibly most impressive of all, however, was Dev Patel, who for the first time ever did acting that i didn’t TOTALLY HATE, but actually sort of liked. quite incredible. however … i don’t know what it is about Sorkin, but i always seem to like the stuff everyone else hates (A Few Good Men, Studio 60) and vice-versa (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball). i’m honestly not trying to be contrary, but if my track record is anything to go by, despite being renewed for a second season, The Newsroom might want to watch it’s back.

anyway, not wanting to dwell on what has passed, let’s turn to the shows that are being being unwrapped and placed back on the shiny shelf. (nb. when it comes to stuff i’ve already seen, whilst i will be mentioning some aspects, i will, as always, try hard not to drop any significant spoiler-bombs.)

for those of you who aren’t up to speed with any of the returning series mentioned but would like to be, this post comes to you sponsored by BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Hulu, HideIPVPN (which is just my favourite of the many online services that can help you to watch Hulu when not in the US or iPlayer when not in the UK) and probably most importantly of all watchseries.eu, which is the place to go to catch up with previous or current seasons of pretty much any major series that has so far eluded you. the internets are brilliant, peeps, use them.

returning shows

Treme: top of the tree, the long awaited return of the brilliant New Orleans-based drama created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, who as far as i’m concerned are giants among men in a metaphorical world where being able to reach high things is a sign of wisdom, decency, truthfulness and beauty. wheel number one of what i’m calling ‘the Sunday Trike of Awesome’, season 3 began Sunday last and is already right back up to speed. David Simon has always stuck to the same logic – “follow the money”. with two years now between itself and Katrina, NOLA (and the Tremé in particular) still has a long way to go. housing is still the hot topic, and there’s plenty of green notes to be made, if you know the right people. meanwhile, everyone else will just have to keep fighting just to stay put. [HBO, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

Boardwalk Empire: Sunday Trike of Awesome wheel number two stands in the shape of season 3 of Terence Winter’s artfully crafted, cruel and awkward prohi-era surviveathon. there are some series that it’s really not worth going back and starting on if you missed the boat first time round, but this is not one of them – for those who’ve been slow on the uptake hereabouts, you really need to get on board. that having been said, i won’t add too much by means of comment on this season other than to say that as long as Chalky White is around to see what becomes of AC under the redoubled if not exactly untroubled Thompson regime and to witness the inevitable increase in focus on New York and Chicago then i’m happy. [HBO, Sundays, 9PM ET – or here]

Homeland: wheel three is season 2 of Showtime’s big hitter from last Autumn (which i only caught up with when it was broadcast here in this Spring). as regular readers might remember, i took a few episodes to get into Homeland – again, the credits were a significant turn off – but i eventually became hooked. you might also remember, however, that despite my enhookedment, i had some reservations concerning both its sexual ethics and the role of mental illness. in the end, i was sad to see that it fell into a couple of the mental illness pitfalls that i’d laid out, and i’d say the whole thing about sexuality still has a way to go before all the cards are on the table. however, reservations not withstanding, this time round it has definitely been upgraded to my ‘watch US broadcast’ list.

season 2 premiered on Sunday, but don’t worry i won’t give anything away. he’s made it all the way from tutoring a terrorist’s son in Afghanistan to sitting in the US Congress, but deep down i think we all know that he’s still, he’s still Brody from the hole. expect a lot more drawn-out squinting and secret Muslimising to distrustful music from Brody, and pestering from the CIA plus drawn-out ambiguity over how long it will take her to remember the link between Brody and Nazir’s son (that inconveniently solidified in her head seconds before her ECT began) from Carrie. [Showtime, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

New Girl: i’m still not really sure why i like New Girl quite as much as i do. but i really do. like it. in spite of her name, i’ve always liked Zooey Deschanel and she’s definitely one of the reasons it works so well, but the thing i wasn’t really prepared for was the writing being so consistently great. from the outside it might look a bit flyaway, like it’s on the same level as something trivial like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s not. it’s actually really good. I can honestly say that i desire nothing more from season 2 than more of the same, please. [Fox, Tuesdays from 9th Oct, 9PM ET – or here]

new shows

Vegas: let’s start with CBS’s headliner, which sets out to tell the story of the early days of Sin City seemingly by mainly pitting just-in-from-Chicago casino boss Vincent Savino – played by Vic from The Shield (Michael Chiklis) looking more like a bulky Bruce Willis than ever – against Ralph Lamb, Dennis Quaid’s brooding old-skool-Nevada-rancher/lawman. at the start of the pilot, grizzed ol’ man Lamb, who was a distinguished MP during the war, is installed as an emergency Deputy Sheriff while the current Sheriff hides from some mobsters that he double crossed and ‘ratted out’ to the authorities. Lamb just wants to run his ranch in peace, but, since that stupid big dam got built, the small city that’s sprung up near his land is becoming a pain in his skinny, Lee-clad ass.

what he doesn’t want is planes to fly over his land, or fancy, arrogant Italian out-of-towners to climb above their stations. what he does want is to punch people in the face and wear his Stetson. can you guess who’s the Sheriff of Las Vegas by the end of the first episode? it’s good to see that Carrie-Anne Moss is slowly working her way back from Matrix-enduced shame, i’ve long rated her as an actor, and to my eyes she looks far better in a shift dress now than she did in leather trousers back then. while there is some crossover in terms of style, content or arc, Vegas definitely doesn’t have the requisite seriousness to be on par with Boardwalk Empire, or Mad Men, or Scorsese’s Casino, and after the pilot i can’t say whether it’s going to turn out to be worth watching at all, but i’d like it to be, so i’m in for at least the first three episodes. [CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Revolution: J.J. Abrams has really taken the whole ‘EPing a TV series is the new directing a movie’ thing to heart, but should we trust him after Lost? well, Jon Favreau directs the pilot of this slightly odd post-technopalyptic sci-fi-a-rama and despite it being slightly infected with the dreaded expositionitus, and genuinely containing of the lines “It’s happening, isn’t it?!”, “Family? Kid, I don’t even know you!” and “You know, I didn’t ask you to come back”, i almost liked it. basically, one day, everything electronic and also (for some unexplained reason) engines stopped working and fifteen years later a fragile society is living hand-to-mouth in a part wild-west, part medieval Europe type scenario. this society is ruled by some sort of warlord and one family is keeping a very powerful secret from him and everyone else.

we’re supposed to be wondering about this small, silver USB drive/scarab necklace thing that might be the key to what happened to the tech, but i spent the whole time trying to work out how twenty somethings in a small isolated community could have perfectly fitting jeans, leather jackets and make-up so long after the end of all mechanised industry. that, and why, despite relying on basically the same physical principles, guns fire and oil lamps burn, but combustion engines don’t work. why fifteen years after it fell (hilariously unrealistically) from the sky, there’s a perfectly untouched plane sitting in the middle of a field, why, if you lived in a world where someone holding a crossbow sideways above their head can repel downward blows from a sword at close quarters, would you not do mostly stabbing motions in that situation instead, and why the goofy, multi-millionaire former Googledouche has brand-new-looking glasses. in fact, i was just beginning to think that, by failing to properly think through the implications of its starting premise, it had fallen into the same trap as 2009 mega-flop FlashForward, when Giancarlo Esposito (the fabulous Gus from the fabulous Breaking Bad) showed up. that, on its own, has bought it another episode.

Last Resort: submarine, blaa blaa, Pakistan, missile strike, blaa, defying orders, fired on by own team, blaa blaa, T-1000 is an angry one, backup communication network, NATO early-warning station reminiscent of the control room from Jurassic Park on a remote island (always with the remote islands), local gangsters, blaa blaa, Washington, now shit’s got serious. etc. the pilot previewed weeks ago and i’ve been left with little inclination to seek out further episodes. [abc, Thursdays, 8PM ET – or here]

Elementary: Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes living in Brooklyn with Lucy Liu’s Dr Joan Watson, what could be boring and or ridiculous about that? if it continues to be as bad as the pilot, i’m guessing that by episode 3, the only people watching will be Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ lawyers. i’m out. [CBS, Wednesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Arrow: this is one of the few Fall shows that will be broadcast in the UK this year, with Sky One having picked it up and due to put it out a month or so behind The CW from late Oct. it’s a teen-drama version of DC’s Green Arrow very much in the mould of Smallville, and i imagine it will strike the right sort of chords among its target demographic. i found the pilot pretty meh, but it’s very clearly not meant for me. [The CW, Wednesdays, 8PM ET]

Go On: despite Friends and several terrible movies, i actually really like Matthew Perry and, as you know, thought his work in Studio 60 (his last significant TV role) was excellent. here he plays a widowed sportscaster who’s undertaking counselling. i’ve long thought that group therapy scenarios are ripe fodder for comedy, which is one of the reasons why, along with two friends, i’ve been working on a screenplay for a sitcom which is set in just such a context. who knows if we’ll ever actually produce anything polished, let alone do anything with it, but the constant risk, however, is that in the time that we’re dealing with our creative blocks something else comes along and occupies a similar space – a 30 Rock to our Studio 60 if you will. happily, while i sort of like Go On, i’m fairly sure it’s not treading on our toes too much. [NBC, Tuesday, 9PM ET – or here]

• three real stinkers

Neighbors (abc): weak concept, poor acting, cheap gags. terrible.
Partners (CBS): no, guy who was in Numb3rs and The Newsroom, just no.
Ben and Kate (Fox): über-corny family sitcom. derivative and sloppily written.

#sermoneyes: the gospel of jesus’ wife

in response to those

who’ve been asking to read it, below is the transcript of the sermon that i preached last Sunday.

as always, comments welcome.

—————————

Holy Innocents, Fallowfield
23rd Sep 2012 (16th after Trinity)

– Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
– James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
– Mark 9:30-37

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the average week in the life of a biblical scholar is dull, but this past week certainly couldn’t be described that way. The standard mid-September routine – which usually consists of trying to forget all the things people said at the summer conferences that really annoyed you, trying to remember where you put that post-it note that you wrote yourself in July listing all the things that need to be done before the start of the new year and (unless your lucky enough to be on research leave) running round trying to make sure your students have all the course materials they need – was, this time round, bluntly and fascinatingly interrupted.

On Tuesday, as I’m sure many of you saw, the story broke that Karen King, a Professor of Early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, had published a fragment of papyrus that appears to be part of an unknown text that has somewhat playfully been dubbed The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The fragment, which is around the size of a business card and thought by those who have published it to date from around the fourth century CE (c.275-425), has text written on both sides in Coptic, the language used in Egypt between the 2nd and 17th centuries CE. Among the eight lines of text the fragment contains, appear phrases that translate as something like: “Jesus said to them, “my wife”, followed on the next line by “she will be able to be my disciple”.

Somewhat tragically, this is exactly the kind of thing that puts a skip in the steps of biblical scholars and, more to the point, causes them to drop everything and take to emailing all their friends, composing blog posts and seeing if they can’t get themselves a slot as an ‘expert’ commentator somewhere. And then, as if scholars aren’t special and excitable enough, there is the media. The headline of the first article on the subject, published in the Boston Globe, read ‘Harvard Professor identifies scrap of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married’. It wasn’t long, however, until outlets that prefer to run with shorter, less nuanced headlines containing fewer qualifications, got hold of the story and therefore sentiments more like “Academic claims Jesus had a wife” and “New Gospel proves Jesus was married” soon followed.

Aside from the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name she has given to the text, to her credit, King has courted very little of the tabloid sensationalism, having been very clear from the outset that she was not claiming that the fragment suggested anything about whether Jesus had actually been married, but only that, if genuine, it was evidence that a certain early Christian community understood him as having been. Now, as I’m sure many of you know, the difference between these two positions is huge, and is crucial to understanding both the history of early Christianity and the New Testament texts.

I remember as an undergraduate being involved in an outreach event whose goal was to present everyone on campus with a copy of Mark’s Gospel. It was a nationally coordinated mission, and the texts had been produced in their thousands, and looked like a 40-year-old-Christian’s perception of what the average 18 year old thinks is stylish, with ‘The Gospel of Mark’, having been replaced with the far more informative title ‘Identity’. I remember flicking open the embossed, silver cover and reading, on the first page, that the booklet contained “an eye-witness account of the life of Jesus”.

Hmm. As it turned out, the more questions I asked of those who were in charge of the campaign, the clearer it became that this idea of an eye-witness account was central to the mission’s message. I pointed out several times to various people that as far as scholars are concerned the Gospel of Mark is very unlikely to be either the work of a disciple, or based, as one tradition holds, on the preaching of Peter, and that even if it had been, the notion of an eye-witness account is a misleading description of what a Gospel is. None of that, however, seemed to sway anyone’s commitment to the agreed line.

Despite the scholarly consensus and the fact that the contents of the synoptic Gospels (that is Matthew, Mark and Luke) are very difficult to reconcile, many Christians seem to believe that rather than complex, theologically motivated pieces of literature dating from at least a generation after the life of Jesus, the Gospels are basically journalistic accounts which accurately record historical facts. What is more, despite that lovely note at the end of John’s Gospel that aptly demonstrates that by the early 2nd Century it was well acknowledged that only a small proportion of the events of Jesus’ life had ever been written about, there are some for whom if it’s not in the book, it couldn’t possibly have happened. Jesus, for these people, is an entirely known commodity, and anything that doesn’t fit their image is basis for a scandal.

And so, back to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. What perhaps amused me more than the over-excited scholars or ludicrous headlines, were the group emails, links to blog posts and Facebook group invitations that I started receiving from various Christian organisations or activists, the majority of which seemed concerned with making sure I knew how to combat the utterly false claim that Jesus had been married. Whereas for the skittish scholars this was (primarily) a matter of intellectual rigor – of making sure people had correctly understood the implications of the finding and had not overstepped the evidence, for these groups it seemed more like a matter of quashing heresy, or even blasphemy. The tone of the many of messages painted the whole thing as a bit like an attack, in the face of which ‘we’ all simply needed to remember our training.

One seminarian from Kentucky pointed out in an interview that the Coptic word hime, which King translated, following convention, as ‘wife’, might simply mean ‘a woman that cooks and cleans for a man’ and might not connote anything sexual at all. However, as Simon Jenkins wryly pointed out this week in his otherwise relatively dull Guardian article, that statement probably tells us more about the Kentuckian seminarian than it does about Jesus.

The assumption, in many of the responses that I read was that ‘we’, as Christians, would be horrified by the idea that people might suddenly be incorrectly believing that it had been proven that Jesus had a wife. Now, while I am slightly amused that some people have managed to reach that conclusion on the basis of Prof. King’s research, what I’m definitely not is horrified. After all, Jesus may well have been married. In fact, as has been pointed out many times, it would have been very unusual for someone of his age, cultural heritage, religious affiliations and social status not to have been.

Here, then, is the crux – if we wish to believe and argue that Jesus did not have a wife, we must bear in mind that we do so not from evidence, but from a lack thereof. There is nothing in any of the accounts that we have that either clearly states or clearly denies that before, during or after his ministry Jesus got married. And the same could be said for all kinds of other aspects of his experience. Of course, it’s very easy to fill in the gaps in the texts with our own ideas or those we have inherited, and that’s not necessary wrong – after all, tradition and experience are perfectly valid sources for theological enterprise. However, if the notion of an historical Jesus is to be of any use to us, then we need to remember which ideas are based on what. If we are wise, I suggest, we should not aggressively defend the historical truth of a concept of Jesus that has been constructed at least partly in a-historical terms.

The early Christian communities, it seems, were well aware of this danger of co-opting a figure like Jesus for this or that theological agenda. We heard in last week’s and today’s gospels of how, when Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, die and be raised, they were confused, or offended – Peter even taking Jesus aside and attempting to correct him. It seems that the disciples thought they knew well what they messiah would and wouldn’t do, and if they were going to follow Jesus, they needed him to conform to their preconceptions. When Jesus rejected Peter’s correction and continued talking about death and resurrection, it seems that the group simply could not understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask. Maybe, like those that the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon calls ‘ungodly’ in today’s first lesson, they assumed that a truly righteous person would be spared the indignity of rejection, torture and death? Perhaps they thought dying was too weak, too human a fate for God’s chosen one?

And yet, as we know, the key theological innovation of the faith that developed in the wake of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was the idea that God could, and did, become truly human. We know that in the early centuries that idea proved very difficult to come to terms with, but I think it still has the power to shock and disturb people, even those of us who confess it aloud every week.

Of course, those early gentiles who were attempting to harmonise the fledgling Christian faith with the fundamental principles of classical Greek theology – i.e. that God was eternal, ever-present, all-knowing, all-powerful and utterly unchangeable, in other words thoroughly incapable of becoming human – well, let’s just say that they especially struggled. But they were not the only ones, and that was not the only sticky issue. As it became clear that the end of the world, as preached by Jesus’ followers and mentioned in several New Testament texts, was not as imminent as had first been thought, difficult decisions had to be made about how Christian communities should live: who could join? Who should lead the communities? What was the status of women? Should Christians get married? Where did sex fit in? What about children?

Perhaps this new fragment is genuine, perhaps it will turn out not to be – there are already articles circulating that argue, on the basis of a seeming reliance on a particular version of the Gospel of Thomas, that it is probably a modern hoax. In a sense, however, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I think we do well to note and learn from other people’s and our own reactions to the mere possibility that it might be an authentic indication of what a certain early community thought about Jesus. How much variation in terms of belief about Jesus are we willing to acknowledge in the early Church? Indeed, how human are we prepared for Jesus to have been? How many of the gaps in the Gospel texts do we need to be filled in with inferences, suppositions or possibly-outmoded traditions?

The essence of Prof. King’s argument is that, if genuine, this fragment, and the longer text to which it once belonged, are just a small part of a section of early Christian history that is often ignored, or even wilfully obscured – a history that witnesses to far more diversity in terms of belief and practice than many modern Christians are comfortable with, but also a history that demonstrates how the early communities grappled with many of the issues with which we’re still struggling.

Perhaps Jesus had a wife, perhaps he did not, but I think attending to whether or not we’re open to the idea of him having shared that particular human experience can highlight important things about how we are reading, interpreting and engaging the scriptures, the traditions of the Church and our individual and collective experience.

—————————

#ranthill: gone but not forgotten

i’m aware that

this story has already been reported in several places, but i feel like i should swell those ranks – partly because there might be some readers who missed it, and partly in order to record it in the RQT annuls so i never forget that it happened.

several of you will have noticed that on Friday an Olympiad started, and, as is traditional, the ceremonial opening of the games was instantiated in an opening ceremony. that ceremony was orchestrated by film director Danny Boyle (Sunshine, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later) and took the form of a retelling of modern British history themed around the poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ by William Blake.

i, along with what seems to me from the response i’ve seen like the majority of people, very much enjoyed both Boyle’s take on Blake and history and the spectacle by which it was communicated. it was no surprise, however, given his well publicised decision to make the NHS central to his (nuanced, and, in places, dark) celebration of modern Britain, that the right-wing press would be displeased by the ceremony – the exact nature of the displeasure expressed in The Daily Mail, however, exceeded my expectations.

while predictably anti-NHS rhetoric set the context for a piece written for the Mail Online by regular contributor Rick Dewsbury, that proved merely the oversized side-salad to a dish of cold, seasoned racism. it’s not at all out of character for the Mail to crowbar in a few comments about ‘fawning’ race-equality the ‘creeping’ multi-cultural agenda and/or ‘worrying’ immigration, or even to use a ‘bait-and-switch’ approach, but this, well this was something else.

the relevant section of the article read:

And how long did this shameful propaganda last for? A whole 15 minutes at the top of proceedings before viewers dozed off to the procession of banana republics and far-flung destinations nobody has ever heard of or even cares for.

That such a politically divisive subject was included at all is utterly shocking. Not least because it glossed over the cracks in a system that is creaking at its seams – crying out for urgent reform …

The NHS segment came after a mildly moving rendition of Jerusalem (though this will move any patriot) and a play depicting the industrial revolution tearing up Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’ …

But it was the absurdly unrealistic scene – and indeed one that would spring from the kind of nonsensical targets and equality quotas we see in the NHS – showing a mixed-race middle-class family in a detached new-build suburban home, which was most symptomatic of the politically correct agenda in modern Britain.

This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.

Almost, if not every, shot in the next sequence included an ethnic minority performer. The BBC presenter Hazel Irvine gushed about the importance of grime music (a form of awful electronic music popular among black youths) to east London.

This multicultural equality agenda was so staged it was painful to watch.”

i’m not going to deign this incongruent, ill-founded and hateful muck with analysis or further comment, but i hope the fact that such a sentiment was ever published on the site of a major newspaper is as shocking to you as it is to me.

like several others who read this article on Saturday morning, i was initially stunned, then, having thought about it for a few minutes, lodged a complaint on the PPC website. then, after having made the complaint, i went back to the site to find that the article had been redacted (without acknowledgement). and the most hateful paragraph now read:

This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but such set-ups are simply not the ‘norm’ in any part of the country. So why was it portrayed like this and given such prominence? If it was intended to be something that we can celebrate, that two people with different colour skin and different cultural heritages can live harmoniously together, then it deserves praise. But what will be disturbing to many people is top-down political manipulation – whether consciously or unthinkingly – at a major sporting event.

who knows whether Dewsbury was made to write this u-turn himself, but it’s interesting to know that someone in authority decided that what was originally there was too much, even for the Mail.

… then … shortly after the redaction was made, the post was pulled altogether and has not resurfaced since.

two girls, one cut

a few months

ago, three year old Hartford resident Eva Cohen (→) allowed her five year old sister, Sadie Cohen, to cut her hair (hwayer). a few weeks later, their father Jeff Cohen, a reporter for Connecticut public radio station WNPR, decided to interview the girls about the experience and how they see it with the help of hindsight.

that interview is embedded below.

i can’t quite express how much i love this.

#faithseeking: petertide

and so

we’ve arrived at Petertide, one of the two times of the year that the church reserves for ordaining those who have been prepared for diaconal and priestly ministry. i’m not sure how many of those from the South West that i have taught are due to be ordained this weekend, although as far as i can tell there are no ordinations happening in Exeter, only Truro. my Manchester people all have at least another year of training.

the PD and i will be at St Paul’s Cathedral today to see our friend James become deacon and then Peterborough Cathedral tomorrow to witness our friend Dom doing the same. for me it’s a time of year that brings my struggles with the C of E into sharp focus: on the one hand, it’s a great festival, the culmination and celebration of the obedience, self-sacrifice and hard work that training for ministry requires. However, on the other, it means another cycle of talented, enthusiastic and inspired disciples of Christ and servants of his Church committing themselves to a structure of authority that i continue to find troubling.

this weekend, ordinands in cathedrals up and down the country will solemnly pledge allegiance to the crown and obedience to their bishop, and will confirm their commitment to live ‘within the discipline’ of Issues in Human Sexuality (the Church’s hugely flawed and woefully out of date policy document on sexuality). although the agreement to ‘live within the discipline’ of Issues… is less profound than the other promises to defer to ecclesiastical and royal authority (at least for straight people), it’s actually the one that bothers me the most.

i think it’s the insidious nature of the assent. while i know many priests and deacons who profoundly disagree with Issues…, all of them have made this formal gesture of conformity to its pattern. the way it’s done seems to basically reflect the assumption that if you’re normal (primarily read ‘straight’) then accepting to live out your sexuality in the way the document describes will not be an ‘issue’ for you, and therefore that only those for whom this norm does not compute will encounter a stumbling block. the problem is that in and behind the document all kinds of problematic theological ideas and assumptions lurk, many of which were reaffirmed in the recent and equally risible response to the government consultation on same-sex marriage.

it seems to me that the assent to Issues… goes significantly beyond an agreement not to do certain things, and therefore, i’m always left wondering how effectively priests and deacons can really challenge the Church from the inside to do the much needed work of re-thinking its position on sex, sexuality and gender  if in order to get into the club they have first to agree to be disciplined by the current and shambolic accepted ‘wisdom’. it also seems to me that this is one area in which, given the status quo the laity must minister to and on behalf of the clergy – to call the Church out from under the blanket of shadowy assumptions and theological contortions that make up its ‘stance’ on these issues and into a proper, honest, open and most importantly shared conversation.

anyway, here ends the gloom.

by way of a semi-antidote (santidote) here’s a poem that i like (except for the line about medication):

——————–

Priestly Duties: A Poem by Stewart Henderson

What should a priest be?
All things to all
male, female and genderless

What should a priest be?
Reverent and relaxed
vibrant in youth
assured through the middle years
divine sage when ageing

What should a priest be?
Accessible and incorruptible
abstemious, yet full of celebration
informed but not threateningly so
and far above the passing soufflé of fashion

What should a priest be?
An authority on singleness
Solomon-like on the labyrinth of human sexuality
excellent with young marrieds, old marrieds,
were marrieds, never marrieds, shouldn’t have marrieds,
those who live together, those who live apart,
and those who don’t live anywhere
respectfully mindful of senior citizens and war veterans
familiar with the ravages of arthritis,
osteoporrosis, post natal depression, anorexia,
whooping cough and nits.

What should a priest be?
All round family person,
Counsellor, but not officially because of recent changes in legislation,
teacher, expositor, confessor, entertainer, juggler,
good with children, and possibly sea lions,
empathetic towards pressure groups.

What should a priest be?
On nodding terms with Freud, Jung, St John of The Cross,
The Scott Report, The Rave Culture, The Internet,
The Lottery, BSE and Anthea Turner,
pre modern, fairly modern, postmodern,
and ideally secondary modern
if called to the inner city.

What should a priest be?
Charismatic, if needs must, but quietly so,
evangelical, and thoroughly
meditative, mystical but not New Age
liberal and so open to other voices
traditionalist, reformer and revolutionary
and hopefully not on medication
unless for an old sporting injury.

Note to congregations: If your priest actually fulfils
all of the above, and then enters the pulpit one Sunday
morning wearing nothing but a shower cap, a fez, and declares
“I’m the King and Queen of Venus, and we shall now sing
the next hymn in Latvian, take your partners, please”. –
let it pass – like you and I they too sew
the thin thread of humanity.
Remember Jesus in the Garden
– beside himself.

What does a priest do?
Mostly stays awake at Deanery synods
tries not to annoy the Bishop too much
visits hospices, administers comfort
conducts weddings, christenings,
not necessarily in that order,
takes funerals
consecrates the elderly to the grave
buries children, and babies
feels completely helpless beside
the swaying family of a suicide,
sometimes is murdered at night, alone.

What does a priest do?
Tries to colour in God
uses words to explain miracles
which is like teaching a centipede to sing
but even more difficult.

What does a priest do?
Answers the phone
when sometimes they’d rather not,
occasionally errs and strays into tabloid titillation
prays for Her Majesty’s Government

What does a priest do?
Tends the flock through time, oil and incense
would secretly like each PCC
to commence with a mud pie making contest
sometimes falls asleep when praying
yearns like us for heart rushing deliverance

What does a priest do?
Has rows with their family
wants to inhale Heaven
stares at bluebells
attempts to convey the mad love of God
would like to ice skate with crocodiles,
and hear the roses when they pray

How should a priest live?
How should we live?
As priests, transformed by the Priest
that death prised open
so that he could be our priest
martyred, diaphanous and matchless priest
What should a priest be?
What should a priest do?
How should a priest live?

#RIP: an anniversary worth marking

Image

Tiananmen Square, Beijing – 4th June 1989

#ranthill: gay marriage

there is (probably too) much i could say about the arguments currently being peddled by the conservative lobby of the CofE, but this cartoon speaks to many of them quite nicely:

#gastrognome: indulge gins

we’ve all been away a while

but it’s an especially long while since we had any advice from our demi-resident food critic and general gourmet the #gastrognome.

what better way then, we thought, to both reinvigorate ourselves and welcome the small amount of fine weather that we are currently subject to, than by asking for his thoughts on and tips for the perfect gin and tonic?

be warned, however, he has only recently returned from leading overpriced steak tasting courses in St John’s Wood, Wells, Tunbridge Wells, Primrose Hill, the non-carnivaley bits of Notting Hill, and West Didsbury, and he’s not quite gone back to normal-speak.

anyway, that not withstanding – enjoy. cheers! *chink* (with eye contact)

——————————-

o Route One
Frankly shovel crushed or better-still shaved ice into a crystal tumbler. Introduce an indifferent squeeze of a lemon and four long shards of the former’s peel. Charm the citrused ice with a measure and a drip of G’Vine Nouaison, further grant Fever-Tree Indian tonic water and shallow-whirl three times. Announce it as ‘crafted’.
 
o Route Two
Neither under nor overwhelm the bottom of a china teacup which has been grafted onto the stem of a wine glass with small-cubed ice. Further ingratiate yourself to it with several short cucumber shards and two mill-revolutions of black pepper. Inquire of the proposed enjoyant whether or not (s)he plans to subsequently return to work, and fortify the cup with a volume of Hendricks that stands proportionate to their reply. Finally, congratulate your creation with three-to-four times as much F-T as you granted it gin, stir once and serve with a sprigette of rosemary and modest assurance.
 
o Route Three
Brandishing a bevelled highball, establish it with coarse cubes of fresh-ginger-infused ice. Rebuff the ice with a nip of orange zest then further challenge it with two licks of No.2 Anchor Distilling Company’s “Genevieve” genever. Indubitably and somewhat dispassionately finish it with F-T. Sharply trouble the liquids with a glass rod or vintage, bakelite chopstick and immediately send.
 
[In the event that your local supplier is temporarily unable to provide these gins the following are acceptable as substitutes:
 
– Cadenhead’s Old Raj for G’Vine Nouaison
– Leopold Bros. American Small-Batch for Genevieve
– nothing for Hendricks (if they don’t have it, burn the place down)

——————————-

#telosvision: mad men (and woman)

so, last night

brought along the UK broadcast debut of Mad Men season 5. of course, unless you’re total nobody and don’t even know anything about things, then you’d already downloaded and watched the doublebill a whole few days ago and have been busily acting special and tweeting about how you could, but won’t ‘spoil it’ for ‘everyone’.

well, i am a total nobody so i watched it ‘on broadcast’ with the prols. and i must say, despite the overarching Murdoch-claw of evil, congratulations are due to Sky Atlantic for putting on a good show. whoever’s decision it was to fill the advert breaks with vintage adverts, deserves praise.

given that i’m not (and won’t ever be) a subscriber, but use a generously donated online pass, when it comes to Sky, i don’t have my usual luxury of switching on fifteen minutes late and then skipping the adverts. however, i have to say that last night i was glad of that fact. when they weren’t busy being hideously misogynistic/racist, many old adverts did actually used to be quite charming.

*spoilers ahoy*

ironically, while we were studying the work of real-life 60s advertising agencies, the future of SCDP was looking evermore in doubt. the work space is still an issue, and money is as tight as ever, and the cracks seem very much to be showing. in fact, the overarching tone of the season’s start was fairly sour.

being 1966, the sixties are now swinging. the golden era of style is passing – the blazer that Roger wore to Don’s birthday party was hideous, the women are wearing bubblegum pink and orange and it won’t be too long till we see flared suits (*shudders*).

moreover, the onward march of civil rights is bringing out the racism in everyone, and the film stock now looks overly ‘glossy’ (although that might be more to do with HD than anything else).

and, as for the characters:

Pete still thinks too much of himself, Joan is more fragile than ever now that her matriarchal swagger has become a maternal wobble, Lane is still a vapid bastion of flimsy British cliché, Harry has turned into Dilbert, Peggy is drifting further from her roots and becoming evermore conformed to the ‘bitch at the seniors, dump on the juniors’ norm, and Roger has apparently lost even the modest amounts of class, grace, tact and purpose that he had.

then, of course, there are/is Don and Megan. well, having taken the easy option and dumped Dr Faye, it seems Don has ended up with what he wanted. despite some initial ‘resistance’ – “everyone here is so horrid”/”Zou Bisou” – by the end of the second episode it seemed that, thanks to some firm words and some rapey sex on a dirty carpet, Don had finally broken (in) his mare. presumably now he’ll convince her to  g e t  h e r  t e e t h  d o n e.

and, speaking of rapey sex, Homeland.

so i’m suddenly a bit worried by an apparent conservative undercurrent in what looked like it was going to be a refreshingly non-conservative Fox show. while it seems to be playing fashionably fast and loose with neo-con norms like ‘all terrorists are brown’, ‘all veterans are heros’ and so on (with regard to which we were all on high-alert), have the spectres of implicit misogyny and reinforced ‘family values’ snuck round the back and caught us off guard?

while it’s been a factor since the outset, the last two episodes seem to have placed very strong emphasis on Carrie’s sexual proclivities. despite relying heavily on the ‘married to the job’ and ‘spying + family = doesn’t work’ clichés, there is also seems to be a sense that sex is a particular ‘problem’ for her.

we learnt early on that she had a fling with David which led to the breakdown of his family. then, when in a tight spot, she seemed to make a frankly ridiculous error of judgement involving Saul. then, when discussing relationships with Brody she revealed that she “wasn’t exactly faithful” to her partner when she was in Iraq *wink wink*. and now, since her primary lines of spy inquiry (spyquiry) have been thwarted by damned bureaucracy and something bullshit to do with human rights and evidence, she seems to have decided to turn herself into a honeypot.

history of unfaithfulness/promiscuity, huge lapses of judgement with regard to sex, willingness to use sex as a tool, mental illness *POTENTIAL MISOGYNY ALERT* *REINFORCED CONSERVATIVE SEXUAL ETHIC ALERT*

on a side note, obviously the whole mental illness subplot is something i’m following very closely, and something i will no doubt write about once the season has played out. however, here are some thoughts so far: we don’t know yet exactly what condition Carrie suffers from, although we know that her sister provides her with Clozapine, which her father apparently also takes.

Clozapine is a strong, atypical antipsychotic primarily used in the treatment of schizophrenia, although it is also occasionally used to treat Parkinson’s and, very occasionally, the mania associated with bipolar disorder. i think we can safely rule out Parkinson’s (for Carrie), but it could be either of the other two.

the real inconsistency is that, as a psychiatrist, her sister would know that Clozapine is not at all suitable to be taken on the down-low, given not only its strength, but also a profound risk of damage to white blood cells (which must be monitored with regular blood tests).

these ‘issues’ to one side, here are my hopes for the mental health plot point:

o minimal fetishization (i think this hope is already dead)
o no ‘all mental illness is a savant-like power’
o no ‘just as i’m about to be right everyone finds out i’m mental and ignores me’
o no ‘i don’t need proper treatment, i just need to work’
o no ‘proper treatment means straight-jacket and psych ward’
o no ‘as things go well for me, my illness goes away’

anyway, we’ll see.

#faithseeking: lady day

Lady Day (something for and from)

[Mary] Joe … we need to talk. The thing is, I just found out that I’m
[Joe] Hush now, don’t explain …

… Just say you’ll remain
I’m glad you’re back, don’t explain.

Quiet, don’t explain;
What is there to gain?
Skip that lipstick,
Don’t explain

You know that I love you,
And what love endures.
All my thoughts are of you,
For I’m so completely yours

Cry to hear folks chatter –
And I know you cheat –
Right or wrong, don’t matter,
When you’re with me, sweet.

Hush now, don’t explain.
You’re my joy and pain.
My life’s yours love;
Don’t explain.

Don’t Explain by Billie Holiday

#telosvision: spring series

recently at RQT

we’ve all been too ill for doing blogs (not literally too weak to type, but too busy either sleeping, coughing, or catching up with essential stuff that we’ve missed through sleeping and coughing).

however, what we have mainly been doing between bouts of sleep and coughcough is watching TV, and in particular keeping eyes on the first wave of spring series.

while there’s some interesting stuff still to come …

o new seasons of Mad Men and Game of Thrones
o Hit and Miss – Chloë Sevigny’s long-awaited transexual-assassin drama
o Smash – all singing, all dancing razzmatazz with Angelica Houston
o not to mention The Voice and the Dallas reboot (glances towards noose-stool combo)

… recent weeks have seen this year’s class off to a decent start in some quarters, and with the premiere of Mad Men season 5 now less than ten days away, it’s probably important to talk about any other shows now before Don-fever engulfs everything.

in terms of comedy, despite the embarrassingly bad  Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy and the failure of BBC Four’s Australian journo-spoof Lowdown to gather any real momentum, we’ve been treated to new seasons of RQT favourites Archer and Eastbound & Down as well as the continuation of Parks and Recreation season 4 and the conclusion of season 2 of Portlandia.

alongside these established laugh-couriers, we have also been tickled by strong debuts from New Girl and the animated Napoleon Dynamite series.

drama, however, has mostly been “where it’s at”.

while there have been some good pickings round the edges – like the fact that BBC Four decided, off the back of their Italian season, to show the whole first series of Inspector Montalbano (which, despite hideous production value, brings the exploits of Andrea Camilleri’s phlegmatic Sicilian to life remarkably well) – it’s mostly been about the arrival on these shores of two new American heavyweights.

Channel 4 landed Homeland, Showtime’s slow-ish-burning security services thriller starring Claire ‘wherefore art thou’ Danes and Damien ‘i’m doing an impression of Michael Madsen now’ Lewis, whereas Sky Atlantic snapped up the Dustin Hoffmann/Michael Mann horse-racing-themed gangster vehicle Luck.

Homeland

given that it was produced for Fox 21 by Howard Gordon, the obvious comparison was with 24, although i tried hard not to let that put me off. given that we’re currently four episodes deep and so far there have been no explosions and only three shots have been fired (two of which were at a deer), i imagine most 24 fans will have already come to the end of their underworked attention spans.

Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a mid-ranking CIA officer at the centre of what seems to basically be a classic and slightly caricatured character study. [paraphrasing] “I made mistakes that day …” (can you guess which day she means?) *pops blue pills in front of mirror* “… I won’t let that happen again” [subtext] “I’m strong, but fragile. I have a flawed past, but also moral courage. I might be a bit mental, but just because I’m paranoid it doesn’t mean that Damien Lewis isn’t out to get us all”.

she is a workaholic. she doesn’t eat properly or look after herself and her apartment is sort of but not really a mess. because she is in a rush, one of the first things we see her do in the series is hurriedly wash her vagina with a flannel. i don’t remember Jack Bauer doing that.

Lewis plays grizzled Sergeant Nicholas Brody, or ‘Brody’ to everyone (seriously, even his wife), a US Marine (‘oo-rah) who is pulled out of a hole in Afghanistan-Iraq (the two seem to be basically interchangeable) after spending eight years as a POW of war. Brody resurfaces suspiciously soon after we’ve witnessed a flashback of Mathison learning from a then soon-to-be-executed prisoner in an Iraqi jail that an American military captive has been ‘turned’ by Al-Qaeda.

behind the back of terrible-accented boss David (played, oddly, by David Harewood off of ITV’s proto-Gavin-&-Stacey flop, Fat Friends) and to the despair of both her powerful behind-the-scenes-meddler-of-a-mentor, ‘wise jew’ Saul Berenson (played by a man called Mandy) and friend/wingman/tech guy Ray Vecchio from Due South – who, despite his concerns, is “fucking in it now, up to your fucking neck and so is your stupid kid brother” (again paraphrasing – what? i’m not doing ‘research’) – Carrie bugs Brody’s house with cams and mics and looks at him intensely.

occasionally she looks away, then writes things down – things about him, but which could often also apply to her. which is sort of what irony is.

[key plot so far (spoilers)]

Brody has torture scars. when (he thinks) no-one is watching, he sits in the corner. instead of sexing his wife, Jessica, right, first he rapes her, then, another day, he wanks over her. he lies about knowing a known bad man. maybe he killed a fellow captive because the known bad man told him to. he sees known bad man in his dreams/bathroom mirror. daughter-Brody, Dana, is angry that mummy-Brody had sex with best-friend-Brody, Mike, while brody-Brody was off being presumed dead for eight years.

no interviews. OK, interviews.

when and where the hidden cameras can’t see him, Brody sometimes (although certainly not five times a day) does Muslimy stuff, like washing his hands in a bowl, kneeling on a mat and praying toward the east. when he goes for a run, he likes to stare menacingly at Capital Hill. at a party, he shoots a deer. a concubine to the Saudi prince/untrained CIA-assest has a necklace, but then is also dead. then she doesn’t have the necklace. a suspicious inter-racial couple use the proceeds from the sale of the necklace to buy a house under a flight path. time up, no more cameras. pressure.

so far at least, Homeland isn’t amazing, but then so little TV drama is. compared to something like 24 it’s tense, visceral, stripped-down and gritty. however, it is also lays it on too thick in places – the opening credits being a perfect example. still, i really like Danes and Mathison, and Ray Vecchio and i’m belted in for the ride.

talking of rides …

Luck

created by David Milch (Murder One, NYPD Blue, Deadwood), produced and guest-directed by Michael Mann and starring Dustin Hoffmann, mumbling, recent Academy Award nominee Nick Nolte, Michael ‘Dumbledore II’ Gambon, long-standing Mann collaborator and Hollywood-go-to-chump-mobster Dennis Farina and a stuttering Richard Kind, there’s plenty of well known (male) names involved.

Luck is based in the world of Californian horse racing, and focuses on the way in which it is just clean and just dirty enough to be the perfect context within which disgruntled mobster Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein can take revenge on those who let him carry the can when his apartment was found to contain a large consignment of ‘product’; cocaine, which Mike Smythe (Gambon) had stashed there without consent.

following three years of prison time, Bernstein buys Pint of Plain, a promising Irish racehorse using chauffeur and factotum Gus (Farina) as a ‘clean’ proxy, and proposes that his former partners – on whom he wants to take his revenge – invest in a local track and build a casino there.

how these two schemes, and the parallel exploits of Nolte’s horse owner Walter Smith (the guy that thinks of surnames is pretty lazy), prickly track trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), stammering agent Joey Rathburn, novice (‘bug’) rider Leon, washed-up jockey Ronnie (played by real-life Hall of Famer Gary Stevens) and four-strong, degenerate betting syndicate Marcus, Renzo, Jerry and Lonnie (who see a huge payday from a fattened ‘pick six’ in the pilot), are connected, well, that’s the ‘hook’.

there was a decent buzz around Luck since its pilot pre-aired in the States at the end of last year, but i have to say four episodes in and i’m on my way out.

the biggest problem is the uneven tones. on the one hand, the the decision was made to go for a David Simon-like approach to racing slang and gambling concepts, with the first few episodes being packed full of ‘triple bugs’, ‘singling the fourth’ and so on. however, despite (or perhaps because of) this and the potentially complex and twisting meta-plots, the scriptwriters have decided that several of the characters should do large amounts of exposition, usually whilst talking to themselves out loud.

several do this, but Nolte’s Smith is the worse offender. his character is a heavy drinking loner who might just have a little-known horse that can win the Derby. apparently, this combination of characteristics means it makes sense for him to spend 2/3s of his screen-time vocalising his thoughts – either mumbling to himself whilst looking through binoculars as his prize horse trains, or (indulging the only bigger cliché on offer) mumbling to the horse, whilst rubbing it down before or after a workout. you just can’t do the whole ‘corrupt animal sport as metaphor for institutional manipulation’ thing AND do this shit too.

basically, it’s as if some people who know what they’re doing wrote the screenplay, but then Scooby-Doo and Dr Dolittle were asked to make whatever changes they saw fit.

at one point, we’re actually expected to believe that a seasoned gambler (Lonnie) doesn’t know which horse he’s supposed to be cheering for even though (as he’s already pointed out) the board clearly shows how much he’ll pocket if each horse wins, and one of them is a much bigger number than the others.

this undulating terrain composed of a cluster of characters with several (seemingly) loosely related interests, a barrage of horse racing jargon which is obviously supposed to make the whole thing feel ’embedded’ and edgy, but also ridiculous levels of plot exposition and hand-holding (presumably there to make good on a no-viewer-left-behind pledge) has so far made for a very disjointed and largely suspense-less experience.

fans of the back pages who were watching Luck in the run up to Cheltenham might have noted a small amount of reality crossover related to the somewhat murky goings-on at Paul Nicholls’ stables with regard to champion and then Gold Cup favourite Kauto Star’s hushed-up fall in training.

furthermore, it transpired that what punters had been assured was a totally fit and ready to go Kauto Star was pulled up in yesterday’s Gold Cup, less than half way round the course. i suspect the closed nature of the sport, the very reason it suits a story like the one told in Luck, will mean the truth about exactly what happened and how will be very unlikely to emerge. however, the parallels between reality and fiction did not end there.

on Wednesday, the opening day of the festival at Cheltenham, three horses were badly injured while racing and were euthanised as a result – which (along with two further deaths the next day) have put the ethical spotlight back on steeplechasing in particular and horse racing in general. meanwhile, on the very same day, despite the filming of the second season being underway and a third in the pipeline, HBO announced that, as a result of a (third) horse being injured (and subsequently euthanised) during production, Luck had been cancelled.

the death of two horses during the production of the first season – one early on in 2010 and another towards the end in 2011 – had already meant that season 1 aired without the American Humane Association’s famous “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making” endorsement, and a third, was apparently a step too far for HBO – although the more cynical among us might well point to the surprisingly low viewing numbers that the second half of season 1 posted in the US as the real reason for the cancellation.

so, with Homeland reservedly impressing, but Luck fading fast, what seemed like it might be a tight, two-horse race looks now like it might prove to be something of a let down. whence then the value? well, perhaps, i might steer you towards an outside shot: you might have to run your eyes down the card a fair way, but i’d say, from the first couple of episodes, that NBC’s Awake, starring Jason Issacs, could well be worth the televisual equivalent of a savvy each-way punt.

#cinefile: oscars rundown

can you
believe it’s 365 days since i posted a pre-Oscars blog entry?
well, luckily for us, it’s now not, it’s 0 days.

anyway, here’s how my 2012 predictions look. like:

——————————————————————————————————————————
Noms with a green star deserve to win (of those nominated)
Noms with a blue star will win
Noms with a yellow star offer some value
(outside shot)
 Noms listed in pink should’ve won
(but weren’t nominated)
——————————————————————————————————————————

Picture (by which they mean film)
o The Artist  
o The Descendants
o Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
o The Help
o Hugo
o Midnight in Paris 
o Moneyball
o The Tree of Life
o War Horse
o Drive

Director
o Woody Allen
(Midnight in Paris)
o Michel Hazanvicius
(The Artist) 
o Terrance Malick
(The Tree of Life) 
o Alexander Payne
(The Descendants)
o Martin Scorsese
(Hugo)
o Nicholas Winding Refn
(Drive)

Actress
o Glen Close
(Albert Nobbs)
o Viola Davis
(The Help)
o Rooney Mara
(The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
o Meryl Streep
(?)
o Michelle Williams
(My Week With Marilyn)
o Olivia Coleman
(Tyrannosaur)

Actor
o Demián Bichir
(A Better Life)
o George Clooney
(The Descendants)
o Jean Dujardin
(The Artist)
o Gary Oldman
(Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
o Brad Pitt
(Moneyball)
o Michael Fassbender
(Shame)

Supporting Actor
o Kenneth Branagh
(My Week With Marilyn)
o Jonah Hill
(Moneyball)
o Nick Nolte
(Warrior)
o Christopher Plummer
(Beginners)
o Max von Sydow
(Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Supporting Actress
o Bérénice Bejo
(The Artist)
o Jessica Chastain
(The Help)
o Melissa McCarthy
(Bridesmaids)
o Janet McTeer
(Albert Nobbs)
o Octavia Spencer
(The Help)
o Jessica Chastain
(Take Shelter)

Foreign Language
o A Separation
o Bullhead
o Footnote
o In Darkness
o Monsieur Lazsar
o Norwegian Wood

Animated Feature
o A Cat in Paris
o Chico y Rita
o Kung Fu Panda 2
o Puss In Boots
o Rango

——————————————————————-

As for betting, I’ve highlighted a few options that might offer a punter some value, but the reality is that nowadays the main oscars categories are too sewn-up to be a good betting prospect. here, however, is one tip you might like:

if you’re betting ‘in play’, keep an eye on Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

according to professional punter and gambling legend Neil Channing, these two awards offer an interesting angle. as you will see, if you look, the nominations are pretty similar for both, and on the night they are awarded consecutively. every year, the price of whichever film wins the first award to go on and win the second automatically shortens significantly in the ‘in play’ odds, however only four times out of the last eleven years has the winner of the first taken the second.

therefore, the best bet of the night might well be to swiftly lay the winner of Sound Editing to win Sound Mixing.

well that’s all from me, and here’s wishing you a pleasant Oscars night, who, where and whenever you are.

PS: i am hosting an intimate and sophisticated Oscar soirée tonight on Twitter.
if you feel like dropping by, do so by using the hashtag #RQTOP

bring snacks.
xxxxx

#cinefile: MMMM & the year so far …

so, corn poppers,

once more Oscar’s ceremony draws near, and i’m just about getting round to feeling appropriately underwhelmed. i will offer my usual thoughts on the runners and riders in a separate post, but before we get to that, i wanted to bring you up to speed with the films i’ve seen over the last few weeks that constitute the start of this calendar year.

it’s generally been a good few weeks of cinema, with only a couple of unbelievably bad/borderline racist offerings for me to get my teeth and claws into.

i will begin with a lengthy review of one film, and then run through some briefer opinions concerning others, in no particular order.

so, let’s go (spoilers, as ever, ahoy):

Martha Marcy May Marlene

MMMM (it so should have had the Crash Test Dummies on the soundtrack), or eminemineminem as i like to call it, is a small, artful movie from first-time director Sean Durkin.

i missed the previews, so i paid cold hard cash (well, actually i used one of the free tokens that came with my cinema membership) to see the first screening, at lunchtime three weeks ago yesterday.

just as it started, an old man arrived, sat behind me and proceeded to consume a seemingly endless supply of sandwiches, each drawn, carelessly, from a rustling plastic bag.

however, despite Captain Crinkle’s best attempts to annoy me, i found myself intrigued by this mellow yet compelling drama.

the ems all belong to the same and central character, played brilliantly by Mary-Kate (Trent, let’s not forget Trent) and Ashley’s younger and clearly more talented sister, Elizabeth, and each represents a name that she adopts or is given during the film.

we first meet her running away from someone or thing. she phones her sister, who comes to pick her up ‘somewhere up-State’. from the apparent ‘safety’ of her wealthy sister’s out-of-town (Manhattan) weekend retreat in leafy Connecticut, we learn, through flashbacks, how Martha (her given name) came to be running.

around two years earlier, she had followed a friend into the Catskill Mountains and was there introduced to and joined an ‘alternative community’ lead by ‘Patrick’, a brooding soul played superbly John Hawkes.

when she arrives, Patrick decides she ‘looks more like a Marcy May’, and so thereafter she is. the community has strict rules, strange ways and predictably abusive power-dynamics at its heart. when anyone answers the phone at the community house, if asked, they refer to themselves as Marlene Lewis. and so MMMM she and it is.

painted wide with greens, browns and crisp greys and (rather like Drive, but less successfully) edited to be curt in places and languid elsewhere, in essence, MMMM is a reflection on a woman trapped between two horrors; two realms where she is subject to different kinds of oppression.

in one setting she is forced to relinquish control over her self – it is a profound irony that one of the first things we hear Patrick say is “it’s your body”, a jibe directed at someone who has been ignoring his advice about the dangers of smoking.

the community indulges the ‘other’ American dream: the one about life without trappings or boundaries. as things progress, we witness not just the kind of closed internal (sexual) oppressions that we might naturally associate with weird ‘cults’, but also shocking, random and apparently cathartic acts of violence towards outsiders.

M’s sister, Lucy, and new husband, however, live a life which is both completely opposite and yet also (Durkin assures us) quite the same. returning to the mahogany and brushed steel ‘reality’ of her high-flying sister’s large lakeside bolt-hole, M flounders. what they see as her pathological weirdness and lack of regard for the mores of polite, middle class society, annoy buttoned-down, über-Manhattanite brother-in-law, Ted – “people can’t just do as they please, it’s against the rules” – and cause neurotic, would-be control-freak Lucy to despair.

Lucy and Ted are the epitome of the oppressive socialisation from which Patrick’s no-less middle-class community offers ‘liberation’. the evils of one are both the cause and result of the evils of the other – they are what René Girard might call mimetic twins.

Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson (Deadwood, Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip) is at once Patrick’s antipode – dependable, wholesome, sensible, married, wealthy, all-American – and yet also stiflingly and joy-crushingly conformist, fearful, self-obsessed, materialistic, all-American. Patrick is a radical, a sexual deviant, an abuser; a weak man – part Charles Manson, part Cinque Mtume. but, also part John the Baptist, he is authoritative and magnetic to those he leads and to whom he teaches ‘freedom’ and simplicity of life.

Hawkes is rough and grizzled; sometimes sage, sometimes wild. Paulson is perfect, porcelain and prim, top lip curled slightly over bottom – scrappy, yet vulnerable.

as we begin to worry that the community might be trying to track her down, M’s mind seems to begin to break. as she descends into what seems like madness, we are left with a conundrum: while there is no doubt that life in the community damaged her and she is better off away from it, there is no escaping the fact that it is the apparently normal world of luxurious Connecticut that finishes her off.

i guess the criticism to which Martha Marcy May Marlene is most vulnerable is that, perhaps, likely out of uncertainty concerning its audience and their powers of perception, it overplays its hand in places. at points, the juxtaposition of the two arenas feels overly crisp, and the ending is perhaps a little too conveniently ambiguous. having said this, i was engrossed by the performances and came out with plenty to ponder.

Shame

i saw a pre-Christmas preview of Shame, but went again in January when it hits the cinemas. given that every reviewer and her dog have written profuse amounts how great it is, you hardly need me to chip in my penny. so, let’s just say it’s great. it is great.

A Dangerous Method

there are few things that can make me feel at ease when preparing to watch a film starring Kiera Knightley, but having the words ‘David Cronenberg’, ‘Viggo Mortensen’, ‘Michael Fassbender’ and ‘Vincent Cassel’ near to her name on the poster is one of them. in short, she is the worst thing in ADM by a furlong, but her flailing efforts fail to ruin what remains a good movie.

besides Knightley, it’s not any of the people involved at their best, but it doesn’t have to be to make for a compelling watch. it offers less of an insight into psychoanalytical concepts than Eyes Wide Shut, but offers a far more interesting reflection on The Great War than (the not great) War Horse (zzzzzzz).

Young Adult

if you (like me) have been happily watching New Girl and (unlike me) have been wondering whether the idea of a thirty something woman who acts like a teenager could be a good premise for a film, here you have your answer. no. apparently Diablo Cody chose to respond to the question of whether she’d be able to do good and different work after Juno, by proving that no,  she wouldn’t. either.

Young Adult is neurotic self-reflection (near M. Night in Lady In The Water territory) stretched thin over a canvas of writers’ block. yuck.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

i hate Tom Hanks. i hate his stupid face and his stupid career, and even despite the fact that his character dies near the start (a would-be cause for celebration), this is a particularly egregious entry into the ‘Hanks bank’. however, there is far more here to loathe than just a single awful man.

one danger in making a film about a real life (mass) disaster is that the need to focus on a small number of people (the ‘human interest’ imperative) can cause you to belittle the scale of the tragedy. another, is that Hollywood norms might cause genuine anger, fear and pathos to be replaced by cheap, bile-inducing melodrama.

i’ve not read JSF’s novel, but Stephen Daldry and Eric Roth’s film not only falls into both these traps, it seems to revel in them. and, what is more, rather like Titanic, ELaIC also chooses the blandest, most annoying and dislikable characters imaginable on which to lay all the emotional, and in this case politico-ideological, baggage.

even in an age of Transformers, it would be difficult to think of a more horrible, American-in-the-worst-kind-of-way, movie. yes, ‘stories’ can be uplifting; children are fragile, have powerful imaginations and charming innocence and can learn valuable life-lessons; everyday details can become bearers of special meaning; we get it. and it’s offensively saccharine.

there is a moment in this plane crash of a movie when an ‘incredibly close’ Hanks follows up the line “if things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding” by mugging straight down the lens ➔

i kid you not, i literally gagged.

it’s hardly worth saying, but the trouble is that in real life we have to battle the paradox that we experience both a crippling dearth and a huge excess of meaning.

neither of these makes every piece of old crap we find when our fathers die part of an elaborate and meaningful game. this film would have been far better if the audience had learned early on that the key this kid was so tenderly brushing on his face (who the fuck does that?) was something his dad had picked up in the street and forgotten to throw away, and if the kid had never learned anything.

i think little of most involved, but genuine shame on John Goodman and Max von Sydow (‘of those to whom much has been given …’ and so on).

i was glad that despite being in the trailer, Where The Streets Have No Name didn’t actually feature, although i can think of no more fitting a forum for it.

Ps. “My dad always said that I was different than everyone else” –  you can’t be ‘different THAN’ something, you physically annoying, stupid-hatted, faltering voiced little moron, you have to be ‘different FROM’ it, and you are only that if the thing in question happens to be good.

Ps. the contents of the deposit box is … Osama Bin Laden.

The Iron Lady

there is no such film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

given that racism persists among the old, and seems to be back in fashion among the young, i guess it was time for a British film to be made starring all our favourite screen crusties aimed at all our favourite normal crusties, designed to meet them and us where we’re at.

all (half)joking aside, apart from the one mentioned above that doesn’t exist and the one mentioned below that sadly does, you’d do well to find a more conservative Brit-flick made in the last twenty years.

although i liked Slumdog Millionaire, i thought Dev Patel was the worst thing in it, and i also think it’s by far his best work. i hated him in Skins, and The Last Airbender spoke for itself. here, seeing his annoyingly cheery face popping up everywhere to reassure, accept money from or run, shoelessly around Dame Judi or Bill Nighy every five seconds, was just horrible.

his (and everything else’s) Indian-ness is turned up to eleven, and it’s all too much for me.

let’s see: India – despite being obviously all noisy and dirty, it’s very colourful isn’t it?! such a vibrant culture, when you get passed it all. also, the food will give you the runs. but once you see, i mean really ‘see’, you will be tremendously enriched. spiritually. it’s basically Eat, Pray, Love for people who liked Calendar Girls. Orientalism and exoticism have rarely been more prominent since Kipling or It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. although …

Black Gold

ignoring the documentary about coffee from a few years back, there are two films currently kicking about called Black Gold. therefore, let us be clear: i mean this one, not the other one. the other one’s got Billy Zane and Mickey Rourke, whereas this one is set in the 1930s.

OK, so once we know what film we’re talking about, we’re good to say that it’s ‘epic’ (in a bad way), dull and overly long (see ‘epic, in a bad way’, and Seven Years in Tibet), politically and aesthetically exoticist (i know everyone’s saying it, but it really does look like the 70s, ‘Full of Eastern Promise’ Turkish Delight advert) and the accents are all crap.

it’s basically The English Patient meets Aladdin narrated by Puss In Boots.

if you want to watch a proper sand-based epic, rent Laurence of Arabia. if you want a brilliant movie about oil, greed and corruption with insightful contemporary resonances, watch There Will Be Blood. if you want turbans and silly voices try Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.

however, i like Mark Strong (is what i repeated to myself on the bus on the way home).

Rampart

co-written by James Ellroy and based on the fallout from the exposures surrounding the LAPD’s anti-gang Rampart Division in the late 90s, the film follows the un-inspiringly named, but quite superbly portrayed Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a vile, vicious, violent and vindictive cop who having learned all of that at the academy, is now, thanks to political shifts, having to deal with becoming an anachronism.

there are few better established Hollywood clichés than the maverick cop – just dirty enough to get the job done – but rather like Training Day, Rampart is about the utter failure of marshall rule. here, however, the tone is quite different to, and the human element is pushed further than in, Fuqua’s (near) masterpiece. how does a violent, criminal cop care for his kids? here we are in territory more usually covered by sprawling dramas like The Wire and (more relevantly) The Shield.

Harrelson puts in a performance that makes you think of his very best work (Natural Born Killers, No Country For Old Men, A Scanner Darkly, Zombieland, Kingpin and NOT EDtv), and is aided by skillful turns from Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver and Anne Heche. what is more, the annoying, stary guy from Alpha Dog and Pandorum proves what he managed in 3:10 to Yuma wasn’t a fluke.

there’s a chance it might not be all it’s being heralded by some to be, but don’t hold that against it.

#tirednewsflash: medicine 101

today,

the lead Tory government has today been subject to intense criticism and continuing contemptuous hatred following new revelations regarding the future of the NHS Direct telephone service.

under new plans drawn up by Health Secretary Angela Lansbury MP, the service is to be quickly allowed to naturally stop being operative very much of its own accord, and then replaced by a different and if not worse system, called Medicine 101.

instead of being staffed by nurses and backed up by doctors, as is the NHS Direct service is currently is, Medicine 101 will employ cheaper phone operators equipped not necessarily with knowledge but with a database allowing them unprecedented access to hundreds of hours of footage from the UK and US’s most popular medical shows.

the first phase of what the Department of Health is calling ‘the 101 working scenario’ is instigated when someone worried about a health issue dials 101 into a telephone, mobile telephone, Skype handset or WiFi enabled scientific calculator. shortly after this, they are connected to the Medicine 101 Hub.

meanwhile, at the Hub, upon on learning of the details of a complaint from a caller, a crypto-highly qualified Medicine 101 Diagnosis and Treatment Delivery Operative will search the database using a certain number of keywords/phrases: e.g. ‘stab’, ‘cancerous’, ‘vacuum seal’, ‘weepy’ or ‘engorged’.

subsequent to entering the appropriate keywords/phrases, the Operative will, as immediately as possible, be then presented with a list of episodes from popular and semi-popular hospital-based dramas, comedies or documentary series in which patients with similar symptoms have featured. they will then be able to access a list of the treatments offered in the various shows, as well as the medical, dramatic or comedic consequences (for both the patient, the wider cast and in terms of the overarching narrative arc).

patients will then be texted or Tweeted any information that could be found in the database relating to their symptoms or condition, any advice on successful treatments thrown-up by the search and detailed information on the source from which the information has been gleaned. e.g. ‘9yr old boy with bleeding ears, ruptured subdural haematoma, long needle to head (Casualty; 16th July ’93, 8:00pm), died. WARNING: sad, parents sad, staff sad. possibly contributed to continued decline of programme.’

“It’s an really ingenious system when you think about it”, design team Paul Robinson-nobbert and his designer half-Scottish son Andrew Robinson-nobbert Jr., both insisted. “there is such a repository of clinical wisdom in these often thoroughly researched and realistic shows which is otherwise mostly being ignored,”

Operatives can already see data from shows as diverse and enjoyble as E.R., Grey’s Anatomy, House, M*A*S*H, Scrubs, Casualty, Jimmy’s, Surgical Spirit, 999, One Born Every Minute, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Only When I Laugh, Doogie Howser M.D., Doctors, Young Doctors, The Flying Doctors and All Creatures Great and Small.

whatismore, the NHS is in personal negotiations with Channel 4 over Sirens, Embarrassing Bodies, No Angels and Green Wing, with ITV over Doc Martin and the UK rights to either Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or a compendium of medical bits from McGyver, and with the BBC over Holby City, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, Rolf’s Animal Hospital, Nurse Jackie and the one with Jo Brand in.

the Shadow(y) H(st)ealth Secret(ary), Andy Burnham was clear that he and his kind are fully opposed to the measure, describing it as “utterly crass and almost certainly not going to improve things.” “It’s such an obvious vote-pandering exercise” he later remarked in the same interview, “some bright spark intern in the Department of Health has decided that people love and trust TV more than real healthcare professionals. I, however, think that that fact is irrelevant, and what is most important is combatting this government’s total lack of regard for working people, the elderly, the Scottish and its obsession with tax cuts for big business.”

when we called, no-one from the Department of Health was available to officially respond to Mr Burnham’s accusations. however, we were told that similar slurs featuring in episodes of The Thick of It, Spitting Image and Yes Prime Minister all proved woefully ineffective.

#tiredgamer: eyes on double fine

if you’re
interested in video games, you need to have your eye on Double Fine Productions.

tbh, this is generally sage advice, but in this instance i specifically mean what they’ve been doing over the last two days.

because … the company responsible for Stacking (no. 6 in my list of last year’s best games), Costume Quest, Brutal Legend, Psychonauts and Iron Brigade, and headed up by the two-thirds of guys who made Monkey Island (Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert), one half of the guys behind Day of the Tentacle (Tim Schafer) and all of the guy who created Grim Fandango (Tim Schafer), announced that it’s going to make a new point-and-click adventure game.

while this in itself s fairly exciting if you’re a geek like me, what is more significant about the story is that they decided to raise the capital needed for the venture through crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter.

not only that, but they offered those who contribute towards the game the chance to be involved in its making. not only will the team be shooting a short, episodic documentary about the making of the game, which will be uploaded for public scrutiny, they will also be inviting feedback from ‘backers’ as to their thoughts on the game’s content and direction.

while this may or may not strike you as totally freaking awesome, the most amazing part of this whole episode in the history of humankind and their video-games is that in the less-than-two-whole-days since the investment page went live, the project has been backed to the tune of $1.3m and counting (for the next month).

Holy Shitbiscuits this could be massive.

so, as i said, big respect to and all eyes on Double Fine.
we’re in, are you?

 

 

#tirednewsflash: giant no-snow drifts hit manchester

and now, the TiredNews up your own area

hello and despite a day and a bit of disappointingly unsubstantial snow over the weekend, Manchester has since then been engulfed by a flurry of its absence.

traffic on the M60 and most inner city roads has this morning been increased to a dangerously steady flow, following yet another night of continued lack of precipitation.

pedestrians have also found it worryingly easy to get about, with Manchester city council having been inundated with complaints about a lack of lubrication on pavements and byways that are currently proving ‘perturbingly grippy’.

local business owners have been bracing themselves for unusually high levels of custom, as more or less everyone who needs or wants to is currently fully able to get out and about.

“Due to demand”, Fallowfield news and snack agent Marcus du Sautoy explained, “we’re basically having to restock shelves as soon as or sometimes before they’ve been totally emptied. At the moment my brother and I are, between us, working 8:30AM to 5:00PM, six days a week and 10:00AM till 4:00PM on Sundays to meet demand.”

South Manchester’s arts and organic crafts scene has been hit especially hard, with as of yet no clear reason why any of this week’s seemingly infinite number of baby-Yoga, Nepalese-grass-dance, smoothee-a-sise or Chinese power writing classes should be cancelled.

the unpredictedable dryness is apparently due to a sudden and profound lack of the conditions necessary for snow in and around the sky overhead. when approached for interview, no-one at Manchester Meteorological University was willing, and mostly seemed rather more confused about the proposition than i would have definitely expected. given things.

one certainty is certain, there is no sure way to know when the freak system will rapidly shift, but in the meantime North West residents are advised to buy fresh food, wear sensibly high-heeled shoes and not to check in on elderly or other potentially grumpy neighbours.

as always at TiredNews™ we are aggressively keen for you to send in your pictures of the no-snow. however, while we welcome shots of clear driveways, what we’re really after is children or animals enjoying the un-Alpine conditions and more pretentious shots involving depth of focus or sunsets. both.

and now, back to the national TiredNews™ studio in Manchester, while from us here in Manchester … that’s HOW for NOW
*borderline racist Native American-esque hand gesture*

giants almost too polite to win super bowl xlvi

well, good morning

and if like me you’re nursing the effects of a night sprawled on the sofa with nothing but a duvet, Super Bowl XLVI and toffee popcorn for company, then a special welcome to you.

despite the fact that i’m even more tired today than usual, as someone who backed the Giants to win a tight game, i feel it was well worth the effort. of course, actual Giants fans have been left in something of a difficult spot. on the one hand their team just won the Super Bowl. on the other, they did it in spite of making what would, if they’d lost, have gone down as one of the biggest tactical errors in the sport’s history.

American Football is a curious game at the best of times, but last two minutes of last night’s game was a particularly good example of its oddities. all over the world there would have been enthusiastic but inexperienced Giants fans jumping about and whooping their tongues out as Ahmad Bradshaw sat down into the end zone to score what became the winning points. i, however, and i’m sure many millions more Giants supporters, was (whisper)shouting at the TV in disbelief. “take the knee, take the kneeeeeeee! why didn’t he take the knee?”

there were two reasons for this: first, i like the phrase “take the knee” – it sits next to “take the fifth” in the list of my favourite American phrases, and arises only in quite specific circumstances. second, it was what the situation had demanded and yet not what Bradshaw seemed able to do or did.

American football is a game of territory, possession and time. moments earlier, Mario Manningham had made one of the best catches in a Super Bowl ever to put the Giants in a great position. there was now just over a minute left on the clock and the Giants had good possession, deep in Patriots territory – it was 2nd down and they were six yards out.

despite trailing at this moment by 17-15, because of the likelihood that their possession would yield at least a three point field goal if not a six-point touchdown, the Giants had (according to the fine minds over at Advanced NFL Stats) a 94% chance of winning.

however, despite their possession and territory, their real advantage in this situation was time. if they could both score a minimum of three points and use up all or almost all of the remaining time, then they were champions.

what happened next was a curious, but not unprecedented piece of tactical shenanigans. Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, ordered their defensive line to allow the Giants to score a touchdown. therefore, as the play began, instead of finding players rushing up to block and tackle, Bradshaw who received the ball from quarterback Eli Manning, found his path to the end zone utterly unguarded.

this was the moment that he should have ‘taken the knee‘, i.e. fallen to one knee in order to finish the play. Belichick had decided that the best chance the Patriots had to win the game was, instead of using up time trying to stop the Giants from scoring a touchdown and then trying to make a block or force an error on their field goal attempt, to let the Giants score straight away, and then try to use the remaining time to get back up the other end and score themselves – a tactic that the Packers head coach Mike Holgren had also used (unsuccessfully) against the Broncos at Super Bowl XXXII.

therefore, as counter-logical as it might seem to American Football novices, the best thing for Bradshaw to do, tactically speaking, was to just fall over, forcing another play and more time to be wasted. watch this clip from 2009 for an example courtesy of Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars:

 
instead, apparently unaware that the situation might arise, he dithered and then sort of sat ungracefully down and over the line for a touchdown. i guess he felt it would have been a bit impolite not to score. despite the fact that the Patriots had initiated the tactical ploy, maybe he didn’t want to be known as the guy who won the Super Bowl by trickery?

although the Giants went from 15-17 down to 21-17 in the lead, their chances of winning the game actually decreased (ANFLS recalculated it at 85%). while they were able to use up a bit of time by attempting a two point (running) conversion, the Patriots were left with 1m 3s to make something happen.

although, fortunately for Bradshaw and the Giants and Giants fans everywhere, the Patriots were not able to make a scoring play, it would have been interesting to see how history would have treated Bradshaw if they had.

after the game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen, who in the run up to the game had sent out emails asking friends and family to pray for her ‘Tommy’, no doubt exponentially increased her popularity in the locker room by sticking up for her husband’s team in their moment of defeat.

 
filmed leaving after the game, she shouted, towards a vocal Giants fan, “They didn’t catch the ball when they were supposed to catch the ball. My husband cannot fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time”.

quite. perhaps the Giants will ask her to tutor Ahmad on the game.

#vidiotic: jesus heals a gay

 

“These are vagina fingering hands now!”

Hallelurious

discover your name

(c/o Brian Butterfield)