#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.

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#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?