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Monday, 31 January 2011

Everyone's Favourite Miserable Bastard

He's everyone's favourite miserable bastard - and he's on tv more than ever at the moment. Love him or hate him (or his hair) you cannot deny he is a major part of what TV is now.

He's just begun a 15 week run of 10 O'Clock Live on Channel Four which is getting stronger and stronger week by week (that is to say that episode two was better than episode one... they were both great though!) and now Charlie Brooker can be seen on BBC2,  Tuesdays at 10pm, on 'How TV Ruined Your Life', a programme that sets out to explore the sheer vastness of the gaping chasm between the world we see on TV and so-called "real life". Using a mixture of his trademark 'sofa narration' and sketches, the first instalment (available on iPlayer, here, for a few more days) looked at television's approach to FEAR, be it in drama, or docudrama, or the sensational way the news is made nowadays.

It's a blend of what Charlie does best; witty (and sometimes cruel) observations about television and a frighteningly misanthropic outlook on humanity generally. But we love him for it! Charlie Brooker is the most in-touch face on tv at the moment and a massive hero of mine - although he'd undoubtedly hate me saying so. 

Tomorrow's instalment focuses on The Lifecycle, a look at how TV takes advantage of viewers of different ages "from kids' TV to Countdown". Expect more sarcasm than is really necessary and buckets-full of criticism and wit. As I say, it's what Charlie does best. I have not got a bad word to say about him. Literally.

Michel Roux's Service (BBC)

Every now and then a show pops up on TV that drags me in and refuses to let go, no matter how much I'd like it to. And before I know it I don't want it to let go at all... In fact, I start digging out the repeats; re-watching on iPlayer and counting down the hours until the next episode. Michel Roux's Service is a prime example of just such a show.

Take eight youngsters who have little or no front-of-house experience and give them to Michel Roux Jr and his No1 front-of-house man Fred for a few weeks to train up. The result: a polished team of professional service staff, no doubt. But that's not what's caught me about this series, no. What's caught me is the sheer strength of character that each and every participant has. Unemployed ASBO-child, teen-mum, Uni drop-out; it's a list of contenders that would make even the most passive Daily Mail reader spit their swan across the room - "...And they're handling OUR food, you say? Goodness, Charles, let's eat elsewhere!" You can hear them now! But oh, what's this? All of the trainees on this show go far in blasting open the negative stereotypes we all seem to have in our heads? They're all really likeable and charming? Even the annoying one and that girl with the short hair?! 

Well... Yes. Each and every trainee that Roux Jr has taken time to train would be on my list of people to invite to my New Year's Eve party (that it, unless they were already there, handing out the champers!). So far (and it's pretty far) in the series my favourites are Ashley and Nikita. Two people who I never thought I'd like when I first started watching. In much the same way that Jamie Oliver showed the "naughty kids" staffing his Fifteen  restaurant to be just nice, normal people in his similar "take-some-everyday-youngsters-and-make-them-good-a-thon" some years ago, Michel Roux's Service is about the people, not what they're doing, as such.

If this is your sort of thing - and it's a very popular type of show these days - then you should already be watching; no doubt you are. But if you wouldn't usually tune in to something like this then I urge you, please, on Wednesday, give it a go. These kids are awesome! They're lovely! Some of them are even on Twitter, so how can they be anything but great?! If you've missed the series so far then please, please catch up on iPlayer now, you won't be disappointed! (I don't know! The amount of traffic I send iPlayer's way... I should be on commission!) - And one more thing, a question: Who does Fred the Waiter remind me of?! I've been trying to work this out since the bloody show started!

Becoming More Involved

BBC Three's supernatural comedy/drama 'Being Human' is well and truly back on our screens! Last week Annie was rescued from purgatory by Mitchell (with the help of Lea, played with gusto by Lacey Turner) and this week our favourite monsters helped a young vampire, Adam, come to terms with having to deal with his condition without his "food-supply" dad. We've had some really interesting characters already this series - and we're only two episodes in! - like the Werewolf Family from last week, who I've lovingly nicknamed The Greens. We've also been given the groundwork for a chilling series arc - Mitchell's prophesied end at the hands of a Werewolf, but will it come true? 

One other mystery (and several other great characters) happen away from the BBC Three show, however. Adam's story from this week's Being Human is carried on in the web-series 'Becoming Human' (episode 1 here), 12 minute episodes following the mystery of how Matt Bolton died. 

The characters are teens (again, a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost) who are struggling to come to terms with their own 'supernatural' existence as much as they are struggling to just be a teenager in a Comprehensive School today. The characters are slick and interesting, youthful and fun. They instantly grab your attention - especially the fantastic Adam (the brilliant Craig Roberts), a cheeky and charming 46-year-old vampire condemned to live in the body of a 16-year-old boy. Together, it seems, the three will spend the web-series getting to the bottom of just how poor "Fat Matt" died. Was he killed? Was it an accident? Does it have anything to do with eggs?! If you want to find out more for yourself, go here and catch up on the mystery now!

Wherever the series goes from here, the characters alone should make it a very worthy sacrifice of twelve minutes of your time. So, that's almost an hour and a quarter of Be(com)ing Human that we get to enjoy every week! BBC, you are spoiling us! I love Being Human and Becoming Human looks to be just as much of an experience! I have a horrible feeling I'm about to fall in love with these characters in a big way! Brilliant stuff! But, does this mean we're looking at a Skins-style character revamp (pardon the pun) for series four of the main show? I don't think I could do without my weekly fix of George.

Don't miss Being Human, Sunday Nights, 9pm on BBC Three (catch up on iPlayer now) and Becoming Human online at the link above soon after the parent show airs.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sleepless Nights Are Evil

The only thing better than being able to lie in bed all day long is being able to stay up all night, having fun! That is unless you really want to sleep and can't. I've been dealing this last two weeks with some of the worst insomnia I've ever had. Not only have I not been able to get to sleep very easily, but when I have managed to drop off I find myself waking up about an hour later, completely refreshed and ready to go about my day - usually at 2.30am. Lots of people suffer from lack of sleep - suffer being the operative word here - but it hardly bothers me when I'm going through a stage like this. I wouldn't say I'm suffering, not really. Just getting very, very bored indeed.

There isn't an awful lot to do between the hours of 2am and 5am. I've cleaned my flat so many times that I've started making a mess in the days just to give me something to do later. Occasionally there are some remnants of society still awake - those from overseas, or those who can't sleep either - but nine times out of ten the conversation drops off, turns weird, or they go to bed - it's always fun, but never lasts. So I've found myself writing more and more through the night - fiction, mostly. But the trouble with that is that the stuff I have written, when I read it the following day, is either utter rubbish or so off-the-wall that it simply doesn't fit with what it is I'm trying to create. A simple story about lost love turned into a sordid dream-sequence about "taking control" the other night - two whole chapters of an otherwise well-written (if I may say so myself) and heartfelt, almost-autobiographical story skewed and twisted into a pervy, Dali-esque nightmare! That's two whole chapters I had to delete. 

I've tried snoozing in the days, but cannot. I've tried sleeping tablets and herbal remedies... I was so unhinged the other night that I genuinely considered pissing off Somnus in some way, in the hope he'd send me into an eternal slumber. I'll live - but it's a sort of half-life where I'm never really awake, never really asleep. But one thing keeps me going: the knowledge that at some stage - be it sooner or later - my body will have to sleep. And when it does, it's going to be amazing!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Kara Tointon: Don't Call Me Stupid (BBC Three)

Okay. So there is something that BBC Three does well. Easy-access, celeb-fronted, issues-based documentaries. A few weeks ago I wrote about Jeff Brazier and his brother and the wonderful documentary they made together about cerebral palsy. Now I want to talk about the next offering, Kara Tointon: Don't Call Me Stupid.

The ex-EastEnders beauty was diagnosed as dyslexic aged about six or seven. And since then she's struggled with "conventional" ways of learning to read and write. This documentary follows her as she takes a journey to find other, more effective, ways of getting her head around the words on the page and fulfilling one of her personal goals: Reading Harry Potter. Aided by friends and family - including younger sister, Inbetweeners actress Hannah Tointon (pictured below) and EastEnders co-star Ricky Groves - Kara sets out to confront her dyslexia once and for all. It's a heart-warming and incredibly informative piece of telly.

Seeing Kara outside her EastEnders trappings (I didn't see her on Strictly...) she is far more sensitive and lacking in confidence than you'd imagine she would be. Living for the time being with her family, this show also offers a little look at the methods she uses to learn her scripts for work and the ways in which her family cope with her situation.

If I'm totally honest the only reason I tuned in was because I like both Kara and Hannah, as actresses, and have never really seen either of them interviewed; I was interested to see what they were like when they weren't pretending to be someone else - and they are both very, very beautiful. 

I'm so glad I took the time to watch this show because the message it delivers is an important one: It's not that there's anything wrong with her, as such, just that she has needed to learn to manage words - as all dyslexics do - in a slightly different way to people who don't have it. There is a visit to a special boarding school for dyslexics which has a massive success rate when it comes to teaching their kids to get their heads around the building blocks of language. It offers a specialised and individually tailored set of techniques to improve spelling, arrangement and memory - which, for Kara, is one of the main problems she faces. She can read, but has difficulty retaining what she's absorbed in her short-term memory. 

I won't tell you where/how the doc unfolds, it's well worth a watch. It's up on iPlayer, here. Set yourself an hour aside and give it a go. If you like this sort of thing, or if you just have a spare hour or so kill, I'm sure you'll enjoy this; I was informed, educated and entertained - just what I want from my BBC. It's shocking it's happened on this channel of all of them, though. I feel a bit bad about slagging it off a while back now.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Twitter, The Fashion Show, The Police And UK Film - A Cautionary Tale

We all know Twitter is addictive, that's no secret. We also know that rumour and hearsay spread across it like wildfire. And we know that, at times, this can be dangerous. 

Today London went mental over reports of a brutal shooting on Oxford Street. Nobody knows exactly where it came from originally, but the rumour was passed about so quickly that the police became involved and people began frantically contacting loved ones to warn them of the danger. As it turns out - as far as we know, anyway - there was no shooting. There was no gunman. There was no 'police operation'. Instead numerous other explanations surfaced. Some can be seen as an acceptable misunderstanding, others as sheer irresponsibility, others still as extreme stupidity and a failure to join the dots to form the most basic sequence of events. At first it was thought to be a sick joke, but then the following emerged.

One explanation is that a staffer at an advertising agency tweeted that her fashion team were currently "on a shoot in Oxford Circus" which was sponsored by Diet Coke, among others. It seems she sees herself as responsible for the drama. She's not. The tweet she sent appeared about 10 minutes later than the Oxford Street rumours began... It hasn't stopped the nastier, more reactionary folk on Twitter from sending her messages of abuse blaming her ignorance for the fuss.

Another explanation is that the police were taking part in a "routine training exercise" nearby and that "maybe the rumour originated here", although that also is unlikely, since just half an hour before an official statement from the MET informed the public that there were no official reports of shots fired, nothing to see here!

Yet another explanation is that a rather dim office worker in the surrounding area passed on the contents of an email, received by his company from UK Film stating that "if possible, could staff remain indoors for the next hour or two as there is a team shooting just outside the building - police on site to control crowds" - clearly speaking of a film crew using the area as a location (rumoured to be a music video shoot, now). This was instantly interpreted by the worker as an urgent plea to "save yourselves from a mad gunman"... 

He tweeted immediately that there had been a shooting on Oxford Street and the police were on site to make sure nobody else got hurt! This was subsequently RT'd and shaken up into a bag of nonsense, which was then also RT'd. Each of these explanations were passed about online and have ended up causing much panic and more than a little wasted police time. It is almost amusing in hindsight, but a clear indication that unsubstantiated rumour can cause panic. I'm sure we've not heard the end of this story yet; I'm not convinced there isn't more to the "routine training exercise" the armed police apparently feel the need to carry out on one of London's busiest streets... Secret operation? Probably not. But that's the most exciting explanation. Not that such a situation can tastefully be called "exciting".

One thing's for sure, though: there are no Unicorns shitting Flumps... That one was a joke.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

...Because There's Nothing Really Wrong With Being A Bit Of A Loser, It There?

Television has a very strange view of what it's like to be young in Britain today. It's either drugs and orgies, wild parties and model looks - as seen in the hugely factually inaccurate Skins or miserable council estate going-nowheres with alcoholic parents and a penchant for petty crime - again, largely factually inaccurate and hugely unfair. I can't relate to either group. It seems that TV's representations of young people work hard to make you feel either happy that you're not one of the Gallagher kids or completely left out of the apparently electric social lives of the Skins crowd. And then something happened. Something arrived.

The Inbetweeners. Accurately portraying that little group at school who were far too cool to hang about with the nerds, but not at all cool enough to be popular in their own right. Literally walking in the no-man's land of the education system's social battlefield and taking fire from both sides. Right in the face. And often.

Constantly on the look out for "clunge" (for which read "the love of a good woman") yet never really getting any, the characters in The Inbetweeners are as accurately played as possible - without being uninteresting. I relate to Simon's borderline-stalker-like fascination with Carly. I had a crush just like that all through school... I relate to Will's apparent outsider status. I relate to Jay's constant exaggerations, nothing harmful - just a manifestation of a sensitive soul's deep want for attention and affection. And I relate to Neil's secret successes. I AM all four characters. Or, I should say, all four are a fractured caricature of my high school self, (potential romantic interests need not worry, I've grown up a lot since then).

Okay, so the show itself is so OTT that the things that happen in it, if they happened in real life, would destroy any young male's life. From vomiting over the object of your desire's younger brother, to getting so stressed about exams that you shit yourself during them... I've done neither, but it's the little things that stand out as the EVENTS. The jibes, the asides, the excruciatingly shameful accidents, the experimentation and the absolute know-fuck-all cluelessness when it comes to any aspect of "wooing the fairer sex" - I'm not proud of the fact, but seeing others squirming as much as I used to, even if only in fiction, makes me smile and feel better about myself.

If you've never seen it, please lower yourself and catch up. All three series are available to watch, for free, on SeeSaw. Switch off your brain and switch on your cringe-gland. It's filled with fantastically harrowing performances from Simon Bird (Will), Joe Thomas (Simon), James Buckley (Jay), Blake Harrison (Neil), Greg Davies (Mr Gilbert, head of Sixth) and many more! It's real laugh out loud telly and I rarely actually 'LOL' at comedy.

Ex-Public-Schoolboy Will is the heart of the show; we're retold his experiences of moving to a state comprehensive in linking narrations throughout the episodes - to great effect. Each of the four main leads are essentially good people with no clue. 

Since the episodes are only 22 minutes long (without the ads) you can watch a whole series in one sitting. And believe me, you will. If you like this sort of thing you'll love The Inbetweeners... If you think it's childish and immature, or too crude, you'll secretly love it. And it is crude. This is not one to watch with Granny. Unless she, like my Mum, would laugh at a teenager taking to a school fashion show catwalk in speedos and a top hat, with his testicle poking out the leg-hole... And there's a movie coming out this August, too - so expect even bigger laughs there! Honestly, I've never laughed so much as I do at this show. And I thought I was pretty sophisticated!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Liz Who? The Daily Mail Hits An All-Time Low

Question: Since when did a fashion journalist (no more) have the right or qualification to comment in any reasonable way on important and harrowing news events? Answer: Apparently, since today. Liz Jones' article for the Fail shows not just how sickeningly low the paper will reach for an audience-grabbing story, but just how self absorbed and how much of a completely clueless, pan-faced, toff-wannabe (and ex-wife) Jones really is. 

Considering the subject matter (the awful Jo Yeates murder, not the veggie burger incident) the whole thing reads more like a critical stroll down the high street, dodging plebs as she goes, more than what I assume she was trying (but failing) to write: a touching critique of society and our fickle attitudes to more media-friendly murder victims. A point that is, at the risk of sounding like I'm giving any credit at all to this piece, quite correct. Hundreds of crimes happen every day and it seems that only when a pretty, successful, "lovely" young woman gets brutally killed does the media (and us by proxy) splash their smiling faces across the shelves of WHSmith's. Either that or when a tragic, fallen angel type suffers the same fate.  But that's how the news works. If the media reported every murder with the same blanket coverage as the more "high profile" cases the news would be depressing and awful and we'd all end up crying most of the time - or those of us with a heart anyway. If the "high profile" cases weren't reported at all many wouldn't get solved. 

But maybe I'm being over-analytical. I'm searching for some sort of social commentary within Jones' article. I have a hell of a job on my hands, because there is none. What this is, simply, is a morbid attempt to gain profile and credit by writing about "something important" for a change, instead of the usual drivel Jones pisses out time after time. And she fails. JONES! YOU FAILED! Snooty, look-down-your-horsey-nose-at-the-peasants comments such as the one about the misspelled wine list - as if it matters at all in an article about a real person who was brutally killed by person/s unknown; whose body was dumped in freezing conditions, undiscovered for eight days while her family cried and worried but "already knew inside" that they would never again see their beloved daughter alive - just serve to cheapen the paper you write for (no surprise) and the industry that has to put up with your whiny me-me-me farticles (a crying shame). 

What we have here is a list of things that Jones believes the common folk of Britain see as aspirational. She honestly believes that Yeates' choice of "luxury pizza" (about £4) was a clear sign that she "wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary". I buy quilted toilet paper, does that mean I want to live in a castle? The girl had money, a career; she had a lovely life! A life that was cruelly and inexplicably taken from her far too soon by someone who is out there right now, waiting to be captured. 

And all this article does is take all the loveliness out of that life and portray Jo's last hours as "a sad, sad thing". If only she'd been to a decent, upmarket bar. Her death wouldn't be quite so tragic then, would it? Because dying with a correctly-spelled champagne in her belly would have made it all much more acceptable for her, right Liz? You fucking idiot! To me, the whole thing reads as just as self-centred, unhinged and downright tasteless as some of the comments shat out by bollock-face (pictured) in Johann Hari's excellent interview last week - and, if I'm honest, just as sociopathic. What Jones has done it hijacked an actual news event for her own means. It's a "themed" edition of her usual picky, critical, look-how-faaarhking-upmarket-I-am-daaaarhling, self-back-slapping, olives-and-cocktails bullshit tripe but themed around a murder victim's last-visited shops and bars! I'm all for a bit of a different slant to over-reported stories, as an attempt to shine a light from a different angle, but this is borderline criminal! If nothing else it is incredible exploitative; a well-manicured fiddle finger stuck up to all those who knew Jo, her family, their grief or the horrible, chilling feeling they must get every time they see their daughter's smiling face - stationary - on a front page, knowing full well they'll never see it again in real life. 

I hope Liz Jones feels good about herself. All this furious criticism has got her name out there! No more is she the ex-editor of British Marie Claire, worth-nothing scribbler of fashion and culture pieces that reflects almost nothing of the lives of the normal person. Nope, now she's that one who wrote that shit about that Jo Yeates murder. No doubt she's very proud of herself. I'd want this article taken down immediately if I was her boss. But there you go, Daily Mail for you, isn't it? One thing though, Liz. When even your fellow journalists are calling your article crass and tasteless and downright bizarre, you have to wonder whether it's time to hang up your D&G handbag and fuck off out of the limelight.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Fast And Loose (BBC)

You know what I hate? I hate laughing. I hate anything funny. I despise the idea of being entertained by comedy performers. Especially on a Friday night. I'd much prefer a dull and repetitive rehash of Mock The Week's Scenes We'd Like To See crossed with a banally unchanged rip-off of Who's Line Is It Anyway? - which is lucky, since last night that's exactly what I was given. Imagine my surprise when Fast And Loose landed on my tellybox.

Except for the final game, Side Ways Scenes, in which the participants had to  perform improvised sketches whilst lying on the ground, so that the footage, when shot from above looks funny and unusual, it was poor. But even this is a gag that will get very old very quickly. All in all, the show was largely a pile of liquid shit - presumably this is what the title is describing. And for accuracy there, at least, it gets full marks. I like comedy and enjoy nothing more than laughing like a drain at the best Britain has to offer. And, to be fair to almost everyone who appears on this show - Greg Davies, Marek Larwood, Hugh Dennis... - they're all really talented comedians! So who coerced them into taking part in this steaming excrement?! I cannot state strongly enough just how awful this show really is.

Honestly, it's not good. It's on iPlayer and usually I'd post a link but I can't even bring myself to do that. It's fucking awful! Don't waste your time... Watch some classic We Are Klang instead (Greg Davies, Marek Larwood and Steve Hall's brilliant comedy team) - here's a wonderful live bit from a while back:

Friday, 14 January 2011

Blogging: Naked!

I'm naked. Right now. Tackle out. "On display". Letting the breeze circulate around the ol' twig 'n' berries. Etc, ad infinitum. edrfg£$%$vbhjn < See that? Those of you with more time on your hands, a measuring tape and an Acer 3680 could use that to calculate length and circumference. Most of you would be very surprised if you found out just how often I was sans pants while using the computer. Let me explain why this is.

I've just got out of the bath. I'm all wet and a little bit cold. But it's okay! There's nobody here to see! I live alone. I can get out of the bath and wander about in my birthday suit to my heart's content. I don't even need to close the curtains really, as my living room window looks out at the side of the building next door, my kitchen and bathroom windows have a wonderful view of the vast woodland behind my block and my flat is on the top floor, so the bedroom only has skylights. The most I have to worry about is that bloody cat who keeps appearing on the roof and the screws on the underside of my laptop warming up a little too much.

Also, I'm currently "between jobs" so my days are spent online, or on the phone, searching for employment (at this stage - incidentally - I'll take anything more dignifying than "Oil Rig Bitch"). I have very little need for clothing in my nice warm flat and it is quite liberating to shed the man-made layers for a while. Comfort is everything: I sleep naked most nights, unless I've been made to wear a costume, so not wearing clothes saves me time in the mornings and late at night too! 

Just in case you haven't worked it out already there is little or no point to this blog post at all. Which, again, shines a light on the the more interesting occurrences in my recently devoid days. But if it helps, ladies, I don't look anywhere near as bad as the illustration above of a large man flossing his arse with an Ikea Klemens. And, since I'm freshly bathed, I smell of mint and coconut. Go on, you can have a sniff... We both know you want to!

Thanks for listening.

The Reason I'm Not Going Out On Thursdays!

Lee Mack is a brilliant stand up comedian. He manages to be mucky and charming all at once. And his BBC sitcom, Not Going Out, does much the same. Now on its fourth series and still doing well Not Going Out is as American as a British sitcom will ever get. But despite that, dynamically sound and very, very funny.

I missed the first series entirely when it was shown way back when. I only caught one or two episodes of the second and third series. What I saw, I loved. It's laugh out loud comedy featuring some of the best performances to be seen on tv. So when the fourth series began a week or so ago I decided to not miss a single episode. 

And you'd be surprised how many people love this show yet never seem to talk about it. I'm a comedy nerd and it took me three whole series to "find" it, as it were. Now it seems that the more I mention it the more and more people come forward to praise it. The whole back catalogue is on Youtube, you just need to dig around for it. I urge you to catch up on the last three series if you didn't catch them first time around. 

But don't just take my word for it; believe the hype. The... quiet hype. Well, mention the show to some mates or something, then wait for them to tell you how late to the party you really are. We are both in this together, so don't worry. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

BBC Three's Problems With Balance

It's common knowledge that, since since the channel began, all the best shows have started their life on BBC Three. Torchwood, Gavin & Stacey, Being Human... And it has Family Guy, which is good, and Russell Howard's Good News, which ain't bad either. 

But the price of a) the best of these moving to the main BBC channels and b) there being a severe lack of anything really special replacing them on BBC Three seems to be a deluge of liquid shit, in the form of documentaries nobody really wants to see splashed across the tv page of a family newspaper or repeat after repeat after repeat. Today, for example, programmes begin as always at 7pm, with a repeat of Total Wipeout from last weekend. Then there's a NEW episode of "it's the same every bloody week" make-under show Snog Marry Avoid. Then a repeat of an old episode of the same show. THEN there's a programme called Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents - where they get a bunch of teens, send them off to a sexy holiday destination (Ibiza) famous for its 18 - 30 ways and then ask the parents whether they think their 19 year old son is up to his balls in German Teen.

But after that we get a bit of a break. From the light-hearted fare anyway. Bleak old EastEnders is repeated. Then, two episodes of Family Guy literally out of the Ark, that new ep of Snog Marry Avoid AGAIN (a mere three and a half hours after it was first shown) and then the whole lot is repeated again until they repeat yesterday's offering, Is Oral Sex Safe? at 1.20am (and again three hours later). 

It seems they have literally nothing to show. In just shy of 10 hours of BBC programming (which means WE pay for this shit) we have NINE repeated programmes, four of which are repeats of shows shown less than four hours before on the very same channel. It's a sad sight to behold. Bite-size TV for a presumably docile and uninterested 'Yoof' audience. No staying power, that's our trouble! Give us a documentary about tits and an American cartoon and we're happy - at least until we've taken so much coke, yeah? And drank so much that we, like, don't really sort of, like, remember what's happened in the last four hours, man! So much so that we need to be shown the last four hours again...

I weep for our future.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned...

It's finally happened. I promised myself it never, ever would, but it has. I've finally succumbed to the forces of evil and become a new-media, tech-savvy twat. I bought a mobile phone with a QWERTY keyboard and that was the end of me. Let me explain.

I have always bought newspapers. Ever since I was old enough and interested enough to want to read them, I've paid solid, metal money in real live shops  to actual living people for genuine paper papers. I've bought The Guardian regularly for so long I can't really remember not buying it. I read my parents' tabloids on the weekend and often dish out increasingly large amounts of pennies for any paper with a free CD. But today something awful happened. This morning, I was lying in bed wide awake, thinking of the laziest way to get to the Doctors' to have my blood test (I called my dad for a lift in the end - see? Lazy!) and decided to browse Twitter on my phone to see what's been happening. I looked and saw this fantastic article by Charlie Brooker linked on my time-line. It's great, as always. But then, since I was on the site anyway I carried on reading article after article from today's news on the Guardian Website. 

No big deal, right? Wrong. Because I've just nipped to the shops to buy a paper and some milk. Milk I can't even drink, incidentally, since I'm meant to fast for 12 hours before this bloody blood test! I flicked through the paper, you know, to see if I really want to buy it - which I do everyday, then end up buying it anyway - and realised, to my horror, that I'd read all the news stories already! There wasn't a free CD either, so I left the shop sans paper for the first time in years. 

Now, I don't have anything against internet newspapers, like, they're a wonderful thing in fact! Great for those who don't have the option of buying a paper, for whatever reason, or for the greener among us who don't want to have real paper anymore because it kills monkeys or something... It's just that every article on newspaper websites seems to be peppered with "maybe you'd like to know more about this even though it has nothing to do with the story you're reading" links - big lines of blue text splashed over the page like the diahrreal dribbles of some virtual puppy suffering from "spare rib bone belly". And I've sinned in the titular because I've realised that I do this too - and have done so in this very post. Granted, mine are just links to other pages of relevance and not the prattling biog of some pre-teen soap-starlet who has been recently recast, but I'm still guilty. It's like the news now tells YOU what you should be reading and thinking and berates you for not knowing the background on the key players - sure, it's helpful enough to plop a "who is Gail Porter?" link on your lap to assist, but clicking it means you're a stupid cretin who SHOULD KNOW THIS ALREADY! 

And when they're not telling you what you should know, cretin, they're making sure that what you DO know is coloured to such a clich├ęd and tasteless degree that there is simply no space in your tiny mind to contemplate your own stance on the story. So-called BIG STORIES and BREAKING NEWS are force-fed to us in such a way that the facts are lost in the sensationalist reporting. I don't exactly know WHY Jared Loughner shot countless people, including US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (whose headquarters were showered with flowers and cards wishing her to Rest In Peace, despite her not actually being dead yet) or why Loughner's middle name has sudenly become the third barrel on his smoking gun - because we all know killers have three names, right? (See, there I go again... Thanks Rob). Presumably, the three names thing sells the story as a fantastic and shocking EXCITING WORLD EVENT rather than the real and harrowing tragedy is actually is, and very personally devastating to those actually involved. But that's show-biz! And that's just what the news is nowadays. Showbiz. It's awful. But it's the way things are! The days of fact-based reporting are gone and instead we get a stream of opinion pebble-dashed with "click here's" for this research article and this web source.

Notice how outraged I've been in this post? And notice, too, how little factual information I've given! All the "this is important" stuff is included in link form. It's how ALL journalism works online. Pepper the text with relevant or irrelevant, background-giving info-links and fill in the gaps. This is why I'll never be asked to write for the Guardian newspaper. This is why paper papers are the best form of news. "If you want to know more, do some fucking research, you lazy sod!", they say. "We can't do it ALL for you!" - and quite right too!

And to top it all off, after 12 hours of not eating or drinking anything but bloody air, I went to the Doctors and was told that my blood tests were on THURSDAY! Not MONDAY! Silly me. I really should pay more attention. So, forgive me father, thanks for the lift and everything, but I got it wrong. You'll have to do it again on Thursday.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy" (Books)

I'm notoriously difficult to please when it comes to books. I'll read any old shit, but no matter how good or bad the book is I'm never satisfied with the conclusion - I always imagine a different or more extravagant close. Of the hundreds and hundreds of books I've read throughout my life, no matter how much I loved them, I have felt let down by 90% of the endings...

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy are not only far superior to the "any old shit" I usually read, but all three endings left me satisfied and eager to proceed to the next story. It's just a shame that there was only time for Larsson to complete three great novels before he suffered a massive heart attack which killed him aged just fifty. His plan, apparently, was a saga of ten books.

The existing trilogy kicks off with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (not the original Swedish title, but for this purpose, the title I shall use). It centres around a 50 year old murder case that has never been solved, but which still haunts the successful business-empire family of the victim, Harriet Vanger. Through complex and twisting circumstances, the mystery lands in the lap of shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist and troubled security specialist and secret computer hacker Lisbeth Salander - two of the most interesting and real characters I've ever seen committed to print. 

Spanning the year of the investigation, the book delves into a dark and crooked family with more secrets than even Salander herself, maybe. And it's the characters and the sheer quality of writing that makes this such a wonderfully rich and wholesome affair. It has sex, death, family, morals and mystery - but, most importantly, something relevant to say about all of those. This is more than just a fantastic crime novel. It is a piece of social commentary that forces its reader into dark, dank recesses until it has finished speaking then allows them to reflect... It's not a pleasant story either, dealing as it does with sex crimes against women and children and the lengths some people will go to keep the family name flying high. If you're easily upset or sensitive to such themes, or if you struggle to get your head around foreign place names (these books are set in Sweden, obviously) then try Dan Brown.

The second instalment picks up almost a year after the events of the first novel and to talk too much about plot would spoil the story. I think it's fair to say, though, that Salander is once more the focus of The Girl Who Played With Fire and that this volume deals once more with difficult and sensitive subject matter. This time European Sex Trafficking and the country's (for which read society's) ignorance of one of the most abhorrent yet lucrative criminal businesses.

Once again, the characterisation and writing style make this book completely unputdownable - Larsson is a talent that was lost before it was discovered and it is a real shame that we won't get any more from him. The story this time around is bigger and bolder than that of the first book, but no less believable. On the contrary; this story seems to have jumped from the middle pages of any one of many European papers. It shines a light on a mucky underworld where the "organised crime" is less organised than we currently think - and the personal aspects of the story go lengths to explaining one of the most enigmatic characters in modern literature in Lisbeth Salander. She's the ultimate love/hate figure - her actions are inexcusable on the surface but accepted by the reader as entirely correct on reflection. I have never felt more sympathetic towards a character ever before. If she was real I'd love to know her, but be frightened of doing so at the same time.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is a direct sequel to the second story, picking up literally minutes after the last book ends. I dare not give even the slightest summary since even reading the blurb on the book jacket to this one spoiled the ending of the second book for me. You have been warned. But I can say this. The Millennium Trilogy is not only rare in as much as it keeps you interested and satisfied - with plot and character - until the very last pages of all three books, but gets steadily more exciting and interesting and downright thrilling with each book you read. 

Usually the last book of a trilogy or series is either an OTT "uber-conclusion" to the whole saga, where either everyone dies or they all live happily ever after, or a weak and disappointing anti-climax that leaves room for the author to come back to the characters when the bills start piling up. This series, although it could have gone on for longer - there are enough characters and plot through-lines through all three books for there to be ten different, and equally enjoyable, spin-off series - ties itself up nicely while still leaving you with the feeling that these characters are going about their lives long after you've closed the covers. I literally could not read the last two chapters of the third book for a whole day because I didn't want the stories to end. But end they did. And I smiled. Bitter-sweet, but ultimately satisfying to an extent I did not expect. If you've not read these books, please do so. You won't be disappointed.

Larsson, too, is no Dan Brown. There's very little fabrication in the background research here (I've checked) and every step of the characters' adventures feel as real as popping to the shops for some milk (which they do a lot, surprisingly, through all three stories - I never knew the Swedes drank so much coffee!!). There are Swedish movie adaptations of the three books, too, which are great - but nowhere near as detailed, complex or satisfying as chomping through all 500+ pages of each of the books in a handful of sittings. I got these books for Christmas and finished all three within two weeks. I literally could not put them down. I didn't want them to end. I don't think crime fiction will ever be as enjoyable and gut-wrenchingly unpleasant as this. Fantastic stuff... Massively recommended! It's terrible that we'll never get more. Unless, that is, the unfinished Fourth Manuscript (and the rumoured Fifth and Sixth) of Larsson's planned ten books get posthumously completed by another and published... I'm not holding my breath.

Karl Stig-Erland Larsson
1954 - 2004

Thursday, 6 January 2011


I'm unemployed once more. My contract at my most recent place of employment has ended and 2011 begins, for me, by eating beans from a tin and watching tv in my pants at 5am, scratching myself. But fear not, people. I've applied for a job already! Here is the GENUINE job description from the Jobcentre Plus search machines:

'Do you want to earn money using your natural gift from the comfort of your own home? We require up to 20 psychics to take advantage of our home worker opportunity; you will work on a self employed basis. All we require is that you have a land-line telephone, broadband/internet connection, pc literacy and of course the most important part, natural psychic talent.'

Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has talked themselves up in a job interview. It happens all the time. Of COURSE I know how to use Excel to a very high standard (note to self: swat up on Excel), of COURSE I have an exceptional grasp of Photoshop (note to self: download a "how to do photoshop" PDF from the internet or something), of COURSE I have psychic ability (well, as much as anyone else claiming to have 'the gift' anyway). I saw this advert and thought, I'm pretty good at cold reading and talking bollocks to vulnerable people for money - I should apply! I drafted an email to the fella advertising - a "Psychic Businessman" named Paul B - and almost pressed SEND. 

Then I thought "there's no need to press SEND, on account of Paul being psychic. He'll KNOW I'm about to apply, on account of him being psychic. He should also be able to 'see' my telephone number in his mind and therefore be able to contact ME about the job", on account of him being psychic. I thought, I'll sit here and wait patiently. I may not be the first person of the twenty he will call. But at least he 'knows' I'm interested! I've not heard anything just yet. If I haven't had a call by tomorrow morning, I'll call him. Although, if he couldn't even tell I was interested, using his powers, then maybe I should look for a more competent Psychic Employer.

But, I'm an optimist. And a psychic one at that (Shhh!). So, WHEN I get this job - and I will, I know I will, on account of me being psychic - who wants to be my first customer? I'll even give you a discount if you quote the special offer code below!

Special Discount Code: 8ULLSH17

10 O'Clock Live Trailer!

So, I chatted about it a bit below, as best I could with what limited information we have about this show, but here's the full-length Channel 4 trailer for the show - still no real news on a broadcast date though, I don't think! This trailer makes me so excited - four witty, sharp people with strong opinions tearing the news up. Lovely!

I have a horrible feeling this will be my MAIN source of news for the next few weeks, so if I start mouthing off on Twitter about the decline in chocolate button production in South East Asia you only have Brooker, Mitchell, Carr and Laverne to blame... Hope to chat to you all about what looks to be a great series soon!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Channel Four Is Funny At Ten O'Clock Live!

Election night, 2010. I watched the coverage across all channels, to try to get a fair and unbiased take on the night's events. What I got instead was sidetracked. By Channel Four of all channels - a station that hasn't really been all that interesting or funny since the early '90s. But Four's "Alternative Election Night"was fucking funny! It gave us a collection of the more stomach-able, interesting and hilarious social commentators (or comedians) brought together to offer a more down-to-earth and in-touch-with-the-mood-of-the-nation view on the travesty as it unravelled. And because it was on Channel Four it didn't have to be all fair and unbiased - ironically, the exact thing I was looking for at the time!

I loved it. It was funny, sarcastic and still offered the facts as they were. And luckily for us (or me) it's (sort of) coming back for a full-length, 15 part series! Ten O'Clock Live sees Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell - or Sarky, Grumpy, Sexy and Posho, to give them their "Seven Dwarves" names - back on the box offering killer commentary on current affairs. And you just know that, with a line up like this - and it being shown LIVE (yes, LIVE) - it will undoubtedly pull in a massive cult following from brainy, Leftie comedy fans the internet over - and maybe in the real world too! Brooker is a genius - without question the most exciting journalist (hate that label) in Britain at the moment (and has been for many years). Laverne is clever and sexy and also very funny and she used to be in that band, remember? David Mitchell and Jimmy Carr are comedy royalty and also bloody clever chaps. This is going to be a lot of fun!

I'm not sure, sorry, exactly when this is on - the web seems to think it's on "either Thursday or Friday nights". But it's COMING SOON! And that's all you really need to know. Use your eyes and ears to work out the broadcast time and date for yourselves, as I shall. And when you've watched it, hop back here to talk all about it with me, eh? Thanks. Now, I was going to write a review of 2010's best and worst TV and Other Things... But to be honest, Charlie Brooker's 2010 Wipe cannot be beaten. So click HERE to watch it on BBC iPlayer. Ahthankyooo!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Inception (2010)

Pretend, for a moment, that there was only ever one Matrix movie - the first one. If you're an intelligent Sci-Fi fan who likes their thrillers brainy and just the wrong side of silly, like me, then you probably try to pretend this every day, just to blot out the "Yeeeee-haaaaaw!" pseudo-sequels that turned the whole idea into [any old robots vs. humans story] and took the magic of the first film away. Okay. We're on the same page now. Let me speak about the best head-fuck sci-fi action-fantasy that I've seen since The Matrix. Let me talk about Inception; the big-budget dream-hopping latest from Christopher Nolan (I know, it's old news. But I've just seen it - so there).

Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio (an actor who never seems to get the credit he deserves from "film buffs") as a... what? Dream Thief? He goes into people's dreams and takes ideas, to be sold to those interested in paying enough for the information gathered. The rule goes that your conscious defences are down when you're asleep - and dreaming - although your subconscious may cause trouble for the intruder (or Extractor as they are called). Forget the whys and wherefores - it's not a movie I can relay in words on a website, it'd sound shit... Bottom line is this; the process can work both ways. Ideas can be planted as well as removed. 

And so begins the ultimate dream within a dream adventure. Now, the phrase "and it all takes place in a dream" is usually enough to turn me off a book or movie completely - it's the reason I didn't see this masterpiece of modern cinema on the big screen. I'm a movie snob and thought I knew better than the millions of people who raved and raved about this film. I didn't know better. Inception is the "Radiohead of Sci Fi Action Movies". It takes all the ingredients that should make up a great movie (the dark secrets, the sexy sidekick, the is-he-or-isn't-he-a villain, the over the top and totally unrealistic through-line, the massive action set pieces and state of the art CGI) and weaves them together like a rare carpet spun from golden threads. If you didn't get the cross-world setting of The Matrix, or were annoyed by the gravity-defying fist-fights, go and see something else. I think Happy Feet is on ITV again this week, for the third time since Christmas.

But if you like brainy, ballsy, fast, complex, interesting, thought-provoking and surprisingly touching action sci-fi epics (or you really fancy Ellen Page and want to see her dressed as a sexy secretary, or soaking wet) then I urge you to get hold of this movie, switch the lights off and your brain on, don't drink for 48 hours before hand and devour this movie like the hungry beast you are. It's not far off three hours long but - like in a dream - it leaves you with a muddled understanding of just how long it has been on. I thought it was 1am - it's actually almost 3am. 

"But, it just looks like a Matrix rip off! You began by comparing the two movies, so what's so....?" HUSH! Nope, you're wrong! I was wrong too, because that's what I thought, before I saw it... Forget the fact that Inception needs a dumper truck to carry its ample intelligence about, whereas The Matrix was more "Oooh! He's a bit like Jesus, ain't he?!": less brains and more OTT Religion Lite bollocks (most of which was only introduced in the last two films - which don't exist, right?

Inception does all the cool things The Matrix does, only better. There's no superhuman strength or moving things with your mind, not really. Physics - and the rules of gravity and motion - exist within the dream states in Inception just like they do in the "waking world", but they don't necessarily exist side by side. If you're in a car dreaming and the car tips up, then the dream tips too... Oh, go and watch it. Now. I'm having another go... If only for that last, chilling and cruel ten second shot. Nolan, you TEASE!