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Monday, 28 February 2011

Being Human Is The Greatest Thing On TV Right Now.

We're a good way into the third series of Being Human on BBC Three now and I think it's fair to say that the series has ramped up to masterpiece proportions. We're still getting the same old "stand alone stories", as always; this year, a pissed-up zombie, a not-so-dead-after-all ghost-dad and, not-so stand-alone, an amnesiac phycho-killing vampire, back from the dead (again).

Yep, Herrick is back. Has he lost his memories? Really? Does he have a plan? Judging by his behaviour away from our threesome in Sunday's episode it would seem that he really doesn't know who he is - he's struggling with this insatiable need thirst for blood, struggling to work out what he is. Mitchel seems hell-bent on helping Herrick find his true self, if only to find out the secret of "coming back" - a last ditch attempt to survive, should he fail to dodge the "wolf-shaped bullet" that, it seems, is destined to end his existence.

But who is the wolf? McNair (Robson Green) seemed a prime candidate until recently, when both George and Nina clashed with Mitchel over his maniacal want to do something about 'this Herrick situation'. If you were going to ask me to put money on it, I'd say we're looking at a nasty falling out between Mitchel and George - and it's not going to end well at all. Not well at all, not for anybody. I fear there's a reason we're being given a new cast of characters, very likable characters, in the web-drama Becoming Human - the clue is in the title.

Whatever happens, there's not a lot of time left to put your guess out there. There's so much happening under the surface that this Box Tunnel Twenty debacle may be just a ruse to throw us off a very sad, very bittersweet end to come. But whatever, it's still the best show on television. Watch it, Sundays. Or catch up on iPlayer. Good.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Promise (Channel 4) Last Episode.

Also, just a quick reminder that the last episode of The Promise airs on Channel Four tonight - it's been a great little series.

If you haven't already read my post about this show from a while back, please do so and be sure to read the very interesting, very informative comments section. The DVD comes out at the end of March, too. If you've enjoyed the series then it's a thought, isn't it? It may not be the fairest portrayal of the happenings but it's beautifully shot and Claire Foy is just spectacular in the female lead. I won't be missing it, I hope you won't either.

The Matrix - You Know What I've Noticed?

Of all the "must see movies" there are few that have the same "must see appeal" as The Matrix (1999). It was something special when it came out and remains so, to me. It's not marvelous story-telling, the acting (in the whole part) stinks and the idea, although interesting, isn't anything new - not really.

But it's one of those "cool" movies, especially for film-fans of my generation. Who didn't pretend to do the "bullet dodge" limbo-like swish that Neo does (left)? Or that bit where Trinity does that freezy-spinny-kick-thing - we've all done that too! Haven't we? Or at least tried? No? Hmmm...

Do you know what I've noticed? I get so in to movies that I start to build my day around them - it's a tiny bit sad. But it happens! I bought Enter The Matrix for PS2 yesterday, for 50p. I've been playing it constantly since. And it's a nice little gap-filler between the first and second films. 

Oh, the second movie! Remember that? The Matrix Reloaded. Not just a gimmicky name: The second movie is pretty bad. Indeed, Matrix fans vehemently insist that there was only one Matrix movie. But I don't think that's all that fair. I mean, the second (and third) movie aren't anywhere near as interesting as the first, but there's a hell of a lot of great, exciting scenes. 

And you know what? I'm going to say something controversial now - as a Matrix fan (a huge one): I like the second and third movies, I do! They're brilliant - or at least brilliant-looking. There's not a lot of substance to them, they're wafer-thin, story-wise... 

But there's nothing quite like watching all three, back-to-back. Big, glossy, loud, gun-totin' action. That freeway car chase; it's incredible! Even now! It's pretty special - not very special, but... wow. And  the contrived, wordy, unintelligible "explanations" for just why there were two other movies, when there needn't have been, other than for the bucks. Pretentious sci-fi has never been so exciting. 

Now, please forget I told you that the last two movies were any good at all... I have a reputation to keep. Thanks. You're too bloody kind <3

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Masterchef - Where's Peter Dickson When We Need Him?

What have they done to my show?!! I love Masterchef. It's one of the best "competition shows" on television - or was. It used to be a small, interesting cookery competition with an aim to find the best amateur cooks in the country. There was a sweaty bloke who looked like he'd been drinking and a grocer and sometimes that nice fella off Michel Roux's Service would pop in to judge as well. But now, what have they done?!!

They've turned the show into an X Factor-style sob-story contest. One contestant this week actually said that her inspiration for the mandatory Roast Round was her dead father. 

WHAT? I don't get it... you HAVE to make a Roast, that's what the round is all about... so how is your dead dad an inspiration in any way? I don't want to make light of the fact that he's dead, but he has little to do with the fact that you've been given ingredients and told to cook something as per the rules of the show. 

It's all about the sob-stories - sorry, human interest anecdotes. The same old judges are there, but they've gone all shiny! All snappy sound-bites and swishy camera angles. The cooking has become secondary to the "plot" - there's a wacky American, a weepy housewife, a posh fella, a timid Italian Mum... it's about the characters, not the food. It's been ruined. Fuck off Masterchef-changers. Give us our lovely little show back.

The Rules Of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis

"What does she like, I was thinking. Questions raced through my mind - does she go wild during sex, does she come easily, does she freak out about oral sex, does she mind a guy coming in her mouth? Then I realize I won't go to bed with a girl if she won't do that. I also won't go to bed with a girl if she can't or won't have an orgasm because then, what's the point? If you can't make a girl come then why even bother? That always seemed to me to be like writing questions in a letter."  SEAN.

Bret Easton Ellis is the master of American Fiction, in my opinion. In his few books he has managed to upset, disturb, arouse, entertain and scare me in equal measure. And each emotion his writing provokes in you makes you ashamed to be feeling that particular emotion at that particular piece of writing. When I read Ellis' work I feel transported to wherever the book may be happening, often high-end 1980s. The characters chew me up and spit me out, exhausted and feeling dirty. There are few authors who are able to tickle such a feeling from their readers. Chuck Palahniuk is another, though his gritty tales tend to wear their grimy hearts on their sleeve. Ellis manages to paint a picture that makes you want to join in - despite knowing you shouldn't want to at all.

Probably the most unnervingly aspirational work Ellis has penned is The Rules Of Attraction (1987), an 'incisive, controversial and startlingly funny tale of student sex, expectation, desire and frustration on an affluent 1980s New England college campus', but it's so much more than the cover would suggest. 

The three main characters - like most of Ellis' creations - are morally grey. I found myself liking each character for their horrible faults rather than despite them. More than any other author, Ellis manages to make you sympathise - indeed, disturbingly, empathise - with the characters. Is Sean a horrible, womanising prick or a delicate, lost soul struggling to find meaning in his shallow life? Is Lauren as pristine as she makes out or is she kidding us and herself? Can you really believe a thing Paul tells you or is he cruelly ignored, viciously misrepresented and deserving of our pity? And if so, do you want to give it to him? Or any of the others? Are they deserving of anything at all? These questions are almost never answered... It's your call.

I find myself believing and liking Paul over the other characters, though it's "the girl" - with her senseless, doomed infatuation with Sean - that really holds up the mirror to most readers, I would have thought. Although the truth is that we are, all of us, all of them. We all exaggerate, we all try our luck yet believe ourselves to be morally above our actions. We all crave something, something, that we can't quite reach and would stand a better chance of getting hold of if only we knew what it is we wanted.

Don't be put off by the graphic sex, the drugs, the parties. Read each telling as a sad insight into the lives of others - and pretend you don't see yourself, if you want to. I did. For too long. I've read The Rules Of Attraction many times; first, at school aged about 15 or 16, then again in my early twenties - over and over. Now I'm reading it again and it's breathtaking just how "fresh" it feels, even when you know just what's coming. I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

More Episodes Please! Actually, No...

Episodes has finished and it seems to have collected a bit of a cult fan-base. Even some my most trusted friends (when it comes to television) found it unfunny and undramatic - the two things I thought it absolutely wasn't. Episodes is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, although it looks as though it should be. It's not particularly clever or exciting, either. But it has something - I think it's called "heart" but I don't want to say so at the risk of sounding like a wally. It is also over.

It flipped between cringe-comedy, romantic drama and slapstick The Matt Le Blanc show regularly, but tied itself up just nicely in its seventh episode.

As comedy goes, it's not the best we've had lately, but it seems to almost not matter since the characters in this show are - sorry, were - enough to keep me watching. Matt Le Blanc should be seen in this as he is great! The performances from all three stars - Matt, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig - in the last episode of this series were just tonally perfect, capturing brilliantly just the right balance of heartbreaking relationship drama and absurd comic happenings. The "fight scene" is one of the most appealing three minutes of television I've watched this year. It's funny because it's silly, but the passion in both characters' actions are heartbreaking, especially if you've shared either (or both) of their positions within the situation.

Many people want more. They want to see how our trodden-on Brits will manage while promoting a hit show that they hate on the US Networks. They want to see whether everything will be okay between them after the events of episode six. They want to know just where this show can go from here. The answer is anywhere, really - and that's why I hope they don't make any more. Leave this as seven lovely little episodes of funny fish-out-of-water situation comedy and retain the audience its managed to hold so far, including me. This, one day, will be on most people's list of 'forgotten gems', you mark my words!

Nicholas Courtney, RIP

William Nicholas Stone Courtney
- Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart -

16 December 1929  -  22 February 2011
"Five Rounds Rapid..."

Green Wing

It was my Birthday last Sunday (oh, thanks!) and I was lucky enough to get the Green Wing Definitive Box Set on DVD. Every episode of the wonderfully surreal hospital comedy/drama and all the special features that goes with it! For those who have never seen the show, a little about it:

Think an NHS version of Scrubs, or Casualty on Acid. It follows the working day of Surgical Registrar Caroline Todd, the new girl at the fictional East Hampton Hospital, and the other staff that work along side her.

There's Surgeon "Mac" McCartney - Hospital heart-throb, Anesthetist Guy Secretan - he thinks he's the Hospital's heart-throb, HR Manager Joanna Clore - sex-hungry, age-obsessed and sleeping with Consultant Radiologist Alan Statham - Neurotic, stuttering, eternally troubled by Student Radiologist Boyce.

Then there's Junior Doctor Malcolm Dear, Joanna's oft-ignored son - a hopeless, hapless romantic in love with Caroline. And there's Staff Liaison Officer Sue White - a foul-mouthed, Scottish, abrasive sociopath. Along with a whole supporting cast of uniquely odd characters, from the HR office staff to the nurses and many, many others. There isn't a "normal" character in the whole show! And it's one hell of a Great British cast!

I watched twenty-two hours of Green Wing in just two days, so much that I found myself speaking just like Alan Statham sometimes, without even realising I was doing it! It is without question one of the most original, most bizarre programs you will ever see. If you're not a fan of hospital-set shows, fret not - there are no medical storylines at all; the hospital is simply a canvas for the characters to paint their bizarre days over. 

It's often laugh-out-loud stuff, often heartbreaking drama, often curious love-triangle. It's always a pleasure and you never, ever feel short-changed. Not even when you're given the same cliff-hanger (literally) ending for both series - it's a wonderfully welcome nod. I love this show and now I've finished it. I think I'll give it a week or two then start watching it all over again!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Silk (BBC) - It's Missing Something...

Despite a killer, if predictable, cast and a promising online blurb there was something missing from the BBC's new legal drama, Silk. It looks like political-soap-drama Party Animals, feels like it, too and is about as predictable as it is acceptable to be without it being utter shit. 

It was a lacklustre beginning to a series that slipped right under my radar until today, but I think it's the sort of series that needs a week or two to settle in.

Trouble is, it's only a six-part series, so it needs to up its game very soon! It's not the best show I've ever seen, but it's not fair to say it was the worst. I watched it, but with a book in my hands. It's so flat I was able to read a book and follow this show at the same time. Following the life of generically-named Martha Costello, the series is described on the BBC's site as a series about "life at the Bar, the dilemmas and problems that modern day barristers have to face, and what it means to become a Silk", it really is as bland as it sounds. But the wonderful Maxine Peake carries the show and makes you want to keep watching, albeit with just the one eye on the screen.

Also, it seems there's a few little sub-plot irons in the fire that may turn out to be something a little bit more entertaining than the story-of-the-week proper. Maybe these cardboard characters in this cartoon court will grow on me. I'm hoping so, anyway. If you like legal dramas you'll be disappointed. If you like daytime soaps then this may be right up your street.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Promise (Channel 4)

Channel 4 have excelled themselves with their new four-part drama The Promise (Sunday nights). It is utterly beautiful and perfectly written, acted and shot. The series begins with Erica (the fantastic Claire Foy) clearing through the possessions of her dying Grandfather, Len. She discovers a diary among his things chronicling his time in the army, stationed in Palestine in 1945. Erica's best friend, Eliza, has dual-nationality and has to return to Israel in a week's time to complete her national service and has invited Erica over to stay with her and her family for the summer.

As Erica reads through her Grandfather's old diary, his involvement with some of the terrible things that happened at this time come to light - told through flashbacks with 'Demons' star Christian Cooke playing the young Len. 

The parallels between the occurrences in 1945 and those today do not go unnoticed by the intelligent Erica and she sets about retracing Len's footsteps on a personal, emotional mission to find out exactly what happened when he was serving. A supporting cast of "oh it's him from..." actors (including Coupling actor Ben Miles as Eliza's father) bring a heartbreaking and sometimes disturbing journey for 18-year-old Erica right into the homes of those watching. This isn't one for the squeamish. 

The dangerous, hateful environment of post-war Palestine and modern-day, politically-unstable Israel are brought to gorgeous, harrowing life by some of the best-shot scenes I have ever witnessed on television. 

Written by the brilliant Peter Kosminsky, The Promise gets right to the underlying heart of the problems in Israel today - but don't worry if you know nothing whatsoever about the problems there, as all is explained for you, subtly, throughout the series; indeed, explained better  and more fairly than most news reports have managed in recent years. There is a lot to take in, however, so this isn't one to sit down to with a bag of Doritos and a beer. Instead, settle down with a cup of tea and kid-free living room and devour this drama as I have.

I don't remember enjoying a television drama miniseries this much since Paul Abbot's State Of Play many years ago. This is something special, something important and something that everyone should at least take a look at. Rarely is such a delicate subject handled with such care whilst still exposing the bare, decaying bones of the issue. I cannot wait for the DVD release on February 28th. Simply outstanding television.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Shameless - Another Review By Ian B

So the Chatsworth Housing Estate's local brothel has a new, feisty young prostitute, Bonnie. And the brothel's madam, Lillian, has taken her under her wing and become her "mother". There's no adoption involved, though. Bonnie merely changes her surname to Lillian's. Which happens to be Tyler! Geddit?

Meanwhile, Libby, who used to be Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, has become a post woman and hires a carer, Jenny, to look after her elderly mother, Patty, during the day. It soon becomes clear that all is not well. Patty has not got the crossword clues in the paper at all right; she's written "she's" and "drugging" and "me" in the squares, regardless if they fit or not!

The episode progresses, with liberal use of the word "cunt". By a woman, no less! But in the final act, these two strands are played out side-by-side. Lillian goes to see her new "daughter", Bonnie, in her posh apartment, while Jenny, wheels Patty (in her wheelchair) into the woods.

All quite innocent you might think. Except that Jenny, the carer, has tied Patty to her wheelchair, and, back at her apartment, Bonnie is downing Smirnoff like it's water. And true to form, when one character has been drinking, and the other is about to kill, the explanations start to flow.

If you think your life is bad, well it's not as bad as theirs. Probably. You can tell that, because the strains of "Time to Say Goodbye" well up in the background, as they tell their respective tales.

Jenny, the carer was denied a normal girl's life by her father's long illness. When he finally died, her mother became ill, and she was forced to care for her too. She was actually doing Libby a favour by tying her mother to her wheelchair and leaving her to die from exposure. Bonnie's real mother, however, was quite well. Apart from the fact that she'd forced her ten year old daughter into prostitution!

As the editor turns up the volume of "Time to Say Goodbye" Libby turns up and rescues her mother. At the same time, a tearful Bonnie, having downed even more Smirnoff, retreats to her bedroom, tells her new "mother" to go. She edges towards the balcony, and to the final bars of the track, falls back and plummets to the ground.

Shameless, while very watchable, is normally full of drugs, masturbation, teenage sex, repressed sexuality and shoplifting. However, this episode, with the help of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli on vocals, was quite moving and shocking.

The Best On The Telly At The Moment...

It's only February and already 2011 has been a pretty good year for telly. We've had Episodes, Michel Roux's Service, Outcasts (snort), 10 O'Clock Live and so much more! And with new episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood to look forward to (between them, taking us into Autumn) it seems that at least one evening a week will be worth spending slouched in front of the box until almost Christmas!

Tonight, 10 O'Clock Live carries on with its ever-increasing-in-quality run on Channel 4 and the fact that it is gaining momentum with each episode bodes well for a recommission. This is due at least in part to the cruel talents of satirist Charlie Brooker, who co-presents with David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr. I've spoken on here about him before, so won't bore you with any more of my hero-worship-disguised-thinly-as-comment.

So, instead, a plea: If you have not been following 'Episodes' on the BBC then please catch up on iPlayer now. There's a link just over there *nods left* and all 6 of the episodes already broadcast are available to watch. You should. And please do so before next week's finale. This is a true gem of a show which has taken me - and critics - by complete surprise! It's charming yet crude; a bittersweet modern-classic. It feels new and fresh and, with Matt Le Blanc (who is great in this, but almost always shit in everything else) on board as a main character, that's quite an achievement! Oh, and don't forget Outcasts - though I couldn't tell you when it's on anymore. Sorry Outcast-Makers. <3

Monday, 14 February 2011

Black Swan

Um... Wow. So, I've got my breath back (which I held for most of the movie) and am just about ready to write my review of Black Swan when something hits me: It's left me completely and utterly speechless, a state I rarely find myself in. I'll do my best to purr through as neat a review as possible, but you will have to forgive me if my words become jumbled and my point lost.

A few myths to burst first, though. This is not - as many have said - an outstanding movie, as movies go. It often plays like a strange sub-budget horror, sometimes like a low-budget drama and sometimes like looking through the window at a dance class. Black Swan has been over-hyped.

No, not "over-hyped", mis-hyped. What's amazing about this film is not the quality of the cinematography (although it is top-notch), or the talent of the actors (although, again, hard to fault) or even the outstanding score that drags every last ounce of nerve from your body without ever letting you know it's doing so. What blew my mind about this film is how it feels.

Black Swan - and indeed Natalie Portman, especially - unnerved me in such a way that I honestly didn't know what I thought of it, even at the end. Even now! I can't tell you it's a marvellous piece of modern film-making; it might be, but I don't know! I have been left breathless. Call this what you will - psychological thriller, study in obsession, lesbian-horn-fest with ballet - one thing it definitely is is dangerous.

None of the characters are very nice people, not even our hero. None of the action takes place quite in "our world", but then again there is nothing supernatural about this movie. 

And the men's chants of "but there are lesbians in it, so it must be worth a look" are also drowned out by the sheer classiness of this picture. What sexual - or, I should say, sensual - scenes there are in this movie feel required and uncomfortable in equal measure - not a bad thing in any way. 

It's not a happy film, although there isn't really a "sadness" to it either. All in all it leaves you feeling - if anything - without any feeling at all. Literally. Unable to process what you've seen, or even move! It is one of the few films I have ever seen that have left me utterly without comment, in a good way. It gets under your skin and drags all of those prickly feelings right to the surface. If you want to know more, watch it. Because it's the only way you'll know what I mean.

I really didn't fancy this movie at all. But I cannot tell you just how special it is. Good? Very. Great? Maybe. Memorable? Definitely. And do you know what? It could be the most interesting piece of cinema I've seen in many years. And one more thing; Ballet is beautiful. Very, very beautiful.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I know, I know. I'm late to the party once again, but who cares when the stuff I end up watching entertains me as much as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World did?! Having never read the "books" at all I threw myself into this movie with little-to-no expectations. And I loved every second of it.

Story-wise, it's not much at all - but that's fine in this case! A heartbroken 22-year-old has to defeat the Seven Evil Exes of the girl of his dreams before he can date her. And that's more or less it. Cue plenty of cringe-worthy behaviour that any of us who have loved someone out of our league will recognise all too well... I especially loved the little exchange between Scott and Ramona as she delivers his package.

And it's a combination of these lovely little moments and utterly astounding visuals that makes the film something a little bit different, a little bit special. On-screen text and comic-book cutaways aren't a new thing, but I have struggled to find a movie that utilises them in such an effective way. It looks like a movie, feels like a video game and sounds like a great album. It also has enough charm and sweetness to keep the most critical of you happy until the end.

This is not least because of the astounding young cast that have been placed together so carefully it hurts. Ellen Wong as Scott's fake-high-school-Chinese-girlfriend, Knives, shines so brightly you wish there was more of her in the movie - and she's already in it a fair amount. Her "annoying little high-school fan-girl" act is perfectly played. Michael Cera as Scott shines also, though deliberately not so brightly. He's the perfect choice for a neat little role. The rest of the cast are wonderful too! I literally cannot find fault with a single performance.

I didn't think I'd really like this movie and I know for a fact there will be some out there who certainly won't. It's one of those films that tricks you into thinking you can turn your brain off - except you can't, because there's so much to notice, so many beautiful little touches that take the audience right out of their seat and into Scott's world, that if you switch your head off you'll miss most of what it wonderful about this film. It's unique in it's smile-factor, for me. Edgar Wright has done a beautiful job of directing action that feels like you're in charge. When you see the movie (or if you already have) then you'll know what I mean. The perfect movie to throw on when there's nothing else to do - and at almost two hours long, it's just long enough to not feel like a throw-away piece of fluff.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Ghost (2010)

An hour and a half into The Ghost (or The Ghost Writer, depending on where you're watching it) I was ready to switch the movie off and move on to something that wasn't such a slow-burner. But I didn't. I'd heard okay things about the film and - just like with books - think it's unfair to give up once you're locked in. I'm so glad I stuck with it.

The film follows Ewan McGregor's character, an unnamed ghost-writer hired to complete the memoirs of controversial ex-UK Prime Minister Adam Lang, who is "hiding away" in his New York retreat after being accused of war crimes. Lang's previous ghost-writer died in a tragic drunken accident and his successor has only 2 weeks to make the changes and complete the book. As the Ghost digs deeper into Lang's past - starting with his early years as an actor when he was at Cambridge - he uncovers a number of discrepancies in the story of Lang's political beginnings. 

So what begins as a very quick way of making an awful lot of money suddenly becomes an obsession that takes the Ghost further out of his depth than he ever thought he could be. Too quickly he discovers that even the most open and telling memoirs have gaping holes within.

It's a slow movie. It's not a race-to-the-finish, but a level and beautifully understated piece of film that some may see as badly acted. There are a few duff performances - not least from Sex And The City star Kim Cattrall (is that an English accent? Or American? South African, maybe?!) - but once you get past those (and you will) then this is a surreal and claustrophobic conspiracy thriller which will have you not only on the edge of your seat but bouncing on it. As the story ticks closer and closer to what seems a routine close the suspense it upped ten-fold and the final ten minutes, where the pieces fall into place properly, are some of the most tense scenes I have ever witnessed on film. And as for the last 30 seconds: I yelled "no!" at my TV.

The Ghost is far from a perfect movie, but on a drizzly Monday afternoon it has not only held my attention but left me with a big grin on my face as well. McGregor is great as the anonymous "hero" and Brosnan oozes smarmy charisma as the not-at-all-meant-to-be-Tony-Blair ex-PM. A proper old-fashioned suspense movie, see this if you can.

Getting In Touch With My Feminine Side (Reluctantly)

I've postponed this day for long enough. I've avoided watching Mamma Mia on principle, but I've been coerced into doing so tonight. So I'm about to delve into a flashy, sunny world of singing movie stars and ABBA songs. Everyone says it's good - and a drunken Aunt has managed to make me sit down with it.

I also have a horrible feeling that I'll like it, which doesn't bode well at all considering I've dodged anything to do with this movie as if it were carrying a terrible disease! But I've cracked, I've given up. IF I like it, then I'll add to this post and tell you all how I plan to end my life out of shame... If not, I'll complete this post with a ruthless slating of the world's favourite puff-piece. Only time will tell... I'll go now, watch it and report back, below, in a while...

[watches movie] Right, well it seems like I will be dying of an overdose of FEEL GOOD! That was one of the most annoying experiences of my life: It is literally impossible to not like Mamma Mia. I wish I could say otherwise but this is clearly one of those films that will cheer up even the drizzliest of days. I sang, hummed, tapped and clicked my way through every infuriatingly familiar song. It seems that giving in to this really was the right thing to do...

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Casualty - Guest Review By Ian B!

Casualty. It's a soap. Digital Spy has it in its Soaps section. So it must be. But it doesn't feel like a soap. Last Saturday's episode felt like a very good "Play For Today" that the BBC used to make. Carrying on with the soap analogy, it was a bit like that Eastenders episode where Dot Cotton has a half hour long soliloquy or something.

Ruth, the focus of the episode, is a very good doctor. Not the best bedside manner, granted, but she's very good technically. In the last series, she attempted to hang herself. She survived, and after recovering, carried on working a a doctor. As time went on she married a surgeon who turned out to be be gay. After he left her she soldiered on and impressed management, started throwing her weight about, and pissed off colleagues.

But last week, for reasons best known to herself, she decided to take a teenage girl patient into a side room at the hospital, locked the door, and tried to drill into the girl's skull. Not something she'd normally do, but as mentioned above, she's not had a good time lately. Fortunately for the girl, Ruth was sectioned before she could do any unintentional damage.

Now Casualty, being a soap (apparently), normally serves up a its fair share of blood, gore and vomit. Well, it's a medical show. The viewers expect it. They'd complain to OFCOM otherwise. But it's also very good at the human angle of things. It's something it does very well. But tonight it did something I don't remember it doing before.

So, the episode starts with Ruth in the psychiatric assessment centre, having just been sectioned. She's confused, pissed off, and not at all happy. The next day she meets Matthew Kelly trying to delve into her psyche .“Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be sane.” Actually, he's very good at playing her psychiatrist.

Slowly, he gets her to tell him about a patient she treated. One who apparently invented symptoms, took drugs and rat poison, in an attempt to get noticed by Ruth, her doctor. As the counselling goes on Ruth tries to remember more details about the case in question.

Meanwhile, she meets a young pianist who had slashed his wrists. She'd been outside with him for  a cigarette, after he'd asked a member of staff for a light, as they're not allowed lighters or matches, you see. But as the cigarette goes out, the pianist produces a lighter he shouldn't have. She'd previously been given a warning not to get involved with him, but after seeing him “air playing” an imaginary piano in his room, decides to take him to the centre's chapel where there's a real piano.

It turns out he's rather good at the piano thing, and plays some Beethoven. Ruth looks on, and then (obviously!) they have sex on the floor. They're discovered, and afterwards the pianist goes to a room, gathers lots of paper together, wraps himself in a duvet, and sets himself alight with the lighter he's not supposed to have.

The next day Ruth is with her psychiatrist again, and he explains that the pianist, despite being brilliant, couldn't perform in front of an audience. Apart from that one time in front of Ruth. He then asks her to continue to tell him about the case she mentioned earlier. It turns out that the patient who had taken rat poison, and had faked symptoms, in an attempt to get noticed, was all in Ruth's head. It was her!

I realise I've been a bit flippant with some of this review, but seriously it really was an outstanding hour of drama. The direction and writing was excellent. Georgia Taylor, who used to play Toyah Battersby in Coronation Street, was really outstanding. In fact, her acting all along, from the hanging episode (which deserves a whole review in itself) to present has been superb.

You expect Casualty to be its normal self, which is great telly in itself, but then it hits you between the eyes, as it did tonight. It entirely focussed on Ruth and her story, with only a very brief scene back at the hospital. It was quite a brave episode, given it has pretty high ratings. Hopefully the viewing public at large will agree with me, and we'll see more wonderful, special episodes like this.

By Ian Bishop

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Social Network (A Late-To-The-Party Review)

I live online. I spend a good 40% of my day on Twitter, or some other social network. The term "social network" is a broad one. It could mean anything from 'online society' to 'tribe in the jungle'. There's a lot of them out there too, online. We all use them... But it's not all pokes and @'s. There's a story to tell behind the biggest of the social network monsters. And that story - be it completely true or not - has been told. 

David Fincher's film The Social Network tells the story behind the roots of Facebook. Focusing on the people who may or may not have had a direct hand in the creation of the online monster it is a classic "trust exercise" movie in the vein of Primer. Only this one is at least part-true.

It's not all straightforward business dealing. In fact, none of it is. Facebook began as a hobby - or a test - and became a billion dollar industry all of its own. Fincher's film tells the story of the people behind it and how their downfall meant very little to them since they'd already made enough money to buy you, me and every other person reading this review ten times over. And I guarantee that when you watch the movie, as you all should because it is an exceptional piece of cinema, you'll be a little more thoughtful about how and why you use social networking sites. This is something of a cautionary tale for us web-dwellers - albeit a well-hidden one. I could write for hours about this movie, but I won't. I won't tell you that the cinematography is some of the best I've ever seen, or that the cast are outstanding - even Justin Timberlake, or that every second of the movie feels like you're waiting for someone to fall over - the type of anticipation you never want to feel, but love to feel when you do. 

It's a truly fascinating and somewhat understated slice of film that offers enough fact to make it interesting and enough fiction to make it exciting. It shows how an idea can become so much more. And how, if handled irresponsibly, that idea can eat us up... I didn't move throughout this film - except to update my Twitter feed (ironic or what?). I'd watch it again tomorrow. A real modern classic. This will be watched in the future as All The President's Men is watched today - a fictionalised slice of modern history. And when a website is considered History, even by a humble blogger like myself, then you really know it's the future.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Service Is Over

If you've been watching the wonderful Michel Roux's Service as avidly as myself then you should know that it's almost over - it's on tonight at 8pm (BBC2) and tomorrow night - then that's it! Tonight sees the trainees serving more well-known guests - Gok Wan, Sophie Ellis-Bexter and Dairmuid Gavin - as they return to London after serving every type of customer thinkable, from snotty toffs to smelly builders. And what a journey it has been! Highs, lows and tantrums - we've seen it all. We've met a bunch of people from all walks of life who have succeeded admirably at making themselves some of the most likeable reality tv contestants (if you could call them that, I wouldn't) that have ever appeared on screen - every single one of them charming and gracious. I've loved every minute of this series and am genuinely sad to see it end. It's been the best thing on TV this year so far.

I think if you were to ask them, though, the trainees would say that they've had a wonderful (if sometimes stressful) experience. Well, guess what? You CAN ask them. is hosting a live web-chat with many of the people we've watched blossom into the sort of service staff we're not used to in this country.  I'm going to do my very best to pop over and say my "hellos" (and maybe apologise for a comment I made on Twitter about a certain trainee, something that was not unpleasant or derogatory, but was never meant to be read by her... who knew she was on Twitter?! I do, now!) and I suggest you should all pop by too. Just click the link above (then follow the very short and harmless registration) at 9pm to ask the guys, to their face (sort of), what the hell they were thinking when they agreed to this and whether they're glad they did! :)

Hopefully, I'll see you there!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Episodes (BBC)

It's a strange old beast, is Episodes. It has a "feel" to it that sets it apart from most other comedies on the box at the moment. It's very funny, pretty interesting and filled to the brim with excellent performances, not least by Matt LeBlanc - but it seems to be slipping below many people's radar. 

Telling the tale of the compromises that need to be made when adapting a smash-hit British TV series for American network television - from the inside (something that many screenwriters have cited as being scarily accurate) -  Episodes stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig as a British screen-writer couple forced to bend over for the yanks. 

Matt LeBlanc plays himself as the new star of the adapted series - replacing Richard Griffiths as the lead in the American version - and really it's Matt's performance that goes a long, long way to making this show so much fun. Stacked storeys high with bad language and sarcastic 'Brits in America' situations, Episodes really bridges the gap between British sit-com and American studio-com in a way that no other show has before - in my opinion. Fusing together the cringe-humour of the likes of The Office and Extras with the glossy laugh-inducers of Friends and Seinfeld, the show makes for often uncomfortable, but never unpleasant viewing.

It takes an episode to kick in properly. The opener is - again, in my opinion - the weakest of the four episodes we've been given so far. But since there's an arc set in place even before the credits roll on episode one (indeed, the ending is more or less laid out for the series in advance, with the rest of the shows taking place in a sort of flashback) there's a real sense of journey to this piece. Even when some of the jokes hit a little lower than Network Telly usually would in the States, or the bad language shocks you into realising you're not watching a glossy laugh-on-cue clone that so many American comedies are these days, the show never feels like "a British sit-com set in America", which it isn't really, anyway. It has gigantic charm and the episodes fly by fast enough to leave you wanting more. For my money, this is well worth digging out if you haven't already seen it.