Tuesday, March 28, 2006

things to do in work when it's dead

My job involves a lot of waiting. This presents a problem: obviously I can't whip out War and Peace and start slogging on through that; neither can I bring myself to read every article in the paper; neither can I play Slime Volleyball. So I have begun a search for internet sites which look informative, but are entertaining.

Top of my list is the dreadfully-designed, yet endlessly amusing, Capalert.com. It's run by nutty American Christians, and claims to provide "objective" reviews of Hollywood films. The trouble is, the folks at Capalert disapprove of practically everything that constitutes a film. Take for example, American Psycho, the first film ever to garner a Zero rating. I can see their point about the sex, cannibalism and chainsaw murdering, but I think objecting to 'two abbreviations of "Christmas" without "Christ"' is probably splitting hairs.

I think my favourite bit is probably the terribly earnest script analysis, with reference to the Bible. For example, on the surely-blameless Calendar Girls, the writer fumes, "There are many "religious" paintings of nudity. With the approval of the church. But God did not put them there. Nor did Jesus. Man did." Quite. Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles gets blasted for showing the "nearly naked" bottoms of transvestites and for suggesting homosexuality might be acceptable. Also, there is the matter of the main characters' living arrangements: "Though Paul and Linda are actually married in real life, Mick and Sue are cohabitating [Hebr. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1-2] and apparently have been for longer than nine years since they have a nine year old son."

Some other gems:

  • Bulworth: "As stomach-turning as the first seventy minutes were, I had to leave when the producers had several pre-teens and early teens frothing at the mouth with hateful vulgar trash language."
  • Crossroads (with Britney Spears): "Many "lesser" examples of sexual nature appear in the movie such as repeated implied intercourse, dressing to maximize the female form and/or skin exposure, camera angle to force the viewer on [clothed] private parts, teens in revealing underwear, dancing in revealing underwear, open mouth kissing, inappropriate touch, sexual innuendo, talk and comments and more." [The detailed analysis also docks it points for "gamming" - could someone please explain what this is, please? Also, "massive tattoos" are an offence to God, apparently...]
  • Death To Smoochy: scores 26 because of "use of "jiggy" before kid's [sic]" and "asking that a man wear thong underwear by a man".
  • Dude, Where's My Car scores 50 (did they not notice the stoner theme?) but is reprimanded for "adult urinating on a house plant twice," "dog smoking dope" and "crude uses of a variation of the name of the planet Uranus". [Oh dear, I am sniggering just reading that. One way ticket to Hell, please...]
  • Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban: "broom riding, repeatedly".

    Anyway, if you think that this is just about sniggering at religious fanatics, you'd be wrong. I'm actually making an important point about the ridiculousness of the Government's Religious Hatred Bill.

    Yeah, and sniggering at the word "Uranus", too.

  • Friday, March 24, 2006

    No, not that Libertine.

    In case you didn't know, Hollywood is a deeply unfair place. Endless commercial tat and second-rate star vehicles pour out - Basic Instinct 2 seems to have the honour of fulfilling both these criteria - and yet fantastic ideas for films kick around for years. Without Being John Malkovich, it's unlikely Charlie Kaufman's other scripts, such as the fantastic Adaptation and the eye-wateringly excellent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, would ever have seen the light of day - and yet the script for it was knocking about for years.

    A similar fate befell The Libertine, the story of legendary 17th century poet, drinker and shagger, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The Stephen Jeffreys play on which the film is based garnered a sheaf of awards when it premiered in the 1990s, and the support of big weird John Malkovich himself, after he played the lead role on stage. But money troubles, and the conflicting schedules of Johnny Depp and Nicole Kidman, the original choice for Elizabeth Barry, delayed the project for nearly a decade.

    FInally, after Malkovich handed over the director's chair to first-timer Laurence Dunmore - they met filming a Eurostar commercial - and everything seemed to be going swimmingly, the British government decided to withdraw tax breaks from UK-based productions. It cut the project's budget by a third overnight, with just a month to go before shooting began.

    Malkovich is able to put a rueful gloss on that period now the film's safely completed, saying, "you have to keep your eye on the prize". But it must have been a struggle, and also peculiarly painful to hand over the lead role to the much-younger Depp. But thank god he soldiered on, because The Libertine is as great as it is uncommercial.

    In some ways, I can understand the mogul's twitchiness at stumping up the cash. Films about poets are usually worthy, but dull - I'm thinking The Hours and Sylvia - all cardigans and teary-eyed scenes in the kitchen. And how many people have even heard of the Earl of Rochester? He didn't produce any major works, preferring instead to drink and shag and dash off the occasional foul-mouthed squib. What he did leave behind is jaw-droppingly obscene, with language that would make Bernard Manning blush, and demonstrates a lively preoccupation with dildos, buggery and sperm. So the film was never going to be a later-period Shakespeare in Love, that was for sure.

    On the other hand, I'm almost glad that Malkovich and Dunmore had to fight so hard for this film to be made: it shows. From Depp's magnetic opening soliloquy - "You will not like me" - to his final physical decline, no punches are pulled, no concessions made. The language is, there's no other way of putting it - foul. Within seconds, "cheesy erections" are mentioned, and the c-word appears enough times to make me think that somewhere out there the head of Christian Voice is crying. But it works - all the effing and blinding gives a curiously modern feel to the dialogue, but one that is actually accurate. "The fucking French!" exclaims Malkovich's Charles II, and you think: ha, plus ca change, eh?

    The cast list reads like a dream. There's Johnny Vegas, playing it straight in an absurdly large wig; Rosamund Pike, doing much better than in her Bond outing, rising stage star Kelly Reilly as a tart-without-a-heart, and at least two of the blokes from coupling.

    But if it's anyone's film, it's Johnny Depp's. By god, he's good. He's already one of my favourite actors, and here is the very definition of charisma. I really admire that the man's so eye-wateringly fit, but it really doesn't seem to affect him at all. He's just as compelling at the end of the film, covered up by a noseguard and covered in weeping sores, as he is in full bewigged fineness at the beginning.

    He uses a bit of that drawling English accent I loved in Pirates of the Carribbean, but here makes it aristocratic and weary. John Malkovich even forgets to be John Malkovich for a bit, and gives a solid exasperated Charles II.

    As the film's based on a play, the dialogue is all - but being a film has allowed the makers to lard it with close-ups and small gestures, intensifying the feeling of a psychological portrait. Rochester might have started the film by proclaiming that you won't like him, but I defy you not to, even as he drives his friends away and pisses his (considerable) talent against the wall.

    The look of the film is fascinating too. Time Out praised its 'fogbound, piss-stained visuals' and that's a pretty good summation. Everyone seems to spend their time getting out of coaches into knee-deep mud, and you really get the sense that everything, and everyone, stinks. There's a particularly repellent bit near the end where Rochester's wife (Pike) embraces him about a minute after you've watched him piss himself. You get the feeling this might have been par for the course in Stuart England, and it certainly explains why the verse is so relentlessly obsessed with bodily functions - they weren't hidden away in a haze of air freshener and Cillit Bang, they were right there on your shoe. Kelly Reilly, as the poet's prostitute lover, is actually smeared in mud.

    Criticisms? Perhaps it is a smidge too long, and I'm not that interested in the subplot of the nice young man who falls in with Rochester's motley crew and comes to a sticky end. The English student in me also felt compelled to point out that the play Rochester writes is actually cobbled together from the poem "Signior Dildo" and a closet drama (ie one not intended for performance) which is only attributed to him. I think even the notoriously tolerant Charles II might have drawn the line at having prosthetic phalluses waved around in front of the French ambassador.

    But that's the ultimate in small fry. Do see this film when it comes out on DVD in May... it's superb. And you never know, if it does well, we might get a few more Libertines and a few less Aeon Fluxes. And if you tell your friends you've seen a great film called the Libertine, and they ask if it's about Pete Doherty, give them a slap, will you? From me.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    why i have not posted:

    1. I am ill.

    2. There is a new series of Cracker on my saved programmes channel.

    That is all.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    bad boys, right-wing style.

    I just do not understand my taste in men. Unlike seven out of ten women (as reported in today's Daily Mail), I do consider myself a feminist. And yet all my journalistic idols are either objectionable misogynists, or philanderers. I'm also pretty lefty - and yet again, they are mostly right-wingers.

    I'm thinking particularly of Christopher Hitchens, aka The Hitch, scourge of God-botherers and liberal America, who I was waxing lyrical about a few posts ago (but these categories apply equally to Clarkson and Boris Johnson).

    Now, I know Hitch is in some ways impeccably feminist - he's pro-birth control, and opposed to religions (which largely regard women as second-class citizens). But take this exchange at the Hay On Wye literary festival a few years ago (full transcript here.

    Female audience member: Excuse me. I'm not usually awkward at all but I'm sitting here and we're asked not to smoke. And I don't like being in a room where smoking is going on.

    Hitch: Well you don't have to stay darling, do you? I'm working here and I'm your guest, OK? And this is what I'm like; nobody has to like it.

    See what I mean? Grrr. Nannying Guardian reader that the woman no doubt was, I can't bear that derogatory 'darling' - it's tooth-grindingly awful in its 70s 'little woman'-ness.

    But I think it's more my attraction to rightwingers that bothers me. After all, misogynists can usually be dealt with by pointing out that you're cleverer and more successful than them. My ex-boyfriend, to whom I apologise for writing about yet again, was Very Tory. Ooh, extremely. Some of my best friends are Tories. And yet we argue incessantly about various subjects - from tax to immigration to the public sector.

    I think I've finally figured it out why I like Something of The Right. It's partially because of that hoary old political chestnut that the Left and Right have met in the middle - the Tories are against ID cards, and pretty lukewarm on the war in Iraq, just like me. Labour have presided over a disgraceful expansion of the public sector and several ridiculous laws, such as the outlawing of 'glorification of terrorism', whatever that is, and the absurd Religious Hatred Bill. So ideologically I can't have as much of a problem with Righties as I could have done in the hang 'em and flog 'em look-at-my-red-socks Mrs Thatcher era.

    But it's more than that. It's because deep down I know: Right-wingers have more fun. I first realised this at meetings of the Student Union council at uni. All the pale idealistic lefties were being assidously zealous about top-up fees and the Iraq war at the front, and I was at the back with the Tories, sniggering. And there's more: has the Labour party ever produced an equivalent to Alan Clark? Or even Ken Clarke? Nope. I'll give Charles Clarke points for getting the name right, but that's his lot.

    And that's the secret of these men's attraction for me - it's some awful middle-class (marginally more) intellectual take on the classic Bad Boy, as depicted in ad nauseam in EastEnders etc. It's all about fancying the bad boy in the leather jacket, puffing a fag under the 'No Smoking' sign. Yes, you know he's a bit of a twat, and that he;s probably going to die of lung cancer - but right here, right now, that's sexy. Later he will fall off his motorbike because he doesn't really know how to ride it - but by then it will be too late.

    Clarke and Clark, Clarkson (hold on, I'm beginning to think there is a sinister name-based conspiracy here) and the Hitch all like (or liked) a drink, and all smoke heavily. If Kenneth Clarke weren't so fat, and Alan Clark so dead, I'd probably fancy them.

    Oh dear, why must I be so perverse?

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    putting the fun in funeral.

    I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral
    Can't understand what I mean? You soon will

    Yesterday it drizzled, upsettingly. Funerals should be held on crisp, clear days - autumn for preference - they always are on police dramas. My family didn't help with the gravitas, as they are constitutionally unable to be serious about anything, and especially so on occasions where solemnity is required. The limo was late, and we stood in the front room of my parents' house nervously awaiting its arrival - the first time the four of us children had been in the same room, without our own children and other halves, since my eldest sister went away to university 18 years ago. We were getting jittery, until Dad (whose brother John we were burying) got irritated. "Look, there's two people they can't start the service without - me, and John." That pretty much set the tone.

    The church service was as good as you'd expect, given that the Catholic Church is inherently ridiculous. How I scoffed at last week's A Touch Of Frost, with a Catholic priest who was not either a) mental, b) a repressed homosexual, c) over 80; or the most popular, d) all of the above. Our current Parish priest is David Brent in clerical form. Witness his 'touching' sermon, which made much of the fact my uncle had worked at an overall company, imaginatively called Faithfull Overalls. "It's fitting," he intoned, "that John worked at Faithfull Overalls, because in baptism he wore the overall of the Faithful - the baptismal gown." He smirked at his own pun-tacular ingenuity, like Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward (if marginally less gay) rolled together. "And now, he wears the final 'faithful overall' - the pall." It went on in this vein for another minute and a half, during which time I caught the rolling eyes of all three siblings.

    There are so many things I don't like about funerals. I don't like having the body there for a start, which might seem illogical, but really - you're all trying to achieve closure or just remembering the chap as a decent old stick, but it does prey on your mind that his body is mouldering mere yards from you. I'm all about the quiet internment and the public memorial service, frankly - look at Ronnie Barker's memorial service. Plenty of gags, a few rueful, we-won't-see-his-like-agains, and home for cake and tea.

    And the modern funeral industry is so tacky. At the crematorium, Mum had chosen some tasteful religious music. This was marred by being played on speakers so loud and bass-filled they can only have been designed to cope with dance music, which I'm sure no-one has played at a memorial service. Surely they don't? I mean, Elvis or whatever is bad enough, but who wants their final fiery progress to be effected to No Good (Start The Dance)? Or some banging drum and bass?

    Then there's the mechanical curtain, which squeaks across its rail to hide the coffin and inform you that the alloted 12 minutes are up. And don't even get me started on some of the flower arrangements I saw in the Memorial Garden. My mother has put it on record that if we get her a wreath saying "MOM", she's coming back to haunt us.

    I think the problem is really that I, like many other people, don't do emotion on demand very well, and feel like a fraud if I try to pretend something I don't feel. I felt sad for John when I told my sister he died, and also felt ashamed at her (to me) much more genuinely upset reaction. When my mum told me he was dead, I immediately went into journo all-questions-must-be-answered mode, and didn't come out of it for about fifteen minutes.

    A few moments did touch me, though: of John's few friends (he never married or had children) who gathered at the crematorium, one of the old duffers tipped his hat at the memorial wreath as he walked away, unseen by anybody but me. It was the appropriate farewell to a well-liked friend - not mawkish or demonstrative, and far better for it.

    I held my mother's hand as we drove out of the cemetery, past my brother's grave, and her mother and father's, and I reflected that it could only have been death to tear us all away from life - jobs, and in my elder sister and brother's cases, spouses and young children. And it will probably only be another death that will do so again. Being British, there was only one thing to do - home for tea and cake, and well-worn family stories.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    mea culpa

    Sorry I haven't posted - been a weird, sad and busy two weeks, plus I'm trying to appreciate the dying gasps of my social life before starting the Anti-Social Hours of Death in earnest next week.

    Also, I can't decide what to blog on at the moment - there are a few things that have mildly piqued my interest, but who can get excited about Tessa Jowell's husband? Possibly, judging by the pictures, not even Tessa Jowell. But I am quite tempted to detail how rubbish I am at flirting for you - really, really rubbish. This week I finally engaged the office fittie in book-based conversation, which was going well until I ended up talking about Iain M Banks' Consider Phlebas.

    Now, talking about science fiction is bad enough. But it was as the phrase "there's this island, and they have this chieftain, who eats all the food, and everyone else has to eat poo" came out of my mouth that I remembered why I don't flirt. Then yesterday I tried to rectify the poo-talk mistake and ended up talking about... fonts. Bloody fonts! I'm not even all that interested in fonts, and it's part of my job - why in the name of all that's holy would anyone else care?

    God, it's shameful. I'm afraid it's time for Make Myself More Attractive Plan B: extensive cosmetic surgery. I'm already on a diet (feeling very smug as I eke out my salad and Diet Coke in the canteen at lunch, glaring balefully at the others' lamb meatballs) but I was going to save talking about that to use the Protestant's pun as the title of the post: I Predict A Diet.

    Shame. Deep shame. Right, next week the new world order dawns - no more crap puns, no more flirting, no more half-arsed posts. Only the choicest cuts of tender opinion rump. Actually, add to that list: no more rubbish metaphors, either.


    If you want something that's worth reading, head over to The Christopher Hitchens Web. Right now, I love The Hitch so much it hurts inside. Then I found this anecdote from The Weekly Standard, when the Hitch was trying to get involved in Iraq as an unembedded reporter, and contacted this guy:

    "You can tell how at ease a man is in the world from the scarcity of possessions he lugs around with him. When I came here, it was with large backpacks and overstuffed duffels, extraneous tote bags, pouches, and carry-ons. But Hitchens showed up at my door with nothing more than a firm handshake and a half-smoked pack of Rothman's. As he stood there, rumpled and slightly jetlagged in blue jeans and a black leather jacket, he looked sort of like the Fonz -if the Fonz had been a British former socialist who could pinch large swaths of Auden from memory.

    We plopped down in the living room, and I asked him why he hadn't brought his gas mask, chem suit, and Kevlar. "I wore Kevlar in the Balkans once," he said, "but it made me feel like a counterfeit, so I ditched it." Despite this cavalier disregard for safety, I was so grateful for the company that I offered him a Welcome-To-Kuwait shot of "Listerine" (as it is known by Kuwaiti customs officials). "I don't usually start this early," said Hitchens with feigned reluctance, "but holding yourself to a drinking schedule is always the first sign of alcoholism."

    (Yes, he's knocked Jeremy Clarkson off the top spot on my 'I Wish He Were My Wife' list.)