5
Nov 04

Grabtastic

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Grabtastic
One can’t really add much to the information on the screen…

News 24 screen grab

Okay, my conscience won’t allow this to go without a little context.

The breaking news strap actually applied to the Palestinian/French denial that Yasser Arafat was clinically dead.

Somewhat serendipitously, this news just happened to come during the middle of Dubya’s first post-election presser and, well, the screen grab tells the rest of the story…

26
Oct 04

Broadcasting legend John Peel dead

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Broadcasting legend John Peel dead
From the BBC Newsroom:
Radio 1 DJ John Peel has died at the age of 65. He was on holiday in Peru with his wife Sheila when he suffered a massive heart attack in a hotel. John had been on Radio 1 since it went on air in 1967. The network’s controller Andy Parfitt said “John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death as are all who work at Radio 1. John’s influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable. He will be hugely missed. ”

19
Oct 04

A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited

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A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited
It’s all gone horribly wrong.

Having spent the end of last week watching Battlestar Galactica: The Mini-series, I was ready to savage both the show and the continuation of Hollywood’s misguided obsession with reinventing the past.

After all, while the original series was never the world’s greatest space opera, it came at a time when American television was relatively uninterested in science fiction. And with years of teatime re-runs, this 70s tale of a rag-tag fugitive fleet on the run from a race of robots hell bent on wiping out the human race gradually worked its way into the hearts of a generation.

So, this reimagination could only ever end in disappointment. And the mini-series duly lived down to all my expectations.

The paper-thin characters devoid of (what else?) character, the clunky dialogue which criminally left the likes of Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) very little to work with, the redesign of the Cylon warriors from clunky (but scary) chrome toasters to standard-issue CG, the token shifty Brit (God bless America), the cynical and gratuitous use of US TV sex (so synthetic it makes the CG look good, so lacking in titillation or narrative value that it’s neither use nor ornament), never mind the issue of Starbuck changing genders to become a woman: I was going to have fun, at least compared to the amount watching the mini-series had given me.

But I made the mistake of holding off the vitriol until after the first episode of Season 1, which got its world premiere on Sky One last night.

Now, we all know how Sky works: it steals the best of the shows from the US then fills out its schedules with a bunch of its own dodgy dramas and documentaries. So, for me, the phrases “big budget US scifi series” and “world premiere on Sky One” are not easy bedfellows. Quality is patently not a watchword for global first runs on Murdoch TV.

But if the rest of the series lives up to the strength of episode one, then I’ve got some apologising to do.

It opened with the revelation that since we last saw Adama and his colonists, the Cylon ships had been attacking for days, precisely every 33 minutes, forcing the human fleet to jump to another location and start the clock again. Everyone was running on empty. Species on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

And by some miracle, the director made it work. It was tense, it was harrowing, it was dark. Indeed the opening 10 minutes of the first episode proper had more human interest and drama than the whole, hackneyed four hours of the warm-up act. Gripping stuff. So much so that the surprise appearance of a Cylon warrior halfway through actually made me jump. Programming that moves you – that’s good TV.

And with a little reinvention of Galactica lore, they could have laid the groundwork for something exciting. In this version of the story, the Cylons were created by humans, and in their bid to wipe them out, the robots have developed the ability to build models that resemble humans – the most notable being a pneumatic blonde, who bedded our shifty Brit scientist in her quest to get at the humans’ defence systems, and now haunts his every waking moment.

But she’s not the only one – there’s a Cylon in Galactica’s crew. A mole, a sleeper – so what else is new? But in revealing this character’s dual identity so early in the proceedings, one can’t help feeling that they’ve a little more in store than the tired old witch-hunt storyline.

And there’s going to be mileage in the relationship that surely must develop between Starbuck (sassy gal, best fighter pilot in the Corps) and Adama’s son Apollo (All-American hero). There was always a love story there, even in 1978, when they were both young men – the two strapping young fighter pilots were always laced with a homoerotic undertone. It’s just a shame that the 21st century producers didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to carry that love through without tampering with Starbuck’s DNA.

So after a shaky start, things are beginning to look good. Let’s just hope they know where to take it.

13
Oct 04

Who Needs Motty?

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Who Needs Motty?
Tonight’s England World Cup qualifier as texted to a friend separated from his TV.

Fine looking bunch of lads, these Azeris. Theme tune’s a bit melodramatic, mind. Says a lot about a nation, its choice of anthem. And this blood, thunder and screaming doesn’t bode well. They’ll sneak a point from a corner in the 89th minute, you mark my words.

We’re one up, Owen after 21 minutes. Nice header from a good Cole cross. The Azeris aren’t lying down, though.

It’s blowing a gale. Ball’s extra bouncy. Electronic hoarding’s advertising Jean-Michel Jarre’s latest masterwork (hope you appreciate this colour – it wouldn’t be a match without the desperate whiff of blatant – yet slightly inappropriate – commercialism. Wouldn’t want you to miss out on the full experience). And Rooney’s been booked. David Beckham is unavailable for comment.

HT 1-0. Time for a pint.

Smith on for Defoe after 54. Azeris have been very close. Find your local store at bargainbooze.co.uk. Keeper tips a Lampard screamer over. Michel Platini’s looking very cold.

Carole Nash car & bike insurance. Some very dodgy reffing going on by the man from Luxembourg. Wrighty’s boy is on for Jenas. Paul Robinson provides match’s best moment by decking a pitch invader. Bit of handbags. Wrighty’s boy’s got his dad’s attitude.

Here’s the 89th. Can the plucky little country pull it out of the bag? Time to hold your breath.

And there’s the whistle.

England 1, Azerbaijan 0.

Not pretty, but job done.

Nasty eastern European banana skin deftly avoided.

We can play out the rest of qualification from the comfort of the United Kingdom.

Germany, here we come.

Famous last words.

29
Sep 04

Jelly telly

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Jelly telly
Answers, if you will, to Three’s latest ad campaign.

You know the one: Japanese urban cowboys find huge jellyfish in scrubland, take it back to the city, give it a drink, do a little bodypopping. Tag line: “We like sharing”.

I assume I’m not alone in asking, “Huh?”.

Maybe it’s one of the most bizarre set-up teasers in advertising history, and it will all become clear in a horrifying piece of commercial cynicism in a week or two.

But I hope not.

As a stand-alone commercial it’s quite inspired. Completely incomprehensible and irrelevant, yet utterly memorable.

I might even forgive them for letting Anna Friel go.

23
Sep 04

Not the FT Top 100 Films*

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Not the FT Top 100 Films*
MARY POPPINS
It’s surely not absurd to say that all of us who love film have one special movie from childhood, capable of cutting through the life-hardened exoskeleton of a jaded adult to release the untainted, raw emotion of the four-year-old.

Mary Poppins is such a film.

In the tale of the Banks family, 17 Cherry Tree Square, and their short time in the care of Mary Poppins are combined all the elements required to make a piece of Disney magic.

A flawless cast. Captivating performances across the board from Jane, Michael, George and Winifred, their servants, neighbours and people met along the way.

Such adventure. Tea parties on the ceiling, jumping through pictures to win the Grand National, creating an unprecedented run on the bank (all for tuppence), and up on the rooftops ‘tween pavement and stars.

Then the songs. Melodies that bond themselves with the soul. Lyrics that tattoo themselves into the psyche. Jolly Holiday, Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious may not offer any great insight into man’s condition, but they burst with joy at their own simple existence.

Little matter that it all takes place in one of the most poorly disguised sound stages in Hollywood’s history.

And at the film’s centre, Mary Poppins herself, with Julie Andrews the very embodiment of the perfect nanny. Enough of a carefree spirit to allow Jane and Michael all the excitement they need, equally ready with suitable discipline when they stray too far across her well-worn line, but not too stern to fail to realise when a soft word will achieve ten times the hard one.

It’s an outstanding performance from Andrews. Maria may have defined her career, but it’s Mary that gave the future dame her first real taste of fame.

In their 25 Most Magical Movie Moments published last year, Empire nominated ‘Feed the Birds’ as the one which best represented Mary Poppins. All well and good if this alien moment of saccharine in an otherwise streetwise movie is to your taste.

But for real fans of the film, surely there can be no moment more beautiful than ‘Stay Awake’ as MP sings her stubborn charges to sleep. Andrews’ enchanting voice casts her in the role of siren as she lures her victims onto the down-stuffed rocks to meet their slumbery fate. There are few things more likely to drive me to tears.

But what would Mary Poppins be without her Bert?

Dick van Dyke’s turn is beyond fault. His much-criticised cockney accent may grate on some, but in the words of Mr Banks, kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts. His charm, his charisma, his stonethecrowswithapplesandpearsguvnor mugging just serve to make the tale all the more intoxicating.

For while Mary and George Banks may lay down the law, Bert is the true moral compass of the film, and the one with whom the viewer can most easily identify: an object of affection and source of constant attention for Mary Poppins, a comforting shoulder for Jane and Michael following their scares in the back streets of the City, some well-judged advice on parenting for the unreconstructed Victorian Dad Mr Banks.

Bert is our mouthpiece, our guide, our friend.

But of course, this film is about the lady. And what a lady.

Yes, there is something sensual, even sexual, about Mary Poppins. Maybe it’s the attraction of a supremely self-confident yet tender woman, but long before the Swedish au pair got her hands on the husbands of Britain, which man could honestly resist the charms of the English nanny with a twinkle in her eye?

Mary Poppins, practically perfectly in every way.

*How could it have been missed?

13
Sep 04

Tea and nymph-athy

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Tea and nymph-athy
Finally weary of sleeping their way around New York, certain members of the Sex and the City alumni have turned their attention to lucrative advertising contracts.

Sarah Jessica Parker (owner of one of the top TLA names in Hollywood, arguably second only to Buffy’s SMG) negotiated her way round a bizarre shower gel cameo to unsurprisingly land herself squarely in The Gap, doubtless bringing in much-needed millions for the Broderick household.

But co-star Kim Cattrall (she with the character of particularly easy virtue) has taken a more, um, adventurous route.

Tea.

Brian Glover must be rolling in his grave.

Formerly the responsibility of quaintly funny cartoon northern cloth-capped men, Tetley’s would now have us believe that their products are literally better than sex (an opinion no one would be surprised to hear DYS’s editor agree with).

The quaintly funny northernness is still there, care of an aunt-figure no-nonsense straight woman, but her purpose is no more than acting as set-up for the star’s next salvo of trademark innuendo.

So who at Tetley’s decided that having SJP’s oversexed sidekick fondle a decidedly phallic tube of tea and make smutty Earl Grey jokes would boost sales? And how much did they have to pay Kim to get her into bed?

Fresh from one of the hottest shows on TV, was the chance to advertise hot drinks in the UK really the best offer she got?

One thing’s clear: both partners in this relationship are desperate. The question is, will anyone still respect them in the morning?

31
Aug 04

Bye bye Bobby

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Bye bye Bobby
“We’re in a dog-fight, so the fight in the dog will get us through – and we’ll fight.” – Sir Bobby Robson

I knew Sir Bobby’s days were numbered on Saturday when he left St Alan of the Gallowgate on the bench for the game against Aston Villa.

Poor, muddle-headed old fella. Didn’t he know his Newcastle United history?

The faithful had seen it all before. Wednesday 25 August 1999. Sunderland v Newcastle United. Magpies’ manager Ruud Gullit, attempting to settle a score with Alan Shearer, leaves the St James’ Park icon out of the first XI for this bitter match against their local rivals. Newcastle lose 2-1 in the pouring rain. Three days later, Gullit is resigned from his post.

Five years and two days on, we’re looking for another new manager.

“What he found out on Wednesday night was that football is chalk and cheese, and it will be the same on Sunday. I don’t know whether it will be chalk or whether it will be cheese.” Bobby on Kieron Dyer.

Things have been going pear-shaped at NUFC for some time. The bad start to the season (two points from four games), the string of poor results that goes back much further, the rows between Bobby and Alan, Bobby and Dyer, Bobby and Robert, Bobby and Bellamy. The bizarre outbreak of conjunctivitis in pre-season. The sale of the club’s only top-flight centre half. The ludicrous chase for Wayne Rooney, a trophy player, sure, but not one who’d stop the leak of goals at the back, something that amounts to a betrayal of our world-class goalkeeper.

And the chubby chairman, Freddy Shepherd (remember him?), a loathsome man who models himself on Ken Bates and Doug Ellis, and fancies himself as being the real boss of the team. That’s Bobby’s real downfall. That’s where the real story lies.

“Robert said I was picking the wrong team. At the time I was – because he was in it.”

For all the fact that we’ve never been anything other than a top-six also-ran during his time, Bobby was loved by the fans.

We were able to forgive him the odd miscalculated South American purchase, the inability to remember his own players’ names, the lack of any silverware during his reign. Because he was Sir Bobby. Probably our biggest failing, but one that I was happy to live with – at least for the time being, til the end of his last season, so long as we were safe.

Usually there’s some sense of closure – often even joy – when a failing manager is sacked by one’s club: Dalglish and Gullit being the two most recent examples for the Gallowgate faithful.

Not this time. Not surprise, either. Just emptiness.

It’s probably best for the club. The new man will get the chance to buy a couple of players, offload a couple of deadweights, maybe even string a few results together. Who knows, we could even win a trophy – something that’s never been done in my lifetime.

Whatever happens, I’ve no doubt that however successful Newcastle is in the future, Bobby will be missed and fans will look back on his tenure as a happy time.

Maybe he had to go now, maybe this time he wouldn’t have been able to turn round our traditional poor start, maybe we’d be struggling to stay in the big time come season’s end. We’ll never find out.

But this much I do know: the grand old man of English football deserved better.

“It’s over, forget about it, it’s gone. We’ve enjoyed the ride, brilliant. We’ve paid the money, got the ride, got off the tramcar – let’s go again.”

Wise words.

30
Aug 04

Terror alert: Gin in peril

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Terror alert: Gin in peril

Gin drinkers of the world unite.

The juniper bush is in sharp decline across Britain. No juniper, no gin.

People are being encouraged to look for remaining bushes. Their reward? Free gin.

Think not of what your gin can do for you, but what you can do for your gin.

Future drinkers are counting on us.

29
Aug 04

Michael Caine should not be a national treasure

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Or maybe: Sir Michael Caine should be a national treasure.

I’m not sure which of these statements I agree with most.

What’s indisputable is that the quality of his acting should not be celebrated. His performances are, almost without exception, rubbish. Stilted, wooden, uncharismatic, devoid of character, aspiring to achieve even two dimensions, let alone three.

I say this because I’ve just finished watching the train crash which is The Swarm. Some might say it was unfair to judge the former Maurice Micklewhite’s entire career on his turn in just one film, particularly a stinker like this (“I never imagined it would be the bees. They’ve always been our friends.”).

But the fact is I really can’t see any significant difference between Dr Brad Crane and any other Caine character: not Jack Carter, not Frank Bryant, not Harry Palmer, not Lawrence Jamieson, and certainly not the fabled Charlie Croker.

I might give you Scrooge with the Muppets, and possibly his pageant coach in Miss Congeniality – but even that is only because I was distracted by Sandra Bullock.

Occasionally a good director might force something a little more animated out of him: I’ve heard good things about The Cider House Rules, for example.

A friend of mine claims that we should recognise Caine for his work rate: in a screen career lasting almost 50 years he’s clocked up 117 movies, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

The same could be said in defence of McDonald’s, yet I don’t believe anyone will ever think it’s actually good food.

But maybe my friend (who’s American) has a point. Maybe the more critical members of society should ignore the quality of his performances, and instead celebrate the fact that a man of such limited talent and range can rise to the very top of his profession.

Maybe that should be enough to qualify him as a national treasure. He might be rubbish, but he’s our rubbish, and of that we should we should be proud.

Or maybe not.