Do You See

30
Sep 03

Where does one start with Black Ball?

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Where does one start with Black Ball? A film vaguely based on a true story? Another addition to the long list of Mel Smith directed comedies which do not quite work? A stab at Ealingesque class warfare? A film about bowls? A satire on the commercialism of sport? The last hurrah for Bernard Cribbins? The first hurrah for Paul Kaye and Johhny Vegas? It is all of these and somewhat less too.

What is good about the film is how the lead actors grab the material and try their hardest to wring every bit of humour they can out of it. All the characters are one dimensional, some less so (Johnny Vegas exists to just be some sort of loosely undefined mate). But Paul Kaye really, really injects tremendous energy into making his rather dislikeable “bad boy of bowls” oddly charming. Possibly something he learnt from Dennis Pennis, but though he is surrounded by much more seasoned actors, he is always the most watchable thing on screen. The sports satire is toothless, but as it is hitting a barn door does raise the odd smile. But the films insistence of squeezing every sports movie cliche dry is its own dry death. There is a possibility of some funny Kingpin style irreverence, but Smith directs clunkily and gets jobs for the boys then it is not necessary.

The two most notable aspects of the film is the lousy “classics of British music” soundtrack and the swearing. Both of these elements seemed stressed to supply the film with a Britishness that its Torquay setting gives it by default. The scene where Kaye bowls down a dining table would have been pretty good if it had not been overwhelmed by an earsplitting “Won’t be Fooled Again”. And did we need quite so many wankers and tossers in the film, it is purile schoolboy swearing to get a laugh at best, and taking the piss out of the Devonian accent at worst. Kaye walks to hopefully star another day – the rest of the film just plain stinks.

29
Sep 03

I only got to see Boudiccea, I mean

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I only got to see Boudiccea, I mean Boudicca, during the ad breaks of The Deal last night, but what I saw suggested that I may have made the right choice. Chelmsford 123 is not so far in the past that some of us don’t remember its piss poor attempts at anachronistic humour. Seeing the boy god emperor Nero stropping like the menko teenage he was, well that was par for the course. But seeing Alex Kingston gamely trying to act while everyone around her was playing dress up was a little bit sad. Seeing all the boys in their plastic breastplate waggling around swords and being all puffy and Roman – that was just a laughfest.

Equally as anachronistic, though only set in the last fifteen years, was the aforementioned The Deal. Its amazing how distracting the wrong kind of bus can be, let along buildings which just would not be there (some people have mentioned the Gherkin in the skyline, I would like to state that there has never, ever, been a burger van on Waterloo Bridge). It whizzed through the formation of New Labour, the on and off friendship of Tony Blair and felt like A Woman Of Substance, except being about Labour politicians it came out like Some Bloke Of Not Much Substance. A mini-series would have been better – director Stephen Frears has already mentioned doing a sequel (one assumes about the election itself). Notable mainly for the way the three leads (Smith, Blair and Brown) inhabited their parts, it is odd seeing something historical which is still part of the actual news.

A better idea would be to take this cast and perhaps dramatise the political events of the month. Possibly a dastardly thing to do, and marvelously undemocratic but it would be a ratings winner. If Sky can do a reconstruction of the Hutton Enquiry on a nightly basis for a month, this surely would not be outside the bounds of topical drama. A real life soap, rekindling interest in politics. A dramatised reality TV show. As (fictional)Blair says to (fictional)Brown in Granita, that soap star there, she’s got real power.

27
Sep 03

He was smart, bisexual, funny, cynical, daring, vivid

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He was smart, bisexual, funny, cynical, daring, vivid, his poems sold tens of thousands on day of publication and went on to grip a generation all across Revolutionary Europe: so why does the BBC insist Byron be read in vague RADA mumbles by a wan queue of second-tier Hugh Grantoids? Because it’s poetry, and poetry’s posh? Because Byron was handsome, and Jack Davenport and Toby Stephens are the best they can scare up? Listen to a British movie from the 30s: that’s how bizarre upper-class accents were just 80 years ago. Byron died 180 years ago, a real actual aristo who took his seat in the House of Lords, Sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale. Admittedly he was brought up mainly by his difficult mama in Aberdeen: even less reason, one would think, to favour heritage listlessness over raging or comic or ANY KIND of energy…

Do You Remember Saturday Morning TV?

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Do You Remember Saturday Morning TV? – Philip Schofield, Emma Forbes, Sarah Greene, Cheggers, Andi Peters, Gordon the Gopher…where are you now?

This morning I switched on the TV and witnessed the hideous debacle that is “Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow”, a show devoid of humour, where kids throw “GUNGE” at each other, and the “ZANY” presenters wander around stately homes in a game where they try to say “BOGEY” louder than the other. Where are the pop star guests? Where is anything associated with saturday morning shows? Whatever happened to FUN?

Oh, maybe I’m being too harsh, but I expect better. And yeah, I probably should be doing something more construtive on Saturday morning, but you know I’m worried about this for the kids. They should be laughing at Philip and Emma in the kitchen when the cookery segment goes wrong, not some kid getting a bucket of gunk thrown over him/her. *SIGH*

At least Top of the Pops Saturday is still on.

Newscasters should be your friends

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Newscasters should be your friends: well, actually, I’m not at all sure if this is true. They pop up in your life night after night, but it’s a bit mad to smile back at them or wave goodnight when they say “see you tomorrow”. So is it a problem being pleased when the WORST FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT IN UK TV HISTORY announces he’s hanging up his mic to devote more time with his “young family”? I disliked his breezy complacency – “Daily I mingle with these who make nations shudder,” his tone shrieked – when it was pretty clear his journalistic footwork consisted of no more than reading the US mainstream dailies and mulching up a bland digest. OK, but it’s not so hard to use bad reporting as a partial source: you just put your own careful quotemarks round the information likely to be weak, and extrapolate. The problem with Channel 4′s David Smith wasn’t his utterly credulous lack of gumption as a hack, it was his VOICE and (worse) his UNVARYING MENU of WOODEN HAND GESTURES!! When a fifth-rate comedian’s shtick begins to enrage everybody, they stop getting work (or get safely boxed off into their own sitcom, where you quickly know to avoid them): but the ghastly tics of newscasters we are forced to endure a lot longer, it seems (cf also their idiotic continuity devices: the CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE BLOODY NODDY SHOT STARTED 16 years ago ppl!).

Anyway what I’m saying is this, apparently: I don’t really mind being propagandised at by proxy, as long as the mouthpiece is a competently artful charmer. Go ahead and rook me brazenly, but don’t insult the canons of my taste!

26
Sep 03

Masturbation is shocking!

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Masturbation is shocking! Raising Victor Vargas proves this, when the evilest thing the titular character can do is supposedly teach his brother how to masturbate. The only problem with other tremendous RVV is that the lead chaarcter is too nice. The plot is simple. Hot, horny self-styled sixteen year old loving machine Victor Vargas wants to pull Judy. Judy hates men, and Voctor is just all macho bullshit. But deep down Vic is actually quite sensitive, and trying to get Judy changes him for the better. Problem is, with the exception of being buckishly misogenistic and a bit nasty to his sister, Victor starts off quite nice. There isn’t much of a journey here.

What you do get is great naturalistic acting, a real sense of place and character and a really rather romantic little film. Go see. And look out for Judy’s friend played by Melonie Diaz. I’ve seen her in a few films this year, and she is tremendous (her murderous teen in Double Whammy was the only reason to see that film).

Jellybaby?

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Jellybaby??

THE RETURN OF DOCTOR WHO TO THE BBC! The Do You See campaign for Johnny Depp to play the doctor starts here! Jessica Stevenson for assistant? Zombie Pirate K9?

Can’t you hear those gentle strains now? Diggerydum diggerydum diggerydum DIGGERYDUM diggerydum diggerydum diggerydum OOOO-WEEE-OOOOO…

25
Sep 03

Save vs Death

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Save vs Death: article from the fine gaming site State positing that a lack of reliance on stat-crunching and character customisation is killing the computer Role-Playing Game. It had me spluttering with disbelief, mostly at the notion that 2nd Edition AD&D (nostalgically looked back to by the writer) was some kind of paradise of player freedom rather than an illogical hotch-potch put together by rule-obsessed megalomaniacs. My entire referee-ing career was spent trying to persuade people to play the character not the numbers, and I’m delighted if the numbers are playing less of a role in current RPGs. “If you want story, read a book”, suggests the author, provocatively. “If you want stat-juggling, buy a management sim”, I’d reply.

But the guy does have a point in that computer RPGs have been attempting to mimic tabletop games and failing dismally. Removing the numbers in my view will make them fail better, but fail they still will. What initially sold me on AD&D was the promise of a game in which there need not be any winners. Most players took this to mean that there would not be any ending, that characters would just get more and more grossly powerful. But hidden in that promise was also the hope of a different kind of game, where losing would be just as exciting and interesting as winning. My RPG players would often make mistakes on purpose, because that was what their character would have done. More than stat-tweaking, this seems to me the essence of role-playing: understanding an avatar’s flaws as well as powers.

Computer games can now do this a lot more, indeed it’s a selling point of something like Knights Of The Old Republic, where minor PC decisions can lead your character to the light or dark side of the Force. But the simple rewards of dicking about in character and entertaining your fellow players by it are still missing. If computer RPGs are continuing the tradition of tabletop games (and if pushed I’d say they aren’t really) it’s that element they need to soup up, not the stats.

COMMENTARY CONUNDRA

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COMMENTARY CONUNDRA

YELLOW SUBMARINE

Commentator: line producer John Coates

You sometimes wonder who they’re going to get as a commentator on some discs — as will be seen eventually, you half figure they just called up whoever was around and hoped they could come in. The connection isn’t quite so frayed when it comes to this film necessarily, but it is a touch random, in that Coates isn’t necessarily the first figure which would come to find when thinking about the film. It’s actually a fairly astute one in retrospect, though, as he’s the type of guy who never gets the attention but was everywhere anyway. As he describes it, he was the person who put the team of animators, designers and artists together as well as overseeing their work — it accurately describes what a line producer does, as well as being an equivalent of a casting director — and one would figure that he would have stories to tell.

And he does, though admittedly it’s a touch dislocated and definitely rambling — this isn’t a fannish celebration of the Beatles, which definitely was a good idea, but a discussion of a side project of another enterprise that happened to take on its own life. Coates himself sounds rumpled, perhaps a touch of smoker’s rasp, reflective, an English feller of a certain age who clearly isn’t experienced with the medium of commentaries and always sounds a touch surprised he’s there — he doesn’t openly question what he’s doing or the like, but he often falls silent, with the pauses clearly being the deleted prompts from the questioner sitting with him. And there are plenty of pauses for general thought during his discussions as well, which is often completely at odds with whatever’s happening on the screen — this is a commentary with many moments of no connection to what’s on screen, no frame by frame breakdown or the like. Certainly there are opposite moments, to be sure — noting the identity of people photographed for the “Eleanor Rigby” sequence, how perspective problems had to be tackled during “Nowhere Man,” spotting glitches and wiggles here and there (along with Coates saying how said problems wouldn’t be a worry these days). In ways, it could be a spoken word piece about the film and its history, one that doesn’t follow a linear or chronological path, with visual stimuli along the way, assuming one watches the screen, a piece with its own value in terms of reference and background, stories of production schedules and chance meetings and evolving things on the fly. Fun trivia bits? Sure — the guy who played George in the film was a bartender overheard by the director, Buckingham Palace ordered a new print in the mid-nineties, how quietly pleased if surprised Coates was in later years to realize that others had claimed Yellow Submarine as an influence to not just imitate Disney, a number of other moments, getting to hear Sgt. Pepper’s on an Abbey Road studio hookup a month before it came out.

Though my lasting memory has to be the final few minutes — Coates just doesn’t have much more to say off the top of his head, but the disc must be filled out, so you hear pauses for unheard questions from presumably worried interviewers with an eye on the clock and then Coates — politely, to be sure — essentially repeating himself time and again about what an enjoyable experience it was and so forth, on top of having said similar things throughout the commentary earlier. You just figure the guy wanted his tea by the end but was too restrained to say so.

Since the Christmas schedules are crammed with big news titles squaring up for a fight of Harryhausen proportions

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Since the Christmas schedules are crammed with big news titles squaring up for a fight of Harryhausen proportions, the third quarter is closing to the sound of decks being cleared. The year’s poor sellers are being dumped onto high street concessions, while last year’s Burnout, Lord of the Rings and Pro-Evolution Football titles are yours for half price in discount ranges. Smaller and less certain winter hits such as Zone of Enders 2 and Mace Griffin – Bounty Hunter are being pushed out now too, a little too early to hold their attraction into December. These titles can depreciate quickly – acquire at your own risk.

The most sensational price slash, if it happens, will be to the Gamecube itself, with Microsoft tipped to follow. Prices as low as seventy pounds have been mentioned – if there’s an announcement to be made, we’ll have heard it by the end of the month.

Gamers are more than well-served with sci-fi at the moment, which is just as well, since they are, on the whole, demographically attuned to it. Jedi Knight – Jedi Academy pleasantly revives the Dark Forces magic on PC, and persistent multi-player RPG Star Wars Galaxies is bullying newbies with the best of them, although a transatlantic connection is required for the time being. Geekier still comes Tron 2.0, which successfully translates the hand-painted and workstation graphics of the 1982 movie into the real deal. Since the original was not a major hit, its fan base must surely be limited to thirtyish men with a fondness for video games. How fortuitous.

Franchise add-ons have a special value for seasonal gift givers, as publishers know too well for our good. Choosing a present for a gamer can be a puzzling task for outsiders – but more of the game they’ve been obsessed with all year? That’s a banker all round for festive cheer! And so on Friday we will be blessed with Sim City 4 – Rush Hour. Ker-ching, EA.

Surprisingly few releases have graced the Game Boy Advance recently, given that the software comfortably outsells that for its console stable-mate. Plenty of titles are set for the coming week, but for now the charts remain in the thrall of Pok’mon, who have by all accounts found their platonic form as cast in Sapphire and Ruby. It is more of the same, but much more, and as well done as ever – fans amongst the contributors to this website are thrilled.

PlayStation 2 has rival Yu-Gi-Oh – Duelists of the Roses out on Friday – its historical bent and terrifying learning curve may keep the mass market at bay, but my guess is that it will be a darling of tomorrow’s retro scene nonetheless.

There are many more titles due this weekend than have been mentioned here, but none seem likely to threaten SoulCalibur II‘s assault on the All Formats chart. Although there has been some grumbling about the slightly lazy European conversion, most of the advance press has been embarrassingly flattering, and in a week crowded with welterweights it’s as good a bet as any.