Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar The Movie

Clocking in at nearly three hours, 'Avatar' has one heck of a running time and is one heck of an experience. But is it a good one?

The initial impression for me is that 'Avatar' is a huge magpie borrowing ideas from numerous other films -- the space futurism of Star Wars, the human driven warrior robots of Alien, the good vs evil battle of Narnia, the going native notion of Last Of The Mohicans. And as such, whilst it's pilfering may show taste, it nonetheless also shows a rather depressing lack of imagination on the part of writer & director James Cameron.

'Avatar' is set on another planet in the year 2154, but apparently this 'alien world' is little more than a distortion of the amazon rain forest inhabited by a noble race of blue skinned bipeds at one with their environment. Such human basics as tribalism, the need for food, sleep, mating and even tribal initiation are alive and well. I find it highly unimaginative and vaguely depressing that so much science fiction visualises alien life as merely people with flat noses. For me 'Alien' is one of the few mainstream movie franchises to envisage a creature at least plausibly different from humanity. Existing purely as a lethal, highly intelligent parasite, the alien is both terrifying and utterly inhuman. Whereas the 'aliens' depicted in Avatar are merely blue coloured jungle dwellers.

The first half of the film is highly predictable -- 'marine guy sent in as a spy goes native' sums it up pretty well. By midpoint I was settling for a 4 out of 10.

But then things picked up. Not because of any great leap in narrative, rather due to a phenomenal leap in special effects. For me the first 'Narnia' film was deathly dull up until the awesome White Queen battle sequence towards the end. And so it is for 'Avatar' -- only much much more.

The pitting of the noble jungle dwellers armed with bows & arrows against the awesome might of US gunships 22nd century style is a battle that should have lasted ten seconds. Instead we see incredible acts of heroism, of jungle creatures sacrificing themselves for the land they love, of weapons being turned on their users. We have a tremendous bad guy in the form of a middle-aged general who simply refuses to give up and who actually managed a spontaneous round of applause on his eventual demise.

Cameron throws in some clumsy messages about the power of nature conquering the greed of humanity and even features the line 'let's fight terror with terror', but ultimately this is a big budget small brained sci-fi action flick and purely on that level it works a treat.

Being a 12A certificate probably hobbled 'Avatar' somewhat. The gore quotient was necessarily low and the ending fairly predictable, but in pure CGI terms (we saw the 3D version), 'Avatar' is a stunning piece of cinema and one of the best films I've seen this year (and believe me I've seen a lot).

Now if a future director can marry these incredible effects to a truly imaginative concept, we may yet see one of the best films ever made. (8 out of 10).

Monday, December 21, 2009

RATM vs X-Factor

The unthinkable has happened. Despite 11 weeks of prime-time exposure and the usual media circus, the 2009 X-Factor winner has been denied the traditional Christmas number one by a nineties rap-metal track that missed the top 20 first time around.

Though hardly an earth shattering event in itself, this result makes several points:

Firstly, whilst some 6.5 million people voted for the X-Factor winner Joe McElderry, only 450k (about 8%) actually bought his single. This at a time when singles are cheaper than in the 70s and require only a couple of mouse clicks to buy.
The obvious conclusion is that X-Factor, like Big Brother & Celebrity, is merely a popularity contest, with any music element being purely an afterthought.

Secondly, the RATM campaign was the result of a Facebook group set up by a middle-aged couple -- no financial outlay, no media exposure nothing. They simply wanted to piss off Simon Cowell and his appallingly bland behemoth. And boy did they succeed.

Thirdly, if 'people power' can overturn the might of X-Factor, surely it can equally overturn the banks, the supermarkets and other suitable targets when necessary.

As regards X-Factor itself, a significant number of people are thoroughly pissed off with Cowell's smugness, his 'ratings at all costs' ethos and his insatiable greed (he's apparently demanding £2 million per SHOW for the next series). Not to mention the fact that X-Factor becomes ever more conservative, bland and tedious with each series.

Two things REALLY annoyed me this time -- Cowell's cynical support for Jedward (at the cost of Lucie, the only remotely talented finalist), having slagged them mercilessly in the opening stages -- that and the absolute yawnfest of song choices. The whole thing is like grandad karaoke, but the bizarre thing is that rather than parents and grannies sitting transfixed while the teenagers sneer, it's the younger generation who seem to be lapping it up.

As one poster on the Guardian site said this morning:

''What's happened to our country when old farts like me are buying tunes to rebel against the youngsters!''

And he's right. Joe's song 'The Climb', which is a cover of a Miley Cyrus track (Miley is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus who gave us 'Achy Breaky Heart' possibly the most annoying song of the 90s) is the modern equivalent of the 50s ballads that pop/rock music rebelled against in the 60s.

Fair enough Paul McCartney endorsed the show by appearing on it this time, but he later backtracked by endorsing the RATM campaign. As did old farts the NME and sour grapes former X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein.

But why does it appear to have been us middle-aged music fans who voted for RATM? Has young people's music taste become so conservative that they'd welcome back Pat Boone and Max Bygraves? Why are they whinging about 'poor Joe' who is merely another cog in the X-Factor machine, destined for the bargain bins in six months time? Why do they get excited about Whitney and Mariah, the epitome of bloated corporate diva cynicism? I can't answer that -- all I can say is that music-wise at least, many kids have become incredibly conservative -- the charts are stuffed with R&B, inspid ballads and generic pop -- sure there's a thriving underground scene but looking at the top 40 or music TV you'd never guess. The days of punk, indie, britpop, and rave have been replaced by music that young people's parents are literally rebelling against for it's blandness.

So will this result be anything more than a footnote in chart history? Well despite all the wailings about 'poor Joe', about Sony being the ultimate winners and about the irony of the line 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me', I have absolutely no doubt that the X-Factor PR people are in turmoil this week.
Denial of the Christmas number one knocks away a mainstay of X-Factor -- given past form they certainly can't guarantee a pop career of any longevity and now they can't guarantee the Christmas number one either. A major rethink is needed.

Future shows need to be less about the judges (who merely preen and state the obvious) and more about the contestants -- and that means at least some interesting, edgy finalists, like Rhydian, Diana Vickers & Ruth Lorenzo, who while they didn't win, at least brought some quirkiness and diversity.
And how about some music that isn't teeth-rotting ballads?

Just a few suggestions Mr Cowell, so that maybe next year your Christmas dinner won't be ruined by the sound of middle-aged rebels.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009


My main objections to X-Factor are:

1. The obscene amounts of money demanded and paid to the judges, with the lion's share going obviously to Cowell himself, a man completely devoid of talent who is on record as saying his sole interest is making money, whilst the contestants aren't paid a penny.

2. The pretence that the show is some sort of talent search, actually contributing something to the music industry. The contestants (with rare exceptions such as last year's Diana Vickers and Ruth Lorenzo) are uniformly homogenised ballad singers moulded into little Whitneys and Bubles. Every spark of originality is extinguished.

3. The cynical manipulation of contestants for the sake of ratings. A perfect example is Cowell's deliberate jettisoning of the moderately talented Lucie Jones for short-term novelty act Jedward, of whom he had been completely critical and dismissive throughout. A few days later he was quoted as saying 'they don't realise how bad they are.' Is the show about talent or about ratings / money?

4. The short-termism of a product which has to rush it's contestants onto the road within weeks as they fade from the public memory like snow off a ditch. How many X-Factor contestants have genuinely built a solid career? Will Young, Leona Lewis certainly, Gareth Gates debateably and early days for Alexandra Burke and JLS.

It's easy to say 'if you don't like it, don't watch it' but as a lover of music old and new, it's impossible to escape, whether it's headline news or the ubiquitous Christmas number one. People need to stand up and point to the elephant in the room -- the X-Factor is all about Cowell's wallet, the judges' egos and advertising revenues. It makes a mockery of the music industry, creates virtually no artists with any longevity and glorifies blandness, whilst stifling originality and ridiculing countless aspiring singers in front of huge audiences.

The difference between X-Factor and shows such as 'Maria' and 'I'd Do Anything' is that the ALW shows feature people who actually are talented in their field -- the vast majority have had theatre experience and carve worthwhile stage careers for themselves once the shows have ended. This can't be said of X-Factor.

Cowell's strength is in providing a throwaway show perfectly tailored to the five minute celebrity culture and that's absolutely fine. Like shows such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces back in the day, it's no-brainer Saturday night entertainment, but as with those shows, it doesn't provide anything that enhances the music industry in any way.

I'll quote Sting, who's views on this subject I completely agree with:

Rock star Sting has called the X Factor "televised karaoke" and said judges like Simon Cowell have "no recognisable talent apart from self-promotion".

The singer, 58, told London's Evening Standard that the Saturday night show was "a soap opera which has nothing to do with music".

He added: "I am sorry but none of those kids are going to go anywhere, and I say that sadly."

Sting said the singers who participate in the X Factor, created by Cowell in 2004, were "humiliated when they get sent off".

He added: "How appalling for a young person to feel that rejection. It is a soap opera which has nothing to do with music.

"In fact, it has put music back decades. Television is very cynical."

The singer, whose Fields Of Gold is a staple of talent show auditions, went on to say that X Factor encouraged contestants to "conform to stereotypes".

He added: "They are either Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston or Boyzone and are not encouraged to create any real unique signature or fingerprint.

"That cannot come from TV. The X Factor is a preposterous show and you have judges who have no recognisable talent apart from self-promotion, advising them what to wear and how to look. It is appalling.

"The real shop floor for musical talent is pubs and clubs, that is where the original work is.

"The music industry has been hugely important to England, bringing in millions. If anyone thinks the X Factor is going to do that, they are wrong."

A spokesperson for the X Factor declined to comment on Sting's interview, saying he was entitled to his opinion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

OMD / Simple Minds Odyssey Belfast

No they don't look like this any more. But what do they sound like?

Well it's been over 20 years since I saw Simple Minds live and never managed to see OMD before, so this should be heaven right? Erm well the venue wasn't a great start.

The Odyssey -- I really don't like this venue. Unfavourably compared to an aircraft hangar, it has zero atmosphere and was accurately described by OMD's Andy McCluskey last night as 'the biggest refrigerator in the world.'

We got great seats -- row 10, but there's just something completely impersonal about this place. Whereas the likes of the Waterfront studio (Ultravox), the Mandela (Little Boots) and the Spring & Airbrake (Numan) have a real atmosphere, the Odyssey just lacks --- something.

OMD opened with the still perplexing 'Dazzle Ships' and Andy McCluskey literally bounded onstage looking barely half his 50 years. He did warn us about his terrible dancing, and you really couldn't argue. A stork having an epeleptic fit is the most apt description, but you had to like the guy -- he worked damned hard to get the crowd on their feet.

He largely failed but you couldn't fault the set list -- pretty much all the hits -- Messages, Electricity, Souvenir, Joan Of Arc, Maid Of Orleans, Locomotion, Sailing on the Seven Seas -- thankfully no Tesla Girls. Quiet man Paul Humphries performed a nice Forever Live & Die and Andy got totally laid back for Talking Loud & Clear, sitting on the edge of the stage and shaking hands with the front row -- 'if you're not going to stand up I'm going to sit down.'
Bags of energy and an inclusion which I was personally delighted with -- 'Statues' from the 'Organisation' album. They finished off with a rousing 'Enola Gay' and I thought 'wow this is great value for money -- an hour of OMD and the main act haven't even come on yet'.

Half an hour later and on came the band -- Charlie, Mel, a young guy on bass and an exotic looking female backing singer. 'Theme For Great Cities' started and Jim arrived to segue into 'Sanctify Yourself' one of my least favourite Minds tracks.

I last saw Jim over 20 years ago so hardly surprising that he's changed a bit, but I was unprepared for the pudgy shabbily dressed guy that arrived. Dressed in a black coat and jeans, he looked like he'd just walked in off the street. Bit of a contrast to Andy and Paul it has to be said.

Setlist wise I really couldn't complain -- I'm very much a fan of early Simple minds -- after 'Sparkle In The Rain' I largely found their output disappointing, but we were treated to no less than six tracks from the sublime 'New Gold Dream' and four from the overlooked gem 'Sons & Fascination/Sister Feelings Call.' A big surprise was a great reworking of the 1979 debut single 'Life in a Day' which few in the audience recognised.

But for all the great titles, there was just something missing and I'm still not sure what. The venue seems to suck the life out of bands and despite the band being tight, Jim interacting and us having great seats, it all fell a bit flat for me.

Aside from the size of the place, the security staff were a constant distraction -- constantly marching up and down like the gestapo and hassling people for having the temerity to leave their seats and dance.

So much so that I didn't stay for the encores. As I exited the building I heard the opening bars of 'Neon Lights' and wondered if Kraftwerk would have been any better.

A bit disappointing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Little Boots in Belfast

OK so it's official -- Little Boots is a goddess.

An hour on stage is a bit frugal it must be admitted but she HAS only released one album. And Victoria's audience interaction has improved immensely since those nervous first days of gigging. Inter song banter, fun singalongs and above all a sense of real enjoyment permeate Little Boot's set.

Accompanied by two guys who no-one notices, Miss Hesketh begins with 'Ghost', a nicely understated seated keyboard performance -- then it's off with the jacket and straight down to business with 'New In Town' and a flood of great catchy synth-pop from the frankly disappointing 'Hands' album. Except that live these often lack lustre tunes take on a whole new life of their own. There literally isn't a mis-step here -- just an overwhelming sense of fun.

Victoria is an absolute delight -- an eighties synth queen twinned with a sixties style icon for the 21st century. You've just have to love her.

It's back to keyboard mode for the rather lovely 'Echo' the first of two encores -- and then the wonderful 'Stuck On Repeat' gets two treatments -- the slow one and the manic dance one.

This is genius right here -- Miss Boots is going far -- just wait for the next instalment and catch her live if you possibly can.

Setlist: Ghost / New in Town / Tune Into My Heart / Click / Mathematics / Symmetry / Hearts Collide / Earthquake / Meddle / Remedy / Echo (Encore) / Stuck On Repeat (Encore).

Just a quick word on the 'Little Boots is fat' media nonsense -- shocking though it may seem not everyone thinks that stick-thin celebrities are the ideal -- there's a reason that many men prefer Kimberley to the other Girls Aloud members. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a few curves and the media body-shape gestapo need to be roundly ignored. Victoria is a million miles from being 'fat' in the general public's sense of the term and even if she were, what the hell would it matter? Stop being so fucking shallow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Clerical Abuse Scandal and What it Teaches Us

The latest devestating report on the sexual abuse of children within the Roman Catholic church, this time concentrating on the Dublin diocese, raises many issues.

The collusion of church, state and police force in the systematic and long-standing cover-up of child rape is shocking beyond belief, but is on another level merely an example of the horrors that absolute power creates within human society.

The difference however between this case and say the Nazis or Chairman Mao, is that here we have an organisation supposedly endorsed by God. Let's ponder that for a moment.

It's clear that the most vile and sickening abuse of children was carried out over decades, perhaps centuries, with the full knowledge of all levels of church hierarchy. This must therefore include God's supposed emisaries on earth -- successive pontiffs. The question begs to be asked -- what type of a deity would allow his ambassadors to preside over crimes which are, let's face it, pretty much as horrific as humanly possible, effectively carried out in 'his' name?

According to biblical accounts, God intervened at various points in history, ostensibly to make examples of 'sinners.' Are we to understand from the lack of divine intervention that sexual abuse of children is actually OK? That hey some people might not like it but it's done by men of God so just grin and bear it?

Or might it not be rather more sensible to conclude that this gigantic paedophile ring, masquerading as a religious edifice divinely capable of moral guidance, is merely a complete man-made sham?

Whichever of these possibilities is correct, we also need to ask exactly why anyone continues to attend mass, to listen to the mind-boggingly hypocritical moralising of this deeply degenerate and corrupt organisation. Would we be happy to respect the thoughts of Gary Glitter on child-care? Then why would anyone wish to heed the ramblings of elderly opinionated bachelors on such subjects as sexual morality, contraception and abortion?

This church with it's preposterous rituals, homophobia, sexism and criminal condemnation of the humble yet life-saving condom apparently intends to brazen out the most awe-inspiring paedophile scandal in history. Nothing is going to change other than the most basic 'safe-guards'. That means priests remaining compulsorily celibate (other than converted Anglicans -- hypocrisy anyone?), the idea of women priests some sort of inexplicable blasphemy and the mere appearance of 'his holiness' on a balcony a cause for flocks of fawning pilgrims rather than angry protests and demands for disbandment of this smug and irredeemably corrupt organisation.

We can only imagine the mental and physical suffering endured by thousands of children at the hands of these depraved perverts masquerading as men of God. We can only recoil in horror at the thought of those brave enough to come forward being ignored, punished and betrayed not only by the church supposed to protect them, but by the police and the political establishment. We can unearth endless sickening horror stories for years to come, but the question is, are we going to learn lessons from this vast religious abomination?

One lesson everyone should agree on is that absolute power must never again be placed in the hands of any organisation, whether political or religious. Another should be that religious faith must be an entirely private matter -- not organised by some group who 'know what God wants', not indocrinated into children purely because their accident of birth made them a mormon, a jew or a roman catholic.

Not much about religious belief can be proved. But one thing this sorry episode does prove is that organised religion is even more open to sexual, financial and moral abuse than secular organisations and should at best be discouraged.

The notion of raising children in one particular branch of one particular faith is every bit as preposterous as raising a child solely to be a plumber or a botanist.
It supposes that young people are incapable of making the 'right' decision on the supernatural and must therefore be indocrinated at an age when their minds are unquestioning and naive. It also supposes that there is only one 'correct' way to worship a deity and if you don't get it exactly right you're going to the bad place.

It was exactly this type of superstitious notion that caused thousands of doubtless well-meaning parents to entrust their children to an organisation who proceeded to abuse them in the most depraved manner imaginable, then compounded the crime through denial and cover-up.

This must never happen again. When a representative of the roman catholic church seeks to pontificate on a moral issue they must be openly challenged. What right have they to advise anyone on morality? Why should anyone ever listen, attend or respect anything to do with this organisation?

Additionally we should discourage the religious indoctrination of children. As societies we rightly shield our children from alcohol, sexual activity and the pressures of career choice until they are well into their teens. Why should religious belief be any different? Have the courage of your convictions -- let them decide when they want to.

As the 'clerical abuse' scandals all too painfully illustrate, keeping children away from these supposed men of God is actually a form of protection.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Celebrity Torture

OK in the 70s and early 80s TV was dull. Three (later four) channels, all closing before midnight, populated with dowdy dramas, hokey sit-coms and rubbish game shows. I much preferred listening to music. But in it's own way it was homely and harmless.

Fast forward to 2009 and we have huge audience figures for such gems as X-Factor, I'm A Celebrity and (until recently) Big Brother.

What these shows have in common is a rather nasty sadistic streak -- the enjoyment of the suffering of others, not entirely unlike the gladitorial spectacles of the Roman empire.

I've given my thoughts on X-Factor below, whilst Big Brother merely reached it's natural conclusion -- a 'house' stuffed full of unstable, nasty and freakish characters chosen merely for their conflict potential. The particularly unsavoury celebrity edition pitting the deeply ignorant late Jade Goody with Shilpa Shetty was likely a bridge too far for this moronic format and it's set to end after the next series.

But 'Celebrity' is a slightly different animal. Gather together a dozen has-been or never-were 'celebs', drop them (literally) into the jungle and metaphorically poke them with sticks for public enjoyment.

The 'Bush-tucker trials' become ever more sadistic and gross, to the point where the producers begin to cross the line between entertainment and torture. Back in the day we had daft shows like 'Gladiators' and 'The Krypton Factor', which tested physical stamina, yet allowed contestants a modicum of decency and achievement. 'Celebrity' instead sets out to humiliate and bully participants into performing ever more sickening tasks, egged on by sniggering schoolboys Ant and Dec, whilst millions at home presumably revel in the suffering of others.

But I hear you cry, these people are paid, they know what to expect, they get free publicity. But you're missing the point. Offer the public £10k to run naked down a street being pelted with rotten eggs and fruit and you'll inevitably find takers. But should they be allowed to degrade themselves in this way for what is after all a neanderthal voyeurism?

And more disturbingly, it's obvious that each series of 'Celebrity' is more sadistic than the last. Rather like pornography, viewers require ever harder doses of humiliation and suffering to sustain their interest.

So where will it end? Is pandering to the public's lowest common denominator in exchange for the holy grail of ratings a defendable policy? How many teenagers must be broken on X-Factor, celebrities covered in maggots before people cry enough? Or will they merely demand more? And should we be surprised by the alarming rise of bullying in schools and workplaces when we witness Katie Price screaming in a 'jacket' of squirming insects or watch Paul Burrell eating kangaroo testicles?

Yes it's easy to laugh and point fingers at these shows, in much the same way that it's easy to watch a fellow child being bullied in the school playground. But what does it say of the current state of human nature that others suffering is a cause for entertainment?

Big ratings = big advertising revenue = big money, but if this comes at the expense of one of the most basic tenets of civilisation, is it really worth it?

Friday, November 13, 2009


A heartfelt plea for (non-human) animal rights. Thank you Sandra.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

X-Factor X-Ploitation -- Lucie Jones & Jedward

Reality TV, it seems, has become the new gladitorial sport. Where else could you find naive, vulnerable and unpaid young people being verbally abused and psychologically tortured in a public arena by egotistical millionaires?

Simon Cowell, the current god of TV exploitation, has sacrificed yet another young hopeful on the altar of ratings. Cowell, lest we forget, has to date demonstrated no talent whatsoever. Fellow panellists Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue have been through the mill of pop careers, Louis Walsh has managed two highly successful boy bands. Cowell's talent merely extends to a ruthless, stalinist head for business in an endless pursuit of ratings and ever increasing mountains of cash.

Having mercilessly slated (with some justification) the embaressingly talent-free Dublin twins known as Jedward, he was given the opportunity to jettison them from the competition last weekend and save the talented Welsh singer Lucie Jones. Instead he made a lame comment about neither being able to win (how could he possibly know?) and sent the matter to the public vote, which Lucie lost. Despite his later assertion that he has no prior knowledge of who recieved the lowest number of votes, it is inconcievable that as X-Factor is effectively 'The Simon Cowell Show' (quote Pete Waterman), he would not have such figures to hand or at least to earpiece.

It is reported that the remaining contestants have been banned by Cowell from commenting on the decision. To add insult to injury he subsequently informed Chris Tarrant on live radio that the twins 'don't realise how bad they are.'

What is painfully clear is that shows such as the X-Factor are much less about finding talent and much more about big ratings, which in turn translate into advertising revenue and phone-in rake-offs.
The number of consistent success stories from these shows is painfully small -- off the top of my head we're talking Will Young, Gareth Gates (to a point), Girls Aloud and Leona Lewis with the jury still out on acts such as JLS and Alexandra Burke.

What is also painfully clear is that prospective candidates need professional guidance, before, during and after each series. Lest we forget, most of the finalists are barely out of school and completely unskilled in the business of celebrity. They are abruptly catapulted from non-entity to facing the full glare of the public and press, only to be unceremoniously dumped back home after a few short weeks.

Whereas shows such as Maria & IDA at least featured contestants who had some experience in the music business, X-Factor and it's ilk merely pluck hopefuls from the street and exploit their raw talent and naivety.
By the end of each series, the winner is awarded a contract, more or less guaranteed the Christmas number one and allowed to sink or swim largely through their own endeavours. The remainder leave unpaid and rejected, in most cases to perform in a few local shopping centres before returning to all too real reality.

Rather like it's bastard cousin Big Brother, X-Factor becomes ever more cruel to supposedly keep interest alive. The recent public disintegration of Susan Boyle on 'Britain's Got Talent' testifies to Cowell's callousness and absence of conscience. In Jedward he sees a talking point, a tabloid fodder to buoy ratings for a few weeks before being dumped into oblivion. An eventual winner will be feted for a few weeks then Cowell will turn his attention to his next expolitative charade.

Make no mistake, these shows are about big business and personal greed and absolutely nothing to do with finding new talent or enriching the musical tapestry. The format panders to the lowest common denominator -- bland karaoke song choices, long 'suspenseful' pauses before results announcements and often neanderthal mocking and interplay between judges. Cowell sits in judgement and says what he thinks of each performance, a task anyone could manage. If the show stood or fell on long-term results, Cowell would be mopping a floor near you as we speak. As it is, such shows are a success merely because people watch -- not because of any artistic merit (which as proved this week is roundly ignored by Cowell) or because it helps the UK music industry in any meaningful long-term way.

Sooner or later the X-Factor and it's ilk will run it's course. Cowell will make a particularly gross error of judgement, a 'reject' will throw themselves off a cliff or the public will wise up and stop wasting their phone calls on manipulative karaoke. Whichever -- the sooner the better. Cowell can retire to one of his villas and Saturday evenings can hopefully be home to less exploitative fare.

In the meantime, Cowell needs to publicly admit several uncomfortable truths -- the show is about HIM alone, he has no real interest in discovering talent, and his pathetic flip-flop posturings on particular acts are every bit as sad a charade as the supposed rivalry between the judges.

Perhaps then we can at least respect his honesty, if not his methods.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Couples Retreat -- or preferably run away

The first film I saw in a cinema was 'Grease' back in 1979. There was literally a scrum at the door to get in. The auditorium was completely packed and the whole thing was a real event from start to finish.

Fast forward 30 years and we have huge multiplexes with myriad screens, virtually all of them close to empty. Why should this be? At around a fiver, a cinema ticket isn't overly expensive, most venues turn a blind eye to sneaking in your own snacks and the seats are comfortable and often recline. What's not to like?

Well there IS one little problem. The actual product on offer is, let's be honest, generally dire. I've seen literally dozens of films this year, and with a handful of exceptions, they have ranged from uninspired to atrocious.

One in the latter camp is most definitely 'Couples Retreat', a supposed comedy with all the laughs of an audience with Gordon Brown.

On paper, this movie looks decent enough -- a talented cast including Vince Vaughn, one of the girls from 'Sex And The City' and various other reasonably familiar faces. The premise of four couples going for a 'bonding' week in paradise surely has some great comic possibilities a la 'The Hangover' no?

That IS a no. This film is painful to watch -- it fails to be either a romantic or gross-out comedy, or indeed a comedy of any sort whatsoever. One example is Vaughn's 'shark' scene, reminiscent of a joke with no punchline.
We're treated to mind-numbingly tedious therapy sessions, a couple of middle-aged man's embaressment moments and an obese guy's butt.
The male characters are dull and annoying while their partners are completely forgettable. No-one seems even remotely interested in being on set, never mind in a major movie.
When the sole laugh is delivered via a small boy on a toilet, you know you've hit rock bottom.

And while this may be, by a squeak, the worst film I've seen this year, it's by no means unique. I've also sat through Ricky Gervais' lame 'Invention Of Lying', Terry Gilliam's complete mess of a movie 'Imaginarium' and the dreadful Jim Carey vehicle 'Yes Man.' OK there have been pluses -- Tarrantino's 'Inglorious Basterds' is well worth a look, Jason Statham's 'Crank 2' is good knuckle-headed fun and Disney's recent kids classic 'Up' is a real gem, but just about everything else is at best forgettable.

It does make you wonder how films are actually chosen for the multiplexes. Hundreds of movies are made every year, but only a minute percentage appear in your local fleapit. Surely it would be feasible for each multiplex to set aside one or two screens for 'less mainstream' films. After all they could hardly be less well attended than most of the 'big budget blockbusters', many of which attract a dozen or so punters to an auditorium seated for several hundred.

At a time when the public's attention is easily distracted by myriad TV channels, computer games and unlimited online entertainment, the film industry needs to be taking bold steps to get those bums back on seats. That means quality product -- comedy that is actually funny rather than embaressing, horror that scares rather than disgusts and thrillers that actually have a plot rather than a pile of explosions.

'Couples Retreat' is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with today's cinema -- tired, uninteresting stodge that will encourage no-one to return. Major rethink needed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Editors In This Light and on This Evening

It doesn't often happen but sometimes seeing a band live that you're barely familiar with can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

A couple of months ago my total number of Last.Fm plays for Editors was one. As of today it's almost two hundred.
My mate John lent me the band's first album 'The Back Room' and while I wasn't blown away, I was impressed and we booked tickets for their Belfast gig on October 7th.

As the huge opening synth (yes synth) bars of 'In This Light and On This Evening' echoed around the venue I was suddenly and abruptly hooked. This track is quite simply awesome as is the new single 'Papillon', neither of which I'd heard before the gig.

Check out the video for 'Papillon' (below) -- a simple but effective shoot of one man running. Sometimes joined by others but ultimately alone, the video is open to interpretation, at least one commentator comparing it to the scene in 'Forrest Gump' where Tom Hanks runs the USA solo. For me it represents one line from the song -- 'you're born, grow old and die here'. The lyrics basically concern the need for a deity -- 'if there really was a god here, he'd have raised a hand by now', a subject which you won't be surprised to know I agree with, but even without such profoundity I'd still love this wonderful synth driven classic.

The Editors have sharply divided their fanbase with this move away from indie rock to VNV Nation style synth but damn I'm in the thumbs up camp.

And the gig? Well aside from ringing ears for several days afterwards it was fucking brilliant. This may well be the start of attending more gigs by artists I'm less familiar with. Hey you only live once. And that's quite enough for me dear.

The Editors Papillon

It kicks like a sleep twitch.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Invention of Lying

The somewhat unlikely transition of Ricky Gervais from 'Office' cultdom to Hollywood stalwart appeared to be vindicated by his recent 'Ghost Town' foray, perhaps best described as a gentle triumph.

So how would he deal with the really big concept? The notion of a world where no-one was able to tell a lie, or indeed even thought of doing so, is a potentially fascinating one, ripe with possibility for both mirth and wisdom.

Things begin promisingly enough with tubby Gervais arriving for a first date with the attractive Jennifer Garner, who almost immediately informs him that sex is off the menu as she doesn't find him attractive. Refreshing if just a tad galling.
Their restaurant date proves richly entertaining thanks to a brutally honest waiter and a hilarious inter-meal phone call from Garner's mother.

But it quickly becomes apparent that a world where no-one tells lies is both a cruel and depressing place. On being fired from his job, Gervais' secretary informs him that she loathed almost every moment she worked for him. Another colleague informs Gervais that he has always hated him.

And in a twist which few outside Hollywood would have thought of, all 'movies' consist of someone reading historical facts from a given century, logical when you consider that nothing can be 'made up.'

There are a few rich 'commercial' asides, particularly 'Pepsi -- for when they don't have Coke' and the guy in the Coke commercial opining that 'it's a bit too sweet'.

But things come unstuck almost as soon as Gervais thinks up the idea of lying -- in this case by telling the bank cashier that he has more money in his account than he actually has.

His exploitation of this incredible discovery is muted at best, pathetic at worst. 'Winning' some money at a casino and getting his job back with a made-up script about the 13th century might not be everyone's first priorities.

And things really go pear-shaped when Gervais (a committed atheist in real life) 'makes up' a notion of heaven to comfort his dying mother in hospital. Overheard by several nurses, he is besieged at home by huge crowds demanding to know about this supposed afterlife.

It goes without saying that attacking the 'man in the sky' idea is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. To achieve any thought-provoking or comic effect, it needs to be done subtlely, a la 'Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy' for instance. Instead, Gervais goes for the bull at a gate approach, coming across as infantile. Though the 'sermon on the mount' using two pizza boxes as stone tablets is a nice little touch it has to be said.

The highly unsatisfactory rom-com denouement is both disappointing and pathetic and we're left with a high concept ruined by a complete cop-out plot-wise and a screenplay that simply doesn't flow.

And WTAF with the bottles of Budweiser everywhere? Product placement fair enough but this is just ridiculous. Even when Gervais becomes a recluse with a drink problem, he's still surrounded by bottles of Bud. As the guy in the advert might say 'it's too sweet.'

(3 out of 10)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pandas and People

How cute are these guys? Cuddly eh? Well no not really, they'd likely claw you to pieces, but that's hardly the point.

The fact is that in a few years the only way you'll see a giant panda is via archive footage online. Why? Because their natural habitat has virtually disappeared and it isn't coming back.

This habitat destruction is of course necessary for the betterment of humanity, who have a seemingly infinite 'right to life' involving boundless expansion of territory and an insatiable demand for resources. Why let a few cuddly bear things get in the way? Or anything else for that matter.

After all, we were created in God's own image and given custody of planet earth, to do with as we see fit. Everything has a right to life as long as it's human.

Selfish? Not at all. It says in this here compendium of ancient manuscripts that we're the important ones. OK we were 'given' a breaktakingly beautiful planet with literally millions of creatures to share it with -- an ideal opportunity to demonstrate humanity's compassion you might think -- but since we obviously have the greatest need, everything else is disposable, including the planet's resources.

Let's cut the crap here -- humanity is merely the dominant animal on this tiny planet -- nothing more than a first rate parasite leeching off it's immediate habitat. Sooner rather than later, fuel, habitable areas and food resources are going to run out -- climate change or no climate change. The result will be a phenomenal, irreversible decimation in human numbers, and the subsequent rise of another scavenger, most likely the rat.

Will the earth stop turning? Will there be some mystical rapture or second coming? Will anything other than the remenants of humanity give a damn?

A one word answer will suffice.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This Song Says It All

'There's a ghost in me, wants to say I'm sorry, doesn't mean I'm sorry.'

It says it all yet says nothing. The video bleeds loneliness and isolation -- it features people together yet apart, animals together as collective prey, endless roads and overwhelming beautiful despair.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

500 Days Of Summer (One would be Enough)

I do like a good rom-com -- '50 First Dates', 'Clueless', even 'Notting Hill' or 'Love Actually'. But unfortunately this isn't one.

A very slight tale of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl marries someone else -- '500 Days of Summer' (the girl's name is Summer geddit?) has been hailed as a left-field box office smash and lauded by critics worldwide. It's 'Rotten Tomatoes' rating is a staggering 87%.
I fell asleep. Three times.

Every romantic comedy stands or falls on it's male & female leads being believable and emphathetic. Unfortunately neither worked for me. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is basically a rather sad whinge-fest whilst Summer (Zooey Deschanel) delivers a detached and unmemorable performance. Their relationship, for what there is of it, basically consists of a few oddball dates and some incredibly tame sex.

Laughs are few and far between and nothing really seems to work. I was left with the impression of the bare bones of a story crying out to be developed. The film also employs an annoying fast forward and rewind technique complete with unneccesary narration, just to pile on the annoyance.

For me though the real disappointment is Zooey Deschanel. Possessed of drop dead gorgeous eyes and a kooky manner of potentially Phoebe Boufet proportions, she should have been adorable. Instead we get a faxed-in personality-free performance
leaving us at a loss as to why Tom should have any particular long-term interest at all. And what's with the wardrobe? Awful awful clothes dear.

Tom's two long-suffering friends / work colleagues are subjected to constant whining which they take with good grace instead of telling our hero to either get a life or a blow-up doll.
The most sensible character is the little girl (Tom's sister?) who advises him not be such a pussy.

The sole remarkable moment is the explicit use of the f word in a 12A film -- something which would have guaranteed an 18 certificate just a few years ago.

Not great at all and even more disappointing as I'd been looking forward to this.

(3 out of 10).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

TK Maxx -- How not to do it

TK Maxx are one of those chain stores who by right simply shouldn't exist.

Their stock resembles a giant car boot sale, with random perfume bottles, buddha statues and mis-matched shoes. Their till service has to be experienced to be believed. Customers (including women) have grown beards whilst waiting for various knuckle trailing till staff to locate price tags, correct pricing errors and charge for crappy plastic bags advertising the wretched place.

Just dire -- yet they thrive whilst Woolworths closed down. Logic anyone?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958 -- 2009

Michael Jackson joins the lamentably long list of music icons who died long before their time.
Hendrix, Joplin, Strummer, Presley, Lennon, Holly, Cobain, Morrison to name but a few, all 'gone too soon.'

The exact circumstances of Jackson's untimely death have yet to be revealed, but already prescription drugs are being blamed, a factor in Elvis Presley's demise over 30 years ago.

Within minutes, the tasteless comments and jokes were flooding the internet and I'm not here to defend Michael Jackson's undoubtedly bizarre and ill-advised life style.

However what I will defend is his incredible musical legacy. A huge string of hit singles, four great (and one not so great) albums and a host of ground breaking live shows add up to one incredible career.

Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Man in the Mirror, Leave Me Alone, Smooth Criminal, Jam, Earth Song, Bad -- you can't deny these are absolute classics and ultimately the music will be his legacy.

Thanks for the tunes Michael.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ultravox Belfast 2009

I last saw Ultravox in Belfast way back in 1983 on the 'Quartet' tour. Twenty six years and much hair loss later, they returned, this time to the cosy surroundings of the showpiece Waterfront Hall.

Support act was basically some bloke with a guitar. He did a nice rendition of the Beatles 'Something in the way she moves' -- other than that the only memorable moment was when he thanked the hard-working crew and my friend John commented -- 'Yeah tough job -- there you go mate there's your guitar.'

About 9pm the lights went down and the great men strolled on stage in semi-darkness to wild applause. They launched straight into 'Astradyne', the sprawling instrumental opener to 'Vienna' and it immediately became clear that the band were as technically flawless as ever.
Image-wise, the appearance was let's face it, of four besuited bank managers on keyboards, drums and bass but damn were they good. Billy Currie wasted no time demonstrating his proficiency on the electric viola and Chris Cross, despite a tendency to apparently engage in pocket billiards for much of the set, played a mean bass when required.

So it was straight into the first vocal number -- a blistering rendition of the criminally under-rated 'Passing Strangers.' Bizarrely the weakest link appeared to be Midge himself -- he missed several cues and his vocal frequently seemed (to these ears at least) a little 'off' at times. Perhaps the tightness and consummate perfection of the band showed him up a little.
But that was a minor gripe as not only hit after hit but one classic album track after another flooded the auditorium.
I'm a huge fan of the 'Rage In Eden' album and not only did the two singles appear, but also the incredible 'We Stand Alone', the even more incredible 'Death In The Afternoon', the title track and 'Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)' which dovetailed beautifully into 'Vienna.'

Midge encouraged everyone to get up and dance on 'One Small Day' -- many obliged, but everyone was on their feet for 'Dancing With Tears in my Eyes'. To be honest I didn't have a choice as a woman with a butt the size of Belfast stood up in front of me and created a total eclipse of the stage.

A rock heavy 'Hymn', a dark version of 'Mr.X' complete with creepy backdrop and a manic 'All Stood Still' were amongst the highlights.

The woeful 'U-Vox' album was thankfully ignored, but I did miss a couple of hits -- 'We Came To Dance' and 'Love's Great Adventure.'

Encores were 'Sleepwalk' and of course 'The Voice' which saw a thrilling reprise of the frantic drumming featured on the 'Monument' video from way back when.

SO good to see the fab four back together -- I really hope they stay together this time and if you get a chance to see them live, just go and tell them David sent you.

Set List:

Passing Strangers
We Stand Alone
Visions In Blue
The Thin Wall
Mr X
Reap The Wild Wind
Death in the Afternoon
Rage in Eden
All Stood Still
Your Name Has Slipped my Mind Again
One Small Day
Dancing With Tears in my Eyes
Sleepwalk (Encore)
The Voice (Encore)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Crank High Voltage Review

Having an eight year old means watching pretty much every PG and U cert movie ever released. Which has its upsides -- 'Finding Nemo', 'The Incredibles' and also it's downsides -- pretty much everything else.

So it was nice to see a grown-up movie last night for a change. That's grown-up as in an 18 cert but not in any other sense.

I hadn't seen the first Crank movie and asked my brother-in-law if I might find the plot hard to follow as a result. He had a good laugh at that. Ten minutes in I kind of understood why.

Starring Jason Statham of 'Transporter' fame, 'Crank 2' bears certain similarities to those movies but appears to have ingested vast quantities of steroids and speed somewhere along the way.

Basically Statham's character (Chev Chevios) is a hitman who has his heart surgically removed and has to get it back before he dies. The end.

But in between there are 1001 great excuses for copious quantities of mindless violence, gratuitous sex and nudity, generous use of the F and C words, some nasty mutilation and several incredibly tasteless takes on tourettes and racial stereotypes.

So if that lot sounds a bit gross, I personally wouldn't bother, but if you fancy a laugh out loud, gross-out, knuckle-headed actioner where little old ladies get treated like 'his little whore' and a guy with tourettes attempts kung fu, then you've probably just landed in heaven.

Statham falls out a helicopter and survives, a girl gets hit murderously by a car and gets up and swears and a disembodied head even manages a few expletives, so it's fair to assume that events are not based on a true story.

But lots of things blow up, the body count could fill several morgues and there are more breasts on display than the average poultry processing plant can manage. And older viewers may be surprised to see not only Geri Halliwell but David Carradine making an appearance, both to no great effect, but it's just funny that they're in there.

Statham's body takes more punishment than all of Arnie & Van Damme's films combined and of course he's just fine (until the end anyway mwa ha ha), so don't fret about our hero queueing for hours in A&E like the rest of us.

Great soundtrack too though a few Velvet Acid Christ tunes could have added that extra little smidgeon of cinematic magic.

This is enjoyable, preposterously non-PC nonsense and great for escaping the harsh realities of well pretty much everything. Shocking to admit but I liked it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The LOLZ Catz

Well two months since my last post and I'm doing one about silly cat pictures.
WTF I hear you say. Or if you're over 30 what does WTF mean? Ask your kids.

But why not do one on silly cat pics? The LOLZ Catz are a new discovery for me which probably means they've been around for about 20 years. There are literally hundreds of these masterfully captioned pics around but I'm just including a few that genuinely made me LOL. I love cats and I love daft captions so this is just the ticket. And being me the first one is of a dog.

Don't worry Steve I'll get down to some serious posts soon. Probably. And Katie & Jackie I AM working on the fandom one -- not as if I don't have plenty of raw material lol.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


A defiantly different year, 2008 was dominated by my unexpected passion for West End theatre, and for one protagonist in particular.

In January, at the end of a run of 27 shows, my daughter appeared on stage in the 'Wizard of Oz' alongside Liam Neeson, Jimmy Nesbitt and one Rachel Tucker. This was certainly a proud moment, but I had absolutely no idea what it would lead to.

Rachel of course was one of 10000 who auditioned for the BBC 'I'd Do Anything' series, beginning shortly after Oz ended.
I hadn't really watched any of the previous 'search for a West End star' shows, but given the Rachel connection, I thought I'd give this one a go.
Not everything went to plan for the Belfast lass, but she managed to reach the semi-final, where she gave the performance of a lifetime. The judges were on their feet, ALW was raving and a place in the final seemed assured. But of course that wasn't counting the public vote, and Rachel was unceremoniously dumped.

I wanted to do something -- anything -- that would prevent Rachel slipping back into obscurity. Having 'met' Andy on a forum, we set up the 'Rachel Tucker Fan Blog', which immediately, much to our surprise, attracted a sizeable and faithful audience. Perhaps the most important audience member was Rachel herself, who has contributed several articles.

The blog itself can't take any of the credit for Rachel's subsequent West End success, but I like to think we've helped to build her fanbase, publicise her PAs and generally celebrate her phenomenal talent.
I've noted with some alarm the actions and unwanted attentions of various fans of other theatrical celebrities, and have done my level best to make sure that this hasn't happened to Rachel, largely I hope successfully.
The fan/star relationship can be a complex and difficult one, something which I intend to do a post on in the near future. I do hope we've got it right in this case.

Running Rachel's blog has had several excellent perks. I've got to meet some wonderful people, attended four West End shows and discovered London.

First to the people -- I initially met Karen, Rachel's close friend, when we went to see her perform in Killarney in August. Karen is a real gem -- disarmingly and delightfully honest, funny and hugely talented. As is hubby Richard and future star Matthew.

Then there was Rachel's WWRY opening night in September, where I met Andy, Rosie, Katie, Jackie, Hannah, Jo, Liv and some of Rachel's family, all for the first time.

Andy is a really great guy -- friendly, thoughtful, modest and a joy to work with.
Rosie is a relentlessly upbeat person with an incredible sense of humour and an awesome knowledge of the West End.

Katie -- what can I say? Running Jessie's blog single-handedly is a tough job -- she has proved herself more than capable. She is single-minded and resilient, sensitive and thoughtful. She is a credit to her wonderful family, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. Katie will go far and it is a priviledge to know her.

Jackie has been an absolute revelation -- we corresponded for some time -- same generation, Kate Bush fans, similar literary style and humour. We met at WWRY opening night and subsequently at ALNM. Jackie is charming, sincere, funny and just plain great.

And Rachel herself -- the whole package. Star quality, a heart of gold, wilfully ambitious and hard-working, she is simply an inspiration to everyone.

It's a testament to Rachel as a person that her fans on the blog have been literally queueing up to write virtual essays on how she influenced their year.

For everything Rachel has done and the people she has enabled me to meet, a big big thank you.

Also in showbiz, 2008 turned up an interesting bunch on X-Factor. The final may have been dull, but here are my two favourite acts, who came fourth and fifth.
Meet Ruth and Diana, pictured here in my living room. Possibly.

Happy New Year everyone!