Category Archives: Politics

The death of Have I Got News For You

The satirical news panel show Have I Got News For You has been cancelled by the BBC.

If you greeted that piece of information with hysteria, disappointment or perhaps a dribble of urine running down your corduroy chaffed thigh, then there is no need to worry.  The BBC have not cancelled HIGNFY, nor would they have plans to.  Nonetheless, the Death of Have I Got News For You is upon us, whether you like it or not, sitting there with your fetid Aussie wine and M&S nibbles, in your dressing gown.  Granted, it’s not a quick, painful and obvious death. But its been suffering for a while now, courtesy of a bout of flu, but no matter the current crop of in-vogue germs strutting their stuff about global aerospace, HIGNFY’s problems have been endemic.

In truth, it all began with the dismissal of Deaton.  Now, the dismissal of Deaton was done for the right reasons et cetera et cetera, no need to get into that, but HIGNFY has since become a bit of a circus.  Of course there’s an irrepressible joy at seeing Brian Blessed rolling out the vowels like the gravy train’s delayed at Yeovil Junction and there’s been many other enjoyable guest hosts, but the novelty factor devalues the content.  Ian Hislop remains a difficult man to like, a caricature of the old guard, public schoolboy whose idea of mischief is to recite newspaper stories with a false sense of righteousness, until he trails off somewhere half way through, lost under his own new found modesty.

Paul Merton remains Paul Merton, playing a maverick from a bygone Vaudevillian age, which is all nice and fun, but he isn’t a satirist, and his wandering streams of consciousness and lightning retorts only further detract from the content of the show.  One wonders whether the BBC, in an age of ever increasing scrutiny, has shifted its quota for satirical content silently to Mock the Week, that brilliant,  low rent, ghastlier stand-up vehicle of a show, and left HIGNFY hanging on the laurels of cheeky banter and desensitised caption competitions; I mean really, is mocking the way Gordon Brown’s foggy eyes drift listlessly like a zombie across the picture satire? Is that what it boils down to?

HIGNFY needs to galvanise.  After 12 years (is it twelve years?) of mocking Labour for inadequacy, the Tories for the size of their inheritance and the Lib Dems for trying too hard, this is all getting a bit much.  It’s become too reverent, and reverent satire must not exist, it can’t exist, and HIGNFY runs the risk of simply sending up the whole charade of government as some kind of invite only, nice-but-dim socialite club with its homegrown brand of expensive yet innocuous corruption, rather than cut to any kind of politicised discourse.  They need to reinstate a regular host.  Alexander Armstrong was touted.  He’ll do.  He’s smug enough.  And let’s be happy that when the Tories swing the election and deprive our fair, small and invariably miserable country of art funding and empowerment and pride, our consolation prize will be years of memorable comedy, art and culture.  And this, of course, will lead to the immediate resuscitation of HIGNFY as a spotlight of the primetime BBC schedule.  That is if it isn’t already dead.

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The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Film #2-5

Due to waning interest in the process of making lists, I’ve felt the compulsion to throw out a good four films that have helped define the decade for me, in no particular order, with no significance behind their numbering yadayada.
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#2 – IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
A fantastic British film that presents a fairy-tale portrait of Bruges (in Belgium for the idjits) while meditating on the inner complexities of Ray (Colin Farrell), dealing with ethics, morality, redemption…pretty much everything actually. It’s also bloody funny and eminently quotable.

In many ways a film of brilliant conversations, Martin McDonagh goes some way to knocking Tarantino off his perch. But In Bruges is more than this, with finely calibrated performances from Colin Farrell (long a figure of detraction to many) Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes (who gets to flex his Estuary English vernacular) who all deliver the wonderful dialogue with aplomb but also demonstrate the cracks beneath the world-weary veneer of the hitmen they are. Bruges looks heavenly, even if it would be more astute to call it purgatorial, with its flock of temptress’, daemons and strange grotesque inhabitants. Definitely not perfect, but it’ll get stuck in your head. The score is fantastic too.

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#3 KISS KISS BANG BANG (Shane Black, 2005)
Wonderful, wonderful film that flew completely under the radar in the UK at the time of its release, but slowly (surely?) it will become a cult classic. Its dark, hilarious, playful and at times incredibly sobering. It does fall over its own plotting a little, but surely this is just because of the film noir it champions.

A comedic pastiche of the film noir of hard boiled detectives and femme fatales in showbizarre LA, it marries the very best of Shane Black’s previous work with the perfect combo of Robert Downey Jr. (still on his way up to the top) and Val Kilmer, who displays such a knack for comedy you wish he would do more. It’s hard to qualify such an unnoticed film as definitive of the decade, but it was certainly a bonus for Downey Jr, who looks to conquer all around from now until the end of time.

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#4 The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
Becoming my own epitome of the flawed masterpiece, The Fountain is a woefully powerful film sometimes enamoured by its own grandiosity and at no effort to explain itself. Darren Aronofsky cemented his position as one of the most evocative and interesting directors to emerge in the 00s with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream, following his ingenious Pi in 1998, but this is an altogether more profound film.

The Fountain is a love letter to Aronofsky’s wife, Rachel Weisz, who also stars alongside Hugh Jackman. The film is an expansive affair that weaves its narrative threads with little concern for their significance until – BHAM! – Clint Mansell’s soaring score (the best of the decade, perhaps) kicks in and every little detail of Aronofsky’s story clicks together and makes perfect sense, and then doesn’t again. Its a mystery unto itself, but appears – on the outside – to be a story of grief overcome. Suffice to say, I will admire any film that includes Spanish Conquistadors, Rachel Weisz and an existential nomad living in a giant spherical globe, floating through the universe tending a dying tree.

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#5 Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)
The Noughties were truly the decade when we went meta. Adaptation presents many different characters all at different stages of their career but all at the height of their powers – although Meryl Streep’s never wain. Charlie Kauffman continues his ascent as oddball auteur; Spike Jonze continues his as perfect mediator of Kauffman and vibrant director in his own right; Nic Cage is at his most bearable.

A film about the process of screenwriting, and by extension anything and everything, Adaptation is a cyclical maze of a film that, like The Fountain, leads you on blind until in one moment it all clicks and – voila – it all becomes clear. Kauffman makes his stuggle to craft a story out of flowers he simply thinks are beautiful thought-provoking while accessible, with Jonze arranges the pieces like a true master. Cage manages, quite successfully with his mumbling, bumbling performance of the Charlie Kauffman, to steady the narrative. He’s not quite as good as he is in Raising Arizona, but its the best he’s been since. It’s self-preservational message ends up skewing towards cliche Hollywood resolution at the end – but I think that’s the point.

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Games #1

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As video games become more sophisticated, more complex and for lack of a better term, more artistically minded in their conception, production and execution, you wonder how detrimental the moniker of “video game” is for a medium with its own unique set of possibilities. “Video” remains indicative of a previous age – somewhat rubbish, a bit eccentric and certainly not something to be taken seriously – and “game” reinforces the idea that the video game is simply a way to waste away time, therapeutic all the same, but serving no great purpose other than that. Some day I am sure the video game moniker will fade away, with our society appropriating a more suitable term for a medium whose potential is only just being considered with any seriousness. Perhaps the Noughties – Ergck! – will eventually be defined as a key decade in which video games really began to explore this potential, or at least mainstream audiences and more importantly multi-national conglomerates began to recognise it. But then again, concerning how gaming has developed over the last few decades, in would be hard to discard any development cycle as worthless.

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (BIOWARE, 2003 for PC/XBOX)

Knights of the Old Republic, to me, was one of these transitory games where, even if it was not truly innovative, it had the polish and the instant appeal on top of an already well-crafted and satisfying core game, to absolutely enthral me. A large part of this comes down to the Star Wars license, this must be said, wielding all the hallmarks of the series – but the key for this is the quality of the story and the writing. If the Star Wars prequels proved anything, it was that the series is more than a number of repeated motifs, sounds, memorable dialogue and music. KOTOR, as it has since been known, arrived for me one Christmas and kept me busy for weeks, months even, suffering itself to be replayed by my younger self again and again, under an increasingly avid addiction to the flexibility available with the game.

Describing the plot again elicits nostalgic thoughts: 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, a Republic cruiser harbouring a powerful yet naive Jedi comes under attack above the planet Taris; you, an insignificant Republic soldier, are tasked with making sure the Jedi escapes the Sith. What follows is a terrifically enjoyable adventure that evokes all the fun and banter of the original Star Wars films as you begin to unravel the mysteries of the Galaxy, discovering the source of the Sith’s new found power. It’s an engaging story, populated with many lively and intriguing characters and involving numerous strange and wonderful worlds. The sheen and freshness may have diminished under repeated playthroughs, but its significance in many peoples gaming memories is inarguable and the popularity of its protagonist remains undwindling.

If there’s another thing that KOTOR did what other games didn’t do for me, it was to establish the name of a developer in my mind. Bioware, who have since flexed their muscles far and wide in the industry, would have already been familiar to veterans of RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but for me this was the first time we met. Developing into a cerebral gamer as I have, I’ve been interested in whatever they have gone on to do – although circumstance has ruled the much celebrated Mass Effect out of my reach for now. But I’ve played Jade Empire (great, despite its somewhat unsatisfactory length) and I have my eyes on Dragon Age: Origins, and certainly optimistic towards Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Film #1

A Christmas season for me nowadays always seems like it lacks something, and that something happens to be a Tolkien film.
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I feel the need to skip the airy, demeaning preamble that usually smears the first half of my posts, but I also want to say that often with these lists there’s a need to juggle the concerns of the demographic, eschuing all manner of qualifiable films for foreign masterpieces or eschuing all of those masterpieces for crowd pleasing extravaganza’s. Many more try to dialetically merge these two modes of film appreciation with varying levels of success, often leading to compulsory choices that tick demographic boxes, from Funny Games to Mission Impossible III, resulting in a strange, tensile list that tries to please everybody and enthrals no one. The upside to this is that we often get to see the tensions of our society played out in the lists. The downside is that the lists just become a farce.

So this is the beginning of my film “list,” which will trundle on until I am satisfied.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)

The problem publications seem to have with adding The Lord of the Rings to their lists is that they are so rife with pedantry, cynicism and cross-examination by their very nature (a nature brought to the forefront of their sensibilities now that the internet allows, even champions the feedback of idiots) that a typically po-faced genre like fantasy tends to fall out of favour because they aren’t in a cycle of constant self-justification. While The Lord of the Rings is by no means po-faced (as its many derivatives are) it bears a sincerity that this post-modern nastiness finds hard to swallow.

I remember the first time I saw the teaser trailer for The Lord of the Rings. I had had no interaction with any of Tolkien’s books until then – although I firmly remember my cousin, who will forever be five years my senior, mentioning it as a literary classic. After seeing the trailer, I read The Lord of the Rings, then The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings again, all within a matter of months – which was incredibly tough for a child of my stupidity. I read it religiously, effecting a kind of pseudo-cool position within the realms of geekdom at my school; the acceptable face of geekdom if you will, for being gifted as I was at running like a bellend and naturally skillful with the football, the rugby ball, the basketball and the tennis racket, I served as a kind of emissary to the other schoolchildren, for I could deal on their level and then retreat back into a cabal of couplet speaking outcasts and bask in their favour for a time.

But if I thought I did a good job of representing a long maligned (and long po-faced) genre, then The Fellowship of the Ring was the 9/11 of fantasy movies; it was a complete game changer (probably a more appropriate reference somewhere). People – more specifically men – more specifically men born in the late 60s/early 70s – – often go on about the first time they saw Star Wars, seeing the Blockade Runner shoot past the screen followed by a dagger shapped ship that just got bigger and bigger and bigger. After this experience, they saw, everything changed: the possibilities of cinema opened up for them. They knew then, they just knew, that they were destined to regional sales manager for Enviromow Lawnmower Delivery LTD for the rest of their lives. Well, firstly screw them for helping ensure the infantilisation of the sci-fi genre, and secondly, allow this to happen, but third and most significant, I’m going to borrow their anecdote and apply it to Fellowship: I feel The Fellowship of the Ring performed a similar ritual to the young minds of the early 00s. From the first few seconds of the first film, you just had to be impressed with what had been achieved.*

Out of the three films, the first remains my favourite. This is not a detriment to the latter two films, for they continue the journey in unrivalled quality, but the first retains a charm for me, whether it be the whistful Hobbits, the stirring formation of the Fellowship, the riotous last ditch efforts of a heroic Sean Bean as Boromir (long my favourite character) or the ethereal disquiet of Lothlorien or even the cerebral beauty of Rivendell. But most of all, what guarantees its appeal to me is probably that it’s a magnificent statement of intent from Peter Jackson. It is truly a wonderful, life-affirming achievement to have adapted a book so unwieldy and troublesome into such a deserving and worthy film, evoking the spirit of the book at the same time. I mean the prose of Tolkien is a literal nightmare; it makes mine look like that of a poet bloody laureate.

But what’s also fascinating and magnificent about the trilogy as a whole, is its construction of Middle Earth in our world (for which New Zealand will always be a place on my “to visit” list); the visualisation of all these spectacular, serene or terrifying locations; the designs of the Uruk-Hai, brutish and jagged; the men of Rohan in their rich Saxon get-up; the Elves in their brilliantly rendered, gorgeously executed armours and costumes. And all this was clear from The Fellowship of the Ring. Middle Earth was brought to life with such confidence and aplomb that any conceptions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth I gain while reading the book are articulated through what I know to be Weta’s aesthetic.

* To me this began with the prologue, a wonderfully economic but exciting look into the masses of armies clashing on the slopes of Mount Doom. In particular, the Blockade Runner moment occurs when the Elves of the Last Alliance unsheathe their massive swords and play synchronised ninja with orc.

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Music #1

The Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Believe The Hype; Listen Instead.
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It is music that often typifies a certain period in time, often to the extent where it’s lauded as timeless, despite its roots. Indeed, retrospectives on history often depend on music of the time to qualify them, whether they be documents of the Thatcher years (cue the Specials or The Smiths), the swinging Sixties (cue Booker T and the MGs or the Beatles, should they afford that), or the advent of Cool Britannia (cue splash frames of Damon Albarn looning about and the Gallaghers snarling), they all look to the produce of the music industry to inform their integrity and credibility.

So to say I’ve “lived” the Noughties – arm aches – requires me to round off a list of names thought culturally to be the great innovators and poets of the day. This is mostly moot to me as I just don’t particularly care for lyrics. It’s a strange thought, but often when I hear people commenting on lyrics, I marvel at their ability to do so, as if everyone has an uncanny knack for grasping lyrics at the second or first hearing except me. Some of my favourite songs I could not tell you the lyrics to. Instead, I listen to sounds, both noise and ambience and enjoy that instead. Often it’s the jump of the bass, the chorus of moody guitars or the galloping drumwork that’ll invigorate me. God knows how I like hip-hop if the lyrical eloquence passes me by (is it enough to say I like the samples and the beats?). So, on to this list, right…well, it isn’t really a list (and certainly not a competitive one at that) but hopefully it will be indicative of my decade.

ARCTIC MONKEYS – WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT (2006)

I tend to shy away from bands touted as the next big thing, as much a reactionary process and rejection of the NME, as a serious suspicion of the optimism and premonitions of said musical journalists. To me the Arctic Monkeys were no different, at first, than the hosts of other young indie bands frollicking around in the mid-Noughties (Ow, broke a tooth). I even became openly hostile of them when their fame and profile started to rise – “only empty hype,” I told myself – but then I bought a ticket for Reading 2006. Refraining from going off to watch something else probably rubbish in retrospect, I hung around the main stage out of peer pressure as much as anything, quietly berating my parties taste. But then they came on and by god they were fantastic. I am not suggesting they are the best performers in the world, because I wouldn’t know that, but everything came together: the excitement rustling through the crowd, the hype slowly building underneath the forest of heads and plumes of smoke, the alcohol, the lesser thought of substances and suddenly the cutting guitars and thumping drums of View From The Afternoon, with the crooning voice of Alex Turner ringing out. I was totally sold on them. And thus ends my painfully unimpressive Arctic Monkeys anecdote.

As much as there is to criticise about “the dickhead festival,” I will always thank Reading what it gave me the night I saw the Monkeys the first time. I must also point out that my usual deafness to the lyric just doesn’t seem to apply with the Monkeys. I get everything, and I appreciate everything. Maybe it’s the influence of the Monkeys growing up on garage and hip-hop, but they pole vault the lyrical dreariness of the self-indulgent, new-romantic-Lord-Byron-wannabees who appear every bloody week, and allows them to deliver infectious rhythm and biting wit in their idiosyncratic stories of modern youth; stories that I get. Thing is, many narratives on the album relate to an experience I’ve known as a youngling in the fading years of the Noughties – Ow, again – and as such, the first Arctic Monkeys album shall forever be the soundtrack to my fading youth, irrelevant of those it passes by.

Reflecting back on the decade, it is feasible to see how we all became bigger wankers.

There’s a nauseating outpouring of retrospectives on the decade that was, but still really IS, entering the public sphere at the moment, reflecting on these past 9 years with various insights, some of which are interesting, others vaguely hollow and glib but most simply leading you to a state of realisation: 10 years have past and I have achieved nothing. Literally nothing. You’ve only just started taking global warming seriously, because Leonardo DiCaprio told you to, let alone rescued the planet from it. You’ve not found a cure for AIDS yet, because lets face it, cancer was in vogue this decade, but you didn’t manage to find a cure for that either. You haven’t brought a stop to oppression, you’ve not stopped global conflict and you certainly haven’t managed to find any level of contentment. And 10 years have passed you by.

Many may have watched Big Brother, but in the end, Big Brother was watching us.

What you could do to better form some kind of contentment and happiness would be to draft a list, a countdown, a ten commandments of music, films and books that have infiltrated and successfully manipulated your decade into a kind of roller coaster ride of different emotions, all secured via financial means, that give meaning to your sad, pathetic life. This is precisely what I’ve done. I form my world view and then reinforce it with corresponding materials which give credence to my observations, from the politik of xenophobia and combating terrorism to paranoia and coincidence to the grotty halls our nocturnal selves inhabit at the weekends, gulping at malty beer and playing urban poetry in our heads as we resist and allure those of the opposite sex.

But even though I subscribe to this notion of representation and image governed by my tastes, likes and choices, I still do not like lists. Especially numbered, countdown lists, competitive lists that lift a piece of music, an album for example, out of its context and its specific time and place and supplant it in a sort of chronology of the decade, full of contrivances which all incite pedantry and naysaying because of the very nature of having lifted these albums from their belonging and putting them where they don’t. I’m struck by Paul Morley’s article. I’ve been following his series Showing Off… for a while now on the Guardian website for the Observer. I’ll readily admit that not all is to my taste, but I reserve enough humility and self-ridicule not to scoff at some of the people appearing in its many interviews in much the same way as Morley does not himself.

I’m going to write my own retrospective soon, on the music, films, games and books which have shaped my particular decade, whether they were made of this decade or not. My criteria is wide, but that’s because lists, especially competitive lists are so bloody reductive. There is no such thing as an objective list and as Morley says, even should there be great care taken with the choosing of such a list, the results will always reflect the readership and status of the publication it’s being written for, thus the Guardian’s will differ vehemently from that of Ok! magazine or the Daily Mail. So I’m going to make a consciously subjective list. No, hopefully my “list” – I would prefer to think of it as a kaleidoscope to be frank, documenting my tastes, triumphs and failings – will simply be reflective of me and my own, no one else.

I feel relatively blessed, having been born on at the fall of one decade and the eve of another. It affords me an easy way of judging such decades as they correlate with my own transitions to 30, to 40 and so on. The two decades I have spent in waking life have informed me a great deal and will, I suspect in more autumnal years, be full of nostalgia and golden meadows buried with gold and drizzled in Liefman’s Goudenband. No doubt this last decade shall appear integral to what later comes, and thus I, in the present, feel a great desire to reflect on the wanky “Noughties” – OW – while I can to learn what I can.

And if you’re wondering why we’re all become wankers, then remember to hit yourself in the face the next time you see, hear or write – OW – the “noughties.” The “noughties”…what an infuriatingly pathetic monicker for our infuriatingly pathetic days. Now I’m going to run off and grab a tissue to stop my nosebleed. It’s the step up from The Game. No only have you lost The Game, but you also live in the Noughties.

Apple Are To Blame For My Irrational Fear of Technology

As a sucker for anything technophobic (or by extension, something exploring the idea of technophobia) I often find the time to ponder the possibilities of a future war between man and robot – and let me say, it does not look good for us. Driven to extinction by technologies oedipal urge to destroy us, we’ll be like rabbits in headlights, or hares on a coursing track, or any number of hare/rabbit related idioms that pave an equally bleak future for us.

The fear of such an event occurring becomes increasingly justifiable when you consider Apple. The white walled temples to the God-Technology-That-Is, known to us plainly as Apple shops, will (we can say with some rationality) at later stages in the Human-Robot war, become staging grounds for an aerial strike. Their current employees too – chummy, casual and acting on anti-depressants – are a foreshadow of what is to come: humans replaced by nano-technologically recreated biosynthetic hybrids. An Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the iPod Nano age.

But it is the technology itself which scares me the most: oblique and unknownable, sleek and seemingly efficient – and yet like Replicants, humbled by a built-in life span that means it’ll eventually expire and you will have to buy a new one – these seemingly innocuous white bodied machines are still a mystery. But most terrifyingly for me is their status as a lifestyle choice. I don’t care if you’re a Mac – you have blond hair and blue eyes like a child from the Village of the Damned! A machine should be a tool, and even if it is more than that, it should still be marketed as a tool so we don’t lose sight of reality.

Which is why my Windows operated Dell laptop is such a reassurance in these increasingly desperate times. Slow to react, prone to freezing and haunted by the blue screen of death, my laptop suggests an altogether more optimistic, some would say, vision of what lies ahead, probably because the laptop has a similar work ethic to my own. I’ll do it later. I’ll get round to it. Yeah, I’ll just finish making a cup of tea. That’s okay, I’ll try and install these new Windows updates while your asleep, okay? It never does. God knows what it’s up to.

The fallibility of a Windows laptop is a therapeutic reminder that should technology, en masse, become a sentient life form with one transglobal consciousness, it is likely to have the same crushing lack of ambition as my own. There will be no time for a war with humans if all it wants to do is surf the worldwideweb with disregard for whatever sanctions the ISP is imposing. Forget a blitzkrieg against the Governments of Earth; I can download the entire back-catalogue of dozens of obscure acid-jazz bands for free!

But perhaps my paranoia is misplaced. Perhaps a traditional war between man and machine will not occur, and perhaps Apple have already won. Their space-like stores have invaded the high streets of Britain already, and whether it be malfunctioning iPod shuffles or useless accessories, we keep going back. We’re hooked on this piece of the future we are able to handle. Space! we say. Perhaps, in our postmodern, consumer driven we have already lost and we are to blame. Or the people in marketing.

I don’t want an AppleMac; I see nothing of myself in it. Unarguably cool, progressively New Age and blatantly insincere, it is no son of mine. I’m a PC. Well mannered and efficient on a good day, downright unpleasant and withholding on a bad.