Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Reasons I Don't Understand America Part 4

5 States Consider Bans On Protests at Funerals
At least five Midwestern states are considering legislation to ban protests at funerals in response to demonstrations by the Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, who have been protesting at funerals of Iraq war casualties because they say the deaths are God's punishment for U.S. tolerance toward gays.

Though the soldiers were not gay, the protesters say the deaths, as well as Hurricane Katrina, recent mining disasters and other tragedies are God's signs of displeasure. They also protested at the memorial service for the 12 West Virginia miners who died in the Sago Mine.

So, erm, That Doctor Who Review, Then...

Well, see, I was going to write what I thought about it, but this page here over at Tachyon TV says it a lot better, and at greater length, than I was planning:
19. ‘We’ve got incoming’

The TARDIS rescues Rose from the Dalek ship.

The stakes had never been higher: the Doctor and the Daleks at loggerheads one last time, with the Doctor’s time-travelling chum the prize. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Doctor leads a daring rescue mission into the heart of the Dalek fleet, materialising his ship around Rose and her Dalek captor. No-one - least of all the Daleks or the viewers - expected that one.

You can upset a few hardcore Whovian on the 'net by pointing out the debt Russell T Davies owes to Joss Whedon, the hardcore claim, and have a point, that Doctor Who was intelligent, witty drama for kids long before Ms Summers staked her first vamp, but more than any other comparison I can think of it is apt to look at this new (first or twenty seventh depending on who you ask) season of Doctor Who as a very british answer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Davies' Doctor is not so much about the monster of the week, but how the Doctor and his companions deal, or not, with what's going on around them. The monsters are macguffins that make the relationships change. Even the fanboy pleasers like "Dalek" are designed more to show the Doctor and all his different, sometimes contradictory, sides than the Dalek and how Rose is a humanizing influence on them both in the end.

Joss, perhaps, wouldn't have put so many fart gags in the Slitheen episodes, though...

If I found anything wrong with the season then it was it kept the Doctor Who tradition of some of the guest actors being more wooden than a Woodentops family reunion in a forest, but that didn't happen too often.

Speaking of acting Ecclestone's Doctor took some getting used to a first; everything just seemed slightly off. He smiled too readily and too goofily and was a bit too easily satisfied with himself. It becomes obvious after a while, though, that this is intentional. That it was human behaviour as observed by someone who doesn't quite understand humans and, as such, I thought it was a great way to play it.

Monday, 30 January 2006

Tom Baker Reads Your Text Messages

Fo' real!

This means that everyone, at whatever time of day, can hear Tom whisper in their ear the immortal phrase "Tom's putting it in now..."

Shout Outs!

OK, for Oz day Eamon got Alexandra Bourne over to do a few songs from her repertoire, she was her usual excellent self. For reasons too protracted to go through right here, she let me do a number or two ("Porcelain Monkey", "Boom Boom Mancini", "Where The Devil Won't Stay" & "Dead Drunk & Naked" for those keeping score at home) and I didn't totally suck (though the less said about my attempt to do "Hallelujah" the better) and didn't scare away too many people, so it was all good. Peter also sang a fine, fine cover of Wonderwall.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

It Could Just Be Me

Er, um, we need a name that's witty at first, but that seems less funny each time you hear it.
Principal Skinner in Homer's Barbershop Quartet

I've just caught up on the first season of The Wire on DVD. It's great. I should write more about it at some point (as soon as I've done that Doctor Who first season review), but one thing about it annoyed me. The two fat lazy alcoholic cops were called Polk and Mahon. I don't think anyone actually says "You two! Polk, Mahon!" at any point, but you could feel the writers trying their best not to...

Luckily they got written out of the show fairly quickly.

101 Dumbest Moments in Business

Business 2.0 has just published it's annual list of bizarre or just plain silly business decisions from last year. It's always good to see why CEOs pay themsleves the big wages. You'll all have your own favourites. I liked these two:

23. New for 2006: gaunt, hollow-eyed Stalking You Bear.
In January the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. receives protests from the mental-health community over its Crazy for You Bear, a plush toy in a straitjacket that comes with commitment papers.

The company agrees to discontinue the bear.

29. Men, on the other hand, have a charming self-destructive quality.
Speaking at an ad industry event in Toronto, WPP Group's worldwide creative director, Neil French, says there aren't more female creative directors "because they're crap" and they eventually "wimp out" and "go off and suckle something." French speaks from a stage decorated as a hunting lodge while being served drinks by a woman in a skimpy maid's outfit, of whom he asks, "Could you lean over a bit more?" Two weeks later WPP accepts French's resignation.

I don't know, though, I'd quite like to buy that bear...

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Bringing The Pretty

Teresa over at Making Light says that these are photos of the Guilin area of China. They are certainly beautiful and slightly otherworldly at the same time.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

I Don't Know, I Think I've Spotted A Problem

The MSN Blog Musicfilter has a small article on DJs not liking "laptop" DJs, who, I guess, are DJs who don't spin up the vinyl but do it all on their laptop computer. The more traditional DJs don't like this saying:
The laptop DJs might be doing rocket science, and creating amazing soundscapes, but it’s totally boring for an audience to watch. To me, 2000 people staring at some guy behind his computer for four hours is crazy.

I don't know dance culture passed me by, but it seems that staring at the DJ isn't what anyone goes to these things for and anyone staring at a DJ for more than a few seconds is crazy.

This all reminds me of a joke: "So one DJ says to the other, 'Do you want to go to a movie tonight?' and the other one says, 'I don't know, who's the projectionist?'"

Monday, 23 January 2006

Some Times You Just Despair

Statistics. Sometimes stats can be confusing and sometimes betting can be counter intuitive (look at the Monty Hall Problem but be careful, though, as it may give you a headache) but often it's quite simple. If you double your chances you halve the odds of you losing.

So, yes, if you have 1 Lottery ticket and the chances of winning are 1 in 76 Million then if you buy another ticket (hopefully with a different combination) then you do indeed now have a 2 in 76 Million, or 1 in 38 Million chance of winning.

A forum over at Football 365 takes this simple truth and, quite hilariously, denies it. For 16 pages...

The Prejudice Map

Some person has Googled for "[countrymen] are known for *" for a whole host of places (where [countrymen] is English or German or Canadian or whatever) and made the result into a graphic.

It's interesting of itself and also seems to explain the plot of a couple of Simpsons episodes. I'm not sure exactly what they had to do to get "extremely unclean" for the UK, but when I put in British I got "dry, somewhat sarcastic, witty and self-deprecating sense of humor" and "tea, mushy peas" in the first few, whereas English got "tea", "traditions" and "reserve" (Note to self: write a song with that title).

Austrians, it seems, are known for their:

Gemutlichkeit, a relaxed and happy approach to life.
warmth, hospitality and love
and large tapeworms.

Friday, 20 January 2006

Bright and Clueless

Ten Bob in the comments somewhere on this page makes reference to "stemming a rose". I think we can all take a guess what it means especially as it was in context of talking about that sheepherding movie...

Some people over at Language Hat don't want to believe this. Quite a few, no doubt denial-adjacent, souls try to make it mean "struggling against love", which I guess it kind of does but only if you use "love" the way Robert Plant does.

I did learn one thing while reading Language Hat's comments, though, and that's this:

There is a French expression involving 'the rose'

"Faire les feuilles d'une rose"

Literally it means "to make the leaves of the rose"; figuratively it means "to give a rim job".

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Teaching A Riff To A Friend Declared Illegal

In the latest battle to paint music publishers as ever more desperate money grabbing parasites the MPA (Music Publishers' Association) has scored a new victory:
MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed.

He said unlicensed guitar tabs and song scores were widely available on the internet but were "completely illegal".

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can "throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective".

And you can imagine the conversation with your new bunk mate in jail:

"Hey man, what you in for?"
"Ah you know, drugs, murder that sort of thing. You?"
"I scribbled down a Dylan lyric and randomly put G,C and D over it then posted it on the Internet"
David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers' Association, added his concerns.

"Unauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing," he said.

He really, really means that.

Last night I took my guitar down the pub and played "My Ride's Here" by Warren Zevon. I used a tab that I'd printed off from somewhere. This is almost exactly the same as if I'd coshed the barman and took all the money from his wallet (some would say what I did was worse, but they are music lovers).

Actually, perhaps I might have cost Alfred Publishing some lost revenue, except for the fact that I've just ordered that book anyway and would have had it sooner, but it took Warren to die before anyone thought about cashing in on his loyal fans.

You would think, though, that people looking for tabs and chords are people who are looking to play a version of some song in front of other people, which, I would have thought, amounts to free advertising for the people who wrote and/or performed the song. I don't know if I've created any more sales in Austria for the Drive-By Truckers by doing Dead, Drunk and Naked (some would day the opposite, damn music lovers again), but I've created a small awareness of the band that wouldn't have been there otherwise and given that I'm still a beginner guitar player I wouldn't have been able to do that without help from a website.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Dropping Limbo

I don't usually keep up with changes in Catholic theology, but I found out about this one through the Daily Show.

It seems the Church is dropping Limbo because Africans are worried about babies that die unbaptised not going to heaven. So rather than doing something about, say, Aids, malnutrition and/or malaria, the Church found it much simpler just to make their theology a little easier to swallow.


Monday, 16 January 2006

Short Shorts: 5

A list of stuff I really should write more about:

Yet Another Obvious Survey

Britons on vacation would rather lounge around relaxing, doing nothing, more than anything else, a survey finds.

The article on the report concludes:
The results from the survey suggest that the perfect holiday consists of a hard day relaxing, followed by sex, then taking them for a nice meal, filling them full of booze and maybe finish the night off with a good book, said a spokesman for Real Holiday Reports.com.

And, you know, I'd have to agree.

Friday, 13 January 2006

I Can't Believe It's Not A Parody

Tying up this weeks themes, Movies and the Liberal Media, comes an article by Ben Shapiro in the Townhall called"Why I'm skipping the Oscars this year". TBogg has a shorter version that goes:
All of the movies these days are about the gay except for Lord of the Rings. Sam and Frodo? What about them? What?

But you really should go read the whole thing if only for the palpable fear of sex that races through it.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Uwe Boll: It's German for Ed Wood

Regular visitors to this site —it's true, I have them, I'm not even related to some of them— know I that I like to take time out from time to time to praise the Genius that is Uwe Boll. It's time again.

There's a theory going around that because it takes so many people to make a movie, and because many of those people are talented craftsmen, that there are no really bad movies anymore, but also, by extension, no truly great movies either. The logic, I think, goes like this: when Scorsese made smaller budgeted, more independent-minded movies he brought the good stuff, now he's given loads of money and a huge crew around him, it's all a bit "meh".

The corollary is that those same talented craftsmen are also working on Battlefield Earth, which is a terrible movie in many respects, but it's competently made. The main problem here is that if the sets wobbled and the acting was just a little more over-blown (rather than just wrong) BE could well be a "camp" classic, as it is it's just a chore to sit through, it's not bad enough to be transcendantly bad.

If, then, there was a little less craft, the theory seems to say, perhaps the art could come through more clearly. And you can see the sense of it: how much of a Doug Liman movie, do you think, is Swingers compared to The Bourne Identity? And which is more money? Exactly. Liman is a fine director who made a very good movie, but when the system got hold of him he became just another journeyman hack like all the others before him.

Then, of course, there is Uwe Boll. The system doesn't get to him because he is the system. Due to some wierd German tax law, Boll finances his own movies, so he gets to do what he damn well wants. Plus, due to some vagaries I'm not aware of, he keeps on getting actors you've heard of to appear in said movies[1].

When this all comes together it puts Boll in charge of a movie where it's box-office success has no doubt already been statistically worked out and, because of the tax thing, no-one much cares anyway.

So he ends up making Alone In The Dark.

Alone In The Dark is a bad movie. It's almost hypnotic in it's badness. Things mostly happen in the movie because Boll thought it might be a good idea to try and homage another movie and are motivated by very little else. And when he's not doing broken homage to better movies, he has his own ideas. This is very bad indeed. Random slow motion and that sharp flickery cam that everyone uses nowadays (technically this is "adjusting the shutter angle to 45 degrees" for those who listen to DVD commentaries) happen. Characters appear simply to give exposition, which often isn't needed, for one scene, badly. Music videos start up during gun battles. Your brain packs up and won't come back again until you've watched some Renoir.

Movies, you rest-assured, can still be delirously bad.

Which means, yes, I am looking forward to the appearence, eventually, at my DVD rental place of Bloodrayne.

[1] Ben Kingsley had better have financial security and a very nice house as a result of Bloodrayne or else Ben had better be channeling Don Logan in his next conversation with his agent:
"You're the problem! You're the fucking problem you fucking Dr White honkin' jam-rag fucking spunk-bubble! I'm telling you Aitch you keep looking at me I'll put you in the fucking ground, promise you!"

Or, you know, words to that effect

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

This Sith Hit's Not Shit

Via the new-TV-owning Vince Keenan's website comes this article: Fellowship of the Sith. It makes a number of incredible claims including this:
Channeling Kurosawa by way of Genndy Tartakovsky, Lucas' dynamic, clean compositions are as sturdy as woodcuts and as resonant as Tarot cards. I now think anyone who reflexively dismisses that possibility that "Sith" is worth discussing AS A MOVIE is, in fact, a cinematic reactionary, a person who has unwittingly rejected the notion that a film's true worth resides in composition, mise-en-scene, camera movement and editing, rather than middlebrow notions of what's serious.

Now, my opinion of Sith was that it didn't suck as much as the others and that playing Lego Star Wars The Video Game had led me to expect a better plot than actually was the case, in fact the linked Idle Thumbs article points out why this might be:
As we approached the end, I wondered how the game would handle the final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, when there wasn’t really going to be room for three. The answer turned out to be thoroughly disappointing. The plan seemed to be that I was Obi-Wan, he was Anakin, try to kill each other in the cutscenes and in between negotiate jumping puzzles together. It was a huge cop-out and it made absolutely no sense that these two would put aside their difference for some shared jumping.

During a lull in said jumping, though, we landed on flat ground and I realised that now, the game actually did want me to kill him. I was unprepared for this, because it wasn’t really a boss fight, there wasn’t any Cody; my brother was still playing as him. Fighting the person I was supposed to complete this game with this whole time was a shock, and the game was only going to end with his death. Sucks to be player two. After I did dismember him, the silence between us was a bit awkward. To be honest, that Lego adaptation got far more emotion out of me than the CGI-showcase melodrama of the movie. It hit all the notes that the movie’s climax was supposed to yet failed to, and it’s a great example of what games can do that most media can’t.

There are many places you can go to argue whether games are art or not. I don't think Lego Stars was ever ment to be included in that debate, but if a game can have you feeling complex emotions like the above, even a gleefully silly one, then perhaps games can be art. And that really is the thing. I did enjoy the fights and the imagery in the new Star Wars trilogy, but at no point did I feel anything for anybody. Matt Zoller Seitz may claim that I'm missing the point or that I didn't watch the movie as a child and he'd be right but I don't think that's a valid argument.

I can see the composition of Sith and I can see the repeated imagery, the fore-shadowing of the space ship designs and the suspiciously familiar Corellian freighters in the corner of certain shots. Great. Movie as one big easter egg hunt. If Lucas was channeling Kurosawa, though, it was late period stately Ran/Kagemusha Kurosawa, making the whole thing conciously epic with fabulous battles and glorious colour and a bunch of people slightly lost in the middle of it.

There is wonder in Lucas's universe and some of it does require meeting it with a child-like fascination but the broad strokes of the plot and lack of any real characterisation outside of an attempt to make Anakin a bad-boy can't really be excused by this. Pixar, Joss Whedon and Russell T Davies have all recently shown that family entertainment doesn't mean childish, or even child-like, and that young audiences will accept characters with complex emotions and motivations.

The recent Star Wars movies are not rubbish because we don't understand them on cinematic level, a ridiculous argument, anyway, plenty of bad movies are well-made, they are rubbish because the fail to engage you. Anakin's progression seems to be whiny kid, whiny teenager, whiny twenty-something, sombre evil bloke. The darkness at the centre of the story isn't a pervading evil but a sucking emptiness. No amount of "rhyming situations and compositions" is ever going to mask that.

Thursday, 5 January 2006

Who Da Thunk It

I'm trying not to comment on polls and lists, but if I did do such a thing I would be pointing out that a bunch of people whose average age was 13 or 14 in 1967 (so 51 now) have just voted that year the bestest for music ever. Quite a few of them must be ironists because 2005 gets in the top ten, too.

The Devil You Read

I may perhaps be "normalising the unthinkable", but the idea that the Guardian Media Group, publishers of the Guardian, the Obs, etc., exists soley to make money doesn't surprise me. Neither does the revelation that the liberal media protects power as much as the right-wing press does.

Medialens isn't so much surprised as shocked that no-one wants to hear about it, the Guardian, in particular, has it's hands over its ears and is singing "lalala":
The only journalist who has been consistently honest about the media is John Pilger. It'’s interesting to consider how he's treated. In our view he's the country's most powerful dissident - his writing is superb, and the depth and breadth of his insight is beyond most of the other writers you mention. But it seems there's no place for him in any of the quality papers! People talk about the Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne as a radical force -– but he won't publish Pilger. We've asked Milne why and he refuses to answer. So our best living dissident - obviously one of the all-time greats - is required to write a fortnightly column in the New Statesman which reaches a few thousand people. So why is he treated differently to Klein and Monbiot? Because he's honest about the media -– he criticises the Guardian, he draws attention to the vital role of the entire liberal media establishment in crimes against humanity. So he is persona non grata.

Good lefties, of course, know that the Graun is a "liberal" paper and, if they don't always mentally adjust the stories accordingly, they are aware that it is biased. They probably read Private Eye, too, and are thus painfully aware that journalists are very human.

I do subscribe to Medialens and I am grateful for the constant updates even if I don't read them that often. Part of the problem being that you do feel it takes someone quite spectacularly humourless to point out:
A Guardian Weekend supplement in March 2004 consisted of 128 pages. Of these, 90 were taken up in advertising, some of it aimed at society's wealthiest elites. The "chiffon halterneck dress with metal sequin overlay" advertised on page 74, for example, cost £5,890. The country's leading liberal newspaper described this as "absolute glamour".

Because if the country's leading liberal newspaper is raving about six grand dresses, well, the revolution can't be far off.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Hey Sexy Mama, Wanna Kill All Humans?

Futurama could well be back, back back!

Letterman Still Cool

I can't remember how I got there but some bunch called Newsbusters — exposing and combating Liberal Media Bias, no less — fail to notice that it's right-wing shit-talker Bill O'Reilly who's getting a verbal smack down in their transcript:
When O’Reilly urged an end to tagging Bush as a “liar,” scolded Cindy Sheehan for calling the insurgents “freedom fighters” and urged people to be “very careful with what we say" in disparaging others, Letterman took him to task: "Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also." Letterman demanded: "How can you possibly take exception with the motivation and the position of someone like Cindy Sheehan?" And he tried to discredit O’Reilly’s contention: “Have you lost family members in armed conflict?" When O'Reilly conceded that "no, I have not," Letterman castigated him: "Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?"

Monday, 2 January 2006

Things That Make Me Smile

This did today for no good reason at all.

... And A Happy New Year

So, when I wasn't getting drunk I was doing my best Jabba the Hutt impression whilst trying to get through all the DVDs and books I got for Xmas. This was a good thing!

I'm now caught up on the two TV events of last year: Lost (half a season of it, anyway) and Dr Who.

I like Lost and I'm already enchanted by the central mystery. How the heck are they going to get that fat guy to lose weight?

A lot of reviewers also think it's hilarious to point out that only the pretty ones (and the token fat guy) survived, which shows that TV reviewers not only borrow each others jokes, but also haven't watched enough TV to justify their position. A quick glance at just about any series will tell you that America is a land of thin photogenic people (apart from the token fat/ugly one to reinforce just how thin/photogenic everyone else is) who are well-traveled, well-read and culturally literate and all talk just a little bit like a nerdy TV writer wished he could have gotten away with when they were at school...

Doctor Who is great and I'm going to write a bit more about it in another post.