Friday, December 23, 2011

Steve McQueen's Shame: a not-so-festive treat

To say the talent on display in Shame are flavour of the month is an understatement. They’re flavour in the way Heston Blumenthal means flavour, which means gutting a pig seven ways, bending it into a balloon giraffe and making it taste like trout. It’s helmed by artist and Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, and scripted by multiple BAFTA winner Abi Morgan who, with Meryl Streep-showcasing Maggie Thatcher biopic THE IRON LADY out next year, seems to be singlehandedly flying the flag for female British screenwriters. Oh, and it stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, last seen in superhero reboot X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and surprise pulp hit DRIVE respectively. Phew.

Let’s get the important stuff out the way first. Shame is the film my Mum calls ‘the one with Michael Fassbender’s willy’, which sounds like an episode of Friends. If it was, Shame would be the one in which Joey, Phoebe and Monica have a threesome, Ross gets arrested for S&M and Chandler lays off the aspirin in favour of Viagra, ditching witty gags for latex ones. Yes, there’s a lot of sex in this film. But it’s not very sexy sex, and no I’m not going to go back and phrase that more eloquently. Michael Fassbender has sex with everyone, Carey Mulligan has sex with Michael Fassbender’s boss, and Michael Fassbender looks like he wants to have sex with Carey Mulligan except he can’t because she’s his sister.

Fassbender plays city hotshot Brandon, a bachelor with the kind of rugged good looks women can’t resist, and the kind of income which means he can order bottles of champagne and martinis with olives and cocktail sticks. Is it just me or do they look wrong without Sarah Jessica Parker on the other end? But Fassbender has cornered the market in playing charismatic fuck-ups, and sex addict Brandon is exactly that. He’s the kind of guy Chat Roulette was made for, spending his out-of-work hours jerking off over his stack of porn magazines and talking dirty to prostitutes via his webcam, but, as the title suggests, Brandon isn’t happy. He keeps his distance from colleagues and co-workers, and when he isn’t alone in the type of starkly modern flat Patrick Bateman would be proud of, scours the bars and clubs of Manhattan for increasingly squalid encounters which lift his spirits only fleetingly, leaving him sadder, lonelier and more disgusted with himself than ever.

Brandon’s colleague Marianne (Nicole Beharie) naïvely thinks she can change him. She can’t. Brandon may need the love of a good woman but what he wants right now is a prostitute or three, preferably from behind, up against the wall, and dirtier than Alan Titchmarsh’s knees after a morning spent rolling Charlie Dimmock in the *ahem* flower beds. He’s a man conflicted, and never more so than after the unexpected arrival of younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a pouty wannabe singer with a neat line in Oxfam coats and an inability to recognise when she’s not wanted. Carey does stroppy teenager well, but her real moment in the sun comes during a slowed-down, melancholy version of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. Can Carey sing? No better than the rest of us, but as Brandon treads an empty Manhattan awash with watery blues and greys, the lyrics take on a timbre which leaves him in tears. He isn’t king of the hill. He isn’t top of the heap. He can’t commit to a functioning relationship and he’s about to spend the next three hours wide awake and listening to his married boss bang his little sister’s brains out.

Outwardly Brandon is furious with Sissy for damaging his career prospects, but Steve McQueen’s direction leaves you with the sense that a deeper personal tension is at play, a feeling amplified when a spot of rough and tumble on the couch turns into a potent, vicious struggle. The atmosphere between the siblings is uncomfortably charged; a further shame is hinted at in their shared past, but this isn’t Hollywood, so nothing is resolved and nothing confirmed. ‘We’re not bad people,’ says Sissy. ‘We just come from a bad place’. The backstory remains as ambiguous as the final image, which leaves Fassbender on his knees in the rain and the audience wondering if the film’s climax - a neat little piece of misdirection where a violent premonition comes unexpectedly to pass – will have any effect on his personal life, or whether he’ll continue down the solitary road he has embarked on, littered with used condoms and HIV tests.

With an unexpectedly theatrical structure, a dialogue-heavy climax and the fact that Brandon is never forced to confront his behaviour directly, McQueen’s exploration of Brandon’s internal conflict can at times feel a little slow-paced. Yet, like Madonna’s stringy upper arms, Shame improves with distance. Despite holding the current top spot for most misleading name in the industry, Steve McQueen puts his Turner Prize-winning visual eye to excellent use; the narrative unfolds in moments and glimpses, and the wordless opening sequence - where Brandon and a pretty women on the subway exchange lingering glances - is mined by McQueen for all the tension and uncertainty he can muster. As the object of Brandon’s attention uncrosses and re-crosses her legs, we can’t help but wonder whether the effect she’s having on him is intentional - and when he follows her off the train, it’s near-impossible to tell whether this is in response to a silent invitation or simply the natural progression of a life spent thinking of, dreaming about and desperately trying not to want sex. Her startled expression suggests the latter, and Brandon is left desperately searching for her on the platform. Shame is nihilistic, sad and frustrating, but it’s also beautifully shot and thought-provoking, with a modulated, tightly-wound lead performance from Fassbender and his supporting penis. I mean cast. Ahem.

For good ol' Don't Panic magazine. Who's panicking? Not me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wake Me Up Before You Ghost-Ghost

A review of The Awakening for Don't Panic, although I expect this little baby's going straight in the shredder once they see the title. No I'm not going to apologise. Wham (and puns) 4eva!

Refusing to acknowledge the British film industry is short on cash is as pointless as denying newly bronzed and pec-tastic Jodie Marsh’s gradual metamorphosis into Peter Andre circa 1995 - but that’s no excuse for borrowing outtakes.

Approximately fourteen minutes into The Awakening, as the train from Platform 9 3/4 huffs and puffs across an aqueduct into the impossibly green and luscious British countryside, we’re settling in for another jolly term at Hogwarts when - hang on a minute! What’s Dolores “not another pastel twinset” Umbridge doing here? Didn’t she die at the end of the Order of the Phoenix? Oh I see. Despite the misleading presence of Potter stalwart Imelda Staunton, a boarding school larger than most of the Home Counties, and a carrot-haired boy with no friends and a vacuous expression, it turns out we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, but rather some way into the debut feature by British TV director Nick Murphy, and a valiant attempt at putting a spin on the ol’ **SPOILER ALERT** I-See-Dead-People sub-genre. Although if that ginger kid isn’t a Weasley I’ll eat my Sorting hat.

Set shortly after the end of the First World War, The Awakening continues the current trend for filmmakers to make absolutely sure no holidaymakers come within a ten-mile radius of the British Isles by conjuring up an overcast, moody England with a similarly austere visual palette to that of Cary Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre or Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. A two-pronged attack by the war and influenza has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of British citizens, and the film opens with the not-implausible assertion that ‘this is a time for ghosts’; a quote lifted from the pages of a fictional book by ghost hunter Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall, master of the raised eyebrow, as commanding a presence as expected).

It’s a premise which promises a world seething with unfulfilled desires and lives half-lived, ably illustrated by each of the central characters. Here’s the skinny. Self-flagellating headmaster Mallory (Dominic West) runs haunted Rookwood School alongside bereaved housekeeper Maud (Imelda Staunton) and hires ultra-modern lady scientist Florence to debunk stories of a ghost before the parents make a break for the nearest catchment areas, or alternatively knuckle down in the back yard and teach them to count with rocks, Big Society style. Now that’s a scary thought.

Florence makes a living debunking ghosts in a masochistic attempt to alleviate the guilt she feels over breaking up with her soldier fiancée shortly before his death. She refuses to allow herself or others to believe in the return of the dead, and hope is a key theme of the film, perhaps explored most powerfully in an early scene where the mother of a dead girl, tricked into attending a séance, slaps Florence rather than thanking her for setting the record straight. This opening curveball bodes well for the progression of the narrative, yet the forthcoming drama is unpredictable in a manner which owes less to clever story engineering than a screenplay co-written by Murphy and horror writer Stephen Volk which turns out to be even more complicated than one of Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals.

You may THINK you’re getting a new and tasty spin on a British classic, but four hours later it's still in the oven, half your guests have given up and gone home and the other half are eyeing up the hamster and wondering what it'll taste like on the barbecue. Fuck you Jamie. I haven’t forgotten that bastard chocolate pudding I was forced to serve at 1.30am. And while I'm not saying I spent any (much) of the film wondering which character would be tastiest slapped between two floury buns and smothered in Reggae Reggae sauce, if we're going to go there then the correct answer is clearly Dominic West, whose meaty naked thighs get some serious close-ups in a stomach-churning subplot concerning guilt-stricken Mallory’s need to punish himself for having survived.

Ahem. Where was I? Ah yes. Thighs. I mean the plot. Murphy and Volk’s attempt to create something more than simply a run-of-the-mill ghost story is to be applauded, and on one level they achieve this, using secondary characters and subplots to delve into an England imploding with grief and loss. It’s a pity these larger themes never feel fully integrated into the central premise. Florence’s guilt about her dead fiancée colours her professional decision-making but has little impact on her relationship with Mallory, whilst the ghost turns out to be neither flu victim nor soldier, but Maud’s son Tom: a childhood friend murdered by Florence’s deranged father. The curious happenings at Rookwood stem from a repressed memory of this tragic childhood trauma, which Maud has lured Florence back to the school to confront - and given that Volk gives us little reason to disbelieve Florence’s cover story about her parents dying from a lion attack, The Awakening’s twist ending comes swinging out of leftfield with less warning than one of Louis Walsh’s turd-for-brains decisions on the X Factor. Will somebody PLEASE take one for the team and deport him back to Dublin. And make Gary Barlow Prime Minister while you’re at it. V-neck t-shirts for all!

The real threat in Murphy’s story comes not from the dead but from the living. Florence narrowly avoids being brutally murdered at the hands of fairly irrelevant rapist Judd (now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day) but isn’t quite so lucky when Maud spikes her tea with poison in a last-ditch attempt to reunite lonely Tom with his childhood friend. Indeed, given the weight of audience expectation Tom carries on his shoulders as The Awakening’s sole supernatural presence, one might be forgiven for wanting more from him than excellent manners, a facial disfigurement which comes and goes at will and a knack for ping pong.

In retrospect, and somewhat curiously given Volk’s credits (Afterlife, Ghostwatch) perhaps what The Awakening lacks most is those supernatural elements of fright and suspense so crucial to a successful ghost story. Murphy is undeniably adept at building tension. The camera doesn’t linger on glimpses of children in dark corners, trusting us to spot the ghosts for ourselves, and there’s a nail-biting sequence in which Florence finds herself drawn repeatedly to a dollhouse in an abandoned attic room, opening it to find an exact replica of Rookwood and a tiny mannequin of herself peering at that same match-box sized dollhouse. There’s also a lingering close-up of Florence masturbating in the bath (MASTURBATION! A TROUSER SUIT!! My GOD this woman is MODERN!) underpinned by an unpleasant sense that her seemingly disembodied hands will, in fact, turn out to belong to someone else. Yet as the story unfolds we realise there’s little malevolence at play, and consequently The Awakening – an ambitious and classy debut which overall Murphy can be proud of - lacks the sheer visceral flourish and nastiness of, say, Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage, which makes a not-dissimilar attempt to reinvent the ghost story without forgetting that the audience needs scares.

Oh and one last thing. It occurs to me that none of the pictures in this article have anything to do with The Awakening whatsoever. So, like a builder with three inches of hairy bum-crack on display moving your spider plant to cover up the fact he’s done no work on that corner of the bathroom whatsoever, I leave you with... Rebecca Hall, looking reasonably foxy. Happy?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Golden Showers

First Draft Theatre’s annual short play festival APRIL SHOWERS is on from 18-28 April upstairs at The Horse in Waterloo.

The Horse is a pub. The theatre is above the pub. There’s a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall covered in punk rock tattoos, which is the second best thing I have ever seen on a staircase.

Not the best thing, because that honour goes to the octopus mural next to it, and anyone who visited my flat circa 2004 will know that deep sea montages - particularly when painted on the ceiling late at night after putting together an Ikea bed with a fish knife and subsequently getting threatened with court proceedings from the woman downstairs - are a thing very dear to my heart.

The plays are on in the theatre rather than the pub, and whether this is a good or a bad thing probably depends on the quality of the plays, which of course are ALL very good, so let’s hope mine doesn’t let the side down.


Yes. That’s me, blowing my own trumpet. I am also wearing a straw hat, which is the only hat to be seen in when blowing a trumpet.

BIGGER THAN THE UNIVERSE (no prizes for guessing what was on my iPod) will be performed on April 19, 26 and 28.

Six other plays by other and much better playwrights will also be on in case the thought of spending an entire evening watching something I wrote makes you want to stab yourself in the eyes with a biro.

Check out the First Draft website or join them on Facebook.

Come and keep my Mum company, who is insisting on driving all the way down from the Midlands EVEN IF THIS MEANS MISSING MASTERCHEF.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jake's on a train

It has come to my attention that this blog is fairly judgmental.

Not quite as judgmental as the Phelps family I saw on Louis Theroux: America’s Most Hated Family In Crisis last night who spend their downtime picketing military funerals and screaming GOD HATES YOU!! FAGS!! BURN IN HELL!!! at same sex couples in the street wishing they’d taken an alternative route to Wal-Mart, but fairly judgmental nonetheless.

So I thought that today I’d write about a film I liked. Yes you heard that correctly. A FILM THAT I LIKED. Because believe it or not there are actually quite a lot of films out there which fall into this category.

Lately I’ve been feeling like a lot of films have let me down. Maybe my expectations were too high (that’s you Inception). Maybe they weren’t worth the hype (oh hi The King’s Speech). OR MAYBE I JUST WANTED TO WATCH A REALLY GOOD MOVIE. Well whatever.

Even Submarine was kind of a disappointment. I really wanted to like it, mainly because writer Joe Dunthorne has an MA in Creative Writing AND SO DO I!! Which gives me a tiny glimmer of hope for the future. But it was just a bit… small. A bit TOO British, kind of like how Liam Gallagher looks when he wears a fisherman’s hat on the beach in Mallorca.

With the kiss of death planted by Paddy Considine as a mystic ninja with a mullet and an inexplicably attractive girlfriend, which of course is totally in keeping with the realist tone of the rest of the film, because mystic ninjas are two a penny in Wales and it’s almost a surprise if you DON’T have one living next door.

Oops. I seem to have slipped back into default bitch mode. Paddy Considine aside, there were lots of good things about Submarine and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what Richard Ayoade does next.

So there.

But it seems like whenever I go into the cinema expecting something to be a total letdown (hello Never Let Me Go) I’m pleasantly surprised to find it’s OK.

So I really REALLY tried not to get excited about Source Code. Even though it’s sci-fi (which I love) and the follow up to Moon (which I love) and the premise was kinda Hitchcockian which I ALSO love i.e. the whole concept was so up my street it’s paying rent on my back garden.

Luckily because the marketing on this film was so piss-poor it wasn’t difficult.

Look at this poster.

That is a TERRIBLE poster. It looks like the sequel to The Day After Tomorrow. And MAN I do not want to see that movie.


Source Code is about a man who has eight minutes to find out who planted a bomb on the commuter train to Chicago. Luckily – or not – some clever dick, sorry, scientific genius (Jeffrey Wright, hammier than Miss Piggy being porked by Babe the Sheep-Pig with a giant chorizo) has worked out a way to repeat these eight minutes multiple times until Jake Gyllenhaal finally gets it on with Heath Ledger. Wait no. Until he identifies the bomber in order to stop a second, bigger explosion in downtown Chicago. Anyway, these eight minutes are the Source Code, and Jake’s an amputee pilot who’s been kept alive and somehow transferred into the body of schoolteacher Sean Fentress to sort it the fuck out.

It feels like a thematic sequel to Moon. Jake Gyllenhaal (who actually looks a bit like Sam Rockwell if you squint) discovers he’s being used by the government. He can’t do much about it but he is DAMN WELL GOING TO TRY. Although the four endings on display here make it pretty much impossible to work out if he manages to do anything about it or not. Which is sort of in line with ALL THE MASSIVE PLOT HOLES, which I won’t go into now, mainly because my fingers will probably drop off from all the typing because there are SO MANY.

This is the kind of thing I HATE. This is the kind of thing EVERYONE hates. But they’re not obvious enough at the time to stop you enjoying it. Go with the flow and almost all of it makes sense. Yeah, he said the bomber definitely had to be on the train. Oh look, there’s the bomber. Hang on. Who? Oh the bloke who just got off the train. Oh well never mind.

Another thing I pretty much ALWAYS hate is whizzkid bombers in films. Their reasons for wanting to blow other people up are almost always stupid, plus how the hell does a 20-something Ivy League graduate know how to make a bomb? And not just an ordinary bomb either. This bomb has been PIMPED. Not only is there enough explosive in this kid’s van to blow Chicago sky-high BUT the entire van is wired up to some weird Rubix cube shit in a Stars ‘n’ Stripes box. I mean, come on. Do bombers really put that much effort into the décor? I guess in movies they do.

This would usually annoy me but it didn’t.

It didn’t annoy me because I realised it didn’t actually matter who the bomber was. Finding the bomber isn’t the point. If Source Code was just a sci-fi thriller then Jake would find the bomber, save the world, game over, and we’d all go home disappointed.

But the main reason Source Code works is because it ISN’T just a thriller. Great! Jake’s found the bad guy!! NOW WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS?? Because Jake isn’t Jake at all, but a very small amount of the brain function of a just-about-still-alive pilot on life support, stuck in the body of a schoolteacher who's fallen in love with the girl he's sitting next to on the train. And Jeffrey Wright's about to pull the plug.

I won't ruin the ending(s).

But Jake dies, Heath keeps Jake's shirt and is left to live out the rest of his miserable life alone because he was too much of a pussy to own up to being a gay cowboy.


Friday, April 1, 2011


I would like to start today’s post by admitting that I am officially devoid of functioning brain cells.

*waits quietly until everyone stops shouting NO SHIIIIIIT*

This morning I read an article in the Metro claiming that from now on all copies would be edible to save on recycling.

Here’s how my thought process went between Liverpool Street and Oxford Circus.

NO WAY!! EDIBLE NEWSPAPERS!!! Best idea EVER!! What do they taste like? The girl in the photo looks like she’s enjoying it. How come she’s tried one already? Did they do a trial run? How did I miss that?? Hang on, do I HAVE to eat it? What if I’m not hungry? What if I’ve just had breakfast?? What if I don’t like it? Can I spit it out? That’s WAY more gross than chewing gum. Bleurgh. What about calories? Does paper have calories?? Actually I don’t think this is a very good idea.

I believed it.


You bastards.

Friday, March 25, 2011



It’s over.

You PROMISED Cassandra’s Dream was the last of your London trilogy, yet here I am in the cinema having been tricked out of YET ANOTHER £6.50 to watch a substandard version of Love Actually which, like Mickey Rourke’s face post-surgery, has had all the good bits removed.

If I didn’t know otherwise I would presume that you have never even BEEN to London. Or Europe. Or out of your BEDROOM, because your idea of our capital city seems to have been based solely on repeat viewings of Notting Hill without the jokes or social commentary. Yes I said social commentary. And yes, I am referring to the film in which Hugh Grant falls over a fence and says Whoopsie-Daisy.

I’ve got nothing against Richard Curtis. It’s just that I’m not convinced aping his back catalogue is the way forward for a man who wrote my all-time favourite opening line of, well, pretty much anything.

It's from Annie Hall.

Woody/Alvy says: "There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says: boy, the food at this place is really terrible. The other one says, yeah I know, and such ... small portions. Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly."

THAT is what I want to pay £6.50 for.

So between 8.50pm and 10.30pm last night I came to terms with some unpleasant truths.

Naomi Watts can’t act.

Some people are physically incapable of separating themselves from their Facebook newsfeed, even in the cinema.

Woody Allen must NOT be allowed to make another film set anywhere except New York.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger just about passes the time. It’s a multi-stranded story about a privileged family falling apart - well, I say falling apart. What I actually mean is going through a not-very-traumatic divorce followed by a second, even less traumatic divorce which has minimal impact on any of the characters and happens off-screen presumably in order to make sure we really don't care about their situation at all.

So Viagra-popping Anthony Hopkins ditches watery-eyed wife Helena for Amazonian gold-digger Charmaine, who’s more interested in her handsome fitness instructor. Helena turns to fraud psychic Crystal for help, while daughter Sally’s marriage to failed novelist Roy crumbles. Newly single Naomi Watts makes an unsuccessful play for Antonio Banderas, while barely-out-of-her-teens Frieda Pinto falls for charmless middleaged Patrick Swayze-lookalike Josh Brolin in perhaps the least likely coupling since that septuagenarian director ditched Mia Farrow for his 20-something adopted daughter… oh wait.

But Neurotic Woody has become Complacent Woody, papering over the cracks in a lazy screenplay with an A-list ensemble cast who don’t quite manage to distract us OH LOOK ITS ANNA FRIEL!!! from realising that despite quite a good premise WAIT ISN’T THAT SIR IAN MCKELLEN? all the characters are vapid or unpleasant and only one storyline comes to a NO WAIT I REALLY THINK IT MIGHT BE THAT BLOKE WHO PLAYED GANDALF satisfying conclusion.

And by the way, I checked and it’s not Sir Ian McKellen. Just a good lookalike.

The story gets juicy approximately two minutes before the end, when Roy realises that the friend whose debut novel he has stolen and published to wild acclaim is not, as Roy thought, dead, but in a coma and maybe even about to wake u- ROLL END CREDITS!

This is about as satisfying as feeding a plastic sandwich to a starving man, and deserves a similar response.


Possibly followed by eating said plastic sandwich in order to make a point, and hopefully choking to death on it in order to avoid the possibility of watching any Woody Allen films made after the turn of the century. Even by mistake.


You’re fired.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Norwegian Wouldn’t

Am I the only person on the planet not counting down the days until *hyperventilate* OH MY GOD that TOTALLY AWESOME adaptation of that TOTALLY RAD novel by that TOTALLY HIP Japanese dude comes out?

Norwegian Wood is Murakami’s most straightforward and least imaginative novel. No sheep. No incest. No Super-Frogs. No unexplained paranormal phenomena. It’s just a love story about a student who falls for two different women.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the book. I do. But I don’t think there’s anything in the story that justifies turning it into a film. Oh except it’s a bestseller. Ch-ching!

Scripts have rules. Books don’t. That’s how it works. Novels can have fourteen subplots, seventy characters, span six generations and win the Booker. A screenplay with fourteen subplots and seventy characters won’t make it off the paper. It shouldn’t make it off your laptop. It probably shouldn’t make it out of your BRAIN.

Great screen stories have a single protagonist and a clear goal. Olive wants to win Little Miss Sunshine. Indiana Jones wants to find the Holy Grail. Elliott wants to help E.T. go home.

But Toru doesn’t want to escape from prison. He doesn’t want to get the hell off an island overrun with dinosaurs. He doesn’t even want to book Aerosmith for Waynestock.

He falls in love with Naoko. Then he falls in love with Midori. He sort of falls in love with Reiko too. The End.

The problem with this is that falling for one woman after another isn’t a goal unless you’re Russell Brand. It’s a sequence of emotions which play out in Toru’s head i.e. a thought process rather than a plot. You know what this says to me?

Voiceover. Long silences. Too much time to appreciate the soundtrack by *hyperventilate* OH MY GOD that TOTALLY AWESOME dude from that TOTALLY RAD band Radiohead!

Unless Tran Anh Hung has restructured the story to give Toru an active dramatic goal, I’ve got a feeling I know exactly what kind of film we’re going to be left with.

Two words.

Marie Antoinette. Otherwise known as 142 minutes which could more productively be spent eating toilet roll.

I’d like to be proved wrong but I don’t think I will be, particularly after reading an article by Philip French on the Guardian blog, which ends with the backhanded compliment that Tran Anh Hung is ‘not afraid to risk boring his audience’.

This is a bit like saying that Gordon Ramsay is not afraid to give his customers food poisoning, and about as inviting.

It suggests that, as predicted, Tran is going to go all Sofia Coppola on my ass, and therefore that Norwegian Wood is a film I am not going to enjoy.

It also suggests that there are going to be a large number of vegans in the audience who cycled to the movie and won’t be needing their glasses to watch it.

Tran may not be afraid to risk boring us, but I am afraid to risk emptying my wallet for two hours of my life I’m not going to get back.

And for the record, no, I probably won’t be watching Howl either.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Well looky here

The BBC have kindly uploaded a picture of a small sample of the spec scripts their readers are working their way through.

The more eagle-eyed among you may spot that there are quite a few scripts on that table.

One, in fact three, or four, are probably mine.

So here I am, sitting at my desk and midway through writing a snarky blog about how reassuring it is to know the BBC have the time to build forts out of the destruction of approximately 20% of Epping Forest, when something nice drops through my online letter box and lands on my virtual doormat.

Dear Writer,

Congratulations! We're delighted to tell you that your script has been selected by our team of readers to go through to the next stage of the Laughing Stock competition.

Your script will now be read by members of the BBC Writersroom team and BBC comedy team and we will be in touch in the next couple of weeks with a decision about your submission.

Just a reminder that successful writers will be invited to a masterclass on either the 4th or 5th of April which takes place in either London or Manchester.

Only 10% of all the submissions have reached this next stage of the competition so we do hope that, whatever the final outcome is, you are encouraged by making it this far.

Well, that'll teach me. Judgemental blog retracted.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to spend £40 on casual racism

I’ve got mixed feelings about Dominic Cooke.

For every middle-class dysfunctional family drama he stages at the Royal Court (That Face, Tribes, The Heretic) he pulls something out the bag that’s just so goddamn fucking GOOD you wonder why you balked at the £40 ticket price for the West End transfer.

Yes. FORTY POUNDS. Which is equivalent to approximately 3.5 days rent or a Ryanair return flight to Barcelona, and for some strange reason you’ve spent it on a seat so far above the stage you get vertigo every time you look anywhere except the ceiling. Please note that ‘restricted view’ is usually code for ‘behind the fire door’.


Every so often the Royal Court comes up with a play so good it makes you want to rush out in the interval with a cattle prod to round up everyone on the street and drive them inside for the second half.

I wasn’t sold on Enron. My mum fell asleep but then again she won’t read anything unless it comes in a plastic library jacket and has a gruesome murder in the first three pages. But I liked the lightsabres and the raptors and all the other things I wasn’t expecting from a play set in the bank, and I would be more than happy if Boris installed them in NatWest to get rid of the lunchtime queues.

I loved loved LOVED Jerusalem. I loved it the way I love Sky Atlantic, Christmas trips to TGI Fridays, and all versions of Hush. Yesterday Deep Purple, today Kula Shaker. In fact why don’t we take a moment to look at a picture of Crispian Mills.

Watching Jerusalem is like eating your way through a Kellogg’s variety pack until you get to the Frosties (great) only to find there’s something else in the Frosties box (even better) HEY IT’S A CHEQUE FOR A MILLION POUNDS AND A LOVE LETTER FROM JAMES FRANCO!!!!!

Lets take another moment to look at a picture of James Franco.

Seriously. It's that good.

And as from Saturday I’m adding… erm.. racist comedy Clybourne Park to my list. It’s the latest **MASSIVE SMASH HIT!!!** to transfer from the Royal Court to the West End, and comes without a public school anorexic or prescription painkiller in sight.

The first act is set in 1950s America where perfect housewife Bev packs boxes around a grumpy husband who won’t change out of his pyjamas. It’s a farce about casual racism and uneducated Middle America which starts with nobody knowing the capital of Mongolia and does a U-turn into nastier territory when neighbour Karl turns up with the bombshell that the house’s new owners are black. Or coloured. Or Negros. Who cares? Not Karl - he’s just worried they’ll lower the tone of the area.

The second act skips ahead a couple of decades. Clybourne Park is now an all-black neighbourhood, and the granddaughter of Bev’s maid isn’t too pleased about a young white couple moving back in. An innocent meeting about planning permission turns into a minefield of escalating political incorrectness which manages to offend black people, white people, deaf people, women and at least six other social groups in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Eastenders.

A lesser playwright might have thought this concept enough, but writer Bruce Norris is two steps ahead and weaves in a story about the grieving family of a young Korean War veteran whose suicide is inextricably linked to the fate of the house. OH NO HE DIDN’T! Oh yes he did.

Is it funny? Very.

Is it offensive? Definitely.

Is it a masterclass in structure that makes me want to give up writing because I will never EVER be as clever as Bruce Norris? YES!!! Watch it and weep.

If your idea of an enjoyable evening is watching an entire theatre squirm in unison as a black mother asks her pregnant white counterpart what the difference is between a white woman and a tampon (answer: they’re both stuck up c*nts) then I thoroughly recommend you spend those 3.5 days of rent on a ticket.

Shall we have one last look at James Franco? Go on then.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Daddy? says Mara Wilson

'Daddy?’ says Mara Wilson, cutely and irritatingly. ‘Do you think you could buy me a book?’

"A book?’ says Danny DeVito a.k.a. The Penguin a.k.a Mr Wormwood. ‘What do you want a flaming book for?’

Now at this point Matilda could justifiably inform her father that she didn’t ask for a FLAMING book, she just wants a normal book, but she chooses not to. That’s right kids. Rise above it.

‘To read, Daddy,’ says Matilda, even more cutely. So cutely, in fact, that she might even pronounce it ‘weed’.

‘What's wrong with the telly, for heaven's sake?’ says DDV, who seems to be getting shorter and fatter with every scene. ‘We've got a lovely telly with a twelve-inch screen and now you come asking for a book! You're getting spoiled, my girl!’

But even Mr Wormwood might have bought his daughter a Kindle.

Here’s what I think about Kindles.

Kindles are for morons who can’t read books unless they’re disguised as computer games, which is a bit like being an old man who can’t get an erection unless he’s wearing a nappy, and almost as disturbing.

I already spend 8.5 hours a day on the internet. I don’t want to spend my commute looking at ANOTHER FUCKING COMPUTER SCREEN.

Not. Interested.

So hate me.

They’re green. I get it. But I like books. Especially free books. I stole the True History of the Kelly Gang from the floor of the Odeon in Sheffield. I also stole the True History of the Elephant Man from the bookshelf at a house party while my friends were throwing up over the balcony.

I thought the London Book Project was a FUCKING BRILLIANT IDEA, because it meant strangers were going to be leaving FREE BOOKS on the tube and we’d all discover our new favourite authors and hopefully it wouldn’t just be thousands and thousands of discarded copies of the Girl with the Studded Neckbrace or whatever.

But I’m hardly going to leave my Kindle on the Northern Line now am I? Or maybe I am. Maybe I could go and empty my bank account and spend my money paying a quack surgeon a gigantic amount of money to remove Cheryl Cole’s teeth and replace them with gravel. Because that would be about as sensible and a whole lot more fun.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Like a bad Scout Leader I have lost a follower.

Believe it or not, somewhere between 2010 and 2011 one of you wandered off into the virtual forest and has yet to return.

Please come back. You were my favourite.

Are you punishing me? Did you leave because I haven’t blogged for… a while? OK. A long while. Almost as long I’ve been waiting for Simon Amstell to rejoin the heterosexual community, or Robbie to rejoin Take That.

Wait. What?

That three-minute clip on the state of English sport where five porky men in inappropriate shorts pretended to row boats and sat as far away from each other as possible in a changing room was a music video? An ACTUAL MUSIC VIDEO?!

Excuse me whilst I sit under my desk a moment and weep.

Anyway. I’m blogging again. I have rejoined the blogosphere (cue sell-out tour and hastily cobbled-together range of mugs and key rings at a very reasonable RRP £6) which makes ME Robbie and you, my disloyal friend, the gradual crumbling of any hope Gary Barlow had of becoming a credible lead singer.

Oh PLEASE come back.

Does it matter that I can’t remember who you were?

I solemnly swear that in future you WILL be my favourite and I’ll update this blog so regularly you’ll be forced to sell your iPhone, smash your iPad and mastermind an overly complex and unengaging Die Hard 4.0-esque plan to destroy the internet because you just CAN’T STOP READING IT.

Unless of course you left because you were so unimpressed with what I was posting. In which case you may remain in the virtual forest. Hungry? Why not sample these tasty looking mushrooms? No not those ones. The red ones with the big white spots. They may LOOK poisonous but hey, we thought that about Peter Andre.