Posts Tagged ‘ Channel 4 ’

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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Well that is the festivities well and truly over and normal-or abnormal if you prefer- life can resume. It is interesting to hear conflicting views about Edinburgh’s New Year Street Party as the mainstream press are heralding it as the most successful ever with profits exceeding what they expected. However the story from residents and others on the street as well as my first hand experience is a tale coloured from a different palette.
It would seem Edinburgh Council are only interested in promoting financial gain as this is the only way they can assuage their guilt over the crippling losses the whole tram debacle has raised. There was no mention in their report of the river of piss or the mountain of bottles and broken glass which littered the streets at only 9pm-three hours before the bells even rang-I encountered as I made my way across the city. There was no mention again of the bloodied, battered, aggressive and staggeringly drunk groups of people I also encountered at this early time either. That a young girl was sexually assaulted in the Canongate a few yards away from drunken revellers is shocking but it is hardly surprising considering the lack of a police presence which was noticeable passing through the city centre. It was however, according to the Evening News headlines, a great success and plans are afoot to make it even more ‘successful’ next year.
By successful I take it they are talking about profit yet again but only profit which benefits those closest to their own ideologies. I wonder how many small independent businesses actually prosper at this time and how many others simply dread the carnage which accompanies this party which in my opinion has ruined Edinburgh’s Hogmanays which used to be about its populous and not simply tourists.
It would seem that this once historic city which is considered one of the top places in the UK to live is fast becoming a tourist only destination and whilst the Festival and Fringe are essential cultural endeavours I also feel that the Stag and Hen parties which dominate the streets and bars every weekend are not but for some reason something the council are not only hell-bent on encouraging but actively pursuing.
With the January blues in full downward swing I thought I would try my luck with the television schedules and was pleased to see ‘Swedish /Danish drama ‘The Bridge’ is back and its main character Saga Noren still socially inept although she is trying to modify her behaviour with often hilarious results. As far as TV detectives she is possibly the best creation ever with the possible exception of ‘The Killing’s’ Sarah Lund.
The most interesting programme of the past week however has to have been Channel 4’s‘The Secret of the Living Dolls’ wherein a previously little known counterculture was brought to a mainstream audience for the very first time. Described variously as creepy and weird it certainly is a cult that seems to be growing and with botox and surgery part of the mainstream these days it seems new taboos keep having to be created.
This one in particular involves the wearing of a second skin- a rubber like substance referred to as Femskin- a wig and female clothing. At one point one of the ‘dolls’ said this was the closest they would ever get to being one of the beautiful people and I had to laugh as minutes before I had spotted one of them wearing crocs which are not exactly renowned for taking you down that road to the beautiful people. Personally for someone who grew up with icons such as Leigh Bowery this is perhaps a natural step forward and for those who find it creepy and weird well I can only counter that I don’t find it as creepy or weird as those who favour stereotypical uniformity and shopping in Primark. Some may look at these Living Dolls and ask why whereas my initial reaction is why not?
The Living Dolls however may not split opinion quite as much as Channel 4’s other offering this week ‘Benefits Street’ which in a week which saw the Tories plan to slash benefits to pay the deficit –incurred mainly by bankers- whilst allowing the more privileged to remain virtually untouched came across as little more than propaganda. Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves as the media is always quick to attack those on benefits or from the poorer sections of society and programmes like this only fuel the bias. A more reasoned approach is required showing how difficult life on benefits can be in a society which encourages consumerism and ever increasing household expenses.
Out at the cinema this weekend is the new Steve Mc Queen movie ’12 Years a Slave’ starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Eijofor which has been garnering a lot of attention prior to its release. A review will be posted on these pages over the weekend.
Although January is traditionally a quiet month it would already appear that February is shaping up to be something quite special. There are already two nights which promise not to be missed and they are ‘Lux Lives’- The Cramps based tribute night with various acts- on the 14th in Henry’s Cellar Bar and a Fini Tribe sound system experience in conjunction with the Rammed crew at the Voodoo Rooms, as part of their new single launch, on the 28th. More details about both of these events nearer the time but for now definitely two dates to save in the diary.

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JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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After Halloween and following on from Bonfire night everything feels a little flat this weekend. With no commercial overkill insight until the big one-which has been haunting us in shops in ads and especially in the Dome on George St. for months already- it may actually impossible to enjoy a night out for being simply that and not the product of weeks of overkill. Personally I am not sure what my plans are for this weekend but at least I will not spend my evenings trying to avoid whatever overworked theme is masquerading as fun.
It may also be an opportunity to have a quiet weekend in and chill out by watching a bit of quality television. However there is a fatal flaw in that plan as quality television barely exists in this country at the moment. In fact the weekend schedules especially seem to favour quite the opposite by playing to the lowest common denominator by continuing to churn out talent shows for untalented people and celebrities in shiny frocks and/or bare-chested trotting their way around a dance-floor whilst pretending to find Bruce Forsyth funny when really he is just cringeable.
There is ‘Homeland’ on a Sunday night but it seems to have lost the plot or maybe it is simply trying to find one. I am unsure which but if the new series doesn’t pull itself together in a more cohesive fashion and stop trying too hard then it is doomed to losing its audience as interest tapers away. In fact the only bit of sunshine in the weekend schedules as far as I can see is the Inspector Montalbano mysteries on BBC4 on Saturday evenings.
Yet another import-what does this say about the state of British drama? – these dramas are about the only worthwhile thing in weekend viewing. Forget Downton Snoozeville- which is another thing which should be placed in the same field as Brucie and his dancing sequins and put out to pasture- and its plotlines which seem to revolve around Maggie Smith’s supposedly acerbic and witty one liners but in actuality are little more than predictable panto-dame clichés . It is all very sad that this is the state of British television in the 21st century; a set of irrelevant cardboard cut outs from the dim and distant past with nothing to worry about other than how to hang onto their money.
If the weekend schedules are bad then the weekdays fare little better. I am unsure what happened to Channel 4 but for a beginning which promised so much for an alternative audience it seems to have lost its way completely. Now content to languish in the world of reality TV it really plumbs the depths by setting up cameras in places such as nightclub toilets and fried chicken shops or looking at embarrassing bodies. This is still better than the all time low which was ‘The Man with Ten Stone Testicles’ they showed a few months back. A programme which was so sensationalist in its objectives should never have made it past the ideas stage but somehow it did. Get a grip Channel 4!
If this weekend is quiet on the going out front then the next two weekends more than compensate. Next Saturday –November 16th- sees the return of Rammed the live music/ clubnight experience in the Speakeasy in the Voodoo Rooms. This time around the live act is the wonderful Teen Canteen who are making big waves on the scene at the moment with their debut single ‘Honey’ –the limited edition of which sold out within days- and their storming live performances. A full write up of the band appeared on these pages within the last few days and can be found here.
The following weekend sees the return of Edinburgh favourite Joy for a one off night at Studio 24. Definitely a must for anyone over a certain age who has fond memories of the halcyon days of clubbing it is also essential for a younger crowd who-from what I have seen- need a few lessons in how to enjoy themselves.
So beginneth my quiet weekend in then although I have just received a message from someone not known for their quiet nature-more of a foghorn than a siren- calling that they are docking in my neighbourhood harbour tomorrow evening so my plans may go awry. In fact news is just filtering in about a mini-Rammed showing at a crew 2000 event in Cockburn Street tomorrow afternoon between 3 and 5 which also sounds appealing and sees my plans shifting yet again. Don’t you just hate when that happens?
At least I can always use Sunday to watch Inspector Montalbano on catch up so my quiet Saturday night in will not be cancelled, simply postponed!

MISTER JOHN

 

Mister John

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Featuring a flawlessly understated performance by Aidan Gillen Mister John adopts its own languid pace and despite threatening to erupt into something more dramatic and thrilling on several occasions it somehow manages to reinforce restraint and draw itself back in thus achieving individuality as opposed to generic type. This does not mean it is without its shortcomings however, it is just that often these shortcomings work in its favour.

 Travelling to Singapore after his brother John’s death-the Mister John who lends the film its title- Gerry(Gillen) attempts to sort out the estate of his more financially successful brother. After his luggage goes missing he borrows some of his brother’s clothes and in the process slips into imagining the alternative lifestyle of his more flamboyant sibling. For someone seemingly so withdrawn and wearing a cloak of sadness this new role is an extremely attractive proposition.

 It would seem sex is seemingly permanently on offer to Gerry as he assumes this new role but he has trouble connecting emotionally as he is still haunted by his wife’s infidelity back in London. Stranger still he becomes emotionally drawn to his late brother’s beautiful widow Kim(Zoe Tay) and the tension of their encounters teeters on the precipice of an affair but his emotional withdrawal prevents him from embracing this complicated entanglement.

 More of a character study than anything else Mister John relies heavily on the plausibility of Gillen’s performance and he manages to capture the pathos of his character in sublime fashion. His awkwardness is cringeworthy and this is what gives the character credibility and emotional depth.

 The screen writing and director team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawler made a brave and admirable decision in not allowing their vision to be tampered with merely to fill a specific genre or type as this emerges as the film’s main strength.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation Friday May 10th

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And now Jimmy Tarbuck’s name has been added to the list of those tied up in the wake of the Savile scandal. Television people certainly are a breed different to the rest of us with rules and regulations of their own. This was highlighted this week by the return of the medium’s most belligerent bullies- Lord Sugar(formerly Sir, nee Alan) and Mary Portas- and as fate would conspire to have it they went up against each other in the schedules.

 The return of ‘The Apprentice’, whose catchphrase should be altered to ‘You’re tired’ due to the likelihood of a narcolepsy attack during its showing, actually surprised me with its return as last years showing was so dismal and I thought that would have been the end of the franchise. It shows that programme controllers really do believe in flogging a dead horse but due to the entrepreneurial skills allegedly on display, opportunistically to Tesco in the form of meat fit for a lasagne. Again the wild claims of the contestants-read desperadoes- at the beginning had me reaching for the sick bucket as well worn clichés such as ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘a robot with personality’ and the like were trundled out for our bemusement.

 Lord Sugar-how pompous is the insistence of the use of that title at all times?- obviously felt the need to up the ante by being more obnoxious than usual. Supposedly this makes good television in some peoples books but in mine it just shows an extremely rude and belligerent man who has been allowed to get away with too much for too long.

 Mind you those contestants are enough to bring on a tourettes outburst in a convent. This year they all seemed to have stumbled in from the set of TOWIE with all the fake tans, false hair, eyelashes and immobile faces on display. That was just the men; don’t even start me on the shrieking harpies representing the female of the species. Surely it would be better renamed The Only Way Is Botox.

 Out in the wasteland of Channel 4 the orange helmeted warrior Mary Portas stalked up and down an abandoned market in Roman Road in the east end of London. Actually I have a grudging admiration of Portas as although I feel she is occasionally misguided at least she shows an interest in trying to preserve some of what made Britain so special in the past and tries to claw back some of the standards and community which are now being obliterated in the name of  so-calledprogress.

 However I have not been able to quite forgive her for what she has done to charity shops who are now so self aware of what they are having donated that it is almost impossible to stumble across that special find which made charity shopping such an adventure. She confused charity shops with high end vintage stores and subsequently in the process forgot that many people  on low incomes shopped there because it was all they could afford and not the preserve of those who do it for a bit of a lark for a bit of street-cred kudos.

 I remember as a student finding a pair of unworn Armani wool trousers for under a  fiver but the likelihood of that occurrence is unlikely nowadays. Thus now thanks to her meddling you can buy Top Shop clothes at just a few pounds less than their original price thus just convincing those with little money to head for Primark where similar items can be purchased unworn for the same amount if not cheaper. Surely this was not what she set out to do.

Despite this Portas is eminently more watchable and likeable than Sugar –sorry I had to drop the Lord but that’s just the way I roll with a flagrant disregard for authority- and her heart does often seem to be in almost the right place, unlike His Royal Lordship who seems to have replaced his with a string of expletives and a curmudgeon-like demeanour.

 In the wake of yet another celebrity, in this case Jimmy Tarbuck, being outed in the underage sex scandal it was shocking to read that top barrister Barbra Hewson has called for the age of consent to be lowered to thirteen and to stop persecuting these poor old men for crimes committed decades ago. Sorry? Have I just walked into a parallel universe?

What is shocking about this is not that this comes from a woman-her gender should not be an issue- but the way she is trying to portray these predators as the victims in this whole debacle. Whilst there may well be some bandwagon jumpers on this situation it is clear that something was definitely wrong in the way these so-called stars abused their position. Lowering the age of consent is not the answer as it merely creates a new set of taboos which those in the position of privilege feel they have the right to abuse.

 Going to my first barbecue of the season tomorrow and I am just hoping our host has an indoor plan. A brief glimpse of summer waved itself at us on Tuesday but since then well, back to (ab)normal. I live in hope though and am hoping I can at least leave the winter woollens in the drawer where they belong. However if it is sunshine you are looking for then you could do worse than head for the cinema for the new Almodovar film I’m so Excited which is an entertaining bit of camp froth guaranteed to brighten up your day and have you high kicking your way home. A  full review can be found here.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation Friday March 29th

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A white Easter is not exactly what I have been dreaming of but for many, this weekend it is an actual reality. Here in Edinburgh we have been lucky in avoiding the worst of the recent weather and so far have only had to endure biting arctic winds and dropping temperatures and although there have been several nights of overnight snow usually by 11am the next morning it has melted into little more than a memory. Certainly we have been luckier than the inhabitants of Arran who have been snowed under and were without power for many days and with TV footage showing dead lambs being lifted out of the snow has been quite heartbreaking over the last few weeks.

This late winter has pleased absolutely no-one apart from energy suppliers who must have been cursing the so far mild winter and seen their profits and bonuses plummeting –up until last month I was in credit on my monthly payments and coming out of a winter with Scottish Power actually being in debt to me is previously unheard of and was looking forward to a rebate- and this late cold snap will have boosted their income at the last moment as the coldest March in fifty years draws to a close with little respite likely in the first weeks of April.

Despite this cold start to spring things will be hotting up at Neu! Reekie’s Easter special tonight with an amazing line up including Douglas Dunn, David Kinloch, my new fave raves Teen Canteen –think Arcade Fire meets the Shangri La’s- and a rare appearance by  Vaseline’s frontman Eugene Kelly. This looks like being a memorable night for the dynamic Neu! Reekie duo to put under their utility belts and having sold out several days ago anyone who has a ticket should consider themselves lucky and more than a little smug.

A buzz is also circulating around a new venue opening next week in the space formerly known for decades as Negociants and soon to be renamed The Breakfast Club. If you have seen the clever and provocative ad and billboard campaigns in various parts of the city over recent weeks which feature the phrase TBC with little explanation, then all will become clear very soon. The brain child of Warren Deighan-formerly of the Honeycombe, Pop Rokit and involvement in many other venues in and around Edinburgh-this new venue has the appeal of providing a mid sized area for live music sadly lacking in the city centre at the moment.  I will take a more detailed and in depth look at this upcoming venture before its opening next Friday.

In the cinema the new Danny Boyle film Trance is the big film on release this weekend. I must admit to feeling a little let down by it however as it is following the recent incoming tide of movies which feel the need to be a little too clever for their own good and then have to resort to having the plot laid out in laborious detail merely to clarify what has been unfolding on the screen.

Part of the fault lies in the casting of James McAvoy in the lead role  as he never convinces as a leading man and has neither the presence nor charisma to carry off such a demanding role. Michael Fassbender was originally pencilled into play the role of underworld type Franck- a role which eventually went to Vincent Cassel- and I can’t help thinking it would have been a different and possibly superior piece of work with his presence. As it stands it is still a well crafted movie –a little heavy on the stylisation but that is not always a bad thing- with a great soundtrack by Boyle stalwart collaborator, Rick Smith of Underworld, which builds to appropriate climatic swells in conjunction with the action unfolding. It is also never dull but as said before the plot has to be explained and even then there are still considerable holes which don’t make sense. It makes sense only in a film world and therefore in that department I suppose it lives up to its expectations even if it falters in other ways. A full review here.

That is it for this week then and more details to follow soon about The Breakfast Club but in the meantime have not just a Good Friday but a truly outstanding one and for those of you who are so inclined, Happy Easter!

TRANCE

Trance

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After parachuting the Queen out of a helicopter with James Bond during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony Danny Boyle had a tough act to follow with his next film if he wanted to top that with something wholly unexpected. Unfortunately the film he chose to follow up that career highpoint, Trance,  is a successful stylish effort-everything seems to be shrouded in tonal blues, designer greys and classy taupe- but often this impeccable stylisation outweighs the content. Often the film trips itself up by trying too hard to deliver the unexpected that the viewer feels so uninvolved by all the second guessing that the credibility needed to convince or engender any emotional response fails to materialise.

It is also a film which seems to inhabit the same universe and genre as notables such as Inception, Sourcecode and Soderbergh’s last film his apparent swansong Side Effects whilst also deploying the Bret Easton Ellis method of employing an unreliable narrator, or in Trance’s case several unreliable narrators as you are never quite aware of who is delivering a viewpoint at any given time. It suffers the same fate of the Soderbergh film by being a late entrant into the field and lacking the charisma a DiCaprio, Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy or Marion Cotillard brought to the former two films mentioned. Trance’s leading man James McAvoy is capable and wears his Armani cashmere and Joseph fine knits with aplomb but  is not quite strong or convincing enough in the role for you to either empathise or sympathise with his character, Simon.

The convoluted plot centres on an art auctioneer, Simon, with a gambling problem which has accrued huge debts and the only way out is to borrow the money from an underworld type Franck-Vincent Cassel- who in return utilises Simon’s position and services  in a heist involving the theft of a Goya painting valued at £27 million. Trying to outsmart his accomplices Simon has an insurance policy of his own and manages to conceal the painting before Franck gets his hands on it only to end up in a stand off which results in him being knocked unconscious and suffering from amnesia. The obvious thing-in movies anyway- is to consult a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), apparently chosen at random to try and endeavour the whereabouts of the missing masterpiece.

What follows is a stalk through labyrinthine like corridors of various subconscious minds which have so many twists and turns it is often difficult to decipher who is relating what, though this turns out to be an important plot device. Are Elizabeth and Franck on the make trying to dupe the others or are Simon and Elizabeth in cahoots or is any of the aforementioned a lone operative trying to outsmart the others?  The issue of trust is constantly raised throughout and the viewer also learns not to trust what is unfolding on the screen at any given time.

An intelligent film which perhaps is a little too smug of its own accomplishments- alongside the immaculate stylisation it also has a superb soundtrack by Rick Smith of Underworld which drives the narrative almost as much as the dialogue and on many occasions threatens to drown it out- but manages to feel compact and never outstays its welcome. Like Soderbergh’s Side Effects despite all the fancy mind trickery and second guessing it eventually feels the need to explain its own plot in the most pedestrian and straightforward manner by having a character relate it to us in a monologue. This, in effect, feels laboured and despite its cleverness leaves holes in the plot.

Essentially Boyle’s attempt at creating his very own Hitchcockian Vertigo or North by Northwest, it has the style, panache and soundtrack to bolster its standing, it however lacks the charm of these classics and thus remains cold, distant and slightly aloof although still highly watchable.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation Friday February 22nd

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Quite a lot been happening over the last week not least the sad news that Shadow Morton –the genius behind the Shangri La’s and producer of the ill fated second album ‘Too Much Too Soon’ by the New York Dolls- had died, trial by social media for  the James Bulger killers which leads neatly into the latest instalment of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ series and, of course, that invective inducing shambles The Brits.

Worst things first, let’s look at the Brits –or should that be The Shit Awards aka The Skits- and how the sight and sound of One Erection murdering Blondie and The Undertones-now as an act of revenge wouldn’t the sight of those two groups murdering One Direction be something to see and in fact Debbie Harry could probably blow them to pieces with one blink of her eye- will remain one of the most horrendous moments of 2013. What is most worrying of all is that the boy bland themselves might actually think they are any good. Newsflash guys; you’re not. Definitely not!

The whole debacle was trite and embarrassing and far from showing what an unhealthy state the music industry is in it merely re-iterated that it is now over run by money men who care little about the quality of music they are peddling to an ever growing mass market. Last year however saw old music outselling new music for the first time so surely that statistic in itself speaks volumes. Having already attacked this ceremony in full I will not repeat the bile which already spewed forth and if you missed my ‘critique’ then it can be found here.

Not even getting a mention at the awards was Shadow Morton the legendary producer who died last week. Creating mini rock and roll operas for teenagers- rape, death, parental fall-outs and bad boy fixations were just some of the controversial subjects covered-  with The Shangri La’s in the early sixties, Morton’s legacy still looms large over modern music. What was Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ album if not an attempt to capture some of that aforementioned girl bands pathos for a twenty first century audience? ‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’, ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore’ and ‘Past, Present and Future’ still sound as fresh today as they must have done fifty years ago.

Lapsing into alcoholism Morton was more or less washed up by the time the New York Dolls approached him to produce their second album ‘Too Much, Too Soon’-the title proved prophetic as the Dolls were ahead of their time and it wasn’t until punk exploded several years later that their influence was recognised- though this was far from a fruitful venture and more or less killed off both their careers simultaneously. Morton disappeared from the music scene after this fateful encounter and languished in alcoholism throughout the eighties and relative obscurity until his death last week.

Much has been said concerning the alleged revealing of the former child killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who tortured and murdered two year old Jamie Bulger twenty years ago. The revealing of their identities via social media can as far as I can see do no good for anyone involved. All such actions can do is refresh the pain of the victims families- the pain will always be there but just dealt with in a different way however the unwelcome intrusion of any form of media can only bring it to the fore and heighten any anguish- as well as the expense of relocating and providing new identities,yet again, for the perpetrators.

Much like the horrors committed by Myra Hindley-the thought that a woman could involve herself in such horrific acts still shocks even today- it is more the fact that they carried out such atrocities whilst still children themselves that makes most peoples blood run cold. Their crime was horrifically shocking both then and now but the justice system-which is far from perfect-, has tried to deal with an unprecedented case in the best way it knows how. Trial by Twitter –unconfirmed alleged images of the  two killers as they are today went viral last weekend- is perhaps the way our society is moving but this does not however make it right as it interferes with an already beleaguered justice system which is struggling to retain any semblance of credibility and control as it is.

It was a subject which reared its head in ‘White Bear’ the latest episode of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ series this week in which a young woman who has committed tortuous acts on a child wakes up in a justice camp where her trial involves her being pursued by a baying audience armed with mobile phones capturing every second of her torment as meted out by her captors. She is tortured and disorientated and as a drama it could not have been better timed to coincide with the revealing of the Bulger killers identities and the subsequent fall out if Brooker had tried. A full review can be found here.

Top night out for me this weekend has to be The Subterranean Homesick Aldo Blues Experience at the Institute in Marchmont. A genuine superstar in the making this looks like being a great gig although it is an invite only showcase event but I shall report back on the evening, as well as posting an interview and exclusive pictures of the man himself in the next week, alongside upcoming dates and news.

To finish off here is ‘Leader of the Pack’ by the Shangri La’s which is probably the song most will associate with the late, great Shadow Morton. All together now ‘Is she really going out with him?’…

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