Thursday, 31 July 2008
Founded last year by Tobes Kelly, a graduate of Bristol University, the Tart was initially produced in tabloid format and distributed at several top British universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and the LSE. It later switched to its current online-only incarnation, which has steadily grown in popularity with several thousand hits registered a week.
Cultural Wasteland's very own James Morgan is the entertainment editor, but also writes for the news and sports sections, hence the shameless plug.
It can found online here.
Friday, 25 July 2008
This is the second part of two. The first part can be found here.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-)
Imagine a show with episode titles like “The Gang Gets Racist”, “Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom”, “The Gang Goes Jihad” and “Sweet Dee Dates A Retarded Person”. This show is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – a situation comedy, where the situations include impersonating the mentally handicapped to become eligIble for welfare, feigning a physical disability to pick up women, running for political office to solicit bribes and as briefly seen in the video below, coaching young and disadvantaged children to play basketball in a very irresponsible manner.
The premise is simple enough – we follow a group of five deeply misanthropic, morally bankrupt, downright stupid characters, three of which co-own a Philadelphia bar, as they meander through life. So deep is their solipsism they appear oblivious to the real nature of their deeply flawed characters, and the dramatic way in they adversely affect the innocent lives that have the misfortune to become entangled with them. Rather brilliantly, even when they fail in their harebrained schemes they are never really punished for their actions – invariably, by the start of the next episode it has been forgotten that just one episode before, they had pretended to have cancer to get laid, or were, for a period, addicted to crack-cocaine.
To use a rather obtuse comparison for a moment, the other American show that It’s Always Sunny brings to mind is South Park. Both shows seem to focus each episode on some kind of serious issue or topic, be it political, religious or social – highlighting sensitive areas, and exploiting them mercilessly for comedic effect. Of course, this kind of approach is only really possible with the broadly-painted, extreme characters that both shows centre on. For this reason, the show is quite clearly not rooted in reality, but its all the better for it.
Unfortunately It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not shown on any British television channels. It’s relatively obscure in its home country so don’t expect it to make the transition to British screens any time soon. However it is readily available on streaming sites such as alluc.org and on BitTorrent downloads (such as this one, with all three seasons).
NOTE: In a rather bizarre fusion of the banal with the brilliant, Big Brother’s Little Brother is currently using the theme from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia for a regular feature which ponders whether two housemates will get it together.
The Wire (2002-2008)
The Wire did eventually find something of an audience in Britain, largely thanks to the valiant efforts of the Guardian, and in particular Charlie Brooker (whose incessant and noble fanboyism can be seen in his regular Screen Burn column in the Guardian's 'The Guide' supplement and on his
To get all self-referential for a moment (this is a blog after all) I feel I should quote myself on this one, paraphrasing slightly for the sake of brevity and readability - “The Wire examines the American city of Baltimore, and its broken, corrupted civic institutions - the police, the politicians, a union of dock workers, the schools, the regional newspaper. Its primary concern has always been the fallacy of the 'drug war', and the relationship between the drug trade and supposedly legitimate institutions like the police or the city council… the show is unique in that it was the only show to ever portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature. It was the finest show on television in this decade, if not ever.”
In fact I would even go beyond that last sentence – The Wire is not only the best television show ever, it transcends television. The typical manner in which we view, digest, and discuss television shows is not befitting of The Wire. We should talk of it in the terms of high art, for that’s exactly what it is.
Monday, 21 July 2008
This fantasy pilot revolves around the premise that vampires live among us and have for some time unnoticed (old hat) but when a new synthetic blood is released they decide to reveal themselves to the world at large (not so old hat). Obviously they don’t exactly become media darlings, being treated with the same fascination and scorn the press and public exclusively reserve for Britney Spears these days.
With Alan Ball, widely known for writing American Beauty and for creating Six Feet Under for HBO in the past, adapting this for television from a book series you’d assume we are in safe territory with this pilot. It not only features Ball’s favourite theme, death, and a cast packed with the quirky characters but for some reason the whole thing doesn’t really mesh together. This could have been a gloriously mad piece of work, the dark comedy of Ball’s previous work in a fantastic new setting where he can get away with playing his trademark fantasy sequences straight but (at least in the pilot) this isn’t the case.
It’s disappointing, imagine you watched a show that had glowing reviews throughout its run. So, you sit down to watch the other show they created, thinking all the while how fantastic it will be and how much you will love it. And yet when you turn the TV on you discover you are watching Saved By The Bell, with full knowledge that the gawky one Screech went from this to an insanely creepy porn career. You would vomit your brains out of your nose whilst simultaneously shitting yourself in horror.
The characters are the first problem. If this were a
The rest of the cast includes the main character’s African American best friend who is such a caricature that she is frankly uncomfortable to watch, an ex-Home and Away actor as Sookie’s brother who wanders around the pilot gormless and horny as if some pages from that show got mixed in to the script here. Two lesser characters are the stereotypical and overly camp homosexual chef and the lead’s grandmother, who you can’t help but fear will wind up being a wholesale ripoff of the grandpa in The Lost Boys. Making matters worse are the actor’s dreadful attempts at a Southern accent, which range from a slow Forrest Gump drawl at their least offensive to a vacant George W. Bush impression at their worst. The characters didn’t appear to have much depth to them beyond what the plot demanded and so were painted in broad strokes that didn’t make them particularly endearing. The best friend and chef in particular contrast appear like flimsy cardboard cut-outs behind Six Feet Under’s Keith Charles who managed to be both African American and gay without seeming like a parody.
The plot that wraps around the characters isn’t particularly compelling either. The change the vampires have had to society isn’t truly explored beyond a few whispers of worry, whereas you can’t help but feel if it happened in reality The Daily Mail would be having more than a field day, the pitchforks would be quite literally drawn and paraded through the streets. The rest of the plot seems to be idly ticking of a checklist of vampire fiction staples, for instance when Sookie meets Bill the show doesn’t even attempt to subvert your expectations, as you’d expect she instantly falls for him like an insipid schoolgirl. The pre-credits scene shows the potential of the premise, reminiscent of horror films it establishes the setting neatly, building tension and it manages to achieve a decent twist within only a few minutes that need not be spoiled here. But this sequence isn’t connected the rest of the pilot and by the end it seemed the show could have benefited from similar scenes with focus on building the world and the characters so that they are believable. Instead the pilot meanders; you can’t immerse yourself in the world and you find that you are drowning in its plot holes. Similar to my feeling on Lost really, except four years haven’t passed and the plot holes haven’t yet turned into a yawning canyon of lost hope and forgotten mysteries.
The True Blood pilot isn’t on par with the witty, subversive nature of Buffy’s early years, not enjoyably melodramatic like 60s vampire soap Dark Shadows nor does it really add anything new to the vampire genre on screen. CBBCs cheesy Young Dracula contributes more and for something that is basically a loose rip-off of The Munsters that is saying something. All in all, the only thing the pilot is comparable to is bad Anne Rice fan fiction. The show of course may end up doing well and HBO does need new drama at the moment with many of its old series having recently ended. Perhaps the show itself will improve as it goes on or the pilot will be tweaked before it airs, revealing a masterpiece that was hiding between the cracks.
But as it is, I’d rather watch a show about a Count… that counts. Preferably while solving crime.
Coming Up: A look at J.J Abrams upcoming Fringe, the X-Files ripoff dressed up in Lost trappings and Dollhouse, the new show from Buffy scribe Joss Whedon.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
In the 1980s ‘scratch-and-sniff’ promised the worldwide screen-viewing public technological advancements directed towards the other dormant senses. This uncertain future died from a distinct lack of… well, certainty from the audience and since then the furthest humans have stretched in the entertainment industry is
A recent trend in television viewing has seen the growth in popularity of cookery programmes, as if executives realised (as Countdown should, similarly, be suffering) that their core fanbase for Ready, Steady, Cook are dying in large numbers, as is befitting of an audience that comprises almost entirely of pensioners.
Entitling my article ‘A Feast for the Eyes’ would have been too easy and would have been giving into an overwhelming urge prodding at me to gorge myself on all the potential food puns, but would have given an insight into the heart of my anger surrounding this matter (besides the banishment of Ainsley from the new trend of TV). My anger is tied to the supposedly fatal flaw of programmes about culinary culture… you can not taste the food. The harshest perpetrator of this atrocity is the new, revamped, post- Lloyd Grossman Masterchef and the detailed articulations of the two fat men presenting the programme. The merits submitted to the audience are unattainable and yet this audience (the demographic of which are accurately represented by my parents - tediously middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income suburbanites) are drawn into supporting a specific party (or chef). For once in a discussion about credibility of tv programming Big Brother wins, because at least the interest of the audience is sustained by a quality that is remotely accessible. The ramblings of one man who looks perpetually stoned (“yeah, food’s fucking brilliant! Please keep giving me more! Have you got any Frosties?”) and one man who seems to like everybody (“I like her, because she’s probably going to re-watch this and hate me”) are not the basis for any form of judgement. “The pheasant was overdone” completely alters the audience’s reception of the food by their brains when, if we’re honest, very few of us have had enough pheasant to know when it’s not just duck that we’re being swindled into paying more for.
The pinnacle of this tedium arrives at the point in which the key demographic (or target audience) were so well identified by the producers at Channel 4 that the middle-classes should feel ashamed to be so transparent. Come Dine With Me put dinner parties on television and has been met with great success. All the dressing-up, the politics, the competitiveness, the intimacy of a dinner party, but without the food. Perhaps dinner parties, like the programmes that are indulged in by dinner-party-goers/thrower
Thursday, 17 July 2008
As is befitting of such an unpredictable and adventurous band, they did not open straight into a 'safe' favourite to get the crowd fired up. As a first timer my fanboyism does not extend as far as to know what this opener was, but to my virgin ears it sounded like a semi-improvised jam. Later research has identified it to be titled 'Intro Song', which isn't particularly revealing. Either way, it provided an apt opening, enabling the crowd to get accustomed to the aural and visual onslaught that would follow it.
Next up was an unexpected highlight in 'Viscera Eyes', a song that despite its 9:25 length (on the album anyway), is perhaps one of the band's most conventional efforts. Translated to the stage the band played it pretty straight, as they are not usually wont to do. Lead man Cedric Bixler-Zavala started to clamber up on one of the massive amps, and performing crowd-pleasing acrobatics. 'Viscera Eyes' features what Pitchfork has described disparagingly as a "meat-headed riff", which isn't entirely inapt. During the song my eyes were constantly drawn to guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who despite his slight frame, managed to completely dominate the stage as he delivered a fresh, controlled version of the track's sprawling solo.
Just a few songs were played in isolation, including the brief, but frenetic 'Wax Simulacra' off the new album Bedlam in Goliath. This was directly followed by another short track off the new album, 'Goliath', the bridge between the two punctuated by shrill King Crimson-esque saxophone calls. These two songs worked very well together, as they do on the album. Another Bedlam in Goliath track, 'Ouroborous' followed, sections of the crowd singing the repeated refrain "Don’t you ever, ever, ever trust my mercy." The epic 'Tetragrammaton' (nearly 17 minutes on the album) was another highlight, with its spiralling intro, calm passages and frenzied, muddled end. The concert ended, with perhaps the most energetic response from the crowd, with the oldest song of the night, 'Drunkship of Lanterns', off the 2003 debut De-Loused in the Comatorium.
The set was heavy with tracks from their most recent album, featuring just one song off their debut album De-Loused in the Comatorium, and nothing from their sophomore effort Frances the Mute and the utterly brilliant Tremulant EP, which as a first timer, is slightly disappointing. However as other reviewers have been at pains to highlight, a Mars Volta concert isn't simply about the individual songs. It's a far more isolated, singular experience than your average rock concert - each song bled into the next, the enjambment constructed by bridging jams and solos. As I exited the venue, a woman came up to me and asked what songs the band had played as she had missed a portion of the gig. I struggled to name them, as I was still trying to digest what I had just experienced. I had been so mesmerised by the intensity of the performance I had to come home and find the set-list online to remember the individual tracks with any real clarity.
Besides the actual music the gig was a visual treat. There seemed to be about ten band members. While the unsurprisingly heavy-set drummer Thomas Pridgen was going absolutely crazy for the duration of the gig, at the side of the stage you could see a couple other members nonchalantly shaking four maracas. The backdrop was static, with no light show or moving images to accompany the music - this was perfectly appropriate as the music and the energy conveyed on stage was more than sufficient to hold my attention for the near two hours the band played.
The crowd, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed to comprise of a mixture of geeky long-haired metal types (I spotted Dream Theater, 65daysofstatic, At the Drive-In and The Fall of Troy t-shirts) and semi-poseurs. Quite an unthreatening lot, who at times appeared reticent to offer the band much reaction. For me this did not detract from the gig as I was held in thrall by the action on stage throughout. The venue, refurbished two years ago, is fantastic - a cavernous, yet somehow undeniably intimate space. The staff were helpful and friendly, and apart from the near ridiculous queue for the cloak room at the end the venue did little to mar the experience of the actual performance.
Agadez Jam / Aberinkula
Drunkship of Lanterns
(it seems as though the epic Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus was cut from the set at the last minute, possibly due to the gig over running)
Saturday, 12 July 2008
By no means obscure, the fact remains that Seinfeld never found an audience in Britain. Just for the purposes of comparison, 76.3 million Americans watched the last ever episode of the show in 1998. That represented a 58% share of all television viewers, and even more staggeringly, 28% of the entire population of the country at the time. In its last four seasons only ER occasionally beat it in the ratings. In Britain however the scheduling for the show, initally on
It has been regularly described as “a show about nothing” - a description which arose out of an episode in which two characters pitch a sitcom idea to NBC executives which is essentially their own version of Seinfeld (this use of a mise en abyme is rather characteristic of the show, the writers often toyed with postmodern touches and meta-humour). However this description does not really do the show justice, as it quite clearly has a strong focus – modern urban life, and inextricable frustrations that accompany it. In Seinfeld this extends from the grand narratives of romance, social mores and working life, to minutiae such as cinema queues, sandwich fillings and appropriate dinner party conversation.
Rather than constantly quipping, the characters actually hold conversations, talking about what real friends do – absolute nonsense. American audiences identified with this sense of realism, imbued by the real sounding dialogue and the ludicrous pastiche of moments which make up the oft-absurd, but utterly believable characters' lives. Certainly if it was not for the erratic scheduling Seinfeld would have undoubtedly recreated its American successes on this side of the
For me the real appeal of the show lies in the characters. It features what must be the finest sitcom character of all-time – George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander. Essentially a boiled-down, hyped-up version of writer Larry David (now known as the writer-star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing a near identical character to George), mired in neurosis and insecurity, George finds himself constantly at odds with modern life - for him, every situation has the potential to frustrate and confuse. He is in a way, quite a British sitcom archetype – a failure and an idiot, but wholly sympathetic at the same time.
The Colbert Report (2005-)
A spin-off of sorts from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which is on weekdays at 8.30pm on More4, and also available on the official website to view for free), The Colbert Report satirises American personality-driven news shows that rely on narcissistic demagoguery over a fair, balanced account and discussion of the news. Anyone familiar with ridiculous Bill O’Reilly and his Fox News vehicle The O’Reilly Factor will know exactly the kind of show Colbert has in his sights.
The conceit of the show is simple – comedian Stephen Colbert plays a character of the same name which he describes as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” a vicious parody of the aforementioned right-wing commentator character, taken to absurd levels - rigid in his aversion to the facts, immovably right-wing and simultaneously idiotic and egomaniacal.
Four nights a week Colbert tears through the day’s news through the narrow prism of this brilliantly realised character to hilarious effect. A particular highlight are the combative interviews that end each show where he attempts to “nail” interviewees, accusing them, irrespective of their various leanings, backgrounds and occupations of not supporting the President, anti-Americanism or even worse, liberalism.
Given its parody of a very American media culture, and focus on American domestic affairs it is understandable that the show has had little appeal for British audiences. However the strength of Colbert’s character, and the excellent writing hold more than enough appeal for anyone with anything more than a fleeting interest in American politics. FX has just started to air the show in the UK, at 11.00 pm Tuesday – Friday. Incidentally, The Colbert Report, like its father show The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is available to watch for free on the official site, which can be found here.
This is part 1 of 2.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
Since last year with the runaway success of Knocked Up, Judd Apatow has been widely hailed as the current saviour of comedy. Knocked Up was refreshing because it was surprisingly candid for a romantic comedy, managing to mix sexual humour with charming sentimentality. The truth was, in a genre that had long begun to bore audiences with contrived misunderstandings and over the top romantic gestures, Knocked Up was funny because of chemistry between its two leads but more so because it was firmly grounded in reality, in a situation most of could relate to on some level. The lead couple at the end did not settle down to a happy ever after, they settled for less and simply settled for each other.
Throughout the past year, however, Judd Apatow has been churning out movies as frequently as Amy Winehouse has been released from rehab. Similarly with each release it’s getting a little less interesting and the box office and reviews are starting to reflect this with recent releases Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Drillbit Taylor respectively receiving both a lukewarm and poor reception. The preceding film Superbad was well received and like Knocked Up it used a relatable premise that was backed up by richly written characterisation. Although, unlike most, I will decline to include McLovin in that statement as despite the blitz of attention he received he really isn’t that great a character and doesn’t merit the Muse-esque fawning most teenagers attribute to him. If you want a geek that is a thousand times more interesting, just look to Bill Haverchuck from his earlier Freaks and Geeks.
And to be honest, that is part of the problem. If you look to Apatow’s earlier television work and compare it with the recent releases he has produced there is an undeniable quality missing that made you aware you were watching something special. You would presume that the recent release Drillbit Taylor which focused on a group of geeks once again, produced by Apatow and written by the usually reliable Seth Rogen who co-wrote Superbad and several episodes of Undeclared would be a strong, character driven piece reminiscent of the television shows but it instead didn’t fare particularly well with the box office or critics alike. So what was missing?
It is arguable that until this last year Apatow still had one vital quality that allowed him to give such depth to the underdog in his work, he was one himself. But now as he is widely proclaimed as the king of comedy you can’t help but wonder if that quality has vanished along with his pride, judging by just how many films he is willing to attach his producer credit to these days (five more movies due out in the next year). His movies are gradually veering away from those everyday situations we could all encounter. Sarah Marshall focused on a man dealing with his break-up with a celebrity, although it almost gets a pass on the merit that “we’ve all been dumped”. However the movie itself while likeable is largely a showcase for Jason Segal’s penis and his endeavour to find something to put it in, the supporting cast is mostly wasted and to be honest it is a much more generic romantic comedy that Knocked Up in most ways. However if Sarah Marshall is the disappointing child of Knocked Up (there’s a pun in there somewhere) then Drillbit Taylor, featuring Owen Wilson hamming it up as a bodyguard for geeks, is the cousin we all pretend we aren’t related to when asked. You mumble awkwardly and change the subject to anything else in order to avoid explaining your familial connection to that girl who shit herself in school that time. It isn’t particularly funny, not a good story and is just quite embarrassing. And shit. His next big release, the upcoming Pineapple Express which is being touted as a stoner action movie, too is clearly not particularly down to earth but does look to have the potential to be wickedly funny.
But more than losing his underdog status Apatow simply appears to be stretched thinner than a student budget, working on so many films he is entirely oversaturated and perhaps becoming exhausted. However, this has happened before. If we look back a few years to a time when the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) were holding the crown Apatow now wears. They too produced movies constantly and quickly, often featuring disabled characters as often as Apatow championed losers, however they have been scarcely heard of since the bizarre conjoined twin comedy Stuck on You was released in 2003 but the audience had grown bored with the schtick and the rigid formula that they stuck to. Apatow faces the same risk and though the backlash hasn’t truly begun, the reviews of Sarah Marshall and Drillbit more than indicate it could be on its way.
Regardless Judd Apatow is talented, with his television work remaining among many people’s favourite shows (including my own) and a particular talent in coaxing excellent acting and some brilliant unscripted dialogue from his actors (some would argue this makes him talentless and that it proves that he has little to no scripting ability but I don’t believe this). It could simply be a case of the breath of fresh air quickly becoming stale, like a crowded room with the smell of fart creeping across becoming a little too familiar. The simple answer appears for Apatow to focus on one main project, which gets back to his roots with the deep characterisation and irreverent sense of humour he is capable of. Of course we will all have to hope this was not the hope for the abysmal looking You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, written by Apatow and in which he seriously seems to think drawing a parallel between the competitive world of hairstyling with the Arab-Israeli conflict is a good idea.
Apatow has shown in the past that he knows what he is doing; he is certainly aware of his rapidly increasing bank balance and hopefully that this will give him freedom to create better, more personal projects that could become his new trump cards before the critical praise wanes. Perhaps Judd will not simply cast a loveable loser and in an even more groundbreaking move will cast a female lead. This in itself would be a revitalizing change, making such a film stand apart. As an extra note, Mr Apatow, if you decide to do so, please do not cast your wife. She does not need to play a major role in every one of your movies just so that you can enjoy your congratulatory jack off even more over the finished product. And maybe, just maybe, Apatow will consider casting people other than his friends to play roles in his films and again display his earlier ability at discovering amazing new talent when casting.
Get it sorted Apatow, we all know you’re better than Zohan, you’re Undeclared, you know what you are capable of.
Note: I quite happily decided to omit Apatow’s other sideline of produced films, such as the unbearably overrated Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and any other of the other films he has produced with a colon in the title as they are all generally vacuous and I’d rather pretend I had seen none in the first place. I will quite happily accept any words in their defence as beside them falling quite literally on one deaf ear, the other ear became immune after listening to inane bullshit spouted by characters such as the titular Ron Burgundy and anything that does get through will probably be funnier than his dialogue.
Sunday, 6 July 2008
So what exactly are Coldplay’s songs meant to convey? What do they tell us about the man behind their success? What are the hidden meanings buried deep within Martin's
abstruse, multi-layered lyrics?
“Trouble”, from Parachutes
"Oh no what's this?
A spider web, and I'm caught in the middle"
Martin is likening himself to a fly. Small, insignificant and often a carrier of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery.----
“42”, off Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends"Those who are dead are not dead,
They're just living in my head"
Hell is contained within Chris Martin’s head. In Hell you have to listen to his thought processes for eternity as he struggles to write songs and chats bollocks about yoga, veganism and ridiculous children’s names with Gwyneth Paltrow. Damn all those dead people in there for taking up the space where his songwriting faculties should be.
“Strawberry Swing”, from Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends
"They were sitting,
They were sitting on the strawberry swing"
This is a common pitfall for lyricists. They think that you can use this songwriting equation: "fruit + inanimate object = classic song." Well it worked for Prince (“Raspberry Beret”) didn’t it?----
“Violet Hill”, from Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends
"Priests clutched onto bibles,
Hollowed out to fit their rifles"
Martin is actually revealing a little known detail about his health. He has suffered from strabismus all his life - a condition which adversely affects depth perception. He therefore is not aware that a rifle could not fit in a bible. It's a sensitive issue so his band members do not point out the regular mistakes he makes because of his condition. In the past he has reportedly bought a tiny child's hat for himself without realising it would not fit him and when he tries to kiss his wife Gwyneth he often ends up headbutting her - such is the severity of his condition.
“Speed of Sound”, from X&Y
But others are puzzles, puzzling me"
"Some things you have to believe,
Martin has stumbled on something incredibly profound here: puzzles are inherently puzzling.